Friday, April 27, 2012

Bin Laden raid not one in milllion after all

In remarks reported by the U.S. government's official news network, Voice of America, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- like every other Obama administration official this election season -- recounts with pride that glorious spring day when, flowers blooming and birds chirping, a team of Navy SEALs found what they admit was an unarmed Osama bin Laden and shot him dead.

While the rah-rah, Obama-got-Osama! stuff is passé and unremarkable at this point, what's noteworthy is Clinton's boast in her speech that the bin Laden raid was not out of the ordinary at all. It wasn't a one-off, spectacularly exceptional raid undertaken because the target was the world's most wanted terrorist, she says. Gosh no. America does this sort of stuff all the time!
"This may sound really exotic and scary to you all, but we've probably done something similar to this - helicopter in, take the target, look for who you're after, and get out of there - we have probably done it now 1,000 times."
Indeed, the U.S. military has terrorized the people of Afghanistan for years now with night raids that, according to the occupying force's own statistics, have killed hundreds if not thousands of innocent civilians. Being poor brown people, though, the dead don't have names, their passing not trumpeted by every Democratic strategist within shouting distance of a microphone.

Life is so unimportant to self-styled liberal humanitarians that it doesn't even factor into their ostensibly all-encompassing contingency planning, as Voice of America notes:
Even with that experience on the ground, Clinton said President Barack Obama's advisors worked through every contingency they could think of in assessing the bin Laden raid: What if something went wrong with the helicopters, like in the failed effort to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980? When was the next moonless night? What would Pakistan do?
Conspicuously not asked: What if the raid ends up killing innocent bystanders? What if it was a case of mistaken identity and Navy SEALs ended up massacring an innocent family? What if, in their zeal to find and kill bin Laden by faking a vaccination a program in effort to track him down by way of DNA, the U.S. government triggered a polio outbreak in Pakistan?

That's not the only conspicuous absence, though. Check out this description of the raid and see if you can see what's missing:
As the raid progressed, a helicopter damaged its tail section on a wall of the bin Laden compound, so another chopper was sent in from Afghanistan. SEALs moved women and children from the house to shield them from an explosion set off to destroy the damaged helicopter while other SEALs brought out what they hoped was bin Laden's body. "All of this is happening - the body is going out, the women and children are coming in, the reserve helicopter is on its way, but it's not there yet," Clinton says. "There was a lot of breath-holding." 
Somehow Osama bin Laden went from being Osama bin Laden to being a "body," yet in a speech dedicated solely to celebrating his killing, how he was actually killed goes unmentioned. Kind of weird -- and it kind of makes you wonder: Maybe even the likes of Clinton feel a tinge of shame about an execution-style killing of an unarmed man, no matter how nasty of a man he might have been. Or, perhaps, they just fear bragging about those particulars might remind people that the original tale of a cowardly, trembling Osama hiding behind one of his wives was a lie.

Either way, it's probably best to keep the story ambiguous.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Citizen Radio interview

Did I ever link to this? Yeah, I don't think I did. Anyway, if you're interested in hearing what I sound like with too much caffeine and not enough respect for the English language, check out this interview I did with Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein of Citizen Radio.

Topics discussed include: that time last December that I rode an elevator with Rep. Luis Gutiérez on the way to a DCCC fundraiser and heard him joke that he was in fact "the 1 percent" and that the Occupy movement was just a "bunch of anarchists"; the relationship between Occupy DC and the Democratic Party; and how one can voice discontent with the status quo without voting -- and without just giving up.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shahzad Akbar on (not) coming to America

Update: The State Department has finally granted Akbar a visa. Check out his statement.

Shahzad Akbar is a lawyer in Pakistan who represents some of the many civilian victims of the Obama administration's drone war in his country. Later this month, he is scheduled to speak at a conference in Washington on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to wage war and, in the words of State Department lawyer Harold Koh, deliver habeas-free "justice" to America's perceived enemies. However, in what, gosh, has to be a coincidence, Akbar has been denied the visa he needs to enter the Greatest Force for Freedom in Human History.

Last week, I asked Akbar what that says about President Obama's commitment to peace and freedom. What follows is a copy of the exchange, edited for clarity:

Do you have any evidence that your visa is being denied because of your views -- e.g. contacts at the embassy who may have told you that, others who have gone through the same experience -- or is that just your assumption? Are such delays or non-responses atypical?

I applied for this visa about 14 months ago on invitation of Columbia University and at that time, the dean of the law school checked with his contact at the State Department and was informed that it wasn't the State Department which is holding my visa but a 'certain agency' (I assumed CIA) which I seem to have annoyed. 

This time I reached out to US Deputy Ambassador Richard Hoagland saying that I believe that the US has blacklisted me, preventing me from obtaining a US visa, which I have not been given despite the passing of a year. I got a reply from the embassy saying that my visa is still under 'administrative process'. It was further added at a later stage that it's Homeland Security which is holding my visa and the State Department has no role in its delay/denial.

It is also interesting to note that my last visa to US was official visa which was given to me within 3 working days of applying.

Before my drone litigation, I had good interaction with the US Embassy political section and many would interact with me to discuss various legal and political issues, but after my drone litigation and criticism of the CIA I became 'persona non grata'.

In my personal opinion, in the US when it comes to matters outside the US, the security establishment i.e CIA and related agencies have unfettered discretion without any check. 

If it's true your visa is being denied because of your outspokenness on the drone war, what does that suggest about White House claims that remarkably few civilians have been killed? What does it say about the Obama administration's commitment to transparency and open debate?

It says simply one thing: that the White House has become hostage to the CIA's covert wars and unfettered discretions. Perhaps President Obama is naive to believe that no civilians are being killed in drone attacks, but he is too smart for that. I believe he is lying to American people. He has lost the sense of reality in his efforts to bring US troops home and has forgotten that the people he is killing through the robotic warfare are human beings too and they have rights as well, like due process and the right to life. Ironically, this whole exercise is not even making America safer as more people around the world now hate America for its drone attacks and places like Guantanamo and Bagram. 

What, exactly, have you uncovered with respect to the drone war and in what ways does it challenge the official Washington narrative? 

The first Obama strike was initially reported to have killed a high-value target. Our efforts and work have unearthed that the people killed were the family of Fahim Qureshi, a 15-year-old pre-engineering student who got injured himself, losing one eye as well. He also lost his Uncle Khalil who was in wheel chair for many years. Fahim also lost his 12-year-old cousin, Imran Khan. These people are here ready to face any allegation from United States, asking if they are terrorists then the US should bring evidence against them. They are waiting for justice for wrong done to them. There are many other cases where we are challenging the US narrative of killing high-value targets and this is what annoys the US about us.

The purpose of my visit to the US is to let the American people know what their government is doing in this part of the world and why people have strong reservations about America. My visit is in the context of Americans' right to know, which is being denied. Obama wants that Americans should only listen and believe what he tells them -- this, I must add, is the worst type of tyranny ever imposed by an elected President of the United States, which used to be an emblem of freedom of speech.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The conservatism of Rachel Maddow

Once upon a time - say, three years ago - your average Democrat appeared to care about issues of war and peace. When the man dropping the bombs spoke with an affected Texas twang, the moral and fiscal costs of empire were the subject of numerous protests and earnest panel discussions, the issue not just a banal matter of policy upon which reasonable people could disagree, but a matter of the nation's very soul.

Then the guy in the White House changed.

Now, if the Democratic rank and file haven't necessarily learned to love the bomb - though many certainly have - they have at least learned to stop worrying about it. Barack Obama may have dramatically expanded the war in Afghanistan, launched twice as many drone strikes in Pakistan as his predecessor and dropped women-and-children killing cluster bombs in Yemen, but peruse a liberal magazine or blog and you're more likely to find a strongly worded denunciation of Rush Limbaugh than the president. War isn't over, but one could be forgiven for thinking that it is.

Given the lamentable state of liberal affairs, Drift, a new book from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, is refreshing. Most left-of-centre pundits long ago relegated the issue of killing poor foreigners in unjustifiable wars of aggression to the status of a niche concern, somewhere between Mitt Romney's family dog and the search results for "Santorum" in terms of national importance. So in that sense, it's nice to see a prominent progressive at least trying to grapple with the evils of militarism and rise of the US empire. It's just a shame the book isn't very good.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera.

What DC taught me about journalism

I thought I had done good. As a 22-year-old reporter just out of college, I had just gotten the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, to admit right into my microphone that while he couldn’t deny the Bush administration was potentially funding covert – and illicit – acts of war against Iran, he wasn’t prepared to do a damn thing about it.

Weeks earlier, in March 2007, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh had reported in The New Yorker that U.S. intelligence officials were telling him that President George W. Bush had authorized support for a lovely little Pakistani terrorist organization called “Jundullah,” or Army of God, to wage a low-level war against the Islamic Republic, from bombing police cadets to assassinating high-ranking military officials. ABC News reported the same thing a month later, noting that U.S. officials said the “the relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or ‘finding’ as well as congressional oversight,” reminiscent of how the Reagan administration had used proxies “to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.”

Read the rest at

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wells Fargo's ties to the prison industry

Wells Fargo is one of the top five largest banks in America, a fact that on its own is damning enough, basic human decency not exactly being conducive to success in the financial industry. Despite, or rather because of, its role as one of the leading sub-prime mortgage lenders prior to the 2008 crash in the housing market, the bank was handed $37 billion from the U.S. government, a transfer of wealth from the foreclosed upon have-nots to the haves doing the foreclosing – people like chairman and CEO John Stumpf, whose compensation actually rose after his company’s de facto bankruptcy to a cool $18 million last year.

As Wells Fargo has grown over the years, using its bailout funds to gobble up rival Wachovia and expand to the East Coast, so has the U.S. prison population. By 2008, one in 100 American adults were either in jail or in prison – and one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34, many simply for non-violent offenses, justice not so much blind as bigoted. Overall, more than 2.3 million people are currently behind bars, up 50 percent in the last 15 years, the land of the free now accounting for a full quarter of the world’s prisoners.

These developments are not unrelated.

Read the rest at

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bradley Manning exposed atrocities -- and liberalism

More than three years into the presidency of Barack Obama, it’s almost a cliché now to ask: What if George W. Bush did it? From dramatically escalating the war in Afghanistan to institutionalizing the practice of indefinite imprisonment, Obama has dashed hopes he would offer a change from the Bush’s national security policies – but he hasn’t faced a whole lot of resistance from liberals who once decried those policies as an affront to American values.

Like those on the right who now crow about fascism but spent the Bush years gleefully declaring left-wing celebrities “enemies of the state,” many of those on the liberal-left treat issues of war and civil liberties as useful merely for partisan purposes. When a Democrat’s in power those issues become inconvenient. And usually ignored.

Read the rest at

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Why I should be a vegetarian (but I'm not)

I've been thinking a lot lately about eating my dog. Like, a lot a lot. Except, it's not that I really want to coat him in a layer of barbecue sauce and give him a good spin in a rotisserie oven, it's that I don't want to do that. And I can't think of any principled rationalization why.

Oh sure, I can point to the things I like about my dog that give me pause when I think about devouring him. Most days they even exceed the things I dislike about him, typically depending on the number of Nicaraguan children (“Nica Nuggets”) he himself has tried to devour that day. But besides his better-than-average cuddling ability, there's really not a whole lot that separates him from something I'd eat for dinner. Like a pig.

Living in Nicaragua really drives that point home. Visiting the island of Ometepe, for instance, you'll see giant 300-pound pigs in people's front yards just hanging out. Ya know, livin' the pig life. Sometimes they'll even be playing or cuddled up with the family dog. In El Gigante, a beach town in the southwest of the country, I recall seeing a litter of playful little piglets that I first mistook for puppies – you know, the equally intelligent and sociable little fellas we're supposed to go “awww, oh my god look at them, look at them!” over. But they weren't puppies, of course. They were future bacon.

I didn't eat pork for a week.

On the one rationalizing hand, you could argue that the living conditions of these piggies is much better here in Central America, so no sweat. Yeah, they're still slaughtered for food, but at least they get to live a portion of their lives outside of the confines of a cage. It sure as hell isn't like the massive corporate-agriculture facilities you'd find in the United States. So go ahead and eat that pork chop without guilt.

Except, not really. Yeah, the living conditions are better, but the result is the same: breakfast sausage. Up until the moment they die before their time, they can frolic and play, to a degree, but they still end up in people's stomachs. Their life before that is better, but the end result is the same.

And for what? We know we as human beings can live without eating meat. We know we don't need to eat one of the most clever creatures in nature to survive. But we do anyway. Because it tastes good.

Part of me says that's okay, that I'm just being over-sentimental. Look at the animal kingdom, the meat-loving part of my brain says: animals eat other animals all the time. Like, it's what they do. So that pulled-pork sandwich? It's no big deal, bro. Things die, we eat them. Hell, while visiting the otherwise cosmopolitan-ish city of León in northwest Nicaragua, I witnessed a dog gnawing on a horse's severed leg -- all three feet of it -- a site so revolting I couldn't help but laugh. So quit getting all weepy about the cycle of life, buddy, 'cause dude? You're weirding out the other customers.

At the same time, though, I feel bad about it. And when I read folks referring to sentient beings as little more than property – things that may be killed based on the whims of some dead crazy woman whose will stipulated that her cats die with her – I can't help but be horrified. If we're really the superior species we claim to be, and we know we can get by without slaughtering less sophisticated species, what the hell does that say about us that we keep on doing it?

And yet, ultimately my decisions are no different than the guy ordering the meat lovers' pizza from Domino's Pizza Hut. I have twinges of guilt, yeah, but I continue eating animals that, in different circumstances, I might put a leash on and dress up in cute little outfits. Why? Because they taste good. Because that's what I grew up doing. Because I'm too lazy to explore the alternatives. What does that make me? I'm not sure, but I know I'm not any better than the person doing the dirty work of leading these animals to slaughter. And when I look at my dog I know that, under different circumstances in a different culture, it could be him being being served alongside my mashed potatoes.