The Army Just Spent $1 Billion On These Unmanned Robo-Copters
(Built by Northrop Grumman) Robert Johnson / Business Insider
(August 18, 2011) — Intending to buy at least 100 unmanned helicopters, the US Army will spend at least $1 billion on a project slated to start early next year. According to Wired [see next story], the new choppers will be fitted with air-to-ground-missiles after one of their number became the first NATO casualty in Libya.
(August 18, 2011) — America’s only combat casualty in Libya had no way of defending itself, when it was taken out by a heavy anti-aircraft weapon in late June. But that’s about to change. After spending the last few months chasing pirates in the Indian Ocean, watching over troops in Afghanistan, and flying into a pro-regime stronghold in Libya, the US Navy’s Fire Scout robotic helicopter is poised to start test-firing rockets. By the end of next year, the drone should be fully weaponized, and ready to shoot back if it gets attacked.
It’s another step forward for the Fire Scout, the once star-crossed robo-copter that’s quickly becoming a favorite tool of the Navy, despite years of uneven history and despite a recent Pentagon test report which said the drone was missing its missions as often as it was completing them.
On June 21st, the USS. Halyburton dispatched one of its two Fire Scouts to a known stronghold of forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The unmanned helo flew over the hostile zone, snapping video as it went and beaming the footage back to the ship. The Fire Scouts had flown as many as 15 such missions over Libya before. But this one was different. This time, the video suddenly stopped. The robo-copter’s wreckage was quickly paraded on Al Jazeera.
An inquiry later concluded that the whirly-bot had been shot down. Today, Rear Admiral Bill Shannon, the Navy officer in charge of unmanned aviation, added a bit more detail, noting that a heavy anti-aircraft weapon brought the 2,000-pound ‘bot out of the sky.
“This was not small-arms fire. There were large weapons in the area,” he told reporters at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington. “Looking at the intel, there wasn’t anything we would’ve put in there that wouldn’t have been at high risk.”
That ended the most dangerous mission so far for the Fire Scout fleet. But it’s not the only combat patrol the robotic rotocraft has conducted, of late. In Afghanistan, three Fire Scouts flew 950 hours out of a remote base in Kunduz province over the last seven months. Lately, they’ve spent more time in the air, logging north of 400 hours per month, while a team of 20 Northrop Grumman contractors and seven sailors fly and maintain the vehicles.
It’s a big crew, especially at a relatively small forward operating base. And the Fire Scout only flies for five hours at a time — peanuts compared to the near day-long missions of the Reaper robotic plane. But, unlike the Reaper, the Fire Scout doesn’t need a big runway to take off or land. Which makes it more attractive to commanders at somewhat remote outposts.
Or on ships. Another pair of Fire Scouts, on board the Halyburton, saw action from the Indian Ocean to the Straits of Hormuz to the southern Mediterranean. The copters tracked suspected pirates, and watched over a Yemeni fishing boat that had been stranded at sea for 10 days, until the Halyburton‘s crew could come over to help. All in all, the drones ran 126 missions and flew for 436 hours.
Exactly how many of those missions were productive is a matter of some dispute. According to a damning report from the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, the Fire Scouts only managed to complete half of their missions while on the Halyburton, and came up short in all 10 of their trial runs at home before the copters were shipped off to Afghanistan. In one particularly unnerving incident, the drone’s remote pilot accidentally started the self-destruct countdown counter with a single keystroke.
Shannon said that incident — and the whole report — were overblown. The drone was never in danger of committing hari-kiri. Yes, the Fire Scout still has issues with the data links between the copter and its operators. But the report’s standard for success and failure is all wrong. A relatively minor screw-up could lead to the mission being classified as a complete flop.
“If I’m out on a five-hour mission, and on the return home, there’s a 10-minute drop-out in the video — to call that an incomplete mission, that defies common sense,” he added.
Shannon’s confident enough in the copters that the Navy has asked Congress for the money to nearly double its order of Fire Scouts, to 57. The Navy could provide an additional 28 upgraded Fire Scouts to Special Operations Command over the next three years. And in the next few weeks, the Fire Scout — first envisioned as an armed drone, back in the late 90s — is going to start firing weapons again.
The first tests will be with the laser-guided Griffin missile, which carries at 13-pound warhead. Trials with the 2.75-inch rockets of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System are expected to follow. 18 months from now, if all goes according to plan, the Fire Scout will be once again on combat missions — this time, fully armed.
Drone Copter Flops Half Its Missions; Navy Still Wants More Spencer Ackerman / DangerRoom, Wired Magazine
(July 12, 2011) — The Navy absolutely loves its robotic helicopter. In Latin American waters, the copter hovers above suspected drug smugglers to alert Navy ships about illicit cargo. The Pentagon is dead set on purchasing way more of them. Only one problem: the copter isn’t that hot at what’s supposed to be its primary task: surveillance. During a recent tour on USS. Halyburton, the Fire Scout robocopter only managed to complete 54 percent of its missions.
Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B Fire Scout is a spy drone that can lift off from a ship’s deck. Its modular suite of cameras, sensors and radar allow the Navy to customize it to collect the intelligence that sailors want relayed back to station. Though it took a long time to find its purpose, the Fire Scout’s ability to take off and land on a moving ship make it undeniably attractive to the Navy, though it’s not cheap: each copter costs $9 million. (A Predator costs $20 million for four planes, a ground control station and a satellite link.)
But Fire Scout doesn’t make any sense if it can’t get its intelligence back to the ship ASAP. And that’s the problem, according to the Pentagon’s testing chief.
The Fire Scout can’t be trusted to “provide time-sensitive support to ground forces,” assessed Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of test and evaluation, in a June 24 report obtained by InsideDefense. Its data links are “fragile.” Launches get delayed because of the time it takes to get the Fire Scout talking to the ground control station. In other words, if you use the Fire Scout for intel, get ready to waitâ€¦ and waitâ€¦ and wait for your imagery.
To some degree, the Navy didn’t need Gilmore’s report for a warning. Days before its issue, the Navy lost contact with one of its Fire Scouts above Libya, making it an early US casualty war. The same thing happened during a test last year in Maryland. And while the Navy hyped the Fire Scout’s performance aboard the USS. Halyburton early this year, Gilmore notes that copter flubbed 46 percent of its missions.
Yet the Navy is stuck on the Fire Scout. It asked Congress this year to increase funding by $46 million and requested to nearly double its purchases to 57 of the copters. It sent Fire Scouts to Afghanistan to hunt for homemade bombs. The next big idea is to send Fire Scouts out with SEALs — who already have access to a different kind of spy drone.
What’s more, Northrop is already looking to upgrade the drone to the Fire-X, which will increase the copter’s flight time, payload and speed. Only one problem there: “97 percent of its software is rehosted” on the Fire-X, Northrop’s George Vardoulakis boasted at a Navy confab in April. After Gilmore’s report, that sounds more like a liability than a virtue.
(August 17, 2011) — Through lack of testing, hurried production, and a general rush to production over five million pieces of body armor worth $2.5 billion went to soldiers between 2004 and 2006 that may well have been useless.
According to the Associated Press, these new findings come after a New York Times story showed 80 percent of marines serving in Iraq shot or hit with shrapnel in the upper body died when their armor failed.
US ground troops rely on two ceramic plates, inserted into a ballistic vest to protect their torso from injury. According to a 51-page Pentagon report, officials can’t say for sure whether the 5.1 million ceramic inserts provided any protection at all.
It’s a story that’s been told among military families for years, with reports in USA Today from 2004 showing servicemembers buying their own armor to protect themselves.
(January 26, 2010) — David Brooks, a founder and former chief executive officer of military contractor DHB Industries Inc., committed a $185 million fraud and looted the company to pay for personal expenses, a prosecutor told jurors at a trial.
Brooks and former Chief Operating Officer Sandra Hatfield are accused of insider trading as well as securities fraud and tax, wire and mail fraud for manipulating financial records to increase DHBâ€™s reported earnings and profits. DHB, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, and now called Point Blank Solutions Inc., makes body armor for the military and police.
(July 20, 2011) — Less than two months after the USS San Antonio was finally declared fit for duty, all four of its engines are experiencing problems, forcing it to be once again pulled from service. The $2 billion San Antonio has been plagued by problems since being commissioned, and has been out of fleet rotation for years.
A first-in-its-class, 700-foot amphibious transport, the vessel was built by Northrop Grumman and delivered to the Navy in 2005.
According to the Hampton Pilot, the ship’s first and only deployment three years ago included a week-long rest in Bahrain for emergency engine repairs and a near miss with a ship in the Suez Canal.
Problems have occurred in nearly every portion of the ship, but the engines have been stricken hardest and the Navy cancelled its contract with Earl Industries LLC over its failure to get the San Antonio running properly.
The vessel came in at $840 million over budget and when delivered, was incomplete. Admiral J.C. Harvey issued a statement from US Fleet: In a rush to get SAN ANTONIO‘s operational capabilities to the Fleet, we overlooked a lot of very critical issues and accepted a ship that was only 90% complete and ultimately did not meet the standards of quality our Sailors and Marines need and expect of a US Navy ship.
The Navy is speaking optimistically about this round of repairs and says the ship will be ready for its 20-week pre-deployment training in August.
Newer ships in the San Antonio class are also afflicted by problems, but to a much lesser extent.
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NEW YORK (October 27, 2011) — It has been a big month for Predator drones.
On Friday, September 30, Anwar al-Awlaki — described variously in the press as “Senior Al Qaeda leader,” “firebrand cleric,” and “Al Qaeda’s rising star” — was killed by a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone as al-Awlaki approached his Toyota Hilux pickup truck in eastern Yemen. The missile weighed 100 pounds, and the strike took place at 9:44 a.m.; al-Awlaki had just eaten breakfast.
These details, and many others, were reported immediately around the world. The Guardian ran a helpful sketch of a drone, accompanied by the text, “Al-Awlaki’s position was tracked for several days before the attack on his vehicle by a drone armed with Hellfire missiles.”
Page three of the New York Post was even more informative. It included a map, a timeline (“How We Got Him”), a photo of a Predator, another photo of a Hellfire missile, and some pinup-girl stats about the drone itself, including “Cost: $5M” and “Size: 27 feet long, 55-foot wingspan.”
Three weeks later came another Predator success, and another orgy of detail. On Thursday, October 20, Muammar Qaddafi’s fleeing convoy of 100 vehicles was captured on camera by a drone patrolling the skies above Sirte.
Then, as the Telegraph reported, “The Predator drone, flown out of Sicily and controlled via satellite from a base outside Las Vegas, struck the convoy with a number of Hellfire anti-tank missiles.” Other western news sources reprinted these details with only minor changes in syntax. Wired‘s Danger Room blog reported that it was the 145th Predator strike in Libya, according to the Pentagon.
I teach in the English department at a college in upstate New York, which every now and then means teaching freshman comp, a kind of crash course on writing coherent papers. On the first or second day of classes, I ask everyone to think up examples of the passive voice.
Sighing and rolling their eyes, the students offer a few by rote: “The ball was thrown.” “The window was broken.” “Lunch was eaten.” And why, class, should we avoid this pernicious habit when we write our papers? Because — more sighing and eye rolling — passive voice hides who is doing the thing, or, more technically, because it obscures agency. We must pay attention to who is performing the action, I tell the class.
The press coverage of Predator drones routinely and systematically conceals agency — obscuring, if you’ll forgive the pun, one very specific agency. For all the facts given in the news — the plane’s Sicilian base, the missile’s weight and length and breadth and cost — one simple detail is left out: Who is in charge of the bombing?
Such awkward syntax is common to coverage of drones: these do not, by definition, fire by act of will. Coverage that specifies who is running the drone strikes — the Guardian, for instance, called it “the CIA-operated drone programme” — share the same turns of phrase, and more than this, the same basic information about the raids.
This repetitiveness is not a coincidence. In a new report entitled “The CIA and Targeted Killings Beyond Borders,” Philip Alston, a professor at NYU law school, and until last year the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, writes, “Precise information about almost all aspects of how the CIA’s drone program actually functions are available only from journalistic sources, which in turn are dependent almost entirely on information selectively leaked by officials involved in the program.”
Alston goes on to note that the leaked estimates of numbers killed in the raids contradict one another.
The notion of the CIA leaking unreliable and yet oddly precise information sounds like paranoia. Why wouldn’t they just say nothing? As Alston writes, “While the government can deny the accuracy of any given leak, it can also rely generally upon those sources to ensure that sufficient information makes its way into the public domain in order to placate those who would otherwise be concerned that such programs were being run in complete secrecy.”
In other words, CIA leaks create a useful illusion of disclosure. In this light, the Guardian‘s graphics and the New York Post’s strange specificity appear a little more sinister, helping the CIA avoid the question of who is doing what, and how many people are dying because of it.
The CIA’s drone program is huge. According to Alston, it has thus far killed in excess of 2,000 people in Pakistan, and has operated in at least four additional countries. Extraterritorial assassinations facilitated by unmanned drones have become, he writes, “an integral part” of national security strategy.
Why does it matter who is doing what, so long as bad guys are getting killed? Well, what law is applied to the program depends upon the agent. As Alston explains, covert intelligence activity — the kind of activity traditionally pursued by the CIA — “is governed by a strict legal regime beginning with the need for a ‘presidential finding’ declaring that the activity is necessary to ‘support identifiable foreign policy objectives’ and is ‘important to the national security of the United States.'”
Military activities, on the other hand, require neither a presidential finding nor congressional review: ‘Military’ action can thus be initiated much more readily and will be subject to little if any specific congressional review, assuming that it does not cross the threshold of engagement in hostilities. On the other hand, covert action, while requiring specific approval and notification, is not then subject to the sort of constraints, either territorially or jurisdictionally that would apply to a military operationâ€¦. Viewed in this light, it is not difficult to see the attractions from the perspective of the executive of a ‘mixed’ regime.
Passive voice, and its attendant obscurity, turn out to be very useful.
This matters for two main reasons. First, extraterritorial assassinations are going to happen more and more. The Department of Defense budget for 2012 includes $4.8 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles, of which more than half — $2.5 billion — is dedicated to Predator and Reaper drones. Second, and more simply (Alston again), “A permissive policy on drone-fired targeted killings will come back to haunt the United States.”
For now, the US and its allies have the drones, but this monopoly will end. Forty countries already possess the basic technology, among them Israel, Russia, Turkey, China, India, and Iran. Alston concludes his report with an anecdote: “On ‘Defense Industry Day,’ August 22, 2010,” he writes, “the Iranian President unveiled a new drone with a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and capable of carrying four cruise missiles.”
Daniel Swift is the author of Bomber County (FSG), recently out in paperback. He teaches at Skidmore College. His story “Conjectural Damage” appears in the November 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
(c) The Harper’s Magazine Foundation. All rights reserved.
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Massive Rally in Lahore:
Imran Khan Leads Calls for Pakistan
To End US Alliance Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(October 30, 2011) — A popular but largely powerless politician for years, former cricket star and Tehreek-e Insaf leader Imran Khan has parlayed his long-standing opposition to US drone strikes into a massive rally today on the streets of Lahore, where some 100,000 demonstrators marched to condemn the current US alliance and the Zardari government.
“Our leaders owned this war on terror for the sake of dollars,” Khan declared, “let me curse you. You sold out the blood of innocent people.” The ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) condemned Khan, saying it made “no sense” to call for public protests and civil disobedience when the country’s “democratic institutions are functioning independently.”
Khan’s call appears to have found some new currency with the Pakistani public, however, and that is something new for his party, whose platform centers around tackling corruption and reducing the power the nation’s security forces have over ordinary citizens.
Khan concedes that in many ways the rally is an effort to build up his party, saying that given the backroom deals and powerful dynasties inherent in the Pakistani political system the Tehreek-e Insaf was “never going to win the traditional way.”
But with US missiles falling on Pakistani soil on almost a daily basis, the Tehreek-e Insaf has a built-in issue that resonates across much of the nation, and while both the ruling Zardari government and the major opposition faction of Nawaz Sharif have given lip-service to calling for an end to US drone strikes, neither seems to be willing to force the issue with the Obama Administration, unsurprising since Pakistan’s current economic system depends largely on foreign aid.
The question then becomes not if the PPP has lost the voters, but how long they can hold on to power without them. The Zardari government has repeatedly resisted calls for early elections in the past, and seems to be hoping to hold out until 2013. Even the Sharif brothers’ PML-N has called for an early vote, but it is unclear if they will back it up with votes if Khan’s popularity might cut into their traditional conservative power base.
Imran Khan Leads 100,000 Rally Against Pakistan’s US Alliance The Telegraph
LAHORE (October 31, 2011) — Khan, 58, entered politics 15 years ago when he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice Party, but up to now he has struggled to translate his fame into votes. The rally in the eastern city of Lahore indicated his message may have found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country’s chronic insecurity and economic malaise.
“I have come here to register my hatred against this corrupt system,” said 29-year-old Nadeem Iqbal, who attended the rally.
A poll conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center in June found Khan, the captain of Pakistan’s 1992 world champion cricket team, to be the most popular political figure in the country. Khan’s rising popularity could be a concern for the US, given his harsh criticism of the Pakistani government’s co-operation with Washington in the fight against Islamist militants.
He has been especially critical of US drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s rugged tribal region along the Afghan border. The latest suspected strike killed six alleged militants on Sunday. Khan has argued that Pakistan’s alliance with the US is the main reason Pakistan is facing a home-grown Taliban insurgency.
“Our leaders owned this war on terror for the sake of dollars,” Khan told the crowd assembled around the country’s most important national monument, the Minar-e-Pakistan. “Let me curse you. You sold out the blood of innocent people.”
Pakistan’s state news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan, estimated the crowd was over 100,000 people. Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani political analyst, said the rally was significant because Khan’s party has not been able to attract such large crowds in the past.
Despite the strong show of support, it’s still unclear how much Khan can shake up the political scene in the next national elections in 2013. His support is largely confined to urban areas of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, where Lahore is the capital.
Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has dominated urban areas of Punjab in the recent past. Many analysts, including Zaidi, expect Khan’s party to siphon votes away from the PML-N. But given Pakistan’s electoral system, that may simply benefit the ruling Pakistan People’s Party rather than win seats for Khan’s party in parliament.
It’s also unclear exactly what Khan would do if he did win significant political power. He has been relentless in criticising the government for corruption and for its failure to address the many serious problems facing the country. But he has failed to offer many specifics about how he would fix these problems.
“We don’t see top-shelf policy people, top-shelf professionals becoming part of the policy machine at PTI,” said Zaidi. “What we see is a lot of rhetoric.”
The suspected US missile strike on Sunday targeted a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
The US refuses to acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the attacks have killed many senior Taliban and al-Qaida commanders. Pakistani officials often criticize the attacks as violations of the country’s sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to support the strikes in private. They are extremely unpopular among ordinary people who believe they mainly kill innocent civilians.
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(October 30, 2011) — The world’s nuclear powers are planning to spend hundreds of billions of pounds modernizing and upgrading weapons warheads and delivery systems over the next decade, according to an authoritative report published on Monday.
Despite government budget pressures and international rhetoric about disarmament, evidence points to a new and dangerous “era of nuclear weapons”, the report for the British American Security Information Council (Basic) warns. It says the US will spend $700 billion (Â£434 billion) on the nuclear weapons industry over the next decade, while Russia will spend at least $70 billion on delivery systems alone. Other countries including China, India, Israel, France and Pakistan are expected to devote formidable sums on tactical and strategic missile systems.
For several countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and France, nuclear weapons are being assigned roles that go well beyond deterrence, says the report. In Russia and Pakistan, it warns, nuclear weapons are assigned “war-fighting roles in military planning”.
The report is the first in a series of papers for the Trident Commission, an independent cross-party initiative set up by Basic. Its leading members include former Conservative defense secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Liberal Democrat leader and defense spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell and former Labor defense secretary Lord Browne.
There is a strong case, they say, for a fundamental review of UK nuclear weapons policy. The Conservatives in Britain’s coalition government say they want to maintain a Trident-based nuclear weapons system. However, they have agreed to a “value for money” audit into a Trident replacement as four new nuclear missiles submarines are alone estimated to cost Â£25 billion at the latest official estimate. The Lib Dems want to look at other options. The paper, by security analyst Ian Kearns, is entitled Beyond the United Kingdom: Trends in the Other Nuclear Armed States.
Pakistan and India, it warns, appear to be seeking smaller, lighter nuclear warheads so they have a greater range or can be deployed over shorter distances for tactical or “non-strategic” roles. “In the case of Israel, the size of its nuclear-tipped cruise missile enabled submarine fleet is being increased and the country seems to be on course, on the back of its satellite launch rocket program, for future development of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM),” the report notes.
A common justification for the new nuclear weapons programs is perceived vulnerability in the face of nuclear and conventional force development elsewhere. For example, Russia has expressed concern over the US missile defense and Conventional Prompt Global Strike programs. China has expressed similar concerns about the US as well as India, while India’s programs are driven by fear of China and Pakistan.
Pakistan justifies its nuclear weapons program by referring to India’s conventional force superiority, the report observes.
In a country-by-country analysis, the report says: â€¢ The US is planning to spend $700 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade. A further $92 billion will be spent on new nuclear warheads and the US also plans to build 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, air-launched nuclear cruise missiles and bombs.
â€¢ Russia plans to spend $70 billion on improving its strategic nuclear triad (land, sea and air delivery systems) by 2020. It is introducing mobile ICBMs with multiple warheads, and a new generation of nuclear weapons submarines to carry cruise as well as ballistic missiles. There are reports that Russia is also planning a nuclear-capable short-range missile for 10 army brigades over the next decade.
â€¢ China is rapidly building up its medium and long-range “road mobile” missile arsenal equipped with multiple warheads. Up to five submarines are under construction capable of launching 36-60 sea-launched ballistic missiles, which could provide a continuous at-sea capability.
â€¢ France has just completed deployment of four new submarines equipped with longer-range missiles with a “more robust warhead”. It is also modernizing its nuclear bomber fleet.
â€¢ Pakistan is extending the range of its Shaheen II missiles, developing nuclear cruise missiles, improving its nuclear weapons design as well as smaller, lighter, warheads. It is also building new plutonium production reactors.
â€¢ India is developing new versions of its Agni land-based missiles sufficient to target the whole of Pakistan and large parts of China, including Beijing. It has developed a nuclear ship-launched cruise missile and plans to build five submarines carrying ballistic nuclear missiles.
â€¢ Israel is extending its Jericho III missile’s range, and is developing an ICBM capability, expanding its nuclear-tipped cruise missile enabled submarine fleet.
â€¢ North Korea unveiled a new Musudan missile in 2010 with a range of up to 2,500 miles and capable of reaching targets in Japan. It successfully tested the Taepodong-2 with a possible range of more than 6,000 miles sufficient to hit half the US mainland. However, the report, says, “it is unclear whether North Korea has yet developed the capability to manufacture nuclear warheads small enough to sit on top of these missiles”.
Iran’s nuclear aspirations are not covered by the report.
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2006 Cluster Bomb Explodes in Shebaa, Kills Livestock The Daily Star
BEIRUT (October 30, 2011) — A shepherd narrowly survived after a cluster bomb left over from the July-August 2006 war with Israel exploded in the southern town of Shebaa Sunday morning wounding and killing several goats, reported Lebanonâ€™s National News Agency.
In September, Lebanon ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions. A total of 109 countries have joined the convention, and 61 — including Lebanon — are â€œstates partiesâ€ to it.
According to the Lebanon Mine Action Center, 67 percent of lands affected by cluster munitions have been cleared. They aim to have the country free of cluster munitions by 2016.
Injuries and deaths in Lebanon from cluster bombs are decreasing. Between post-war mid-August and the end of 2011, 183 people were wounded and 26 were killed by cluster munitions. In 2007, 82 people died and 13 were killed. This year, the bombs have wounded five people and killed one.
Ninety percent of the remaining cluster munitions are in the south, which was heavily hit in 2006.
IDF Commander: ‘We Fired More than a Million Cluster Bombs in Lebanon’ Phosphorous and cluster bombs heavily used; unexploded munitions litter wide area of Lebanon
TEL AVIV (December 9, 2006) — “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs,” the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war. Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.
In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.
The rocket unit commander stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were heavily used in spite of the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.
MLRS is a track or tire carried mobile rocket launching platform, capable of firing a very high volume of mostly unguided munitions. The basic rocket fired by the platform is unguided and imprecise, with a range of about 32 kilometers. The rockets are designed to burst into sub-munitions at a planned altitude in order to blanket enemy army and personnel on the ground with smaller explosive rounds.
The use of such weaponry is controversial mainly due to its inaccuracy and ability to wreak great havoc against indeterminate targets over large areas of territory, with a margin of error of as much as 1,200 meters from the intended target to the area hit.
The cluster rounds which don’t detonate on impact, believed by the United Nations to be around 40% of those fired by the IDF in Lebanon, remain on the ground as unexploded munitions, effectively littering the landscape with thousands of land mines which will continue to claim victims long after the war has ended.
Because of their high level of failure to detonate, it is believed that there are around 500,000 unexploded munitions on the ground in Lebanon. To date 12 Lebanese civilians have been killed by these mines since the end of the war.
According to the commander, in order to compensate for the inaccuracy of the rockets and the inability to strike individual targets precisely, units would “flood” the battlefield with munitions, accounting for the littered and explosive landscape of post-war Lebanon.
When his reserve duty came to a close, the commander in question sent a letter to Defense Minister Amir Peretz outlining the use of cluster munitions, a letter which has remained unanswered.
‘Excessive Injury and Unnecessary Suffering’
It has come to light that IDF soldiers fired phosphorous rounds in order to cause fires in Lebanon. An artillery commander has admitted to seeing trucks loaded with phosphorous rounds on their way to artillery crews in the north of Israel.
A direct hit from a phosphorous shell typically causes severe burns and a slow, painful death.
International law forbids the use of weapons that cause “excessive injury and unnecessary suffering”, and many experts are of the opinion that phosphorous rounds fall directly in that category.
The International Red Cross has determined that international law forbids the use of phosphorous and other types of flammable rounds against personnel, both civilian and military.
IDF: No Violation of International Law
In response, the IDF Spokesman’s Office stated that “International law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs. The convention on conventional weaponry does not declare a prohibition on [phosphorous weapons], rather, on principles regulating the use of such weapons.
“For understandable operational reasons, the IDF does not respond to [accounts of] details of weaponry in its possession. The IDF makes use only of methods and weaponry, which are permissible under international law. Artillery fire in general, including MLRS fire, were used in response solely to firing on the state of Israel.”
The Defense Minister’s office said it had not received messages regarding cluster bomb fire.
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(October 30, 2011) — Remember the bases? As the world reeled from the sheer audacity of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, many feared the US was seeking to establish a permanent presence in that country.
The idea was plausible enough. The stability of Saudi Arabia was far from assured. Why not establish a friendly client state in another major oil producing country? Iraq would be made into a dependent and profitable ally of the US. From bases there, US power and influence could be projected across the region.
Such a plan for empire made far more strategic sense for the US than the wild-eyed fantasies about unleashing Arab democracy from the muzzles of American cannon. South Korea offered a model. There, after World War II, the US backed a regime based on the landlords, officials and security forces that had been the local backbone of Japanese imperialism. With US advisers, a peasant rebellion was brutally suppressed in the late 1940s.
The US stood by its client during the Korean War, at cost of 45,000 of its soldiersâ€™ lives and the devastation of the peninsula and its people.
Whatever the politics of the regime the US backed — and they were not pleasant — the kind of presence the US established and maintained in Korea developed a momentum of its own.
US soldiers and officials cycled through Korea. Despite their often extraordinary racism, they established bonds with the place and with the Koreans they worked alongside. Koreans were allowed into the US in much greater number, and the two cultures established reciprocal if unequal presences in their respective national imaginaries.
The Korean military had a vested interest in maintaining close relations with the US, receiving training, weapons and equipment. The regime and the economy became dependent on the US. Bonds were strong enough to survive the democratisation of South Korea from the 1970s onwards, even though the US-supported army was an instrument of repression committing many atrocities.
Ties of this kind between countries exceed mere strategic calculation. They are “special relationships” rooted in cross cutting relations of affect, habit and interest developed over many years. But they are also strategic. South Korea has been a loyal ally of the US, supplying troops for its foreign adventures, backing it in the UN and in the region. In return, the US has supported its ally. When President Carter wanted to draw down US forces in South Korea, his generals revolted and threatened to resign. The forces remained.
Having expended so much blood, treasure and moral capital in Iraq, one would have thought that the US would seek to maintain a permanent presence there in the decades to come. Otherwise, the entire Iraq adventure would seem to have mainly benefited Iran. The invasion destroyed Iranâ€™s sworn enemy — Saddam Hussein — and opened up his country to Iranian influence.
Nonetheless, while the worldâ€™s attention was fixated on Gaddafiâ€™s corpse, President Obama announced what seems to be the end of the ill-fated US project in Iraq.
The US and Iraq failed to agree on a continued substantial US troop presence. Without the troops, and in the face of budgetary pressures at home, the US has substantially scaled back its plans for diplomatic and consular representation in Iraq. The US had planned on a 700-person consulate in Mosul, but realised that most of the staff would have to be security contractors in the absence of a nearby US garrison. Kirkuk also lost a planned consulate.
These may appear to be mundane bureaucratic decisions. In any case, US diplomatic influence is greatly hampered by security concerns, by the literal and metaphorical walls the US builds between its embassies and foreign peoples.
It is hampered also by the animosities aroused by US violence and policy, in Iraq and elsewhere. But it is precisely through a substantial military and civilian presence that the US could still recover something from its Iraq adventure over the long term. Relationships between Iraqi and US officials and soldiers, which have developed over years of mutual struggle, now will be severed.
There will be few return tours of duty in free Iraq, and little of the dependency and grudging affection that come with them.
Iraqi institutions and political forces that had hoped for continued US support will be left to fend for themselves. Iraqis will turn to other potential allies for help and with whom to do business, from as nearby as Iran and as far away as China.
Worse may be in the offing. Prime Minister al-Maliki and the US appear to be banking on the idea that the Iraqi security forces are sufficiently robust to see off any challenges. This may be so. Iraq is weary of war and desires peace.
However, none of the basic questions that confront Iraq — and over which Iraqis may resort to arms — have been resolved. There is no final dispensation over the nature of the regime, the status of the Kurds and other minorities, or even for the distribution of oil profits.
Should significant violence breakout, President Obama or his successor will find it almost impossible to send troops or other major assistance. There is no longer substantial domestic political support in the US for an activist world role, in Iraq or anywhere else. The US appears unable to act with strategic foresight and consistency, even with the resources it does have to hand.
Many in the Middle East and the global South imagine the US is capable of the most elaborate conspiracies. Certainly, the US military and its intelligence agencies are superbly capable instruments. But the US is divided and turned in on itself. Much of the government is hobbled by underinvestment, privatisation and party politics. Mainstream debate lacks little rational basis for effective foreign and strategic policy.
The presumptive Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has recently suggested China take over from the US in providing humanitarian aid.
The world is becoming a different place. Major US interventions, welcome or not, are unlikely to be on offer. We are perhaps one financial crisis away from the moment when the idea of maintaining even established bases abroad — when the iron web of empire since 1945 will itself be called into question.
Tarak Barkawi is Senior Lecturer in the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers / The New York Times – 2011-10-30 23:53:41
MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (October 29, 2011) — The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.
After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.
In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.
With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.
The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.
For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade — in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.
“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”
Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region, which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Tajikistan after the president’s announcement.
During town-hall-style meetings with military personnel in Asia last week, the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, noted that the United States had 40,000 troops in the region, including 23,000 in Kuwait, though the bulk of those serve as logistical support for the forces in Iraq.
As they undertake this effort, the Pentagon and its Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, have begun a significant rearrangement of American forces, acutely aware of the political and budgetary constraints facing the United States, including at least $450 billion of cuts in military spending over the next decade as part of the agreement to reduce the budget deficit.
Officers at Central Command said that the post-Iraq era required them to seek more efficient ways to deploy forces and maximize cooperation with regional partners. One significant outcome of the coming cuts, officials said, could be a steep decrease in the number of intelligence analysts assigned to the region. At the same time, officers hope to expand security relationships in the region. General Horst said that training exercises were “a sign of commitment to presence, a sign of commitment of resources, and a sign of commitment in building partner capability and partner capacity.”
Col. John G. Worman, Central Command’s chief for exercises, noted a Persian Gulf milestone: For the first time, he said, the military of Iraq had been invited to participate in a regional exercise in Jordan next year, called Eager Lion 12, built around the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.
Another part of the administration’s post-Iraq planning involves the Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia. It has increasingly sought to exert its diplomatic and military influence in the region and beyond. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, sent combat aircraft to the Mediterranean as part of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, while Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates each have forces in Afghanistan.
At the same time, however, the council sent a mostly Saudi ground force into Bahrain to support that government’s suppression of demonstrations this year, despite international criticism.
Despite such concerns, the administration has proposed establishing a stronger, multilateral security alliance with the six nations and the United States. Mr. Panetta and Mrs. Clinton outlined the proposal in an unusual joint meeting with the council on the sidelines of the United Nations in New York last month.
The proposal still requires the approval of the council, whose leaders will meet again in December in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the kind of multilateral collaboration that the administration envisions must overcome rivalries among the six nations.
“It’s not going to be a NATO tomorrow,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations still under way, “but the idea is to move to a more integrated effort.”
Iran, as it has been for more than three decades, remains the most worrisome threat to many of those nations, as well as to Iraq itself, where it has re-established political, cultural and economic ties, even as it provided covert support for Shiite insurgents who have battled American forces.
“They’re worried that the American withdrawal will leave a vacuum, that their being close by will always make anyone think twice before taking any action,” Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said in an interview, referring to officials in the Persian Gulf region.
Sheik Khalid was in Washington last week for meetings with the administration and Congress. “There’s no doubt it will create a vacuum,” he said, “and it may invite regional powers to exert more overt action in Iraq.”
He added that the administration’s proposal to expand its security relationship with the Persian Gulf nations would not “replace what’s going on in Iraq” but was required in the wake of the withdrawal to demonstrate a unified defense in a dangerous region. “Now the game is different,” he said. “We’ll have to be partners in operations, in issues and in many ways that we should work together.”
At home, Iraq has long been a matter of intense dispute. Some foreign policy analysts and Democrats — and a few Republicans — say the United States has remained in Iraq for too long. Others, including many Republicans and military analysts, have criticized Mr. Obama’s announcement of a final withdrawal, expressing fear that Iraq remained too weak and unstable.
“The US will have to come to terms with an Iraq that is unable to defend itself for at least a decade,” Adam Mausner and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote after the withdrawal announcement.
Twelve Republican Senators demanded hearings on the administration’s ending of negotiations with the Iraqis — for now at least — on the continuation of American training and on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq.
“As you know, the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
Thom Shanker reported from MacDill Air Force Base, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
OAKLAND< CA (October 28, 2011) -- "We Are All Scott Olsen!" was the message of vigils held across the United States Thursday night, held in answer to a call from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Occupy Oakland for "occupations across America and around the world to hold solidarity vigils" recognizing Olsen, the former Marine and Iraq War veteran who activists say "sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head on October 25 with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland protest.
In cities across the United States and around the world, "We Are Scott Olsen" vigils, rallies and marches were held. Thousands attended a candlelight vigil in Oakland. In Las Vegas, an image of Olsen was projected at the site of the Occupy encampment. In New York, Occupy Wall Street activist took to the streets chanting, "New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York."
As far away as London, images of Olsen were displayed at gatherings. The buzz about the wounding of the 24-year-old veteran seemed to be everywhere, and was perhaps best summed up by a message from an activist who had protested at Wisconsin's state Capitol with Olsen in February. It read: "He could be any one of us."
The Washington-insider website Politico speculated about whether the wounding of Olsen would be the Occupy movement's "Kent State moment," a reference to the 1970 killing of four students at an anti-war demonstration in Ohio. No one was killed in Oakland, and Olsen is now expected to recover, although he remains hospilized and is unable to speak.
But the images of the young former Marine, standing peacefully in the frontlines of the protest in Oakland -- next to a Navy vet holding a "Veterans for Peace" flag -- and the images from just moments later of Olsen lying on the ground wounded as medics rush to his aid have both shocked and energized activists, in much the same way that violent responses to civil rights and anti-war demonstrations in the 1960s did -- and in much the way that official violence against anti-WTO activists in Seattle in 1999 shifted sentiment in favor of the protests.
In Oakland, anger over the incident and the brutal crackdown on the demonstation has led to a call for a November 2 city-wide general strike.
The intensity of the response reflects the horror and anger at the wounding of Olsen, a native of the small town of Onalaska, Wisconsin, who after graduating high school in 2005 joined the US Marines and swore an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...."
After Scott Olsen swore that oath, he served two tours of duty in Iraq before being discharged in 2010.
Olsen survived Iraq. But he was seriously wounded Tuesday when he joined an Oakland, California, protest against the removal of the Occupy Wall Streetâ€“inspired encampment in that Bay Area city. The clashes between activists and the Oakland Police turned violent late Tuesday, during what the San Francisco Chronicle described as "a protracted street confrontation between protesters and police officers, who set off tear gas and used shotguns to fire projectiles designed to inflict pain but not kill."
The precise number of injuries is unclear. But Oakland's Highland Hospital confirmed Thursday that Olsen, 24, was in fair condition with a skull fracture. Family membersreported that his condition was improving, after having been unconscious for 12 hours following the Tuesday night incident.
Olsen, who went to work after leaving the Marines as a system administrator for a software firm, had joined the Oakland protests with fellow members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, an advocacy group that has long sought to draw attention to issues of homelessness and unemployment among Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Keith Shannon, who deployed with Olsen to Iraq, "Scott was marching with the 99 percent because he felt corporations and banks had too much control over our government, and that they weren't being held accountable for their role in the economic downturn, which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes."
IVAW's reports from the scene -- along with agonizing video footage that features cries of "medic!" -- confirm that Olsen "sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland march."
The video footage appears to show Olsen lying wounded when a police officer is seen throwing what looks to be a tear gas canister at protesters who are trying to help the former Marine.
That's got Olsen's uncle, George Nygaard, a Marine who served in Vietnam, unsettled and upset.
"It's just so damn ironic," says Nygaard, who like most of Olsen's family still lives in rural Wisconsin. "To do two tours over there and not a scratch. All of a sudden he comes back here and a damn cop hits him with a projectile. It's crap."
That's a common sentiment.
"It's absolutely unconscionable that our citizens are going overseas to protect other citizens just to come back and have our own police hurt them," Joshua Shepherd, a six-year Navy veteran and friend of Olsen's, told reporters.
Iraq Veterans Against the War demanded that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan investigate the incident and allow peaceful protests to continue, and Quan did go to Olsen's hospital room Thursday, She has reportedly ordered an inquiry.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Nationa; Lawyers' Guild are pressing for police transparency. In particular, the groups have asked the Oakland Police Department "to immediately produce records about the use of force in responding to the early morning raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment and the evening demonstration."
Beyond the specific questions regarding the actions of the police, there is a broader debate about the official response to peaceful protests in a country where the Constitution guarantees a right to assemble, and to petition for the redress of grievances.
Iraq Veterans Against the War featured a statement on its website Wednesday night that read: "It's ironic that days after Obama's announcement of the end of the Iraq War, Scott faced a veritable war zone in the streets of Oakland last night. He and other protesters were surrounded by explosions and smoke (tear gas) going off around him as people nearby carried him injured while yelling for a medic. This disturbing video of the incident shows how veterans are now fighting a war at home."
In fact, it's not so ironic. Returning veterans who have sought to exercise their rights at home have, at many points in American history, been the victims of violence -- especially when they have made demands of Wall Street. When a "Bonus Army" consisting of thousands of World War I veterans camped near the Capitol in Washington, DC, in the summer of 1932 -- demanding payment of bonuses they had been promised for their service, and that they needed to survive in those Depression Days -- they were attacked first by the police and then by the US Army.
Two veterans were killed. One of them, Eric Carlson, was from Oakland, California.
The revulsion at the attacks on the veterans in 1932 would eventually lead to a decision by the Congress of $2 billion to pay immediate bonuses to the World War I veterans.
Retired Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, a two-time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, joined the Bonus Army at its encampment and supported its demands. Bulter is today remembered for his epic denunciation of the military-industrial complex:
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914.
I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902 – 1912.
I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903.
In China, in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.
Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
But after the attack on the Bonus Army, he issued an even blunter declaration, announcing in 1933 that: “I believe in… taking Wall St. by the throat and shaking it up.”
Today’s Occupy Wall Street protests are, perhaps, less aggressive than those that came before. But the veterans who join today’s protests are being met with the same violence — and disrespect — that the Bonus Army experienced.
“I think it is a sad state of affairs when a Marine can’t assemble peacefully in the streets without getting injured,” says Jose Sanchez, the executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Major General Smedley Butler would surely agree.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps Naomi Wolf / The Guardian
LONDON (October 11, 2007) — Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.
They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy — but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.
As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.
Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree — domestically — as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government — the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens’ ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors — we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don’t learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of “homeland” security — remember who else was keen on the word “homeland” — didn’t raise the alarm bells it might have.
It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable — as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.
Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”. There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space — the globe itself is the battlefield. “This time,” Fein says, “there will be no defined end.”
Creating a terrifying threat — hydra-like, secretive, evil — is an old trick. It can, like Hitler’s invocation of a communist threat to the nation’s security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the “global conspiracy of world Jewry”, on myth.
It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain — which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks — than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.
2. Create a gulag
Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at GuantÃ¡namo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) — where torture takes place.
At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders — opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists — are arrested and sent there as well.
This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.
With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, GuantÃ¡namo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA “black site” prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.
Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can’t investigate adequately.
But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don’t generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin NiemÃ¶ller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: “First they came for the Jews.” Most Americans don’t understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at GuantÃ¡namo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.
By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People’s Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.
3. Develop a thug caste
When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.
The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution
Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode — but the administration’s endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.
Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for “public order” on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station “to restore public order”.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China — in every closed society — secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.
In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.
In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.
5. Harass citizens’ groups
The fifth thing you do is related to step four — you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.
Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”. The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.
In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government — after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.
Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, “because I was on the Terrorist Watch list”.
“Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that,” asked the airline employee.
“I explained,” said Murphy, “that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution.”
“That’ll do it,” the man said.
Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of “enemy of the people” tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.
James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at GuantÃ¡namo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.
Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.
It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.
7. Target key individuals
Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.
Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.
Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.
Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that “waterboarding is torture” was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.
Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were “coordinated” too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.
8. Control the press
Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s — all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened “critical infrastructure” when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.
Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy — a form of retaliation that ended her career.
Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC’s Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN’s Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.
Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America — it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.
9. Dissent equals treason
Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage.” Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”. When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times’ leaking of classified information “disgraceful”, while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the “treason” drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.
Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and “beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death”, according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.
In Stalin’s Soviet Union, dissidents were “enemies of the people”. National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy “November traitors”.
And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year — when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.
Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like GuantÃ¡namo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at GuantÃ¡namo, is all isolation cells.)
We US citizens will get a trial eventually — for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence — it is not even something you have to have done. “We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model — you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we’re going to hold you,” says a spokeswoman of the CCR.
Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests — usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn’t real dissent. There just isn’t freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.
10. Suspend the rule of law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency — which the president now has enhanced powers to declare — he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens.
Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears’s meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole’s baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: “A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night … Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any ‘other condition’.”
Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act — which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.
Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.
Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.
It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere — while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”
As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are “at war” in a “long war” — a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president — without US citizens realising it yet — the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.
That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions — and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the “what ifs”.
What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.
What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.
Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us — staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody’s help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.
We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before — and this is the way it is now.
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.
Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
13 Americans Killed in Afghanistan Suicide Bombing Los Angeles Times
KABUL and NEW DELHI (October 29, 2011) — At least 13 Americans were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber struck an armored military bus in Kabul, in the single deadliest attack on US citizens in the Afghan capital since the war began a decade ago. [Updated, at 11:40 a.m., Oct. 29, 2011: NATO officials said that five troops and eight civilian contractors were killed in the attack.]
The attack represents a propaganda coup for the Taliban, which claimed responsibility in text messages to news organizations, saying it packed a four-wheel-drive vehicle with at least 700 pounds of explosives.
The Kabul car bombing took place near the American University on Darulaman Road, among the capital’s busiest, which runs past parliament and the decaying Darulaman Palace -â€“ or “abode of peace.” A NATO spokesman said all 13 were traveling in a type of military bus known as a Rhino, named for its heavy armor. The identities of those killed in the attack were not disclosed in keeping with a coalition policy to first notify family members.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said the blast also killed at least three Afghan civilians and one policeman.
Deadly attacks are relatively rare in Kabul, which has better security than the south and eastern parts of Afghanistan. In recent months, however, with the US-led coalition announcing plans to turn security over to Afghan forces by 2014, the Taliban has stepped up assaults in a bid to bolster its political grip after the pullout.
In preparation for the transfer of responsibility to Afghans, coalition training of Afghan police and army personnel has expanded. Darulaman Road is part of a route often taken by trainers moving in buses and other vehicles between Kabul’s military training center and heavily fortified NATO bases in downtown Kabul.
Saturday’s attack comes less than two months after insurgents launched a brazen 19-hour assault on the US embassy in Kabul, killing more than a dozen people, which was meant to send a message that no place in the country is secure or out of its reach.
In another deadly incident, the coalition reported in a statement that an attacker wearing an Afghan military uniform opened fire on NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, killing at least two, before others returned fire and killed him.
Other reports suggested a third NATO soldier, an Australian, died a short while later in the incident in southern Uruzgan province. Also reportedly killed was an Afghan interpreter.
In a third incident in eastern Afghanistan, guards fired on a female suicide bomber wearing a burqa as she tried to enter a government building, which prompted her to detonate her explosives.
She was the only casualty in the incident, which occurred near the local branch of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s spy agency, according to Abdul Sabor Allayar, Kunar province’s deputy police chief, although two agency employees and two civilians were wounded.
(October 27, 2011) — On Thursday, 13 people were killed and several others were injured when the US military launched an attack using a remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle on the outskirts of Bilis Qooqaani town, which is located 448 kilometers (278 miles) southwest of the Somali capital Mogadishu.â€¨â€¨
The US also launched drone strikes on the outskirts of Afmadow city, situated in the middle of the Juba region and 620 kilometers (385 miles) south of Mogadishu, on Thursday. At least 25 people were killed in the aerial attack.â€¨â€¨In addition, six people were killed in a non-UN-sanctioned US drone attack on Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.â€¨â€¨
According to Pakistani officials, two unmanned aircraft fired six missiles at a vehicle traveling through Tura Gula village in the Azam Warsak area on Thursday.â€¨â€¨
Three people were also killed in attacks carried out by unmanned US aircraft in southern Yemen on Thursday. A Yemeni government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the drone strikes targeted Shaqra village in Abyan Province. He added that six people were also injured in the aerial attacks.â€¨â€¨
The US says its remote-controlled unmanned drones only target militants. However, reports have shown that most of the people killed in the drone strikes are civilians.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.