The new year is not very old, but several recent revelations cast the the US fight against al-Qaeda (a tiny if deadly fraternity of a couple thousand fanatics spread in dozens of countries) in a bad light, if not to say a scandalous one. The entire premise of combating al-Qaeda as though it were an enemy army, using the Pentagon as the lead agency, while simultaneously militarizing the CIA, needs to be questioned. But so too do a lot of other premises about a so-called American 'Long War' with parts of the Muslim world, including drone strikes, secret bases, and torture. Worst of all, embarrassing revelations are coming out about damaging or even criminal actions and policies that can only harm any genuine counter-terrorism program.
1. Evidence is surfacing, according to Scott Horton writing in Harper's, that the supposed group suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo in summer of 2006 may have in fact been murder--that is, they may have died of asphyxiation during aggressive interrogation that involved stuffing rags in their throats to cut off air. The explosive allegations may put further pressure on President Obama to fulfill his pledge to close the prison.
2. The FBI falsely invoked terrorism emergencies 2000 times between 2002 and 2006 to engage in illegal phone wiretapping of Americans without obtaining a warrant. The agency was using a provision of the PATRIOT act, which Bush administration officials had assured Congress would never be used for ordinary domestic cases.
3. The FBI photoshopped the face of leftist Spanish parliamentarian Gaspar Llamazares, combining it with the features of Usama Bin Laden, to produce a supposed portrait of what the aging terrorist now looks like. Spain was furious and the whole incident spoke of amateurism and stupidity in an area, counter-terrorism, where neither is desirable. Hint to the FBI: Usama Bin Laden has not produced a video message since October 2004. We may conclude that he is either badly disfigured by a strike on his position that almost succeeded, or that he is dead. You can't project his appearance forward with photoshop usefully either way.
4. George W. Bush claimed that he had misspoken when he called his 'war on terror' a 'crusade.' But it turns out that the Michigan company that makes rifle sights for the US military inscribes them with Bible verses. The capture of the US Air Force Academy by Christian fundamentalists is worrisome enough, but a Military-Evangelical Complex is truly frightening.
5. The Iraqi government that came to power under the auspices of George W. Bush is spearheading a class action suit against the Xe (then known as Blackwater) mercenary corporation for injuries its security men inflicted on Iraqis. Xe, headed by militant fundamentalist Christian, is a prime Pentagon contractor, which replicates the work of GIs but charges 12 times as much for it. The Iraqis were furious when a government case against Blackwater mercenaries for shooting up Nisour Square in Baghdad and killing over a dozen civilians collapsed because of prosecutorial misbehavior. Based on this good recommendation, the US military has brought Xe mercenaries to Pakistan where they are allegedly involved in US drone attacks on that country, further winnning hearts and minds.
6. Worse, the Pentagon is considering bringing thousands more Blackwater security men to Afghanistan. The great Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.) is introducing a bill banning the use of such mercernary firms.
7. Der Spiegel has revealed yet another CIA plot to kidnap a citizen of an allied country on suspicion of involvement in terrorism (a suspicion years of investigation by German authorities was unable later to support). Allies don't take kindly to this sort of thing. An Italian judge recently convicted 23 CIA operatives in absentia for carrying out a kidnapping in Italy.
8. It has been revealed that then British foreign minister Jack Straw wrote a letter to PM Tony Blair in 2002 warning him that a war on Iraq would be illegal, that many Labor MPs would oppose it, that Saddam was not connected to 9/11 or al-Qaeda, that Iraq likely had no weapons of mass destruction of any importance, and that there was no guarantee that the condition of Iraqis in the wake of such a war would be an improvement on their situation in 2002. The letter shows that Blair committed to the war at Crawford, TX in April 2002, even though he later repeatedly told his own MPs that no decision had been made. The letter vindicates the 'Downing Street memo' from a few months later in which the head of British intelligence complained that the decision to go to war had been made and that the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. It also shows that the mantra of the Bush administration, that all US allies had made the same errors of judgment about Iraq as had Bush-Cheney, is simply incorrect. The British foreign ministry knew better.
9. The Obama administration has been forced by an ACLU suit to release the names of the prisoners it holds at Bagram base in Afghanistan. The Obama administration maintains that these individual have no human rights at all, though some are scheduled to be tried in military tribunals. It is hard to see why Guantanamo is bad but Bagram is good. There have been allegations of torture of inmates, including of teenagers. The whole facility and its prisoners are to be turned by the US over to the Afghan government later this year.
10. The Obama administration's initial reaction to the underpants bomber was flatfooted and included forbidding children to hold teddy bears on their laps during the last hour of a flight, as well as renewed drone strikes and deeper involvement in Yemen, on the grounds that there are 300 al-Qaeda members in that craggy, inaccessible and tribally-organized country. Al-Qaeda has dug trapping pits for the US to fall into as it pursues its small, nimble foe, and the US keeps lumbering into them. The prospect of a US troop presence in Yemen provoked its council of clerics to threaten to call a jihad or holy war on the US if any attempt were made to occupy the country. The US attempted to allay such concerns with a firm statement it would not send troops, but not before the Yemenis had already gotten their backs up and anti-Americanism increased.
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- At 7:46 AM, said...
"The explosive allegations may put further pressure on President Obama to fulfill his pledge to close the prison." !!!???
Why are you towing the party line Prof? Whatever happened to the good old American (just joking) concept of justice and accountability? If murders have been committed then is closing the prison all we can demand? Shame on us. How far have we been dumbed down.
And by the way, closing gitmo does nothing. We have new gitmos springing up right in our homeland, as Chris Hedges reports
Sad... sad... sad
- At 9:57 AM, About Dan said...
Depressing, but interesting and necessary list.
My disagreement would be only with the implication that the three Guantanamo prisoners were killed as a result of aggressive interrogation, the implication being that there was some inadvertency. Having read the Harper's piece, it seems far more likely they were taken off base to be killed, and interrogation was no part of it: for three of them to die within 2 hours, in the same fashion, without the death of one, if inadvertent, not bringing to a halt the "interrogation" other than by design seems extremely unlikely to me.
- At 1:09 PM, Bruce Webb said...
One prisoner dying while being tortured might be described as "negligent homicide during interrogation". Three either at a time or in sequence using the exact same methodology is something much more sinister, particularly if reported a couple were scheduled for release.
This smacks all to much of methods used by the South American right wing dictatorships where the preferred method of releasing prisoners from captivity was dropping them into the sea from helicopters.
One, an accident. Two, a coincidence. Three, a policy order.