Monday, December 29, 2008

American Empire: Afghanistan pt 1 Historical Perspective

The Coming Surge Into Afghanistan: Obama and the Graveyard of Empires | The Smirking Chimp:
"an honor roll of would-be conquerors from Alexander the Great in the third century BCE to the British in the nineteenth century defeat the hardy, fiercely independent Afghan tribesmen."

"...Soviet troops peaking at over 100,000 in 1987, with the advantage of supply lines from the immediately neighboring USSR, and including numerous ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks who could speak local languages and had some understanding of local culture, could not repress the rag-tag CIA-supplied guerrillas and secure control of the country."

"...Louis Dupree, the premier historian of Afghanistan, attributed the 'British disaster' of 1878-81 to four 'mistakes': the occupation of Afghan territory by foreign troops, the placing of an unpopular ruler in power, harsh acts committed against local enemies, and paltry subsidies paid to local allies. 'The United States would be wise to consider them today,' he concluded."

"...Does Obama, often described as lacking knowledge of foreign affairs, and praised (by all the wrong people) for reaching out to (all the wrong) "experienced" foreign policy wonks, really believe that he can succeed in Afghanistan where so many others have failed?"

"...the blood and treasure spilt in Afghanistan was a key factor in the collapse of the once-mighty Soviet Union. As Obama orders his troops into that graveyard, how will the (US)empire, reeling from crises unprecedented in many decades, respond? As the candidate of change and hope becomes the commander in chief of an escalating expanding war, how will his antiwar supporters rethink their politics?"

The American Empire

The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet, and We Simply Never Talk About It | ForeignPolicy | AlterNet

My question to the American people is do you want this? We certainly enjoy the benefits of imperialism, and need to reflect on what those benefits are for us and what the costs are for the rest of the world. But I don't think our government has ever asked the public (outside the CEOs of major corporations who benefit the most) if this is what we actually want our Nation to be doing. It has become a hard choice after 100 years or so of the benefits piling up, but is it really worth it when we look at the moral disabilities versus the material benefits?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Progress in Iraq on the Brink of Disaster?

Toby Dodge: Despite the optimism, Iraq is close to the edge | Comment is free | The Observer:

"On my last trip to Iraq this year, the population was holding its breath, waiting to see if the internecine strife had finished or simply stalled while all sides rearm."

"There is a grave danger that the elections could be undermined, either by increased violence or by widespread electoral fraud. At present, the United Nations is set to play a minor role in the elections. By December, the US, already redeployed to remote bases, will also have little ability to oversee the vote. However, Obama could use the Iraqi national elections as a vehicle for greatly increasing the international community's involvement in Iraq.

An appeal by him at the UN for assistance would be hard to reject. This could act as the trigger for much greater international participation in the country, reducing the potential for Iraq to descend into civil war and help the United States to withdraw without leaving a political vacuum in Baghdad. The alternative was on display in Baghdad last week, the unrealistic and deeply opportunistic optimism of Bush and Brown. That approach offers little help to Iraq beyond wishful thinking."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban

t r u t h o u t | War Talk, the Death of the Social, and Disappearing Children: A Lesson for Obama

t r u t h o u t | War Talk, the Death of the Social, and Disappearing Children: A Lesson for Obama

" War as spectacle easily combines with the culture of fear to divert public attention away from domestic social problems, define patriotism as consensus, enable the emergence of a deeply antidemocratic state and promote what Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald has called the "war on the constitution." The political implications of the expanded and inverted use of war as a metaphor can also be seen in the war against "big government," which is really a war against the welfare state and the social contract itself - this is a war against the notion that everyone should have access to decent education, health care, employment, and other public services. One of the most serious issues to be addressed in the debate about Bush's concept of permanent war is the effect it is having on one of our most vulnerable populations, children, and the political opportunity this issue holds for articulating a language of both opposition and possibility."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"We want Prosecutions, here, now, in this county"

NION:: Senate Report Nails Rumsfeld, Sets Up War Crimes Trial
by: Valtin
Fri Dec 12, 2008 at 14:05:22 PM EST

(NION = Not In Our Name)

"They may not have meant to do it, but the Senate Armed Services' Committee released a report by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain that gives us the best timeline to date on administration decisions to begin torturing detainees. The report, an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, also describes the means by which both the Pentagon and the CIA approached agencies within government, leading to the very top of the Bush Administration, and how the latter rushed in a series of presidential orders, and memos by the Office of Legal Counsel, to redefine torture law in order to provide legal cover for their blatant violation of the laws of war and those against torture."

Here's the key paragraphs in the narrative of the report, at least when it comes to the most vulnerable part of their defense against prosecution. Keep in mind that Levin/McCain begin their narrative with the "Presidential Order [that] Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques."

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.

So, now they think they are covered against violations of the Geneva Convention. But they didn't think, or they forgot that they were seeking to break, or already breaking the Geneva Convention, and a host of other treaties and laws, at least as early as December 2001.

Again, from the report (emphasis added):

In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel's Office had already solicited information on detainee "exploitation" from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

JPRA runs the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program, under which military personnel considered at risk of capture are "tortured" under controlled circumstances, with the aim of inoculating them against confessing or revealing secrets under pressure. The SERE program specialized in exposing its recruits to waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, degrading behavior, and sensory overload and sensory deprivation. It was slam everything but the kitchen sink against a person to make them break. During training there are doctors and psychologists around to keep these things from getting out of control. But some of these doctors or psychologists evidently thought they could use their knowledge of the program to "reverse-engineer" it and provide interrogation expertise to the military when asked.

And they were asked first in December 2001:

Given JPRA's role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel's office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel's office marked just the beginning of JPRA's support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.

The subsequent contact between JPRA, SERE, SERE psychologists, the CIA, and Guantanamo personnel make up the bulk of the rest of the report, and is definitely worth pursuing, and very important in its own right. (In fact, I've written much on this previously during the Senate Committee hearings.) But right now I'm concentrating on the critical first approach.

After discussing the December 2001 contact between the Department of Defense and JPRA, the narrative jumps ahead to Spring 2002. The reason for the jump will soon be clear (emphasis added):

Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA's knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA's offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.

(U) JPRA's Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.

(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen's initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA's senior leadership in expanding the agency's role.

We can quite clearly see the use of classification as a cover-up of culpability and probable war crimes. This is doubly true for the classification of any materials between December 2001 and February 7, 2002, the date of Bush's presidential order suspending Geneva rights, because ALL abuse and torture before that date has no cover that even the worst right-wing and pro-military wingnut could find a fig-leaf of bogus legal cover. And that's important because we don't want to win a formal argument about how international law covers Bush, Rumsfeld, et al.'s crimes, we want prosecutions, here, now, in this country.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sounds Good So Far

Daily Kos: My experience with Eric Shinseki

"There is no doubt in my mind that General Shinseki spent that time with me because I was a friend of a veteran he knew and loved. It was a favor to Rudy. Otherwise, he would have continued his practice of avoiding the media.

Rick Shinseki showed that love he had for the men and women he led when he stood up to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and told Congress that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq than to overthrow Saddam. He spoke truth to political power at a time when others at the Pentagon sought to curry favor. He went into retirement rather than abdicate his responsibility to those he led. And Rummy didn't even attend his Hail and Farewell.

Eric Shinseki fought and bled for his country. He lost part of his foot, and was healed in an Army Hospital, and went on to serve his country at West Point and at the Pentagon. He is an authentic American hero, and is beloved by those who know him."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The War In Afghanistan Has Lost Its Authority | Crooks and Liars

The War In Afghanistan Has Lost Its Authority | Crooks and Liars:
" several analysts have pointed out, the presence of Western forces in Afghanistan, along with the
karzai government's rampant corruption and inefficiency, are what now drives Taliban militancy in Afghanistan. Western forces have become more a part of the problem than a solution. Saunders concludes:

Al-Qaeda is gone, and not likely to return. To the extent that it is still around, it's because we're attracting it.

If both those statements are true, then no matter how ugly it looks, the war's over."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Truthdig - Reports - Confronting the Terrorist Within

Truthdig - Reports - Confronting the Terrorist Within

These wars are criminal wars of aggression. They have left hundreds of thousands of people, who never took up arms against us, dead and seen millions driven from their homes. We have no right as a nation to debate the terms of these occupations. And an Afghan villager, burying members of his family’s wedding party after an American airstrike, understands in a way we often do not that terrorist attacks can also be unleashed from the arsenals of an imperial power.

Barack Obama’s decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and leave behind tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines in Iraq—he promises only to withdraw combat brigades—is a failure to rescue us from the status of a rogue nation. It codifies Bush’s “war on terror.” And the continuation of these wars will corrupt and degrade our nation just as the long and brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has corrupted and degraded Israel. George W. Bush has handed Barack Obama a poisoned apple. Obama has bitten it.