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Archive for April, 2010

Posted by Josh Mull on April 21st, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Do you know someone in California? Have they seen this?

California’s economy is in a tailspin. One in 5 Californians is out of work. Over three quarters of a million have lost their homes. Desperately needed social services have been cut to the bone. Yet residents of our state continue to pay for a senseless war in Afghanistan that’s not making us safer – a war that has cost California taxpayers nearly $38 billion already.

OK, hold on a minute. $38 billion for war? Just from California? Take a look at California’s financial situation:

Jaws dropped from coast to coast at the size of [California's] $26.3 billion shortfall, a quarter of the general fund. Even more astounding was state leaders’ difficulty in reaching a budget deal—not just this year, but year after year. With its repeated use of borrowing and IOUs, the Golden State has become the poster child for fiscal irresponsibility.

That’s right, their apocalyptic budget crisis is actually much less than they’re spending on the war in Afghanistan. $26 billion for the budget vs $38 billion for war. And what do they actually get for that money? It’s not like it’s way better to live in California thanks to the war. In fact, it’s actually getting much, much worse. (more…)

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Posted by Peace Action West on April 20th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

A new bill just hit Congress that demands a clear, unequivocal end of the war in Afghanistan. With your help we’ve been laying the groundwork for legislation like this. We can’t stop now.

Please click here to ask your representative and senators to cosponsor the new McGovern/Feingold bill calling for a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Last week, people around the country flooded Congress with phone calls for a better approach in Afghanistan. Thank you to everyone who made a call last week, for helping set the stage for this major push for legislation that allows us to hold Congress accountable to ending this tragic war.

The evidence that the war in Afghanistan is a catastrophe just keeps piling up. Despite General McChrystal’s efforts to reduce civilian deaths, we just learned that so far this year the number of civilians killed by NATO has more than doubled.  This includes a botched raid where special operations forces killed 5 innocent civilians, including two pregnant mothers, and then tried to cover it up. Just last week, troops fired into a bus full of civilians, killing as many as five people and causing a firestorm of protest.  The Obama administration wants to add another $33 billion to escalate this war and put more Americans in harm’s way. How is more of this destruction going to be better? We need a new way. Click here to urge your representatives and senators to support a clear end date for this war.

This new bill, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), would require the president to present Congress with an exit strategy by the beginning of next year, and report to Congress every 90 days on implementing the strategy.

We need your help to get a strong showing to end the war. The word about this effort is getting out in the news. We need to make sure the final story is that opposition to the war in Congress is only getting stronger. Please take action today.

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Posted by Josh Mull on April 20th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

It’s April 20th, the unofficial holiday of 420. It’s that special day of the year when stoners around the world decide that discretion is not the better part of valor and liberally advertise their use of marijuana. Accordingly, we’ll try to rethink Afghanistan from that angle, and be completely honest about its marijuana use. Today is the perfect day after all, when you have reports like this in the Asia Times:

In addition to being the world’s leading producer of opium, Afghanistan has now become the largest producer of hashish, according to the first-ever cannabis survey released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this month. Again, the US invasion is behind the new record.

The 2009 Afghanistan Cannabis Survey revealed that there is large-scale cannabis cultivation in half (17 out of 34) of Afghanistan’s provinces, covering a total area of 10,000 to 24,000 hectares every year (lower than opium cultivation, which covers 125,000 hectares). Afghanistan’s crop yield is so high at 145 kilograms of resin per hectare that it overtakes other leading producers like Morocco, where cannabis covers a larger land area but whose yield is lower, at 40 kg/ha.

It is estimated that Afghanistan produces 1,500-3,500 tons of hashish annually, an industry involving 40,000 households. The total export value of Afghan hashish is still unknown, but its farm-gate value – the income paid to farmers – is estimated at about US$40-$95 million, roughly 15% that of opium ($438 million in 2009).

Now because of all the COINdinista mythology that’s been beaten into your head, you probably think I’m going to rant about the drug trade supporting the insurgency and the international criminal-terrorism nexus and all that scary sounding stuff. Not true. The Taliban get their funding from a myriad of sources; Ransoms, charities, and even a formalized taxation system on the local economies. That is, if they’re not running the local businesses themselves. We could incinerate every last iota of opium and cannabis in the entire country and all we’d do is bankrupt and starve the farmers. The insurgency wouldn’t even blink, they’d be too busy recruiting those farmers. No, if we want to talk about drugs and Afghanistan, we’ve got to look at our allies in the war. (more…)

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Posted by Zack Kaldveer on April 20th, 2010

Cross-posted at The California Progress Report.

California is on life support. Families are reeling from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The state’s social safety net – and the life sustaining services it provides – is needed now more than ever. But due to massive and ongoing budget deficits, rather than strengthening programs that are in such high demand – from health care to education to assistance to the poor – we are dismantling them.

To adequately and humanely address the economic pain felt by too many Californians and prevent the recession from deepening, new revenues are desperately needed. One proposal that hasn’t received deserved attention, but critical to our long-term economic health, is ending the War in Afghanistan and bringing the troops, and the billions in military funding, home (Click here to read my complete “White Paper”).

An Economy on Life Support

The depth of the crisis faced by California screams out from the cold hard data. Over one in five Californians are unemployed, underemployed, or have simply given up searching for work. Nearly another one in five lives in poverty. Low-income workers fortunate to have a job have seen their wages decline since 2006 – with middle income worker salaries remaining stagnant. 8.2 million Californians – up from 6.4 million in 2007 – lack health coverage.

Doors will slam shut this year on as many as 35,000 applicants to the California State University system. Both university systems approved 20% tuition and fee hikes since the start of 2009 – and UC Regents has just approved an additional 30% hike this year – ending too many students dreams of a higher education, and burdening too many more with high interest debt.

The news for educators is no better. More than 23,000 teachers recently received “pink slips”, unlikely to return to the classroom next fall.

Over three-quarters of a million California families were ousted from their homes in 2008 and 2009. The Center for Responsible Lending projects another 2 million foreclosures through 2012 – with nearby homes losing an average of over $50,000 in value. 2.4 million California borrowers – 35 percent of all properties with a mortgage – are currently under water (e.g. owe more on their home than it’s currently worth). By 2011, that number will increase to nearly 70 percent of homeowners.

Slashing Services When They’re Needed Most

As Californians depend on core public programs in increasing numbers and need – from the state’s welfare-to-work program (CalWORKS) to In-Home State Services to the Healthy Families Program – the state’s ongoing budget shortfalls have lead to draconian cuts in the very services that have functioned as a lifeline for millions and prevented a more pronounced economic collapse.

And the worst is still to come. Because California is the only state in the country that requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature to pass a budget and raise revenues, the current $19.9 billion deficit will be almost entirely closed by even deeper program cuts. Targeted proposals to raise new revenues will receive typical short thrift (i.e. extraction tax on Big Oil, repealing recent corporate tax breaks, reforming Prop 13, etc.) from the legislature due to the state’s anti-democratic budget rules.

While no final agreement has been reached, the human devastation wrought by the Governor’s proposed budget would be grim and sobering. Schools would be shuttered, disabled Californians denied care, senior and local government services decimated, and children stripped of their health coverage. If budgets are truly a reflection of our shared values, then there’s got to be another way.

The Costs of War

For eight long years – twice the time it took the US to defeat the Axis Powers in World War II – the war in Afghanistan has drained our nation’s resources at a time we have none to spare. America has spent over $250 billion on this war since 2001 – with California taxpayers picking up $37.9 billion of that tab.

The National Priorities Project (NPP) – a nonpartisan non-profit that analyzes how our tax dollars are spent – estimates that once the additional 30,000 troops are included America will spend over $100 billion on the war this year alone. Meanwhile, California has gone from contributing an annual low of $1.8 billion in 2004, to $7 billion last year, to an estimated $9.2 billion in 2010.

Alternatives to War Spending

Consider these stark examples of misplaced priorities: The cost of 1 soldier for 1 year in Afghanistan is $1 million; while the cost of college tuition at a California State University is $9,285. The cost of a single anti-tank missile in Afghanistan is $85,000; while the cost of providing 1 year of college books and supplies is $1,608 (average fees). And the cost of 1 predator drone in Afghanistan is $4.5 million; while 1 full Pell Grant for a college student in California is $5,350.

Or imagine if the $37.9 billion California contributed to the war had been spent on expanding health care, improving education, or increasing our energy independence? According to NPP – for one year – we could have provided funding for any one of the following:

•    15.6 million people with health care;
•    5.7 million scholarships and 7 million Pell Grants for university students;
•    4.5 million Head Start placements for children;
•    500,000 new elementary school teachers;
•    676,649 public safety officers;
•    535,058 music and arts teachers;
•    113,373 affordable housing units;
•    And 67.4 million homes with renewable electricity.

Every California city tells its own story of misused taxpayer dollars. San Francisco has contributed $1 billion to the war in Afghanistan – enough to provide 3,023 affordable housing units and 8,042 public safety officers. Los Angeles contributed $3.2 billion – enough to provide 1.2 million children with health care.

But instead of embracing fiscal sanity, we are doubling down on fiscal madness. According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, over the next ten years the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could total $2.4 trillion, or nearly $8,000 per American man, woman and child.

Financial considerations aren’t the only reason to support bringing the troops home. Namely, this war doesn’t make us safer. For every bomb we drop and every innocent civilian killed insurgent forces and terrorist networks gain new recruits weary of an American occupation.

According to government estimates, less than 100 Al Qaeda members even reside in Afghanistan. If the purpose of the war was to avenge 9/11 and root out “the terrorists” – as advertised – then our mission has been accomplished.

And what of the tragic loss of life and unimaginable human tragedy that inevitably accompanies war? American casualties doubled in 2009, with the total killed in Afghanistan approaching 1000. 541 Californians have been wounded or killed there – the next closest state is Texas at 462.

Thousands more Americans have been physically maimed, dismembered, and disabled, with even more suffering permanent psychological and emotional scars, only to return home to a country with a weakened and underfunded social safety net facing annual budget assaults.

According to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed surpassed 2,400, the most lethal year yet. Untold more Afghans continue to suffer physical and emotional torment matched only by the severity of the perpetual economic hardship and warfare that has become a daily nightmare.

But if there is a single, compelling argument for ending the war that all Californians should be able to rally around it’s that we simply can’t afford it. It’s time to spend what little resources we have on alleviating human suffering here at home, rather than perpetuating it in Afghanistan.

It’s time to change our priorities. It’s time to choose life.

Choosing Life: End the War and Invest in California

Warnings from past American icons are worth reconsidering. The late Five-Star General, and Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower forewarned, “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 not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…”

Just a few years later, a young minister and Nobel Peace Prize winning human rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., implored, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

We would do well to heed their words today. Foreclosing on our future to fund an endless occupation on the other side of the world shouldn’t be confused with “national defense”. It’s time to end the war, bring the troops home, and invest those resources on the health and well being of the citizens of California.

Read the full white paper here.

Watch the video:

Zack Kaldveer is the Communications Director of the Consumer Federation of California, a non-profit advocacy organization. Since 1960 CFC has testified before the California legislature annually on dozens of bills that affect millions of consumers. The above “White Paper” is one component of a project that CFC and Brave New Films have teamed up on. Zack also authors the blog Privacy Revolt.

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Posted by on April 19th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Remember Obama promising torture would end on his watch? Well:

Afghan prisoners are being abused in a "secret jail" at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented.

The abuses are all said to have taken place since US President Barack Obama was elected, promising to end torture.

…The prisoners, who were interviewed separately, all told very similar stories. Most of them said they had been beaten by American soldiers at the point of arrest before being taken to the prison.

Mirwais had half a row of teeth missing, which he said was from being struck with the butt of a gun by an American soldier.

No-one said they were visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross during their detention at the site, and they all said that their families did not know where they were.

In the small concrete cells, the prisoners said, a light was on all the time. They said they could not tell if it was night or day and described this as very disturbing.

Mirwais said he was made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet.

The US military has denied any such secret site exists, but you know the value of US military denials in Afghanistan. They tend to progress from "we deny everything" through "oops, you have proof?" to "here's two sheep."

Amnesty International has issued a statement:

The disturbing report by the BBC that a secret detention facility is still operating at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and that inmates are being subjected to abusive treatment that far exceeds the limits set in President Obama's January 2009 Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations demonstrates all too vividly that the United States cannot so easily turn the page on the torture and other abuses unleashed as part of the global war on terror.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA's Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights, said: "Executive orders and prohibitions are meaningless unless they are backed up by the full force of law. The failure of the Obama administration to prosecute any of the individuals responsible for the abuses that were committed under the previous administration contributes to a culture of impunity in which abuses of the sort alleged by the BBC can flourish.

"This is the moment of truth for the Obama administration. The treatment and activities outlined in the BBC report, if true, would constitute criminal offenses under both U.S. and international law. Amnesty International is calling on President Obama to launch an immediate investigation into the BBC's allegations. If there is any substance to these reports administration officials should ensure that any individuals associated with the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody are brought to justice."

However, it seems to me that a real investigation of this abuse is about as likely as a real investigation of those who ordered and carried out similiar abuses during Bush's reign. It's just so not going to happen.

This, folks, is where "let's just look forward" gets you. Back to square one.

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Posted by Josh Mull on April 19th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of the most enduring criticisms of Citizen Journalism is that, because it is done by amateurs, it doesn’t have any editorial standards and is therefor not credible. I know from my own experience with The Uptake and Small World News, this is simply not true. At The Uptake, for instance, citizen journalists are subject to intense editorial guidance by fellow journalists and veteran, professional mentors, ranging from how to organize and coordinate a digital newsroom to how to maintain one’s journalistic integrity and ethical standards. Nevertheless critics of citizen journalism still have a few bad apples to hold up as examples. One of these is Mayhill Fowler, formerly with the Huffington Post’s OffTheBus program.

Fowler was responsible for some of the 2008 campaign’s most serious and urgent policy debates, like “Does Barack Obama think some people in Pennsylvania are bitter?” and “Hey, I wonder what Bill Clinton thinks about that dude from Vanity Fair.” In addition to these claims-to-fame being ridiculous and juvenile, both times she apparently violated journalistic ethics (although I’m much more open minded about the former than I am the latter). But beyond her ethical vertigo, she also has a propensity for violating one of the first and most obvious rules of citizen journalism: write what you know. She’s even proud of it, titling her book “Notes From a Clueless Journalist: Media, Bias and the Great Election of 2008.”

Now, it’s never a good sign when the title of your own book says you have no idea what you’re talking about, and then lists a bunch of things you’re about to talk about. But let’s be honest, she’s really just an average hyperpartisan blogger, abusing the tools of new media and convinced that the mainstream media is bias purely because they won’t talk about blank, with blank usually being some obscure, ludicrous conspiracy theory. Think Michelle Malkin. As long as Fowler wants to blog about pathetic and weird topics like President Clinton’s sex life, we can just ignore her. People use the internet to peddle all manners of smut and garbage, who am I to tell her she can’t report on political gossip? But when Fowler turns her focus from gossip to serious policy, her flagrant idiocy ceases to be irrelevant and becomes not only deeply offensive, but very, very dangerous. (more…)

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Posted by alexthurston on April 19th, 2010

This article originally appeared at

It all began in Afghanistan (the War on Terror, of course).  It was there as well that, in late 2001, the Bush administration first “took the gloves off,” a phrase its top officials then loved to use.  So the first torture and abuse of prisoners, including the use of dogs to intimidate, took place there and only then migrated to Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.  By 2004, the U.S. was already operating approximately two dozen off-the-grid prisons in Afghanistan and a report in the British Guardian could speak of the U.S. prison system there as “the hub of a global network of detention centers.” It included a notorious CIA-run secret Afghan prison nicknamed “the Salt Pit.” The first killing of prisoners by Americans occurred at our prison at Bagram Air Base, the huge former Soviet base that became a focus of American military activities.  One of the nastier spots on the planet for many years, Bagram was, as Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place, Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, has termed it, “the missing prison” (at a time when all attention was focused on Guantanamo).  It remains George W. Bush’s unmentioned living legacy to Barack Obama.

Bagram itself theoretically cleaned up its act — with $60 million invested in a full-scale facelift in 2009 and so, as Anand Gopal reported at TomDispatch, “the mistreatment of prisoners [in Afghanistan] began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites,” a series of prison “holding areas” on U.S. military bases around the country.  To this day, the U.S. still operates a remarkably extensive, essentially off-the-grid prison system there.  It’s not completely clear who is in all of these prisons, and reports are not encouraging.  The BBC, for instance, recently found nine witnesses it considered credible who were ready to testify to abuse — in the period since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office — at a secret prison nicknamed “the Black Hole,” also at Bagram.  (“The U.S. military has denied the existence of a secret detention site and promised to look into allegations.”)

Even more ominously, the first reports have appeared in the U.S. press indicating that the Obama administration may once again actually expand the use of Bagram to include the interrogation and incarceration for indefinite periods of new prisoners, wherever taken, in the Global War on Terror, whatever it may now be called, and is actually drawing up classified guidelines to that effect.  As Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and a TomDispatch regular, indicates, Bagram could turn out to be only one of two future American Guantanamos.  Yes, we can!  (By the way, check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which Greenberg discusses the quagmire of U.S. detention practices by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

Obama’s “Remainees”
Will Not One But Two Guantanamos Define the American Future?
By Karen J. Greenberg

On his first day in office, President Barack Obama promised that he would close the Bush-era prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “as soon as practicable” and “no later than one year from the date of this order.” The announcement was met with relief, even joy, by those, like me, who had opposed the very existence of Guantanamo on the grounds that it represented a legal black hole where the distinction between guilt and innocence had been obliterated, respect for the rule of law was mocked, and the rights of prisoners were dismissed out of hand. We should have known better.

By now, it’s painfully obvious that the rejoicing, like the president’s can-do optimism, was wildly premature. To the dismay of many, that year milestone passed, barely noticed, months ago.  As yet there is no sign that the notorious eight-year-old detention facility is close to a shut down.  Worse yet, there is evidence that, when it finally is closed, it will be replaced by two Guantanamos — one in Illinois and the other in Afghanistan.  With that, this president will have committed himself in a new way to the previous president’s “long war” and the illegal principles on which it floundered, especially the idea of “preventive detention.”

Guantanamo in Illinois

For those who have been following events at Guantanamo for years, perhaps this should have come as no surprise. We knew just how difficult it would be to walk the system backwards toward extinction, as did many of the former lawyer-critics of Guantanamo who joined the Obama administration.  The fact is: once a distorted system has been set in stone, the only way to correct it is to end the distortion that started it: indefinite detention.

As of today, here’s the Guantanamo situation and its obdurate math.   One hundred eighty-three detainees remain incarcerated there.  Perhaps we should call them “remainees.” According to the estimates of the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force set up by Attorney General Eric Holder, about half of them will be released sooner or later and returned to their homelands or handed over to other “host” countries.  They will then join approximately 600 former Guantanamo inmates released from custody since 2002. Another thirty-five or so remainees will be put on trial, according to reports on the task force’s recommendations and, assumedly, convicted in either civilian courts or by military commissions. For the remaining 50 or so — those for whom evidence convincing enough for trial and conviction is absent, but who are nonetheless deemed by the president to constitute a threat to the nation — the legal future is dim, even if the threat assessment which keeps them behind bars has nothing to do with normal American legalities.

Some of these long-term remainees may, in fact, have been jihadists at the time they were rounded up.  Given the years of incarceration and the conditions they experienced, many more of the remainees may have been radicalized in Guantanamo itself, and might now seek to harm the U.S. or its citizens.  In addition, half of them originally came from Yemen, a country unstable enough that, on return, some might indeed be recruited by forces intent on doing the U.S. harm.  Although, in defiance of the warnings of its right-wing critics, the Obama administration did return six remainees to Yemen at the end of 2009, the Christmas Day bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab only ratcheted up concerns about possible radicalization and training there.  There have been no further transfers to Yemen since then.

So what is an administration that has made a firm promise and encountered an obstacle-laden, politically charged reality to do? If you take seriously the plans that this administration has been floating, the answer is simple: close down Guantanamo by putting in play two other Guantanamos (lacking the poisonous name) — one on American soil and one in Afghanistan, one future-oriented and sure to prove problematic, the other reeking of past disasters.

At some future date, the Obama administration has announced plans to move those Guantanamo detainees who are neither tried nor released to the still-to-be-refurbished Thomson Correctional Facility in Thomson, Illinois — “Gitmo North,” as it’s been dubbed by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  Plans to relocate at least some detainees to a prison in the U.S. surfaced last summer. The idea has since encountered Congressional resistance on the grounds of safety and security, heightened by outsized American fears that such prisoners have Lex Luthor-like powers and that al-Qaeda has the capability to attack any non-military prison holding them.  The administration, however, is still pursuing the Thomson plan.

McConnell and other Republicans may be using the “Gitmo” label to stoke American fears of terrorism on our soil, but they are not wrong in another sense.  A jail holding uncharged and untried remainees for the foreseeable future — or even a remainee who has been tried and acquitted — will indeed be “Gitmo,” whatever it’s official name and whatever happens to the prison in Cuba. In July 2009, in fact, the strikingly un-American idea of a presidentially imposed post-acquittal detention was first suggested by Jeh Johnson, the current General Counsel for the Department of Defense, as one possible fate for a dangerous detainee whom a deluded jury (or a jury deprived of torture-induced confessions) might free.  In this scenario, such a remainee, like those never brought to trial, would potentially remain under lock and key until the end of hostilities in the “long war,” itself imagined as at least a generational affair.

Guantanamo in Afghanistan

In other words, what’s being proposed is the moving of a (renamed) Guantanamo, body and soul, to the United States.  That’s already a dismal prospect, but hardly the end of the line when it comes to post-Guantanamo thinking for this administration.  In fact, a new idea has emerged recently.  Last month, according to the Los Angeles Times, the White House hinted that the administration was contemplating using the already existing prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as yet another replacement for Guantanamo — apparently for housing future prisoners in what is no longer officially termed the Global War on Terror.

Were this to happen, it would be a squaring of the circle, a strange return to the origins of it all.  Bagram was, notoriously enough, the place where, in 2001-2002, many of the prisoners who ended up at Guantanamo were first held (and often badly mistreated).  Perhaps my mind has simply taken a cynical turn, but I can’t help wondering whether the administration might someday simply dump some of the Guantanamo remainees there as well.  Then, we would be grimly back where George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror began.  The “advantage” of Bagram, of course, is simple enough: prisoners on an American military base in distant Afghanistan might not be subject to the same levels of scrutiny or legal “meddling” (as the supporters of the Guantanamo process like to term it) as in Cuba or the United States — all those habeas challenges and challenges to military commissions that have, in eight years, convicted only three detainees (only one of whom still remains in custody), and all those human rights concerns.

There are indications that, in considering the re-use of Bagram as a parking lot for “the worst of the worst,” Obama administration officials remain remarkably blind to the history they are threatening to repeat.  Evidently they don’t grasp the obvious parallels between Guantanamo and Bagram.  Nevertheless, the language they are wielding has begun to sound eerily familiar.  Last month, for instance, a senior Pentagon official was quoted saying that the idea of reinvigorating Bagram as a holding facility for such prisoners might not be the ideal solution, but was the “least bad” choice. How similar that sounds to the words former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld applied to Guantanamo Bay when he announced its opening in 2002. It was, he acknowledged almost apologetically, the “least worst place.”

If a two-prison solution were to go into effect, that would mean President Obama had fully accepted the Bush administration’s notion of a generational global battlefield against terror.  After all, that’s what underlay Gitmo from the beginning and that’s what would underlie a rejuvenated Bagram as well. In theory, there could be a workable solution lurking somewhere in all this murky planning, if it were undergirded with actual legal definitions; if, in the case of Thomson, the Illinois facility-to-be, the prisoners placed there were first charged, tried, and convicted; and if, in the case of Bagram, anyone placed there was declared a prisoner of war, or given some legally recognized status according to the laws of war or the Geneva Conventions. But as of now, it looks like both facilities will instead offer an endorsement of so-called preventive detention.

The administration’s disingenuousness on this point is overwhelming. On the one hand, we are told that the terms “war on terror” and “enemy combatants” are history and that Guantanamo will soon join them. But Guantanamo was never purely a place in Cuba. What made it so wrong was the system of indefinite detention that lay at its core and that continues to defy the rule of law as defined by the U.S. Constitution, U.S. military law, and the international conventions that this country has signed onto.

Closing Guantanamo does not simply mean emptying the prison cells at that naval base and throwing away the keys. It means ending the policy that has become synonymous with Guantanamo — of incarcerating individuals without the need to prove their guilt, and without a clear and recognizable process for determining the grounds for their detention.

Faced with opposition in Congress and in public sentiment generally, the Obama administration increasingly seems focused on ending not the conceptual nightmare we call Guantanamo, but the irritating problem that Guantanamo represents.  Unfortunately, as this administration will learn to its regret, there is no closing Guantanamo if preventive detention continues.

In reality, a two-Guantanamo policy is likely to prove an unwieldy disaster and will hardly lead the country out of the quagmire of incarceration that the Bush administration mired us in.  In the end, that quagmire is not legal (though the legal issues it raises are fundamental), nor political (though it may look that way from Capitol Hill): it’s psychological.  And there is only one way to escape from it: end once and for all the notion of preventive detention by placing firm and unbending confidence in our military, our intelligence agencies, and our system of justice to identify enemies, prosecute those whom they can, and abide by the laws of war for prisoners of war.

Perhaps it’s also time for us to accept life in a world of imperfect security. It may sound harsh, but not nearly as soul-defeating as the idea that not one, but two Guantanamos, will define the American future.

Karen J. Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, among other works. To listen to the latest TomCast audio interview in which Greenberg discusses the quagmire of U.S. detention practices, click here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Karen J. Greenberg

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Posted by on April 18th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

From the Telegraph:

While the conflict has been a running political theme for the last five years, it has barely been mentioned as an issue during the first two weeks of the general election campaign.

An opinion poll yesterday showed that more than three-quarters of voters support the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

The Com Res poll found that 77 per cent wanted troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, while more than half thought that the presence of troops there put British streets at greater risk from terrorism.

Meanwhile, the three main parties have been squabbling over whether Brown's government provided enough equipment to British troops involved in this mis-conceived occupation. Has there ever been a clearer example of democracy NOT working in the UK?

Still, the Torygraph hints that Nick Clegg might be about to stir up the anthill.

Last summer, during the bloodiest period of the conflict when seven British soldiers lost their lives in seven days during Operation Panther’s Claw, Mr Clegg became the first party leader to break the consensus on the mission in Afghanistan.

He warned that young lives were being “thrown away,” and, while he said that the Liberal Democrats still supported British involvement in the conflict, he urged the Government to think again about the tactics “before it’s too late.”

The party’s manifesto says that Liberal Democrats are “critical supporters” of the Afghanistan campaign.

Clegg should listen to the people and turn his party into critical NON-supporters of the Afghan occupation.

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Posted by Peace Action West on April 17th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

The news today that the number of NATO induced civilian casualties have actually doubled this year in spite of a reduction in the use of air strikes is a terrible reminder of the humanitarian cost of the war in Afghanistan. But it also underlies one of the most fundamental strategic failings of the operation, the unavoidable damage made against any war effort that comes from unavoidable harm to innocents.

For every civilian that dies in Afghanistan, we are shoved back one step further away from “winning” the war. This is a truism that even General Stanley McChrystal realized last July when he issued a directive limiting the use of the “close air support” strikes that, among other things, have been responsible for some of the most highly publicized instances of NATO induced civilian casualties

The operation in Marja has been an experiment in that strange counterinsurgency mix of battle and public relations which, as I argued previously, illustrates the absurdity of the approach. When most of the fighting was over, 28 civilians had been killed and thousands were displaced. Worse, the Taliban presence remains strong in Marja, two months since the operation first began.

But there is nothing wrong with the premise of McChrystal’s argument – that what Afghans think of the US determines the extent to which the US can be helpful in Afghanistan. McChrystal has correctly identified civilian casualties as not only “a legal and moral issue” but also “an overarching operational issue – clear eyed recognition that loss of popular support will be decisive to either side in this struggle. The Taliban cannot militarily defeat us – but we can defeat ourselves.” However a fundamental flaw of the US winning hearts and minds strategy (WHAM) is that because the Taliban are tightly woven into the fabric of Afghan society, no matter how carefully we wage the war against them, innocent civilians will be hurt and we will continue to work against ourselves. And that’s why we need a wholely different approach in Afghanistan.

Nothing undermines popular support in Afghanistan more than killing innocents. Some 1000 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009 alone, according to a UN report. Each death takes a considerable toll on the Afghan populace, not only emotionally, but also economically, because families who have lost their breadwinners cannot support themselves. Moreover, no matter what US or NATO forces offer these families in compensation, the dead cannot be brought back to life. In turn, discontent with civilian casualties often manifests itself to the detriment of US and NATO strategic interests, in several ways.

First, civilian casualties directly fuel insurgency recruiting and violence by undermining trust and breeding anger. In turn, civilians become more amenable to Taliban demands and less likely to resist attempts at intimidation. This often happens not because civilians support the insurgents or their cause, but because they feel like they have no other choice. The situation is probably best described in this New York Times Op-ed by David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency advisor to Gen. Petraeus, with regards to the effect civilians casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan have on trust in NATO forces.

Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood. If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars? Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police? And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly? Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.

Kilcullen goes on to argue that situation with airstrikes is the same: Apache rockets kill too indiscriminately and can’t protect civilians effectively without putting them in the crosshairs too.

Moreover, because collateral damage also destroys livelihoods and retards development,  desperate Afghans become more likely to join the Taliban, again, because they have no choice. Each errant missile strike becomes a propoganda coup for insurgents, and fuels months of escalated violence, an effect that has been observed in a study by the US army, according to General Stanley McChrystal. “‘When we cause [civilian casualties], they generate a serious uptick in violence for up to five months,’ [McChrystal] said. ‘When the Taliban causes them, they generate an uptick in violence for about three months.’”

Second, civilian casualties also lead to political ramifications within Afghanistan and among our allies. Because of the wide spread and highly publicized nature of civilian casualties in the country, collateral damage has become a sticking point in relations with the Afghan government. Moreover, it undermines the legitimacy of the central government in the eyes of the people. According to the Economist, discontent with civilian casualties was one of the biggest issues on people’s minds during last year’s elections and it continues to find expression in public protests.

Civilian casualties of the fighting, of which there have been over 1,000 this year, are another source of resentment—and another motive for the insurgency in Pushtun society, where vengeance is justice. Nearly 60% of these deaths were in fact caused by the Taliban and allied Pushtun militants, through their increasing use of terrorist tactics, including over 90 suicide-blasts in Afghanistan this year. But misdirected American air strikes, which have many times destroyed wedding-parties and sleeping villagers in Afghanistan are the main focus for Afghan rage. Acknowledging this, Hamid Karzai, the president, on the campaign trial has often been critical of foreign troops.

Further, civilian casualties have also begun to strain our relations with NATO allies. In Germany, for example, a NATO airstrike that resulted in the death of 30 civilians embroiled the government there in controversy, and led to the resignation of the defense minister. All this hinders efforts for future cooperation and impairs the deployment of nationally organized and locally manned civilian forces, such as police.

It’s true that the Taliban, through the indiscriminate use of suicide attacks and human shields, are responsible for more civilian casualties than US and NATO forces, and that they are unpopular with a majority of the population, according to a Human Rights Watch report. But the US receives most of the blame for civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in part because of the Taliban’s underdog status. In an interview for Human Rights Watch report, one farmer said, “people hoped the US would come and release them from the violence of the Taliban but all the US does is attack us … The US only blames the Taliban, but the US has the technology.” The Afghan people cannot understand why the United States, with all its resources, cannot avoid the slaughter of innocents. Nor can we.

Instead of following the Taliban’s example, we should learn from their mistakes and use their negligence to our strategic advantage. But the way to do this is not through a military escalation, as President Obama has proposed, because the use of force would only increase the number of civilians caught in the crossfire. The more intense and widespread the fighting, the greater the chance that a badly targeted bomb or bullet will harm innocents. Even McChrystal’s efforts to limit the use of air strikes and other tactics especially harmful to civilians, while laudable, has only had limited success, according to a UN report. In 2009, for example, the number of civilians killed by airstrikes still amounted to 61% of civilian deaths by pro-government forces, totaling 359. As a whole, pro-government forces were only able to reduce their share of the responsibility for civilian casualties to 25% from 28% a year ago. The absolute number of deaths reduced were greater, at 596 deaths in 2009 from 828 in 2010, but it is the relative distribution of responsibility that, in the Afghan public’s mind determines the blame. Moreover, as the number of operations have increased this year, total civilian casualties have increased proportionately.

The way out of this quandary is to adopt a less bloody alternative that does not rely on the use of force, but on civilian and local solutions. In fact, we outline such a strategy here. It’s only when the President recognizes the absurdity of trying to reduce civilian casualties using violent means that we will really be able to claim that we are working to protect civilians in Afghanistan. Perhaps then, finally, we will be able to say that we are succeeding in Afghanistan.

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Posted by on April 16th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Not to say we told you so, but…

Deaths of Afghan civilians by NATO troops have more than doubled this year, NATO statistics show, jeopardizing a U.S. campaign to win over the local population by protecting them against insurgent attacks.

NATO troops accidentally killed 72 civilians in the first three months of 2010, up from 29 in the same period in 2009, according to figures the International Security Assistance Force gave USA TODAY.

Even COIN cheerleaders like Spencer Ackerman see the problem, as McChrystal prepares to start his offensive in Kandahar over local objections. Spencer today:

If Afghan civilians are seeing ISAF troops more and more, and they’re also seeing ISAF troops kill more of their countrymen, then the resultant embitterment is likely to compound, not diminish.

But it has always been the case that more troops in Afghanistan mean more civilian casualties. That was one of the primary arguments against McChrystal's surge when it was proposed last summer.

Will this lead to a rethink by the misguided and conned of their reliance on COIN myths for a strategy? I doubt it.

UPDATE: I was right, there'll be no rethink. But Matt Yglesias nails it:

 if civilian deaths are bad and if increases in civilian deaths are being driven by increases in our operational tempo, then maybe we should reconsider the wisdom of a situation in which it “will increase again this year, owing from Marja and soon Kandahar.” If war is so bad, and inevitably leads to the deaths of innocents, and we want to avoid the deaths of innocents, then shouldn’t we maybe consider not doing this instead of just feeling really sad when it ends up leading to the deaths of innocent people? That’s all I’m saying.

In that respect, it's worth reading this piece at the WaPo in which Eugene Robinson talks to veteran author on Afghanistan, Sebastian Junger about the US withdrawal from the Korengal Valley, where the result has been "five years and 42 lives for three miles of terrain". Junger says:

"The Korengal Valley is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off"

Leaving Robinson wondering:

"How many more will die before we leave the country? And what will we have accomplished?"

That's the question, right enough. I wish those 72 civilians, and all the other dead in Afghanistan, could be given an answer that didn't involve military budget games and Imperial hubris.

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