Daily Archives: February 6, 2013
By Stephen Zunes
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” - The French-led military offensive in its former colony of Mali has pushed back radical Islamists and allied militias from some of the country’s northern cities, freeing the local population from repressive Taliban-style totalitarian rule. The United States has backed the French military effort by transporting French troops and equipment and providing reconnaissance through its satellites and drones. However, despite these initial victories, it raises concerns as to what unforeseen consequences may lay down the road.
Indeed, it was such Western intervention—also ostensibly on humanitarian grounds—that was largely responsible for the Malian crisis in the first place.
The 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya effort went well beyond the UN Security Council mandate to protect civilian lives, as the French, British and U.S. air forces—along with ground support by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships—essentially allied themselves with the rebel armies. The African Union—while highly-critical of Qaddafi’s repression—condemned the intervention, fearing that the resulting chaos would result in the Libya’s vast storehouse of arms might fueling local and regional conflicts elsewhere in Africa and destabilize the region.
This is exactly what happened.
Whereas the nonviolent revolution against the neighboring Tunisian dictatorship resulted in a positive contagion of unarmed pro-democracy civil insurrections, the violent intervention in Libya resulted in a negative contagion of armed rebellions.
This is particularly tragic since Mali was seen, until recently, as one of the more hopeful political stories in Africa.
In 1991, more than two decades prior to similar pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Malians engaged in a massive nonviolent resistance campaign that brought down the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. A broad mobilization of trade unionists, peasants, students, teachers, and others created a mass pro-democracy movement throughout the country. Despite the absence of Facebook or the Internet, virtually no international media coverage, and the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters, this popular civil insurrection succeeded not only in ousting a repressive and corrupt regime, but ushered in more than two decades of democratic rule.
Though—like most states in the region—the country struggled with corruption, poverty, and a weak infrastructure, Mali was widely considered to be the most democratic country in West Africa. In order to educate and promote the rights and duties of its citizens, the government implemented a program called the “Decentralization Mission” in 1993 to encourage popular participation in local and regional elections. Independent radio stations and newspapers emerged and the country experienced lively and open political debate.
The events surrounding the nonviolent revolution of 1991 were regularly commemorated, with the anniversary of the March 26 massacre a national holiday. A series of monuments in the capital of Bamako also commemorate the pro-democracy struggle.
In the years since the 1991 revolution, even contentious politics was expressed largely nonviolently. There were several periods of student-led protests in the 1990s against high unemployment and other negative effects of structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions, contributing to the fall of one government through a “no-confidence” vote in parliament. The tradition of nonviolent resistance against authoritarianism came to the fore in 2001 when a proposed constitutional referendum put forward by President Alpha Oumar Konaré was called off after a series of protests by those fearing it would have threatened the country’s independent judiciary and effectively made the president immune to prosecution. Additional protests against neoliberal economic policies erupted in 2005. Hundreds peacefully demonstrated against the 2006 visit by then-French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in protest at his tough policies against immigrants. That same year, Mali hosted the World Social Forum, a mass gathering of thousands of activists from hundreds of civil society organizations.
History has shown that dictatorships overthrown through largely nonviolent civil insurrections are far more likely to evolve into stable democracies than dictatorships ousted through armed revolution or foreign intervention. Mali appeared to be a prime example of this phenomenon.
Indeed, soon after the March Revolution of 1991, the Malian government negotiated a peace agreement with armed rebels from the Tuareg minority in the north of the country, in which they agreed to end their rebellion in return for a degree of autonomy. In March 1996, there was a massive ceremonial burning of the rebels’ surrendered weapons in the capital of Bamako.
By 2012, the Malian government, led by President Amadou Toumani Touré, was becoming increasingly unpopular, failing to address and even exacerbating structural inequalities reinforced by neoliberal edicts from international financial institutions and increasingly corrupt and self-serving political leaders, local business elites, and the civil service. However, the aging president was scheduled to retire immediately following elections later in the year and it was hoped that a growing civil society movement and new leadership could more adequately address these problems.
These concerns, however, were quickly overshadowed by a renewed rebellion in the north. When last year’s initially nonviolent uprising in Libya against the Gaddafi regime turned to armed struggle, resulting in even greater government repression and thereby prompting NATO intervention, disparate armed groups—including Tuareg tribesmen— ended up liberating major stores of armaments. These vast caches of weapons were passed on to Tuaregs in Mali who, now having the means to effectively challenge the Malian government militarily, dramatically escalated their long-dormant rebellion under the leadership of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
Elements of the Malian army believed that Touré’s government—in part because of its concern that responding too harshly might create a backlash among the Tuaregs and in part because of its corruption and ineptitude—was not adequately supporting their resistance to the rebels. On March 22, U.S.-trained Army Captain Amadou Sanogo and other officers staged a coup and called for U.S. intervention along the lines of Afghanistan and the “war on terror.”
Sanogo’s training in the United States is just one small part of a decade of growing U.S. military involvement with allied armies in the Sahel, increasing the militarization of this impoverished region and the influence of armed forces relative to civilian leaders. Gregory Mann, writing in Foreign Policy, notes how “a decade of American investment in special forces training, co-operation between Sahalien armies and the United States and counter-terrorism programs of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds.”
With supporters of the ousted democratic government protesting in the capital and the army divided by the coup, Tuareg rebels took advantage of the chaos in the south and quickly consolidated their hold on the northern part of the country, declaring an independent state.
Then, with the Malian army routed and Tuareg forces stretched thin, radical Islamist groups—also flushed with new arms resulting from the Libya war—seized most of the towns and cities in the north. These extremists also overran additional U.S.-supplied Malian army posts, seizing 87 Land Cruisers, satellite phones, navigation aids, and other equipment provided by the American taxpayer.
Already, the Western intervention in Mali has prompted a retaliatory attack on a BP natural gas facility in neighboring Algeria, resulting in the deaths of 38 foreign hostages. The blowback could just be beginning.
The savage repression perpetrated by Mali’s Islamists, along with the potential threat from an Al Qaeda-affiliated regime, loss of access to the region’s resource wealth, and indications that the Islamists were moving south prompted direct French military intervention in January. Under such dire circumstances, even many people normally critical of Western neocolonialism argue that such military intervention may have been the least bad option. However, given that it was Western intervention and militarization of the region that largely created this mess in the first place, it inevitably raises the question as to whether it will actually end up making matters worse.
Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist and senior analyst, is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco. He is the author, along with Jacob Mundy, of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010).
This article was originally posted at FPIF
The Times Was Right to Report — at Last — on a Secret Drone Base
By MARGARET SULLIVAN
November 06, 2013 “NY Times’ – The media and national-security worlds, internationally, are abuzz over an important story on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times that describes a drone strike in Yemen last August. The article reveals a great deal about the secret drone program, the architect of which is John O. Brennan, who has been nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
One of its revelations is the location of a drone base in Saudi Arabia. The Times and other news organizations, including The Washington Post, had withheld the location of that base at the request of the C.I.A., but The Times decided to reveal it now because, according to the managing editor Dean Baquet, it was at the heart of this particular article and because examining Mr. Brennan’s role demanded it.
“It was central to the story because the architect of the base and drone program is nominated to head the C.I.A.,” Mr. Baquet told me on Wednesday. In past stories, he said, the location of the base “was a footnote.”
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts. ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.” The need to tell this particular story accurately trumped the government’s concerns.
Mr. Baquet said he had a conversation with a C.I.A. official about a month ago and, at that time, agreed to continue withholding the location, as it had done for many months. More recently, though, one of the reporters working on the story told the government that The Times would reveal the location and said officials should contact Mr. Baquet if they wanted to discuss it further.
“They didn’t call this time,” Mr. Baquet said. He said it is The Times’s practice to “give a heads up.”
But, he emphasized: “We don’t ask for permission. We tell them what we’re going to do.”
Some readers of The Times expressed dismay at the revelation. One reader, Brian Leary, wrote to me on Wednesday:
I am outraged that The Times is apparently disclosing a military secret like the location of the drone base.
I actually support the premise of the story, and it is something that needs to be told. But the location itself was superfluous to the story line, and is potentially a threat to our national security. I’m very disappointed The Times chose to be so cavalier about such an important thing, with no tangible benefit to the actual story itself. What interest was served by this disclosure?
I respect Mr. Leary’s point of view, which I know some other readers also share. But I feel quite differently. Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.
The Times reacted quickly to NBC’s obtaining of a “white paper” that describes the legal rationale for the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are thought to be part of Al Qaeda. Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, Washington reporters for The Times, wrote a strong analytical story, rightly crediting NBC, and editors and reporters moved quickly to complete and publish the front-page story, with its Yemen dateline. That story, Mr. Baquet said, has been in the works for several weeks.
I’ll be writing more about this, including how The Times is trying in court to obtain an important, classified memo on the killing of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki, in a drone strike. His teenage son, also an American citizen, was also killed by a drone. The lack of due process and government accountability in those deaths are worthy of the attention The Times is giving it – and more – in articles from Washington, in reporters on the ground in the region of the strikes, and in court.
If it was ever appropriate to withhold the information, that time was over. The drone program needs as much sunlight as possible. This is another crucial step in the right direction.
Democracy Now! Video
Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council. His message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding prohibited weapons. A decade later, we host a debate between Powell’s former aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson — who prepared the U.N. speech, only to later renounce it — and media critic Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy.” “I don’t believe the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation … that led us to war with Iraq,” Wilkerson says of Powell’s speech. “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. … It added to the momentum of the war. … Frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely.” In response, Solomon says, “We were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes. … So, now to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t just us at the administration; other people believed it,’ people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media.”
Posted February 07, 2013
AARON MATÉ: Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. February 5th, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the U.N. Security Council and made the case for a first strike on Iraq. Powell presented satellite photographs, tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers, and information from Iraqi defectors and people seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere since 9/11. Powell’s message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding his. This was part of Powell’s presentation.
SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.
AARON MATÉ: That was then-Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking at the U.N. February 5th, 2003. Powell also estimated Iraq had a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. All of his claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.
AMY GOODMAN: But at the time, most of the media took Powell at his word. The day after Powell’s speech, The New York Times ran aneditorial called “The Case Against Iraq.” It said Powell’s performance was, quote, “all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime,” unquote.The Washington Post titled its editorial “Irrefutable” and declared, quote, “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction,” unquote. Well, the invasion began six weeks after Powell made his speech at the U.N.
For more, we’re joined by two people. From Oklahoma City, we’re joined by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. He helped prepare Powell’s infamous U.N. speech, which he has since renounced. And from San Francisco, California, we’re joined by Norman Solomon, founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, also wrote the bookWar Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, let’s begin with you. You really were responsible for putting this speech together for Secretary of State Powell. It’s 10 years later. What are your thoughts today? Where did you get your information?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: First of all, Amy, I don’t believe that the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation, as it were, that led us to war with Iraq. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. That said, that presentation was a moment in time that convinced a lot of people, in America first, in the international community, maybe even on the U.N. Security Council in one or two cases, that they had been previously wrong to doubt that he had weapons of mass destruction. And in that sense, it added to the momentum of the war. President Bush himself has written in his book, had he known that there were no WMD, he might have made a different decision. I don’t think Richard Cheney would have made a different decision. But it wasn’t the seminal moment that sent us into war; it was just one of those moments. And as one of those moments, as I’ve said before and as you quoted me, I feel like it was the lowest point in my professional and personal life that I had a hand in managing it.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you—where did the information come from? Explain how you did put this together.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The information came from, in our intelligence system at the time, the 16 entities that compose our intelligence services, and spoken for by the then-master of that intelligence community, George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, and vouchsafed multiple times by his deputy, the DDCI, John McLaughlin. But it came from a much wider array, Amy. It came from Israel. It came from France. It came from Jordan. It came from Germany. Indeed, it came from almost every intelligence service that, at one time or another, had fed into the U.S. process with regard to Iraq. And frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely. And the leader of that politicization was the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney.
AARON MATÉ: Now, Colonel, you’ve talked about how some of the intelligence actually came from torture. Can you tell us about that?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The seminal moment, as we were out at Langley and Colin Powell was getting ready to throw everything out of his presentation that had anything to do with terrorism—that is, substantial contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, in particular—as he was getting—he was really angry. He took me in a room by myself and literally attacked me over it. And I said, “Boss, let’s throw it out. I have as many doubts about it as you do. Let’s throw it out.” And so, we made a decision right there to throw it out.
Within 30 minutes of the secretary having made that decision and instructed me to do so, George Tenet showed up with a bombshell. And the bombshell was that a high-level al-Qaeda operative, under interrogation, had revealed substantial contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. In fact, they included al-Qaeda being trained by the Mukhabarat, the secret police of Iraq, in how to use chemical and biological weapons. This was—this was a bombshell.
Only later—much later—did we learn that this information came from Shaykh al-Libi, who was waterboarded, probably in Cairo, with no U.S. personnel present. We also learned that, within days of his having given this information under torture, he recanted. We learned also that the Defense Intelligence Agency, having seen that recantation and having seen other data about how the information was obtained in the first place, had issued a burn notice on it. That is to say, this is worthless; don’t pay any attention to it. Later, George Tenet would say that due to a computer glitch, that burn notice, that DIA statement not to trust al-Libi, never was revealed to the secretary.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from Norman Solomon’s film, War Made Easy, about Colin Powell’s address and the media’s response. The film was narrated by Sean Penn. The clip begins with former President George W. Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqis’ illegal—Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.
SEAN PENN: The failure of American news media to check government distortion reached new heights when, on the eve of war, the highly respected Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations to make the case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein’s intentions have never changed. He is not developing the missiles for self-defense. These are missiles that Iraq wants in order to project power, to threaten, and to deliver chemical, biological and, if we let him, nuclear warheads.
AARON BROWN: Today, Secretary of State Powell brought the United Nations Security Council the administration’s best evidence so far.
NORMAN SOLOMON: After Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N., immediately the U.S. press applauded with great enthusiasm.
AARON BROWN: Did Colin Powell close the deal today, in your mind, for anyone who has yet objectively to make up their mind?
HENRY KISSINGER: I think for anybody who analyzes the situation, he has closed the deal.
SEAN HANNITY: This irrefutable, undeniable, incontrovertible evidence today. Colin Powell brilliantly delivered that smoking gun today. Colin Powell was outstanding today. I mean, it was lockstep. It was so compelling, I don’t see how anybody at this point cannot support this effort.
ALAN COLMES: He made a wonderful presentation. I thought he made a great case for the purpose of disarmament.
MORT KONDRACKE: It was devastating, I mean, and overwhelming. Overwhelming abundance of the evidence. Point after point after point with—he just flooded the terrain with—with data.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: It’s the end of the argument phase. America has made its case.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the film War Made Easy. Some of the voices from that clip, you might remember, you might recognize: Aaron Brown, Henry Kissinger, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes, Mort Kondracke, Charles Krauthammer. Norman Solomon, this is from your film, the film based on your book, War Made Easy. So you had Secretary of State Colin Powell pushing for war, and as Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson said, he actually believes, whether or not this speech were made, the U.S. would have attacked Iraq. And you have the media, which is supposed to be the fourth estate, not part of the state. Talk about its role.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, we just heard Colonel Wilkerson say that “we were all wrong.” I’m quoting him here from a few minutes ago. In fact, we were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes, and many guests on Democracy Now! demolished those claims from the Bush administration in real time. The organization where I work, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out many news releases documenting the falsities coming from Colin Powell’s office and the entire administration, including the week that he gave his now-infamous speech at the United Nations. We had U.N. weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck demolishing many of those claims being made, again, in real time.
So, what we’ve heard again today—and I think it’s very disappointing—from the former chief of staff here of Colin Powell is the reiteration of these supposedly exculpatory, actually, excuses for just following orders. And I could condense what Colonel Wilkerson just said about Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the war in Iraq: “We were just following orders, and Dick Cheney made us to it.” No, Dick Cheney didn’t make you do it. There’s something called resignation. There’s something called speaking up and the First Amendment. There are a lot of dead Americans and many more Iraqis because of the silence and the following of orders when we look at what actually took place.
Now, one of the most important facts is that, 10 years later, an ongoing legacy of Colin Powell’s behavior—and, unfortunately, of our guest, as well, and the entire upper echelons of the Bush administration—is a pattern of impunity—impunity to lie, impunity to deceive and distort, impunity that is personal, that is professional and is governmental. And that kind of impunity, which has caused so much death and misery in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, is being fast-forwarded, is prefigurative for where we are now. And so, even today, although what’s done is done, we might say, the failure of people like Colin Powell to step up and say, “Look, not only was I wrong, but in planning and implementing aggressive war, I violated the Nuremberg Principles” — if we could get those kind of forthright statements from these former top officials, we could look at the agenda building for war on Iran in a more understanding light.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, your response?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I don’t want to get into an on-screen argument with someone who makes comments as if he’d never been in government a day in his life or never been in—associated with power at this level. But I will say, first of all, that when I said “we,” quote-unquote, I meant those in government, not people like him or Scott Ritter or anybody else who were protesting that Iraq didn’t haveWMD at the time.
And when you look at the entire situation and you understand that the Congress of the United States had blessed the October 2002 NIE from which Powell’s presentation emanated; when you look at the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the Congress; when you look at the American people, who in polls showed 70 percent-plus agreed that Saddam Hussein had WMD, it’s not enough to say that Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and others failed in their responsibility to the American people or to their own government. There were a lot of people—
NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, you know, let’s—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —that believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I’m not trying—
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you know, let’s—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —to rationalize or excuse. I’m just saying that there were a lot of people who had the same view that Colin Powell basically presented at the United Nations. And those people were in other countries, too—in Israel, in Jordan, in Germany, in France—because they shared their intelligence with us, and they shared their views as to whether or not the DCI, George Tenet, was basically right in asserting that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction.
AARON MATÉ: Well, Colonel, when Norman Solomon says—
NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, let’s get real here. You know, let’s get real about this—
AARON MATÉ: OK. Let’s go to Norman Solomon. Go ahead.
NORMAN SOLOMON: —because the public and the media and so many others, who did not, in terms of journalism, serve their basic function, were being fed a continuous barrage of messages from Cheney’s office, from the White House, from the State Department under former General Powell, telling them, insisting, as occurred at the United Nations, that there were weapons of mass destruction. This belief among the public didn’t come from the sky; it came from the administration. We had the Congress passing this green light for war almost four months before the Powell speech at the U.N., because they had been fed and pushed and pulled, and often expediently, they went with this story that had been peddled through the mass media. We had so many networks and newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, front-paging stuff that was fed to them, duplicitous, mendacious—mendacious stories that were fed by the administration. So, now to say, “Well, it wasn’t just us at the administration; other people believed it,” people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media.
And today we’ve got to look at the reality that we are in a repetition compulsion disorder cycle. After Powell spoke at the U.N., Susan Rice, the current U.N. ambassador from the United States, immediately praised it as a statement from Powell that proved weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We had bogus hearings from now-Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, excluding testimony from those who had contrary information that would challenge the push to war. We’ve had John Kerry, now Secretary of State, who voted for and propagandized on national television for the invasion of Iraq.
So let’s look at where we are. Tomorrow, a hearing for John Brennan—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You’re making my point.
NORMAN SOLOMON: —who is being pushed as a CIA director, someone engaging in aggressive war, the use of drones and so forth. And let me say that my colleagues at RootsAction.org are asking you to sign up at RootsAction.org to challenge that nomination.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Now, you’re making my point. I find it very difficult to, in the whole, say that all of those entities that you just described to include the American people were led down the primrose path by the propaganda flowing out of the White House and the Congress and elsewhere. That presents a picture of a pretty purblind, apathetic, ignorant public, representatives in the government and elsewhere. I can’t support that kind of broad-brush painting of the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a million people in the streets protesting.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Where did they get the idea there were weapons of mass destruction? Did they get it from their everyday lives? Did they get it from their PTA? No—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: They probably got it from the same place a lot of people in the government got it—
NORMAN SOLOMON: —they got it from the administration, that was peddling that line for years as agenda building for war.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —which was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, had used them against his own people. No one thought he would get rid of them, since his number-one enemy, Iran, was kept at bay, certainly in part, because he possessed them. I think there was a pretty good feeling across the world, not just in the United States, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And by the way, there is no question, I don’t think, in anyone’s mind, that once the international sanctions were off Saddam Hussein and once the international focus was off of him, he would go right back to building weapons of mass destruction again, including a pursuit of a nuclear weapon. So, let’s not make this too much of a—of, essentially, a calumny on the American people, their representatives in the Congress and all of those in the government.
NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s not a calumny on the American people at all. It’s an accurate accusation that the administration of George W. Bush, which Colonel Powell—former General Powell and you served—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You thought for yourself. You thought for yourself. Why can’t other Americans think for themselves?
NORMAN SOLOMON: —lied and deceived and spun for war continuously. And that’s reality. And the public responded to that.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Why weren’t you influential in bringing the American people to believe what you believe?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, look—
AARON MATÉ: I wanted to cut in here—
NORMAN SOLOMON: The bully pulpit of the administration—
AARON MATÉ: I wanted to cut in here, Norman Solomon, and actually read from the Downing Street Memo.
NORMAN SOLOMON: —was tremendously effective. We know that was the case.
AARON MATÉ: Norman Solomon, I just want to cut in for a second—
NORMAN SOLOMON: And when you talk about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as you know, Hussein Kamel, the son-in-law of—
AARON MATÉ: OK, so, let’s step back a bit and look at what we knew at the time. There was a leaked document from the British government, and I want to get Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson’s response to this. This was the internal records of the British government, from the Downing Street Memo. It says, “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. [President] Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” So, basically, an internal—a government official in Britain reporting that the Bush administration, from as early as 2002, was set on war. Lawrence Wilkerson?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think that’s a fair approximation. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, nor did Secretary Powell know that at the time, with respect to the specific comments from the British. But having studied what the British did, what Prime Minister Blair did, what MI5 and MI6 did and others associated with this rush to war, I’m—I was first impressed by the way the British were going after accountability for their part in it; I’m now depressed by the fact that the Chilcot report, for example, seems to have been indefinitely postponed. I was eagerly awaiting reading it, because I think the British have an even bigger problem than we do in terms of the way their parliamentary government, with a party in a majority like they hadn’t seen in years, led that country to war, and led that country to war basically on the prime minister’s assertions, fed by the intelligence community in the U.K., that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, even with such dramatic comments as, you know, they could be used within 45 minutes. The complicity of the U.K. in this business with the United States, despite the special relationship, bothers me, as a citizen, as an admirer of the British.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel—
NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, we heard the administration use phrases like—
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon.
NORMAN SOLOMON: ”We can’t wait for a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud.” And Secretary of State Powell, as well as Colonel Wilkerson and others at the top of the administration, knew or should have known that that was extreme, duplicitous propaganda trying to stampede the country into war.
Now, these are real intelligent people running the State Department and the White House, and they are very savvy. And if we at the Institute for Public Accuracy and many other independent researchers could point out in real time that these WMD claims from the U.S. government were full of holes and had no credibility, why couldn’t these agencies, with multibillion-dollar budgets and a lot of brain trust, come clean? And the fact is, they didn’t want to come clean. They were part of the war propaganda apparatus.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I don’t disagree with what you just said. I don’t disagree that there should have been a hell of a lot better job done by what is now a $65-plus billion intelligence community. And incidentally, I don’t think it’s doing a much better job today than it did then. Dollars do not buy you intelligence. But at the same time, let me just say, I didn’t see a single one of your reports. So, nobody called me from your group.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you didn’t bother.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Nobody tried to get in—
NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, I was on national TV, when I could get on, talking about those reports.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Nobody tried to get into my office and talk to me from your group.
NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew about Hans von Sponeck. You knew about Scott Ritter.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Other groups did, but your group never got into my office, never called me on the phone—
NORMAN SOLOMON: And yet, you didn’t probe it.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —never talked to me. Other groups did. Why didn’t you?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Hey, we were putting out news releases every day. If you would have taken my call, it would have knocked me over with a feather. Of course, you were in the upper strata—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You didn’t call.
NORMAN SOLOMON: —on your—your war preparation.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You didn’t call.
NORMAN SOLOMON: That was the reality.
AARON MATÉ: Colonel Wilkerson—
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You did not call.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Are you saying Colin Powell would have met with us to talk about this information? It wasn’t secret at all, as well you know.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: We met with a number of people.
NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Scott Ritter.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: We met with inspectors from the previous UNSCOM inspection team—
NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Hans von Sponeck.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —that had been in Iraq for a number of years doing their business—
NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Denis Halliday [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence—Norman, let Colonel Lawrence—
NORMAN SOLOMON: —Baghdad [inaudible] before the war was—
AMY GOODMAN: Norman, let Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson respond. And, Colonel Wilkerson, I think you made the point earlier that—when you said that Norman Solomon clearly wasn’t in government, suggesting that “you don’t know what it’s like to be in the bubble that we’re in when we are there,” is what I heard you saying. So, when you say, you know, “How come you didn’t come to us?” what is it like to be in that bubble, especially as you reflect back and see the direction you went in and regret it?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Let me—let me describe that bubble to you, for what I perceive to be the bubble around President Obama right now and the man he has nominated to be CIA director, John Brennan. What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process and have an attorney general who has said that due process does not necessarily include the legal process. Those are really scary words.
These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described. You can’t get through that bubble. You can’t get through the Brennans. You can’t get through the Clappers. You can’t get through the Hillary Clintons. You can’t get through the Bob Gates and the Leon Panettas and penetrate that bubble and say, “Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?” This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, you’re against the confirmation of John Brennan as director of Central Intelligence.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think we ought to have a really, really hard discussion about what he represents and what he, because he represents it, will probably take to the directorship of the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. We want to—
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I’d like to invite Colonel Wilkerson to go to RootsAction.org, sign up for our action alerts today to challenge the nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA, and just to mention that the impunity of the past is prefigurative for impunity of the present and the future. And I hope you’ll join with so many millions of other Americans to actively and vocally oppose not only this nomination of Brennan, but also the entire so-called war on terror, which is impunity for war that is aggressive around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson, could you see yourself doing that?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I’m already doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Norman Solomon, founding director of Institute for Policy—Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org; among his books, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This is Democracy Now!We’ll be back in a minute.
By Simon Black
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” - Exactly ten years ago to the day, I was in the Kuwaiti desert waiting for George W. Bush to ‘make his decision’.
You may remember the circumstances. Ever since labeling Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the ‘Axis of Evil’ in January 2002, the President had been gradually advocating war with Iraq based on the threat of nuclear weapons.
We knew it was going to happen. At the time, I was a rising intelligence officer, my head still filled with ideals of national duty from my time at West Point.
One of the generals that I served under gathered together his officers in early 2002 and said, “We’re going to war. It’s not a question of IF, but WHEN.”
By late summer of that year, my unit was ordered to Kuwait to pre-position assets and begin gathering boots on the ground intelligence. So every time Mr. Bush would say “I haven’t made a decision yet,” I winced from the heavy stench of his BS.
But still, I held out hope.
It all came crashing down ten years ago today. On February 5, 2003 Colin Powell, four-star general turned US Secretary of State, made a case to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Now, I won’t bother delving into the inaccuracies of the intelligence he presented. In Powell’s own words, making that presentation to the UN was “the lowest point in [his] life” and a “lasting blot on his record.”
For me, it was pivotal. At that instant, I knew without doubt that my government had reprehensibly lied through its teeth. And if they were lying about this… what else were they lying about?
Everything, it turned out.
The event set me down a path on which I never looked back. The fraud of the Iraq War soon led to the frauds of previous wars, our monetary system, taxes, the global banking system, the national balance sheet, the police state, etc.
It all unraveled so quickly, and I soon realized that I was not living in a free country… that all the loud, bombastic nonsense and pledges of allegiance were illusions masking modern day serfdom.
The subsequent ten years have only reinforced this trend. The political and banking elite have given us more war, inflation, and epic financial crises. They’ve turned Western civilization into a giant police state. And they’ve managed to brainwash the great masses so effectively that the people are crying out for more.
And yet, there are solutions.
After an emotional, gut-wrenching awakening, I traveled to more than 100 countries looking for freedom and opportunity. I learned that awareness, prudent planning, and global thinking can rebuild much of our stolen liberty.
Quite simply, you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. History shows that when governments enter a period of terminal decline, they try to control EVERYTHING– wages, prices, borders, money supply, foreign exchange, private property, etc.
Of course, these tactics never work and only hasten the decline, as everyone from Emperor Diocletian of ancient Rome to Argentina’s modern day President Cristina Fernandez [will] have learned.
As destructive as these politicians are, though, they’re easy to defeat. Individuals who take action early have plenty of options to buy precious metals, move a portion of their savings abroad to a stable banking jurisdiction, and scout out locations overseas in case they ever need to get out of dodge.
These steps make sense no matter what. It’s hard to imagine that you’ll be worse off for shipping a few physical ounces of gold abroad, having some savings stashed away in a healthy foreign bank, or taking control of your retirement account.
However if it’s a bumpy road ahead– gold criminalization, capital controls, pension fund confiscation, etc.– you’ll be well ahead of the crowd.
I had to reach my breaking point before taking these steps. Fortunately I was early. Most people either ignore the writing on the wall… or they won’t do anything until it’s too late and there are no more options. I’m willing to bet that you’re different.
This article was originally posted at Sovereign Man
© Copyright 2012 Sovereign Man, All rights reserved
By Steve James
6 February 2013
Further social cuts are being prepared across all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities that will remove thousands more public-sector jobs and impact all areas of social care and cultural provision. They will add to the social misery of youth unemployment figures of 90,000, double the 2008 figure, and adult unemployment of 207,000.
A shocking indicator of the real level of social stress was shown by a recent report of advice given at Citizens Advice Scotland bureaux. Volunteers at the advice and welfare agency were recently given suicide watch training because, in the words of the organisation’s head, Margaret Lynch, the welfare system is being “ripped asunder”.
The cuts are in line with the 8 percent budget cut to 2015 being implemented by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Edinburgh on behalf of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition in London.
Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council, which has shed 3,000 workers since 2010 and cut spending by £130 million (US$176 million), intends a further £70 million reduction over the next two years. As the city has already farmed out leisure, culture, car parking and home care to semi-private agencies, this year’s cuts will fall most heavily on education and social care, which form some 70 percent of the city’s remaining budget. Some 600 more workers are expected to lose their jobs.
Measures include the merger of specialist schools for children with learning disabilities and a consequent reduction in teacher numbers, saving £2.5 million. Teachers in nursery classes will be replaced by less skilled “child development officers”. Primary head masters and mistresses will supervise multiple schools. School maintenance and after-hours availability will be reduced. School dinner cost will be increased by 33 percent, while nursery costs will increase by 10 percent.
Social care services bought from external charities and companies will be cut by £2 million, while supported living budgets will be cut by £4.6 million. The “personalisation of care” programme, designed to push more services to external providers, will be extended to elderly dementia sufferers. Cordia, however, one of the agencies that provide home care, is itself expecting around 287 jobs to go.
In a typically mean move, the meals on wheels provision for pensioners will be reduced from three courses to two. Charges to be increased include car parking, stair lighting, bereavement services, and entry to leisure facilities.
East Ayrshire, run jointly by the SNP and the Conservatives, intends to cut £25 million over the next three years. Plans include hiving off libraries, sports facilities and community centres to stand-alone agencies, which can then reduce wages and staffing levels at will.
Major budget savings will also be found by increasing to three miles the distance beyond which transport will be provided to local schools. This is expected to save some £2.5 million. The council’s finance director, Alex McPhee, warned that more “radical” measures may still be needed.
Dundee City Council, run by the SNP, intends to cut £14 million from its budget over the next two years. All departments have been told to find 5 percent savings. School class sizes will be allowed to rise. As in other areas, some of the largest cuts will fall on external organisations providing social care and housing support for vulnerable people. Neighbouring Angus Council, also run by the SNP, intends to close 51 of the county’s 100 play parks.
The City of Edinburgh authority is run jointly by the SNP and Labour. By 2013, the city’s workers, who have faced a pay freeze for three years, will have lost between 10 and 15 percent of their real terms income. The council, however, intends to cut £90 million from its budget over the next three years at a cost of 1,200 jobs lost through “natural wastage”—the standard euphemism for not replacing workers who leave, retire, or are forced out.
Other targets include cuts to school management and support and the closure of a Blindcraft factory offering jobs to disabled workers. Charges are set to rise for parking and other services. Half of the city’s public toilets are to close. Neighbouring Midlothian Council has concluded that school children in primary one and two will no longer receive free fruit.
North Lanarkshire, run by Labour, is pressing ahead with its previously announced 1,200-1,400 job losses to save £105 million over three years. Measures include the closure of care homes, cuts to numerous support and maintenance services, extension of the school year by three weeks, the closure of school swimming pools and large headcount reductions on leisure and environmental services.
In all instances, the teaching and public services unions have responded to the threat of devastating job losses and service degradation with outright support, indifference or routine posturing and bluster.
Speaking in December, prior to a token protest outside North Lanarkshire’s HQ in Motherwell, Unison’s Scottish secretary, Mike Kirby, offered support to the local authorities, agreeing that “finance and welfare reform are two big issues facing all local authorities”. Kirby’s response was to suggest that the Scottish government increase the council tax—thereby increasing the tax burden on most working people—while insisting that only “compulsory” redundancies would be opposed.
The Unison trade union has 6,000 members in North Lanarkshire alone. It is also a leading light of the misnamed Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance (SACA), which in early 2011 claimed its formation was an “historic” step forward in the fight against austerity. The SACA web site does not even appear to have been updated since. In general, the ex-lefts who for a brief period set up a number of similar anti-cuts and anti-austerity alliances, have moved into the campaign for a yes vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
A recent demonstration outside Glasgow City Chambers reflected the same dangerous and bankrupt perspective. Protesters against the closure of disability day care centres in Cardonald, Summerston and Maryhill were opposing the destruction of facilities that hundreds of vulnerable people rely on for daily support. The demonstration attracted around 100 supporters who called for the council’s cuts to disabled services to be put on hold.
Along with the ex-lefts, one of the speakers was writer Alasdair Gray, a well-known local artist, writer and lifelong Scottish nationalist. Gray recently complained of the influence of English “colonists” and “settlers” in the arts world.
In reality, the cuts being imposed by Scottish local authorities are inseparable from the general assault on the health, education and welfare of working people across Britain. The suggestion—by the trade unions, the ex-lefts and the nationalist writers such as Gray—that the cuts can be opposed on the basis of Scottish nationalism, or pressure on the Scottish government, is false to the core and utterly divisive.
Rather, working people viewing with anger the ongoing destruction of vital social services must study the NHS FightBack campaign launched by the Socialist Equality Party (Britain). The lessons of the struggle against the destruction of socialised health embodied in the NHS apply entirely to those seeking to oppose cuts to every area of social care and education.
The SEP states: “The defence of health care and every other basic social right can only be taken forward through a break from the unions and the Labour Party. Action committees must be formed by patients, hospital staff and the workers and youth whose lives and health are being jeopardised.” The SEP calls for “a mass movement of the working class to bring down the coalition government and replace it by a workers’ government based on socialist policies”.
By Alejandro López and Alejandro de Castro
6 February 2013
Top Popular Party (PP) officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and government ministers, are embroiled in a major Spanish corruption scandal.
Evidence from the PP’s internal accounts indicates that between 1990 and 2008, leading politicians were paid regular sums of money from secret slush funds provided by construction companies and other businesses.
Thousands have taken part in demonstrations, and nightly protests are being held outside the PP’s Madrid headquarters. In just four days, 850,000 people demanded online that Rajoy should resign.
Rajoy is the official whose name appears most regularly in the accounts. The 45 entries suggest he received a total of €322,231 (US$436,000), including €25,200 ($34,000) a year from 1997 to 2008, while a minister of public administration and then deputy prime minister. He received another €33,207 for clothing.
Other figures alleged to have received payments include PP former secretaries general Ángel Acebes, Javier Arenas and Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, former economics minister and IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato and former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja. There are also notes of payments to “J.M.”, who could be José María Aznar, prime minister from 1996 to 2004.
Last Saturday, Rajoy denied that he received any money, but on Monday, with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at his side, he stated that “It is all untrue, except for some things”.
So far, the PP has claimed that the allegations are inventions by El País, a newspaper close to the opposition Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). The PP accuses El País of being unpatriotic for launching “unproved allegations” while Spain is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the end of Francoism. Former prime minister Aznar has said he will sue the newspaper for defamation.
Even so, some PP officials, including former PP deputy José Trías Sagnier and PP Senate speaker Pío García Escudero, have admitted to receiving regular large cash payments along with their normal salaries.
The latest revelations emerged after former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, in charge of the party’s accounts, admitted last week in the Spanish High Court that he had repatriated €10 million from a secret Swiss bank account. He had taken advantage of a tax amnesty passed last year by his colleague, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro, which allowed tax evaders to repatriate capital from abroad in return for just a 10 percent tax.
At one point, Bárcenas held €22 million in Switzerland before transferring the funds to other accounts after being impeached in the Gürtel money-laundering case (see “Spain: Popular Party embroiled in corruption scandal“). It was the Gürtel case that saw the downfall of top investigative judge Baltasar Garzón. He was suspended from his job for 11 years, effectively ending his career, after the Supreme Court found him guilty of illegally tapping the phones of suspects and lawyers about to move money beyond the reach of his investigations.
In total, more than €5 million of the €7.5 million listed as payments to party leaders prepared by Bárcenas may have exceeded the legal limits under the law that was in effect at the time.
The finance legislation for parties in force from 1987 to 2007, when the law changed, said that “parties may not receive, either directly or indirectly, contributions from the same person or legal entity above the amount of 10,000,000 pesetas [about €60,000] a year. Also forbidden are contributions from companies with current contracts to provide services or perform work or be a supplier to any public agency.”
The law stipulated that all donations be held in bank accounts opened specifically for donations. This means that all of the donations from Bárcenas’s secret accounts are illegal, as handwritten notes repeatedly specify that all donations were made in cash. El País noted that “at the height of the slush-fund system, Bárcenas’ box had over €900,000 in it. Records show that, once the payouts to PP leaders and other expenses had been met, any remaining money was transferred into an account for donations that the PP kept at Banco de Vitoria (later bought out by Banesto). Around €1.2 million were deposited in this account. The other €7.5 million were used to pay PP leaders and cover various operational costs.”
Among the donors who contributed millions to the PP and were listed in Bárcenas’s notes are some of the best-known construction magnates in Spain. They amassed fortunes from government contracts worth billions of euros during the construction boom in Spain from 1997 to 2007.
Also named is Pablo Crespo, who is also named in the ongoing Gürtel investigations. He is considered number two in the corruption network headed by the businessman Francisco Correa—charged with committing crimes relating to bribery, influence peddling, money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy and forgery. Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce has ordered an investigation into the links between the Gürtel and Bárcenas cases.
The PP is not the only party and government, nor the only institution that has been involved in corruption. Currently, investigations are being held into the illegal payment network used by companies to pay commissions to the ruling Convèrgencia I Unió party in Catalonia.
The monarchy has also been implicated. Inaki Urdangarin, the duke of Palma, who is married to the daughter of King Juan Carlos, is being investigated over claims he misused public funds given to a foundation he ran.
Last June, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Carlos Dívar resigned after being accused by a fellow judge of claiming business expenses for vacations—as many as 32 long weekend trips, according to investigations carried out by journalists.
Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, former head of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations, is currently in jail for forging a mortgage on properties and companies that were about to be repossessed by the bank. He is infamous for his declaration that Spanish workers should “work more and earn less”.
The whole post-Franco bourgeois order is falling apart. The same ruling elites who are involved in tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes are the same ones who are imposing harsh austerity measures in the name of “collective sacrifice”. Under these conditions, the corruption scandal involving vast sums paid in kickbacks is having an incendiary impact among millions whose lives consist of appalling poverty or a seemingly endless struggle to make ends meet.
With some 5 million now unemployed, nearly 26 percent, markets on Monday saw sharp falls in the benchmark indexes in Spain (by 3.8 percent) and Italy (4.5 percent), due to fears of a popular backlash rendering the continued imposition of savage cuts impossible.
By Bill Van Auken
6 February 2013
A confidential Justice Department white paper on the legality of “lethal operations” against US citizens made public Monday night argues that virtually unlimited power is placed in the hands of the American president to order the assassination of perceived enemies of the state anywhere around the globe.
While spelling out certain conditions that would purportedly make the targeted killing of an American citizen legal—such as the target being an “operational leader of Al Qaeda or an associated force” who poses an imminent threat of violent attack and whose capture is not feasible—the paper goes on to provide arguments that essentially render these conditions meaningless and non-restrictive.
As if that were not enough, the term “associated force” is defined so broadly that a member of virtually any armed movement deemed hostile to US interests can be targeted. Moreover the paper specifically states that while the conditions it presents are “sufficient” to make such a state killing legal, the absence of one or all of them does not mean that an assassination would be illegal.
“This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful, nor does it assess what might be required to render a lethal operation against a US citizen lawful in other circumstance, including an operation against … a US citizen who is not a senior operational leader of such [Al Qaeda] forces.” it states.
In other words, the document leaves the selection of assassination victims—including non-Al Qaeda opponents of US imperialism—to the discretion of the president and his military and intelligence operatives.
The document, first reported by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, was prepared by the Obama administration as a summary of a legal memo issued by the Justice Department’s OLC. It was given last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees on condition that its contents be kept secret from the American public.
The memo upon which the white paper is based was prepared to provide a pseudo-legal justification for the Obama administration’s order to assassinate New Mexico-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 2011 drone strike. Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen, was murdered in the same missile attack, and al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, born in Colorado, was assassinated two weeks later in another drone strike in Yemen.
Questioned repeatedly about the white paper at a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Obama spokesman Jay Carney offered a prepared defense of the entire drone killing program, which by conservative estimates has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 men, women and children around the globe. Carney insisted that the drone killings “are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”
US Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the Obama administration only takes “these kinds of actions when there is an imminent threat, when capture is not feasible and when we are confident that we’re doing so in a way that is consistent with federal and international law.”
Neither Carney nor Holder directly addressed the leaked document or dealt in any detail with the legal sophistry it advances to justify the assassination of American citizens.
“This is a chilling document,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said of the white paper Tuesday. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
The Obama administration has gone to enormous lengths to keep documents relating to the drone killing program from the American public. Lawsuits brought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act to force release of these documents were dismissed last month by a federal judge in Manhattan who complained in her ruling that laws and legal precedents dealing with national security and state secrets “effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for its conclusion a secret.”
The release of the white paper coincided with a demand by 11 US senators—eight Democrats and three Republicans—for the administration to provide Congress with all legal opinions supporting “the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.”
It also comes just days before John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser and nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is to appear at a Thursday confirmation hearing convened by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Brennan has served as the architect and director of the administration’s drone killing program, and he became its first public defender. Under his leadership, the killing campaign has become systematized under a program known as “disposition matrix,” while procedures governing assassinations have been codified in a “rule book.”
While Brennan’s confirmation is generally regarded as assured, the hearing is expected to feature questions about the assassination campaign as well as his defense of extraordinary rendition and torture while serving a top official at the CIA under the Bush administration. Four years ago, Democratic opposition over this record forced Obama to drop his bid to make Brennan CIA director when he first entered the White House. The acceptance of Brennan now is an unmistakable measure of the shift to the right by the Democratic Party and the entire political establishment.
In both its criminal content and its pseudo-legalistic tone, the white paper resembles nothing so much as the so-called “torture memos” that were drafted under Bush and released by the Obama administration in April 2009 in what it claimed at the time was the inauguration of a new era of “transparency and openness.”
The administration has defended those responsible for torture and other crimes ever since, while establishing the tightest reign of secrecy in American history. As the summary of the assassination memo make clear, the criminality that existed under Bush has escalated sharply under his successor.
The conditions that the white paper sets for declaring a targeted assassination lawful are predicated on the proposed victim being a “senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force.” The paper simply presumes that the target is such a leader, without explaining how that designation is decided. The implication is that unidentified “high-level officials” of the US government, in other words, Obama, Brennan and their aides, make such determinations on their sole discretion, without the target of state murder having any knowledge of the proceeding, let alone an opportunity to rebut the charge.
In the case of al-Awlaki, no evidence was ever presented that he played an “operational” role in al-Qaeda, and experts on Yemen dispute this description. What is clear from the rest of the conditions, however, is that once the US president or his underlings make such a designation—without presenting charges, much less proving them—assassination is “lawful” according to the Justice Department.
Cast aside are the most fundamental democratic rights enshrined in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, first among them the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “No person shall … be deprived of life … without due process of law.” The paper essentially reduces “due process” to the discussions now taking place in the so-called “terror Tuesday” sessions at the White House, where Obama and his military and intelligence aides secretly pick victims to be killed by Hellfire missiles.
As for the supposed “conditions” that the paper purports would make an assassination legal, all of them are fraudulent. First it states that a targeted individual must present “an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States.” This determination, the paper explains, “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Having to produce such evidence, it argues, “would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.”
The condition of “imminent,” the white paper continues, is determined not by known crimes past, present or future attributed to the individual targeted for assassination, but rather by the classification of the targeted victim as a “senior operational leader” and the “limited window of opportunity” that the US military and intelligence apparatus has to murder this individual. Under this “broader concept of imminence,” preemptive killing is permitted once the president or an “informed high-level official” has fingered someone as an enemy of the state.
The supposed condition of capture of the targeted individual being infeasible is likewise an empty shell. The white paper includes in this definition the problem of a capture not being possible during the “window of opportunity,” refusal of the country where the targeted individual is to allow a capture operation and “undue risk to US personnel” of attempting such a capture. In short, wherever assassination is deemed expedient, it is “lawful.”
The white paper argues that Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in September 2001 justifies assassinations and drone strikes anywhere on the planet. It recycles the claims made by the Bush administration that the entire world is a battlefield in the war on terror.
Among the sources cited in support of this contention are speeches given by Nixon administration officials in defense of the 1970 invasion of Cambodia. That Nixon’s Cambodia policy was subsequently an article in his impeachment apparently doesn’t faze Obama and his underlings.
The document asserts that there “exists no appropriate judicial forum” to consider whether presidentially ordered assassinations of US citizens raises constitutional issues. Any court review, either before or after the killings, it states, would improperly interfere with “specific tactical judgment” of the president and “officials responsible for operations.”
The rest of the paper consists largely of assertions that the extra-judicial executions of US citizens by means of drone strikes violate neither the US Constitution, nor the US ban on assassinations, nor international law and cannot be construed as war crimes. Much like the torture memos drafted a decade ago, these claims are meant to reassure those following the criminal orders of the White House.
What is spelled out here is a presidency which has arrogated to itself the “right” to act as judge, jury and executioner in carrying out secret assassinations of American citizens as well many thousands of other human beings around the globe. The overturning of any limitations on this power of life and death lays the groundwork for a police-state dictatorship.