Bipartisan Support for Sanctions Spells Bloodshed to Come
On Friday, 93% of the U.S. House of Representatives affirmed a resolution escalating America’s already aggressive position on Iran, from “crippling” sanctions to a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear weapons. The Congressional Research Service summarized the bill:
Affirms that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening. Urges increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to secure an agreement that includes: (1) suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, (2) complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, and (3) a permanent agreement that verifiably assures that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Supports: (1) the universal rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, and (2) U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Rejects any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat. (emphasis mine)
The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support – for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers: 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.
The language used bodes terribly for the United States’ already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability of said manufacturing. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons; given the extreme and persistent threats from the nuclear-armed Israel and United States, coupled with the U.S. forces surrounding Iran, we would have no right to prevent them if they were.
Further, examining the House’s reasoning for denouncing Iran as a repressive regime highlights severe hypocrisy:
Whereas, on December 26, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran, including torture, cruel and degrading treatment in detention, the targeting of human rights defenders, violence against women, and ‘the systematic and serious restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly’, as well as severe restrictions on the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.’
Switch in that paragraph “the United States” for “Iran” and you might think we should be sanctioning ourselves. Regarding the first several accusations, consider this: the United States tortures foreign adversaries by proxy, abuses accused whistle-blowers in prison before trial, detains more prisoners than any country on Earth, and continues to pass state laws assaulting women’s rights. Perhaps the most hypocritical, though, is the accusation of the repression of peaceful assembly. Just two days after the House passed this resolution, Chicago riot police beat protesters with nightsticks, hit others with CPD vehicles, and used sound canons to disrupt peaceful demonstrators against the NATO summit. So the idea that the U.S. deems Iran a barbaric nation that represses political speech is extremely two-faced at best.
The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.
For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran’s nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.
More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as “crippling” and that all should describe as acts of war. Just today, the Senate voted unanimously to escalate those very sanctions. While President Obama may say that sanctions are intended to isolate Iran’s leaders in their nuclear position, it is citizens who bear the burden of these economic moves. Look to Iraq for the devastating effects, where a senior U.N. official estimated that U.N.-imposed sanctions in the 1990s killed a staggering 500,000 children under the age of 5. They don’t call ‘em “crippling” for nothing.
We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:
Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.
This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.
The Iraq war did not begin with the 2003 invasion – it began with the 1990s embargo. Sanctions on Iraq not only killed hundreds of thousands, but they structured the narrative on Iraq to winnow out peaceful options on the path to war. And the same is true of Iran. Now debates on Iran focus on whether Ahmadinejad will relent in his pursuit of weapons, whether sanctions are “working” sufficiently, or where the U.S. and Israel should draw “red lines” for attack.
President Obama called last month’s “negotiations” with Iran that country’s “last chance,” effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or initiate an attack if Iran didn’t cease and desist its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those “negotiations”? How is that “diplomacy”? Threatening Iran to completely submit to the U.S.’s will to get nothing in return is not a discussion – it’s bullying.
What would Iran have to gain in that situation? Iran is seeking to defend itself from nuclear-armed bullies surrounding it constantly. Passively complying would only speed up the U.S. plan to replace the Iranian regime with one even more compliant.
But the United States will not relent on Iran – just as it did not relent on Iraq. Examine again the House resolution’s first principle:
…it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening.
Compare that with President Bill Clinton’s 1998 remarks on Iraq:
One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.
This is how American bipartisanship – or more accurately, duopoly – works. Both parties want war with Iran, the way both parties wanted war with Iraq. It is in both of their interests – appeasing Israel and its chief lobby, AIPAC, and posturing for their respective bases. Republicans take the hard line on our “enemies,” using blatantly aggressive language, refusing to “apologize for America” and reducing our victims to less than human. Democrats take the more “pragmatic” approach, adopting “national security” rhetoric based in protecting Americans that disguises the exact same policies. The Senate vote to go to war with Iraq, after all, didn’t barely squeak through on Republican support: it passed 96-4. (Now, 9/11 catalyzed the whole process in Iraq and made dissent even less popular, but the biggest antiwar protest in recorded history couldn’t sway more than four measly votes in the Senate.)
This endless posturing is how President Obama can be accused of being “soft on terror” and simultaneously escalate sanctions on Iran and massive drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
This is why, in the interest of war, sanctions by one party is a huge gift to the other. If Mitt Romney is elected this year, he’ll likely announce that Obama’s sanctions were insufficient and encourage an Israeli attack on Iran behind closed doors. If Obama is re-elected, he’ll continue on the path he’s currently on: allowing Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists, officially recognizing the terror group seeking regime change in Iran, and escalating sanctions that cripple the Iranian people and isolate its leaders.
Obama can do hawkish things as a Democrat that a Republican could not (or at least not without facing lots of trouble on the home front). It’s the flipside of the old “Nixon Goes to China” meme: Obama can do hawkish things without facing (much) criticism from the left, because he still retains their sympathy and because liberals and non-interventionists don’t have a credible alternative (sorry, Ron Paul supporters). If someone like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or George W. Bush had spent the past few years escalating drone attacks, sending Special Forces into other countries to kill people without the local government’s permission, prosecuting alleged leakers with great enthusiasm, and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, without providing much information about exactly why and how we were doing all this, I suspect a lot of Democrats would have raised a stink about some of it. But not when it is the nice Mr. Obama that is doing these things.
So if you vote for Barack Obama because you think that Mitt Romney would put troops on the ground, you’ll only be doing it to make yourself feel better. You’ll be playing right into the partisan posturing that seeks to fabricate a meaningful difference between the two major parties, both with long histories of support for wars of aggression. You’ll be fundamentally misunderstanding how American duopoly works: both parties decry each other for tactically approaching the same policies differently in the interest of electing their own representatives to power. Both parties want war – they just want to play it to their respective bases properly.
If you think Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, that Ralph Nader ruined the antiwar movement and George Bush is all to blame, point me to where Gore opposed Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq when he was Vice President. In the meantime, read how Gore argued for regime change in Iraq a few short months before Bush invaded: “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
If you think Bush’s war was a terrible mistake that warranted John Kerry’s election in 2004, read Kerry on Iraq two months before the invasion:
Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…
Find more quotes from Democrats leading up to and supportive of Bush’s 2003 invasion here.
Liberals criticize President Obama for escalating drone strikes, failing to close Guantanamo, aggressively persecuting Bradley Manning, illegally invading Libya, offering cuts to Social Security, and immunizing the war crimes and torture of the Bush administration – but many same liberals say that despite all of these transgressions, the ostensible likelihood of Mitt Romney attacking Iran makes them feel they have to re-elect the president.
If this were true, wouldn’t these liberals be criticizing Obama’s sanctions on Iran? Wouldn’t they have abandoned Clinton, Gore, and Kerry after their comments on Iraq? More to the point, if these liberals despise war so much, why aren’t Obama’s surge in Afghanistan or expanded wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen deal-breakers for re-election?
If you actually don’t want war with Iran, you have to help end duopoly. You can’t support either of the two establishment parties who feed the military-industrial complex and fear-monger voters into submission. We must make it known that the people want peace – meaning no sanctions, no assassinations, no threats of war.
We must make war making and fear mongering unacceptable. Come Election Day, we can vote third party, or boycott the election, or protest to shut down military recruitment centers or drone bases. But we can’t fund or vote for the war parties – our victims can’t afford it. No votes for empire, no money for war. No exceptions.
Update: audio of the conference
Audio of my talk is here, starting shortly after the 17-minute mark. When video of the talk or the rest of the conference is online, I’ll post that as well.
This weekend, beginning tomorrow night, the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is hosting a peace conference in Stamford, CT (just 45 minutes from Grand Central Station, NYC), to bring together major groups working to end war, imperialism, poverty, and social injustice.
I’ll be speaking briefly on a Sunday morning panel called “Victims of Political Repression Speak Out.” Representing the Bradley Manning Support Network, I’ll discuss the material PFC Manning is alleged to have leaked, why he shouldn’t be on trial in the first place, and how the military is railroading his court proceedings to make a chilling example of him.
The conference will be livestreamed here: http://cprmetro.blogspot.com/
Below is a schedule of speakers, panels, and workshops. Come if you can, or check out the livestream!
[This was first published here for the Bradley Manning Support Network.]
Last month, a video showing four uniformed U.S. Marines urinating on the bloodied corpses of dead Afghans went viral, returning – if briefly – to our national discussion the depravity of war and the inhumanity of those sent off to fight it.
The video also reignited debates about whether soldiers of these repugnant spectacles are merely “a few bad apples” running rogue or instead a disturbing manifestation of a more insidious, fundamental, and pervasive immorality at the heart of war. In doing so it recalled more obscene instances in the past, such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal or some of Guantánamo’s darker secrets.
It also might have reminded you of the so-called “Kill Team,” the U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan whose commander directed his soldiers to murder unarmed Afghani civilians, killed another himself, then removed and collected body parts as souvenirs.
The ‘Kill Team’ story got major media attention, spurred war-mentality discussions, and put the soldiers involved and their Staff Sergeant in charge on trial. But what came of their indictment?
Several soldiers were prosecuted in the incident, with varying severity. These include Pfc. Andrew Colmes, who pled guilty to the murder of innocent Afghan civilians and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Staff Sergeant David Bram was convicted of solicitation to commit murder, conspiracy to commit assault, and attempting to obstruct the investigation into the Kill Team’s rampage. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but he’ll be eligible for parole after the first three.
Then there’s Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, dubbed the ringleader of the Kill Team. Gibbs was convicted of murdering a civilian, Marach Agha, and planting a weapon next to him to make it seem like he’d killed a militant. He was also convicted of murder for inciting one soldier to throw a grenade at a 15-year-old Afghan civilian, Gul Mudin, and another to shoot the boy afterward. Gibbs was said to play with Mudin’s corpse “as if it was a puppet,” collect teeth and finger bones, and keep part of the victim’s skull. Gibbs’ punishment was most severe, sentenced to life in prison, yet he will be eligible for parole in less than ten years. According to the Guardian, Gibbs’ “jurors acceded to the convicted soldier’s plea to have the hope of being reunited with his son.”
Compare this treatment with the prospective and intended treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning. Whereas Gibbs, who murdered, conspired to murder, and treated war like deer-hunting bloodsport, was quietly tried and awarded the chance of extremely early parole, Manning could face life in prison without parole or even the death penalty, if his jurors so choose. What about Manning’s hope to reunite with his family after prison, or come to terms with his gender-identity crisis? Manning didn’t kill a soul – will his jurors accede to his plea for freedom?
Gibbs was not kept in solitary confinement for ten months against his will. He wasn’t forced to strip naked in prison at night as Manning was in Quantico. Gibbs’ Article 32 hearing was not delayed 18 months and then held so as to minimize media access. His Commander-in-Chief did not declare Gibbs guilty before he even stepped inside a courtroom, as President Obama declared of Manning eight full months before his hearing. Well-known former governors did not demand that Gibbs be executed.
Or consider another ongoing military investigation. Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich is being tried for his alleged involvement in the 2005 Haditha killings, in which Marines murdered 24 Iraqi civilians. In what witnesses describe as a massacre, Wuterich ordered his squad to “shoot first, ask questions later.” His Marines then shot two dozen unarmed Iraqis, including women and children. If convicted of all charges, Wuterich would face life in prison. Yet at his Article 32 pre-trial hearing, the Investigating Officer, a fellow Marine officer, recommended the major charges be dropped in favor of a lesser one, negligent homicide, that’d only carry a maximum 3-year sentence. But that wasn’t enough: Sgt. Wuterich was just awarded a plea deal in which he pled guilty to “dereliction of duty,” which carries minimal punishment, and then the military judge in his case recommended that he spend no time in jail at all.
Furthermore, it was recently revealed that Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz testified that Wuterich, his commander, killed five Iraqis and then ordered Dela Cruz to lie about it. Dela Cruz only testified against Wuterich in exchange for immunity – the government dismissed murder charges against him when he agreed to testify in Wuterich’s trial. So Dela Cruz, who also admitted to urinating on one of Wuterich’s corpses, will get off with no jail time, for bringing to light these war crimes and military abuses. The irony is not lost on anyone familiar with Manning’s case: Manning was never accused of murder, desecrating dead bodies, or covering up crimes, but he’s looking at a caged life with no hope for parole or freedom, while actual murderers and those who lied for them get lessened charges or full immunity.
So why is Manning treated this way? In 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen said that WikiLeaks’ source for the Afghan War Logs “might already have on [his] hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” a year and half before Manning’s pre-trial hearing. Google searches for Mullen’s comments on Staff Sgt. Gibbs’ murder, photos playing with dead bodies, and body-part trophies yield no results.
As Charles Davis writes for Al Jazeera, “While killing unarmed civilians for sport may not be officially sanctioned policy, it doesn’t threaten the functioning of the war machine as much as a soldier standing up and refusing to be complicit in mass murder.” In other words, Wuterich’s and Gibb’s murders don’t interfere with America’s wars in the Middle East in any meaningful way. They’re embarrassing when made public and incur scorn from the international community, but they don’t have any real effect on U.S. foreign policy. By contrast, Bradley Manning’s alleged actions, in highlighting grave abuses, airing diplomatic secrets, and calling attention to otherwise unnoticed crimes, are considered an impediment to American policy. According to CNN, negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Obama Administration broke down over a dispute about immunity for U.S. soldiers there, specifically due to a cable released by WikiLeaks. Due to this breakdown, the U.S. had to fulfill its promise to withdraw troops from Iraq, leading many to credit Bradley Manning with helping end the nearly 8-year occupation.
Comparing Wuterich or Gibbs with Pfc. Manning sheds much-needed light on some ugly truths of the U.S. justice system. Referencing the Kill Team specifically, Davis suggests that if Manning “had murdered civilians and desecrated their corpses – if he had the moral capacity to commit war crimes, not the audacity to expose them – he’d be better off today.”
But the government would argue that Pfc. Manning’s case is of special interest, and therefore deserves magnified punishment, because he indirectly “aided the enemy.” This is the charge that carries the potential death penalty, that Manning’s lawyer requested be dropped in the Article 32 hearing, and that leads prominent pundits to declare Manning a “traitor.” This will be the charge that sets a precedent in the war on whistle-blowing.
It will also surely be distorted by Manning’s prosecutors, because if the military disciplined soldiers based on honest assessments of what truly “aids the enemy” – and what does not – it would require harsher punishment for soldiers following orders and leniency for an intelligence private releasing improperly classified documents he believes the public should see.
It would also require investigating prominent U.S. politicians. In late 2010, American officials including former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge, former White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend and former attorney general Michael Mukasey attended a forum held by supporters of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), a group the United States has designated a terrorist organization since 1997. As Glenn Greenwald writes,
Even though the actions of these Bush officials violate every alleged piety about bashing one’s own country on foreign soil and may very well constitute a felony under U.S. law, they will be shielded from criticisms because they want to use the Terrorist group to overthrow a government that refuses to bow to American dictates.
If the U.S. was genuine in disciplining those who “aid the enemy,” they’d be investigating and indicting U.S. officials openly supporting a group the U.S. deems a terrorist organization.
They’d also be paying closer attention to what those they’ve captured have to say. On the rare occasions when suspected militants are caught and tried, they say what radicalized them toward terror is the American killing of Middle Eastern civilians. As Chase Madar writes,
terrorists themselves have freely confessed that what motivated their acts of wanton violence has been the damage done by foreign military occupation back home or simply in the Muslim world. Asked by a federal judge why he tried to blow up Times Square with a car bomb in May 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad answered that he was motivated by the civilian carnage the U.S. had caused in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Examine again what Sgt. Gibbs and his soldiers did in Afghanistan: killing innocent Afghani civilians (including a 15-year-old boy), removing their fingers, playing with their corpses. This is what provides rhetorical ammunition for Al Qaeda and its offshoots, who can point to events like this as catalysts for their rage. This is indirectly “aiding the enemy” as a blatant and obscene symbol of American invasion.
This is also the type of behavior that Pfc. Manning is accused of revealing. One State Department cable that WikiLeaks published documents a harrowing atrocity in Iraq, “wherein one man, four women, two children, and three infants were summarily executed.” The killings were illegal, a US airstrike attempted to destroy the evidence, and yet no soldiers have been held accountable. Releasing this cable did not “aid the enemy”; it’s the killing itself that spawns outrage and radical militancy.
Sgt. Gibbs, Sgt Wuterich, and the soldiers who followed their orders have confessed to the blood on their hands, and they will be granted plea deals and near-immunity. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that claims of damage done as a result of WikiLeaks’ releases were “significantly overwrought,” and yet Pfc. Manning could be sent to prison for life.
But Manning’s case is not truly about disciplining a soldier for “aiding the enemy” at all. If it were, Sergeants Gibbs and Wuterich would be those on high-profile trial, worrying they may never be free again. Instead, Manning’s trial is about punishing the messenger to dissuade those who find his courage inspiring. It sends a clear message that no matter the abuse, shedding desperately needed light on unpunished crimes will not be tolerated.
Exactly four months ago, the United States marked the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks – a day mixed with somber reflection, raging jingoism, and politicized commentary. Today we mark the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility – a day of national shame. This is a prison rife with torture, trumped up charges, and hidden abuse. Guantánamo symbolizes the worst of America’s practices in the War on Terror: secretly caging alleged enemies miles away from the rule of law, a terrorizing warning to those who would question our foreign policy.
The ACLU has produced this excellent infographic (at right, click to enlarge) with some vital facts about the still-open prison. I also want to direct you to this New York Times Op-Ed, by Lakhdar Boumediene, “My Guantánamo Nightmare,” and Marcy Wheeler’s “This Gitmo Anniversary Needs to Be About Bagram, Too.”
Exactly eight months ago, I wrote a report on WikiLeaks’ ‘Guantánamo Files,’ what they revealed about the prison, and what the prison revealed about the United States. The whole paper, “Detention & Deception: The Guantánamo Files & American Human Rights Hypocrisy,” is here, but it’s rather long, so I’m re-printing some excerpts below:
On Obama’s Broken Promise
“The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing” the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, President Obama declared in a 2008 campaign pamphlet, before promising to do just that. International leaders and an official United Nations report have called on the United States to close the prison, citing human rights abuses. Scores of GTMO detainees have been tortured, few made it to military tribunals, and almost none were awarded a civilian trial, let alone compensation after their eventual release.
Since its foundation in 2002, the Cuban-based detention camp has been an emblem of the War on Terror’s worst erosions of civil liberties, an icon of America’s moral degradation, and a crucial talking point for critics of American foreign policy around the world. So the international community generally lauded Obama’s election, and his promise to close the site, excited for a new era of justice and moral awakening. Three years later, however, the notorious prison is still open, still caging nearly 200 people who may never see a trial, and still a symbol of America’s disastrous disregard for human rights under the endless, sprawling War on Terror.
On Prisoners and Justification
The U.S. military has caged Arabs of all ages. The youngest is Naqib Ullah, a 14-year-old boy with Tuberculosis, who was kidnapped, raped, and held in a camp by 11 Afghani men. Then the U.S. raided the camp and detained Naqib for eight months, interrogating him about his captors but never about any potential risk he might pose. The oldest is 89-year-old Mohammad Sadiq, who was suffering dementia, major depression, and osteoarthritis while captive for nearly a year.
Guantánamo has held several others with mental disabilities, such as Abdul Houari, who has psychosis, slowed mobile functionality, and a blind right eye, and yet was deemed with the explicit coercion of the Criminal Investigative Task Force to pose a “medium risk” threat. Or Mishal Alhabiri a suicidal, mentally impaired detainee of “low intelligence value” who posed a “low risk,” but who was never given a trial despite his detention.
The reasoning provided for detaining many prisoners is illogical, contradictory, or merely that of a realist military tending to national interests instead of basic rights. For example, Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family, was detained specifically to provide information on a select few “personalities” and alleged “Taliban safehouses,” but was then deemed himself a potential “threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
For others, the U.S. didn’t bother with a pretense of a real, potential threat, and instead decided that extremely tangential information justified indefinite imprisonment without trial. Sami al-Hajj, an al-Jazeera cameraman, was locked up for six years, solely so the U.S. could interrogate him about the news network. According to human-rights lawyer Clive Smith, the U.S. was “only interested in turning him into an informant against al-Jazeera.” Al-Hajj went on a hunger strike in protest of his treatment, claiming he was being denied vital medication, and demanding better conditions prison-wide. Hundreds more have fasted in protest similarly.
Equally baffling is the fact that the U.S. considered the basic, cheap, and globally available Casio F91W wristwatch to be a ‘sign of al-Qaeda,’ and frequently listed it as a “suspicious item,” purportedly because an al-Qaeda training camp purportedly distributed that model to several students. At least 50 GTMO detainees wear the watch, though no direct link between that model and a terror threat has been made.
Kafka would marvel at what some of the documents reveal: merely having information on other detainees, i.e. cooperating and informing on who could be threatening, was officially considered a suspicious sign that warranted further detention. There is no way out in a system with rules like that.
On Alleged Efforts to Close GTMO
Obama Administration officials complain that the GTMO debate “became suffused with fear — fear that transferring detainees to American soil would create a genuine security threat, fear that closing Guantánamo would be electoral suicide.” Some congressional Democrats, they said, even pleaded with the Administration to back off of the issue. Congress, in turn, put the blame back in Obama’s hands – an aide said “vulnerable senators weren’t going out on a limb…when the White House, with the most to lose, wasn’t even twisting arms.”
Others asked to speak on the matter claimed even more fundamental obstacles, as a Republican staffer said those seeking to close GTMO “could never figure out…who was in charge” of the effort, while another White House counsel Gregory Craig said “no one was coordinating.” More officials observed repeated backtracking from both Congress and the Administration.
These, to be sure, do not sound like people genuinely interested in closing the facility. How could the lawmakers of the world’s greatest superpower appear so feeble and uninterested to solve such a glaring human rights debacle? The idea of “electoral suicide” likely points in the right direction. More and more often, presidents and congressmen choose to fight not for what they feel is righteous and in their citizens’ interest, but instead for what will get them reelected. Human rights tend to lose these battles frequently in America, as the lack of a real stand to close Guantánamo demonstrates all too clearly.
On the U.S.’s Record on Human Rights
Despite the well-documented abuses of the Guantánamo Bay prison, not to mention hundreds more human rights problems, the U.S. frequently holds itself out as both an arbiter of human-rights morality and an exemplary model for lawful practices, as part of a larger theme of American Exceptionalism. The State Department annually publishes a thorough report on human rights abuses on every single country – except the U.S. This year, the Obama Administration made a special point to criticize China on that country’s various human rights deficiencies. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner declared the U.S. has “seen a serious backsliding on human rights” in China, specifically disparaging China’s detention practices, saying, “We have been and are very concerned over recent months by reports that dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists like Ai Weiwei, and others, have been arrested, detained, or in some cases, disappeared, with no regard to legal measures.” While some would argue there is a difference between imprisoning ones own citizens and detaining prisoners of war abroad, there is an obvious irony in Posner’s remarks.
On Torture and Hypocrisy
Throughout the Guantánamo Files, though, the word torture is never used. We know that some detainees were waterboarded and that too many others were subjected to physical and psychological torture, yet officials who wrote the files repeatedly referred to “interrogation” and “questioning.” Publicly, as well, U.S. diplomats are careful to discuss “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or other deceptive phrases, when referring to their own country’s tactics, no matter how often they accuse another nation of torture.
This type of hypocrisy emphasizes the U.S. as a ‘realist’ country, or one that bases nearly all decisions on its own national interests, and one whose interests routinely trump any human rights concerns. Unfortunately, American policies at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp emblematize this dynamic all too well. There is insufficient evidence to prosecute most of the remaining prisoners, and it’s too difficult to transport them safely and wisely elsewhere, so the site remains open. After years of intense international and domestic criticism, officials have cleaned up GTMO practices, no longer torturing detainees and abiding by somewhat higher standards. But this only came after heavy pressure, and when it became the United States’ interest to improve their international standing on human rights. Yet nearly 200 still sit caged without charge or trial, potentially for the rest of their lives, and criticism has largely died down, at least before WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo Files. Without significant pressure, it’s simply not in America’s national interest to close the prison down. For the United States, human rights only seem to matter when respecting them suits other interests, and when doing so fits the Exceptional narrative that we have written.
Last week, Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese-American who was imprisoned for refusing the federal government’s internment camps during World War II, died at 93. He’s a little-known hero, and here’s what he was up against:
In February 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the name of protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage, authorized the designation of areas from which anyone could be excluded. One month later, a curfew was imposed along the West Coast on people of Japanese ancestry, and in May 1942, the West Coast military command ordered their removal to inland camps in harsh and isolated terrain.
Forty years later, and less than 30 years ago, Hirabayashi was finally “vindicated” as his conviction was overturned, but he used his freedom to speak on his Constitutionally protected rights:
Mr. Hirabayashi and his fellow Japanese-Americans Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui, who all brought lawsuits before the Supreme Court, emerged as symbols of protest against unchecked governmental powers in a time of war.
“I want vindication not only for myself,” Mr. Hirabayashi told The New York Times in 1985 as he was fighting to have his conviction vacated. “I also want the cloud removed from over the heads of 120,000 others. My citizenship didn’t protect me one bit. Our Constitution was reduced to a scrap of paper.”
Compare what Hirabayashi was fighting in 1942 with what is now legally codified under the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama threatened to veto until it included language allowing U.S. citizens to potentially be indefinitely detained.
Here are the relevant sections of the NDAA on indefinite detention:
SEC. 1021. AFFIRMATION OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AU- THORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.
IN GENERAL.—Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons pending disposition under the law of war.
Those “covered persons”:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
Length of detention:
Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY.—The President may waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the President submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.
Paragraph (1) on United States citizens:
(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS.—The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
As you can read, the bill’s language makes little effort to conceal the newly granted power for the president to simply tell congress that it’s in the interest of national security to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens deemed to have “directly supported” American enemies. (Bradley Manning, by the way, is accused of indirectly “aiding the enemy,” so this bill is just a word short of ending his trial altogether.)
I don’t intend to suggest that the potential for indefinite detention of American citizens is inherently worse than that of citizens anywhere else – it’s not. International law is supposed to enforce due process for people anywhere and everywhere.
I also don’t want to overstate how new these powers are: instead, the NDAA merely codifies and legalizes what the Obama administration has already claimed the power to do.
Finally, I’m not suggesting that these NDAA provisions are equivalent to the horribly racist and dehumanizing Japanese-American internment camps. They are merely the legal language used to allow for similarly heinous abuses of the Bill of Rights.
But I think it’s worth noting that in 1942, President Roosevelt claimed “protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage” was sufficient justification for creating internment camps specifically for Japanese-Americans. And 70 years later, how far have we come? We now have a president with substantial progressive support ensuring that American citizens can be indefinitely detained at his whim, all in the name of “national security.”
The erosion of our civil liberties in America is rarely going to be as sharply obvious as it was in 1942, when racism was much more overt, a World War was raging, and the Internet wasn’t around to spread dissenting opinions so easily. Nowadays, the government uses official public language promising us of transparency, respect for the rule of law, and enforced civil liberties to make covert work against those very ideals that much harder to see.
A Response to Taryn Hart.
As his infamous newsletters resurface, as he gains national support, and as the Iowa caucus is held today, Ron Paul is all over the damn Internet, especially in progressive circles. Matt Stoller, Mike Tracey, Robert Scheer, and Glenn Greenwald – among many others – have all written compelling pieces on the liberal debates surrounding the noted libertarian.
Taryn Hart, who blogs at Plutocracy Files (whose Occupy Wall Street interview work I recommend), joins the discussion to critique Greenwald’s article, and since she requested my thoughts, I’ll provide them here. The piece is called “Glenn Greenwald on Ron Paul: Why Worldview Matters.”
A preliminary reminder: Hart is not among the primary targets of Greenwald’s piece. The article, entitled “Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies,” first and foremost takes aim at progressives who support Obama over Paul and continue to tout their anti-war credentials. As Hart makes explicitly clear in her first footnote, she does not “support Obama nor justify his actions as President.” Hart has claimed she is considering not voting, and I hope she revisits that discussion soon.
But she is a progressive, and the question of support for Paul, or at least his candidacy, remains. Hart’s criticism of Greenwald’s argument goes like this:
Specifically, Greenwald’s argument assumes that all that matters is a candidate’s positions on isolated issues – as if it’s just a matter of creating a ranked pro and con list for each candidate and crunching the numbers.
Greenwald suggests choosing between the candidates is just a matter of prioritizing a limited list of isolated issues. However, it’s not just a candidate’s positions on individual issues that are important**; what’s also important (in most instances more important) is the candidate’s worldview. A President’s worldview will determine the outcome of thousands of decisions the President will make, almost all of which will not be campaign issues and many of which are unforeseeable.
First, I take issue with the “isolated issues” claim – one I think trivializes progressives’ stance. Paul opposes our current wars (hot, cold, covert, on drugs, and on whistleblowers), opposes imperialism, has called American corporatism a route to “soft fascism,” supports Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, has praised Occupy Wall Street, and opposes the Patriot Act and the growing surveillance and police state. These are many issues that progressives (especially under Bush) have supported in the past, and they are hardly isolated – reducing the military-industrial complex would reduce our national deficit, removing our troops from the Middle East and ending support for Israeli apartheid would have drastic effects in global relations, to comment on just two.
Furthermore, though, I have a problem with the argument that voters don’t prioritize a list of individual issues. I agree that ideally we’d have candidates who supported our worldview and subsequently would take all the positions we’d want them to take, but the fact remains that we don’t. I get the feeling that Hart would support someone like Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich, if they were running. But since we’re discussing who actually is running, and therefore who could actually be the next president, I’d argue that voters do prioritize their lists of issues. Since there will never be a candidate who supports all of our positions, and since Hart is not arguing (here) against voting altogether, I think it’d behoove Hart to reconsider Greenwald’s brutally honest hypothetical, which she quotes and denounces:
It’s perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
The point is, someone is going to be president come 2013. If you’re a progressive who plans on voting, you cannot ignore this set of choices. This is a limited version of “lesser-evilism,” or voting for someone who holds positions you dislike in favor of someone whose positions you dislike even more. But for me at least, and I am a progressive who values Paul’s candidacy without endorsing it, it’s a very specific one that puts my anti-war, pro-civil-liberties stances first. It’s saying that if you’re going to choose a lesser evil, stop arguing that Obama is the lesser evil on these many important issues.
There are many examples of liberals putting specific values first. Balloon Juice writer DougJ proclaims:
For a liberal like me, who is primarily interested in the well-being of the American middle-class and in providing opportunity for everyone in the United States, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc., I just don’t see why I should be “challenged” by Ron Paul. I understand that if you’re a liberal who is primarily interested in civil liberties and a less bellicose foreign policy, then you might be conflicted about Paul. But to me, he’s just another racist asshole who wants to fuck the American middle-class.
DougJ is explicitly arguing that the “well-being of the American middle-class” is more important than the lives of the Muslims we’re killing abroad, which he callously disguises as a “bellicose” foreign policy. This reads to me as arbitrary nationalism, dressed up as righteous middle-class protection.
David Atkins, in a particularly pedantic lecture, distorts this prioritizing here:
It’s true that some liberals are so legitimately incensed by President Obama’s transgressions on civil liberties that they are inclined to support Paul in the same way that a person obsessed with illegal immigration might support a hardline anti-immigration Democrat over a Republican like George W. Bush or John McCain. But both of those cases are standard single-issue monomanias. Neither case speaks to any sort of real ideological hypocrisy.
Atkins ignores the other aforementioned progressive stances to minimize the importance of civil liberties in favor of his preferred issues, like regulating corporations and a woman’s right to abortion.
Worldview does matter, but it can be easily overstated. Atkins argues with Paul’s worldview, even when it aligns with his positions:
Ron Paul is against the drug war, yes, but for the same reasons he is against preventing factories from dumping mercury in our rivers: he opposes any sort of intervention at all by the government to assist those in need, or to stop those who would do harm to others, except in the most simplistic cases of the use of force.
Ron Paul is against foreign interventions, yes, but for the same reason he opposes providing healthcare to sick people: he believes that the U.S. government should not be in the business of interfering against almost anyone, on behalf of anyone else.
J.A. Myerson approaches Paul’s foreign policy similarly (emphasize in original):
Yes, Ron Paul’s aversion to foreign policy leads him to adopt a host of positions that are very attractive, but they don’t come from a humane or sophisticated ideology.
To paraphrase both: I agree with Paul’s conclusions, but I disagree with how he got there. Both are putting the ideology above the policy, as is their preference. But if they’re going to be honest about their priorities, we must examine the consequences of those decisions. Is it really OK to allow the continued slaughter of innocent civilians just because it’s in the name of a president who claims to be a liberal? I can hardly stomach typing it out.
Everyone who votes prioritizes in some ways. If you’re arguing against prioritization, you’re arguing against American electoral politics (and I’m with you! Let’s talk about that!). But if you’re going to vote, no candidate will take your every position, and so you value some things above others. That Paul has caused such a progressive uproar speaks volumes about where priorities really lie.
Today National Journal reports that since March, the Justice Department has been investigating former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo for allegedly disclosing classified information about that agency’s highly secretive drone program. The Justice Dept. opened the investigation following Newsweek’s article, “Inside the Killing Machine,” in which Rizzo divulges specific details about the drone program.
Reason for Rizzo to leak information on the CIA’s use of Predator drones abounds. They frequently kill people without knowing who they are, critics within the administration complain about broad criteria for drone use, and drone victims are often innocent civilians, including these 16- and 12-year-old Pakistani boys. This all contrasts with top counterterrorism aide John Brennan’s claim in August that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”
A major factor contributing to the program’s growing problems is its secrecy. The US government does not admit that it has a drone program, though the public has known about it for years, and it has its own congressional caucus. Last month, when Brennan was asked about its existence, he “struggled to suppress a smile, he said, ‘If the agency did have such a program, I’m sure it would be done with the utmost care, precision…’ and the next part was garbled by the laughter of the audience…” Hilarious.
Perhaps Brennan is reluctant to acknowledge the unmanned weaponry because many suggest that it’s illegal.
Surely leaking any information to the press about this Top Secret, accountability-free program would illicit calls of outrage, widespread condemnation, serious charges, and long-term imprisonment for John Rizzo, right?
“people familiar with [Rizzo’s] investigation said they expected this one to end with some sort of formal reprimand, and possibly a financial penalty such as a decrease in his government pension, rather than with his imprisonment.”
So for giving an exclusive interview, in which Rizzo freely gives his own name before leaking details about the secret program, he could be subject to a strongly worded letter. Meanwhile, as Trevor Timm noted, for allegedly leaking war crimes and government abuse, PFC Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for a year and a half, including 10 months of torturous solitary confinement, and has still yet to stand trial.
Why will Rizzo get a meaningless censure while Manning gets accused of the vague, unprecedented, “aiding the enemy”?
This is an illuminating example of what Glenn Greenwald labels our two-tiered justice system, wherein the powerful are shielded from accountability and the weak are made examples of, instead of living equally under the law.
John Rizzo has been called “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history,” who approved some of the CIA’s most controversial programs. This Frontline report on Rizzo says his accolades include “helping draft the ‘extraordinary’ presidential authorization that provided the legal underpinnings for many of the war’s covert actions, and helping come up with the ‘enhanced interrogation program’ and the CIA’s secret prison system” – in other words, some of the United States’ most egregious offenses of the last decade.
Clearly, Rizzo is a man of great importance to the US government. According to Rizzo, “during the presidential transition, Obama’s team ‘signaled’ that they had no intention of rolling back many of the CIA’s controversial programs.” It follows, then, that Obama’s DoJ won’t punish this leak with anything more than a “formal reprimand.” The investigation hasn’t concluded yet, and it’s theoretically possible that Rizzo would be prosecuted more severely. But as the National Journal sources concede, “Investigations,” let alone prosecutions, “into current or former senior CIA officials like Rizzo are exceptionally rare.”
The 22-year-old PFC Manning, on the other hand, who leaked lower-level classified documents, is of no importance to the U.S., and thus awaits his trial in prison. Manning is comparatively weak, and is part of Obama’s larger crackdown on whistleblowers generally. The gap between the two tiers of justice widens further.
Representative James McGovern and Senator Ron Wyden have introduced joint legislation calling on the U.S. to suspend the sale of American-made weaponry to Bahrain, in light of that country’s violent, heinous crackdown on citizens protesting their leaders.
The bill provides a clear list of the extensive human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed by the autocratic Bahraini government since February 2011.
These include the killing of at least 32 people (3 of whom were in detention), torturing detainees, limiting due process in military courts, holding political prisoners, failing to prosecute government officials accused of human rights violations, imprisoning doctors for treating political opponents, destroying mosques, and discriminating against Shi’ites. It’s exhaustive and disturbing. The congressmen note that Bahrain is party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against torture.
Due to these accusations, the U.S. State Department said that Bahrain warranted “human rights scrutiny” on June 15, 2011.
Yet on September 14, 2011, as the bill includes -with no formal investigation or no sign that the Bahraini government has ended these policies – the U.S. Defense Department proposed to congress a deal to sell $53,000,000 worth of military arms to Bahrain. Read the rest of this entry »
Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s “Coalition of the Youth of the 25 January Revolution” refused an invitation to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “due to her negative stance towards the revolution during its inception and the approach of the US Administration towards the Middle East Region” that rendered her subsequent invitation hypocritical and opportunist.
We should learn something from their remarks.
Hillary Clinton, as I suppose is part of her job description, has been repeatedly criticized for hypocrisy, on topics ranging from Internet freedom, selective prosecution, and the use of cluster bombs (which I wrote about here).
Today we have yet another issue to add to that list: summary execution. Read the rest of this entry »
[Warning: links about Libya events below may contain graphic content]
Spencer Ackerman quasi-jokingly predicts the “The Post-Gadhafi Journalism You Will Read In The Next 72 Hours” following the summary execution of captured Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. First on the list, Ackerman suggests Tom Friedman will write a story called “Why Gadhafi’s Death Vindicates ‘Leading From Behind’.” It’s meant to be a joke since Friedman is a rather predictable hack, but he may very well be drafting that story as we speak.
Beating him to it, though, is fellow NYT writer Nick Kristof, who upon learning of the news tweeted: “If Qaddafi is dead, this is (tentative) vindication of a brave Obama decision to back rebels trying to overthrow him.” Notice Kristof didn’t make the claim when Gaddafi fled Tripoli and was effectively out of power, but he said it when Gaddafi was confirmed dead.
But why? Why does killing Gaddafi justify the United States intervening in yet another MENA country? I can only think of reasons to the contrary. Read the rest of this entry »