The Fight Continues…

The primary season is underway. With one state under their belt, the Republican candidates squared off in another debate Saturday night on ABC. Each of the candidates still failed to grasp Ron Paul’s view of American foreign policy:

It makes you wonder if they really believe what they say. To quote Giuliani: “It has nothing to do with our foreign policy. It has to do with their ideas, their theories, the things that they have done, and the way they have perverted their religion to a hatred of us. And what’s at stake are the things that our best about us: our freedom of religion, our freedom for women, our right to vote, our free economic system. Our foreign policy is irrelevant, totally irrelevant. If you read what they write, if you bother to listen to what they say, this comes out of their own perverted thinking.”

This is a battle of good vs. evil, freedom vs. terror, Christians vs. Muslims…thanks for clearing it all up for us, Mr. Mayor. Looks like Rudy might be sipping a bit too much of his own Kool-aid, just check out his recent fearmongering commercial:

At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire (backed by “Droopy” Joe Lieberman), John McCain upped the ante on our commitment in Iraq. When asked about Bush’s talk of staying in Iraq for fifty years, McCain replied, “Make it a hundred.”

Four of the Democratic candidates also had a ‘debate’ in NH, Kucinich and Gravel once again excluded from the process. Fresh from his Iowa victory, Obama tried to stay positive. Edwards seemed to be setting himself up for a vice-presidential bid on an Obama ticket, as he continued his aggressive attack of Clinton and the ‘status quo’.

Kucinich has filed a complaint about his debate exclusion, mentioning that Disney (ABC’s parent company) has made contributions to all four of the Democratic candidates involved in the debate.

CIA Destroys Interrogation Tapes

The CIA has admitted to destroying video tapes showing interrogation methods used on suspects at secret prisons. The New York Times reports that lawyers within the clandestine branch of the CIA gave written approval to the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two prisoners at secret CIA prisons. The techniques shown allegedly include the use of water-boarding on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

A former CIA agent involved in the interrogations, John Kiriakou, said recently that water-boarding is “torture” but defended it as necessary at the time. Kiriakou told NBC that the decision to use water-boarding is “a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and the Justice Department.” He considers the destruction of the video tapes to be “a serious mistake“.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said the tapes were destroyed because they posed a “serious security risk.” He said that if they were to become public they would have exposed CIA officials to “retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

The ACLU accused the CIA of deliberately destroying evidence that could have led to the criminal prosecution of CIA agents for the torture and abuse of prisoners. Presidential hopeful Joe Biden has called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the destruction of the interrogation tapes.

More on the story here.

Mid-week Roundup 12/5

Here are some headlines rounded up from this week:

Is “Save Darfur” a PR Scam?

Drug giant Pfizer will boost outsourcing to Asia; also their Celebrex expert testifies in court without a license.

Private Contractors look to profit from domestic spying.

Hillary is quite tied up with Big Oil and defense contractors.

Guiliani’s ties to a terror shiek

Virginia primaries will demand oath of loyalty from Republican voters.

Bush Justice Department is okay with kidnapping.

100 Students walk out on former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Guantanamo heading to the Supreme Court.

The human costs of the Iraq Occupation.

Join the military, go to college… The Pentagon’s education recruitment pitch is a scam?

Iraq Vet is punished for seeking help.

US War Vets to speak publicly about war crimes this March.

Bush and Maliki agree to long-term US troop presence in Iraq.

Also, John Pilger has a new book called ‘Freedom Next Time,’ and here is a speech he gave in Chicago concerning media journalism…if you have 45 minutes to spare.

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition describes the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. The term has become prevalent in the Bush administration’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

Amy Goodman reports one of the many examples of this practice with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen:

The U.S. government also engages in “extraordinary rendition.” This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.

Arar’s Kafaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.

Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaeda, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:

“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”

As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.

Leahy is demanding action: “The Bush administration has yet to renounce the practice of sending detainees to countries that torture prisoners, and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar for what he endured with our government’s complicity.”

Leahy also pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the issue back in January.

Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated incident. The procedure of extraordinary rendition, though not exclusive to the Bush administration, has become quite prevalent in the ‘war on terror’. Other cases include:

  • Abu Omar: kidnapped in Italy in 2003, rendered to Egypt for interrogation, held for four years before being released
  • Khaled Masri: detained in Macedonia in 2003, drugged and rendered to an American-run prison in Afghanistan for interrogation, held for five months, then released on a road in Albania, where he made his way home to Germany
  • Mamdouh Habib: detained in Pakistan in 2001, transferred to Egypt, then Afghanistan, tortured, transferred to Guantanamo and released without charge 3.5 years later
  • Muhammed al-Zery: arrested in Sweden in 2001, flown on American jet to Egypt, tortured and beaten, imprisoned for two years, then released without charge

In the case of Abu Omar, an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for twenty-two CIA agents suspected of the kidnapping. Hopefully that will help to remind US authorities that these practices are in violation of international law.

Guantanamo: Standard Operating Procedure 2004

A few interesting documents have been published by Wikileaks this week.

One is a Standard Operating Procedures manual for guards at Guantanamo Bay from 2004. It details the operating instructions for treatment of detainees at Guantanamo’s Camp Delta. There was also one previously published from 2003.

Furthermore, Wikileaks also published a large document detailing instructions for extraordinary rendition procedures, involving the air transport of detainees.

Al-Anbar: Progress in Iraq?

When we hear talk of progress in Iraq, administration officials often point to the success in Al-Anbar province, where attacks on US troops have declined in previous months.

They had attributed this success to Abu Risha (recently deceased), who was credited with allying Sunni tribes to fight against al Qaeda in Iraq. (shown below with Pres. Bush)

Bush & Abu Risha in Al-Anbar province

So the new US military strategy this year has been arming and funding Sunni Arab tribes that have promised to fight Al Qaeda militants. These are the same militants to which they were previously allied when they were fighting against American forces. This strategy is quite controversial, amid fears that we are building up Sunni forces for a future civil war in Iraq, especially with the predominantly Shiite government.

What you won’t hear about in the news is that Abu Rashi was not a shiek; in fact, he was no longer welcome in Al-Anbar province. He claimed to be the “leader of all Iraqi tribes,” but he lead no one. He was a PR stunt used to sell the success of the surge in Iraq to the American people, in return for reported millions in ‘reconstruction contracts’.

The real cause of the success in Al-Anbar province was ethnic cleansing by the Sunni tribes that we are continuing to arm. Thousands of Shi’a families were forced to leave their homes at gunpoint, then dumped in slums on the skirts of Baghdad.

If this is of concern to you, and you can spare twenty minutes, I highly recommend the following video:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Mid-week Roundup 11/28

Okay, I think I might start doing a semi-regular blog round-up. Some of the entries I’ve been making have been quite lengthy, so rather than boring you with text, I’ll occasionally make posts with a few links in them, commonly referred to as a ’round-up’. That way you can choose any stories that interest you and move past ones that don’t.

On that note, here are a few stories of interest:

  • And for anyone not scared of the future yet….a creepy video.

Doublespeak & Political Framing

In George Orwell’s 1984, we read of a totalitarian state where the government monitors all aspects of the citizens’ lives. The world of Big Brother introduces the reader to an entirely new vocabulary, including:

  • Doublethink – the power to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them.
  • Newspeak – a propagandistic language designed to diminish the range of thought; all words describing ‘unorthodox’ political ideas have been removed to limit the range of ideas that can be expressed.

A modern word has been formed combining their meanings:

  • Doublespeak – deliberately evasive language that says one thing but means another, usually the opposite.

This evasive language is often used by our politicians to expand power or avoid responsibility. Joseph Goebbels knew the power of doublespeak very well, as propaganda minister for the Nazis. A few terms he came up with were:

  • concentration camp = labor/death camp (joycamp in Newspeak)
  • protective custody = imprisonment without due process of law
  • Verschärfte Vernehmung = German for ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques (for which some were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death)..sound familiar?

I would like to highlight some of the new vocabulary commonly used by ourselves and by our leaders in the present day.

  • War on Terror – implies a ‘good vs. evil’ mentality that our imperialism is fighting for freedom while ‘terrorists’ are fighting against freedom
  • War in Iraq – in reality an unprovoked, illegal invasion and military occupation, not a war
  • patriotism – unquestioning loyalty to the administration’s interests
  • freedom fighter – terrorist supporting America’s interests
  • terrorist – political rebel working against America’s interests
  • ally – client state
  • terrorist insurgency – seemingly everyone we kill is reported a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘insurgent’, which implies there is no Iraqi resistance; in reality about a million Iraqi civilians have been killed.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Just Cause, Operation Enduring Freedom, A War to Liberate the Iraqi people, and the like – political slogans for military operations
  • Support the Troops – approve of war no matter what; in reality, it should be to keep our troops safe
  • freedom – supposed to be “what we’re fighting for” yet Bush has enacted programs curbing freedoms
  • the Patriot Act – legislation responsible for trimming the Bill of Rights and limiting our civil liberties
  • unlawful enemy combatant – term used to deny prisoners the writ of habeus corpus
  • advanced interrogation techniques = torture
  • extraordinary rendition – deportation of prisoners by one country to another not burdened by following international laws, for the purpose of torture (“The USA does not torture” = we take them to Syria for that)
  • national security letter (NSL) – document used to bypass judicial warrant for search and seizures
  • self-injurious behavior incidents – Pentagon’s phrase for suicide attempts by prisoners
  • material witness – someone jailed without probable cause
  • security alert level – arbitrary system of colored code designed to scare the general population
  • stop-loss program (back door draft) – changed voluntary service to involuntary service after 9/11 to prevent soldiers from leaving
  • national security – term used to justify countless actions
  • security directives – secret laws made by unelected officials that we are not allowed to see
  • US Department of Defense – up until 1949 it was called the Department of War
  • regime change – forceful change of government by a foreign power
  • manifest destiny = imperialism
  • No Child Left Behind – school program of standardized tests that under-funds districts that need it most
  • down-sizing – massive employment termination
  • privatization – transfer of former public sector services to management by private firms
  • pacify someone – subdue him by force
  • propaganda – information from an opposing viewpoint
  • embedded journalists – reporters invited to war that live with the military, usually restricted in what they can report and who they can talk to
  • spin – an effort to portray events in a light favorable to the presenter
  • fair & balanced – Fox New’s slogan when it is nothing of the sort
  • truthiness – knowing things intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts (thank you Stephen Colbert)

We truly live in a world of Orwellian doublespeak as our perception of reality is framed by choice of words. Perform an experiment by listening to Bush talk about the war; see how many times he mentions the words freedom, peace, democracy, and terror. Bush uses the word ‘freedom’ to draw the most significant distinction from the word ‘terror’. He thus frames the fight against al Qaeda as a ‘struggle between freedom and terror’, a battle of ‘good against evil’.

These methods dramatically oversimplify the complicated arena of world politics; in fact, they are potentially dangerous in arousing jingoist sentiments and emotions. His “you’re either with us or against us” mentality blindly creates enemies where we haven’t any.

Politicians excel in the art of doublespeak, so try to call it out when you see it. If you’d like a test case, watch any of the presidential debates.

In Orwell’s world, it was the Ministry of Truth that concerned itself with lies, the Ministry of Peace with war, the Ministry of Plenty with starvation, and the Ministry of Love with torture. The motto of their country was: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

And down is the new up.

(For a good, readable article on Political Framing, please click here.)

Invasion of Iraq

The supposed ‘war on terror‘ took a severe misstep with the US invasion of Iraq.

The groundwork for the preemptive invasion of Iraq was laid out by the National Security Strategy of 2002, which refined the concept of preventive war to say that the United States reserves the right to attack any country with the “intent and ability” to develop weapons of mass destruction, which essentially means any nation our leaders deem fit.

Subsequently, all of Bush’s initial reasons for invading Iraq were proven false: Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he’s an imminent threat to US security, Saddam provided al Qaeda with weapons and training, and insinuations that Saddam was somehow behind the attacks of 9-11. With these reasons failing, Washington then shifted its stance to promoting the president’s ‘vision’ of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.

So we are meant to believe that the United States has no interest in controlling the second-largest oil reserves in the world, which would give us leverage over Asian and European economies in the future. Rather, this is a mission in the name of ‘democracy’: to liberate the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant; there’s no doubt about that, but Washington’s justifications to attack Iraq are lacking in credibility and timeliness. After all, Saddam was strongly supported by current administration officials and their mentors during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, and continually supported through his worst atrocities (the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, the crushing of a Shi’ite rebellion that may have overthrown Saddam, etc.). The US continued to provide him with arms and funding (over $5 billion on credit between from ’83-90), as well as technology and biological agents that could be adapted to weapons of mass destruction.

In the early nineties, the Gulf War led to a decade of harsh economic sanctions on Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (mostly children). When asked on national TV about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “we think the price is worth it.” These sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, increased civilian dependency on their dictator, and eliminated Saddam’s capacity for aggression. This made Iraq one of the weakest countries in the region; Kuwait and Iran did not even regard them as a threat. So you can see that the brutal Saddam was much more dangerous back when he was our friend and ally, rather than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

Nevertheless, the drumbeat for war ensued; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice each played on the fears and emotions of the American people. They warned of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Africa, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, yellow cake, mustard gas, al Qaeda ties, etc. Failing to obtain UN support, the invasion proceeded with a ‘coalition of the willing’ (primarily the UK & Australia), in which only four other countries supplied troops.

The war was deeply unpopular with the citizens of all the coalition countries, except within the United States, where the administration’s message resounded to exploit the fears of its citizens. They predicted we would be ‘greeted as liberators‘, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war, and Rumsfeld doubted it would ‘take 6 months‘. Post-invasion, they assured the public that the insurgency was in its ‘last throes‘, that the violence was just the ‘birth-pangs of a new Middle East‘, and that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended‘ in Bush’s famous ‘mission accomplished’ speech.

Contrary to their predictions and assurances, the Iraq occupation has lasted for over four years so far, cost the American people over half a trillion dollars, and caused the deaths of nearly 4,000 American troops (plus over 50,000 wounded). The country has fallen into sectarian civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions while American troops are left in the middle. About one million Iraqis have died as a result of this fighting; more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced, while two million refugees are living abroad. These results are unquestionably contributing to the destabilization of the Middle East.

“War on Terror”

We have all heard of the ‘War on Terror,’ re-declared by President Bush following the 9/11 attacks. I say ‘re-declared’ because pretty much the same rhetoric was used by Ronald Reagan in 1981, before much of Central America was devastated by terror with US involvement.

Anyhow, the real problem with the re-declared ‘war on terror‘ is that it prescribes endless war against a faceless enemy. Terrorism is a tactic used by people in many countries, including the US; it is not possible to wage war on such a thing; there is not a specific set of people that can be targeted…they are everywhere and more are created every day.

Terrorism, as defined by US Code, is the calculated threat or use of violence with the aim of intimidating and provoking fear and damage in order to achieve political, religious, ideological and other goals, typically directed against civilian populations.

If we apply this definition honestly, we will find that most of the rest of the world already regards the United States as a leading terrorist state. In the last half century, the US has taken or backed military actions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor…you get the picture.

In fact, the US is the only nation ever to be condemned by the World Court for the ‘unlawful use of force‘ (in Nicaragua v. United States, 1986). Washington ignored the order to pay reparations to Nicaragua, then vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions calling on all states to ‘observe international law‘. So the ‘war on terror‘ is an extreme double-standard; the terrorism we target is only the terrorism of our enemies, not of our allies, nor of ourselves.

The goal following the September 11 attacks was to make our country more secure in order to prevent a future terrorist atrocity on our soil. Contrary to achieving this objective, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the threat of terrorism and made our country less safe. Anyone with an understanding of history will realize that an open war on the Arab world would be the answer to Bin Laden’s prayers.

Massive military retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq (while depleting our resources) will tear civilian families apart, leaving thousands of desperate parents and children left with nowhere to turn but to the cause of the terrorists. With the rising appeal of a global jihadi Islam, recruitment for the Al Qaeda networks have increased, while Iraq itself has become a ‘terrorist haven’ for the first time.

What sort of vicious enemies and horrendous atrocities will our children have to endure due to the ‘blowback’ caused by our actions in the Middle East and elsewhere? These ‘terrorists’ do not hate the freedoms of America; they hate American foreign policy, which has aggravated the struggles of their people.

If we devote our resources to addressing the roots of their sentiments and begin to break down terror networks through coordinated intelligence, rather than blind military invasion, we can reduce the threats we face here at home and make the world more livable for future generations.