During a segment on CNN last week, Wolf Blitzer told the audience that a new warning from the Pentagon was saying that “Iran’s missiles are getting more accurate, apparently getting more deadly as well.” Wolfie then threw it to CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence, who “reported” the following:
Well, Wolf, Iran’s missiles are getting more accurate, but they may not have to be because they are also getting more deadly. By that I mean they’re developing a new payload system that spreads out the destruction over a wider area than a solid warhead. And you’ve got to remember how many U.S. bases and U.S. ships are in that region.
The Pentagon report says Iran is developing short-range missiles that can identify ships at sea and maneuver towards them in mid-flight. And Iran already has a missile that could reach the U.S. if it could put it on a ship and move it to within 600 miles of the American coastline.
I’d like to repeat that: “Iran already has a missile that could reach the U.S.”!!!! (“if it could it put on a ship and move it to within 600 miles of the American coastline”). As As’ad AbuKhalil observed about these frightening Iranian missiles: ”They can also reach the moon if they can put it on a rocket and get closer to the moon.” Indeed, I’m excited to announce that I’m writing today from within walking distance to the peak of Mount Everest! (if someone transports me and my laptop by jet and then helicopter to within 500 yards or so of the top of that mountain).
Lawrence also touted what he called “a new report from the Pentagon” (which must not be questioned, only uncritically described with his TV-reporter’s gravely worried face plastered on) that “confirms” that “Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.” Far from being “new,” that’s a Pentagon claim Fox News was hyping more than two years ago (“Iranian Missile May Be Able to Hit U.S. by 2015″). Note how, to a CNN Pentagon reporter, the mere assertion by the Pentagon of a claim amounts to “confirmation” of its truth (LAWRENCE: “Iran’s recent missile test showed off their capabilities. And a new report from the Pentagon confirms it. Iran’s ballistic missiles are more accurate, more versatile and more deadly than ever. The report finds that ‘Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015′– the type of missile that could hit the U.S. if it works”).
There’s a perennial debate about whether the propagandistic tripe produced by establishment media outlets is shaped more by evil or by stupidity. Personally, I think it’s both: a healthy dose of each is needed. The system design is malicious, while those who serve as its public face are generally vacant. In the case of CNN, one can think of it as the Time-Warner/Wolf-Blitzer dichotomy.
A couple of years ago, I was on MSNBC debating The Iranian Threat with Arianna Huffington…. Virtually the entire time I was speaking, scary video imagery was being shown of Iran testing a mid-range missile at sea, and near the end of the debate, The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart popped in to demand that I try to reconcile what he obviously believed was the glaring contradiction between (a) my claim that Iran was not the aggressor in the region and (b) Iran’s testing of a missile.
That the U.S., Israel and their allies routinely test long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles and (in the case of the U.S.) have done so for decades while building a huge stockpile of them never enters the mind of Capehart and his establishment media colleagues. He genuinely believes that Iran’s testing of a mid-range missile definitively proves their malicious aggression, but the same cannot be said of those on his side who engage in far more extensive military development. That’s the unspoken, vapid precept driving most American media discourse; indeed, enthusiastically embracing this form of jingoistic reasoning is more or less a prime requirement for the job.
With “reporters” and “journalists” like these, it is no wonder nobody watches CNN.
Image via The Guardian
George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley pulls no punches in reacting to Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech on Monday that sought to justify the due process free targeted assassination program that has so far claimed the lives of at least three American citizens:
It [Holder's speech] served as a retroactive justification for the slaying of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last September by a drone strike in northeastern Yemen, as well as the targeted killings of at least two other Americans during Obama’s term.
What’s even more extraordinary is that this claim, which would be viewed by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution as the very definition of authoritarian power, was met not with outcry but muted applause. Where due process once resided, Holder offered only an assurance that the president would kill citizens with care. While that certainly relieved any concern that Obama, or his successor, would hunt citizens for sport, Holder offered no assurances on how this power would be used in the future beyond the now all-too-familiar “trust us” approach to civil liberties of this administration.
In his speech, Holder was clear and unambiguous on only one point: “The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen.” The use of the word “abroad” is interesting because senior administration officials have previously asserted that the president may kill an American anywhere and anytime, including within the United States. Holder’s speech does not materially limit that claimed authority, but stressed that “our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan.” He might as well have stopped at “limited” because the administration has refused to accept any limitations on this claimed inherent power.
Holder became highly cryptic in his assurance that caution would be used in exercising this power — suggesting some limitation that is both indefinable and unreviewable. He promised that the administration would kill Americans only with “the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.” He did not explain how the nation in question would consent or how a determination would be made that it is “unable or unwilling to deal” with the threat.
Of course, the citizens of the United States once consented on a relevant principle when they ratified the Constitution and later the Bill of Rights. They consented to a government of limited powers where citizens are entitled to the full protections of due process against allegations by their government. That is clearly not the type of consent that Holder wants to revisit or discuss. Indeed, he insisted that “a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process.'”
Holder’s new definition of “due process” was perfectly Orwellian. While the Framers wanted an objective basis for due process, Holder was offering little more than “we will give the process that we consider due to a target.” And even the vaguely described “due process” claimed by Holder was not stated as required, but rather granted, by the president. Three citizens have been given their due during the Obama administration and vaporized by presidential order. Frankly, few of us mourn their passing. However, due process appears to have been vaporized in the same moment — something many U.S. citizens may come to miss.
What Holder is describing is a model of an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon blush. If the president can kill a citizen, there are a host of other powers that fall short of killing that the president might claim, including indefinite detention of citizens — another recent controversy. Thus, by asserting the right to kill citizens without charge or judicial review, Holder has effectively made all of the Constitution’s individual protections of accused persons matters of presidential discretion. These rights will be faithfully observed up to the point that the president concludes that they interfere with his view of how best to protect the country — or his willingness to wait for “justice” to be done. And if Awlaki’s fate is any indication, there will be no opportunity for much objection.
When the applause died down after Holder’s speech, we were left with a bizarre notion of government. We have this elaborate system of courts and rights governing the prosecution and punishment of citizens. However, that entire system can be circumvented at the whim or will of the president. The president then becomes effectively the lawgiver or lifetaker for all citizens. The rest becomes a mere pretense of the rule of law.
For more, see Glenn Greenwald’s must read piece.
Image via Seattle Post Intelligencer
On hold since November 16, Spencer Ackerman is reporting that the U.S. drone program is once again up and running in Pakistan. The program was halted because of a bloody firefight between American and Pakistani forces that sent relations between the two countries in a downward spiral. However, for the first time since, “a missile fired by a drone slammed into a North Waziristan target.” According to Ackerman, now that the pause is over don’t expect the drone war to go on sabbatical anytime soon:
2011 was the worst year for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since 9/11. Not only did the bin Laden raid infuriate Pakistanis, but so did a CIA contractor who killed two in Lahore who apparently tried to rob him. Pakistan usually issues empty threats to vent popular outrage, but after the helicopter incident, it shut down logistics routes for the Afghanistan war and actually kicked the CIA out of a drone base on its soil.
And all that did was make the drone war take a knee. The drones now fly from Afghan bases; Pakistan notably did not deny the U.S. overflight rights after the helicopter incident. That’s still an option for the Pakistanis, theoretically. But absent some really big disaster — a botched U.S. raid inside Pakistan, maybe? — it’s hard to see what else the U.S. could do to prompt the Pakistanis to take more drastic steps.
Remember that the next time you read hype about the drone war “stopping.” The drone strikes are not a supplement to a war; they’re the centerpiece of how the Obama administration confronts terrorists. The White House’s plan for counterterrorism makes that clear, as does the Pentagon’s new strategy blueprint. Anonymous administration officials, evidently itching to get back to the strikes, floated the (evidence-free) proposition in the New York Times that terrorists were regrouping during the six-week pause.
Perhaps elements of the Pakistani security establishment are back on board with the drones, perhaps they aren’t. But the resumption of the drone strikes strongly indicates that if the Pakistanis have a problem with the strikes, the U.S. will route around that problem. Any pauses you see in the drone program are likely to be tactical — and brief.
Image via The Telegraph
When I wrote this post back in early September criticizing the decision to go to war in Libya, the rebels just took control of Tripoli, and the Qaddafi regime essentially fell. Recently, the rebels killed Qaddafi in a firefight in his hometown of Sirte. His death is now being held up in the U.S. as a sign that the Libyan war is ‘won’, thus vindicating Obama’s decision as well as this approach of military intervention. However, to couch the recent events in Libya as either validation of Obama’s decision, liberal humanitarian intervention, or some sort of military victory is highly shortsighted. As Stephen Walt put it:
We can all hope that the Libyan revolution fulfills its idealistic hopes and avoids the various pitfalls that lie ahead, but it is way too early to start bragging about it, or declaring it the model for future interventions. And if Libya does go south, enthusiasm for the “Obama Doctrine” will fade faster than watercolors in the Libyan sun.
In fact, shortly after Qaddafi’s death, some recent developments largely mirror the warnings sounded by war critics. As I wrote in my critique of the decision to intervene, “the main criticism of the Libya war, was, and remains the unanswerable questions and uncertainty of what ensues in the aftermath of Qaddafi.” Whether the war produced a government with a far greater Islamic influence than Qaddafi’s, or one equally or more authoritarian, will be played out over time. However, some recent reports are proving those concerned with the unintended consequences justified in their apprehension.
Libya under Qaddafi was largely secular. Now, The Washington Post is reporting the leader of the Libyan Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, pledged to replace the old dictatorship with “a more strictly Islamic system…” stating, “[w]e are an Islamic state….” The Post also reports of increased strain amongst Islamists and secularists on the TNC. This represents exactly the kind of worries put forth by those against the war. The potential now exists for Libya to become unduly influenced by Islamic elements of Libyan society, potentially leading to a repressive Islamic state and/or a new home base of operations for terrorists.
Moreover, and far more disturbing, is this story via John Glaser:
Fifty-three people, apparent Gaddafi supporters, seem to have been executed at a hotel in Sirte last week, Human Rights Watch said today. The hotel is in an area of the city that was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
Human Rights Watch called on Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to conduct an immediate and transparent investigation into the apparent mass execution and to bring those responsible to justice.
“We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings.
This report should make anyone who supported the war recoil in horror and disgust. While even supporters of the war will admit the regime that follows Qaddafi may in fact turn out just as repressive, it’s extremely foreboding that this kind of massacre occurred just days after Qaddafi’s death.
Nonetheless, these two reports illustrate how the situation in Libya remains extremely dangerous, tenuous, and no closer to a final resolution. Rather, just like in Iraq, the upcoming months and years will decide the fate of Libya, leaving the past seven months – from the breakout of the war to Qaddafi’s death – as a preview for the real conflict. As Daniel Larison correctly points out:
While Gadhafi’s death will mark the end of Western military involvement in Libya, we should not assume that it means that Libya will not be wracked by violence for months or years to come. We should not forget that the worst of the post-invasion violence in Iraq came well after Saddam Hussein’s capture and execution. Just as it was Iraqi civilians who bore the brunt of the war over the last eight years, it has been and continues to be Libyan civilians who are suffering the most from prolonged conflict.
When dictatorships are violently overthrown, their successor regimes tend to devolve into some form of authoritarian government. Political culture, weak institutions, and post-conflict disorder all make it unlikely that Libya will be that much freer in the years to come than it was under Gadhafi. As in Iraq, it is questionable whether the possible gains will be worth the real losses that have already been and will continue to be suffered. As in Kosovo, which is often wrongly held up as a model of “successful” intervention, the post-war regime is liable to be criminal and corrupt. Twenty years ago, the liberation of Eritrea and Ethiopia from the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu was an inspiring story that very soon degenerated into authoritarianism and war. There is no reason to think that Libya’s story will be all that different.
Image via flickr user RMondolfi
Withdrawal from Iraq doesn’t demonstrate that the U.S. is not an empire. Just because a state withdraws its forces from a country it has invaded and occupied for years doesn’t mean that it hasn’t acted as an empire does. After toppling a country’s government, installing a new government that it initially believed would be more cooperative and subservient, and occupying its territory against the will of most of the population for almost a decade, the U.S. certainly acted imperially in Iraq, as Jacob Heilbrunn notes. When a government reserves the right to overthrow other governments that oppose its policy goals, it assumes that other states’ sovereignty is so limited that it can and should be violated when it suits the more powerful state. This is how many empires have acted in the past, and so it seems appropriate and accurate to refer to a contemporary American empire.
Image via Hidden Harmonies China Blog
In the wake of targeted drone strikes that killed three American citizens in Yemen a few weeks back, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking to compel the federal government to turn over its information regarding the legal and factual basis authorizing the killings. At the ACLU’s blog, Nathan Freed Wessler writes:
The killing of three American citizens raises serious and troubling questions about whether the U.S. government was acting lawfully when it placed Anwar al-Awlaki’s name on a “kill list” and when it ordered the deadly drone strikes. But the government is hiding behind a veil of secrecy and is refusing to publicly release information about its justifications for killing U.S. citizens far from any active battlefield. We know from reports in the press that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) produced a memorandum providing legal justifications for killing al-Awlaki and that he was placed on a so-called “kill list” by a secret group of government officials. The government refuses to release the OLC memo or any other information about the legal and factual bases for killing Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, however.
Before the public can determine whether the targeted killings of these U.S. citizens were lawful, the government must come clean and release the OLC memo and other records. Indeed, commentators and legal experts from across the political spectrum, from John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to the State Department in the Bush administration, to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, have made forceful appeals for the release of these documents. Jack Goldsmith, who ran the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush in 2003 and 2004, wrote that the OLC memo must be released because “legal accountability for the practice of targeted killings depends on a thorough public legal explanation by the administration.” Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution echoed Goldsmith’s call. Even John Yoo, author of the Bush administration’s infamous “torture memos,” has pointed out the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s refusal to release the targeted killing memo.
Image via New York Daily News
Malou Innocent considers how the alleged Iranian terror plot may further ensnare the US into the longstanding Saudi-Iranian enmity.
…Demonstrating the fear that Iran’s expanded Shia influence has inspired among Saudi leaders, in February 2007 Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal encouraged the United States to strengthen its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, telling a U.S. diplomat that the Saudis would supply the logic for America’s deployment if Washington supplied the pressure.
Of course it is the Kingdom that is alarmed by the possibility of an Iranian SCUD missile attack on Saudi oil facilities; it is the Kingdom that is petrified by the possibility of Iran’s nuclear programposing a threat to the House of Saud’s regional prestige; and it is the Kingdom that has claimed that Shia-Persian Iran has beenstage-managing the massive, popular uprisings sweeping the region in order to undermine Sunni Arab regimes. If the United States moves to increase the scope of its political, economic, and military sticks against Iran, it will only serve to invite further Iranian and Saudi intrigues. It may also encourage Iran and other states like it to seek a nuclear deterrent. Responding swiftly to this alleged plot, as some political pundits have encouraged, will further entangle the United States in an intra-Islamic, Shia-Sunni, Arab-Persian rivalry divorced from America’s vital interests. [emphasis mine]
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…[N]one of us really know what was going on here, but several features ought to be kept in mind. First, the Iranian government is by all accounts a contentious and unruly body, and it is possible that some rogue element of the Revolutionary Guards came up with this cockamamie but obviously despicable scheme. Whether Supreme Leader Khamenei or President Ahmadinejad had anything to do with it, of course, is another matter entirely.
Second, the FBI doesn’t have a terrific track record in identifying and documenting this sort of conspiracy, and we’d be fools to take their accusations at face value. There is sometimes a fine line between uncovering a real terrorist plot and subtly encouraging one, as in the famous case of the “Miami Seven,” whose plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago appears to have been largely inspired by the undercover agent who eventually exposed them. Until we know a lot more about the actual time line and evidence behind these latest accusations, a certain skepticism is warranted. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the government eventually reveals that the evidence of direct Iranian involvement is based on intercepted signals intelligence, which it will then claim it cannot make public without compromising sources and/or methods. In other words, just trust us…
Third, before we leap to the conclusion that this is more evidence of how heinous Iran’s revolutionary leadership is, let’s pause to remember that the United States and some of our allies have done similar things in the past. We tried to bomb Muammar al-Qaddafi’s tent back in the 1980s, and the CIA tried to kill Fidel Castro and a few other foreign leaders back in the 1960s. And the United States has certainly backed various groups that used assassination and other forms of terrorism to advance their political aims, such as the Nicaraguan contras. Some of you might think that these efforts were justified; my point is simply that we aren’t wholly innocent in this regard. That doesn’t justify what Iran is accused of doing, but it might temper our own moral outrage a bit.
Lord knows there’s plenty of grounds for concern about various Iranian actions (including their reliance on murder and/or sabotage on several occasions in the past), and no shortage of conflicts of interest between Tehran and Washington. But this story is sufficiently bizarre — would a real Iranian agent actually try to hire a drug cartel to do his dirty work? — and the potential consequences are sufficiently grave that we really ought to wait until we know more before drawing any conclusions at all.
Image via Al Jazeera English
In light of the recent drone strike that killed alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, Reuters is reporting that a secret panel of senior government officials has the power to place individuals on a kill or capture list, the very same list on which al-Awlaki found himself. Apparently, once the panel determines someone list-worthy, they inform the president of their decision. Now, if that’s not enough to make you sick – government officials gathered in secret deciding who goes on an assassination list – consider the fact that, according to Reuters, there exists “no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel…. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.” Reacting to this report, Glenn Greenwald fumes:
So a panel operating out of the White House — that meets in total secrecy, with no known law or rules governing what it can do or how it operates — is empowered to place American citizens on a list to be killed by the CIA, which (by some process nobody knows) eventually makes its way to the President, who is the final Decider. It is difficult to describe the level of warped authoritarianism necessary to cause someone to lend their support to a twisted Star Chamber like that…. Seriously: if you’re willing to endorse having White House functionaries meet in secret — with no known guidelines, no oversight, no transparency — and compile lists of American citizens to be killed by the CIA without due process, what aren’t you willing to support?
What’s crucial to keep in mind is that nobody can see this “evidence” which these anonymous government officials are claiming exists. It’s in their exclusive possession. As a result, they’re able to characterize it however they want, to present it in the best possible light to support their pro-assassination position, and to prevent any detection of its flaws. As any lawyer will tell you, anyone can make a case for anything when they’re in exclusive possession of all the relevant evidence and are the only side from whom one is hearing; all evidence becomes less compelling when it’s subjected to adversarial scrutiny. Yet even given all those highly favorable pro-government conditions here, it’s obvious — even these officials admit — that the evidence is “partial,” “patchy,” based on “suspicions” rather than knowledge.
Image via BBC News
In response to the 9/11 attacks, the US government created the Department of Homeland Security, a cabinet department whose actual need was, and continues to be dubious at best. And nine years after its creation, DHS has done little to increase safety while implementing policies that constantly threaten individual privacy and civil liberties. At The Washington Examiner, Gene Healy makes the case for abolishing DHS:
…in a new study, my Cato Institute colleague David Rittgers makes a provocative and compelling argument for going much further. He argues that, 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, it’s time to abolish the Department of Homeland Security.
Rittgers sees particular danger in DHS’ grant programs, under which the department has ladled out some $34 billion to states and localities since its inception.
The talismanic properties of the phrase “homeland security” enable politicians “to wrap pork in red, white and blue in a way not possible with defense spending,” Rittgers argues. “Not every town can host a military installation or build warships, but every town has a police force that can use counterterrorism funds.” As a result of the “gold-rush pathology” encouraged by the grants — to offer just one example — the midsize town of Grand Forks, N.D., now “has more biochemical suits and gas masks than police officers to wear them.”
The issue isn’t simply waste. DHS largess often threatens civil liberties and privacy in ways that garden-variety pork does not.
Over the past decade, homeland security grants have been used in an apparent attempt to turn Main Street America into a London-style Panopticon, funding security cameras in sleepy hamlets nationwide. And, as investigative journalist Radley Balko notes, DHS handouts also further a burgeoning culture of police paramilitarization, funding armored personnel carriers for such “unlikely terrorist targets” as the towns of Adrian, Mich., and Germantown, Tenn.
All this has done very little to enhance public safety — not that you’d learn that from the agency itself, which is especially resistant to using cost-benefit analysis. In 2006, a senior economist at DHS admitted, “We really don’t know a whole lot about the overall costs and benefits of homeland security.”
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