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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 26th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Unless you read your NY Times in Pakistan, where the story was disappeared, you probably read about how the Pakistanis knew exactly where Osama bin-Laden was while they took billions of dollars in American aid and pretended to be looking for him. This wasn’t really a secret, just another manifestation of the expensive dysfunction that the U.S. spy agencies have always been. Right from the beginning. Failure, failure, failure– and billions and billions and unknowable billions of dollars wasted. The spy agencies aren’t worth shit– except for unconstitutional spying on American citizens.

Carlotta Gall, a Times correspondent who spent 12 years in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attack, excerpted parts of her upcoming book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 for her Times Magazine piece on March 19, “What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden.” She knew all along– as anyone remotely aware of history knew– that the authors of Afghanistan’s misery were located in Afghanistan, very much under the control of Pakistan’s notorious local version of the CIA, the ISI, and the extremist “religious” schools or madrassas. Furthermore, bolstering all the circumstantial evidence, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told her that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad.

“The madrasas are a cover, a camouflage,” a Pashtun legislator from the area told me. Behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI.

The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned– a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.

…The story they didn’t want out in the open was the government’s covert support for the militant groups that were propagating terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond… After years of nurturing jihadists to fight its proxy wars, Pakistan was now experiencing the repercussions. “We could not control them,” a former senior intelligence official told a colleague and me six months after the Red Mosque siege.

…Yet even as the militants were turning against their masters, Pakistan’s generals still sought to use them for their own purpose, most notoriously targeting Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was preparing to fly home from nearly a decade in exile in the fall of 2007. Bhutto had forged a deal with Musharraf that would allow him to resign as army chief but run for another term as president, while clearing the way for her to serve as prime minister. Elections were scheduled for early 2008.

Bhutto had spoken out more than any other Pakistani politician about the dangers of militant extremism. She blamed foreign militants for annexing part of Pakistan’s territory and called for military operations into Waziristan. She declared suicide bombing un-Islamic and seemed to be challenging those who might target her. “I do not believe that any true Muslim will make an attack on me because Islam forbids attacks on women, and Muslims know that if they attack a woman, they will burn in hell,” she said on the eve of her return.

She also promised greater cooperation with Afghanistan and the United States in combating terrorism and even suggested in an interview that she would give Western officials access to the man behind Pakistan’s program of nuclear proliferation, A. Q. Khan.

President Karzai of Afghanistan warned Bhutto that his intelligence service had learned of threats against her life. Informers had told the Afghans of a meeting of army commanders– Musharraf and his 10 most-powerful generals– in which they discussed a militant plot to have Bhutto killed.

On Oct. 18, 2007, Bhutto flew into Karachi. I was one of a crowd of journalists traveling with her. She wore religious amulets and offered prayers as she stepped onto Pakistani soil. Hours later, as she rode in an open-top bus through streets of chanting supporters, two huge bombs exploded, tearing police vans, bodyguards and party followers into shreds. Bhutto survived the blast, but some 150 people died, and 400 were injured.

Bhutto claimed that Musharraf had threatened her directly, and Karzai again urged her to take more precautions, asking his intelligence service to arrange an armored vehicle for her equipped with jammers to block the signals of cellphones, which are often used to detonate bombs. In the meantime, Bhutto pressed on with her campaign, insisting on greeting crowds of supporters from the open top of her vehicle.

In late December, a group of militants, including two teenage boys trained and primed to commit suicide bombings, arrived at the Haqqania madrasa in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak. The madrasa is a notorious establishment, housing 3,000 students in large, whitewashed residence blocks. Ninety-five percent of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan have passed through its classrooms, a spokesman for the madrasa proudly told me. Its most famous graduate is Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran Afghan mujahedeen commander whose network has become the main instrument for ISI-directed attacks in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan.

The two young visitors who stopped for a night at the madrasa were escorted the next day to Rawalpindi, where Bhutto would be speaking at a rally on Dec. 27. As her motorcade left the rally, it slowed so she could greet supporters in the street. One of the two teenagers fired a pistol at her and then detonated his vest of explosives. Bhutto was standing in the roof opening of an armored S.U.V. She ducked into the vehicle at the sound of the gunfire, but the explosion threw the S.U.V. forward, slamming the edge of the roof hatch into the back of her head with lethal force. Bhutto slumped down into the vehicle, mortally wounded, and fell into the lap of her confidante and constant chaperone, Naheed Khan.

As Bhutto had long warned, a conglomeration of opponents wanted her dead and were all linked in some way. They were the same forces behind the insurgency in Afghanistan: Taliban and Pakistani militant groups and Al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistani military establishment, which included the top generals, Musharraf and Kayani. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances of Bhutto’s death found that each group had a motive and merited investigation.

Pakistani prosecutors later indicted Musharraf on charges of being part of a wider conspiracy to remove Bhutto from the political scene. There was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that he did not provide her with adequate security because he wanted to ensure her death in an inevitable assassination attempt, the chief state prosecutor in her murder trial, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, told me. (Musharraf denied the accusations.) A hard-working, hard-charging man, Ali succeeded in having Musharraf arrested and was pushing to speed up the trial when he was shot to death on his way to work in May 2013.

Ali had no doubts that the mastermind of the plot to kill Bhutto was Al Qaeda. “It was because she was pro-American, because she was a strong leader and a nationalist,” he told me. A Pakistani security official who interviewed some of the suspects in the Bhutto case and other militants detained in Pakistan’s prisons came to the same conclusion. The decision to assassinate Bhutto was made at a meeting of the top council of Al Qaeda, the official said.

It took more than three years before the depth of Pakistan’s relationship with Al Qaeda was thrust into the open and the world learned where Bin Laden had been hiding, just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s top military academy. In May 2011, I drove with a Pakistani colleague down a road in Abbottabad until we were stopped by the Pakistani military. We left our car and walked down a side street, past several walled houses and then along a dirt path until there it was: Osama bin Laden’s house, a three-story concrete building, mostly concealed behind concrete walls as high as 18 feet, topped with rusting strands of barbed wire. This was where Bin Laden hid for nearly six years, and where, 30 hours earlier, Navy SEAL commandos shot him dead in a top-floor bedroom.

…Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Colleagues at The Times began questioning officials in Washington about which high-ranking officials in Pakistan might also have been aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, but everyone suddenly clammed up. It was as if a decision had been made to contain the damage to the relationship between the two governments. “There’s no smoking gun,” officials in the Obama administration began to say.

…America’s failure to fully understand and actively confront Pakistan on its support and export of terrorism is one of the primary reasons President Karzai has become so disillusioned with the United States. As American and NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year, the Pakistani military and its Taliban proxy forces lie in wait, as much a threat as any that existed in 2001… Pakistani security officials, political analysts, journalists and legislators warned of the same thing. The Pakistani military was still set on dominating Afghanistan and was still determined to use the Taliban to exert influence now that the United States was pulling out.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 20th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

The great Barbara Lee (D-Oakland)

I met the Doors in 1967 when they were recording their first album in New York. They had a residency in a tiny, little known club under the 59th Street bridge, Ondine’s and I went… every night. I became friends with Morrison– we were the only two people around crazy enough to use DMT– and I invited the band to play at Stony Brook, where I was chairman of the Student Activities Board, after the summer break. I offered them $400, thinking a Doors concert would be a lovely way to welcome everyone back to campus. I met Tim Buckley and Jackson Browne, kids around my age, at a Velvets show on St. Marks place and I gave Tim the opening slot for The Doors show. In the interim “Light My Fire” was released and became a smash and some of the students thought I was brilliant. Not all though. The president of the sophomore class, thought I had wasted $400 in student fees. You can’t please everybody. He started a petition to impeach me. It failed. The people who voted to impeach probably weren’t happy that I brought the Dead, the Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Otis Redding, Big Brother, the Byrds, or any of that stuff to the campus. In retrospective, though, everyone loved the concert series at Stony Brook.


Today, a majority of Americans– finally– are ready to admit the war against Afghanistan was a mistake. “For the first time since the U.S. initially became involved in Afghanistan in 2001,” reported Gallup this morning, “Americans are as likely to say U.S. military involvement there was a mistake as to say it was not.” It took a lot longer for the majority of Americans to realize that than it did for them to realize that U.S. attacks on Korea, Vietnam and Iraq were mistakes– 13 years in Afghanistan, only 5 months in Korea, 2 years in ‘Nam, and a year in Iraq. Barbara Lee (D-CA), however, realized it before it even started. In fact, Barbara Lee was the only Member of Congress to realize it– or at least to act on that realization by voting NO. On September 14, 2001, just before midnight, the House voted to give Bush and Cheney the authorization to attack Afghanistan. It passed 420-1.

Barbara Lee is pretty well marginalized by our political elite today and the people who brought us the disastrous war are lionized and rewarded. Even among Democrats, who came to the realization sooner than others that attacking and destroying Afghanistan was a mistake, Lee hasn’t been honored or respected. When a corrupt shit-head, Joe Crowley– in fact, the single most corrupt Member of the House Democratic caucus– decided it was time for him to climb the House leadership ladder by running for vice chair of the caucus, a position that puts him on the road to the Speakership, he ran against Barbara Lee. His support– from fellow corruptionists, many of whom he had bribed– was so solid that Barbara withdrew before the vote.

Crowley, of course, had voted for the attack on Afghanistan. He was wrong; Lee was right. But he got the job. Things ended better for me. The Doors and Hendrix and The Dead and all those bands I booked at my school before they were “big,” got big. I wound up the president of what they called “a major label”– and was well-rewarded for being right then and right about punk rock in the late ’70s when other record company executives were laughing at it and behaving just like Joe Crowley. Is the Democratic Party doomed? Absolutely… just useless. How could anyone even think about voting for a Democrat– not just a bottom of the barrel Democrat like Wendy Greuel, but even the best the Democratic Party has to offer, like Ted Lieu– when there’s an independent alternative along the lines of Bernie Sanders. This is from an OpEd yesterday by Marianne Williamson, the independent progressive running for the CA-33 seat Henry Waxman is abandoning.

The fact that a few self-appointed arbiters of who-gets-to-run-and-who-gets-to-play – whether in the area of politics, education, economics or anything else – know they have it in the bag because they hang out with others in the same gang, and they own the system, and they control the media, and they go to the same dinner parties, does not mean that we cannot disenthrall ourselves of their mental filter. And that is all, I assure you, that keeps the lock in place. It is not their money, or even their connections, that makes them masters of our universe. It is the simple fact that we are not laughing at them, but are lining up for their approval instead.

So regardless of whether or not you agree with my political vision, plan to vote for me or support my candidacy, I hope you will join me in recognizing that something is fundamentally wrong when any group of people, including any political party, thinks it’s theirs to decide who will be taken seriously, who will have a shot at power, and who will be considered a viable candidate.

That is not their job. That is your job. And if you do agree with my politics and you do wish to see me in office, I hope you will write more of your friends to tell them about my candidacy than you might have; post my website more times on your social media than you might have; and give a couple more bucks to the campaign than you might have. We’re trying to penetrate a system here, and it is dense. It is energetic. And it is not amused by free thinkers.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 5th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


A quick show of hands: How many of you out there would let “Dr. Gates” so much as look at, let alone touch, your tonsils?

“This combination of elfish charm and sub-par performance goes back a long way.

– Jonathan Alter, in “The Wars Robert
Gates Got Wrong
,” on newyorker.com

by Ken

As we prepare to talk again about Robert “Sling-Bob” Gates, the former director of Central Intelligence and (under both R and D prezzes) secretary of defense, we should perhaps do a quick-refresher quiz on the circumstances under which Sling-Bob made his return to gummint service in 2006, as successor to term-and-a-half Bush-regime Defense Secretary Donald “O Yeah? You and Who Else Is Gonna Indict Me?” Rumsfeld.

A DWT QUIZ: BACK WHEN SLING-BOB
REPLACED OLD RUMMY AS SECDEF . . .

Let’s say that, hypothetically, you have just been named to a job that was until recently infested by Donald “O Yeah? You and Who Else Is Gonna Indict Me?” Rumsfeld. Perhaps a job more or less like secretary of defense. The general response to your appointment, even if nothing more is known about you, is most likely to be:

(a) “We’re sure going to miss Old Rummy.”

(b) “Sure, Old Rummy was a pain in the butt, but we have to hope the new guy keeps all those splendid reforms he made at the Pentagon.”

(c) “Look, Rummy’s a close personal friend, but as long as the new guy isn’t a known crackhead, he’s a step up. I wouldn’t put Old Rummy in charge of a school bake sale.”

(d) “Ding-dong, Old Rummy’s gone!”

ANSWER: Wouldn’t you like to know?

A couple of weeks into the hubbub over the advance publicity about the terible things that Sling-Bob says in his new book about President Obama and Vice President Biden (and at least in the advance publicity no one else, though apparently there are other folks who have bad things said about them in the actual book), I raised the question: “Why on earth would anyone pay any attention to Village hack Bob Gates? (Just ’cause he wrote some crummy book?)” And I suggested that a lot of the “respect” accorded Sling-Bob’s performance as defense secretary had to do with his being the ”Unrummy.”

Among other pungent things the highly respected Sling-Bob says, you’ll surely recall, is that Vice President Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades wrong about every foreign-policy issue of the last 40 years.”To which I would have thought the obvious response would be: “Boy, that butt-covering Sling-Bob sure is full of shit!”

That’s even without factoring in the important reminder I cited from people who are more au courant than myself with the ins and outs of Sling-Bob’s career. This would be his utter and complete fucking up of the most important question he ever faced in his many long decades of earnest public résumé-building: his savagely scornful dismissal of that Mikhail Gorbachev character as anything new or different in the way of Kremlin leadership. Sling-Bob’s sliming emphatically enclosed those nutjob analysts who were saying that — get this! — the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse! (Now stop your laughing, boys and girls. Who could have known?)

In approaching Jonathan Alter’s reporting, I always try to keep in mind how well plugged in JA is to the hearts and minds of Village people (who are not to be confused with the Village People, who at least provided a modicum of entertainment). So when Jonathan tells us that Sling-Bob is beloved of Village people of both the R and D (but especially the R) varieties, that he “was not a kiss-ass but one of the shrewdest public servants of his generation,” well, it’s a highly Village-compatible rendering.

To which we need to quickly add a reminder that popularity among Village people rarely has much to do with competence. For our Jonathan, it “helps to explain why [Sling-Bob's] many failures and missed calls have been all but air-brushed out of accounts of his career.” Jonathan goes so far as to suggest that the famous “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades” judgment, “as it happens . . . applies rather precisely to Gates himself.”

“On first impression,” says Jonathan, “Gates is unprepossessing: someone who worked closely with him compared his appearance to ‘the guy at P. C. Richards who sold microwave ovens.’ “

But upon his return to government in 2006, after a thirteen-year absence, colleagues and even people who had never met him began to think of him as oracular. His nickname in the Obama Administration was “Yoda.” Cabinet colleagues, especially Hillary Clinton, who sought peace between State and Defense, listened to him with the ear-cupped deference of actors in the old ad for E. F. Hutton. And yet Gates’s experience and wisdom failed to prevent the biggest breach between the President and the military since the Korean War. On Afghanistan, the most internally contentious national-security issue of his tenure, he failed to perform one of the most important parts of his job.

This combination of elfish charm and sub-par performance goes back a long way. Gates was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-nineteen eighties, arguably the worst scandal since Watergate. At the time, he was deputy director of the C.I.A. under William Casey and admitted, in an earlier book, “From the Shadows,” that, having been “dealt a lousy hand by the president and Congress, the Agency played it amazingly stupidly.” That’s putting it mildly. It was under Casey and Gates that the politicizing of intelligence that would prove so ruinous two decades later, in the Iraq War, began. The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, didn’t prosecute Gates but, due to his deep involvement in the fiasco (including his faulty memory of when he learned of the arms-for-hostages deal), the Senate forced Gates to withdraw his nomination for C.I.A. director in 1987. “Did I do enough? Could I have done more?” he asks in “From the Shadows.” He answers yes: “I gave myself a C-.”

Such winning self-effacement has consistently helped endear Gates to Presidents; four years later, President George H. W. Bush, a good friend, renominated him. Gates got the big job at the C.I.A., but his judgment on the big issues didn’t improve. He had received his Ph.D. for studying the Soviet Union, but he managed to miss the signs of its impending demise, calling Mikhail Gorbachev a “phony” and discounting his reforms as meaningless. Whether this was because Gates, a self-described hawk, was too dug into his Cold War views or because he listened too uncritically to misguided C.I.A. analysts — or some combination — remains unclear.

The third monumental foreign-policy issue of the last thirty years was the Iraq War. Gates was out of government, in 2003, when George W. Bush decided to go to war, but he acknowledges that he fully supported it. Biden supported the war, too, though at least Biden later admitted that he had been wrong. The conventional wisdom is that Gates, by now back in government, was right to support the 2006 surge in Iraq (and Biden wrong to oppose it), though many analysts now argue about whether it was really the increase in U.S. troops that brought down the level of violence.

President Obama made many of the right decisions — moving more quickly than some commanders like to end the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on gays in the military; trimming the defense budget; and raiding Osama bin Laden’s compound — over the objections of his Defense Secretary. On Afghanistan, Obama accepted large parts of Gates’s compromise; a surge of thirty thousand troops split the difference between Biden’s “counter-terrorism” plan (which featured drones strikes, special forces, and many fewer troops than the Pentagon wanted) and the “counter-insurgency” strategy, which called for forty thousand more troops and many years of nation building, and was favored by General Stanley McChrystal, most other top commanders, and Hillary Clinton. In “Duty,” Gates explains at length how he served as broker amid an extremely complex set of policy choices. Right call? Maybe. But in a chapter entitled “A House Divided” he details bitter and personal divisions between the military and the White House over Afghanistan that can hardly be construed as success for a man who was in a position to prevent, or at least ease, them.

Before Obama made his decision about the surge, the Pentagon tried to box him in. McChrystal, the field commander, issued a report, which Gates reveals was leaked to Bob Woodward by McChrystal’s staff, saying a ten-year counterinsurgency commitment, costing nearly one trillion dollars, was the only way to go. The general then turned insubordinate after a speech in London, telling the audience that he couldn’t support the policy if the President decided in favor of a counter-terrorism plan to use drones and special forces instead of a large contingent of troops of the sort favored by Joe Biden. (McChrystal apologized for that comment and was fired the following year after he and his staff trashed Biden and others to Michael Hastings, a writer for Rolling Stone). The London comments came not long after General David Petraeus, then the head of all military operations in the region, told a conservative columnist that “it won’t work if we don’t” send a lot more forces. As if that weren’t enough, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that many more troops were needed in Afghanistan.

Gates issued a public statement advising military commanders to give their advice to the President in private, not in public, but Obama was not mollified. The Commander-in-Chief was “livid,” Gates writes. “Is it lack of respect for me?” Obama asked. Was it because he was young and hadn’t served in the military? I learned, when I was researching my book, “The Promise: President Obama, Year One,” that Obama dressed down the brass more sharply than any President had since Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. The President was so angry that when I interviewed him on-the-record later that fall and asked if he felt publicly “jammed” by the Pentagon before he made his Afghanistan decision, he replied, “I neither confirm nor deny that I’ve gotten jammed” — an extraordinary comment for an American President to make about his own administration. Gates writes that he was “seething inside” when Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, complained about the jamming. “I said that if there had been a strategy to do that, they [the brass] sure as hell wouldn’t have been so obvious,” Gates writes.

This is Gates propping up a straw man. Just because it wasn’t a “Seven Days in May” scenario, with officers plotting a military coup, doesn’t mean that the military wasn’t trying to manipulate the President. They were upset that Obama didn’t automatically accept their recommendations, as Bush had. “The Pentagon was used to getting what it wanted,” Obama told me at the time. When it didn’t, bad feelings arose. “A wall was going up between the military and the president,” Gates writes.

In assessing his own mistakes in Afghanistan, Gates notes that his biggest was failing to ride herd over the Marines who, for inter-service turf reasons, initially deployed en masse to the Helmand Province, where many died, instead of to more populous regions, where their efforts would have been better aligned with the overall mission. Reports about Gates’s book, though, have made it seem as if Obama’s expression of ambivalence about his Afghanistan decision was somehow a strike against him. In truth, any thoughtful President should have reservations and second thoughts about many decisions, especially one at odds with his campaign promise to emphasize nation building at home.

Gates has some complimentary things to say about the President (especially regarding his analytical rigor and his treatment of veterans), but he admits that his anger sometimes clouded his judgment. When Obama, at Biden’s suggestion, cast his decision on beginning a withdrawal from Afghanistan, in July of 2011, as a direct order (so that the military couldn’t drag its feet), Gates felt insulted. He considered the order unnecessary, unprecedented, and a reflection of how much the White House misunderstood military culture. Only when it came time to write the book did he gain perspective. “My anger and frustration with the White House staff during the process led me to become more protective of the military and a stronger advocate for its position than I should have been,” Gates writes. “All of us at the senior-most level did not serve the president well in this process. Our ‘team of rivals’ let personal feelings and distrust cloud our perceptions and recommendations.”

Gates reports no serious disagreements between the Pentagon and the White House on China, Russia, North Korea, the Middle East, terrorism, or Iran. We won’t know for years if the lack of discord on those other national-security issues will improve the batting average of a Secretary of Defense who has set himself up nicely to be overrated by history. We do know that Gates’s position on Afghanistan — the one eventually adopted by the President — ended up being, in his own words, “pretty close” to Joe Biden’s.

#
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Posted by DownWithTyranny on January 1st, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

We’ve written about Buck McKeon’s Drone Caucus– they call it the Unmanned Systems Caucus– before. It’s little more than a way of exchanging bribes from drones makers for voters from some of Congresses sleaziest and most contemptible members. And, of course, like most Beltway bribery schemes, it’s bipartisan. McKeon’s co-chairman is George Bush’s favorite Democrat, Blue Dog Henry Cuellar. Other Democrats on the take in this particular scheme are Hawaii’s most corrupt politician, Colleen Hanabusa (New Dem), Bob Brady (the Philadelphia Machine boss), André Carson (New Dem-IN), Joe Courtney (New Dem-CT), Gene Green (TX), Gerald Connolly (New Dem-VA), William Keating (MA), and, of course, Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog/New Dem-CA). So 8 crooked Democrats and 37 warmongers from the GOP, from notorious criminals like Darrell Issa (R-CA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) to low level vote sellers like Joe Wilson (R-SC), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Joe Heck (R-NV), Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK) and Trent Franks (R-AZ).

Over the weekend, Heather Linebaugh, a former employee of the U.S. drone program, penned an article for The Guardian which makes the point that not only is the public in the dark, but so are most of our elected officials. Remember when you read this, though, that corrupt careerists like McKeon, Forbes, Hanabusa and Cuellar don’t give a rat’s ass about any of this as long as the Military Industrial Complex continues to finance their disgraceful careers and helps enrich their families.

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.

I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs. These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us.

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

It’s also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analysing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life– at home and abroad– will continue.

It’s tricky defunding this by refusing to pay your taxes. But refusing to contribute the politicians who push this program is a much better idea. Good way to start: help Senator Brian Schatz defeat a right-wing primary challenge from corrupt, drone-crazed Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic primary in Hawaii.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on December 22nd, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Thursday night, just before midnight, the Senate approved the Pentagon Budget 84-15. Disappointingly, only three Senate Democrats had the guts to vote NO, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. In the video above, Bernie explains to his colleagues why had decided to vote against it. It’s worth watching. The only Republicans who voted against it are just the regular extremists who oppose everything that Obama backs, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Tom Coburn, etc. In his speech Bernie quoted from President Eisenhower’s “Cross of Iron” speech on April 16, 1953.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.



This world in arms in not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.



The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.



It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. 

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.



It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.



We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.



We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.



This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.



This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.



These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

Sixty years later, the mess Eisenhower warned us about has only gotten worse– much, much, much worse. And as Bernie told his colleagues, “At a time when the United States has a $17.2 trillion national debt and when we spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at the waste, cost overruns and financial mismanagement that have plagued the huge Defense Department for years. The situation is so absurd that the Pentagon is unable to even account for how it spends its money. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office cited its inability to audit the Pentagon. They wrote that they were unable to do a comprehensive financial analysis due to ‘serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements un-auditable.’ I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges. At a time, however, when the country has a $17.2 trillion national debt and is struggling with huge unmet needs, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money,” Sanders said.

Senator Merkley emphasized that his vote against the budget was primarily because of the funding it includes for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan. “The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history and it’s long past time to bring our sons and daughters home,” he said in a statement Friday morning a few hours after the late night roll call. “The administration is negotiating a pact with Afghanistan that would commit massive resources and thousands of troops to another decade in Afghanistan. I don’t think that makes sense, and I think the American people should be able to weigh in and Congress should vote before we proceed. A House provision requiring Congressional approval for another decade in Afghanistan was stripped from the Defense Authorization, and the Senate never had a chance to vote on my similar amendment. I voted no on the Defense Authorization because Congress needs to have a say before we extend our commitment in Afghanistan.”

I’m very proud that Merkley and Sanders did the right thing and voted against this monstrosity. Merkley is running for reelection this cycle and Sanders is keeping his options open for a presidential run if all the candidates running are, as widely expected, pathetic tools. The links on their names give you the opportunity to contribute to their respective campaigns.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on December 18th, 2013

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

A key reason that many Americans are turned off by politics is that they don’t experience news sportscasters who are on their side. The average American, if she read the New York Times, would feel like a Chicagoan watching the Cubs game on St. Louis TV. Her team hits a home run and the sportscaster is melancholy. Her team strikes out and the sportscaster does a dance. Who wouldn’t be turned off?

The day after the budget deal, we should have had a National Day of Gloating Over Wall Street because Social Security once again evaded the knives of the Wall Street greedheads. The day after the U.S. didn’t bomb Syria, we should have had a National Day of Gloating Over AIPAC and the Neocons. But the U.S. news media was so sad! No Social Security cuts. No new war. What is America coming to?

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 29th, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Primitive man developed some relatively sophisticated social mechanisms to enforce male dominance over primitive women. Patriarchal religion was the biggie, of course, but even before than, ritualized violence worked wonders in establishing who the boss was and who was subservient. Stoning, later embraced by patriarchal religions– at least ’til Jesus came along with a forward-thinking perspective.

In 1969 I went to Afghanistan for the first time. I recall writing back to my friends and family in America that it felt more like a journey in time than a journey in space. Especially outside of Kabul, there wasn’t much that reminded me of the 20th Century. I spent a winter in a tiny hamlet in the Hindu Kush where no one recognized a country called Afghanistan, where no one had ever heard of the U.S., where no one knew how to read of write or speak the language (Farsi) people spoke in Kabul, and where no one had ever experienced electricity or had an idea of manned flight– let alone that the U.S. was landing a man on the moon that year.

While I was there, my friend, whose family compound I was living in, got married. I went to the wedding, of course– it was in the compound– but I never met or even saw his wife. No women were allowed at the wedding and no males were allowed to see the wife until after she had a baby– which was long after I was back in Kabul. In another Afghan town I stayed in, Ghazni, between Kandahar and Kabul down south, college pals of mine were Peace Corp volunteers. The wife told me that the Afghan women’s vocabulary was so limited that they couldn’t even conceive of the kinds or social progress mankind had made in the last 10 or so centuries. Their vocabulary was sufficient for serving the needs of men; that’s it.

I was in Afghanistan twice and spent nearly a year there all told. I travelled around the country in my VW van at first and then, when I realized there were no roads in our sense of what a road it in most of the country, on horseback. Thank God I never saw a stoning. And thank God almost everyone I met was kind, generous, friendly and courteous. The Afs had awesome senses of humor and, at least in the dealings I had with them, a very live-and-let-live approach.

Several decades later the U.S. had occupied their devastated country. Progressives wanted that to end– or at least most progressives did. I recall getting into a lively debate with some progressive congresswomen and progressive women candidates who felt strongly that the U.S. should “save” Afghanistan’s women from repression. I was dumbfounded. These were really smart women I was talking with. The U.S. military– and mercenaries– occupying Afghanistan were also going to change the country’s codes of behavior which had been set in stone long before the first Europeans set foot in North America and… started changing the mores here?


Last week the American puppet government announced that they were reintroducing stoning as a mechanism to keep women in their place. The beautifully named Ministry of Justice, was, in fact, drawing up a draft law that specified that stoning for adultery would be done in public, the way it was in the Taliban days. There was an uproar in Washington and the puppet government rolled its collective eyes and said, basically, “just kidding.” Karzai said it was all a big misunderstanding and that stoning would not be brought back as part of the legal system. Can we bring our troops home now?

The president, Hamid Karzai, said in an interview that the grim penalty, which became a symbol of Taliban brutality when the group were in power, would not be coming back.

“It is not correct. The minister of justice has rejected it,” he told Radio Free Europe, days after the UK minister Justine Greening urged him to prevent the penalty becoming law.

Afghanistan’s penal code dates back over three decades. The government is drawing up a new one to unify fragmented rules and cover crimes missed out when the last version was written, such as money laundering, and offences that did not even exist at the time, such as internet crimes.

The justice minister presiding over the reform is an outspoken conservative who last year denounced the country’s handful of shelters for battered women as brothels.

As part of the process, a committee tasked with looking at sharia law came up with draft legislation that would have condemned married adulterers to the slow and gruesome death; unmarried people who had sex would be flogged.

But after several days of silence in the face of growing international outcry, the justice ministry said in a statement that although stoning had been proposed it would not appear in the new legislation because there was “no need to regulate the issue.”

The country’s penal code already encompasses sharia law, but some controversial aspects of traditional punishments such as stoning have never been put on the books in Afghanistan.

“The legality of the crime and punishment is fully addressed and there is no need to regulate the issue in the new code. So, the ministry of justice does not intend to regulate it in the new draft code,” the statement said.

Rights groups who first highlighted the draft law warned that although the government’s quashing of the proposal was good news, its emergence in the first place was a sign of how fragile gains in human rights over the last decade had been, particularly for women.

Although stoning is listed as a punishment for adulterers of both sexes, in countries where it has been used in recent years women have often appeared on the execution ground alone.

As foreign troops head home before a 2014 deadline for the end of combat action in Afghanistan, and political attention fades with it, many activists fear that years of painstaking progress are at risk of being swept away.

Don’t watch this:

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 25th, 2013

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Apparently, President Obama didn’t really mean “complete,” at least not in the sense anyone ever uses that word, when he said the transition out of Afghanistan would be complete by the end of 2014. As Maddow reported– in the video below– the plan is to have “an enduring presence in Afghanistan even after the war is technically over.” And that means U.S. troops, not to mention billions of taxpayer dollars sinking into that blackbox hellhole. With the help of Richard Engel, Maddow started getting the word out that there are plans to formalize an agreement to prolong some sort of U.S. occupation for years and years and years into the future. Engel: “What is clear when you see a draft of this document is that U.S. officials and Afghan officials, behind closed doors, have been very hard at work hammering out a detailed agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay here– that in fact would require an enduring U.S. presence for decades– or at least a decade or more.”

Can can watch Engel discussing his scoop with Maddow below or read about it here. One takeaway is that “Afghan negotiators want a long-term U.S. presence, with U.S. forces and contractors providing intelligence, training and funding, but also to keep American forces as confined as possible. It shows Afghans want to keep their U.S. partners, but on their terms. It also suggests the United States is not confident that without a long-term commitment, the Afghan government can bring stability or effectively fight terrorism.”

The 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is a sweeping document, vague in places, highly specific in others, defining everything from the types of future missions U.S. troops would be allowed to conduct in Afghanistan, to the use of radios and the taxation of American soldiers and contractors.

The bilateral security agreement will be debated this week in Kabul by around 2,500 village elders, academics and officials in a traditional Loya Jirga. While the Loya Jirga is strictly consultative, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he won’t sign it without the Jirga’s approval.

…Taken as a whole, the document describes a basic U.S.-Afghan exchange. Afghanistan would allow Washington to operate military bases to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda after the current mission ends in 2014. For that foothold in this volatile mountain region wedged between Pakistan and Iran, the United States would agree to sustain and equip Afghanistan’s large security force, which the government in Kabul currently cannot afford. The deal, according to the text, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and “shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond.” It could be terminated by either Washington or Kabul with two years advance written notice.

There is however what U.S. officials believe is a contradiction in the July draft, which would effectively ask American troops to provide training and confront al-Qaeda from the confines of bases. While it says operations against al-Qaeda may be necessary, it also says US troops will not be allowed to make arrests or enter Afghan homes.

“No detention or arrest shall be carried out by the United States forces. The United States forces shall not search any homes or other real estate properties,” it says.

“[The contradiction] was a matter of serious consternation at the highest levels” of the Obama administration over the weekend, according to one senior defense official. “It is the one remaining issue that could ultimately kill the deal.” However, US officials believe that in a more recent draft, which was circulated among key Pentagon officials and US lawmakers on Monday, the US has won its position on this point.

Yesterday, The Economist says the deal in harder than it should be because of haggling, apparently unaware that haggling, even more than fighting, is the Afghan national pass-time. The Afs want to extract as much money as they can from the U.S. taxpayer– as does the American Military-Industrial Complex.

Some in Congress aren’t just sitting around scratching their asses. On the Senate side, “a bipartisan group of senators– led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon– is trying to pump the brakes. They have a simple principle: before President Obama agrees to another decade of war, he should consult Congress and the American people.” Fighting alongside Merkely on this: Rand Paul, Joe Manchin, Mike Lee and Ron Wyden and the 5 of them have co-sponsored an amendment to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act that expresses a sense of the Senate that Obama should seek congressional approval no later than June 1, 2014, for any extended presence in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and CPC Co-Chairs Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) released the following statement in response to Engel’s revelations:

“The possibility of a military presence into 2024 is unacceptable. There is no military solution in Afghanistan. After 13 years and more than $778 billion invested in an unstable country and the corrupt Karzai government, it’s time to bring our troops and tax dollars home. The American people have had enough of the endless, open-ended war. It is time to focus on bringing our brave men and women in uniform home and transition to full Afghan control,” said Congresswoman Lee.

“Many of us, myself included, applauded President Obama for making the right decision to bring our troops home from Iraq after a very expensive decade of war,” Rep. Grijalva said. “Our troops have been in Afghanistan even longer, and the right decision there is even clearer. We can’t keep spending money and risking American lives into the indefinite future, especially not with such a clear need to invest here at home. History will not look kindly on us if we choose to keep funding a war without end through a major domestic economic crisis. We should bring everyone home and start the rebuilding process here in the United States,” said Congressman Grijalva.

“Congress should decide any future role for the United States in Afghanistan,” Rep. Ellison said. “The American people expect U.S. forces to be out of the country by the end of 2014 because that’s been our policy. We should not participate in a costly war in Afghanistan indefinitely, especially when budget cuts are kicking kids out of Head Start and slashing food assistance for working families and veterans. The House has already passed an amendment requiring Congressional approval for a policy change on Afghanistan and I urge the Senate to pass a similar amendment introduced by Senator Merkley.”

The CPC has long opposed unlimited involvement in Afghanistan. Our men and women in uniform deserve to come home, and the Afghan people deserve a new approach to our relationship that emphasizes humanitarian aid and capacity-building rather than focusing, as we have done in the past, almost exclusively on military objectives.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on November 3rd, 2013

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

In mid-November, the Christian Science Monitor reports, a loya jirga in Afghanistan – a national meeting of tribal leaders and other notable Afghans – will vote on whether to meet the Obama administration’s terms for keeping U.S. troops in the country beyond the end of 2014.

If you care about democracy in Afghanistan, you should be happy for the Afghans. Whether or not – and if so, under what conditions – they want to have thousands of U.S. troops in their country after 2014 is obviously a very big deal for them. Why shouldn’t they have full deliberation and debate?

But if you also care about democracy in the United States, you should be a bit troubled. Because Congress has never approved keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.

The closest Congress has come to considering this question is in language passed by the House in June, 2013. Offered by Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, this language – which passed the House 305-121, with a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voting yes- said [my emphasis]:

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on September 19th, 2013

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

In international diplomacy, gestures matter. This is particularly true for efforts to promote real diplomacy between the United States and Iran.

For three decades, the United States has mostly pursued an "Iran cooties" policy. We can’t meet with Iranian leaders, because someone might interpret that to mean that we think that the Iranian government is "legitimate." OMG! We might get Iran cooties!

It sounds ridiculous, and it is. And it has a real cost in human lives. Because of the "Iran cooties" policy, it’s harder to use diplomacy to help end wars in the Middle East, like the Syrian civil war, or the war in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, President Obama has a historic opportunity to end the "Iran cooties" policy. Iran’s newly-elected, pragmatic, pro-diplomacy President Hassan Rouhani is going to be addressing the United Nations General Assembly. So is U.S. President Barack Obama.

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