Why No-Fly Zones Would Be a Useless Waste of Money NBC Nightly News
WASHINGTON (February 28, 2011) — Chief Foreign Affairs Reporter Andrea Mitchell: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a UN meeting that “all options are on the table,” including a no-fly-zone operated by NATO.
Hillary Clinton: A no-fly-zone is an option we are actively considering. I discussed it today with allies and partners and we will proceed with this active consideration.
Andrea Mitchell: But military experts warn that no-fly zones wouldnâ€™t stop Gaddafi from killing civilians.
Lt. General Barry McCaffrey (retired), NBC News Analyst: It would not significantly change the situation in Tripoli with Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Brigade crushing dissent. And it would then entail enormous expenditures of resources and military energy for little outcome.
US Neo-cons Urge Libya Intervention > Jim Lobe / Inter Press Service News Agency & Al Jazeera
Signatories to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) demand “immediate” military action.
(February 27, 2011) — In a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage US intervention in the Balkans and Iraq, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives appealed Friday for the United States and NATO to “immediately” prepare military action to help bring down the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and end the violence that is believed to have killed well over a thousand people in the past week.
The appeal, which came in the form of a letter signed by 40 policy analysts, including more than a dozen former senior officials who served under President George W. Bush, was organised and released by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a two-year-old neo-conservative group that is widely seen as the successor to the more-famous — or infamous — Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
Warning that Libya stood “on the threshold of a moral and humanitarian catastrophe”, the letter, which was addressed to President Barack Obama, called for specific immediate steps involving military action, in addition to the imposition of a number of diplomatic and economic sanctions to bring “an end to the murderous Libyan regime”.
In particular, it called for Washington to press NATO to “develop operational plans to urgently deploy warplanes to prevent the regime from using fighter jets and helicopter gunships against civilians and carry out other missions as required; (and) move naval assets into Libyan waters” to “aid evacuation efforts and prepare for possible contingencies;” as well as “(e)stablish the capability to disable Libyan naval vessels used to attack civilians.”
The Usual Suspects
Among the letter’s signers were former Bush deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Bush’s top global democracy and Middle East adviser; Elliott Abrams; former Bush speechwriters Marc Thiessen and Peter Wehner; Vice President Dick Cheney’s former deputy national security adviser, John Hannah, as well as FPI’s four directors: Weekly Standard editor William Kristol; Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan; former Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor; and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman.
It was Kagan and Kristol who co-founded and directed PNAC in its heyday from 1997 to the end of Bush’s term in 2005.
The letter comes amid growing pressure on Obama, including from liberal hawks, to take stronger action against Gaddafi.
Two prominent senators whose foreign policy views often reflect neo-conservative thinking, Republican John McCain and Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman, called Friday in Tel Aviv for Washington to supply Libyan rebels with arms, among other steps, including establishing a no-fly zone over the country.
On Wednesday, Obama said his staff was preparing a “full range of options” for action. He also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet fly to Geneva Monday for a foreign ministers’ meeting of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss possible multilateral actions.
“They want to keep open the idea that there’s a mix of capabilities they can deploy — whether it’s a no-fly zone, freezing foreign assets of Gaddafi’s family, doing something to prevent the transport of mercenaries (hired by Gaddafi) to Libya, targeting sanctions against some of his supporters to persuade them to abandon him,” said Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who took part in a meeting of independent foreign policy analysts, including Abrams, with senior National Security Council staff at the White House Thursday.
During the 1990s, neo-conservatives consistently lobbied for military pressure to be deployed against so-called “rogue states”, especially in the Middle East.
After the 1991 Gulf War, for example, many “neo-cons” expressed bitter disappointment that US troops stopped at the Kuwaiti border instead of marching to Baghdad and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein.
When the Iraqi president then unleashed his forces against Kurdish rebels in the north and Shia insurgents in the south, they — along with many liberal interventionist allies — pressed President George H.W. Bush to impose “no-fly zones” over both regions and take additional actions – much as they are now proposing for Libya – designed to weaken the regime’s military repressive capacity.
Those actions set the pattern for the 1990s. To the end of the decade, neo-conservatives, often operating under the auspices of a so-called “letterhead organisation”, such as PNAC, worked — often with the help of some liberal internationalists eager to establish a right of humanitarian intervention – to press President Bill Clinton to take military action against adversaries in the Balkans — in Bosnia and then Kosovo — as well as Iraq.
Within days of 9/11, for example, PNAC issued a letter signed by 41 prominent individuals — almost all neo- conservatives, including 10 of the Libya letter’s signers — that called for military action to “remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”, as well as retaliation against Iran and Syria if they did not immediately end their support for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
PNAC and its associates subsequently worked closely with neo-conservatives inside the Bush administration, including Abrams, Wolfowitz, and Edelman, to achieve those aims.
While neo-conservatives were among the first to call for military action against Gaddafi in the past week, some prominent liberals and rights activists have rallied to the call, including three of the letter’s signatories: Neil Hicks of Human Rights First; Bill Clinton’s human rights chief, John Shattuck; and Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, who also signed the PNAC Iraq letter 10 years ago.
In addition, Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month the influential director of the State Department’s Policy Planning office, cited the U.S.-NATO Kosovo campaign as a possible precedent. “The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters,” she wrote on Twitter. “In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted.”
Such comments evoked strong reactions from some military experts, however.
“I’m horrified to read liberal interventionists continue to suggest the ease with which humanitarian crises and regional conflicts can be solved by the application of military power,” wrote Andrew Exum, a counter-insurgency specialist at the Center for a New American Security. “To speak so glibly of such things reflects a very immature understanding of the limits of force and the difficulties and complexities of contemporary military operations.”
Other commentators noted that a renewed coalition of neo- conservatives and liberal interventionists would be much harder to put together now than during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
“We now have Iraq and Afghanistan as warning signs, as well as our fiscal crisis, so I don’t think there’s an enormous appetite on Capitol Hill or among the public for yet another military engagement,” said Charles Kupchan, a foreign policy specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
“I support diplomatic and economic sanctions, but I would stop well short of advocating military action, including the imposition of a no-fly zone,” he added, noting, in any event, that most of the killing in Libya this week has been carried out by mercenaries and paramilitaries on foot or from vehicles.
“There may be some things we can do — such as airlifting humanitarian supplies to border regions where there are growing number of refugees, but I would do so only with the full support of the Arab League and African Union, if not the UN,” said Clemons.
“(The neo-conservatives) are essentially pro-intervention, pro-war, without regard to the costs to the country,” he said. “They don’t recognise that we’re incredibly over- extended and that the kinds of things they want us to do actually further weaken our already-eroded stock of American power.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The US Government Must Stop Supporting Repressive Regimes Debra Sweet / The World Can’t Wait
The political terrain is changing hourly in the Middle East, with governments responding to the peoples’ uprising in different ways. But we’re seeing one constant: the US at every point pushes its own interests, regardless of the status of the peoples’ rights.
World Can’t Wait exists to “stop the crimes of our government.” So we should be vigilant. We’ve pointed out Washington’s deep and long support for repressive regimes across the region, including Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and also the huge amount of military and political support given to Israel by successive US administrations.
In Bahrain, where the US has a strategic base, Hillary Clinton weakly, and hypocritically, defended the protesters’ rights (only days after witnessing prominent anti-war veteran Ray McGovern brutalized during a speech of hers in the US). As if she and the government she has long represented was unaware of what these regimes do to their people!
In Libya hundreds of people are being slaughtered in the streets by mercenaries. Though Qaddafi’s government has appeared more oppositional to the US, the US reestablished full diplomatic relations with Libya, under pressure from US oil companies. Military aid followed.
But in the wake of the absolutely righteous upsurge of the people against Qaddafi’s repression, will the US take the opportunity to install a more compliant government to its own interests? US military intervention will do no more good in Libya than it’s done elsewhere… which is to say: it will be a disaster for the people, but good for US interests in holding onto strategic oil and territory.
In Pakistan, there’s news of the first drone strike in a month, this one killing civilians: US Drone Strikes Kill 15 in Pakistan.
The Washington Post reported yesterday on the last years of US drone bombings: Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.
Even more generous counts — which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 “high-value targets” — suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.
While the CIA contends they’ve killed just 2 civilians, the article goes on to say:
The New America Foundation estimates that at least 607 people were killed in 2010, which would mean that a single year has accounted for nearly half of the number of deaths since 2004, when the program began.
Overall, the foundation estimates that 32 of those killed could be considered “militant leaders” of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or about 2 percent.
Glenn Greenwald looks at the CIA’s role in Pakistan. In This week in winning hearts and minds, he describes Raymond Davis, the ex-Special Forces, current CIA operative held in Pakistan for personally killing 4 Pakistanis in an incident on the street, and:
The State Department first said he worked for the consulate, not the embassy, which would make him subject to weaker immunity rights than diplomats enjoy (State now says that its original claim was a “mistake” and that Davis worked for the embassy).
President Obama then publicly demanded the release of what he absurdly called “our diplomat in Pakistan”; when he was arrested, Davis “was carrying a 9mm gun and 75 bullets, bolt cutters, a GPS unit, an infrared light, telescope, a digital camera, an air ticket, two mobile phones and a blank cheque.”
There’s a major diplomatic crisis over Davis between Pakistan, and competing forces within its government, and the US government. Greenwald describes the complexity for the US:
There’s the gross hypocrisy of the US State Department invoking lofty “rule-of-law” and diplomacy principles under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — the very same State Department that just got caught systematically violating that convention when WikiLeaks cables revealed that US “diplomats” were ordered to spy on UN officials and officials in other countries.
â€œThen there’s the delusional notion — heard mostly from progressives with romanticized images of the State Department — that WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables was terrible because it’s wrong to undermine “diplomacy” with leaks, since the State Department (unlike the Big, Bad Pentagon) is devoted to Good, Humane causes of facilitating peace.
As this episode illustrates, there’s no separation among the various arms of the US Government; they all are devoted to the same end and simply use different means to accomplish it (when the US Government is devoted to war, “diplomatic” functions are used to bolster the war, as Colin Powell can tell you).
These crises can help sort out the interests of the governments from the interests of the people. In supporting the courageous people across the Middle East who are fighting repression, we are challenged to look at our own government.
I come back to the Not in Our Name Pledge of Resistance:
…Not in our name
will you wage endless war
there can be no more deaths
no more transfusions
of blood for oil…
NEW YORK (February 10, 2011) — The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which have sent reverberations throughout the Arab world, reveal some uncomfortable truths about US foreign policy. The contortions of the Obama administration, caught between its desire to stand by a dictator in Cairo who has been a loyal ally and its desire to channel a revolution that could define the future of the region, are replays we have seen over and over. Rhetorically, America trumpets democracy and human rights.
In reality, we ally ourselves with repressive dictatorships: Cuba’s Batista, Nicaragua’s Somoza, Chile’s Pinochet, South Africa’s apartheid regime, Iran’s shah, Indonesia’s Suharto and many more. When the people finally revolt, Washington flounders, usually concerned more about shoring up the regime than about supporting democracy.
Worse, because foreign policy is dominated by our military and intelligence agencies, our ties with these regimes tend to involve deep complicity with the security services that torture and kill domestic opposition. We are widely — and accurately — viewed in much of the third world not as neutral or distant supporters of freedom but as the bulwark of dictatorships. We train their police, arm their militaries, base our troops on their soil. American people and culture are widely admired abroad, but our government is just as widely despised.
This dismal pattern leaves us clueless when democratic movements arise. As we scramble to identify new leaders, we face understandable suspicion of our motives. Despite our ritual celebration of civil society, we underinvest in the civilian side of aid.
In Egypt, US officials lacked contacts with many of the grassroots groups leading the revolt. It should not be surprising that our call now for an orderly transition is widely viewed in Egypt as an attempt to buy time in the hope that the demonstrations will die out.
The whole world is watching what America does now, as the Mubarak regime, buttressed by $1.3 billion in annual US military aid, struggles to counter the most inspiring democratic upsurge in decades. The Obama administration can follow Washington tradition by undermining the democratic movement in the interest of “stability.”
Or it can practice what Obama preached so eloquently in Cairo in June 2009 and support the will of the Egyptian people — as expressed by the hundreds of thousands courageously taking to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities — to finally be rid of Mubarak and his cronies, the three-decade state of emergency, the brutal security establishment and replace them with a new Constitution and free and fair elections.
If Washington were to do this — and if it were to help sustain a democratic transition by marshaling international support for economic recovery — America would win the praise of millions throughout the Arab world. And that simple act of justice and decency would likely do more to stanch support for extremist Islam than a thousand Special Forces operations.
The uprisings in the Middle East expose the utter folly of the neoconservative doctrine, championed by George W. Bush, that democracy can be imposed through a gun barrel. Bushâ€™s catastrophic Iraq War unleashed sectarian struggles that debilitate Iraqi society to this day. And Obama’s escalation of Bush’s Afghan war has us propping up a regime so corrupt and incompetent that it has revived the hated Taliban.
To be sure, popular uprisings offer no guarantees. They can end badly, as we learned in Iran. But the alternatives — presuming to impose democracy through military force, or standing in its way by supporting dictatorship — are unacceptable.
We desperately need new national security thinking, and a new global strategy. We would do better to spend far less time strengthening militaries — at home and abroad — and far more time supporting democratic governance, civil society and economic development.
We should understand that to be effective, our foreign policy must complement reforms at home, ones that improve democracy, enhance human security and spur economic opportunity.
America is exceptional not because we are rich but because we were founded on a revolutionary ideal: that people have the right to govern themselves. And yet we have become a status quo nation, too often invested in maintaining oppressive power. The revolution sweeping the Middle East suggests we had better think very hard about that contradiction.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on US Senators
(February 23, 2011) — The US Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned — and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.
The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops — the linchpin of US strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated US laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
“My job in psy-ops is to play with peopleâ€™s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “Iâ€™m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, youâ€™re crossing a line.”
The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the US command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Departmentâ€™s own definition, psy-ops — the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors — are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows youâ€™re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Itâ€™s what you learn on day one.”
When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of US propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwellâ€™s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally.
According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their “hot-button issues.” In one email to Holmes, Caldwellâ€™s staff also wanted to know how to shape the generalâ€™s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to “refine our messaging.”
Congressional delegations — known in military jargon as CODELs — are no strangers to spin. US lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war.
But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.” The generalâ€™s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the US lawmakers without their knowledge. “How do we get these guys to give us more people?” he demanded. “What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwellâ€™s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. “Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesnâ€™t look good,” says John Pike, a leading military analyst. “It doesnâ€™t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that.”
At a minimum, the use of the IO team against US senators was a misue of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban.
“We called it Operation Fourth Star,” says Holmes. “Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the US Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations.” At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.
It wasnâ€™t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops — the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between “informing” and “influencing.” After a stint as the top US spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the militaryâ€™s use of information operations.
During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia — a move that would widen the militaryâ€™s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic.
According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker “psy-ops” in favor of the more neutral “MISO” — short for Military Information Support Operations.)
Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders.
Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on US citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. “Itâ€™s not illegal if I say it isnâ€™t!” Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.
In March 2010, Breazile issued a written order that “directly tasked” Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against “all DV visits” — short for “distinguished visitor.” The team was also instructed to “prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit.” In case the order wasnâ€™t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to “take priority over all other duties.” Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.
On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him “nervous.” The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. “The short answer is that IO doesnâ€™t do that,” Scott replied in an email. “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”
In another email, Scott advised Holmes to seek his own defense counsel. “Using IO to influence our own folks is a bad idea,” the lawyer wrote, “and contrary to IO policy.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell “categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors.” But after Scott offered his legal opinion, the order was rewritten to stipulate that the IO unit should only use publicly available records to create profiles of US visitors. Based on the narrower definition of the order, Holmes and his team believed the incident was behind them.
Three weeks after the exchange, however, Holmes learned that he was the subject of an investigation, called an AR 15-6. The investigation had been ordered by Col. Joe Buche, Caldwellâ€™s chief of staff. The 22-page report, obtained by Rolling Stone, reads like something put together by Kenneth Starr.
The investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an “inappropriate” relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine. The investigator also noted a joking comment that Holmes made on his Facebook wall, in response to a jibe about Afghan men wanting to hold his hand. “Hey! Iâ€™ve been here almost five months now!” Holmes wrote. “Gimmee a break a man has needs you know.”
“LTC Holmesâ€™ comments about his sexual needs,” the report concluded, “are even more distasteful in light of his status as a married man.”
Both Holmes and Levine maintain that there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship, and said they were waiting until after they left Afghanistan to start their own business. They and other members of the team also say that they had been given permission to go off post in civilian clothes. As for Facebook, Caldwellâ€™s command had aggressively encouraged its officers to the use the site as part of a social-networking initiative — and Holmes ranked only 15th among the biggest users.
Nor was Holmes the only one who wrote silly things online. Col. Breazileâ€™s Facebook page, for example, is spotted with similar kinds of nonsense, including multiple references to drinking alcohol, and a photo of a warning inside a Port-o-John mocking Afghans — “In case any of you forgot that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it and squat. Itâ€™s a safety issue. We donâ€™t want you to fall in or miss your target.” Breazile now serves at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he works in the office dedicated to waging a global information war for the Pentagon.
Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against US visitors, complained to the Defense Departmentâ€™s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not “designated to receive such communications.”
Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become “the collateral damage” in the militaryâ€™s effort to retaliate against Holmes. “It will probably end my career,” she says. “My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. Iâ€™ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldnâ€™t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now.”
After being reprimanded, Holmes and his team were essentially ignored for the rest of their tours in Afghanistan. But on June 15th, the entire Afghan training mission received a surprising memo from Col. Buche, Caldwellâ€™s chief of staff.
“Effective immediately,” the memo read, “the engagement in information operations by personnel assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is strictly prohibited.”
From now on, the memo added, the “information operation cell” would be referred to as the “Information Engagement cell.” The IEâ€™s mission? “This cell will engage in activities for the sole purpose of informing and educating US, Afghan and international audiencesâ€¦.” The memo declared, in short, that those who had trained in psy-ops and other forms of propaganda would now officially be working as public relations experts — targeting a worldwide audience.
As for the operation targeting US senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwellâ€™s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops — an initiative that will already cost US taxpayers more than $11 billion this year.
Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 24, 2011) — On February 16th I read a comment was posted on the wall of the Kullina Khalid Saed (“We are all Khaled Said”) Facebook page administered by the now very famous Wael Ghonim. By that time it had been there for about 21 hours. The comment referred to a news item reporting that European governments were under pressure to freeze bank accounts of recently deposed members of the Mubarak regime.
The comment said: “Excellent news â€¦ we do not want to take revenge on anyone â€¦ it is the right of all of us to hold to account any person who has wronged this nation. By law we want the nationâ€™s money that has been stolen â€¦ because this is the money of Egyptians, 40% of whom live below the poverty line.”
By the time I unpacked this thread of conversation, 5,999 people had clicked the “like” button, and about 5,500 had left comments. I have not attempted the herculean task of reading all five thousand odd comments (and no doubt more are being added as I write), but a fairly lengthy survey left no doubt that most of the comments were made by people who clicked the “like” icon on the Facebook page. There were also a few by regime supporters, and others by people who dislike the personality cult that has emerged around Mr. Ghoneim.
This Facebook thread is symptomatic of the moment. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption.
Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and ‘Alaâ€™) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protestersâ€™ signs).
Ahmad Ezz, the General Secretary of the deposed National Democratic Party and the largest steel magnate in the Middle East, is supposed to be worth $18 billion; Zohayr Garana, former Minister of Tourism, $13 billion; Ahmad al-Maghrabi, former Minister of Housing, $11 billion; former Minister of Interior Habib Adli, much hated for his supervision of an incredibly abusive police state, also managed to amass $8 billion — not bad for a lifetime civil servant.
Such figures may prove to be inaccurate. They may be too low, or maybe too high, and we may never know precisely because much of the money is outside of Egypt, and foreign governments will only investigate the financial dealings of Mubarak regime members if the Egyptian government makes a formal request for them to do so.
Whatever the true numbers, the corruption of the Mubarak regime is not in doubt. The lowest figure quoted for Mubarakâ€™s personal wealth, of “only” $3 billion, is damning enough for a man who entered the air force in 1950 at the age of twenty two, embarking on a sixty-year career in “public service.”
A Systemic Problem
The hunt for regime croniesâ€™ billions may be a natural inclination of the post-Mubarak era, but it could also lead astray efforts to reconstitute the political system. The generals who now rule Egypt are obviously happy to let the politicians take the heat.
Their names were not included in the lists of the most egregiously corrupt individuals of the Mubarak era, though in fact the upper echelons of the military have long been beneficiaries of a system similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) the one that that enriched civilian figures much more prominent in the public eye such as Ahmad Ezz and Habib al-Adly.
To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away.
But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarakâ€™s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.
What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”
Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the “proper functioning” of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.
Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.
And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did.
Rhetoric vs. Reality
Two observations about Egyptâ€™s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarakâ€™s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Aliâ€™s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egyptâ€™s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia.
Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egyptâ€™s brand of neoliberalism in his book Rule of Experts (the chapter titled “Dreamland” — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime).
The gist of Mitchellâ€™s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best.
The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked “by the book” were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization.
Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.
For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite.
Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolise rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments.
Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarakâ€™s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart. Since political connections were the surest route to astronomical profits, businessmen had powerful incentives to buy political office in the phony elections run by the ruling National Democratic Party.
Whatever competition there was for seats in the Peoplesâ€™ Assembly and Consultative Council took place mainly within the NDP. Non-NDP representation in parliament by opposition parties was strictly a matter of the political calculations made for a given elections: let in a few independent candidates known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 (and set off tremors of fear in Washington); dictate total NDP domination in 2010 (and clear the path for an expected new round of distributing public assets to “private” investors).
Parallels with America
The political economy of the Mubarak regime was shaped by many currents in Egyptâ€™s own history, but its broad outlines were by no means unique. Similar stories can be told throughout the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa.
Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become “masters of the universe,” using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketised worlds that are imposed on the poor.
The story should sound familiar to Americans as well. For example, the vast fortunes of Bush era cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, through their involvement with companies like Halliburton and Gilead Sciences, are the product of a political system that allows them — more or less legally — to have one foot planted in “business” and another in “government” to the point that the distinction between them becomes blurred. Politicians move from the office to the boardroom to the lobbying organization and back again.
As neoliberal dogma disallows any legitimate role for government other than guarding the sanctity of free markets, recent American history has been marked by the steady privatization of services and resources formerly supplied or controlled by the government. But it is inevitably those with closest access to the government who are best positioned to profit from government campaigns to sell off the functions it formerly performed.
It is not just Republicans who are implicated in this systemic corruption. Clinton-era Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubinâ€™s involvement with Citigroup does not bear close scrutiny. Lawrence Summers gave crucial support for the deregulation of financial derivatives contracts while Secretary of Treasury under Clinton, and profited handsomely from companies involved in the same practices while working for Obama (and of course deregulated derivatives were a key element in the financial crisis that led to a massive Federal bailout of the entire banking industry).
So in Egyptian terms, when General Secretary of the NDP Ahmad Ezz cornered the market on steel and was given contracts to build public-private construction projects, or when former Minister of Parliament Talaat Mustafa purchased vast tracts of land for the upscale Madinaty housing development without having to engage in a competitive bidding process (but with the benefit of state-provided road and utility infrastructure), they may have been practicing corruption logically and morally. But what they were doing was also as American as apple pie, at least within the scope of the past two decades.
However, in the current climate the most important thing is not the depredations of deposed Mubarak regime cronies. It is rather the role of the military in the political system. It is the army that now rules the country, albeit as a transitional power, or so most Egyptians hope.
No representatives of the upper echelons of the Egyptian military appear on the various lists of old-regime allies who need to be called to account. For example, the headline of the February 17th edition of Ahrar, the press organ of the Liberal party, was emblazoned with the headline “Financial Reserves of the Corrupt Total 700 Billion Pounds [about $118 billion] in 18 Countries.”
A Vast Economic Powerhouse
But the article did not say a single word about the place of the military in this epic theft. The military were nonetheless part of the crony capitalism of the Mubarak era. After relatively short careers in the military high-ranking officers are rewarded with such perks as highly remunerative positions on the management boards of housing projects and shopping malls. Some of these are essentially public-sector companies transferred to the military sector when IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs required reductions in the civilian public sector.
But the generals also receive plums from the private sector. Military spending itself was also lucrative because it included both a state budget and contracts with American companies that provided hardware and technical expertise. The United States provided much of the financing for this spending under rules that required a great deal of the money to be recycled to American corporations, but all such deals required middlemen.
Who better to act as an intermediary for American foreign aid contracts than men from the very same military designated as the recipient of the services paid for by this aid? In this respect the Egyptian military-industrial complex was again stealing a page from the American playbook; indeed, to the extent that the Egyptian military benefited from American foreign aid, Egypt was part of the American military-industrial complex, which is famous for its revolving-door system of recycling retired military men as lobbyists and employees of defense contractors.
Consequently it is almost unthinkable that the generals of the Supreme Military Council will willingly allow more than cosmetic changes in the political economy of Egypt. But they could be compelled to do so unwillingly. The army is a blunt force, not well suited for controlling crowds of demonstrators. The latest statement of the Supreme Military Council reiterated both the legitimacy of the pro-democracy movements demands, and the requirement that demonstrations cease so that the country can get back to work.
If demonstrations continue to the point that the Supreme Military Council feels it can no longer tolerate them, then the soldiers who will be ordered to put them down (indeed, in some accounts were already ordered to put them down early in the revolution and refused to do so) with deadly force, are not the generals who were part of the Mubarak-era corruption, but conscripts.
Pro-democracy demonstrators and their sympathisers often repeated the slogans “the army and the people are one hand,” and “the army is from us.” They had the conscripts in mind, and many were unaware of how stark differences were between the interests of the soldiers and the generals. Between the conscripts and the generals is a middle-level professional officer corps whose loyalties have been the subject of much speculation.
The generals, for their part, want to maintain their privileges, but not to rule directly. Protracted direct rule leaves the officers of the Supreme Military Council vulnerable to challenges from other officers who were left on the outside. Also, direct rule would make it impossible to hide that the elite officers are not in fact part of the “single hand” composed of the people and the (conscript) army.
They are instead logically in the same camp as Ahmad Ezz, Safwat al-Sharif, Gamal Mubarak, and Habib al-Adly — precisely the names on those lists making the rounds of regime members and cronies who should face judgment.
Ultimately the intense speculation about how much money the Mubarak regime stole, and how much the people can expect to pump back into the nation, is a red herring. If the figure turns out to be $50 billion or $500 billion, it will not matter, if Egypt remains a neoliberal state dedicated (nominally) to free-market fundamentalism for the poor, while creating new privatised assets that can be recycled to political insiders for the rich. If one seeks clues to how deeply the January 25th Revolution will restructure Egypt, it would be better to look at such issues as what sort of advice the interim government of generals solicits in fulfilling its mandate to re-make Egyptian government.
The period of military government probably will be as short as advertised, followed, one hopes, by an interim civilian government for some specified period (at least two years) during which political parties are allowed to organise on the ground in preparation for free elections. But interim governments have a way of becoming permanent.
Technocrats or Ideologues?
One sometimes hears calls to set up a government of “technocrats” that would assume the practical matters of governance. “Technocrat” sounds neutral — a technical expert who would make decisions on “scientific” principle. The term was often applied to Yusuf Butros Ghali, for example, the former Minister of the Treasury, who was one of the Gamal Mubarak boys brought into the cabinet in 2006 ostensibly to smooth the way for the Presidentâ€™s son to assume power. Ghali is now accused of having appropriated LE 450 million for the use of Ahmad Ezz.
I once sat next to Ghali at a dinner during one of his trips abroad, and had the opportunity to ask him when the Egyptian government would be ready to have free elections. His response was to trot out the now discredited regime line that elections were impossible because actual democracy would result in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power.
Conceivably Ghali will beat the charge of specifically funneling the stateâ€™s money to Ahmad Ezz. But as a key architect of Egyptâ€™s privatization programs he cannot possibly have been unaware that he was facilitating a system that enabled the Ezz steel empire while simultaneously destroying Egyptâ€™s educational and health care systems.
The last time I encountered the word “technocrat” was in Naomi Kleinâ€™s book The Shock Doctrine — a searing indictment of neoliberalism which argues that the free-market fundamentalism promoted by economist Milton Friedman (and immensely influential in the United States) is predicated on restructuring economies in the wake of catastrophic disruptions because normally functioning societies and political systems would never vote for it. Disruptions can be natural or man-made, such as â€¦ revolutions.
The chapters in The Shock Doctrine on Poland, Russia, and South Africa make interesting reading in the context of Egyptâ€™s revolution. In each case when governments (communist or apartheid) collapsed, “technocrats” were brought in to help run countries that were suddenly without functional governments, and create the institutional infrastructure for their successors.
The technocrats always seemed to have dispensed a form of what Klein calls “shock therapy” — the imposition of sweeping privatization programs before dazed populations could consider their options and potentially vote for less ideologically pure options that are in their own interests.
The last great wave of revolutions occurred in 1989. The governments that were collapsing then were communist, and the replacement in that “shock moment” of one extreme economic system with its opposite seemed predictable and to many even natural.
One of the things that make the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions potentially important on a global scale is that they took place in states that were already neoliberalised. The complete failure of neoliberalsm to deliver “human well-being” to a large majority of Egyptians was one of the prime causes of the revolution, at least in the sense of helping to prime millions of people who were not connected to social media to enter the streets on the side of the pro-democracy activists.
But the January 25th Revolution is still a “shock moment.” We hear calls to bring in the technocrats in order to revive a dazed economy; and we are told every day that the situation is fluid, and that there is a power vacuum in the wake of not just the disgraced NDP, but also the largely discredited legal opposition parties, which played no role whatsoever in the January 25th Revolution. In this context the generals are probably happy with all the talk about reclaiming the money stolen by the regime, because the flip side of that coin is a related current of worry about the state of the economy.
The notion that the economy is in ruins — tourists staying away, investor confidence shattered, employment in the construction sector at a standstill, many industries and businesses operating at far less than full capacity — could well be the single most dangerous rationale for imposing cosmetic reforms that leave the incestuous relation between governance and business intact.
Or worse, if the pro-democracy movement lets itself be stampeded by the “economic ruin” narrative, structures could be put in place by “technocrats” under the aegis of the military transitional government that would tie the eventual civilian government into actually quickening the pace of privatization.
Ideologues, including those of the neoliberal stripe, are prone to a witchcraft mode of thinking: if the spell does not work, it is not the fault of the magic, but rather the fault of the shaman who performed the spell. In other words, the logic could be that it was not neoliberalism that ruined Mubarakâ€™s Egypt, but the faulty application of neoliberalism.
Trial balloons for this witchcraft narrative are already being floated outside of Egypt. The New York Times ran an article on February 17th casting the military as a regressive force opposed to privatization and seeking a return to Nasserist statism.
The article pits the ostensibly “good side” of the Mubarak regime (privatization programs) against bad old Arab socialism, completely ignoring the fact that while the system of military privilege may preserve some public-sector resources transferred from the civilian economy under pressure of IMF structural adjustment programs, the empire of the generals is hardly limited to a ring-fenced quasi-underground public sector.
Officers were also rewarded with private-sector perks; civilian political/business empires mixed public and private roles to the point that what was government and what was private were indistinguishable; both the military and civilians raked in rents from foreign aid. The generals may well prefer a new round of neoliberal witchcraft. More privatization will simply free up assets and rents that only the politically connected (including the generals) can acquire. Fixing a failed neoliberal state by more stringent applications of neoliberalism could be the surest way for them to preserve their privileges.
A neoliberal fix would, however, be a tragedy for the pro-democracy movement. The demands of the protesters were clear and largely political: remove the regime; end the emergency law; stop state torture; hold free and fair elections. But implicit in these demands from the beginning (and decisive by the end) was an expectation of greater social and economic justice.
Social media may have helped organise the kernel of a movement that eventually overthrew Mubarak, but a large element of what got enough people into the streets to finally overwhelm the state security forces was economic grievances that are intrinsic to neoliberalism.
These grievances cannot be reduced to grinding poverty, for revolutions are never carried out by the poorest of the poor. It was rather the erosion of a sense that some human spheres should be outside the logic of markets. Mubarakâ€™s Egypt degraded schools and hospitals, and guaranteed grossly inadequate wages, particularly in the ever-expanding private sector. This was what turned hundreds of dedicated activists into millions of determined protestors.
If the January 25th revolution results in no more than a retrenchment of neoliberalism, or even its intensification, those millions will have been cheated. The rest of the world could be cheated as well. Egypt and Tunisia are the first nations to carry out successful revolutions against neoliberal regimes. Americans could learn from Egypt.
Indeed, there are signs that they already are doing so. Wisconsin teachers protesting against their governorâ€™s attempts to remove the right to collective bargaining have carried signs equating Mubarak with their governor. Egyptians might well say to America ‘uqbalak (may you be the next).
‘Abu Atris’ is the pseudonym for a writer working in Egypt. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Robert Burns — 1785
(February 23, 2011) — No matter how hard we try, no one can control the future, and we cannot assume the future will be like the present.
Woodrow Wilson signed the law that established the Federal Reserve. He later rightly lamented having done so. He writes, “I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”
Oh, how right he is, and oh, the mischief the FED has wrought! But establishing the FED must have seemed right to Wilson when he signed the law.
Harry Truman had similar qualms about the CIA.
[I]t has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency. . . . assuming the President himself possesses a knowledge of our history, a sensitive understanding of our institutions, and an insight into the needs and aspirations of the people, he needs . . . the most accurate and up-to-the-minute information on what is going on everywhere in the world, and particularly of the trends and developments in all the danger spots. . . . every President has available to him all the information gathered by the many intelligence agencies already in existence. . . .
But their collective information reached the President all too frequently in conflicting conclusions. At times, the intelligence reports tended to be slanted to conform to established positions of a given department. . . .
Therefore, I decided to set up a special organization charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without department “treatment” or interpretations.
I wanted and needed the information in its “natural raw” state and in as comprehensive a volume as it was practical. . . . But the most important thing about this move was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisionsâ€”and I thought it was necessary that the President do his own thinking and evaluating. . . .
For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.
I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue. . . .
I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment . . . and that its operational duties be terminated. . . .
We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.
Of course, nobody paid any attention. And oh, the mischief the CIA has wrought!
The problem is that what seems like a good idea to someone with pristine motives turns into something horrid when placed in the hands of someone else. Those pristine motives Gang aft agley.” So it is with what has come to be known as executive privilege.
Executive privilege is the claim made by members of the executive branch that they can refuse to comply with certain subpoenas and other requests from the legislature and courts, but executive privilege is not mentioned in the Constitution. Some claim the privilege is a form of the common-law principle of deliberative process privilege whose roots are often traced to English Crown Privilege. Viewed that way, it is clearly a monarchial attribute that is distinctly antidemocratic. But the Supreme Court has validated it.
In US v. Nixon, Chief Justice Burger writes: “Whatever the nature of the privilege of confidentiality of Presidential communications in the exercise of Art. II powers, the privilege can be said to [emphasis mine] derive from the supremacy of each branch within its own assigned area of constitutional duties.
“Certain powers and privileges flow from the nature of enumerated powers; the protection of the confidentiality of Presidential communications has similar constitutional underpinnings.” No one, it seems, noticed that “can be said to” is not synonymous with “is.”
Chief Justice Burger further writes,
“In United States v. Reynolds . . . the Court said:
It may be possible to satisfy the court, from all the circumstances of the case, that there is a reasonable danger that compulsion of the evidence will expose military matters which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged. When this is the case, the occasion for the privilege is appropriate, and the court should not jeopardize the security which the privilege is meant to protect by insisting upon an examination of the evidence, even by the judge alone, in chambers.”
Mr. Burger seems not to have noticed that he gave the executive branch the combination to the safe in this passage. From this point on, all the executive branch has to do to sustain a claim of executive privilege is to say that complying with the subpoena or request would entail a reasonable danger that military matters would be exposed or the nation’s security would be impaired. These claims have now become standard practice.
Until the end of World War II, assertions of executive privilege were rare. In 1796, George Washington refused to comply with a request from the House of Representatives for documents related to the negotiation of the Jay Treaty. The Senate alone plays a role in the ratification of treaties, Washington reasoned, and therefore the House had no legitimate claim to the material. So Washington provided the documents to the Senate but not the House.
Thomas Jefferson asserted the privilege in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. The Court denied it and he complied with the Court’s order.
But from 1947-49, several major security cases arose. A series of investigations followed, ending with the Hiss-Chambers case of 1948. At that point, the Truman Administration issued a sweeping secrecy order blocking congressional efforts from FBI and other executive data on security problems. Security files were moved to the White House and administration officials were banned from testifying before Congress on security issues.
During the Armyâ€“McCarthy hearings in 1954, Eisenhower used executive privilege to forbid the “provision of any data about internal conversations, meetings, or written communication among staffers, with no exception to topics or people.” Department of Defense employees were also instructed not to testify on any such conversations or produce any such documents.
The reasoning behind the order was that there was a need for “candid” exchanges among executive employees in giving “advice” to one another. Eisenhower made the claim 44 times between 1955 and 1960.
The Supreme Court has validated such claims saying there is a “valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties” and that “[h]uman experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interests to the detriment of the decisionmaking process.”
In 1998, President Bill Clinton became the first President since Nixon to assert executive privilege and lose when a Federal judge ruled that Clinton aides could be called to testify in the Lewinsky scandal.
The George W. Bush administration invoked executive privilege on numerous occasions. So has the Obama administration. Executive privilege has now become a tool for not only protecting military secrets and other secrets the revelation of which would endanger the nation’s security, but a way of covering up executive branch wrongdoing.
Nixon tried to use executive privilege in an unsuccessful attempt to cover up his administration’s complicity in the Watergate break in. Clinton attempted to use executive privilege to cover up his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush asserted executive privilege to deny disclosure of details about the scandal involving the FBI’s misuse of organized-crime informants and Justice Department deliberations about President Bill Clinton’s fundraising tactics, none of which had anything to do with national security or military secrets.
And now it is reported that the Justice Department has in the last few months gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of some software technology out of court because the details if revealed would threaten national security. But others involved in the case say that what the government is trying to avoid is public embarrassment over evidence that the software’s designer bamboozled federal officials.
Huge conspiracies aren’t what destroys people’s freedom, they are too easy to undo. The accumulation of errors, failed policies, and little and big unfairnesses destroy it. It happens because The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley,/ An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.
The FED, CIA, Executive Privilege, The Patriot Act, Homeland Security, and more, by themselves, are bad but not disastrous. Together, however, they are the tools of tyranny that are tyrannizing America, because they provide people who are not answerable to the people with powers that can be and often are abused. It happens because those who implement ideas that seem sound never ask what happens when the powers these ideas entail fall into the hands of the unscrupulous.
The insidiousness of these tyrannical tools is that they can exist amid the trappings of democracy, along with political parties and regular elections. The result is a tyrannical nation masquerading as a democracy.
All of these agencies as part of the executive branch act secretly. And we have forgotten that, “Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government.” — Jeremy Bentham
John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who writes on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the US Army during the Korean War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on http://www.jkozy.com/ and he can be emailed from that site’s homepage.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization.
(c) Copyright John Kozy, Global Research, 2011
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
LONDON (February 24, 2011) — Empires can collapse in the course of a generation. At the end of the 16th century, the Spanish looked dominant. Twenty-five years later, they were on their knees, over-extended, bankrupt, and incapable of coping with the emergent maritime powers of Britain and Holland. The British empire reached its fullest extent in 1930. Twenty years later, it was all over.
Today, it is reasonable to ask whether the United States, seemingly invincible a decade ago, will follow the same trajectory. America has suffered two convulsive blows in the last three years. The first was the financial crisis of 2008, whose consequences are yet to be properly felt. Although the immediate cause was the debacle in the mortgage market, the underlying problem was chronic imbalance in the economy.
For a number of years, America has been incapable of funding its domestic programmes and overseas commitments without resorting to massive help from China, its global rival. China has a pressing motive to assist: it needs to sustain US demand in order to provide a market for its exports and thus avert an economic crisis of its own. This situation is the contemporary equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the doctrine which prevented nuclear war breaking out between America and Russia.
Unlike MAD, this pact is unsustainable. But Barack Obama has not sought to address the problem. Instead, he responded to the crisis with the same failed policies that caused the trouble in the first place: easy credit and yet more debt. It is certain that America will, in due course, be forced into a massive adjustment both to its living standards at home and its commitments abroad.
This matters because, following the second convulsive blow, Americaâ€™s global interests are under threat on a scale never before seen. Since 1956, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pulled the plug on Britain and France over Suez, the Arab world has been a US domain.
At first, there were promises that it would tolerate independence and self-determination. But this did not last long; America chose to govern through brutal and corrupt dictators, supplied with arms, military training and advice from Washington.
The momentous importance of the last few weeks is that this profitable, though morally bankrupt, arrangement appears to be coming to an end. One of the choicest ironies of the bloody and macabre death throes of the regime in Libya is that Colonel Gaddafi would have been wiser to have stayed out of the US sphere of influence. When he joined forces with George Bush and Tony Blair five years ago, the ageing dictator was leaping on to a bandwagon that was about to grind to a halt.
In Washington, President Obama has not been stressing this aspect of affairs. Instead, after hesitation, he has presented the recent uprisings as democratic and even pro-American, indeed a triumph for the latest methods of Western communication such as Twitter and Facebook. Many sympathetic commentators have therefore claimed that the Arab revolutions bear comparison with the 1989 uprising of the peoples of Eastern Europe against Soviet tyranny.
I would guess that the analogy is apt. Just as 1989 saw the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe, so it now looks as if 2011 will mark the removal of many of Americaâ€™s client regimes in the Arab world. It is highly unlikely, however, that events will thereafter take the tidy path the White House would prefer.
Far from being inspired by Twitter, a great many of Arab people who have driven the sensational events of recent weeks are illiterate. They have been impelled into action by mass poverty and unemployment, allied to a sense of disgust at vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption. It is too early to chart the future course of events with confidence, but it seems unlikely that these liberated peoples will look to Washington and New York as their political or economic model.
The great question is whether America will take its diminished status gracefully, or whether it will lash out, as empires in trouble are historically prone to do. Here the White House response gives cause for concern. American insensitivity is well demonstrated in the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA man who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore. Hillary Clinton is trying to bully Pakistan into awarding Davis diplomatic immunity. This is incredible behaviour, which shows that the US continues to regard itself as above the law. Were President Zardari, already seen by his fellow countrymen as a pro-American stooge, to comply, his government would almost certainly fall.
Or take President Obamaâ€™s decision last week to veto the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Even America itself accepts that these settlements are illegal. At a time when the Middle East is already mutinous, this course of action looks mad.
The biggest problem is that America wants democracy, but only on its own terms. A very good example of this concerns the election of a Hamas government in Gaza in 2006. This should have been a hopeful moment for the Middle East peace process: the election of a government with the legitimacy and power to end violence. But America refused to engage with Hamas, just as it has refused to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or to acknowledge the well-founded regional aspirations of Iran.
The history of the Arab world since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate in 1922 can be divided schematically into two periods: open colonial rule under the British and French, followed by Americaâ€™s invisible empire after the Second World War. Now we are entering a third epoch, when Arab nations, and in due course others, will assert their independence. It is highly unlikely that all of them will choose a path that the Americans want. From the evidence available, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are muddled and incapable of grasping the nature of current events.
This is where the British, who have deep historical connections with the region, and whose own loss of empire is still within living memory, ought to be able to offer wise and practical advice. So far the Prime Minister, a neophyte in foreign affairs, has not done so. His regional tour of Middle Eastern capitals with a caravan of arms dealers made sense only in terms of the broken settlement of the last 50 years.
His speeches might have been scripted by Tony Blair a decade ago, with the identical evasions and hypocrisies. There was no acknowledgment of the great paradigm shift in global politics.
The links between the US and British defence, security and foreign policy establishments are so close that perhaps it is no longer possible for any British government to act independently. When challenged, our ministers always say that we use our influence â€œbehind the scenesâ€ with American allies, rather than challenge them in the open.
But this, too, is a failed tactic. I am told, for example, that William Hague tried hard to persuade Hillary Clinton not to veto last weekâ€™s Security Council resolution, but was ignored. It is time we became a much more candid friend, because the world is changing faster than we know.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Global War on the Middle Class
Why I Support the People of Thompson, Canada — And You Should Too Michael Moore / Open Mike Blog & AlterNet
(February 25, 2011) — To people down here in the US, Thompson, Canada, and its fight with the Brazilian mining giant Vale may seem very far away.
(Don’t be embarrassed if you need a map to find Thompson, though — blame the US media, which will only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.)
Right now Thompson is fighting a frontline battle in a war that’s been raging for the past 30 years — the global war of the world’s rich on the middle class. It’s a war the people of Flint and all of Michigan know much too well. It’s a war going on right now in Wisconsin. And it’s a war where the middle class just won a round in Egypt. (You probably didn’t know — because the U.S. media was too busy telling you about Justin Bieber — that Gamal Mubarak, son of Egypt’s dictator and his chosen successor, worked for years for Bank of America.)
Here’s what’s happening in Thompson, and why it matters so much:
Canada isn’t like the United States — it’s still a first world country, where corporations are supposed to exist to benefit people, not the other way around. They don’t just have universal health care — they even have something called the Investment Canada Act, which says multinationals like Vale can only invest in Canadian industries if it will benefit all of Canada. I know, crazy!
The mine in Thompson used to be run by Inco, a Canadian corporation that made peace with unions and shared the wealth. When Vale bought Inco in 2006, they signed a contract with the government setting out what they would do to benefit Canadians.
Immediately afterward, Vale violated the contract and went on the attack — forcing miners in Sudbury, Ontario out on the longest strike in their history. And now in Thompson they’re trying to shut down the smelting and refining operations that have made the city a major economic hub of the province. Meanwhile, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper — think of George W. Bush with a Canadian accent — is actually helping Vale do this to their fellow citizens, with a giant $1 billion government loan which Vale is using to move jobs out of Thompson. Moreover, the largest institutional investor in Vale is Blackrock, an investment firm which in turn is owned by several of America’s bailed-out banks … including Bank of America.
So this is about one thing and one thing only: killing the social contract of Canada. Vale and the Harper government don’t want a future where Brazil gradually becomes more like Canada. Instead, they want a future where Canada becomes Brazil. And not just Canada: the corporations’ plan is that the Third World will become the Only World.
That’s why people everywhere need to support Thompson. As Niki Ashton — the MP who represents Thompson and the second-youngest woman ever elected to the Canadian Parliament — says: “It Was Flint Yesterday, It’s Us and Wisconsin Today, and Tomorrow It’s Going to Be Everyone.”
And that’s why I’m proud to feature Ashton and voices of the people of Thompson on my website. And it’s why I’m asking you to watch their powerful video (below), hear their stories, and share them with everyone you know.
Regular people across the world are standing up right now and saying “No!” to the future they have planned for us. We won in Egypt. We’re waking up and fighting back across the US. Let’s all stand with Thompson and make it the place where we turn the tide in this awful war. As Kamal Abbas, one of Egypt’s most important union leaders, said in a video message to Wisconsin: “We stand with you, as you stood with us.”
(Confidential to people of Thompson: we’re not saying Americans will only help if you promise to introduce us to Justin Bieber. We’re just saying, you know, it couldn’t hurt.)
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 19, 2011) — In March, 2002, American citizen Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago and publicly accused by then-Attorney-General John Ashcroft of being “The Dirty Bomber.” Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to a military brig in South Carolina, where he was held for almost two years completely incommunicado (charged with no crime and denied all access to the outside world, including even a lawyer) and was brutally tortured, both physically and psychologically.
All of this — including the torture — was carried out pursuant to orders from President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and other high-ranking officials. Just as the Supreme Court was about to hear Padilla’s plea to be charged or released — and thus finally decide if the President has the power to imprison American citizens on US soil with no charges of any kind — the Government indicted him in a federal court on charges far less serious than Ashcroft had touted years earlier, causing the Supreme Court to dismiss Padilla’s arguments as “moot”; Padilla was then convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Padilla — like so many other War on Terror detainees — has spent years in American courts trying unsuccessfully to hold accountable the high-level government officials responsible for his abuse and lawless imprisonment (which occurred for years prior to his indictment).
Not only has Padilla (and all other detainees) failed to obtain redress for what was done to them, but worse, they have been entirely denied even the right to have their cases heard in court. That’s because the US Government has invented — and federal courts have dutifully accepted — a whole slew of legal doctrines which have only one purpose: to insulate the country’s most powerful political officials from legal accountability even when they commit the most egregious crimes, such as imprisoning incommunicado and torturing an American citizen arrested and detained on US soil.
Yesterday, in South Carolina, an Obama-appointed federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Padilla against former Bush officials Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz and others. That suit alleges that those officials knowingly violated Padilla’s Constitutional rights by ordering his due-process-free detention and torture.
In dismissing Padilla’s lawsuit, the court’s opinion relied on the same now-depressingly-familiar weapons routinely used by our political class to immunize itself from judicial scrutiny: national security would be undermined by allowing Padilla to sue; “government officials could be distracted from their vital duties to attend depositions or respond to other discovery requests”; “a trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America’s present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges”; the litigation would risk disclosure of vital state secrets; and “discovery procedures could be used by our enemies to obtain valuable intelligence.”
In other words, our political officials are Too Important, and engaged in far Too Weighty Matters in Keeping Us Safe, to subject them to the annoyance of the rule of law. It’s much more important to allow them to Fight The Terrorists without restraints than to bother them with claims that they broke the law and violated the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.
That’s the mentality that has resulted in full-scale immunity for both political and now private-sector elites in a whole slew of lawbreaking scandals — from Obama’s refusal to investigate Bush-era crimes or high-level Wall Street criminality to retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms and legal protection for defrauding mortgage banks.
With very few exceptions — yesterday’s ruling, for instance, brushed aside a contrary decision from a Bush-43-appointed federal judge in California last year that refused to dismiss Padilla’s lawsuit against John Yoo for having authorized his torture (that decision is on appeal) — Executive Branch officials and the federal judiciary have conspired to ensure that the former are shielded from judicial scrutiny even for the most blatant and horrifying crimes.
There are legalistic questions involved in cases such as the one brought by Padilla — i.e., whether courts should allow monetary damages to be sought against government officials for Constitutional violations in the absence of a Congressional statute (a “Bivens” claim) and whether such officials should enjoy “qualified immunity” for their illegal acts where the illegality is unclear (as Rumsfeld absurdly alleged the torture of Padilla was) — but one key fact is not complex.
Not a single War on Terror detainee has been accorded any redress in American courts for the severe abuses to which they were subjected (including innocent people being detained for years, rendered and even tortured), and worse, no detainee has been allowed by courts even to have their claims heard.
After the US Government implemented a worldwide regime of torture, lawless detention, and other abuses, the doors of the American justice system have been slammed shut in the face of any and all victims seeking to have their rights vindicated or even their claims heard. If an American citizen can’t even sue political officials who lawlessly imprison and torture him in his own country — if political leaders are vested with immunity from a claim of this type — what rational person can argue that the rule of law or the Constitution binds our government officials?
In one sense, this is hardly surprising. As I’ve written about before — and as my forthcoming (September) book documents — we now have a multi-tiered justice system in the United States where citizens have their legal rights, obligations and punishments determined exclusively by their status and class.
Thus, someone like Jose Padilla, in the lowest class of literal non-person (accused Terrorist), has virtually no chance regardless of the merits of his claims against someone like Donald Rumsfeld, who resides in the highest and most privileged class (high-level political official). As Padilla’s counsel, Ben Wizner, said, the court yesterday ruled “that Donald Rumsfeld is above the law and Jose Padilla is beneath it.” That’s just what the American justice system is.
But compare the posture of the American justice system to those in other countries with regard to how victims of illegal War on Terror policies have been treated. Maher Arar — a Canadian citizen who was abducted by the US in 2002 at JFK Airport and sent to Syria to be tortured for ten months despite being innocent — had his case dismissed by American courts before it was even heard on the ground (raised by both the Bush and Obama DOJ) that vital state secrets would be jeopardized by allowing him his day in court; by stark contrast, the Canadian government published a comprehensive public report detailing its own culpable role (and that of the US) in his wrongful abduction, while the Canadian Prime Minister publicly apologized to Arar and announced that he would be paid $8.9 million in compensation for Canada’s role in what happened to him.
Binyam Mohamed — the British resident who was rendered to Morocco and then brutally tortured at Guantanamo — suffered the same treatment in American courts as Arar thanks to the Obama DOJ’s insistence that what was done to him was a “state secret”: his case was dismissed at the initial stage; by contrast, British courts repeatedly ruled in favor of his right to be heard in court, and in November, 2010, it was announced that the British government would pay him, along with 15 other Guantanamo detainees, several million dollars in damages. In January, 2011, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, Mamdouh Habib, reached a monetary settlement with the Australian government after winning the right to sue Australian officials in that nation’s court system for their collusion in his torture at Guantanamo and other locations. Similarly, numerous countries in both Eastern and Western Europe and elsewhere have probed and publicly accounted for their governments’ role in colluding with the US in abusing human rights over the last decade.
The US Government stands virtually alone in steadfastly blocking all such investigations even though it was the US in the lead in creating this torture and detention system. Indeed, the American political class barely bothers any longer with even the pretense of legal accountability. Each political party shields the other from any accountability in a ritual of lawlessness, while the courts concoct ever-new doctrines for shielding our political class from any legal scrutiny
Simultaneously, official Washington’s propagandists manufacture new terms to justify this elite immunity. The American Right has long referred to efforts to compel compliance by American political leaders with the law and Constitution as “lawfare,” which they define to mean thusly: “when enemies of the United States attempt to use US courts and legal protections to take action against those entrusted with defending the United States from national-security threats.”
Of course, whether someone is an actual “enemy” (as opposed to a wrongly accused one) can only be determined using “law.” Moreover, adopting this mindset by definition means vesting American leaders with the power to break the law. But those logical quandaries have never undermined this thinking.
This mentality now extends far beyond the American Right (those Reasonable Conservatives and Sober Centrists — Jack Goldsmith, Benjamin Wittes, and Robert Chesney — have even christened their War-on-Terror-venerating blog with that term, while it is this same mindset underlying Obama’s Look Forward, Not Backward decrees). In essence, the very idea that political leaders should be constrained by the Constitution and other law is derided as dangerous, leftist, divisive radicalism.
The contrast between how America’s War on Terror victims and abuses have been treated in the American justice system versus much of the rest of the world is instructive indeed. In those other places, at least some vestiges of the rule of law prevails. In the US, the rule of men does.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(February 25, 2011) — “What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-US or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” an American military official familiar with the decision told the Times. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”
The US military is pulling back most of its forces from the remote Pech Valley in Afghanistanâ€™s Kunar province, ground it once insisted was central to the war effort, the New York Times reported late Thursday.
The withdrawal formally began Feb. 15, the Times wrote. The military projects that it will take about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to more populated areas.
In April 2010, the US closed its outposts in the adjoining Korengal Valley because it was too violent and didnâ€™t seem to fit in with the overall counterinsurgency mission.
Now the Pech Valley outposts are being shuttered for much the same reason — the population in the Pech is too small to spend time trying to win hearts and minds and the insurgent resistance is too strong to justify the modest military gains.
And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valleyâ€™s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.
Stars and Stripes reporter James Foley embedded with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment in the Pech Valley in late 2010 while a freelance reporter for the GlobalPost.
In September, Lt. Col. Joe Ryan talked about the frustrations and doubtful utility of fighting in Pech.
“My theory, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s too outlandish, is that we provide all these insurgent groups with a common enemy, that helps them,” Ryan said in a video interview from FOB Blessing. “Our presence almost helps them combine their forces, combine their efforts against us,” he said…..
Ultimately, the decision to withdraw reflected a stark — and controversial — internal assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the high valley in the first place.
“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really arenâ€™t anti-US or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” an American military official familiar with the decision told the Times. “Our presence is whatâ€™s destabilizing this area.”….
Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak, who is in Washington for high-level meetings, expressed concern about what would happen if US troops left long-established bases in the Pech Valley.
“It will be difficult for Afghans to hold these areas on their own,” Wardak told The Washington Post. â€œThe terrain there is very tough. “I personally fought against the Soviets in that area.”
Afghans see the Pech Valley and surrounding Kunar province as key terrain because the insurgency against the Soviets in the 1980s first gained significant momentum in those areas. “We have to be very careful in how we manage this area,” Wardak said.
American forces first came to the valley in force in 2003, The Times wrote, following the trail of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami group, who, like other prominent insurgent leaders, has been said at different times to hide in Kunar. They did not find him, though Hezb-i-Islami is active in the valley.
The New York Times, The Washington Post and Stars and Stripes reporter James Foley contributed to this report.
Deaths at Sea Are Reflection of Failed Policy Editorial / Los Angeles Times
Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., lived a life many would envy, until it was cut short Tuesday by a band of Somali pirates. They had spent most of the past decade on their yacht, Quest, sailing to exotic locales and were on a trip from Thailand to the Mediterranean with another couple, Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle of Seattle, when their boat was intercepted off the coast of Oman. All four were shot to death Tuesday by their captors after negotiations with US naval officials for their release apparently broke down.
Pirates plying the seas off Somalia have been a scourge of international shipping for years, but this week’s slayings mark the deadliest incident yet involving Americans. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on foreign governments to contribute more toward the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Solutions to that country’s piracy and governance problems are elusive, but the peacekeeping effort backed by Clinton isn’t working, and US policy toward Somalia could stand another look.
Tempting as it is to call for more naval involvement, it’s clear that a purely military approach won’t cut it. To avoid the US 5th Fleet and other international warships plying the waters near Somalia, pirates are simply ranging farther afield; the seas between Somalia and India are too vast to be effectively patrolled.
Meanwhile, every effort by the United States to intervene in Somali affairs since 1993, when the Clinton administration’s attempts to subdue Mogadishu’s warlords ended in the catastrophe chronicled in the film ‘Black Hawk Down,’ has backfired spectacularly.
The latest failed initiative is the so-called Transitional Federal Government, a United Nations fiction that controls a few square blocks in Mogadishu. The United States has invested millions of dollars arming a peacekeeping force to protect the TFG, which has little public support and is widely viewed by Somalis as an invading foreign force. Bronwyn E. Bruton, an Africa scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations, argues convincingly that the TFG is not only failing to spread democracy and the rule of law, it is actually strengthening radical Islamist movements by prompting quarrelsome extremist groups to unite against a common enemy.
Bronwyn’s proposed solution is ‘constructive disengagement,’ in which the US stops backing a failed U.N. experiment and vows to engage with any government that emerges, including an Islamist one, as long as it renounces international terrorism and agrees not to interfere with humanitarian relief workers. A government with a measure of legitimacy is far likelier to stabilize Somalia than the current puppet regime, even if it’s not as secular as we’d like.
The high-seas shoot-out that left four Americans dead after their yacht was hijacked in the Indian Ocean was provoked by the US navy’s intervention, Somali pirates said on Wednesday.
The US military said that four Americans onboard a yacht sailing from India to Djibouti captured on Friday had been killed by their pirate captors on Tuesday.
“We got information that the American hostages were killed after the US navy stormed the yacht,” a senior commander from the pirate lair of Garacad, in Somalia’s northern self-declared state of Puntland, said.
“They tried to rescue the hostages but unfortunately heavy gunfire was exchanged and they (the hostages) died as a result,” the pirate, who asked to be named only as Ali, told AFP. He did not further elaborate on the exact circumstances of the four hostages’ deaths.
According to Vice Admiral Mark Fox, head of the US Naval Forces Central Command based in Bahrain, two of the pirates had been brought onboard a nearby US warship to conduct negotiations to free the hostages.
Then Tuesday morning, with “absolutely no warning,” the pirates launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the warship, the USS Sterett, though several Somalis also raised their arms in surrender on the yacht’s deck, Fox said.
US Special Forces raced to the yacht on small boats. By the time they boarded, they heard gunfire and saw that all four Americans had been shot, Fox said. They died after efforts to treat them failed. He said two pirates were killed in the assault.
Abdi Yare, a top commander in Hobyo, currently the main piracy hub in Somalia, rejected the US military’s version of events, stressing that pirates have only ever been after ransoms and never shoot their hostages unprovoked.
“We are very surprised by the news of the hostages’ death,” he told AFP by phone, adding that a scenario in which the hostages were killed by US bullets should not be ruled out.
“What I know is that pirates would never gun down their hostages without a reason and it can’t be ruled out that they were caught in the crossfire,” said the pirate boss. “The Americans have attempted reckless rescue operations before and now they have done it again,” he said.
Most of the hundreds of hijackings that have occurred off the Somali coast over the past three years have been resolved through the payment of a ransom, albeit after sometimes protracted negotiations.
The US said on Wednesday that it may bring the 15 Somali pirates to US courts for prosecution over the killings. The US military said it would hold the pirates at sea until the Justice Department decides what to do in the case, which has led to calls by top US leaders to step up the fight against piracy.
“We will continue to hold them until new determinations are made,” said Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. “It has happened in the past before that we’ve had prosecution here in the US of pirates, so that’s certainly one of the options,” he said.
Just last week, a US judge sentenced a teenage Somali pirate to nearly 34 years in prison for his part in the 2009 hijacking of another US ship, the Maersk Alabama.
That incident had a more successful outcome for US special forces, who freed the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, in an operation that killed three pirates.
In another deadly military intervention, French forces launched a commando operation to free a yacht held by pirates in 2009 and rescued a small child and his mother but killed his father.
The multi-billion-dollar naval deployments in the region have failed to stem piracy, which is currently at an all-time high, with more than 40 vessels and 800 hostages in pirate hands.
According to Ecoterra International, an NGO monitoring maritime activity in the region, many more yachts are currently waiting for a safe opportunity to cross the Indian Ocean.
The Dutch organisers of a Thailand-to-Turkey convoy of some 30 yachts have complained that their demands for naval protection have been either rejected or ignored. They argued that the death of the four Americans was also the result of the world’s anti-piracy operations neglecting the yachting community.
Tactics Questioned in Deadly Negotiation with Pirates McClatchy Newspapers
US negotiators told pirates holding four American hostages off the coast of Somalia that they would not be allowed to go ashore with their captives, US officials said, one of several moves that heightened pressure on the pirates before the hostages were killed Tuesday.
The warning that the US intended to block the pirates from taking the hostages onto Somali soil was communicated early in the four-day standoff as Navy ships shadowed the 58-foot yacht carrying the 19 Somalis and their prisoners, the officials said. “The thought was, if these guys succeed in getting the hostages to shore, we have almost no leverage anymore,” said a US defense official.
Another official called the decision not to allow the hostages to be taken to Somalia as “nonnegotiable.” More than 700 hostages of various nationalities are currently being held on shore by pirates demanding ransom.
It remains a mystery what caused the outbreak of gunfire aboard the yacht that resulted in the shooting deaths of the two couples, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle of Seattle. US officials have played down the possibility that their negotiating tactics may have contributed to the deadly outcome.
Experts in hostage negotiations endorsed the decision to block the American from being taken off the yacht, saying it is always important in such situations not to let hostages be moved to a new location where recovering them would be more difficult. “One of the goals is always to contain a situation as best you can,” said Stephen Romano, a retired FBI hostage negotiator.
But several experts questioned whether the US negotiators went too far in boxing in the pirates, which raised tension in an already fraught situation. An alternative might have been for the Navy not to tell the pirates that it intended to prevent the hostages from being removed.
“You never want to say no to a hostage-taker,” said Dan O’Shea, a former Navy Seal who was a hostage negotiator at the US Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 to 2006. “They are already on edge. It wouldn’t take a lot to put somebody over the edge.”
Along with the warning that they would be blocked from moving the hostages, the US negotiators, including a representative from the FBI, detained two of the Somalis who came aboard the USS Sterett to discuss a resolution of the crisis. The US decided that the two pirates were “not serious” about negotiating and refused to permit them to return to the yacht, US officials said.
The decision to detain the two pirates was first reported by The New York Times.
The four-day standoff came to a head Tuesday morning when a team of 15 Navy SEALs boarded the yacht after the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an American warship and gunfire broke out aboard the yacht. They found four hostages already fatally shot. Four of the 19 pirates were also killed.
Suddenly, a Rise in Piracyâ€™s Price Jeffrey Gettleman / The New York Times
For years, the infant American government, along with many others, had accepted the humiliating practice of paying tribute — essentially mob-style protection fees — to a handful of rulers in the Barbary states so that American ships crossing the Mediterranean would not get hijacked. But in 1801, Tripoliâ€™s pasha, Yusuf Karamanli, tried to jack up his prices. Jefferson said no. And when the strongman turned his pirates loose on American ships, Jefferson sent in the Navy to bombard Tripoli, starting a war that eventually brought the Barbary states to their knees. Rampant piracy went to sleep for nearly 200 years.
The question now is: Are we nearing another enough-is-enough moment with pirates?
On Tuesday, Somali pirates shot and killed four American hostages. A single hostage intentionally killed by these pirates had been almost unheard of; four dead was unprecedented. Until now, the first thing that came to mind about Somaliaâ€™s buccaneers was that they were brash and mercurial. Just a few weeks ago they let go some Sri Lankan fishermen after they essentially said, “Youâ€™re poor, like us.” They were seen as a nuisance, albeit an expensive one, but not a lethal threat.
Exactly what happened Tuesday is still murky. Pirates in the Arabian Sea had hijacked a sailboat skippered by a retired couple from California, and when the American Navy closed in, the pirates got twitchy. Navy Seals rushed aboard but it was too late. It’s still not clear why the pirates would want to kill the hostages when their business model, which has raked in more than $100 million in the past few years, is based on ransoming captives alive.
“Of course, I do not know what the US will do in response to this latest atrocity,” said Frank Lambert, a professor at Purdue who is an expert on the Barbary pirates. But, he said, â€œJefferson advocated an armed response and eventually war against Tripoli for far less provocation.”
For years now, Somali pirates with fiberglass skiffs and salt-rusted Kalashnikovs have been commandeering ships along one of the most congested shipping routes in the world — the Gulf of Aden, a vital conduit for Middle East oil to Europe and the United States. More than 50 vessels are now held captive, from Thai fishing trawlers to European supertankers, with more than 800 hostages. Those numbers grow each year.
But the international response has been limited, partly because the most promising remedies are intensely complicated and risky. Western powers, including the United States, have sent warships to cruise Somaliaâ€™s coast and discourage attacks.
When a vessel is hijacked, ship owners cough up a ransom, nowadays in the neighborhood of $5 million, and most of that cost gets passed to the end user — consumers. Until recently, most hostages would emerge unharmed, albeit skinny and pale from being locked in a filthy room. The average time in captivity is around six months.
But recently the pirates have been getting more vicious; reports have emerged of beatings, of being hung upside down, even of being forced at gunpoint to join in raids. And now the pirates have gunned down four Americans.
“I think there’s going to be some type of retaliation,” said a European diplomat in Nairobi, Kenya, who trades ideas on anti-piracy strategies with other diplomats and was instructed not to speak publicly about the issues. “I could see the Americans going after the pirate bosses, the organizers, maybe even blockade some of the ports that they use,” he speculated. “I don’t think the Americans are going to invade Somalia, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, but they can use local allies.” Another obvious possibility would be American Special Forces, who have killed terrorism suspects in Somalia.
The American government isn’t revealing its plans but officials suggest — as long as they are not quoted by name — that the killings of the four Americans could be a game-changer. “We get it,” said one State Department official. “We get the need to recalibrate.”
Any course of action, however, will confront two huge obstacles: the immensity of the sea and the depth of chaos in Somalia.
The pirates used to stick relatively close to Somaliaâ€™s shores. But now, using “mother ships” — hijacked vessels that serve as floating bases — they attack ships more than 1,000 miles away. Sometimes that puts them closer to India than to home. The red zone now covers more than one million square miles of water, an area naval officers say is impossible to control.
Piracy Inc. is a sprawling operation on land, too. It offers work to tens of thousands of Somalis — middle-managers, translators, bookkeepers, mechanics, gunsmiths, guards, boat builders, women who sell tea to pirates, others who sell them goats. In one of the poorest lands on earth, piracy isnâ€™t just a business; it’s a lifeline.
And this gets to the real problem.
“The root cause is state failure,” the American official said. Somalia’s central government collapsed more than 20 years ago, and now its landscape includes droughts, warlords, fighters allied to Al Qaeda, and malnutrition, suffering and death on a scale unseen just about anywhere else.
The United States and other Western powers are pouring millions of dollars into Somalia’s transitional government, an appointed body with little legitimacy on the ground, in the hope, perhaps vain, that it can rebuild the worldâ€™s most failed state and create an economy based on something like fishing or livestock. Young men then might be able to earn a living doing something other than sticking up ships.
But the transitional government has been divided, feckless and corrupt. Islamist rebels control much of the country. Few Somalis think the nation will stop being a war zone any time soon.
The shipping industry seems to know this.
“Until things change on land, you have to come down very hard on them at sea,” said Cyrus Mody, manager of the International Maritime Bureau in London.
Shipping companies are frustrated, he said, because while many pirates are apprehended at sea by foreign navies, the vast majority are typically released unless they are caught in the act of a hijacking a ship — which is a very narrow window because once pirates control a vessel, it’s extremely dangerous to intervene.
“The laws have to be amended,” Mr. Mody said. “Why would a skiff be 800 miles off Somalia with a rocket-propelled grenade, a ladder and extra barrels of fuel? What are they doing? Fishing? These people need to be arrested and prosecuted.”
The last resort is military action. Many people ask: Why not storm ashore and attack the pirate bases? These dens are well known. I even visited one last year and met a pirate boss who was using millions of dollars in ransoms to build a land-based army that at first glance looked more disciplined and better equipped than Somalia’s national army.
But the military option would not be pretty. The 800 or so captured seamen could be used as human shields. And no Western country has shown an appetite to send troops to Somalia, not after the Black Hawk Down fiasco of 1993, when ragtag Somali militiamen downed two American helicopters and killed 18 elite American troops. And a military attack could easily backfire.
“They might kill a few pirates, but more would certainly spring up to replace them,” said Bronwyn Bruton, who wrote a widely discussed essay on Somalia. “The replacements would probably be even angrier and more violent.” In her essay, she advised the international community to essentially pull out and let Somalis sort out their problems on their own.
She added that collateral damage from a raid could be severe and “a lot of civilian casualties could actually wind up aggravating a much bigger security threat to the US — terrorism.”
So it seems that Jefferson may have had an easier piracy problem to solve.
“I can offer a couple thoughts based on the US’s dealing with pirates more than 200 years ago,” Mr. Lambert said. “If the US response is a vigorous military response, it is likely to be difficult, costly, and prolonged” — a reference to the war that followed bombardment of the coast.
But, he warned, “If it is a continuation of the present policy (whatever that is), it is almost a certainty that we will see more or perhaps escalated atrocities.”
Piracy Watch: Monitoring the East African Indian Ocean ECOTERRA International
ECOTERRA Intl. is an international nature protection and human rights organization, whose Africa offices in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania also monitor the marine and maritime situation along the East African Indian Ocean coasts as well as the Gulf of Aden. ECOTERRA is working in Somalia since 1986 and does focus in its work against piracy mainly on coastal development, marine protection and pacification. ECOP-marine (www.ecop.info) is an ECOTERRA group committed to fight against all forms of crime on the waters. Both stand firm against illegal fishing as well as against marine overexploitation and pollution.
N.B.: This status report is mainly for the next of kin of seafarers held hostage, who often do not get any information from the ship-owners or their governments, and shall serve as well as clearing-house for the media. Unless otherwise stated it is for educational purposes only. Request for further details can be e-mailed to: somalia[at]ecoterra.net (you have to verify your mail). Our reporting without fear or favour is based on integrity and independence.
Witnesses and whistle-blowers with proper information concerning naval operations and atrocities, acts of piracy or other crimes on the seas around the Horn of Africa, hostage case backgrounds and especially concerning illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping or pollution by ships as well as any environmental information, can call our 24h numbers and e-mail confidentially or even anonymously or to email@example.com and also can request a PGP key for secure transmission.
KEEP US STRONG AND INDEPENDENT! Support-fund offers to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only with your help and the support of clean money from honest sponsors we can continue our independent research, unbiased information dissemination and awareness creation as well as to achieve the envisioned impact with hands-on projects directly up front and on the ground.
sms or call: +254-719-603-176 / +254-714-747-090
East Africa ILLEGAL FISHING AND WASTE DUMPING HOTLINE:
+254-714-747-090 (confidentiality guaranteed) – email: office[at]ecoterra.net
MEDIAL ASSISTANCE RADIO
(MAR) network on 14,332.0 USB every day from 07h30 UTC to 08h00 UTC