OpEd News - May 4, 2012
Declaring War on 'Political Islamism'
By Robert Parry
Like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney has responded to his lack of foreign policy experience by surrounding himself with clever neoconservatives who are now looking forward to expanding Bush's "global war on terror" into what neocon ideologue William Kristol calls a U.S. "war with political Islamism."
In a Washington Post op-ed on Thursday (5/3/2011), Kristol dismissed President Barack Obama's phased military withdrawal from Afghanistan -- and his statement that "this time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end" -- as foolish wishful thinking.
"It would be wonderful if Obama's view of 9/11 and its implications were correct," Kristol wrote. "But if it's not going to be true that Afghanistan is where 'this time of war ... will end' -- even if Afghanistan is pacified and we're no longer fighting there -- then the American people should know that."
What the American people should know, in Kristol's view, is that a post-Obama administration -- presumably headed by Republican Mitt Romney and staffed by neocon hawks -- will undertake a grander "war with political Islamism," a conflict whose full dimensions even "war president" George W. Bush shrank from.
"This isn't a pleasant reality, and even the Bush administration wasn't quite ready to confront it," Kristol wrote. "But President George W. Bush did capture the truth that we are engaged in -- and had no choice but to engage in -- a bigger war, a 'global war on terror,' of which Afghanistan was only one front.
"There are, of course, problems with 'global war on terror' as a phrase and an organizing principle. But it does capture what we might call the 'big' view of 9/11 and its implications."
As part of an even "bigger" view of 9/11, Kristol called for engaging in a broader conflict, ranging "from Pakistan in the east to Tunisia in the west, and most visibly now in places such as Iran and Yemen and Somalia."
In other words, Kristol and the neocons expect a President Romney to let them refocus the United States onto a "war" not simply against al-Qaeda and its affiliates but against nations where "political Islamism" gains power, which could include Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries.
One might as well say the United States will be at war with the Muslim world, though Kristol hastily added that this "war with political Islamism" does not always have to involve open warfare.
He wrote: "This doesn't mean we need to be deploying troops and fighting ground wars all around the globe. [But] unfortunately, the war in which we are engaged won't end with peace in, or withdrawal from, Afghanistan."
A Romney Presidency?
Most political analysts say the November elections will turn on the economy with foreign policy a second-tier issue. In addition, many progressives have denounced Obama and his more targeted approach of relying on drone strikes to kill alleged terrorists as unacceptable, with some on the Left vowing not to support his reelection.
But it shouldn't be missed that a President Romney would reinstall the neocons, including many who worked for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, at the levers of American power. Indeed, Romney's foreign policy "white paper" was largely drafted by neocons. Even the name, "An American Century," was an homage to the neocon manifesto of the 1990s, "Project for a New American Century."
Romney's foreign policy advisers include:
Cofer Black, a key Bush counterterrorism official; Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security; Eliot Cohen, a neocon intellectual; Paula Dobriansky, a former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; Eric Edelman, a national security aide to Vice President Cheney; Michael Hayden, the ex-director of CIA and the National Security Agency who defended Bush's warrantless spying program; Robert Kagan, a Washington Post columnist; former Navy Secretary John Lehman; and Daniel Senor, spokesman for Bush's Iraq occupation.
Romney's foreign policy also would restore George W. Bush's "with us or against us" approach to the world -- except that Romney, like Kristol, advocates even a more confrontational style, essentially a new Cold War against "rogue nations," a revised "axis of evil."
"A special problem is posed by the rogue nations of the world: Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba," Romney's white paper declares...
"Their interests and values are diametrically opposed to our own and they threaten international peace and security in numerous ways, including, as in the case of North Korea and Iran, by seeking nuclear weapons, or by harboring criminal networks, exporting weapons, and sponsoring terrorists. ...
"Mitt Romney would work to protect and advance America's interests by employing all the instruments of national power at the president's disposal. He will defend our country, defend our allies, and restore American leadership around the world. It is only American power -- conceived in the broadest terms -- that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies. ...
"A Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries. ...
"The United States will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict. In defending America's national interest in a world of danger, the United States should always retain a powerful military capacity to defend itself and its allies."
The Romney "white paper" also treats any recognition of past American errors as unacceptable "apologizing" and calls any notion of seeking multilateral consensus on a problem as an admission of weakness...
"A perspective has been gaining currency, including within high councils of the Obama administration, that regards that United States as a power in decline. And not only is the United States regarded as in decline, but that decline is seen as both inexorable and a condition that can and should be managed for the global good rather than reversed.
"Adherents of this view argue that America no longer possesses the resources or the moral authority to play a leadership role in the world. They contend that the United States should not try to lead because we will only succeed in exhausting ourselves and spreading thin our limited resources.
"They counsel America to step aside, allow other powers to rise, and pursue policies that will 'manage' the relative change in our national fortunes. They recoil from the idea of American Exceptionalism, the idea that an America founded on the universal principles of human liberty and human dignity has a unique history and a special role to play in world affairs.
"They do not see an international system undergirded by American values of economic and political freedom as necessarily superior to a world system organized by multilateral organizations like the United Nations. Indeed, they see the United Nations as an instrument that can rein in and temper what they regard as the ill-considered overreaching of the United States.
"This view of America in decline, and America as a potentially malign force, has percolated far and wide. It is intimately related to the torrent of criticism, unprecedented for an American president, that Barack Obama has directed at his own country. ...
"Among the 'sins' for which he has repented in our collective name are American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, for committing torture, for fueling anti-Islamic sentiments, for dragging our feet in combating global warming, and for selectively promoting democracy.
"The sum total of President Obama's rhetorical efforts has been a form of unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere. A President who is so troubled by America's past cannot lead us into the future. ... Mitt Romney believes in restoring the sinews of American power."
Hawks in the Middle East
As for the Middle East, Romney's team advocates unquestioned support for Israel, both regarding its treatment of the Palestinians and toward Iran:
"Israel is the United States' closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region. The tumult in the Middle East has heightened Israel's security problems. Indeed, this is an especially dangerous moment for the Jewish state. ...
"To ensure Israel's security, Mitt Romney will work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge. ... The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.
"With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Romney's policy will differ sharply from President Obama's. President Obama and his administration have badly misunderstood the dynamics of the region. Instead of fostering stability and security, they have diminished U.S. authority and painted both Israel and ourselves into a corner.
"President Obama for too long has been in the grip of several illusions. One is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the central problem in the region. This has been disproved repeatedly by events, most recently and most dramatically by the eruption of the Arab Spring.
"But it nonetheless led the administration to believe that distancing the United States from Israel was a smart move that would earn us credits in the Arab world and somehow bring peace closer. The record proves otherwise. The key to negotiating a lasting peace is an Israel that knows it will be secure. ...
"[Under President Romney] the United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction.
"The United States needs a president who will not be a fair-weather friend of Israel. The United States must work as a country to resist the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. We must fight against that campaign in every forum and label it the anti-Semitic poison that it is. Israel's existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate."
Regarding Iran, the Romney "white paper" repeats many of the canards about Iranian intentions that have been debunked even by Israelis, such as the mistranslation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement regarding "wiping Israel off the map." But Romney's neocon foreign policy team even suggests using that mistranslation to indict Ahmadinejad for war crimes:
"Romney will also push for greater diplomatic isolation of Iran. The United States should make it plain that it is a disgrace to provide Iran's Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the trappings and respect offered to responsible heads of state. He should not be invited to foreign capitals or feted by foreign leaders.
"Quite the opposite. Given his calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, Ahmadinejad should be indicted for incitement to genocide under Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
So, even Americans disappointed in Obama's foreign policy should recognize what the stakes are in November. They include whether to put hard-line neocons back in charge of U.S. foreign policy and the American military.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
The Guardian - May 11, 2012
Overhyped terror plots and government entrapment
A cycle of overhyped terror plots involving government agency entrapment feeds a multimillion-dollar surveillance industry
By Naomi Wolf
The news stories, which quickly surface, long enough to cause scary headlines, then vanish before people can learn how often the cases are thrown out. These are stories about "bumbling fantasists", hapless druggies, the aimless, even the virtually homeless and mentally ill, and other marginal characters with not the strongest grip on reality, who have been lured into discourses about violence against America only after assiduous courting, and in some cases outright payment, by undercover FBI or police informants.
They have become a litany in recent years. The terrifying 2003-2004 national news stories that a Detroit "sleeper cell" had sent Muslim terrorists to blow up Disneyland and other landmarks, including in Las Vegas, was later thrown out of court, with accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, to almost no press attention – the same cycle of hype and failed convictions that have characterized many such stories. The evidence had included a home video taken in Disneyland, "doodles", and a guy with a credit card fraud problem, who had been pressured to diminish his own sentence by accusing his buddies.
But the tales of entrapment and terror hype continue apace – ten years after 9/11. Judith Miller, in Newsmax, writes that one recent case was so lame that even the FBI distanced itself from NYPD: "Despite FBI Doubts, NYPD Convinced Pipe Bomb Case Posed Real Danger", noted the headline on her 28 November 2011 article. A 27-year-old Dominican immigrant, Jose Pimentel, aka Muhamad Yusuf, had been monitored by NYPD for two years. Last fall, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr charged Pimentel with constructing pipe bombs to attack "police cars, post offices, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and other targets"…..
Attorney Steve Dowds, who tracks cases like the Newburgh Four, argues the US government is systematically employing preemptive prosecution:
"They are taking some down and out vulnerable individuals and not only planting the ideology of jihad on them, giving them all the things they need, all of the material. They are setting up the plan, giving them all the research and then grabbing them and claiming these were homegrown terrorists. It is just a fiction."
Now we have another "underwear bomber" – declared by the Pentagon to have been about to launch a major attack via a US-bound plane, but who appears, reportedly, to have been a CIA-run double agent. What is the evidence that the "device", which is supposedly so sophisticated that there is doubt as to whether existing surveillance technologies in US airports would have caught it, actually exists? As with so many of these stories, we have no independent verification – because reporters from the British Daily Telegraph, to Reuters, to the Huffington Post are simply taking dictation from New York Representative Peter King and from the Pentagon, and scarcely asking for backup evidence of their elaborate assertions.
It is important to note that we can no longer assume that the FBI and the CIA and the NSA work, first of all, for the safety of the American people; they also now represent a revolving door of government officials who become security industry lobbyists and manufacturers, which, in turn, get the multimillion-dollar contracts for tackling the very problems these stories appear to highlight. The stories about the first "underwear bomber" preceded the rollout of former DHS chief Michael Chertoff's costly scanners; the press interviews for this round of mystery "underwear bomber" stories are practically a press release for some expensive technological upgrade – or yet more hellishly invasive and demeaning search technique. The sad truth is that we can no longer report and consume such stories as if there were no commercial vested interests involved in creating and sustaining such "terror theater".
You know we have "terror theater" in the US because nations such as Israel, which are genuinely focused on deterring terrorism, downplay risk and threats rather than trumpeting them, as DHS does. If the threat is real, they don't reveal all the details of the latest "planned attack" to the news media – because they are busy investigating real planned attacks, rather than doing corporate PR and product placement. Instead of TSA groping, aviation security, from Britain to Israel, to Spain to Norway, uses much less invasive and more acute security processes, such as face-to-face, in-line interviewing. They do not sell commercial products that subvert recall surety issues, such as the various costly and vastly lucrative new "Global Entry Trusted Traveller Network", an apparent government program that is not transparent or accountable. You can sign up for for a fee of $100 a year, after an interview. No TSA representative I interviewed knows who owns the initiative, which they said was private, not a government program; nor could they tell me where the money really goes.
Actual terrorism-fighting nations would never devolve such security concerns to private contractors or sell easier travel access for cash – because it is both dangerous and absurd to do so. In fact, what the FBI and CIA and the Pentagon are up against is that people – including Americans – are waking up to the fact that there would be no enemy if we weren't manufacturing new terrorists by taking out civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. An end to foreign wars (which are already costing us thousands of casualties a year) would be a much more effective counter-terror strategy than this hyped, synthetic threat to justify a corporate surveillance-and-security product gold rush. Instead, we are treated to a spectacle orchestrated by alarmist officials who keep holding frightening press conferences promoting the threat of dazed, poor, drugged-out "lone wolves". The true, Orwellian agenda is to support a vast new crony-capitalist industry that uses terror theater to turn open democracies into surveillance societies.
Naomi Wolf is the author, among other books, of The Beauty Myth and Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. She is a graduate of Yale University and New College, Oxford
New York Times - April 29, 2012
Terrorist plots, hatched by the F.B.I.
By DAVID K. SHIPLER
THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.
But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects na´vely played their parts until they were arrested.
When an Oregon college student, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, thought of using a car bomb to attack a festive Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Portland, the F.B.I. provided a van loaded with six 55-gallon drums of “inert material,” harmless blasting caps, a detonator cord and a gallon of diesel fuel to make the van smell flammable. An undercover F.B.I. agent even did the driving, with Mr. Mohamud in the passenger seat. To trigger the bomb the student punched a number into a cellphone and got no boom, only a bust.
This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.
Carefully orchestrated sting operations usually hold up in court. Defendants invariably claim entrapment and almost always lose, because the law requires that they show no predisposition to commit the crime, even when induced by government agents. To underscore their predisposition, many suspects are “warned about the seriousness of their plots and given opportunities to back out,” said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. But not always, recorded conversations show. Sometimes they are coaxed to continue.
Undercover operations, long practiced by the F.B.I., have become a mainstay of counterterrorism, and they have changed in response to the post-9/11 focus on prevention. “Prior to 9/11 it would be very unusual for the F.B.I. to present a crime opportunity that wasn’t in the scope of the activities that a person was already involved in,” said Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawyer and former F.B.I. agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups. An alleged drug dealer would be set up to sell drugs to an undercover agent, an arms trafficker to sell weapons. That still happens routinely, but less so in counterterrorism, and for good reason.
“There isn’t a business of terrorism in the United States, thank God,” a former federal prosecutor, David Raskin, explained.
“You’re not going to be able to go to a street corner and find somebody who’s already blown something up,” he said. Therefore, the usual goal is not “to find somebody who’s already engaged in terrorism but find somebody who would jump at the opportunity if a real terrorist showed up in town.”
And that’s the gray area. Who is susceptible? Anyone who plays along with the agents, apparently. Once the snare is set, law enforcement sees no choice. “Ignoring such threats is not an option,” Mr. Boyd argued, “given the possibility that the suspect could act alone at any time or find someone else willing to help him.”
Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.
Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk: for example, Waad Ramadan Alwan, an Iraqi in Kentucky, whose fingerprints were found on an unexploded roadside bomb near Bayji, Iraq, and Raja Khan of Chicago, who had sent funds to an Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan.
But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find. Take the Stinger missile defendant James Cromitie, a low-level drug dealer with a criminal record that included no violence or hate crime, despite his rants against Jews. “He was searching for answers within his Islamic faith,” said his lawyer, Clinton W. Calhoun III, who has appealed his conviction. “And this informant, I think, twisted that search in a really pretty awful way, sort of misdirected Cromitie in his search and turned him towards violence.”
THE informer, Shahed Hussain, had been charged with fraud, but avoided prison and deportation by working undercover in another investigation. He was being paid by the F.B.I. to pose as a wealthy Pakistani with ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group that Mr. Cromitie apparently had never heard of before they met by chance in the parking lot of a mosque.
“Brother, did you ever try to do anything for the cause of Islam?” Mr. Hussain asked at one point.
“O.K., brother,” Mr. Cromitie replied warily, “where you going with this, brother?”
Two days later, the informer told him, “Allah has more work for you to do,” and added, “Revelation is going to come in your dreams that you have to do this thing, O.K.?” About 15 minutes later, Mr. Hussain proposed the idea of using missiles, saying he could get them in a container from China. Mr. Cromitie laughed.
Reading hundreds of pages of transcripts of the recorded conversations is like looking at the inkblots of a Rorschach test. Patterns of willingness and hesitation overlap and merge. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Mr. Cromitie said, and then explained that he meant women and children. “I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.” It took 11 months of meandering discussion and a promise of $250,000 to lead him, with three co-conspirators he recruited, to plant fake bombs at two Riverdale synagogues.
“Only the government could have made a ‘terrorist’ out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope,” said Judge Colleen McMahon, sentencing him to 25 years. She branded it a “fantasy terror operation” but called his attempt “beyond despicable” and rejected his claim of entrapment.
The judge’s statement was unusual, but Mr. Cromitie’s characteristics were not. His incompetence and ambivalence could be found among other aspiring terrorists whose grandiose plans were nurtured by law enforcement. They included men who wanted to attack fuel lines at Kennedy International Airport; destroy the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago; carry out a suicide bombing near Tampa Bay, Fla., and bomb subways in New York and Washington. Of the 22 most frightening plans for attacks since 9/11 on American soil, 14 were developed in sting operations.
Another New York City subway plot, which recently went to trial, needed no help from government. Nor did a bombing attempt in Times Square, the abortive underwear bombing in a jetliner over Detroit, a planned attack on Fort Dix, N.J., and several smaller efforts. Some threats are real, others less so. In terrorism, it’s not easy to tell the difference.
David K. Shipler is the author of “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America.”
Salon - May 16, 2012
Obama’s new free speech threat
An Executive order seeks to punish U.S. citizens even for "indirectly" obstructing dictatorial rule in Yemen
By Glenn Greenwald
There is substantial opposition in both Yemen and the West to the new U.S.-backed Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi was the long-time Vice President of the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, and after Saleh finally stepped down last year, Hadi became President as part of an “election” in which he was the only candidate (that little fact did not prevent Hillary Clinton from congratulating Yemen “on today’s successful presidential election” (successful because the U.S. liked the undemocratic outcome)). As it does with most U.S.-compliant dictators in the region, the Obama administration has since been propping up Hadi with large amounts of money and military assistance, but it is now taking a much more extreme step to ensure he remains entrenched in power — a step that threatens not only basic liberties in Yemen but in the U.S. as well:
President Obama plans to issue an executive order Wednesday giving the Treasury Department authority to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone who “obstructs” implementation of the administration-backed political transition in Yemen.
The unusual order, which administration officials said also targets U.S. citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen’s security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counterterrorism.
Unlike similar measures authorizing terrorist designations and sanctions, the new order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation. Instead, one official said, it is designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again. . . .
The order provides criteria to take action against people who the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the secretary of state, determines have “engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, such as acts that obstruct the implementation of the Nov. 23, 2011, agreement between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power . . . or that obstruct the political process in Yemen.”
In other words, the U.S. Government will now punish anyone who is determined — in the sole discretion of the U.S. Government — even to “indirectly” obstruct the full transition of power to President Hadi. But what if someone — a Yemeni or an American — opposes Hadi’s rule and wants to agitate for a real election in which more than one candidate runs? Is that pure political advocacy, as it appears, now prohibited by the U.S. Government, punishable by serious sanctions, on the ground that it “obstructs” the transition of power to Hadi? Can journalists who report on corruption or violence by the Hadi regime and who write Op-Eds demanding a new election be accused, as it seems, of “threatening Yemen’s political stability”?
Jeremy Scahill, who has reported extensively from Yemen over the last year, reacted to the news of this Executive Order this morning by writing: ”This Executive Order appears to be an attack on Americans’ 1st Amendment Rights and Yemenis’ rights to self-determination“; he added: ”apparently the 1st Amendment had an exception about Yemen in it that I missed.” He then asked a series of questions, including: “What if a Yemeni citizen doesn’t believe in a one candidate ‘election’ and is fighting to change their government? US sanctions?” and ”How would Obama define an American citizen as ‘indirectly’ threatening the stability of Yemen’s government?” and “what if an American citizen doesn’t support Yemen’s government and agitates for its downfall? Sanctions from US Treasury? Wow.” Marcy Wheeler has some typically astute points to make about this as well.
The Post article notes that, as unusual as this Executive Order is, Obama issued a similar one for Somalia in 2009, and it has one other precedent: “In 2006, President George W. Bush issued a similar order regarding Ivory Coast in West Africa.” Newspapers should just create a template that says that for every article: this radical and controversial power that Obama has just seized for himself has its genesis in the executive power and war theories of Bush/Cheney. Except for the power to secretly target U.S. citizens for due-process-free assassination-by-CIA and the manic war on whistleblowers — those are Obama originals — that’s a reliable claim to make, which is the point.
When I first began writing about Bush’s War on Terror abuses, I would sometimes be asked whether America still protects certain liberties more than most other countries, and my answer would always be the same: First Amendment rights in the U.S. of free speech and a free press are still more robust than most other countries in the world. It was one realm which the Bush War on Terror had by and large — not entirely, but by and large — left alone. That is just no longer true. Under Obama, we have seen a series of aggressive erosions of even this right in the name of Terrorism.
The Obama DOJ persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law to adopt an extraordinarily broad interpretation of “material support” statutes, such that, as Georgetown Law Professor David Cole put it, the Court “–for the first time in its history—[held] that speech advocating only lawful, nonviolent activity can be subject to criminal penalty, even where the speakers’ intent is to discourage resort to violence.” We now routinely see from the Obama DOJ Terror prosecution of Muslim Americans grounded in the expression of their pure political views. Long before any alleged evidence emerged that U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki had any involvement in any Al Qaeda plots, the Obama administration placed him on a “hit list” because of its fear of the efficacy of his anti-American sermons. American Muslims are routinely targeted by sophisticated FBI entrapment campaigns if their criticisms of U.S. foreign policy (constant bombing of Muslim countries) is sufficiently strident.
There seems to be little question that the Obama administration is devoted to imposing dictatorial order on Yemen through the use of force and liberty abridgment. As Scahill previously reported, Obama has played a direct personal role in the ongoing imprisonment of a Yemeni journalist who committed the crime of documenting the large number of civilian deaths from a U.S. cluster bomb attack on his country as well as exposing the joint lies of the Yemeni and U.S. Government. The latest U.S. drone strike in Yemen yesterday, even according to Yemeni officials, killed more civilians than alleged “militants.” The bombing campaign in Yemen now increasingly resembles the one conducted in Pakistan, though Yemen saw more drone strikes this month than any previous month in Pakistan. AP reported yesterday that there are now U.S. troops on the ground aiding Yemeni soldiers in their fights against alleged AQAP members.
What’s most amazing about all of this is how covert it is. What percentage of Americans even know that the Obama administration is continuously bombing and killing civilians in Yemen, or that American soldiers are now on the ground there in an advisory capacity? How many network news shows air any questions about any of this, and how many MSNBC shows (other than this one) have ever stopped talking long enough about all the supreme GOP Evil to even mention to their progressive audience that any of this is happening or aired questions and challenges about it? I’d be willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of Yemen mentions — almost all — entail little more than grave warnings about the scary threats emanating from there against the U.S., combined with gleeful celebrations of all the glorious Terrorist Kills our strong, resolute, brave Commander-in-Chief has commanded. In the meantime, not only endless militarism and war march on unabated, but so, too, does the erosion of core liberties which it entails.
* * * * *
Speaking of ongoing erosions of core liberties: a bipartisan group of House members is attempting to enact a law specifying that the indefinite detention powers vested in the President by last December’s passage of the NDAA does not apply to those arrested on U.S. soil; in other words, they are trying to ban military detention on American soil without charges. Even though President Obama, after he signed the bill into law, said he does not intend to use these powers for that purpose, the sponsors of this bill are concerned that — because the law does vest this power — Obama could change his mind at any time or a subsequent President could use those powers. Unfortunately, they are being opposed by key Democratic Senators such as Carl Levin in close cooperation with standard neocon members of Congress. As one tweeter wrote to me yesterday about this: “The fact that government has to be told NOT to do that is insane.” Indeed, and it’s easy to forget how frequently true that is. But the War on Terror has so normalized even the most warped powers — warrantless eavesdropping, torture, indefinite detention, renditions, due-process-free-assassinations, Executive Orders like the one today — that it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is the only real reaction that should be needed.
UPDATE: Those wishing to defend actions such as the issuance of this Executive Order typically argue that although it has the potential to sweep up legitimate and innocent political activity, the U.S. Government intends to use it only to constrain the Bad People: those who seek to use violence or other illegitimate means to achieve their end.
Here is a very partial history of that assurance and then decide if you feel comfortable trusting it:
Here’s what President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, said at a Press Conference in order to assuage growing fears of new government eavesdropping powers, as reported by this July 25, 1969 article from Time Magazine:
Mitchell refused to disclose any figures, but he indicated that the number was far lower than most people might think. “Any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity,” he added, “has nothing to fear whatsoever.”
Here’s White House spokesman Trent Duffy said in December, 2005, defending Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program:
This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.
Haaretz – May 17, 2012
U.S. Congressmen live in fear of pro-Israeli intimidation
By Chemi Shalev
Many American senators and congressmen “keep quiet” and refrain from criticizing Israeli policies because they “live in fear” and are “intimidated” by pro-Israeli groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), according to J Street founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Ben-Ami’s bald assertion came during a debate with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a director of ECI, held on Tuesday night at Manhattan’s palatial B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue and moderated by Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward. Ben Ami said that because of accusatory ECI ads in the New York Times and other media outlets, members of Congress are afraid of being branded as anti-Israel and are deterred by the “ramifications” of voicing open criticism of Israeli policies.
It was a rare moment of tension in an otherwise civil and even friendly debate, which pitted representatives of the two diametrically opposed poles of the current Jewish debate on Israel – the controversial lobby J Street on the left and the no-less contentious Emergency Committee on the right. The crowd of 700-800, mainly from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, clearly favored Ben Ami’s positions though they were obviously pleased by Kristol’s agreement to debate him.
Another reason for the amicable nature of the debate was that Kristol “didn’t supply the goods," as Israelis would put it. He voiced surprisingly moderate positions about President Obama and about the creation of a Palestinian state, which seemed completely at odds with the harsh tone of ECI advertisements and especially of its popular 30 minute television film “Daylight: The Story of Obama and Israel.”
While the film depicts Obama’s attitude toward Israel as “alarming” and “damaging to the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, Kristol told the audience that Obama had, in fact, “moved to the center” on both Iran and the peace process, and that his policies today resemble those of his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
And while the ECI committee has run billboard campaigns describing Obama as “not pro-Israel," Kristol told the audience that the president had evolved considerably between his 2009 Cairo speech and his 2012 AIPAC speech, and that “the difference” between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney on issues relating to Iran and Israel “is not that great."
“I am happy to agree with Obama to a considerable degree,” said Kristol, one of America’s most well-known conservative commentators. He added that he does not expect Israel to be “that great an issue” in the upcoming November elections.
Nonetheless, Kristol elicited howls of protest from the audience when he predicted that the next U.S. secretary of state in a “Romney administration” would be former Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Lieberman. Ben-Ami wryly noted, “Israel already has a Lieberman as foreign minister.”
Ben-Ami also seemed to be reciprocating Kristol’s conciliatory tone towards Obama by commending Romney’s refusal to emulate his Republican rivals during the primaries and "pander” on the issue of the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He said that Romney’s attitude toward the peace process did not seem to rule out an active U.S. role in advancing the peace process.
Kristol rejected Ben-Ami’s call for the U.S. president to “lay down the parameters” of a peace deal – 1967 borders with modifications, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and the Palestinians, no right of return and a demilitarized Palestinian state. Kristol said that it was not the business of America to “impose” a peace deal on Israel and the Palestinians nor was it Washington’s duty to “call Israel’s bluff” and to expose its obstinacy, if it exists, to the outside world.
Nonetheless, Kristol surprised many in the audience by voicing clear support for a Palestinian state, saying, “I would be very happy if there was a Palestinian state”. He rejected Ben-Ami’s predictions of a one-state future in which the Palestinians would demand the principle of “one man one vote," saying that Israel has ruled the occupied territories for over 45 years and that the indefinite maintenance of the current status quo “is also an option."
Ben-Ami, who deals with the Israeli-Palestinian issue seven days a week, was clearly better informed on the details of the issues than Kristol, who is a major player in the overall Republican agenda. Kristol repeatedly cited his own ignorance in order to dodge open disagreements with Ben-Ami, conceding that he doesn’t know much about the blockade of Gaza, that he is not aware of the details of Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and that he is incapable of judging whether Israeli democracy and the rule of law are indeed endangered by the government’s refusal to carry out High Court orders to evacuate the settlements at Migron and at the Ulpana sector of Beit-El, as Ben-Ami asserted.
But, he protested, “This is what American Jews have to do? Criticize the level of democracy and the rule of law in Israel? It is certainly better than in any other country in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.” Ben-Ami drew enthusiastic support from the audience when he retorted that large parts of the American Jewish community “won’t stand for” Kristol’s "Israel right or wrong” attitude.
Kristol said that he welcomed debate with J Street, but would not agree to a dialogue with supporters of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – against Israel, while Ben Ami said that BDS supporters should be engaged, despite his disagreement with their positions. He draws the line, he added, at having a dialogue with people who advocate the destruction of the Jewish state.
Kristol then went so far as to actually praise Ben-Ami’s achievements in building the J Street organization, but added that it has no real influence on the Obama administration. “I hope J Street continues to flourish and to have no effect on policy,” he said and was rewarded with the audience’s appreciative laughter.
The Ben-Ami - Kristol debate, coming on the heels of a similar debate held two weeks ago between controversial author Peter Beinart and the conservative Shalem Center’s Daniel Gordis at Columbia University, appears to signal an attempt by the Jewish community – at least in New York - to create an ongoing dialogue between its warring “factions” and to arrest the polarization of the community.
The debates may also herald an end to attempts to ostracize organizations such as J Street and viewpoints like those espoused by Beinart, and to recognize the legitimacy of their hitherto shunned left-wing views.
As an Israeli observer, I must admit I found myself envious of the ability of the two debaters and of their audience to conduct such a potentially volatile political debate in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In Israel, I suspect, such civilized debates may no longer be possible.