Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Saudis Try To De-Guantanamoize Their Citizens

Guantanamo, the supposed home of the worst of the worst, is largely populated by people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as discussed here, and here, and here, But how are these people being de-Guantanomoized when they get home? How is their hatred being quieted and the bleeding agony of their experience being staunched? The Saudis may have an answer. As reported by McClatchy they are re-educated and shown a better way of life.

To keep the former detainees from deep-pocketed militant recruiters, Saudi officials have treated them to perks that have included new cars, resort stays, job placement and help in finding brides. They've also exposed them to moderate clerics and reminded them of Islam's restrictive rules for waging holy war, or jihad.

Saudi officials said the goal is to stop the proliferation of radical ideology that they said is bred in prisons and on the Internet. The ideology has flourished at Guantanamo and is evident among the returning Saudi detainees - even those who were moderates before they were imprisoned, Saudi officials said.

Heaven knows the Saudi society is one of the most closed and restricted in the world. Their tolerance for Wahibism has not done the world any favors. And the monarchy may be hanging on by a thread. But on this, they seem to be getting it right.

The multimillion-dollar rehabilitation program is available to most Saudis who've been accused of terrorism-related crimes, and officials estimate that as many as 2,000 have participated in the program since its inception in 2004.

The program pays special attention to those released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nearly every Saudi returning from American captivity undergoes up to 10 weeks of intense psychological tests, starting with an evaluation on the private plane that whisks him home from the American prison, Turki said.

Only 60-65 of that 2,000 have been Guantanamo prisoners. But it should be remembered that we have released approximately 390 prisoners from guantanamo and continue to hold about 390 more. How many of those fit this profile

Abu Suleiman said that when he was 20 years old and impressionable, he was recruited into a militant cell in the Philippines. With dreams of fighting alongside Chechen rebels, he received training in Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden "a few times" and where he was captured in late 2001 by U.S.-led forces in the mountains of Tora Bora.

In his four years at Guantanamo, one of them in isolation, Abu Suleiman said, he underwent severe U.S. interrogations "from the first day to the last day." When he was finally released last year, he expected even harsher treatment from the Saudi prison system.

. . . .

I was shocked by the good treatment," Abu Suleiman said. "They make it easy for me to forget what happened in Guantanamo."

All is not well in Saudi Arabia. They are in fact reaping the harvest of seeds they have sown over many years and, to a certain extent, continue to sow. And the fruits of their labors are present today. Their anti-terrorism counsellors have some big problems to overcome, as explained in the article.

That's why the program enlists counselors such as Sheik Mohamed al Nejeimi. He's one of 100 state-backed clerics who counter radical teachings with moderate passages from the Quran, Islam's holy book. The detainees pepper Nejeimi with easy questions such as when jihad is valid or how to fight tyranny within the framework of Islam.

But he said there's one frequently asked question that always stumps him: "Why did you let us go to Afghanistan to fight the Russians then, but won't let us go there now to fight the Americans in similar conditions?" The government's reply is that jihad should be in the interest of one's homeland. Fighting the secular Soviets in the 1980s was permissible; fighting Kabul's Muslim-led government today is not.

But regardless of the past, they understand something that seems to elude our government. This is a conflict of ideas. Sure you go after the really bad guys. But you don't create hatred in the process. We can only win this if we convince people of the rightness of our ways. They don't have to agree with our beliefs. But they need to understand we are just and mean them no ill will.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Outraged Yet? This Is Being Done In Our Names

The Center For Constitutional Right released new testimony regarding the torture, rendition and other outrages inflicted on Majid Khan. The problem with these stories is that they all start to blend together and we become numbed to their horror and what they say about our country. But this one is a little different because Najib was raised in Baltimore, MD and attended high school there. Also, his brother, Mohammed, with his wife and infant were imprisoned with Najib. Najib's father and his other siblings are legal residents who were granted assylum in the U.S. ten years ago and still live in Baltimore.

Najib's father, Ali, filed a statement in his son's Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) proceeding which details the sorry history of his son's abuse.

[T]he Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet and mind went numb. They retied him in the chair every hour, tightening the bonds on his hands and feet each time so that it was more painful. He was often hooded and had difficulty breathing. They also beat him repeatedly, slapping him in the face, and deprived him of sleep. When he was not being interrogated, the Americans put Majid in a small cell that was totally dark and too small for him to lie down in or sit in with his legs stretched out. He had to crouch.

Yes, we've heard this all before. We have also heard things like this -

This torture only stopped when Majid agreed to sign a statement that he was not even allowed to read. But then it continued again...

It all started on March 5, 2003.

What I can tell you is that Majid was kidnapped from my son Mohammed’s house in Karachi, along with Mohammed, his wife and my infant granddaughter. They were captured by Pakistani police and soldiers, and taken to a detention center 15 minutes from Mohammed’s house. The center had walls that seemed to be 80 feet high. My sons were hooded, handcuffed and interrogated. After eight days of interrogation by U.S. and Pakistani agents, including FBI agents, Mohammed was allowed to see Majid. Majid looked terrible and very, very tired.

But as outrageous as this four year ordeal has been it is made even worse by by the total sham justice that is the CSRT. Majid tried to have his family in Maryland testify on his behalf, but those efforts were thwarted.

Majid sent questions to his family in preparation for his CSRT and hoped to call them as witnesses in his defense. In a series of exchanges between CCR attorneys and the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC) over the last two weeks, the Defense Department explicitly refused to provide his family - asylees living legally in the United States for over a decade - with a guarantee that they would be able to safely re-enter the U.S. after their appearance as witnesses at the tribunal.

Can't guarantee their safe return? You have to be kidding. They aren't even willing to pretend this proceeding has even a patina of fairness.

Mohammed Khan, Majid's brother expressed the outrage we should all be feeling.

"Our imprisonment in Karachi and interrogation by Americans was a terrifying experience," said Majid's brother Mohammed Khan, by phone from Pakistan. Mohammed, along with his wife and one-month-old daughter, was abducted with Majid from the family's apartment in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003. "I still cannot believe that for the last four years the U.S. government has held my brother in secret detention and now won't even let him see our family or his lawyer. When I think about the detention of my newborn daughter, Majid's torture that made him sign a confession without reading it, and his disappearance into a secret prison, I feel our family is caught in a nightmare. No human being should have to go through what my brother endured - and is still enduring."

Lest anyone have any doubt as to the thoroughness of our government, rest assured that Ali was not spared his own version of American justice. From his statement to the CSRT he details how we treat people living right here in the "homeland" (How I hate that word)

At the time Majid was kidnapped and these events were happening in Pakistan, our family’s home in Maryland was also raided by government agents. Our whole house was searched from top to bottom, and our life was so disrupted that we eventually had to move out of our neighborhood. I was also interrogated by FBI agents for several days, as was each of my sons and daughters. We were threatened, and when we asked about lawyers we were told that they could not help us. The FBI pressured us to talk and to speculate about Majid. They followed us everywhere we went for a long time, requiring us to tell them in advance where we were going and what we were going to do there. They followed us so closely that we even asked them for directions sometimes when we got lost driving.

Despite all that we have endured, we have always cooperated and continue to cooperate with the government. At this point, the FBI has probably questioned us for hundreds of hours. I think they have opened our mail. And they seem to have placed
listening devices in our house, our phones and probably our computers. They have also tried to recruit my sons to spy on other Muslims by bribing them with money. I am also not allowed to leave the country. But the government still refuses to show us any evidence against Majid. This is not right. We expected much more in America, particularly because Majid has political asylum here and grew up and went to high school here in Maryland. He has legal status in the United States.

And what of the evidence against Majid. Well, we don't know much, but his father's statement suggests that it may not qualify for "slender reed" status.

I have not seen my son in more than four years, since before he was kidnapped from his brother’s home in Karachi on March 5, 2003. Now I am told by the military that my son wants to know whether I said in March 2003 that he became very religious and developed anti-American feelings, and whether one of my other sons said that Majid might be involved with Al Qaeda. Where and when did we make these statements that you claim we made? Who did we make these statements to, exactly? The government has refused to give us this information. Anything we may have said about Majid was simply out of shock because we only knew that Majid had disappeared, and was pure speculation based on what FBI agents in the United States told us and pressured us to say.

Maybe Khan actually did something for which he deserves punishment. Or maybe he's just another in a long list of hapless guys who have become pawns in the Bush campaign to terrorize America. I would guess that if he had really done something we would have witnessed a news conference from Moscow or Katmandu telling the world about it. Which leaves us with the second choice. Four years and counting in America's Shame for who knows what, if anything.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bush Terrorizes Padilla Jury

Just how effective has Bush been in terrorizing our nation? How completely has he caused our citizens to conflate 9/11 with every enemy, real or imagined? The jury selection in the Jose Padilla case gives us a glimpse.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times the judge in the Padilla case is having a difficult time impanelling a jury. Of the first 550 questioned by mail a third were disqualified. Of the first 36 questioned in person by the judge more than half have been excused. The numbers though, are not as alarming as what they have told the judge.

Fist, there is the businessman who said

"It would pose some difficulty to me to be open-minded when the subject is terrorism,"

This is not just some abstract view of terrorism. As reported by the L A Times

Prospective jurors, including a Latino highway surveyor, an African American nurse, a Jewish advertising accountant and a divorced white electrician, have repeatedly invoked the images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as the basis for their inability to judge Muslims fairly.

And, from another,

"Being very honest, in my heart, I don't know that I can" set aside memories of the terrorist attacks, she told Cooke. She was excused after being asked whether she would want someone like her on her own jury. "No," she answered vehemently.

Isn't that frightening. This man is not charged with anything even remotely connected with 9/11 and yet Bush has so effectively constructed an edifice of fear around 9/11 that people view anything involving the mere mention of terrorism as somehow raising the specter of the 9/11 tragedy.

These jurors also illustrate how difficult it is to get people to realize that we have a Constitution for a reason. That just because someone has been charged with something does not make it so.

A department store sales clerk also of Latin American descent was dismissed after repeatedly insisting that the defendants must have done something wrong to have landed in federal court.

That was followed by these prospective jurors,

Two women whom Cooke questioned Tuesday were among the most impassioned in expressing their views that the defendants weren't entitled to the rights they have in U.S. federal court.

We know there are people like this. But to actually here people stand up in court and tear up the Constitution in the interests of some illusory concept of personal safety is truly chilling.

Also in evidence in the trial is how effectively Bush and his cohort have managed to play the Muslin equals terrorist card.

A single mother who works at a medical office was asked whether she considered Muslims disproportionately prone to violence. She replied: "Before Sept. 11, I would have said no. But from what I've heard since then on the news, I'd say yes."

What is so tragic about this sentiment is that we as a nation never learn. We went through this with the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WW II, later to realize it was a blight on our country, a shameful episode that should never be repeated. (When I say "all" I exclude Michelle Malkin, of course). Yet here we are, sixty years later doing the same thing.

And of course it isn't just memories of 9/11 driving these feelings. From all those moronic color code episodes where we were all advised to stay especially vigilant through the parade of highly questionable "terrorism" apprehensions we have been encouraged to see plots all around us.

"From the terrorism here in this country and what I know about the background in this case, I would not be a fair and impartial juror," an advertising accountant said. "It's hard to admit that you're prejudiced and biased, but in this situation I am."

She was dismissed, as was a self-employed Miami Beach businesswoman who said that she regarded the defendants as "radical people" and believed "that they want to destroy us."

That juror mentioned the "background" of this case. Well lest any of us have forgotten, what is that background? Jose Padilla's arrest first hit the National news in June 2002 when Ashcroft announced to the world that a man who planned to attack the U.S. with a dirty bomb had been aprehended. The lies started that day. In reality, padilla had been arrested a month earlier, in May 2002, and held as a material witness. Originally jailed in New York, he was transfered to a Navy Brig in Charleston, S.C in June after Bush declared him to be an enemy combatant. He rotted there for three and a half years without charges. Then, in November 2005, in order to avoid a likely Habeas Corpus hearing by the Supreme Court, Padilla was transferred to Florida and his name was added to a pending indictment against other "alleged" terrorist. No dirty bombs, no activities in this country. Another loser who did some misguided and maybe even criminal things. But certainly not the threat that so many jurors in Florida have been conditioned to fear.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bush Vows Veto Of Intelligence Bill - Not Enough Secrets

The Congress has not passed an Intelligence Authorization Bill since 2005, and Jay Rockefeller is determined to change that. In January, the Intelligence Committee reported out S. 372, the 2007 Intelligence Authorization Bill and it is up for consideration by the Senate. ( Yes, we are already half way through the fiscal year but Rockefeller only became Chairman in January.) You'd think the White House would be applauding the Senate for its diligence. On the contrary. The President thinks this bill is a threat to national security and has promised to veto it. How could that possibly be? Well, it turns out that the bill would require Bush to tell us what he is doing in our names in those secret prisons and would require him to tell us how much money he is spending on his outrages. Also, he would have to keep Congress informed. That kind of sunshine is beyond the pale for our President and must be squashed.

Bloomberg and Boston Globe are both reporting the President's veto threat which is spelled out in detail in the OMB statement objecting to the bill.

So what is it about this bill that is so objectionable. Well, as summarized by the Boston Globe, the bill would require,

--Yearly disclosure of the total amount spent on intelligence. The administration has long argued that releasing the figures would be a threat to national security.

--When lawmakers with jurisdiction ask for intelligence assessments and other information, the bill requires spy chiefs to turn the materials over within 15 days. The measure "would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises," the administration says.

--A mandate that the White House brief all members of the intelligence committees on extraordinarily sensitive matters -- not just congressional and intelligence committee leaders, as is often the practice now.

--Required reports on interrogation activities and secret prisons, which the administration says would raise "grave constitutional issues" and jeopardize sensitive information that should not be widely distributed.

--Creation of a statutory inspector general for Office of the Director of National Intelligence who would have the power to direct watchdogs in any of the 16 spy agencies. The administration says the existing watchdogs are best suited to do the job without "dysfunctional interference" from the proposed new inspector general.

--A requirement that the heads of the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office be subject to Senate confirmation, as well as the CIA's deputy director. The administration calls that unnecessary.

Before getting into those provisions in more detail it is worth noting that this is not a case of only those nasty unpatriotic Democrats gumming up the works. It seems that Senator Bond, the ranking Republican, supports the bill and isn't too keen on Bush's veto threat. As reported by Bloomberg,

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Senator Christopher Bond, the panel's senior Republican, earlier today said Bush needed to be more forthcoming to Congress about intelligence operations.

``There may be some officials of the executive branch that prefer a lack of oversight,'' Bond, a Missouri lawmaker, said in a speech today in the Senate chamber. ``That's not how the system works.''

Now Kit is coming to this party a little late, inasmuch as he was the Chairman of the Committee up until this year, but he is still welcome.

Now lets go to the particulars. The OMB statement lays out all of Bush's its principle objections.  First, document disclosure.

Mandatory Provision of Requested Documents in 15 Days Unless the President Claims Constitutional Privilege.

Section 108 provides that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the head of any intelligence agency shall furnish "any intelligence assessment, report, estimate, legal opinion, or other intelligence information" within 15 days upon a request by:  (1) a Congressional intelligence committee, (2) any other congressional committee of jurisdiction, (3) the Chairman of a congressional intelligence committee, or (4) the Vice Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of a congressional intelligence committee.  This section also provides that the DNI or the agency head cannot withhold the requested item "unless the President certifies that such document or information is not being provided because the President is asserting a privilege pursuant to the Constitution of the United States." Such provisions are highly objectionable, because rather than facilitating effective and cooperative interaction between the legislative and executive branches, they would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises. Section 108 also is impractical and would require IC agencies to
direct resources from critical missions to comply with broad information requests within
an artificial deadline.

"Political gamesmanship?" Are you kidding? The most political administration in memory, one that got a free ride from the Congress for six years is now saying that when Congress does its job that is political gamesmanship. And as far as the argument that responding to these requests would be impractical and divert resources from critical missions, if those other critical missions happen to be the running of secret detention facilities, then I would suggest, the more diversion the better.

Next, Bush objects to provisions that would force the Administration to keep all members of the Intelligence Committees informed of critical matters, not just the top two guys. And in the event,

the DNI or the head of an intelligence agency fails to give the full notification to each member of an intelligence activity, the DNI or agency head must notify each member that a determination has been made not to provide information in full to all members of the committees; provide a classified statement of the reasons for such a

This new requirement for notification of all members would also now apply to disclosure regarding covert actions. No more cozy meetings with a few who are then threatened to keep it all secret.

But what may be most objectionable about these new provisions are the teeth that come with them. Again, back to Bush's veto statement

Section 307 makes such notification to each member a condition on use of funds for intelligence activities. These provisions establish an all-or-nothing approach to executive branch notification to the intelligence committees that could delay actions needed to meet urgent national security requirements and would discourage, rather than encourage, the
sharing of extraordinarily sensitive information needed for effective legislative-executive relations with respect to the most sensitive intelligence matters.  This provision, in practice, would seek to compel the disclosure to multiple additional persons of sensitive national security information as to which the President has determined that special protection must be provided.

Congress is saying "no play, no pay." Now that kind of provision truly is a threat to national security.

Now we get to what could be the most critical provisions of the bill that have earned Bush's ire. First, those nasty clandestine torture camps.

Detailed Reports to Congress on Any Detention and Interrogation Activities and on Any Clandestine Detention Facilities.

Section 313 requires the DNI to submit a report (by May 1, 2007) to the congressional Intelligence Committees on the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. The reports are required to include, among other things, "all legal opinions" provided by the Department of Justice regarding the "meaning or application of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 with respect to the detention and interrogation activities" undertaken by any element of the intelligence community. Section 313 includes no exception for applicable legal privileges. Section 314 imposes similarly far-reaching disclosure requirements, obligating the DNI to submit within 60 days a detailed report on any current or former clandestine detention facility. In addition to raising grave constitutional issues, such matters are appropriately left to sensitive handling in the normal course between the intelligence committees and the executive branch and should not be the subject of detailed statutory reporting requirements.

Wow. Bush will have to report the who, what, where, and why for all those clandestine detention facilities. My guess is that they object to this one so strongly because the know that having to report this information effectively means that those facilities will have to be shut down. But I sure do want to read those legal opinions. It might even be possible that the lawyers writing them, knowing they will be scrutinized by outside parties, will be less inclined to write the the type of blank checks we have seen from Yoo and Gonzales.

The last major objection has to do with money. To paraphrase the White House, "if people knew how much we were spending on this they would revolt." Here's Bush's actual language.

Public Disclosure of Amounts Annually Requested, Authorized, and Appropriated for the NIP.

Section 107 would require the President annually to disclose publicly the total amount requested for the NIP and would require Congress annually to disclose publicly the total amounts authorized to be appropriated, and appropriated, for the NIP. The Congress thoroughly examined this issue during its consideration of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), when Congress rejected publication of the NIP funding total. The funding information should continue to be kept classified, because disclosure of changes in funding totals over time could compromise intelligence sources, methods, and activities.

Compromise sources, methods and activities. Balderdash. That is the last refuge on an intelligence scoundrel and this super secret White House. I'm glad that the Committee finally blew the whistle on this issue.

There you have it. A very important bill that, if enacted, will bring some much needed sunshine to our intelligence activities. And, it's even supported by Kit Bond.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mitt Romney Gives Us A Peek Into His Mind

Every once in a while I like to read the Washington Times. Not because I want to find out whether the Moon is truly made of green cheese, but rather to get some real news, unfiltered by that left wing media bias. Today was precious. I was treated to a lengthy article about Romney firing the "opening shots" in the "defense week" of his presidential campaign.

For all of you who get tired of beating up on our candidates, here is an alternative. Romney's speech provides us with all the ammunition we need to let loose on the Republican Financial Front Runner.

To start out, Mitt gives Bush a full embrace with what has to be one of the most inane comments ever uttered. With metaphorical tears in his eyes Mitt said
We are fortunate today to have a president who loves America

In Mitt's world this is one of the unique qualities of Bush - something that distinguishes him from past Presidents. He is not only different from that Philistine Clinton, but also the likes of Bush 42 and maybe even Saint Ronald.

Mitt goes on to explain that Bush's deep love of the United States is in clear evidence because Bush is a person

who acts solely out of a desire to protect her and to promote liberty around the world

Bush wants to protect the United States so much that he passed up the opportunity to capture the terrorists the caused 9/11 so that he could start an aggressive war in Iraq against a country that did not pose a meaningful threat to us. And while he was at it, he decided to spread liberty by destabilizing the entire region and ridding Iran of its arch enemy, Iraq. Yes, certainly sounds like Bush has our interests at heart.

Mitt then continued to cozy up to Bush by adopting the silly and totally discredited Republican attack on Speaker Pelosi. Reaching heights of absurd hyperboly he declared with grave solemnity that the Speaker's trip to Syria was

one of the most partisan, divisive and ill-considered of any national leader in this decade

Not to be outdone by his own rhetoric he graced the audience with his overarching philosophy of national defense. The audience was undoubtedly spellbound in rapturous awe when he declared that

his own defense philosophy follows from former President Ronald Reagan, who said, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong."

What in the world does that mean? Does anyone seriously believe we became involved in WWI, WWII, Korea, or Viet Nam because we were too weak? That can't possibly be the explanation, especially not with regard to the first three wars. Our strength relative to our adversaries didn't get us into, nor would it have kept us out of, those wars. As far as Viet Nam is concerned, an argument can be made that if we had not been so militarily dominant and fearful of dominos falling on every corner of the world we might have decided not to engage in that tragic conflict.

Not only was Mitt's statement inane, the history of the lead up to the Iraq war suggests it was wrong. Does anyone think we would have commenced the needless and tragic war in Iraq if we had not been the dominant military power in the world? A power which believed it could reshape the world through military force of arms. A power that could use its military to rewrite thousands of years of history.

So there you have it. Mitt Romney - certified Bush lover, diplomatic guru and military historian. Just think, he could be our next President. If ever there was a time for prayer it is now.

So whenever we debate the merits of our own candidates we should always remember to keep our observations and criticisms in perspective. If we do too good a job of cutting our guys down we could end up with Mitt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bamboozlement Hits A Wall - Americans Know Their Security Is Not Tied To Iraq

By almost a two to one margin, 61% to 34%, Americans do not believe that U.S. security is tied to "success" in Iraq. The Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index released by Foreign Affairs shows that the worm has turned. Americans have stopped believing Bush, Cheney and all their dissembling flunkies who try to govern by fear. Yes there still are a few dead enders, those pitiful few who would follow Bush off the nearest cliff. But their numbers are dwindling. More and more people are coming to their senses.

And this poll has more good news. Seventy percent believe we should pull out of Iraq within twelve months. Moreover, nineteen of those seventy percent think we should withdraw immediately. Only 27% think we should "stay for as long as it takes to stabilize the country."

Isn't that interesting. Even though 34% say they believe our security is tied to success in Iraq only 27% think we should stay as long as it takes. Could it be that the 34% number is really pretty soft and that it is going to slip further as the Iraq fustercluck continues to degenerate.

This data seems to clearly indicate that Americans are shedding their sheep's clothing. They are refusing to be bamboozled by nonsensical assertions of the need to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here. They also are understanding something more basic.

The only Iraq war we could have won was finished in April 2003. From that point on there was nothing for us to win. All we could do was become an occupying force, sow the seeds of discontent, and feed the fires of sectarian strife. And boy have we succeeded at that. Of course, everything that transpired after April 2003 was a direct consequence of our having started this boneheaded and illegal war. So a victory of any stripe was never a possibility.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Air Force Won't Protect Its Own Against Blackwater Employees

You know that outsourcing of the government, AKA "privatization," has gone too far when the military can't even stand up to the contractors who seek retribution against military personnel. As reported by the Virginia-Pilot two Air Force Colonels were reprimanded for ruffling the feathers of Jimmy Bergeron, a Blackwater employee, following a traffic accident involving the Colonels and Bergeron in Kabul, Afghanistan. The two Colonels, Christopher Hall and Gary Brown, were reprimanded even though the officer that investigated the incident and took testimony from the witnesses, ruled that the Colonels followed all the rules of engagement. The investigating officer recommended that all charges be dropped.

How could that be? Well, could it be that Blackwater had something to do with it? The reprimands were issued by Lt Gen. Gary North, Commander of the 9th Air Force. When the Colonels received word of the reprimands,

Brown's civilian attorney has fired back with an angry letter, calling the sanctions a "laugh-out-loud joke" and suggesting that the general bowed to pressure from Blackwater, a private military company based in Moyock, N.C.

There is no doubt that a confrontation occurred. But,

At a hearing in February, Brown and Hall testified that Bergeron behaved aggressively and that they feared he was a suicide bomber.

The investigating officer who heard their testimony concluded that they properly followed the rules of engagement and recommended that the charges be dropped.

In a letter to North on Wednesday, Charles Gittins, Brown's civilian attorney, wrote that the reprimand flies in the face of the investigating officer's findings and "demonstrates your lack of moral courage to admit error and do the right thing:... apologize to two officers who were needlessly and without reason subjected to personal humiliation and torment...."

When an officer receives a reprimand of this sort it can be death to his career. Has the contracting community become so powerful that the military will not even protect its own? It would seem so. But it is also clear that this is not the end of the story. According to one of the Colonels' lawyers

"attempts were made to frame my client." He referred to the investigating officer's report that Afghan security guards who witnessed the confrontation said they were offered bribes to give false testimony about it.

The Air Force is investigating the allegations.

It's bad enough that the taxpayers get robbed when we outsource essential government functions. It is bad enough that the people who work for private contractors are often shortchanged on benefits and basic employee protections. And it is disgusting to see these private contractors pay obscene sums to their senior management. But have they gotten so powerful that even the United States military doesn't have the ability or will to stand up to them? If so, this does not portend well for the future.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Global War On Terror Is Dead - Neocons Weep

The Neocon dreams for a never ending global conflict to replace the Cold War is dying, and in some places it is already dead. The House Armed Services Committee has banished the term "Global War on Terror" from the 2008 Defense Budget, and while they are at it they also banned Mr. GWOT's kissing cousin, the "Long War." As reported by the Army Times
A memo for the committee staff, circulated March 27, says the 2008 bill and its accompanying explanatory report that will set defense policy should be specific about military operations and “avoid using colloquialisms.”

. . . . . . . . . .

Committee staff members are told in the memo to use specific references to specific operations instead of the Bush administration’s catch phrases. The memo, written by Staff Director Erin Conaton, provides examples of acceptable phrases, such as “the war in Iraq,” the “war in Afghanistan, “operations in the Horn of Africa” or “ongoing military operations throughout the world.”
Now we all know there is much more to this than a few innocent words. Sure, Committee staff said that there was no political motive behind the move but the Republicans aren't buying it. Duncan Hunter, the ranking Republican and ex-Chairman of the Committee, said he was not consulted and Republican staff see the issue in starkly political terms

“This is a philosophical and political question,” said a Republican aide. “Republicans generally believe that by fighting the war on terror in Iraq, we are preventing terrorists from spreading elsewhere and are keeping them engaged so they are not attacking us at home.”

Of course, as the Army Times points out

. . . . U.S. intelligence officials have been telling Congress that most of the violence in Iraq is the result of sectarian strife and not directly linked to terrorists, although some foreign insurgents with ties to terrorist groups have been helping to fuel the fighting.

This is one more step toward returning sanity to our country. But the Neocons won't let go without a fight. During the nineties, the Neocons really missed the Cold war. Every great country needs an enemy and the bigger the enemy the better. Heck, if you don't have a big threatening enemy how is anyone going to know how great you are. And more importantly, if you don't have a big enemy to keep the voters in constant fear how can you hope to stay in power and enrich your friends with a continuous feeding frenzy at the public trough.

Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote an excellent article in the Washington Post which is a must read on this topic. He speaks about how Bush's War on Terror has been deliberately used to create a culture of fear. While many of us have ridiculed the entire concept of waging war on a tactic, or even worse, a noun, Zbig points out why the phrase is cherished by the Neocons

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

The House Armed Services Committee, Chaired by a wonderful man from Missouri, Ike Skelton, has taken a step toward returning our country to normalcy. A country where we don't manufacture threats or exaggerate dangers. A country whose leader does not terrorize its citizens but rather comforts and assures them. Removing these four words from our lexicon is a good step toward that goal.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another Worst Of The Worst Is Freed Without Charges

The Independent reports that Bisher al-Rawi will be released from Guantanamo and returned to England, where he had lived for sixteen years before being interned in America's Shame, also known as Guantanamo.

So why is this man who fled Iraq with his family in the early eighties to escape Saddam's regime finally being released without any charges having been brought against him? Well it appears the British government has finally stopped their foot dragging on his case because they are embarrassed that Mr al-Rawi used to do work for MI-5, the British Intelligence Service, and that MI-5 was responsible for his arrest.
For many years the British Government had refused to help Mr Rawi and the eight other British residents still held by the Americans at the US naval base in Cuba because they did not have the same legal status as UK nationals.
. . . . . . . .

He said he thought the decision to help Mr Rawi was only taken because the Government did not want an embarrassing court case in which Britain's involvement in his capture would have been made public.

The High Court in London has already permitted the disclosure of classified documents linking MI5 to Mr Rawl's arrest.

Mr Katznelson said: "Mr Rawi helped MI5 as an interpreter and acted as a go-between with Abu Qatada [a terror suspect later arrested and detained by the British authorities]. All this would have... been very embarrassing for the government and... MI5."

Isn't that interesting? The British government sits on the sidelines for five years while Mr. al-Rawi rots in Guantanamo and only engineers his release after a court rules that information will be disclosed regarding the involvement of MI-5 in both his capture and in his prior work for the agency. And while the British shame is bad enough, it pales compared to ours. After all, we are the jailers, the torturers and the premier human rights hypocrites in the world.

Now we all know that the Guantanamo detainees are the worst of the worst. We know that with certainty because the President said so. Lets see just how bad Mr. al-Rawi is. We pick up his life after escaping Iraq -

Mr Rawi's lived with his mother, brother and sister in south London for 16 years. He was arrested in the Gambia, along with his brother, Wahab, and business partners, Jamil el-Banna and Abdullah el-Ganudi. Wahab and Mr Ganudi were both released because they were British citizens. Bisher and Mr Banna, who could only claim British residency, were taken by the Americans to Bagram airbase and then Guantanamo Bay.

Bisher and Wahab, 41, moved to Britain in the 1980s after their father fell under the suspicion of Saddam Hussein. They first lived in Cambridge, where they took their O-levels, before continuing their schooling at Millfield School, Somerset, and Concord College, Shropshire. They later attended separate universities.

In 1992 Wahab took British nationality while his brother decided to retain his Iraqi citizenship as he did not want to damage his ties with his home country.

But it was Wahab's business interests that took the two brothers to the Gambia in November 2002.

He told The Independent last year: "I had this business idea for a mobile peanut-oil processing factory. I had done the feasibility study; it was all ready to go. I had my team and we brought Bisher in on the deal towards the end."

Four days after his arrival in Gambia, Wahab went to Banjul airport to meet his brother and the other two men.

As Wahab approached his brother he became aware of a problem with immigration. Gambian officials had confiscated their passports and they were being taken to an interview room.

For the next three to four days the four men were moved around the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA), alternately questioned by Americans and Gambians.

Four days after Wahab had met Bisher at the airport, they were taken from the NIA headquarters to a secret location in the Banjul suburbs. It was here that Bisher begged his brother to co-operate with the Americans because "we have nothing to hide".

Mr Ganudi and Wahab were separated from the other two and taken back to interrogation suites in the NIA building where the Americans began repeating the questions. A few days later they were told they could fly back to Britain. The other two were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Their lawyers allege that they have been tortured by guards and deprived of basic necessities during their five-year ordeal.

So here you have a guy who fled Saddam's persecution and started a new life with his family in England. His brother became a British citizen but he decided to keep his Iraqi nationality. He goes on a business trip with his brother to that hotbed of terrorism, Gambia, and ends up spending five years in prison in Guantanamo.

This man is so dangerous that he could not be given the minimal requirements of due process. He was such a threat that if he had been granted rights such as, seeing the charges against him, having a trial before an impartial judge and jury, and being able to confront witnesses, all within, say, three months of his capture, our way of life would have been put at risk.

As time passes it has become indisputable this case is the rule rather than the exception for America's Shame. The only unusual aspect of Mr. al-Rawi's case is that also reveals a stain on the British government.

Torture, What Do You Get - Ask David Hicks

David Hicks is heading back to Australia after more than five years in America's Shame, Guantanamo. The transcript of his truncated judicial proceedings is full of nothing but redactions when it comes to the type of abuse he suffered.

But we now have a little more insight into the the abuse to which he was subjected. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) received a copy of an affidavit he filed with his unsuccessful application for British citizenship and some of its contents are discussed here.

In the affidavit, Hicks said he was slapped, kicked, punched and spat on after being arrested by coalition forces in the Central Asian country in 2001.

Hicks also said that he had heard other detainees screaming in pain, had seen evidence of beatings on fellow prisoners and had had a shotgun trained on him during questioning.

"I realised that if I did not cooperate with US interrogators, I might be shot," he said in the document handed to British authorities and obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Anyone who follows the sordid history of torture knows that its goal is to obtain confessions, NOT information. Hick's experience is further illustration of that undeniable truth.

As reported by the ABC,

In the document, Hicks said that by early 2003 he "felt that I had to ensure that whatever I did pleased the interrogators to keep from being physically abused, placed in isolation and remaining at Guantanamo for the rest of my life", the ABC reported late Monday.

Sadly, this story is not new. We have heard them repeatedly and as reported by the ABC

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, said his claims were credible.

"I know this kind of abuse happened," he told ABC. "I've talked to people who participated in it -- CIA, military and contractor."

Wilkerson said military officers had told him the interrogations at Guantanamo Bay had revealed "virtually nothing" of useful intelligence.

"And that is just damning," he said.

When will this end? When will we ever return to our senses? The day must come soon. The day I am praying for is not just when we shut down Guantanamo, but when we have a full open accounting of what was done in our name. On that day, when we disclose to the world how we let our fears take control of our senses and our morals will be the day we begin to redeem ourselves before the World.