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Archive for September, 2011

Posted by alexthurston on September 19th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

It was built for… well, not to put too fine a point on it, victory.  I’m talking, of course, about the ill-named Camp Victory, the massive military complex, a set of bases really, constructed around an old hunting lodge and nine of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s opulent palaces near Baghdad International Airport.

Within months of American troops entering Baghdad in April 2003, it was already “the largest overseas American combat base since the Vietnam War.” It would become the grand visiting place for American politicians — back when the U.S. was still being called the global “hyperpower” — arriving in what was almost imagined as our 51st state.  It was the headquarters for the American military effort and later “surge” strategy in Iraq.  It was also the stomping grounds for at least 46,000 U.S. troops stationed there and who knows how many spooks, contractors, hire-a-guns, Defense Department civilians, and third-world workers.  It had its own Cinnabon and Burger King, its massive PXs, and it’s 27-mile perimeter of “blast walls and concertina wire,” as well as its own hospital and water-bottling plant.  It was a “city,” a world, unto itself.

American reporters passed through it regularly and yet for most Americans who didn’t set foot in it, our massive outpost in the heart of the oil heartlands of the planet (the place we were supposed to garrison for decades, if not generations) might as well not have existed.  For all the news about Iraq that, once upon a time, was delivered to Americans, the humongous Camp Victory itself never struck journalists as particularly newsworthy, nor generally did the billions of dollars that went into building the more than 500 U.S. bases, mega to micro, that we now know were constructed in that country at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

All this was true until Camp Victory was at the edge of what can only be called ultimate defeat and finally found, if not its chronicler, then its obituary writer in Annie Gowan of theWashington Post.  Perhaps it’s often true that only at a funeral do any of us get our due.  But with the last American slated to leave Camp Victory (though not Iraq) in early December, with the gates to be locked and the keys turned over to the Iraqi government, she quotes Lt. Col. Sean Wilson, an Army public affairs officer, on the emptying of the base this way: “This whole place is becoming a ghost town.  You get the feeling you’re the last person on Earth.”  (Of course, Iraqis might have a different impression.)

The U.S. military will evidently conduct no final interment ceremonies in which the base is renamed Camp Defeat before being abandoned.  Nonetheless, even as Washington hangs on grimly to its remaining militarized toeholds in Iraq, that should be the one-line summary obit on America’s great Iraq adventure.

In his latest piece of reportage for TomDispatch, Nick Turse offers us an eye-opening reminder that, while the U.S. is drawing down to bare bones in Iraq, it has actually been building up its forces, operations, and infrastructure in the Greater Middle East.  Still, somewhere in the Camp Victory story, isn’t there a modest lesson that Washington could draw? (Though, as Turse makes clear, it won’t…)  Tom

Obama’s Arc of Instability
Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time

By Nick Turse

It’s a story that should take your breath away: the destabilization of what, in the Bush years, used to be called “the arc of instability.”  It involves at least 97 countries, across the bulk of the global south, much of it coinciding with the oil heartlands of the planet.  A startling number of these nations are now in turmoil, and in every single one of them — from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia — Washington is militarily involved, overtly or covertly, in outright war or what passes for peace.

Garrisoning the planet is just part of it.  The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war.  But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.

Covenant of the Arc

“Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East,” the president said in his speech.  “The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we’re helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom.”

An arc of freedom.  You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring speech, where he said “[I]t will be the policy of the United States to… support transitions to democracy.”  Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W. Bush.  The giveaway is that phrase “arc of instability,” a core rhetorical concept of the former president’s global vision and that of his neoconservative supporters.

The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia.  While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor.

In addition to waging more wars in “arc” nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces.  Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which U.S. military and intelligence agencies are not now active.  This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region’s increasing volatility and destabilization.

Flooding the Arc

Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states – YemenPakistan, and Somalia.  Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forcesand special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency elsewhere withinthe arc.

In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.”  At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on “a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.”  By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.

It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly.  Last year, theWashington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia.  Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120.  These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from theDominican Republic to Yemen.

The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Of these countries,Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia.  It is also using already existing facilities in DjiboutiEthiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.

In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program.  Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries.  “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.

According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel — some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents — deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American “spies”pure theaterfor internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the U.S. is conducting covert operations there, too.  Last year, reports surfaced that U.S. black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well.  Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of “secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border” by the U.S. military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.

All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations — or at war.

The Arc of History

Just after President Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: “The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century.”  Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase “global war on terror,” the Obama administration and the U.S. military have largely avoided using “arc of instability,” preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night.  Before September 11, 2001, said Olson, the lit portion of the planet — the industrialized nations of the global north — were considered the key areas.  Since then, he told the audience, 51 countries, almost all of them in the arc of instability, have taken precedence.  “Our strategic focus,” he said, “has shifted largely to the south… certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren’t.”

More recently, in remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., John O. Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, outlined the president’s new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the “Pakistan-Afghanistan region” and “a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery — places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa].”

“This does not,” Brennan insisted, “require a ‘global’ war” — and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has.  While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets.  The “arc” has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.

Building Instability

A decade’s evidence has made it clear that U.S. operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing.  For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country’s population.  (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)

A semi-secret drone war in that nation’s tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington’s many ham-handed efforts.  When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.

In Yemen, long-time support — in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes — for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the U.S. and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh’s relatives.  This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians.  It’s hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found — again a jaw-dropping polling figure — 99% of respondents viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% “somewhat” or “strongly approved” of Saleh’s cooperation with Washington.

Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants.  The U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.

These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback.  Just last year, a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani.  In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked of one of Yemen’s largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.

Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call “regional stability” — through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry — collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations.   Similarly, in BahrainIraqJordan,KuwaitMoroccoOmanSaudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military.  It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” only 4% of Egyptians answered yes.  (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)

A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher. Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not contributing “to peace and stability in the Arab World.”

Increasing Instability Across the Globe

U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new.  Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places.  The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.

Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the “unlit world” and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States.  His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives.

Despite the salient lesson of 9/11– interventions abroad beget blowback at home — he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same.  A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad.  Seventy-five percent of voters, for example,agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: “The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.”  In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.

After decades of overt and covert U.S. interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable.  This year, in their annual failed state index — a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet – Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the U.S. — Iraq and Afghanistan — in their top ten. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, while Somalia — the site of U.S. interventions under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama — had the dubious honor of being number one.

For all the discussions here about (armed) “nation-building efforts” in the region, what we’ve clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets.  As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims.  The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the U.S. have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that.

With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don’t promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy — one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.

Nick Turse is a historian, investigative journalist, the associate editor ofTomDispatch.com, and a senior editor at Alternet.org.   His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books).  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. This article is a collaboration between Alternet.org and TomDispatch.com.

Copyright 2011 Nick Turse

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Posted by The Agonist on September 12th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

David Alnder | Washington | Sept 12

Reuters – The Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network was behind a truck bombing that killed four Afghan civilians and wounded 77 U.S. troops on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack in Wardak province, 30 miles south of the capital. The bombing occurred hours after the Taliban issued a September 11-related statement blaming the United States for the bloodshed in Afghanistan.

“This was of course a deplorable attack against a combat outpost in Wardak and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. “We believe that the perpetrators were from the Haqqani network. … This is totally unacceptable behavior and we call on these kind of attacks to cease.”

The Haqqani network is a militant group allied with the Taliban that was started by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who rose to prominence in the 1980s receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Although considered to be a part of the larger Taliban umbrella organization headed by Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqanis maintain their own command and control and lines of operation.
..
Little declined to detail what evidence the U.S. government has to suggest Haqqani network involvement in the incident, which involved a large bomb hidden in a truckload of firewood.

“Suffice it to say that we have strong confidence that they were involved,” he said. “There is a very strong likelihood that top Haqqani leadership supported and were aware of the attack.”

Strong confidence? alrighty then lol

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Posted by The Agonist on September 12th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda.  Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.

The failure to have that discussion is not an accident.  In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.

During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item shouldn’t have been on his list.  “You’re right,” he answered.  And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” I asked.

“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”

His explanation was obviously bogus.  But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.

The National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism” issued in April 2006 concluded that the war in Iraq was “breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim World and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” It found that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.”  And in a prophetic warning, it said “the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance…particularly abroad but also at home.”
Given the way intelligence assessments get watered down as they ascend the hierarchy of officials, these were remarkably alarming conclusions about the peril that U.S. occupation of Iraq posed to the United States.  And that alarm was shared by at least some counter-terrorism officials as well.  Robert Grenier, who had been head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 2005-06, was quoted in the July 25, 2007 Los Angeles Times as saying the war “has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.”

As the war in Iraq wound down, the U.S. war in Afghanistan — especially the war being waged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — was generating more hatred for the United States.  As JSOC scaled up its “night raids” in Afghanistan, it never got the right person in more than 50 percent of the raids, as even senior commanders in JSOC recently admitted to the Washington Post.  That indicated that a very large proportion of those killed and detained were innocent civilians.  Not surprisingly, the populations of entire districts and provinces were enraged by those raids.
If there is one place on earth where it is obviously irrational to antagonize the male population on a long-term basis, it is the Pashtun region that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan, with its tribal culture of honor and revenge for the killing of family and friends.

Meanwhile, after fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2001, al Qaeda had rebuilt a large network of Pashtun militants in the Pashtun northwest.  As the murdered Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad recounted in Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, President Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from Washington, began in 2003 to use the Pakistani army to try to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda by force with helicopter strikes and ground forces.  But instead of crushing al Qaeda, those operations further radicalized the population of those al Qaeda base areas, by convincing them that the Pakistani government and army was merely a tool of U.S. control.

Frustrated by the failure of Musharraf to finish off al Qaeda and by the swift rise of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the Bush administration launched a drone war that killed large numbers of civilians in northwest Pakistan.  An opinion survey by New American Foundation in the region last year found that 77 percent believed the real purpose of the U.S. “war on terror” is to “weaken and divide the Muslim world” and to “ensure American domination.”  And more than two-thirds of the entire population of Pakistan view the United States as the enemy, not as a friend, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The CIA and the Bush and Obama administrations understood that drone strikes could never end the threat of terrorist plots in Pakistan, as outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden had told the incoming President, according to Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars.  And if Obama administration didn’t understand then that the drone war was stoking popular anger at the government and the United States, it certainly does now.  Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has pointed out that “hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan” because of the drone strikes.

Yet the night raids and the drone strikes continue, as though the risk of widespread and intense anger toward the United States in those countries doesn’t make any difference to the policymakers.

There is only one way to understand this conundrum: there are winners and losers in the “war on terrorism”.  Ordinary Americans are clearly the losers, and the institutions and leaders of the military, the Pentagon and the CIA and their political and corporate allies are the winners.  They have accumulated enormous resources and power in a collapsing economy and society.

They are not going to do anything about the increased risk to Americans that the hatred their wars have provoked until they are forced to do so by a combination of resistance from people within those countries and an unprecedented rebellion by millions of Americans.  It’s long past time to start organizing that rebellion.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 11th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Seen at a local fair.

Yay! This is the best 9/11 since 9/11!

Be sure to light the candle to celebrate!

After we’ve all had a slice, maybe we can give a bullhorn to a Texas rooster so he can climb all over it and sing cock-a-doodle doo!

Cock-a-doodle doo!

BEST IN CLASS!

a href=”http://s575.photobucket.com/albums/ss199/Jonathryn/?action=view&current=DSC03811b.jpg” target=”_blank”>Best in Class 2011

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on September 9th, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

In an interview today, Just Foreign Policy explained to RT why ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would save at least 400,000 jobs:

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Posted by The Agonist on September 9th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Sept 8

BBC – Isaf’s Brig Gen Carsten Jacobson said Khpulwak was “holding a gadget and reaching for something in his pocket”

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan has admitted it mistakenly killed BBC reporter Ahmed Omed Khpulwak in July.

Isaf said a US soldier mistook the Pashto service journalist for an insurgent when troops responded to a militant attack in the town of Tarin Kowt in southern Uruzgan province.

Khpulwak was one of 19 people killed.

Nato launched an inquiry after initial reports that Khpulwak had been killed by insurgents were questioned.

The BBC said it recognised that Isaf had provided clarification, ending a period of uncertainty, but it would study the details of the findings on receiving the full report.

What he was reaching for was his Press Card

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Posted by alexthurston on September 8th, 2011

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com.

Let’s Cancel 9/11
Bury the War State’s Blank Check at Sea

By Tom Engelhardt

Let’s bag it.

I’m talking about the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honoring of first responders, thegathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence.  The works.

Let’s just can it all.  Shut down Ground Zero.  Lock out the tourists.  Close “Reflecting Absence,” the memorial built in the “footprints” of the former towers with its grove of trees, giant pools, andmultiple waterfalls before it can be unveiled this Sunday.  Discontinue work on the underground National September 11 Museum due to open in 2012.  Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our “freedom” wars went awry), 102 stories of “the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States.” (Estimated price tag: $3.3 billion.)  Eliminate that still-being-constructed, hubris-filled 1,776 feet of building, planned in the heyday of George W. Bush and soaring into the Manhattan sky like a nyaah-nyaah invitation to future terrorists.  Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11 billion government-sponsored construction program.  Let’s get rid of it all.   If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.

Ask yourself this: ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven’t we had enough of ourselves?  If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn’t it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness?  No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror.  No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money.  No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear highand the homeland security state afloat.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts.  And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance.  This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 — who have no way of defending themselves against how they have been used — as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we’ve visited on others, for the many towers-worth of deadin Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere whose blood is on our hands.

Isn’t it finally time to go cold turkey?  To let go of the dead?  Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we’ve proven that we, as a nation, can’t handle it — and worse yet, that we don’t deserve it?

We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could.  We can’t, of course.  But we could stop the anniversary remembrances.  We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later.  We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are.  We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror.

Ceremonies of Hubris

Within 24 hours of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the first newspaper had already labeled the site in New York as “Ground Zero.”  If anyone needed a sign that we were about to run off the rails, as a misassessment of what had actually occurred that should have been enough.  Previously, the phrase “ground zero” had only one meaning: it was the spot where a nuclear explosion had occurred.

The facts of 9/11 are, in this sense, simple enough.  It was not a nuclear attack.  It was notapocalyptic.  The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was no mushroom cloud.  It was notpotentially civilization ending.  It did not endanger the existence of our country — or even of New York City.  Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives.

A second irreality went with the first.  Almost immediately, key Republicans like Senator John McCain, followed by George W. Bush, top figures in his administration, and soon after, in a drumbeat of agreement, the mainstream media declared that we were “at war.” This was, Bush would say only three days after the attacks, “the first war of the twenty-first century.”  Only problem: it wasn’t.  Despite the screaming headlines, Ground Zero wasn’t Pearl Harbor.  Al-Qaeda wasn’t Japan, nor was it Nazi Germany.  It wasn’t the Soviet Union.  It had no army, nor finances to speak of, and possessed no state (though it had the minimalist protection of a hapless government in Afghanistan, one of the most backward, poverty-stricken lands on the planet).

And yet — another sign of where we were heading — anyone who suggested that this wasn’t war, that it was a criminal act and some sort of international police action was in order, was simply laughed (or derided or insulted) out of the American room.  And so the empire prepared to strike back (just as Osama bin Laden hoped it would) in an apocalyptic, planet-wide “war” for domination that masqueraded as a war for survival.

In the meantime, the populace was mustered through repetitive, nationwide 9/11 rites emphasizing that we Americans were the greatest victims, greatest survivors, and greatest dominators on planet Earth.  It was in this cause that the dead of 9/11 were turned into potent recruiting agents for a revitalized American way of war.

From all this, in the brief mission-accomplished months after Kabul and then Baghdad fell, American hubris seemed to know no bounds — and it was this moment, not 9/11 itself, from which the true inspiration for the gargantuan “Freedom Tower” and the then-billion-dollar project for a memorial on the site of the New York attacks would materialize.  It was this sense of hubris that those gargantuan projects were intended to memorialize.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, for an imperial power that is distinctly tattered, visibly in decline, teetering at the edge of financial disaster, and battered by never-ending wars, political paralysis, terrible economic times, disintegrating infrastructure, and weird weather, all of this should be simple and obvious.  That it’s not tells us much about the kind of shock therapy we still need.

Burying the Worst Urges in American Life

It’s commonplace, even today, to speak of Ground Zero as “hallowed ground.”  How untrue.  Ten years later, it is defiled ground and it’s we who have defiled it.  It could have been different.  The 9/11 attacks could have been like the Blitz in London in World War II.  Something to remember forever with grim pride, stiff upper lip and all.

And if it were only the reactions of those in New York City that we had to remember, both the dead and the living, the first responders and the last responders, the people who created impromptu memorials to the dead and message centers for the missing in Manhattan, we might recall 9/11 with similar pride.  Generally speaking, New Yorkers were respectful, heartfelt, thoughtful, and not vengeful.  They didn’t have prior plans that, on September 12, 2001, they were ready to rally those nearly 3,000 dead to support.  They weren’t prepared at the moment of the catastrophe to — as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so classically said — “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

Unfortunately, they were not the measure of the moment.  As a result, the uses of 9/11 in the decade since have added up to a profile in cowardice, not courage, and if we let it be used that way in the next decade, we will go down in history as a nation of cowards.

There is little on this planet of the living more important, or more human, than the burial and remembrance of the dead.  Even Neanderthals buried their dead, possibly with flowers, and tens of thousands of years ago, the earliest humans, the Cro-Magnon, were already burying their dead elaborately, in one case in clothing onto which more than 3,000 ivory beads had been sewn, perhaps as objects of reverence and even remembrance.  Much of what we know of human prehistory and the earliest eras of our history comes from graves and tombs where the dead were provided for.

And surely it’s our duty in this world of loss to remember the dead, those close to us and those more removed who mattered in our national or even planetary lives.  Many of those who loved and were close to the victims of 9/11 are undoubtedly attached to the yearly ceremonies that surround their deceased wives, husbands, lovers, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters.  For the nightmare of 9/11, they deserve a memorial.  But we don’t.

If September 11th was indeed a nightmare, 9/11 as a memorial and Ground Zero as a “consecrated” place have turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell.  They have helped lead us into fields of carnage that put the dead of 9/11 to shame.

Every dead person will, of course, be forgotten sooner or later, no matter how tightly we clasp their memories or what memorials we build.  In my mind, I have a private memorial to my own dead parents.  Whenever I leaf through my mother’s childhood photo album and recognize just about no one but her among all the faces, however, I’m also aware that there is no one left on this planet to ask about any of them.  And when I die, my little memorial to them will go with me.

This will be the fate, sooner or later, of everyone who, on September 11, 2001, was murdered in those buildings in New York, in that field in Pennsylvania, and in the Pentagon, as well as those who sacrificed their lives in rescue attempts, or may now be dying as a result.  Under such circumstances, who would not want to remember them all in a special way?

It’s a terrible thing to ask those still missing the dead of 9/11 to forgo the public spectacle that accompanies their memory, but worse is what we have: repeated solemn ceremonies to the ongoing health of the American war state and the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden.

Memory is usually so important, but in this case we would have been better off with oblivion.  It’s time to truly inter not the dead, but the worst urges in American life since 9/11 and the ceremonies which, for a decade, have gone with them.  Better to bury all of that at sea with bin Laden and then mourn the dead, each in our own way, in silence and, above all, in peace.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear(Haymarket Books), will be published in November. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s 100th Tomcast interview in which I discuss the role that the original 9/11 ceremonies played in the creation of TomDispatch.com click here, or download it to your iPod here.

[Note on further reading: I recommend two recent pieces that, amid the mountain of usual writing about 9/11 ten years later, have something out of the ordinary to say: Ariel Dorfman’s “Epitaph for Another September 11” in the Nation magazine on the two 9/11s and how differently two American nations reacted to their disasters, and Lawrence Weschler’s “Memory” in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the shame of a squandered decade.]

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on September 6th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson:

Before the True Surge after the mini-Surge in Afghanistan (Feb. 2009), I noted the fundamental problem with COIN in a democracy, especially a COIN campaign in an area of tertiary interest:

COIN today promises the same type of inputs — ten to twenty year wars, operational costs of one to two points of annual GDP at a time of structural deficits and domestic fiscal crisis — with the same type of outcomes — weak, client states in need of continual support in secondary or tertiary areas of interest.

And shockingly the public of democracies don't like COIN nor do they want to spend those resources for minimal real gains in security that operational and tactical successes may or may not generate. 

So if we assume that democracies are not likely to support doctrines, strategies and techniques  that produce long term ongoing costs with minimal prospects of producing desired long term political benefits, the problem in the Clauswitzian perspective is not the grand strategic level, but at the strategic and operational levels where the COIN doctrine is implemented in disregard to the grand strategic appreciation of forces and reality. 

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal echoes this disconnect in his criticism of COIN boosterism from Col. Nagl of CNAS:

By failing to take into account the lack of political will in the United States for an extended COIN fight – and the lack of an effective Afghan partner - counter-insurgency advocates have ensured that the tactical gains made on the ground won't be sustained. This has likely left Afghanistan in worse shape than if they had recognized this reality from the get go. The United States would have been far better off putting in place a strategy for Afghanistan that could be sustained for the long-term, both politically and militarily. Instead COIN advocates overreached, believing that they could convince the President to give them more time to implement a well-resourced COIN strategy. It didn't work out that way and the result is that now we are looking at the likelihood of a more precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan with the US having done little to lay the groundwork for our eventual withdrawal (and with even less political will to get things right before we leave). 

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Posted by alexthurston on September 6th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

This is, of course, the week before the tenth anniversary of the day that “changed everything.”  And enough was indeed changed that it’s easy to forget what that lost world was like.  Here’s a little reminder of that moment just before September 11, 2001:

The “usually disengaged” president, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd labeled him, had just returned from a prolonged, brush-cutting Crawford vacation to much criticism and a nation in trouble. (One Republican congressman complained that “it was hard for Mr. Bush to get his message out if the White House lectern had a ‘Gone Fishing’ sign on it.”) Democrats were on the attack. Journalistic coverage seemed to grow ever bolder. Bush’s poll figures were dropping. A dozen prominent Republicans, fearful of a president out of touch with the national mood, gathered for a private dinner with Karl Rove to “offer an unvarnished critique of Mr. Bush’s style and strategy.” Next year’s congressional elections suddenly seemed up for grabs. The president’s aides were desperately scrambling to reposition him as a more “commanding” figure, while, according to the polls, a majority of Americans felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld had “cratered”; in the Middle East “violence was rising.”

That’s a taste of the lost world of September 6-10, 2001 — a moment when the news was dominated by nothing more catastrophic than shark attacks off the Florida and North Carolina coasts — in a passage from a piece (“Shark-Bit World”) I wrote back in 2005 when that world was already beyond recovery.  A few days later, we would enter a very American hell, one from which we’ve never emerged, with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leading the way.  Almost a decade later, Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his American legacy lives on fiercely in Washington policy when it comes to surveillance, secrecy, war, and the national security state (as well as economic meltdown at home).

This week, TomDispatch will attempt to assess that legacy, starting with this post by Noam Chomsky.  It’s a half-length excerpt from a new “preface” — actually a major reassessment of America’s war-on-terror decade — part of Seven Stories Press’s 10th anniversary reissue of his bestseller on 9/11.  Entitled 9-11: Was There an Alternative?, its official publication date is this Thursday, and it includes the full version of the new essay, as well as the entire text of the older book.  It can be purchased as an e-book and is being put out simultaneously in numerous languages including French, Spanish, and Italian. Thanks to the editors at Seven Stories, TomDispatch is releasing this excerpt exclusively, but be sure to get yourself a copy of the book for the complete version.  Tom

Was There an Alternative?
Looking Back on 9/11 a Decade Later

By Noam Chomsky

We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the horrendous atrocities of September 11, 2001, which, it is commonly held, changed the world. On May 1st, the presumed mastermind of the crime, Osama bin Laden, was assassinated in Pakistan by a team of elite US commandos, Navy SEALs, after he was captured, unarmed and undefended, in Operation Geronimo.

A number of analysts have observed that although bin Laden was finally killed, he won some major successes in his war against the U.S. “He repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the U.S. from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them,” Eric Margolis writes. “‘Bleeding the U.S.,’ in his words.” The United States, first under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, rushed right into bin Laden’s trap… Grotesquely overblown military outlays and debt addiction… may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States” — particularly when the debt is being cynically exploited by the far right, with the collusion of the Democrat establishment, to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and, in general, remaining barriers to corporate tyranny.

That Washington was bent on fulfilling bin Laden’s fervent wishes was evident at once. As discussed in my book 9-11, written shortly after those attacks occurred, anyone with knowledge of the region could recognize “that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of bin Laden and his associates, and would lead the U.S. and its allies into a ‘diabolical trap,’ as the French foreign minister put it.”

The senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996, Michael Scheuer, wrote shortly after that “bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. [He] is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world,” and largely succeeded: “U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.” And arguably remains so, even after his death.

The First 9/11

Was there an alternative? There is every likelihood that the Jihadi movement, much of it highly critical of bin Laden, could have been split and undermined after 9/11. The “crime against humanity,” as it was rightly called, could have been approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects. That was recognized at the time, but no such idea was even considered.

In 9-11, I quoted Robert Fisk’s conclusion that the “horrendous crime” of 9/11 was committed with “wickedness and awesome cruelty,” an accurate judgment. It is useful to bear in mind that the crimes could have been even worse. Suppose, for example, that the attack had gone as far as bombing the White House, killing the president, imposing a brutal military dictatorship that killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands while establishing an international terror center that helped impose similar torture-and-terror states elsewhere and carried out an international assassination campaign; and as an extra fillip, brought in a team of economists — call them “the Kandahar boys” — who quickly drove the economy into one of the worst depressions in its history. That, plainly, would have been a lot worse than 9/11.

Unfortunately, it is not a thought experiment. It happened. The only inaccuracy in this brief account is that the numbers should be multiplied by 25 to yield per capita equivalents, the appropriate measure. I am, of course, referring to what in Latin America is often called “the first 9/11”: September 11, 1973, when the U.S. succeeded in its intensive efforts to overthrow the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile with a military coup that placed General Pinochet’s brutal regime in office. The goal, in the words of the Nixon administration, was to kill the “virus” that might encourage all those “foreigners [who] are out to screw us” to take over their own resources and in other ways to pursue an intolerable policy of independent development. In the background was the conclusion of the National Security Council that, if the US could not control Latin America, it could not expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world.”

The first 9/11, unlike the second, did not change the world. It was “nothing of very great consequence,” as Henry Kissinger assured his boss a few days later.

These events of little consequence were not limited to the military coup that destroyed Chilean democracy and set in motion the horror story that followed. The first 9/11 was just one act in a drama which began in 1962, when John F. Kennedy shifted the mission of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” — an anachronistic holdover from World War II — to “internal security,” a concept with a chilling interpretation in U.S.-dominated Latin American circles.

In the recently published Cambridge UniversityHistory of the Cold War, Latin American scholar John Coatsworth writes that from that time to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of non-violent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites,” including many religious martyrs and mass slaughter as well, always supported or initiated in Washington. The last major violent act was the brutal murder of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, a few days after the Berlin Wall fell. The perpetrators were an elite Salvadorean battalion, which had already left a shocking trail of blood, fresh from renewed training at the JFK School of Special Warfare, acting on direct orders of the high command of the U.S. client state.

The consequences of this hemispheric plague still, of course, reverberate.

From Kidnapping and Torture to Assassination

All of this, and much more like it, is dismissed as of little consequence, and forgotten. Those whose mission is to rule the world enjoy a more comforting picture, articulated well enough in the current issue of the prestigious (and valuable) journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. The lead article discusses “the visionary international order” of the “second half of the twentieth century” marked by “the universalization of an American vision of commercial prosperity.” There is something to that account, but it does not quite convey the perception of those at the wrong end of the guns.

The same is true of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which brings to an end at least a phase in the “war on terror” re-declared by President George W. Bush on the second 9/11. Let us turn to a few thoughts on that event and its significance.

On May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in his virtually unprotected compound by a raiding mission of 79 Navy SEALs, who entered Pakistan by helicopter. After many lurid stories were provided by the government and withdrawn, official reports made it increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law, beginning with the invasion itself.

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 79 commandos facing no opposition — except, they report, from his wife, also unarmed, whom they shot in self-defense when she “lunged” at them, according to the White House.

A plausible reconstruction of the events is provided by veteran Middle East correspondent Yochi Dreazen and colleagues in the Atlantic. Dreazen, formerly the military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is senior correspondent for the National Journal Group covering military affairs and national security. According to their investigation, White House planning appears not to have considered the option of capturing bin Laden alive: “The administration had made clear to the military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.”

The authors add: “For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance.” Furthermore, “capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges.” Better, then, to assassinate him, dumping his body into the sea without the autopsy considered essential after a killing — an act that predictably provoked both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

As the Atlantic inquiry observes, “The decision to kill bin Laden outright was the clearest illustration to date of a little-noticed aspect of the Obama administration’s counterterror policy. The Bush administration captured thousands of suspected militants and sent them to detention camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration, by contrast, has focused on eliminating individual terrorists rather than attempting to take them alive.” That is one significant difference between Bush and Obama. The authors quote former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who “told German TV that the U.S. raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law’ and that bin Laden should have been detained and put on trial,” contrasting Schmidt with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who “defended the decision to kill bin Laden although he didn’t pose an immediate threat to the Navy SEALs, telling a House panel… that the assault had been ‘lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way.’”

The disposal of the body without autopsy was also criticized by allies. The highly regarded British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who supported the intervention and opposed the execution largely on pragmatic grounds, nevertheless described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity” that should have been obvious to a former professor of constitutional law. Pakistan law “requires a colonial inquest on violent death, and international human rights law insists that the ‘right to life’ mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action. The U.S. is therefore under a duty to hold an inquiry that will satisfy the world as to the true circumstances of this killing.”

Robertson usefully reminds us that “[i]t was not always thus. When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden — the Nazi leadership — the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride… the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.’”

Eric Margolis comments that “Washington has never made public the evidence of its claim that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks,” presumably one reason why “polls show that fully a third of American respondents believe that the U.S. government and/or Israel were behind 9/11,” while in the Muslim world skepticism is much higher. “An open trial in the U.S. or at the Hague would have exposed these claims to the light of day,” he continues, a practical reason why Washington should have followed the law.

In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In June 2002, FBI head Robert Mueller, in what the Washington Post described as “among his most detailed public comments on the origins of the attacks,” could say only that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan.”

What the FBI believed and thought in June 2002 they didn’t know eight months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know) to permit a trial of bin Laden if they were presented with evidence. Thus, it is not true, as President Obama claimed in his White House statement after bin Laden’s death, that “[w]e quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda.”

There has never been any reason to doubt what the FBI believed in mid-2002, but that leaves us far from the proof of guilt required in civilized societies — and whatever the evidence might be, it does not warrant murdering a suspect who could, it seems, have been easily apprehended and brought to trial. Much the same is true of evidence provided since. Thus, the 9/11 Commission provided extensive circumstantial evidence of bin Laden’s role in 9/11, based primarily on what it had been told about confessions by prisoners in Guantanamo. It is doubtful that much of that would hold up in an independent court, considering the ways confessions were elicited. But in any event, the conclusions of a congressionally authorized investigation, however convincing one finds them, plainly fall short of a sentence by a credible court, which is what shifts the category of the accused from suspect to convicted.

There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that was a boast, not a confession, with as much credibility as my “confession” that I won the Boston marathon. The boast tells us a lot about his character, but nothing about his responsibility for what he regarded as a great achievement, for which he wanted to take credit.

Again, all of this is, transparently, quite independent of one’s judgments about his responsibility, which seemed clear immediately, even before the FBI inquiry, and still does.

Crimes of Aggression

It is worth adding that bin Laden’s responsibility was recognized in much of the Muslim world, and condemned. One significant example is the distinguished Lebanese cleric Sheikh Fadlallah, greatly respected by Hizbollah and Shia groups generally, outside Lebanon as well. He had some experience with assassinations. He had been targeted for assassination: by a truck bomb outside a mosque, in a CIA-organized operation in 1985. He escaped, but 80 others were killed, mostly women and girls as they left the mosque — one of those innumerable crimes that do not enter the annals of terror because of the fallacy of “wrong agency.” Sheikh Fadlallah sharply condemned the 9/11 attacks.

One of the leading specialists on the Jihadi movement, Fawaz Gerges, suggests that the movement might have been split at that time had the U.S. exploited the opportunity instead of mobilizing the movement, particularly by the attack on Iraq, a great boon to bin Laden, which led to a sharp increase in terror, as intelligence agencies had anticipated. At the Chilcot hearings investigating the background to the invasion of Iraq, for example, the former head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 testified that both British and U.S. intelligence were aware that Saddam posed no serious threat, that the invasion was likely to increase terror, and that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had radicalized parts of a generation of Muslims who saw the military actions as an “attack on Islam.” As is often the case, security was not a high priority for state action.

It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos had landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course). Uncontroversially, he was not a “suspect” but the “decider” who gave the orders to invade Iraq — that is, to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country and its national heritage, and the murderous sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. Equally uncontroversially, these crimes vastly exceed anything attributed to bin Laden.

To say that all of this is uncontroversial, as it is, is not to imply that it is not denied. The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat. Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Stalin and Hitler were responsible for horrendous crimes, though loyalists deny it. All of this should, again, be too obvious for comment, and would be, except in an atmosphere of hysteria so extreme that it blocks rational thought.

Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the “supreme international crime” — the crime of aggression. That crime was defined clearly enough by Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg.  An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the Tribunal in his opening statement, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “[i]nvasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State ….” No one, even the most extreme supporter of the aggression, denies that Bush and associates did just that.

We might also do well to recall Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg on the principle of universality: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

It is also clear that announced intentions are irrelevant, even if they are truly believed. Internal records reveal that Japanese fascists apparently did believe that, by ravaging China, they were laboring to turn it into an “earthly paradise.” And although it may be difficult to imagine, it is conceivable that Bush and company believed they were protecting the world from destruction by Saddam’s nuclear weapons. All irrelevant, though ardent loyalists on all sides may try to convince themselves otherwise.

We are left with two choices: either Bush and associates are guilty of the “supreme international crime” including all the evils that follow, or else we declare that the Nuremberg proceedings were a farce and the allies were guilty of judicial murder.

The Imperial Mentality and 9/11

A few days before the bin Laden assassination, Orlando Bosch died peacefully in Florida, where he resided along with his accomplice Luis Posada Carriles and many other associates in international terrorism. After he was accused of dozens of terrorist crimes by the FBI, Bosch was granted a presidential pardon by Bush I over the objections of the Justice Department, which found the conclusion “inescapable that it would be prejudicial to the public interest for the United States to provide a safe haven for Bosch.” The coincidence of these deaths at once calls to mind the Bush II doctrine — “already… a de facto rule of international relations,” according to the noted Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison — which revokes “the sovereignty of states that provide sanctuary to terrorists.”

Allison refers to the pronouncement of Bush II, directed at the Taliban, that “those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.” Such states, therefore, have lost their sovereignty and are fit targets for bombing and terror — for example, the state that harbored Bosch and his associate. When Bush issued this new “de facto rule of international relations,” no one seemed to notice that he was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and the murder of its criminal presidents.

None of this is problematic, of course, if we reject Justice Jackson’s principle of universality, and adopt instead the principle that the U.S. is self-immunized against international law and conventions — as, in fact, the government has frequently made very clear.

It is also worth thinking about the name given to the bin Laden operation: Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound that few seem able to perceive that the White House is glorifying bin Laden by calling him “Geronimo” — the Apache Indian chief who led the courageous resistance to the invaders of Apache lands.

The casual choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk… We might react differently if the Luftwaffe had called its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

The examples mentioned would fall under the category of “American exceptionalism,” were it not for the fact that easy suppression of one’s own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated and forced to acknowledge reality.

Perhaps the assassination was perceived by the administration as an “act of vengeance,” as Robertson concludes. And perhaps the rejection of the legal option of a trial reflects a difference between the moral culture of 1945 and today, as he suggests. Whatever the motive was, it could hardly have been security. As in the case of the “supreme international crime” in Iraq, the bin Laden assassination is another illustration of the important fact that security is often not a high priority for state action, contrary to received doctrine.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (Seven Stories Press), an updated version of his classic account, just being published this week with a major new essay — from which this post was adapted — considering the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks.

Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky

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