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Archive for February, 2011

Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 17th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Michael Cohen has a good post today looking at what the Raymond Davis affair tells us about America's relationship with supposed key ally Pakistan in the "War on Terror", and gives us a precis of the true state of play.

 shall we catalog for a moment all the ways in which Pakistan is not just a lousy ally, but is actually undermining US interests.

1) Is home to Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda lieutenants (and has been for 9 years) and has made little effort to deal with the issue.

2) Is home to terrorist training camps like one where the Times Square bomber was trained – and also has made little effort to deal with that issue.

3) Is actively supporting an insurgent group in Afghanistan that is killing US soldiers on a regular basis.

4) Provides safe haven to that same insurgency and even after repeated US demands/requests/inducements has offered no indication they are willing end its support for these groups.

5) Has created a diplomatic incident with the United States over the arrest of a protected US diplomat.

Does this sound like the behavior of a country that is interested in a strategic partnership with the United States?

Now granted I understand that it can be a long and drawn-out process of improving relations, but after 9 years shouldn't it be obvious that the United States has made virtually no progress in turning Pakistan into a true strategic ally of the United States….no matter how many sharp sticks they put in the eye of the United States there will be little to no consequences because we need Pakistan a lot more than they need us. How many more pieces of evidence do we need before it becomes abundantly clear that Pakistan is not interested in doing anything to help the US that would even slighly undermine Pakistan's own interests? 

It's a drum I've beaten more than once myself. But I'd like to develop the idea further than Mike does. He tweets that the most obvious effect would be to stop expecting what we do in Afghanistan to have any effect whatsoever on Pakistan's behaviour. That's certainly true – leading anyone with even half a brain to conclude that a far smaller Afghan presence, something like Austin Long's work on a CT strategy, would be a better bet – if not outright and complete withdrawal.

But if Pakistan is not now and never will be a true ally of the US, as seems obvious, then that has further policy ramifications than just what we do next in Afghanistan. Should we be looking at a policy of containment for Pakistan, accepting it as a de facto enemy, rather than smoozing Pakistani leaders with aid that gets redirected to private coffers and military shiny-toys that are immediately aimed at India? Should we be cancelling Kerry-Lugar and F-16s paid for by loans funded by US taxpayers and instead imposing sanctions, telling Pakistan's decent people that they're on their own until they do something about their entrenched military and feudal elites? Should we accept that Pakistan is already in China's orbit vis-a-vis the new Cold War that hawks on both sides think is already being waged? Should the US be unequivocally supporting India as a flourishing democratic voice in the region?

These are all questions that follow unavoidably from the realization that "the United States has made virtually no progress in turning Pakistan into a true strategic ally of the United States", yet few in the US foreign policy set seem prepared to ask, let alone answer them.

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Posted by alexthurston on February 17th, 2011

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch

Cutting $100 Billion?… Easy
If Only Washington Had a Brain

By Tom Engelhardt

Here’s the latest news from Congress, in case you’ve been in Afghanistan for the last couple of weeks.  A debate about slashing the federal budget is now upon us, while fears of a possible government shutdown as spring approaches are on the rise.  The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives originally picked $40 billion as its target figure for cuts to the as-yet-not-enacted 2011 budget. That was the gauntlet it threw down to the Obama administration, only to find its own proposal slashed to bits by the freshman class of that body’s conservative majority.

They insisted on adhering to a Republican Pledge to America vow to cut $100 billion from the budget.  With that figure back on the table, Democrats are gasping, while pundits are predicting widespread pain in the land, including the possible loss of at least 70,000 jobs “as government aid to cops, teachers, and research is slashed.”

In the meantime, the Obama administration has hustled its own entry in the cut-and-burn sweepstakes into place, leaving Democrats again gasping.  Its plan calls for ending or trimming more than 200 federal programs next year.  It also reportedly offers cuts adding up to $1.1 trillion over a decade and puts in place a “five-year freeze on domestic programs [that] would reduce spending in that category to the lowest level, measured against the economy, since President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961.”

It all sounds daunting, and the muttering is only beginning about “entitlement” programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — that have yet to be touched. 

Which reminds me: Didn’t I mention Afghanistan?

If so, how fortunate, because there’s a perfectly obvious path toward that Republican goal of $100 billion.  If we were to embark on it, there would be even more cuts to follow and — believe it or not — they wouldn’t be all that painful, provided we did one small thing: change our thinking about making war.

After all, according to the Pentagon, the cost of the Afghan War in 2012 will be almost $300 million a day or, for all 365 of them, $107.3 billion.  Like anything having to do with American war-fighting, however, such figures regularly turn out to be undercounts.  Other estimates for our yearly war costs there go as high as $120-$160 billion.

And let’s face it, it’s a war worth ending fast.  Almost a decade after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. military is still fruitlessly engaged in possibly the stupidest frontier war in our history, thousands of miles from home in the backlands of the planet.  It’s just the sort of dumb conflict that has, historically, tended to drive declining imperial powers around the bend, just the sort — in the very same country — that helped do in the Soviet Union.  And though news from that war remains remarkably grim, were we by some miracle to win, for hundreds of billions of dollars we would have gained tenuous control over the fifth poorest, second most corrupt, and premier narco-state on the planet.  Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, would undoubtedly still be happily ensconced in the Pakistani tribal border areas with a range of superbly failed states available elsewhere for exploitation.

There’s genuine money to be slashed simply by bringing the troops home, but okay, I hear you.  You live in Washington and you can’t bear to give up that war, lock, stock, and barrel. 

I understand.  Really, I do.  So let’s just pretend that we’re part of that “moderate” and beleaguered House leadership and really only want to go after $40 billion in the 2011 federal budget. 

In that case, here’s an idea! We’ve been training the Afghan military and police forces for almost a decade now, dumping an estimated $29-billion-plus into the endeavor, only to find that, unlike the Taliban, our Afghans generally prefer not to fight and love to desert.  What if the Obama administration were simply to stop the training program?  What if we weren’t to spend the $11.6 billion slated for this year, or the up-to-$12.8 billion being discussed for next year, or the $6 billion or more annually thereafter to create a security force of nearly 400,000 Afghans that we’ll have to pay for into eternity, since the Afghan government is essentially broke?

What if, instead, we went cold turkey on our obsession with training Afghans?  For one thing, you’d promptly wipe out more than a quarter of that $40 billion the House leadership wants cut and many more billions for years to come.  (And that doesn’t even take into account all the saveable American dollars going down the tubes in Afghanistan — a recent report from the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction suggested it adds up to $12 billion for the Afghan Army alone — in graft, corruption, and pure incompetence.)

Think about it this way: Are we actually safer if we get rid of police, firefighters, and teachers here in the U.S., while essentially hiring hordes of police and military personnel to secure Afghanistan?  I suspect you know how most Americans would answer that question.

Dumb Intelligence Runs Rampant

Here’s another way to approach both those $40 billion and $100 billion targets.  Start with the budget for the labyrinthine U.S. Intelligence Community which is officially $80.1 billion.  That, of course, is sure to prove an undercount.  So, just for the heck of it, let’s take a wild guess and assume that the real figure probably edges closer to… $100 billion.

I know, I know, the Republican House majority will never agree to get rid of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, and neither will the Democrats.  They’ll claim that Washington would be blinded by such an act — although it’s no less reasonable to argue that, without the blinders of what we call “intelligence,” which is largely a morass of dead thinking about our world, our leaders might finally be able to see again.  Nonetheless, in the spirit of compromise with a crew that hates the “federal bureaucracy” (until the words “national security” come up), how about cutting back from 17 intelligence outfits to maybe three?  Let’s say, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.

I’ll bet you’re talking an easy $40 to $50 billion dollars in savings right there — and the cost of the job-retraining programs for the out-of-work intelligence analysts and operatives would be minimal by comparison.

According to a Washington Post series, “Top Secret America,” here are just a few of the things that you, the taxpayer, have helped our intelligence bureaucracy do: Produce 50,000 intelligence reports annually; create the sheer redundancy of “51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, [to] track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks”; and, in the category of the monumental (as well as monumentally useless), construct “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work…  since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.”

Take just one example: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency which has 16,000 employees and a “black budget thought to be at least $5 billion per year.” Until now, you may not have known that such a crew was protecting your security, but you’re paying through the nose for its construction spree anyway.  Believe it or not, as Gregg Easterbrook has pointed out, it now has a gleaming new, nearly Pentagon-sized headquarters complex rising in Virginia at the cost of $1.8 billion — almost as expensive, that is, as the Freedom Tower now going up at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

Or let’s check out some smaller, distinctly choppable potatoes. Officially, America’s Iraq War is ending (even if in a Shiite-dominated state allied with Iran).  All American military personnel are, at least theoretically, to leave the country by year’s end.  Whether that happens or not, the Obama administration evidently remains convinced that it’s in our interest to prolong our effort to control that country.  As a result, the planned “civilian” presence left behind to staff the three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar citadel of an “embassy” the U.S. built in downtown Baghdad and various consular outposts will look uncomfortably like a mini-army.

As Wired.com’s Danger Room website put it recently, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq “will become a de facto general of a huge, for-hire army.”  We’re talking about 5,500 mercenaries paid to guard the 17,000 “civilians,” representing various U.S. government agencies and the State Department there.  To guard the Baghdad embassy alone — really a regional command headquarters — there will be 3,650 hired guns under contract for almost $1 billion.  The full complement of heavily armed mercenaries will operate out of “15 different sites… including 3 air hubs, 3 police training centers… and 5 Office of Security Cooperation sites.”

In 2010, USA Today estimated that the cost of operating just the monstrous Baghdad embassy was more than $1.5 billion a year.  God knows what it is now. 

What if the cost-cutters in Washington were to conclude that it was a fruitless task to try to manage the unmanageable (i.e., Iraq) and that, instead of militarizing the State Department, the U.S. should return to the business of diplomacy with a modest embassy and a consulate or two to negotiate deals, discuss matters of common interest, and hand out the odd visa.  That would represent a cost-cutting extravaganza on a small scale.  (And the same could be said for the near billion-dollar “embassy” being built in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the $790 million going into another such embassy and consulates in Afghanistan.)

Deep in the Big Muddy

It’s important to note that none of the potential cost-cutting measures I’ve mentioned touch the big palooka.  I’m talking about the Pentagon budget, a very distinctive “entitlement” program on the American landscape.  Given the news reports on “Pentagon cuts” lately, you might think that the Obama administration is taking a hatchet to the Defense Department’s funds, but think again. As defense analyst Miriam Pemberton wrote recently, “The Pentagon is following the familiar tradition of planning ambitious increases, paring them back, and calling this a cut.”  In fact, at $553 billion, the proposed Pentagon budget for 2012 actually represents a 5% increase over the already stunningly bloated 2011 version of the same.

Keep in mind that U.S. military spending equals that of the next 15 countries combined (most of them allies) and represents 47% of total global military spending.  If Washington’s mindset were different, it wouldn’t be hard to find that $100 billion the Republican House freshmen are looking for in the Pentagon budget alone — quite aside from cuts in supplemental war-fighting funds — and still be the most heavily armed nation on the planet.

And here’s my question to you: Don’t you find it odd that cuts of this potential size are so obviously available and yet, with all the raging and groaning about deficits and budget-cutting, no one who matters seems to focus on such possibilities at all?  To head down this path, Washington would need to make only the smallest of changes: it would have to begin thinking outside the war box for about a minute and 30 seconds.

Our leaders would have to conclude the obvious: that, in these last years, war hasn’t proven the best way to advance American interests.  We would have to decide that real security does not involve fighting permanently in distant lands, pursuing a “war on terror” in 75 countries, or growing the Pentagon (and the weapons-makers that go with it) year after year.

Americans would have to begin to think anew.  That’s all.  The minute we did, our financial situation would look different and for all we know, something like not-war, if not peace, might begin to break out.

Forty years ago, Americans regularly spoke about a war 7,500 miles away in Vietnam as a “quagmire.”  We were, as one protest song of that era went, “waist deep in the Big Muddy.”  Today, Afghanistan, too, looks like a quagmire, but don’t be fooled.  The real quagmire isn’t there; it’s right here in Washington D.C., that capital mythically built on a swamp.

There’s no way that thinking so old and stale, so out-of-date, can begin to take in or react adventurously to a fast-changing world.  Look at Egypt, or China, or Brazil, or India, or Turkey.  There, new thinking and new developments are blooming, but you wouldn’t know it in Washington. 

Neither $553 billion nor $80.1 billion can buy Washington a brain.  Right now, by all evidence, our leaders are still convinced that it’s their job to run the world and fight distant wars until hell freezes over.  They can’t bear to think a new thought, or take a chance, or experiment on anything, or look at our planet in a new way.  At the moment, the evidence indicates that they have the brainpower of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz without that character’s urge for self-improvement, and it’s taking us down.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com.  His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 16th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

I've noted often before that the "happy-talk" coming out of the US military about Afghanistan is more about message massaging the US public than about actual success. Today, three different stories underline just how true that is.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that Afghanistan must address widespread corruption within its financial system before the IMF will green light a $125 million loan which is supposed to kick-start economic development there. Worse, IMF agreement on aid is a prerequisite for several other nations' aid programs, including the UK's – so Afghanistan won't be getting that money either for now. With so many of Afghanistan's elite hip-deep in the Kabul Bank fraud story and other corruption, it's difficult to see how Karzai can live up to the IMF's calls for  "several immediate measures to ensure the stability and future development of the financial system," including prosecuting  "any illegal behavior or fraud" without committing political (and maybe literal) suicide. Fraud is so endemic that up to 80 per cent of international help to Afghanistan is being lost in international and local corruption schemes, according to Pino Arlacchi, the former UN anti-drug and crime chief.

Next: we've also noted, as have others, that the US military's pushing of Afghan security forces recruitment numbers don't add up and don't tell the full story. With desertion rates for recruits running as high as 50%, still-high illiteracy rates and drug use, and widespread corruption, the ANA is a wash as a whole and the ANP is an embarassing failure, according to some analysts. Today, a new report by a UK parliamentary committee says the European Union mission to train the Afghan police is failing.

"We have huge concerns about this mission," said the committee's chairman, Lord Teverson, commenting on the report published on Wednesday.

"It is failing in its stated purpose of building up a civilian policing capability. What the Afghan people need is a police force that can relate to their lives, that can investigate crimes and bring cases to court."

And:

"Let's at least get up to the staffing level that we promised Afghanistan," committee chairman Lord Teverson told Sky News.

"Then may be we have got a chance of fulfilling at least part of the mission.

"If we cannot do that then I think we should even question whether we should be there through to 2013 when the mission is supposed to end."

…The US and Nato training has focussed largely on counter-terrorism and guard work – only the EU mission is involved in teaching old fashioned policing, catching and the prosecution of criminals.

…the Lords' report observes that "great stress is laid by the Nato-led coalition on the number of police, rather than quality (as is also true for army training).

"Training courses tend to be short (six weeks) and emphasise the need to meet numerical targets… Six weeks of training is not enough.

"The huge rate at which trained police very quickly leave the service needs to be recognised – we heard in our evidence of a staff attrition rate, at one point, of 75%."

But there's absolutely no prospect of any EU nation sending more trainers. All have their eyes firmly on the exits, not a greater committment to what they see as a quagmire.

Thus has come General Petraeus' greater reliance on Afghan Local Police (ALP) and  "interim security for critical infrastructure" (ISCI) groups – armed local militias. And that's where the wheels can seriously coming off in the long term, as illustrated by a Guardian report by Jon Boone from Marjah.

the marines have been on an extraordinary hiring binge, with 500 recruited in 30 days. The marines' massive spending power has been critical to attracting recruits – they spend about $500,000 (£312,300) every 10 days on discretionary development programmes and ISCI salaries.

Each fighter receives $150 a month, while the group's leader gets $180 and a "startup" fund of $5,000 to buy weapons. That means the so-called block leaders, who collect the salaries, can get their hands on thousands of dollars every month.

Despite a rigorous vetting process, the ISCI scheme has been hit by problems in Marjah with armed groups fighting against each other, the Afghan security forces and the marines.

In a case regarded as particularly disturbing by local authorities, a commander illegally arrested and beat a man who had stolen a motorbike. The man's female relatives alleged that they had been mistreated. When police investigated, a fight ensued in which a 15-year-old boy was shot in the head and two ISCI commanders were wounded.

In another case, a drug-fuelled brawl between two ISCI members arguing over a woman led to one man being stabbed with a bayonet and the other shot dead. The killer fled without paying compensation to the dead man's family, leaving two neighbouring groups in a state of simmering antagonism.

There are also fears that Taliban sympathisers have infiltrated some groups, not least after marines were this month engaged in a lengthy firefight with gunmen who later revealed themselves as ISCI by the yellow armbands members have to wear in lieu of a uniform.

[District governor, Abdul] Mutalib is sufficiently unsure of the militias' loyalties that he was horrified when gun-toting ISCI guards turned up to a school opening last week attended by a delegation of US congressmen. Fearing their presence could have turned a photo opportunity into a mass slaughter of VIPs, Mutalib later told Hudspeth: "They are not to be trusted, this must not happen again".

Marjah isn't the success it is being painted by a long chalk, and feuding militias will only multiply the problems there. Yes, Governor Mutalib is a paranoid nutcase (another future problem for any success in Afghanistan is that too many US-backed leaders are not the most stable of chaps)  - but across Afghanistan politicians from Karzai on down are saying the same thing, as are people who remember previous warlordism and see the new militias turning to the old ways.

And finally, also from the Guardian's report, comes a partial explanation of why Petraeus and his staff expect this year to be even more violent than last year, which was the most violent year in Afghanistan since the beginning of the occupation.

Another big risk to Petraeus's priority project will come in the spring when the "fighting season" begins in earnest and the lightly armed militias will become soft targets for Taliban reprisals.

Elders have been alarmed at a recording that has circulated, apparently of a call to prayer broadcast from mosques in the Pakistani city of Quetta, a Taliban sanctuary, calling for jihad against the Marjah arbikai,the traditional tribal defence forces.

Hudspeth fully expects the insurgents to make every effort to assassinate some of the more influential ISCI leaders, as well as to try to mount spectacular attacks on US and Afghan troops, probably with suicide bombers.

"That is a risk we are prepared to take," said Matthew Lesnowicz, a captain who oversees the ISCI forces. "This is a relatively cheap process for us and the pay-off is potentially huge."

Wow. Of course this is a "relatively cheap process" for the US military. Mostly, it's only Afghan's who will die.

I keep wondering what the careerist Saint Pet is up to. The wheels are going to come off the happy-talk bandwagon very soon and he has to know that. Is the Teflon General, so-called because no crap ever seems to stick to him, planning on not being there much longer, despite denials?

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 13th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

Exactly one year ago, on February 13, 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan launched the first major military operations enabled by President Obama's 30,000 troop increase. President Obama and the high priests of counterinsurgency warfare, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, made two major assertions about the escalation, that it would a) enable coalition forces to reverse the insurgents' momentum and b) increase security for the Afghan people. After a year of fighting, neither of those things happened. The escalation is a failure, and it's time to bring our troops home.

February 13, 2010: The Push into Marjah

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, U.S. and other international forces began Operation Moshtarak, the invasion of Marja District in Helmand Province. Looking back, the hubris and hype surrounding this military operation boggle the mind. General McChrystal promised, "We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in," meaning that good governance and the extension of Kabul's writ would be implemented very rapidly. The operation was supposed to be a prototype for future campaigns in Afghanistan and a "confidence builder" for both U.S. forces and a restive political class in Washington, D.C., not all of whom were happy about the escalation or McChrystal's brashness in pushing it.

To put it mildly, Moshtarak failed to live up to the hype:

"[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, the Marines' commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders…offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians."Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2010.

Almost immediately, this hype about an operation purported to be proof-of-concept for the population-protecting counterinsurgency strategy fell apart in the face of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. Just prior to the operation, coalition forces dropped leaflets on the largely illiterate district warning people to stay in their homes. An Italian NGO, Emergeny, warned that military blockades were preventing civilians from fleeing the area. At the same time commanders bragged that the "evacuation" of the residents would allow the use of air strikes without the danger of civilian casualties. These contradictions soon bore deadly fruit: On the second day of the offensive, U.S. troops fired a HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weapon on a house full of civilians, killing roughly a dozen people. By February 23, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that ISAF forces were responsible for most civilian deaths so far in the incursion.

As insurgents melted away (as all guerrillas do in the face of superior firepower — to bide time and return once counter-insurgents are dug in) the "government in a box" hype fell apart as well. The coalition's hand-picked governor, Abdul Zahir, turned out to be an ex-convict who served part of a prison sentence for stabbing his own son. By July, he would be replaced as part of a "reform procedure."

Sending Afghan National Police forces to establish rule of law proved to be a cruel joke on the local residents:

"In the weeks since they were sent to Helmand province as part of the U.S.-led offensive in Marjah, ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out for using drugs and shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on a recent analysis by the RAND Corp. …More than a quarter of the officers in one ANCOP battalion in Helmand were dismissed for drug use, and the rest were sent off for urgent retraining. One Western official who attended the briefing termed ANCOP's role in Marjah a disaster."

As late as October 2010, residents of the town said the area was "more insecure than ever," and Reuters classified the Taliban re-infiltration as a "full-blown insurgency." And, although U.S. commanders want us to believe that the fighting in Marjah is "essentially over" as of December, the numbers tell a different story. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, in Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, the number of attacks by insurgents in spiked from 620 in 2009 to 1387 in 2010, a 124-percent increase [pdf].

A Wider Pattern of Failure

This pattern of hype ("Protecting civilians! Reversing insurgents momentum!") followed by a failure to deliver extended from Marjah to the whole of the escalation strategy across Afghanistan. Even after a month of fighting in Marjah in which U.S. and coalition forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized the offensive in this way on March 8, 2010:

"Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan."

As was the case in Marjah, that broader campaign has utterly failed to protect the people of Afghanistan in terms of the reach of the insurgency, the levels of war-related violence and the number of civilians killed or injured in the conflict.

Although President Obama, General Petraeus and others have repeatedly asserted in public remarks that the U.S. has reversed the insurgents' momentum, reports from the Pentagon and from NGOs agree that the insurgency continued to grow in size and sophistication throughout 2010. By one measure, insurgent-initiated attacks this January are up almost 80 percent from last January. Worse, a new report from Alex Strick von Linschoten and Felix Kuehn at the Center on International Cooperation warns that the U.S. targeted killings of senior Taliban leadership is not only failing to retard the growth of the insurgency, but it's providing opportunities for much more radical junior leaders to take control of the operation, making the Taliban more susceptible to al-Qaeda influence and making the insurgents less willing to negotiate. In short, over the year in which the U.S. was pursuing its escalated military strategy, the insurgency got larger, smarter and more radical.

When testifying to Congress immediately following President Obama's 2009 West Point speech, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen asserted the escalation would "improve security for the Afghan people." The past year proved him wrong. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office's (ANSO) Q4 2010 report [pdf],

"Consistent with the five year trend…attacks by armed opposition groups continue to rise. This year they were 64% higher than 2009, the highest inter‐annual growth rate we have recorded… If averaged, the total of 12,244 armed operations (mostly small arms ambushes, below right) represents roughly 33 attacks per day, every single day of the year. …[T]aking the national data as a whole we consider this indisputable evidence that conditions are deteriorating."

General Petraeus has taken to speaking of "security bubbles" in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, but violence is up in those provinces by 20 percent and 124 percent, respectively, according to ANSO. Security in Afghanistan for Afghan civilians sharply declined in the period following the launch of the escalated military campaign.

This heightened level of insurgent-initiated violence, combined with attacks initiated by U.S. and coalition forces, led to a predictable result: 2010 was the worst year of the war so far for war-related civilian deaths.

President Obama and numerous Pentagon officials asserted that the escalation strategy, which began one year ago with the invasion of Majah, would enable U.S. forces to reverse insurgent momentum and protect the population. They were wrong. Measured by the standards of its backers, the escalation strategy in Afghanistan is a miserable failure.

Because It's Time

Let's have some accountability here. In the leaked strategic assessment that's largely responsible for getting us into this mess, General Stanley McChrystal used dire language to describe the "need" for escalation [pdf]:

"The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

McChrystal wrote those words in late August 2009, under Petraeus' supervision. The insurgency's momentum has not been reversed and security continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan. So let's take the generals at their word when they say we had to reverse insurgent momentum by late August 2010 to have a chance at defeating the insurgency. Let's also take the Pentagon at its word that insurgent "operation capability and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding." That means that today, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military campaign, we're several months past the point of no return. And that's if you bought the analysis of those who thought the escalation was a good idea in the first place.

The American people have been more than patient with Washington, D.C. when it comes to the Afghanistan War. In fact, we've been downright indulgent, having forked over more than $375 billion in tax dollars and debt and having given the Pentagon almost a decade now to play Risk with other people's lives in other people's country. Every deadline that's been laid down has been fudged. Every justification that's been given for just one more big push has fallen apart. Every guarantee of a positive outcome has been junked. We've had enough.

Rethink Afghanistan and our supporters are tired of politicians making excuses for their failure to rein in this debacle, so we're doing a little escalating of our own. Starting on Sunday, February 13, Rethink Afghanistan will have a new ad on CNN in Washington, D.C., featuring the winners of our Because It's Time contest, calling for an end to the Afghanistan War. They represent the voices of the 72 percent of Americans who support congressional action to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The ad buy also coincides with the upcoming reintroduction of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee's Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act in the House of Representatives. These actions send a strong message that we want decisive action from our elected officials to bring our troops home — because it's time.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military strategy in Afghanistan. It's clear from the last 12 months that the escalation strategy is a failure. It's time to come home.

If you're tired of this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 13th, 2011

Exactly one year ago, on February 13, 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan launched the first major military operations enabled by President Obama’s 30,000 troop increase. President Obama and the high priests of counterinsurgency warfare, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, made two major assertions about the escalation, that it would a) enable coalition forces to reverse the insurgents’ momentum and b) increase security for the Afghan people. After a year of fighting, neither of those things happened. The escalation is a failure, and it’s time to bring our troops home.

February 13, 2010: The Push into Marjah

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, U.S. and other international forces began Operation Moshtarak, the invasion of Marja District in Helmand Province. Looking back, the hubris and hype surrounding this military operation boggle the mind. General McChrystal promised, “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in,” meaning that good governance and the extension of Kabul’s writ would be implemented very rapidly. The operation was supposed to be a prototype for future campaigns in Afghanistan and a “confidence builder” for both U.S. forces and a restive political class in Washington, D.C., not all of whom were happy about the escalation or McChrystal’s brashness in pushing it.

To put it mildly, Moshtarak failed to live up to the hype:

“[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, the Marines’ commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders…offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians.”Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2010.

Almost immediately, this hype about an operation purported to be proof-of-concept for the population-protecting counterinsurgency strategy fell apart in the face of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. Just prior to the operation, coalition forces dropped leaflets on the largely illiterate district warning people to stay in their homes. An Italian NGO, Emergeny, warned that military blockades were preventing civilians from fleeing the area. At the same time commanders bragged that the “evacuation” of the residents would allow the use of air strikes without the danger of civilian casualties. These contradictions soon bore deadly fruit: On the second day of the offensive, U.S. troops fired a HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weapon on a house full of civilians, killing roughly a dozen people. By February 23, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that ISAF forces were responsible for most civilian deaths so far in the incursion.

As insurgents melted away (as all guerrillas do in the face of superior firepower–to bide time and return once counter-insurgents are dug in) the “government in a box” hype fell apart as well. The coalition’s hand-picked governor, Abdul Zahir, turned out to be an ex-convict who served part of a prison sentence for stabbing his own son. By July, he would be replaced as part of a “reform procedure.”

Sending Afghan National Police forces to establish rule of law proved to be a cruel joke on the local residents:

“In the weeks since they were sent to Helmand province as part of the U.S.-led offensive in Marjah, ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out for using drugs and shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on a recent analysis by the RAND Corp. …More than a quarter of the officers in one ANCOP battalion in Helmand were dismissed for drug use, and the rest were sent off for urgent retraining. One Western official who attended the briefing termed ANCOP’s role in Marjah a disaster.”

As late as October 2010, residents of the town said the area was “more insecure than ever,” and Reuters classified the Taliban re-infiltration as a “full-blown insurgency.” And, although U.S. commanders want us to believe that the fighting in Marjah is “essentially over” as of December, the numbers tell a different story. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, in Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, the number of attacks by insurgents in spiked from 620 in 2009 to 1387 in 2010, a 124-percent increase (.pdf).
A Wider Pattern of Failure

This pattern of hype (“Protecting civilians! Reversing insurgents momentum!”) followed by a failure to deliver extended from Marjah to the whole of the escalation strategy across Afghanistan. Even after a month of fighting in Marjah in which U.S. and coalition forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized the offensive in this way on March 8, 2010:

“Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan.”

As was the case in Marjah, that broader campaign has utterly failed to protect the people of Afghanistan in terms of the reach of the insurgency, the levels of war-related violence and the number of civilians killed or injured in the conflict.

Although President Obama, General Petraeus and others have repeatedly asserted in public remarks that the U.S. has reversed the insurgents’ momentum, reports from the Pentagon and from NGOs agree that the insurgency continued to grow in size and sophistication throughout 2010. By one measure, insurgent-initiated attacks this January are up almost 80 percent versus last January. Worse, a new report from Alex Strick von Linschoten and Felix Kuehn at the Center on International Cooperation warns that the U.S. targeted killings of senior Taliban leadership is not only failing to retard the growth of the insurgency, but it’s providing opportunities for much more radical junior leaders to take control of the operation, making the Taliban more susceptible to al-Qaeda influence and making the insurgents less willing to negotiate. In short, over the year in which the U.S. was pursuing its escalated military strategy, the insurgency got larger, smarter and more radical.

When testifying to Congress immediately following President Obama’s 2009 West Point speech, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen asserted the escalation would “improve security for the Afghan people.” The past year proved him wrong. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office’s (ANSO) Q4 2010 report (.pdf),

“Consistent with the five year trend…attacks by armed opposition groups continue to rise. This year they were 64% higher than 2009, the highest inter‐annual growth rate we have recorded… If averaged, the total of 12,244 armed operations (mostly small arms ambushes, below right) represents roughly 33 attacks per day, every single day of the year. …[T]aking the national data as a whole we consider this indisputable evidence that conditions are deteriorating.”

General Petraeus has taken to speaking of “security bubbles” in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, but violence is up in those provinces by 20 percent and 124 percent, respectively, according to ANSO. Security in Afghanistan for Afghan civilians sharply declined in the period following the launch of the escalated military campaign.

This heightened level of insurgent-initiated violence, combined with attacks initiated by U.S. and coalition forces, led to a predictable result: 2010 was the worst year of the war so far for war-related civilian deaths.

President Obama and numerous Pentagon officials asserted that the escalation strategy, which began one year ago with the invasion of Majah, would enable U.S. forces to reverse insurgent momentum and protect the population. They were wrong. Measured by the standards of its backers, the escalation strategy in Afghanistan is a miserable failure.

Because It’s Time

Let’s have some accountability here. In the leaked strategic assesment that’s largely responsible for getting us into this mess, General Stanley McChrystal used dire language to describe the “need” for escalation (.pdf):

“The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

McChrystal wrote those words in late August 2009, under Petraeus’ supervision. The insurgency’s momentum has not been reversed and security continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan. So let’s take the generals at their word when they say we had to reverse insurgent momentum by late August 2010 to have a chance at defeating the insurgency. Let’s also take the Pentagon at its word that insurgent “operation capability and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.” That means that today, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military campaign, we’re several months past the point of no return. And that’s if you bought the analysis of those who thought the escalation was a good idea in the first place.

The American people have been more than patient with Washington, D.C. when it comes to the Afghanistan War. In fact, we’ve been downright indulgent, having forked over more than $375 billion in tax dollars and debt and having given the Pentagon almost a decade now to play Risk with other people’s lives in other people’s country. Every deadline that’s been laid down has been fudged. Every justification that’s been given for just one more big push has fallen apart. Every guarantee of a positive outcome has been junked. We’ve had enough.

Rethink Afghanistan and our supporters are tired of politicans’ making excuses for their failure to rein in this debacle, so we’re doing a little escalating of our own. Starting on Sunday, February 13, Rethink Afghanistan will have a new ad on CNN in Washington, D.C., featuring the winners of our Because It’s Time contest, calling for an end to the Afghanistan War. They represent the voices of the 72 percent of Americans who support congressional action to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The ad buy also coincides with the upcoming reintroduction of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee’s Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act in the House of Representatives. These actions send a strong message that we want decisive action from our elected officials to bring our troops home–because it’s time.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military strategy in Afghanistan. It’s clear from the last 12 months that the escalation strategy is a failure. It’s time to come home.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 12th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Feb 13

Deadly Taliban attack on Kandahar strikes police HQ

A Taliban raid on the southern Afghan city of Kandahar has killed 19 people, including 15 policemen, officials say.

Militants armed with suicide bombs, guns and rocket-propelled grenades struck the police headquarters in the city centre around noon.

Explosions shook the area as Afghan security forces battled the attackers for several hours.

Dozens of people were reported injured in the attack on the city, which is the birthplace of the Taliban.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force said besides the 15 policemen, one Afghan intelligence official, one Afghan soldier and two civilians were killed. video at link

At CIA, grave mistakes, then promotions

** Hungry Afghanistan faces prospect of drought in 2011 ~ pic
** US postpones talks with Afghanistan, Pakistan ~ background
** Afghan universities struggling for funding
** RETHINK AFGHANISTAN
** Jones pushes for Afghanistan War end
** US plans route to stability in tribal region

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 10th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Press secretary Robert Gibbs has no idea.

  Q    Secretary Napolitano testified this morning in front of the House committee and said in no uncertain terms that al-Awlaki in Yemen is the clearest threat — terrorist threat to the United States and a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden or anything coming out of Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Are we pursuing a new policy in terms of Yemen?  Does this alter our Afghanistan policy?  If this — if the number one threat to the United States is now Yemen, the question that a lot of Americans may ask is then why is there so many troops in Afghanistan?

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand that one of the reasons why — as you heard the President say in the State of the Union, one of the reasons why the breadth of the type of attack that we saw September 11th of 2001, why that is harder to take place today is because of the fact that in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the leadership of al Qaeda is under the greatest pressure that it has seen since September 11th. 

     Look, we came in and — to be honest, as we had said during the campaign, we did not think the central front for al Qaeda was in Iraq, that we believed it was in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And we shifted our resources accordingly.  Obviously –

     Q    Well, now you guys are saying it’s in Yemen.  Does that mean we shift our resources again?

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, no, no — and I can assure you our cooperation with and our relationship with the government of Yemen is incredibly important in addressing the counterterrorism threat that exists there.

     I think it’s clear that in the past 10 years, as we come up to the anniversary of September 11, 2001, that the threat has evolved, as our response, too, has evolved.  We put greater pressure on Afghanistan and Pakistan — Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have increased our cooperation with counterterrorism exercises with the government of Yemen.

It's certainly not because we're reducing the Taliban threat.

The strength of Taliban insurgents and other anti-government elements estimated to be between 25,000 to 35,000 in the militancy-hit Afghanistan, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said on Wednesday.

And, from last month:

A massive effort by US and NATO forces — including offensives in the insurgent heartland and targeted assassinations of rebel leaders — has failed to dent Taliban numerical strength over the past year, according to military and diplomatic officials.

A NATO official said this week that the alliance estimates the current number of insurgent fighters at up to 25,000, confirming figures provided earlier by several military officers and diplomats.

Joshua Foust writes:

There are no comfortable conclusions to draw from this. Either:

  • We have no idea who’s out there, or in what numbers;
  • The Afghan MOD is lying to justify its expensive troop subsidies;
  • An enormous, expensive build-up in troops has not noticeably diminished the numbers of Taliban (or, in a worst case scenario, created 10,000 more);
  • There was initial success in diminishing the Taliban, but their numbers have grown; or
  • The Taliban are recruiting new people far more quickly than we can reconcile or kill off.

Not a single one of these conclusions bodes well for the war’s prospects.

Gibbs can't really explain why fighting a war in Afghanistan against an ever-regenerating foe has any effect on the AQ leadership in Pakistan, let alone why it helps against what is assessed as the greatest current threat from AQAP. I doubt any other official or general would do a better job. So can we call it a quagmire now?

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Posted by alexthurston on February 10th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch

Why Bradley Manning Is a Patriot, Not a Criminal
An Opening Statement for the Defense of Private Manning

By Chase Madar

Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old from Crescent, Oklahoma, enlisted in the U.S. military in 2007 to give something back to his country and, he hoped, the world.

For the past seven months, Army Private First Class Manning has been held in solitary confinement in the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. Twenty-five thousand other Americans are also in prolonged solitary confinement, but the conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detention have been sufficiently brutal for the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture to announce an investigation.

Pfc. Manning is alleged to have obtained documents, both classified and unclassified, from the Department of Defense and the State Department via the Internet and provided them to WikiLeaks.  (That “alleged” is important because the federal informant who fingered Manning, Adrian Lamo, is a felon convincted of computer-hacking crimes. He was also involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution in the month before he levelled his accusation.  All of this makes him a less than reliable witness.)  At any rate, the records allegedly downloaded by Manning revealed clear instances of war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, widespread torture committed by the Iraqi authorities with the full knowledge of the U.S. military, previously unknown estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed at U.S. military checkpoints, and the massive Iraqi civilian death toll caused by the American invasion.

For bringing to light this critical but long-suppressed information, Pfc. Manning has been treated not as a whistleblower, but as a criminal and a spy.  He is charged with violating not only Army regulations but also the Espionage Act of 1917, making him the fifth American to be charged under the act for leaking classified documents to the media.  A court-martial will likely be convened in the spring or summer.

Politicians have called for Manning’s head, sometimes literally.  And yet a strong legal defense for Pfc. Manning is not difficult to envision.  Despite many remaining questions of fact, a legal defense can already be sketched out.  What follows is an “opening statement” for the defense.  It does not attempt to argue individual points of law in any exhaustive way.  Rather, like any opening statement, it is an overview of the vital legal (and political) issues at stake, intended for an audience of ordinary citizens, not Judge Advocate General lawyers.

After all, it is the court of public opinion that ultimately decides what a government can and cannot get away with, legally or otherwise.

Opening Statement for the Defense of Bradley Manning, Soldier and Patriot

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning has done his duty.  He has witnessed serious violations of the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, violations of the rules in U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, and violations of international law.  He has brought these wrongdoings to light out of a profound sense of duty to his country, as a citizen and a soldier, and his patriotism has cost him dearly.

In 2005, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: “It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member [in Iraq], if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to try to stop it.”  This, in other words, was the obligation of every U.S. service member in Operation Iraqi Freedom; this remains the obligation of every U.S. service member in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  It is a duty that Pfc. Manning has fulfilled.

Who is Pfc. Bradley Manning?  He is a 23-year-old Private First Class in the U.S. Army.  He was raised in Crescent, Oklahoma (population 1,281, according to the last census count).  He enlisted in 2007. “He was basically really into America,” says a hometown friend.  “He was proud of our successes as a country.  He valued our freedom, but probably our economic freedom the most.  I think he saw the U.S. as a force for good in the world.”

When Bradley Manning deployed to Iraq in October 2009, he thought that he’d be helping the Iraqi people build a free society after the long nightmare of Saddam Hussein. What he witnessed firsthand was quite another matter.

He soon found himself helping the Iraqi authorities detain civilians for distributing “anti-Iraqi literature” — which turned out to be an investigative report into financial corruption in their own government entitled “Where does the money go?”  The penalty for this “crime” in Iraq was not a slap on the wrist. Imprisonment and torture, as well as systematic abuse of prisoners, are widespread in the new Iraq. From the military’s own Sigacts (Significant Actions) reports, we have a multitude of credible accounts of Iraqi police and soldiers shooting prisoners, beating them to death, pulling out fingernails or teeth, cutting off fingers, burning with acid, torturing with electric shocks or the use of suffocation, and various kinds of sexual abuse including sodomization with gun barrels and forcing prisoners to perform sexual acts on guards and each other.

Manning had more than adequate reason to be concerned about handing over Iraqi citizens for likely torture simply for producing pamphlets about corruption in a government notorious for its corruptness.

Like any good soldier, Manning immediately took these concerns up the chain of command.  And how did his superiors respond?  His commanding officer told him to “shut up” and get back to rounding up more prisoners for the Iraqi Federal Police to treat however they cared to.

Now, you have already heard what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to say about an American soldier’s duties when confronted with the torture and abuse of prisoners. Ever since our country signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture, it has been the law of our land that handing over prisoners to a body that will torture them is a war crime.  Nevertheless, between early 2009 and August of last year, our military handed over thousands of prisoners to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well what would happen to many of them.   

The next time Pfc. Manning encountered evidence of war crimes, he took a different course of action.

On the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) shared by the Departments of Defense and State Manning soon found irrefutable evidence of possible war crimes, including a now-infamous “Collateral Murder” video in which a U.S. Apache helicopter mowed down some 18 civilians, including two Reuters journalists, on a street in Baghdad on July 12, 2007.  The world has now seen and been shocked by this video which Reuters is alleged to have had in its possession but had not yet made public.  Manning is alleged to have leaked it to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks in April 2010.

Manning also found a video and an official report on American air strikes on the village of Granai in Afghanistan’s Farah Province (also known as “the Granai massacre”). According to the Afghan government, 140 civilians, including women and a large number of children, died in those strikes.  He is alleged to have released that video as part of a tranche of some 92,000 military documents relating to our escalating war in Afghanistan — already the longest war our nation has ever fought — and Pakistan, where the war is steadily spreading.  Manning is also alleged to have released to WikiLeaks some 392,000 documents regarding the Iraq War, many of which relate to the torture of prisoners, as well as some 251,000 State Department cables.

Now, in your judgment of Bradley Manning, please know that the stakes are indeed high, but not in the feverish way our political and media elites have been telling you from nearly every newspaper, channel, and website in the land.  We will want you, a true jury of Manning’s military peers, to ask a few questions about what’s really been going on in this trial — and in this country. After all, when we reward lawyers in the Justice Department who created memos that made torture legal with federal judgeships and regular newspaper columns, while locking lock up a whistle-blowing private, you have to ask: What country are we now living in?

This trial couldn’t be more important or your judgment more crucial.  The honor of our country is very much at stake in how you decide.  When we let the aerial slaughter of civilian noncombatants pass without comment or review, when a reported 92 children die from an American air strike on an Afghan village and 18 civilians are shot dead on a Baghdad street without the slightest accountability, except when it comes to locking up the private who ensured that we would know about these acts — let me repeat — the honor of your country and mine is at stake and at risk.  Not the security of your country, though the prosecution will claim otherwise, but the honor of our country, and especially the honor of our military.

Pfc. Bradley Manning is one soldier who has done his duty.  He has complied with it to the letter.  Now you must do your duty as members of this jury and as soldiers.

Our Whistleblower Laws Protect Pfc. Manning

The prosecution will surely tell you that none of our existing whistleblower protection laws, interpreted narrowly, apply to Bradley Manning.

I say otherwise, and so will the experts we will call to the stand.  You will hear from legal expert Jesselyn Radack, an attorney and former whistleblower who was purged, punished, and then vindicated for her courageous acts of disclosing illegal wrongdoing inside the Bush administration’s Department of Justice.  Ms. Radack will explain to you why and how Bradley Manning is well protected by our current laws.  After all, the Whistleblower Protection Act is designed to protect a government employee who exposes fraud, waste, abuse, or illegality to anyone inside or outside a government agency, including a member of the news media.  This is well supported by case law.  (See Horton v. Dep’t of Navy, 66. F3d 279, 282 (Fed. Cir. 1995)].  Isn’t that exactly what Pfc. Bradley Manning has done?

As a fallback argument, the prosecution is sure to suggest that WikiLeaks is not a real media entity in the way that the New York Times is.  Any one of you who has ever gotten the news and information from the Internet knows otherwise.

The prosecution will also be eager to inform you that the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) does not apply here.  We, however, will prove to you that the act applies with great and particular force to Pfc. Manning.  For one thing, the MWPA not only allows an even wider array of government officials to make disclosures of classified information, it also broadens the scope of what kinds of disclosure a soldier can make.  It expressly allows disclosures of classified information by members of the armed forces if they have a “reasonable belief” that what is being disclosed offers evidence of a “violation of the law,” “an abuse of authority,” or “a substantial danger to public safety.”  In other words, the purpose of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act is to protect soldiers just like Pfc. Manning who report on improper — or in this case, patently illegal — activities by other military personnel.

Now, there is no strict precedent, the prosecution will claim, for any of our whistleblower protection laws to apply to Pfc. Manning.  But as we will make clear, there is no contrary precedent either.  That’s because we’ve never seen a whistleblower disclosure as massive, vivid, and horrific as this one.  We are in uncharted territory.  If the plain language of these whistleblower protection laws is unclear, legal convention dictates that we look at the laws’ intent.  Clearly Congress meant, and legislative history supports this, for the whistleblower protection laws to protect whistleblowers, not — as this administration seems to think — to prosecute them.

The progress of our common law is prudent, it is incremental, it is slow.  But our common law is not dead.  It does progress.  Whether the common law will take that small step forward in the case of Pfc. Manning is your duty to decide.  And your decision will have repercussions.

For if you convict Bradley Manning, then you are also clearing the way to try and possibly convict Army Specialist Joseph Darby, the whistleblower who leaked the Abu Ghraib photos and thereby ended acts of torture and abuse that were shaming our military and our nation.  Now, Specialist Darby did not leak the photos of this disgrace up the chain of command or to the Army Inspector General as our whistleblower law envisions.  Instead, he leaked it straight to the Army Criminal Investigative Division, and this path is not strictly what our whistleblower laws allow.  Was Spc. Joseph Darby doing his duty as an honorable soldier when he exposed the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib?  Or was he just trying to damage the United States?  Your verdict on Bradley Manning could reopen that question, and answer it anew.

If you convict Bradley Manning, you will also potentially be convicting the father of Army Specialist Adam Winfield.  In February 2010, Winfield informed his father, Christopher Winfield, a marine veteran, via Facebook, of a homicidal “Kill Team” at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, that was murdering civilians.  Winfield’s father tried to sound the alarm via phone calls to the Army Inspector General’s 24-hour hotline, to Senator Bill Nelson, and even to members of his son’s command unit in Fort Lewis.

Both father and son went beyond the “proper” channels to stop the murder of innocent Afghan civilians.  Spc. Winfield is now on trial for possible complicity in the “kill team” murders, but no charges have been filed against his father.  Tell me, then: Is Winfield’s father guilty of damaging his country because he tried to warn the Army about a homicidal “kill team” in the ranks?  Whether you like it or not, whether you care to or not, this is something you will decide when you render your judgment on Bradley Manning’s actions.

The Espionage Charges

The most outlandish entries on the overachieving charge sheet are those stemming from the Espionage Act of 1917. After all, Pfc. Manning is just the fifth American in 94 years to be charged under this archaic law with leaking government documents.  (Of the five, only one has been convicted.)

The Espionage Act was never intended to be used in this way, as an extra punishment for citizens who disclose classified material, and that is why the government only carts it out when its case is exceptionally desperate.

In order for Espionage Act charges to stick, it is required that Pfc. Manning had the conscious intent — take note of that crucial phrase — to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation with his disclosures.  Not surprisingly, given this, you are going to hear the prosecution spare no effort to portray the release of these cables as the gravest blow to America’s place in the world since Pearl Harbor.

I hope you’ll take this with more than a grain of salt.  For where is the staggering fallout from all the supposed bombshells in these leaked documents?  Months after the release of the State Department cables, not a single American ambassador has been recalled.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who commands far more budget and power than the Secretary of State, publicly insists that these leaks — the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War Logs, and the diplomatic cables — have not done any major harm.  “Now I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer and so on,” said Gates. “I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought.”  Significantly overwrought?  “Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve,” he added, “and it has for a long time.”

So what happened to the biggest blow to American prestige since the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam?  And keep in mind that the Secretary of Defense is by no means the only official pooh-poohing the hype about the WikiLeaks apocalypse.  One former head of policy planning at the State Department looked at the cables, shrugged, and said that the documents hold “little news,” and that they are “unlikely to do long-term damage.”  A senior Pentagon spokesperson, Colonel David Lapan, confessed to reporters last September that there is zero evidence any of the Afghan informers named in the leaked documents have been injured by Taliban reprisals.  Tell me, where is the Armageddon that this 23-year-old private has supposedly loosed on our American world?

Of course, there’s no denying that some members of our foreign policy elite have been mightily embarrassed by the State Department cables.  Good.  They deserve it.

Their fleeting embarrassment is nothing compared to the shame they have brought down on our country with their foolish deeds over the past decade, actions that range from the reckless and incompetent to the downright criminal.  It’s no secret that America’s standing in the world has been severely damaged in these years, but ask yourself: Is this because of recent disclosures of civilian deaths and war crimes –most of which are surprising only to Americans — along with diplomatic tittle-tattle?

I suggest to you that the damage to our nation, which couldn’t be more real, has come not from the disclosures of a young private, but from our foreign policy elite’s long pattern of foolish and destructive actions.  After all, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have cost rivers of blood.  The price tag for our current foreign wars has now officially soared above the trillion-dollar mark (and few doubt that, in the end, the real cost will run into the trillions of dollars).  And don’t forget, the invasion of Iraq has inspired new waves of hatred and distrust of our country overseas, and has provided an adrenaline boost for Islamic terrorists.

Needless to say, our political, military, and media elites have not lined up to take responsibility for this series of self-inflicted wounds.  Before they try to pin a nonexistent catastrophe on Pfc. Manning, they ought to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about the real damage they’ve done to our nation, the world, and not least the overstretched, overstrained U.S. military.

Just imagine: if only someone like Bradley Manning had leaked conclusive documentation about Saddam Hussein’s supposedly deadly but nonexistent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the excuse for our invasion of Iraq.  Such a disclosure would have profoundly embarrassed Washington’s foreign policy elite and in the atmosphere of early 2003, the media would undoubtedly have called for that whistleblower’s head, just as they’re doing now.

Such a leak, however, would have done a powerful load of good for our nation. Four thousand four hundred and thirty-six American soldiers would not be dead and thousands more would not be maimed, wounded, or suffering from PTSD.  At the very least, more than 100,000, and probably hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians would still be living.  These are the consequences of policy-making by a secretive government that wants the American people to know nothing, and a media that is either unable or unwilling to do its job and report on facts, not government spin.

You all are old enough to have noticed that the health of our republic and the reputations of our ruling elites are not one and the same.  In the best of times, they overlap.   The past 10 years have not been the best of times.  Those elites have led us into disaster after disaster, imperiling our already breached national security, straining our ruinous finances, and tearing to shreds our moral standing in the world.  Don’t try to blame this state of affairs on Private Bradley Manning.

The Nuremberg Principles Mean Something in Our Courts

Our soldiers have a solemn duty not to obey illegal orders, and Pfc. Manning upheld this duty.  General Peter Pace’s statement on a soldier’s overriding duty to stop the torture and abuse of prisoners, whatever his or her orders, is not just high-minded public relations; it’s the law of the land.  More than 50 years ago, U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 incorporated the Nuremberg Principles, among them Principle IV: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”  This remains the law of our land and of our armed forces, too.   

I suspect the prosecution will have other ideas.  They will tell you that the Nuremberg Principles are great stuff for commencement addresses, but don’t actually mean anything in practical terms. They will tell you that the Nuremberg Principles are of use only to the Lisa Simpsons of the human-rights industry.

But know this: some 400,000 of your fellow soldiers died in the Second World War for the establishment of those principles.  For that reason alone, they are something that you in the military ought to treat with the utmost seriousness.

And if the judge or prosecutor should tell you that the Nuremberg Principles don’t mean a thing in our courts, they would be flat wrong.  Courts have taken the Nuremberg Principles to heart before, and more and more have done so in the past few years. In 2005, for example, Judge Lieutenant Commander Robert Klant took note of the Nuremberg principles in a sentencing hearing for Pablo Paredes, a Navy Petty Officer Third Class who refused redeployment to Iraq, and whose punishment was subsequently minimized.

Similarly, at his court martial in 2009, Sergeant Matthis Chiroux justified his refusal to redeploy to a war that he believed violated both national and international law, and was backed up by expert testimony on the Nuremberg Principles.  The court martial granted Sgt. Chiroux a general discharge.

A long line of Supreme Court cases, from Mitchell v. Harmony in 1851 all the way back to Little v. Barreme in 1804, established that soldiers have a duty not to follow illegal orders.  In short, it is a matter of record and established precedent that these Nuremberg Principles have meant something in our courts. Yours will not be the first court martial to apply these principles, fought for and won with American blood, nor will it be the last.

Whistleblowers Are Patriots Who Sacrifice for Their Country

Whistleblowers who attempt to rectify the disastrous policies of their nation are not criminals.  They are patriots, and eventually are recognized as such.  Bradley Manning is by no means the first American to serve his country in such a way.

Today, Daniel Ellsberg is famous as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a secret internal history ordered up by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara himself that candidly recounted how a series of administrations systematically lied to the nation about the planning and prosecution of the Vietnam War.  Ellsberg’s massive leak of these documents helped end that war and bring down a criminal administration.  How criminal?  Midway through Ellsberg’s trial in 1973, the Nixon administration offered the judge overseeing his treason trial the directorship of the FBI in an implicit quid pro quo, a maneuver of such brazen corruption as to shame any banana republic.  The judge dismissed all the government’s charges with prejudice and now Daniel Ellsberg is a national hero.

Those born after a certain date may be forgiven for assuming that Ellsberg was some long-haired subversive of an “anti-American” stripe.  In fact, he had been, like Bradley Manning, a model soldier.

At the Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Ellsberg graduated first in a class of some 1,100 lieutenants. He served as a platoon leader and rifle company commander in the Marine 2nd Infantry Division for three years, and deferred his graduate studies so he could remain on active duty with his battalion during the Suez Crisis of 1956.   (You will note that deferring graduate school in order to stay on active military duty is the exact opposite of what so many of our recent, and current, national leaders did in those decades.)  After satisfying his Reserve Officer commitment, Ellsberg was discharged from the Corps as a first lieutenant, and leaving the military went on to a distinguished career in government.

Daniel Ellsberg was a model Marine, and later a model citizen.  His courageous act of leaking classified information was only one more episode in a consistent record of patriotic service.  When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers he did so out of the profoundest sense of duty, knowing full well, just like Bradley Manning today, that he might spend the rest of his life in jail.

Ellsberg calls Pfc. Manning his hero and he is a tireless defender of the brave Army private our government has locked away in solitary.

Vandals trash things without a care in their hearts, but real patriots like former Lt. Ellsberg and Pfc. Manning do their duty knowing that the privilege of living in a free society does not always come cheap.

“Frankly and in the Public View”: The American Tradition of Diplomacy

Today, Ellsberg himself is lionized, even by the U.S. government, as a national hero.  The State Department recently put together a traveling roadshow of American documentary films to screen abroad, and front and center among them is an admiring movie about Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.  But then it is only appropriate that the government recognize Ellsberg and his once-controversial disclosures as part and parcel of the American tradition.

After all, demands for more open and transparent diplomacy are as American as baseball and Hank Williams.  World War I-era President Woodrow Wilson himself insisted on the abolition of secret treaties as part of his 14 points for the League of Nations; in fact, it’s the very first point: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

How can foreign policy be democratic if the most serious decisions and facts — alliances, death tolls, assessments of the leaders and governments we are bankrolling with our tax dollars — are all kept as official secrets?  The “Bricker Amendment” was an attempt by congressional Republicans in the 1950s to require Senate approval of U.S. treaties, in large part to open up public debate about foreign affairs.  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who served as representative to the U.N. for Republican President Richard Nixon, was also a severe critic of government secrecy and the habitual over-classification of state documents. These American statesmen knew that if foreign policy is crafted in secret, without the oxygen and sunlight of vigorous public debate, disaster and dysfunction would result.

For the past 10 years, we have had exactly such disaster and dysfunction as our foreign policy.  Our leaders have plunged us into a dark world of secrecy and lies.  Tell me: Is this Private Bradley Manning’s fault?

Let me be clear as I bring this opening statement to a close: for all the complexities this case holds, your job will in the end prove a simple and basic one.  It’s your task not to let our leaders, or the prosecution, pin the horrendous state of affairs into which this country has been thrown on Pfc. Manning.  I am confident that you will see him for the patriot he is, a young man with a moral backbone whose goal was not self-aggrandizement or profit or even attention and glory.  His urge was to shine a bright light on his own country’s wrongdoing and, in that way, bring it, bring us, back to our nobler national traditions.

It is Pfc. Manning, not our fearless national leaders, who has sacrificed much to restore the rule of law and a minimal level of public oversight to American foreign and military policy. “Frankly and in the public view”: this once would have been called a reasonable description of the American character, something that set us apart from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Bismarck’s Prussia, or Imperial Japan.  Whether our government has any responsibility to conduct its affairs frankly and in the public view in 2011 and beyond — this is something else you will decide in your judgment on Pfc. Manning.

As soldiers, you know well that most Americans have insulated themselves from the last decade’s foreign-policy disasters.  Even as we spend a trillion dollars on foreign wars, our taxes are cut.   If you’re making decent money, the odds are it’s not your kids, grandchildren, brothers, or sisters who are off fighting, killing, and dying in our foreign wars.  Most Americans, thanks in part to the media, have little idea of what you and your peers have lived through, the weight you have shouldered.

This is not true of Pfc. Bradley Manning.  He came face to face with this disaster.   He saw, and participated in, the roundup of Iraqi civilians to be tortured by their own national police force.  Tell me honestly: Was this what Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to accomplish?  Is this why you, his jury of peers, enlisted in the military?

Pfc. Manning saw this misery and rampant illegality with his own two eyes, and then, online, he discovered more of the same — much, much more — and he did something about it, knowing full well the penalty. “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me […] plastered all over the world press,” he confided to the informant who betrayed him.  Manning knew the stakes and the risks when he leaked these documents, but still he loyally performed his duty, both to the United States Army and to his country.

As one of Manning’s childhood friends from Crescent, Oklahoma, has testified, “He wanted to serve his country.”  It’s up to you to decide whether he did.

You have a duty as a fully informed jury of free citizens. You are not an assortment of rubber stamps pulled out of a judge’s desk drawer.  You are as important a part of this court as the judge, prosecutor, and the accused himself.

Whichever way you decide in your verdict, you will not face the consequences Bradley Manning already endures, but your judgment will have great consequences, not just for him, but for the honor and future of the country you have taken an oath to serve.

Now, go and do your duty.

Chase Madar is an attorney in New York and a member of the National Lawyers Guild.  He writes for TomDispatch, the American Conservative magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the London Review of Books. (To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast video interview in which Chase Madar explores Manning’s case and his defense, click here, or download it to your iPod here.)

Copyright 2011 Chase Madar

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 10th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Saint General David Petraeus is keeping up the happy talk while warning of more Afghan violence to come.

"There's been considerable progress in taking away from the Taliban safe havens," Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with NATO TV aired on Wednesday.

"They have to fight back, they're losing momentum that's quite clear," he said. "They know they need to regain that momentum."

…Petraeus said intelligence reports indicate that Taliban leaders are worried by the situation and that there is "friction and discord" between the guerrillas in the field and their leadership in Pakistan.

Why the U.S. military should be concerning itself with Taliban safe havens, rather than Al Qaeda ones, is anyone's guess – unless they plan to keep the war going. "Petraeus said intelligence reports indicate that Taliban leaders are worried by the situation and that there is 'friction and discord' between the guerrillas in the field and their leadership in Pakistan". The Sainted General thinks that is a good thing. Others, experts living in Afghanistan and who study Afghanistan for a living, beg to difffer. They say the US military is "choosing to get the war fundamentally wrong" and that "friction and discord" between new, more militant commanders and the old-school Taliban leadership is actually prolonging the war by making negotiations for peace less likely to succeed.

The kicker line is that Petraus expects this year to see an escalation of violence – just as every year since 2002 has seen an escalation of violence, more deaths, more casualties and more $billions wasted. The military wants us to believe that this is a sign of "success".

'It has been said many times before, but the gap between rhetoric and what people experience is mind-boggling and ultimately leaves you feeling speechless."

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 10th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Saint General David Petraeus is keeping up the happy talk while warning of more Afghan violence to come.

"There's been considerable progress in taking away from the Taliban safe havens," Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with NATO TV aired on Wednesday.

"They have to fight back, they're losing momentum that's quite clear," he said. "They know they need to regain that momentum."

…Petraeus said intelligence reports indicate that Taliban leaders are worried by the situation and that there is "friction and discord" between the guerrillas in the field and their leadership in Pakistan.

Why the U.S. military should be concerning itself with Taliban safe havens, rather than Al Qaeda ones, is anyone's guess – unless they plan to keep the war going. "Petraeus said intelligence reports indicate that Taliban leaders are worried by the situation and that there is 'friction and discord' between the guerrillas in the field and their leadership in Pakistan". The Sainted General thinks that is a good thing. Others, experts living in Afghanistan and who study Afghanistan for a living, beg to difffer. They say the US military is "choosing to get the war fundamentally wrong" and that "friction and discord" between new, more militant commanders and the old-school Taliban leadership is actually prolonging the war by making negotiations for peace less likely to succeed.

The kicker line is that Petraus expects this year to see an escalation of violence – just as every year since 2002 has seen an escalation of violence, more deaths, more casualties and more $billions wasted. The military wants us to believe that this is a sign of "success".

'It has been said many times before, but the gap between rhetoric and what people experience is mind-boggling and ultimately leaves you feeling speechless."

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