No Compensation: Drone Killing of Western Hostages Reveals Glaring Double Standard on Civilian Deaths

CIA drone strikeNo one remotely interested in US foreign policy can ignore the fact that massive civilian death has become an integral part of US warfare. Often termed “collateral damage”, these deaths are explained as the inevitable outcome of US hi-tech weaponry which often cannot discriminate between legal targets and innocent bystanders. Nonetheless, we can gain valuable insight into the reigning moral culture of certain societies by examining how powerful actors who wield these weapons respond to these deaths. Are the deaths acknowledged with remorse and sympathy or are they simply written off as the consequence of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”? Sometimes the news cycle offers us case studies to test this question.

Such a case study can be observed in the killing of two western hostages, Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. An American and an Italian, they were killed in a US drone strike targeting a “suspected Al Qaeda compound,” in Pakistan. As the Wall Street Journal reported “The incident also underscores the limits of U.S. intelligence and the risk of unintended consequences in executing a targeted killing program that human-rights groups say endangers civilians.” That drone strikes “endanger civilians” has been well documented for several years by reputable organizations like Reprieve and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Latest statistics reveal between 2,449 and 3,949 people have been killed in Pakistan since 2004. Of that figure between 421 and 960 were civilians (172-207 children killed). Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan are among the other countries targeted by drone strikes with the civilian death toll in Yemen between 65 and 96.

Unlike the tragic deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, none of these deaths elicited serious commentary within the US press beyond the predictable dismissal of unfortunate “collateral damage.” In fact, this indifference sometimes ventured into pure callousness. Take for example White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ response to the extrajudicial killing of Denver born teenager Abdulrahman Awlaki, a killing Attorney General Eric Holder rationalized on the grounds that he was “not specifically targeted.” After being asked by a reporter why this strike was authorized, Gibbs coldly replied that Abdulrahman “should have had a more responsible father,” a reference to Anwar Awlaki who was killed weeks before his son met the same fate. Needless to say, Gibbs would be ridiculed as a mindless sociopath if he expressed a similar sentiment in response to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, who, like Abdulrahman Awlaki, were not implicated in any crime. So the question is where does this indifference come from and, more importantly, what measures can be instituted to overcome it. Scholarship has plenty to say in this regard. MIT professor John Tirman explores this in his exhaustive study of civilian deaths The Death of Others. “The very fundamental norm of nation building and national survival as enabled by violence against savages,” Tirman observes, “is enormously consequential for how the deaths of the savages will be viewed.”

Further into the text Tirman adds:

“Correlating beliefs in a just world with beliefs in American ‘values’ is an essential addendum to understanding indifference … It is a foundation of American culture and has been from the beginning, and it powerfully shapes the attitudes and behavior of Americans from childhood. In its sheer explanatory power for the ‘American experience,’ it really has no rivals. It is an account of the entire scope of European immigration, expansion, and subjugation of the indigenous tribes, class conflict, and finally, American globalism.”

Therefore, engaging with the roots of American indifference to the deaths of others entails far more than merely becoming more “sensitive” to civilian suffering but a much more fundamental reevaluation in our complicity in crimes against humanity and what we can do to terminate these crimes given our ability to influence state policy. Recent polling illustrates that such an engagement has been severely lacking. Global polls published by Pew Research reveal the US as an international outlier in their support for drone strikes. Opposition in other countries is not only held by majorities but overwhelming majorities. In Lo Porto’s native Italy only 18% of its citizens supported drone strikes. MSNBCNevertheless, US public opinion has remained relatively stable in the face of these enormous costs to civilian populations abroad. It was only after the deaths of these two western hostages that MSNBC raised the question if US drone policy should be changed. If one believes in an afterlife, there were no doubt hundreds of Yemeni, Pakistani, and Somalian ghosts asking themselves why this question could not be raised after their deaths. The huge role that pure racism plays in entrenching popular indifference to non-western victims of drone strikes cannot be ignored. In Tirman’s words, “because of the long history of racism in America, its powerful political effects over the whole of American history, and its insinuation into U.S. expansion, its plausibility as the base of indifference is apparent.”

Further insight how racism serves as “the base of indifference” can be deciphered in the rules of engagement surrounding the Obama administration’s drone policy. In all the commentary that has flooded newspapers and television programs about these tragic killings, not one person has thought to ask what right the US has to bomb Pakistan in the first place. Legal questions of this kind are inconceivable. Instead we are subjected to presidential platitudes about the unintended outcomes inherent in the “fog of war.” Incidentally, this question about the legality of drone strikes is alive and well outside of circles of US power. PakistaniNot only has the Pakistani High Court in Peshawar condemned drone strikes as an act of aggression but UN official Ben Emerson has raised many, albeit mild, criticisms of the Obama administration’s drone program, particularly what he described as “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” When Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar attempted to enter the US to testify about drone strikes his entry was blocked. “Before I started drone investigations I never had an issue with US visa. In fact, I had a US diplomatic visa for two years,” Akbar remarked when interviewed by the UK Guardian. None of these valiant efforts to shed light on the US drone program influenced US policy makers or public opinion in the slightest regard nor were there any polls on MSNBC (as there have been since the killing of the two western hostages) asking viewers to go online and vote if drone policy should be rethought.

There’s plenty more that could be said about the illegality and blatant immorality of a program world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky has described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”, but these insights should suffice in exposing the glaring double standard that drives media discourse about drones and, by association, the hideous policies that increase civilian casualties outside the gaze of public scrutiny. Perhaps if the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia could magically evolve into blonde haired, blue-eyed white people this conversation would have emerged earlier. It’s utterly disgraceful that it took the tragic deaths of two western aid workers for it to finally begin but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the fact that this conversation has begun and that’s a promising start for all genuinely concerned about human life both in the “west” and abroad.


The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman


A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror

9780805080414_custom-f738395eec5b7662a84419a1012990e3e9b54ce5-s800-c15Since the highly publicized release of the US Senate Torture Report reactions have ranged from outrage, to shameless apologetics, to cold indifference. The New York Times, in an unusual display of adversarial journalism, decried the revelations as “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach,” while the Washington Post declared “Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked.’” Both of these responses, while properly critical of state criminality, offer only a partial picture of the culture of power responsible for the atrocities detailed in the report. In order to grasp fully how the CIA constructed this global torture regime it’s necessary to explore the history of US policy, specifically when it comes to the treatment of “enemy” populations. Alfred McCoy’s A Question of Torture is essential reading in tracing this history, beginning with CIA experimentation with Soviet-inspired methods of “mind control” and culminating with the sensory deprivation, stress positions, and “rectal rehydration” (anal rape) of today’s agency. Contrary to myths that the barbaric actions of the CIA represented an assault on “American values”, McCoy demonstrates how torture has long been a key instrument of US policy throughout the Cold War period and in its aftermath. During the Vietnam War the US military enforced a national torture program drawing its tactics from a document called the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook. Contained in this handbook were instructions for the implementation of “a revolutionary two-phase form of torture that relied on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain for an effect that, for the first time in the two millennia of this cruel science, was more psychological than physical.” Alongside this embrace of psychological torture was the Phoenix Program, a highly complex assassination program that led to the deaths of 40,994 Vietcong guerillas (Saigon government figures).

Shortly after the inception of these policies, they were replicated in Latin America, first in US-backed South American dictatorships (Brazil for example) and, eventually, in Central American terror states like Honduras. This continuity between US policy in Vietnam and policy in Central America during the 1980s could be perceived most clearly in the Human Resources Manual that the Honduran state drew from in their torture of “communist” subversives. Among the methods relied upon in this manual were sensory deprivation, with an emphasis on forms of solitary confinement, and manipulation of the environment. In one particularly gruesome instance of this paradigm in action, the Caballero unit, named after Honduran Sergeant Florencio Caballero, brutally tortured a “young Marxist” named Ines Murillo. While in Honduran custody Murillo was “stripped naked and subjected to electrical shocks for thirty five days.” Afterwards, she was “moved to a second, secret prison near Tegucigalpa where her questioners … ‘gave her raw dead birds and rats for dinner, threw freezing water on her naked body every half hour for extended periods, and made her stand for hours without sleep and without being allowed to urinate.”

Overshadowing all of these crimes, from those in Indochina to those in Central America, was a culture of impunity that shielded all responsible from even the slightest forms of legal accountability. In this respect, America followed the same path of its imperial predecessors in France and Britain. When colonial France was found to have committed heinous crimes against the Algerian resistance, crimes which included, among other things, the waterboarding of Algerians, a government organized inquiry (the Wuillaume Report) exonerated all high-ranking officials on the flimsy argument that the torture methods employed were “more psychological than physical and therefore [did] not constitute excessive cruelty.” Similarly, when it was exposed that British forces were engaged in torture in Northern Ireland—“five techniques” consisting of wall standing, sleep deprivation, starvation, subjection to noise, and hooding—a government-led investigation (The Compton Report) absolved the perpetrators arguing that the crimes were “necessary against terrorists because ‘information must be sought while it is still fresh … and thereby save members of the security forces and of the civil population.’”

It therefore should come as no surprise to any student of history that President Obama honored this disgraceful tradition when he responded to the Senate exposures of CIA torture by urging that we not “refight old arguments” by going after the culprits (a reasonable position if we internalize the worldview of a state terrorist). Aside from conforming to a societal pattern of callousness and disregard for human life, what MIT international relations scholar John Tirman calls “collective autism”, Obama’s statement evinces a deep-seated ignorance as it relates to the long-term psychological effects of torture. In historical terms, the psychological damage that can be inflicted on a human being via torture is well documented. In 1972 a selection of Danish medical professionals examined “Greek and Chilean refugees for ‘forensic medical evidence of the after-effects of torture,” and concluded “of the 200 victims examined … nearly 70 percent still had ‘mental symptoms at the time of examination.'” Symptoms included “nightmares, depression, panic attacks, and low energy”.

Contemporary cases of torture demonstrate a similar trend. The brutalization of Canadian national Maher Arar is a textbook example. In what’s euphemistically called “extraordinary rendition” Arar was kidnapped by US agents at JFK Airport in New York, “loaded onto a CIA-chartered Gulfstream III jet”, and transferred to a Syrian prison “where he remained for a year being beaten and whipped so savagely that he confessed to anything his tormentors suggested.” Two years after his release Arar reported that he “still [had] nightmares about being in Syria, being beaten, [and] being in jail.” Post-traumatic stress of this kind is a common experience for torture victims who are unable to casually dismiss these crimes against humanity as an “old argument.” For torture victims the “argument” is never truly “old.” It’s perpetually present.

Examining the enormous scope and level of coordination behind the Bush administration’s torture program it’s glaringly obvious that anything less than a criminal prosecution of top administration officials (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice), apologists in the legal profession (John Yoo, Bybee, Alberto Gonzalez), and high-ranking military figures (General Sanchez) will ensure that worse atrocities will be committed in the future. Achieving this will require an honest look at not only the criminality embedded in institutions of power but an equally honest look at the social norms and mores that enabled the US public to silently acquiesce to these monumental crimes. In the words of a recent Washington Post article, “A majority of Americans think that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture …” Disengaging from this culture of indifference is a necessary prerequisite to overcoming this tradition of state sponsored terror. Only then can the American public help provide the psychological and moral closure, and significantly, legal justice, that the victims of these savage acts rightfully deserve.


Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba

9780745330402Few global conflicts illustrate the vindictive character of US power as dramatically as Washington’s ongoing war against the people of Cuba. The latest episode in this war was unveiled in an AP report detailing a USAID program designed to destabilize Cuban society. Using a social media website named ZunZuneo, the program’s stated objective was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society,” by organizing “smart mobs” willing to overthrow the revolutionary government of Fidel and Raul Castro. This transformation would be made possible through the dissemination of propaganda aimed at discrediting the government. Apart from exposing the geopolitical goals of a purportedly “humanitarian” organization, this story has served as a fascinating case study into the historical amnesia that prevails in some of the most respected sectors of American intellectual culture. Responding to the mild, tactical criticisms made against ZunZuneo, the editorial board of the Washington Post published a statement praising the operation as necessary to undermine Raul Castro, a leader “who [insists] on a level of political control that has gone out of style everywhere except Havana and Pyongyang.” ZunZuneo was, according to the board, simply another strategy in “the Obama administration’s efforts to relieve the Cuban nightmare.”

Conspicuously absent from this statement, and others that mirror it in ideological commitment, is the long history of state-sponsored terrorism directed at Cuba traceable to power centers in Washington. Understanding this record of terror is crucial in developing a more honest and coherent picture of US-Cuba relations. Keith Bolender’s examination of this violent history and its devastating effects on the people of Cuba Voices From the Other Side stands out as a dramatic example of the moral and intellectual courage required to divorce ourselves from the myths propagated by outlets like the Washington Post. Far from a phenomenon unique to the 20th century or Cold War politics, US hostility towards Cuban independence can trace its origins back to the 19th century when the island was a colony of Spain. In 1832 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote that “Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union.” This myth–that the Cuban people are “incapable of self-support”–is a defining feature of US policy towards Cuba that has been embraced by virtually every American President from Kennedy to Obama. It was this myth that allowed the US to fulfill Adam’s desire to subjugate Cuba to American power after the Spanish-American war (often falsely portrayed as the “liberation of Cuba”) and legitimize this annexation through a series of deceptive amendments and treaties, none of which granted Cubans any meaningful degree of independence. Take for example the Teller Amendment of 1898 which declared that the US did not impose its military might on Cuba to seize its territory or economically exploit its people. Instead the US intervened to “leave control of the island to its own people”, words that carry a predictability which should only elicit uncontrollable laughter, at least when they are not being uttered in the presence of more disciplined audiences as when President Obama recently justified Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a war that left this target of first world savagery to “its own people.”

Luis Posada Carriles, 82, walks with his lawyers after leaving the court in El Paso, Texas
Luis Posada

Doubtless, similar sentiments were articulated by President Eisenhower and Kennedy when they laid the groundwork for what Bolender accurately describes as the principal threat in Cuba’s multi-decade war on terror, a war on terror that radically differs from Bush’s “war on terror” in that it doesn’t entail the unleashing of horrific amounts of state-terror against civilians in other countries. While conventional narratives restrict examples of US force in Cuba to the Bay of Pigs failure, the historical record tells a far more gruesome story. Since the initiation of the US assault on the Cuban revolution in 1960 “the personal toll has been calculated at 3,478 dead and 2,099 injured.” Furthermore, “the [Cuban] government has documented approximately 800 terrorist acts inside Cuba since 1960”, the majority of them organized in Miami, often with the cooperation (if not direct participation) of the CIA. Alpha 66, Omega 7 and Commandos F4 are some of the more prominent terrorist organizations responsible for these atrocities. Tactics used to destabilize Cuban society ranged from the bombing of hotels, ammunition ships, civilian airliners, department stores, and movie theaters, machine gunning defenseless neighborhoods, the murder of literacy activists, chemical warfare, psychological warfare and even biological terrorism. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Bolender’s study is that it is not satisfied with mere statistics about these US-backed atrocities. Embedded in this defense of historical memory are several deeply touching and humanizing portraits of the victims of these attacks, how they have dealt with the loss of loved ones and endured in the face of overwhelming odds. Take for instance the story of Jorge De La Nuez and his mother Niuvis. On October 6, 1976 Jorge’s father was murdered on Cubana Airlines Flight 455 after a bombing orchestrated by Luis Posada Carilles, a terrorist who currently resides in Miami, sent Jorge Sr. and the 72 other passengers aboard plunging to their deaths in a ball of fire. Jorge Sr. was the head of a delegation of shrimp fisherman. On the day of his death he was planning to make a surprise visit to his wife as it was their wedding anniversary. Jorge Jr.’s childhood recollection of the moment he discovered his father was murdered is enough to make one tremble with rage:

“So I got home and went upstairs, at the top of the stairs I saw my mother, and she was crying. It was a shock, a hit, to see her crying. I thought ‘why would she be crying?’ My dad is home and she should be happy. When I got to her she grabbed me and gave me a hug, she hugged me hard. She gave me a kiss. She said ‘oh my son’ and I replied ‘what’s the matter mom?’ She said once again ‘oh my son, something terrible has happened.’ And I start screaming ‘What happened to my dad? Why are you crying? You have to be happy.’ My mother told me my dad was not coming back. I thought, well he is not coming home today, when is he coming home? But she said my dad had been in an accident. She said my father would not be coming home ever.”

This stomach-turning story and others like it lend Bolender’s study a unique quality that separates it from traditional academic work on US power which may satisfy all the demands of empirical research and analytical rigor but, for various reasons, fail make the suffering of the victims truly palpable. By doing this, Bolender sheds much-needed light on the severe moral costs attached to criminal policies and how we should position ourselves when evaluating the US role in these atrocities. For instance, Bolender’s description of how Dengue 2, a deadly mosquito borne disease, was introduced in Cuba as a form of biological terrorism finds meaning in a mother’s distress dealing with the loss of one child to the disease only to confront what at the time appeared to be the imminent death of her older child by the same plague. Ariel Alonso Perez, a leading authority on biological terrorism, states “there have been a minimum of 23 events of biological terrorism against Cuba,” a record that has resulted in “more than 100 dead children.” Although there isn’t 100% certainty that the CIA was responsible for this outbreak, strong reasons exist to suspect the agency was behind it, like the fact that “the United States conducted various research projects into biological warfare, including Dengue fever in 1959 at Fort Derrick in Maryland,” or that “Pentagon officials suggested a chemical and bacterial program to contaminate Cuba’s food supplies, and part of the sabotage criteria under Operation Mongoose was to induce failures in food crops.” In 1984 Eduardo Arocena, a Miami-based Cuban terrorist and member of Omega 7, confessed that he was sent on a mission to Cuba in 1980 to introduce “some germs” to the country.

While the imposition of terror through bombing and biological warfare stimulated disorder throughout Cuba, no other attack directly affected as many Cubans as the psychological terror behind what was called Operation Peter Pan. Under this covert operation, run by the CIA and the State Department with the decisive participation of Father Bryan O. Walsh, the Catholic Church in Miami and the Headmaster of Ruston Academy in Havana James Baker, thousands of I-20 student visa applications were illegally processed leading to what Bolender describes as “the exodus of more than 14,000 children from November 1960 to October 1962.” Underpinning this criminal operation was the mass circulation of black propaganda alleging that Fidel Castro and his comrades were plotting to “transfer parental authority to the state.” The foundational source of this psychological operation was a manufactured document called La Patria Potestad or the Act of Parental Authority. Unless Cuban parents sent their children out of the country, prominent members of the clergy argued, “they’d be subject to 15 years in jail, or simply made to disappear.” Also enlisted to take part in this propaganda coup was a radio program called Radio Swan. Radio Swan was created by the CIA in 1960 and was behind the first example of Peter Pan propaganda. In October of 1960 the following message was sent across the airwaves in Cuba:

“Cuban mothers don’t let your son be taken away from you. The new government law is to take your children away at five years old and give them back to you when he is 18 years. And by then he will already be a monster. Attention mothers, go to church, and follow instructions from the clergy.”

Bolender interviews the children, now adults, who were victimized by this psychological operation. Two of the victims are unambiguous in describing the operation as an act of psychological terrorism. Marina Ochoa, a Cuban native who lost her brother at the age of 10 to the operation, stated “there is the instillation of fear, the targets are civilian, there is a purpose to disrupt government functions, and the act is designed to achieve political aims. What else do we need to call it an act of terrorism?” Incidentally, we can ask the same question about the Obama administration’s “Cuban Twitter” program as it also meets this standard criteria only with a human cost that is , thankfully, much less devastating. As late as the 1980s, decades after the program was initiated, the US State Department rejected a request from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees “to help reunite Cuban children with their parents.” Other examples of US defiance of the international community include the refusal to lift the economic embargo against Cuba despite overwhelming opposition (in October 2013 the UN vote on the embargo was 188 to 2 with the US and Israel voting in favor of maintaining the blockade) and the imprisonment of the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five

In September of 2001 the Cuban Five–Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guererro and Fernando Gonzalez–were sentenced to four life sentences and 75 years for “conspiracy to commit espionage, being unregistered agents for a foreign power and holding false documents.” In a revealing precursor to the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers the Cuban Five were actually punished for infiltrating and blowing the whistle on Miami-based terrorist organizations. When the Cuban Ministry of the Interior provided a FBI delegation with “detailed accounts of actions and plans, recording of phone conversations, videos, samples of explosive substances and other information their agents had gathered from infiltration work in Miami,” the FBI responded by using the material to reveal the identities of the Cuban agents and arrest them. Much like the response to Chelsea Manning’s release of the Collateral Murder video, this incident is a glaring indication of just how low a priority preventing terrorism is to the power elite especially if that terrorism is directed towards official enemies. The real criminals under this imperial logic are those who expose this gangsterism. Despite the fact that the case of the Cuban Five holds the ignoble distinction of being “the only judicial proceeding in United States history condemned by the Work Group of Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights”–the Commission described the sentences as “not impartial” and “excessively severe”–when the case was presented to the Supreme Court in June of 2009 they “refused to hear the case.” Reflecting on the absurdity of the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, the wife of Rene Gonzalez, Olga Salanueva, noted “We had no choice but to prevent these [terrorist] acts by sending men for the sake of our country and family … We couldn’t invade Florida, like America did to Afghanistan.”

It’s worth mentioning that these crimes make up a mere fraction of the catalog of murder, torture, lies and exploitation featured in this incredibly penetrating and moving look at the world from the other side of the Godfather’s gun. Simply recommending or sharing a copy of this text with a friend or colleague constitutes a form of humanitarian intervention that regularly escapes some of the most educated members of privileged society who are more concerned with bringing the right weapon to a “flame war” than seriously examining the historical roots of popular discontent with US policies abroad. None of the lessons imparted in this book can be absorbed through articles which praise attacks on sovereignty as worthy or “applause” or a sign of the “imagination” and “ingenuity” needed to put Cubans in their place. Propaganda of this kind encourages thuggish behavior under the assumption that the Castros and their supporters are, in the words of Johnathan Mahler, “not gentle socialists.”  Works like Voices from the Other Side dares us, as citizens of the empire, to outgrow the sanitized, polite, and not coincidentally, psychologically comfortable discourse preoccupied with data retention and defending US “interests.” Bolender compels us to view the world through new eyes, through the lens of the Other. Those interested in waging this authentic war on terror will no doubt consider Bolender’s book, in many ways, unprecedented both in its attention to detail and moral maturity. For these reasons, Voices from the Other Side is a towering achievement in the highest tradition of dissident literature.


The Godfather’s Wish for Ukraine

The Subject:

XB: *Disclaimer: Unless you’re in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or any other country where we want to send drones.

MG: only to preserve their independence. Which of this countries did US anex? none!

MZ: You forgot about Egypt

XB: Bombing Pakistani civilians from the sky does not help them preserve independence. It violates their independence. This is even conceded by the Peshawar High Court in Pakistan which considers drone strikes a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Throughout history military superpowers have reflexively justified their resort to violence by saying they were carrying it out for the good of the country they are invading. Fascist Japan did this, Germany did this, France did this and the British Empire did this. Thinking people ignore such statements because they are entirely predictable.

You also ask which countries did the US annex. Did you forget that the US wouldn’t exist if it were not for the annexation of half of Mexico and the Mexican-American war, a war that continued a genocidal campaign against America’s original inhabitants?

Or if this is too remote, what about the annexation of Hawaii or Puerto Rico? These territories were stolen by the US. In the case of Puerto Rico there is still a Puerto Rican independence movement.

Incidentally, I should note that even if the US annexed zero countries throughout it’s history this is the wrong thing we should be focusing on. What we should be focusing on is the impact of US intervention in other countries.

If we focus on this I think President Obama’s words about upholding ideals of independence become more transparent for the lies they are. The US only believes in independence when doing so conforms with its strategic and economic interests. This is how States and power systems behave. Everything else is public relations.


GC: For a good cause.!! …. is the key!

XB: @GC: Are you arguing that the US bombs other countries for a good cause? I don’t understand your comment.

@MZ: I also forgot about Palestine, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and a host of other countries. Indeed, the list is long.

AI: All those countries governments are typically notified about the drone use prior to any attacks. Their governments coordinate with the US military and often supply the intelligence….. The reason why these governments and their officials don’t announce their cooperation with the US forces is because they will most likely not get re-elected, because the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said….

DS: I have an idea, XB…how ’bout the US stop all foreign aid, and use those wasted tax dollars to fix our own problems? Go back to a policy of isolationism. If the rest of the world can’t keep up, too bad. Adapt, adopt, improvise…or cease to exist.

XB: @AI: What difference does it make that the country being bombed is notified prior to them being attacked? Would you support another country bombing the US and killing American civilians as long as they notified the US government before they did it? Drone strikes are clearly in violation of international law which restricts the use to force those who have received UN Security Council authorization. In the case of Obama’s drone strikes not only has he not received such authorization but he didn’t even try to get authorization.

Then there’s the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA, which runs the drone program, to participate in war. This is even conceded in the Yale International Law Journal. Here scholar Andrew Burt notes the following:

“In what ways, then, are civilian CIA drone operators legally distinct from the unprivileged belligerents they target? A strong argument exists that if civilians are operating armed drones, they assume a ‘continuous combat function’ and thus are unlawfully taking a direct part in hostilities based on their status. If so, then according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), they would be considered an ‘armed organized group’ and apparently legally indistinguishable from the terrorists they target.”

I should add Burt is not an opponent of drone warfare but even he can see that drone strikes, in their current form, expose the US to credible accusations of criminality (he calls the argument I cited above “strong.”) Aside from this, drones disproportionately murder innocent civilians. UN official Ben Emmerson recently cited 30 separate attacks that require “public explanation.”

You are also ignoring some other relevant facts. Last December the parliament in Yemen “called for a stop to drone attacks in a symbolic vote that reflected growing public anxiety about Washington’s use of the unmanned aircraft to combat al Qaeda in the impoverished country.” In this same month the UN “adopted the resolution calling on US … to comply with international law.” President Obama most recently boycotted a conference on drones. Why do you think he boycotted the conference? If it’s a legitimate exercise of military force why would he do this? The answer isn’t obscure.

Your comment that “the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said,” is also worth examining. A brief look a global public opinion reveals that clear majorities or pluralities in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North Africa are opposed to drone strikes. 90% of Greeks are against it. 59% of Germans are against drones and 76% of Spanish citizens oppose drone strikes.

To quote the Pew report “A 2012 survey of 19 countries plus the U.S. found that, in 17 of them, more than half disapproved of the U.S. conducting drone strikes to target extremists. The policy was particularly unpopular in majority Muslim nations, but it also faced disapproval in Europe and other regions as well.” Would you include the populations of all these countries in the “ignorant” public that “attaches to statements” like the one I just said?

Now with this wealth of legal analysis, rulings and global public opinion data it’s worth asking why this information is not well known. The answer is unambiguous and quite ugly namely that the Obama administration doesn’t give a damn about what the victims of US policy think or what the populations in other countries think, even when opposition is as overwhelming as the figures I just cited.

If any public is filled with “ignorance” on this topic it’s the American public, where a majority of citizens (65%) support drone strikes, a real outlier in global public opinion. I should say it’s not entirely the fault of the American public. I think the vast indifference in America to drone strikes is a natural consequence when we have a corporate media that fails to or inadequately covers any of the relevant information I just mentioned .

In a free society the views of the public should have some influence in policy making. It’s in this spirit that I criticize the drone policy, not to lead on an “ignorant” public. By the way, your argument that Obama’s drone bombings are legitimate because he notifies the government of those countries carries an interesting logical conclusion.

If it’s fair for Obama to bomb Pakistan, Yemen or any other country because he notified the government, was the Russian invasion of Crimea also legitimate? The Russians have claimed that Yanukovych requested they intervene in Crimea. If true, would this justify Russia’s intervention? I don’t think it would.

@ DS: I think what you are calling US “aid” is a bit misleading. I also think your statement has an underlying assumption that the US is a benevolent empire constantly sticking its neck out for the poor and dispossessed. I don’t agree with this portrayal. Much of the aid the US provides to the world is military aid. If the US dramatically cut back on military aid I would support it enthusiastically. I also think we should be giving reparations, not aid, to the several countries in the world we have devastated. Iraq would be a good start. After this is done then I would accept an isolationist policy.






Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic

9780805094190When marketing state terror it’s always necessary distort the identity of so-called enemies. Oppressive policies are easily portrayed as legitimate if the victims are understood to be ungrateful savages or demons anxiously waiting to destroy “civilization.” Few conflicts validate this principle of imperial power more emphatically than America’s multi-decade assault on the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country that liberated itself from US control in 1979. On the 35th anniversary of the revolution the elite press was uniform in their willingness to caricature Iran as a villainous opponent of the United States intent on achieving nothing less than our total annihilation. Cries of ‘Death to America’ as Iranians Celebrate 35th Anniversary of Revolution read the headline in the New York Times. “Mixing exhortations of death to America with admonishments to children about healthy teeth and gums, Iran celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution,” read the opening sentence. Joining the chorus was the Los Angeles Times which opened its article on the revolution’s anniversary by describing Iran as “a defiantly anti-Washington government.” This article, authored by Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, concludes with the scene of “a white-turbaned young mullah,” named Mohammad Mobaraki chanting “Death to America!” Any casual observer would look upon these exclamations as indicative of a society gone mad with fanaticism and irrational hatred but an honest investigation into the underlying causes of these statements tells a radically different story. Details of this story can be learned in Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s deeply insightful and incisive history of US-Iran relations Going to Tehran. Central to the Leveretts’ study is a vigorous refutation of what they term “a powerful mythology of the Islamic Republic”: “the irrationality myth”, “the illegitimacy myth”, and “the isolation myth.” Quite apart from the cognitive scripts passing for “news” in the American press, the Leveretts explain how Iran promotes rational policies based on safeguarding national independence (esteqlal), freedom (azadi) and the right to self-defense. Since the early 1800s Iran has been forced to deal with European, Russian or US intervention in its internal affairs.

Before Iran became the punching bag of the United States, Britain and Russia “subverted Iran’s 1906 Constitutional Revolution–when Iranians created both their first written constitution and their first elected parliament.” British, Russian and American control of Iran persisted during the Pahlavi monarchy until 1951 when Iranians finally liberated themselves from external control with the election of Mohammad Mossadeq who governed on a platform that “urged the nationalization of Western oil interests and an independent (even if not anti-American) foreign policy.” The CIA and British intelligence responded to these policies in 1953 by orchestrating a coup, overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister and installing to power the Shah, “an autocrat so unpopular that he was ultimately deposed by one of the most broadly based revolutions in modern history.” None of this crucial history merited comment in the Los Angeles Times’ orientalist depiction of a “white-turbaned young mullah” chanting “Death to America!” Also unmentioned in media accounts of Iranian politics and history are the repeated efforts on the part of the Iranian leadership to cooperate with the US government. Notable examples include Iran’s cooperation in freeing American hostages in Lebanon, its cooperation with the Clinton administration to “supply weapons to beleaguered Bosnian Muslims when American law prevented Washington from doing so,” and its decision to work with the Bush administration to combat Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. In the case of the Clinton administration, President Rafsanjani offered a $600 million contract to ConocoPhillips to “develop two oil and gas fields off Siri Island in the Persian Gulf”, a stunning offer given Iran’s history. Clinton responded to this offer by rejecting it and passing two executive orders, one which “[barred] American companies from participating in the development of Iran’s hydrocarbon resources,” and another that “effectively imposed a comprehensive American economic embargo on the Islamic Republic.” More than anything, this hostile response demonstrated that the Clinton White House did not want to work with Iran based on principles of mutual aid and consultation. Clinton’s model, like his successors, demanded Iran’s obedience and nothing more.

Following closely behind Washington’s hegemonic stance on the diplomatic front is an enduring campaign of international terrorism. This campaign ranged from backing Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war to the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board (including 66 children). 48 hours after the destruction of Iran Air 655 Vice President George H.W. Bush reacted to the mass slaughter by saying “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Contrast the savage response of Bush Sr. after this act of international terrorism with that of President Khatami two months after the September 11th attacks. Visiting New York for a UN General Assembly meeting, Khatami “asked to visit Ground Zero so that he might offer prayers and light a candle in memory of the 9/11 victims.” In accord with the irrationality myth, these expressions of Iranian compassion must be forgotten in favor of leaders who are “bat-shit insane” (as comedian Jon Stewart described Ahmadinejad) or reside in a country that is “a backward, repressive, and misogynistic place where, as Jay Leno jokes, the Flintstones are known as the Jetsons.”

It therefore should come as no surprise that the Iran mythology persists under the Obama administration. Despite the absence of any empirical evidence pointing to a nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration continues to impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran, a clear violation of international law. In a recent speech on the topic, Obama warned foreign companies contemplating business deals with Iran that the US would “come down on them like a ton of bricks,” if they violated the sanctions regime. Few, if any, commentators noted that this statement constituted an act of coercion, plausibly in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the threat of force, a triviality for President Corleone. Incidentally, the “ton of bricks” suspended over the heads of foreign businesses also hovers over Iranian cancer patients, a consequence of economic sanctions that “have blocked access to the best chemotherapy drugs …”

Coupled with this policy of economic warfare are assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and covert operations to destabilize Iranian civil society. In 2011 “the Obama administration opened a ‘virtual embassy’ to Iran, set up to bypass the government and engage the Iranian public directly, for the express purpose of stimulating popular discontent with the existing order”, a flagrant violation of the 1981 Algiers Accord which legally obligates the US “not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” Obama also “removed the MEK’s terrorist designation,” thus “positioning it to become the vanguard of an explicit regime change strategy.” This effort on the part of the Obama administration to bring about regime change has received ample ideological support from the commissar class.

Prominent Iran “experts”, “scholars” and expatriates have been enlisted by the Obama administration to spin a false narrative about Iran. The so-called Green Movement formed a vital part of this propaganda offensive. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 elections American journalists immediately blamed the outcome on electoral fraud. Inquiries into these allegations produced zero evidence to substantiate these claims. In one comical illustration of this ideological norm, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council “excitedly [cited] MSNBC’s proclamation of a Mousavi victory while the actual return showed something else,” namely that Ahmadinejad was “declared the winner … with 62.5 percent of the vote.” Iran “experts” found Ahmadinejad’s victory difficult to accept, understandable for those captured by the illegitimacy myth, the idea that “the Islamic Republic is an illegitimate and deeply unstable political order at serious risk of implosion.” Now that Hassan Rouhani has assumed the presidency in Iran the expected herd of “experts” have interpreted his rise as an opportunity to ram through US demands. A recent CBS News report suggests another possibility. Responding US threats of military force Rouhani condemned the “delusional people [in the US] who say the military option is on the table,” adding that Iran “regards the language of threat as rude and offensive” (he could have added “criminal” as well). Unless the American public interferes with the plans of these “delusional people” in Washington, the Iran mythology will grow, as will the influence of “analysts” and “experts” itching for another terrorist war. Going to Tehran is therefore mandatory reading for those of us opposed to conventional, stereotypical explanations and the potentially devastating human consequences they entail.


When Imperial Crimes Are “Specious Facts”

The subject:
greg anthony

BA: Yeah, totally fair comparison. USA vs N. Korea… what a lunatic.

XB: @BA: I think Anthony was simply saying that it’s hypocritical for the US to condemn N. Korea for human rights violations when America engages in them as well on a far greater scale.

It’s worth remembering that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq represented the crime of aggression. Before the invasion 500,000 Iraqi children were killed through US sanctions. Head of the UN Oil for Food program Dennis Halliday resigned from his post during this period, citing the sanctions as “genocidal.”

Moreover, the CIA headed a worldwide torture regime with the participation of 54 countries. Then there’s the fact that the US has historically backed some of the most ruthless dictatorships in the world from the Saudi regime to Mubarak in Egypt. As repressive as North Korea is they simply don’t have the capability to inflict this much suffering on the world.

In terms of domestic repression North Korea is worse than the US but on a global scale there’s no comparison. In fact, a recent Gallup International poll reveals that the US is seen as the “greatest threat to world peace”(followed by China and Pakistan). 65 countries were polled in the survey.

Here’s a summary of the survey:…/about_the…/global_results/7/33/

Here’s a report on it:……/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

TO: @XB: I wish I could like your comment a THOUSAND TIMES. Can I share, sir???

BA: That’s because you didn’t read it that closely…

Sanctions are not the same thing as genocide. Using gas on the Kurds was genocide, and you guys are essentially defending the perpetrator. The CIA headed a torture regime? Do you have any idea what real torture is like? Go to Iraq during Saddam’s regime and you would have experienced real torture. Ever hear about the rape rooms Saddam and his sons had? 65 countries were polled in a survey… Wow! That is some real hard hitting science right there.

You both owe everything to this country. Your liberal educations were paid for by the taxation of hard working Americans. Now you run around making ridiculous claims on specious facts. This is what our education system is producing?

XB: @BA: You state “[the Iraq] sanctions aren’t the same as genocide.” I disagree. If you read the Genocide Conventions the crime of genocide is defined quite clearly. Read article 2(C). Here genocide is defined as “Deliberately inflicting on [a] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” The US sanctions on Iraq is a clear example of this kind of genocide.

You also state “Using gas on the Kurds was genocide.” I agree with you here. Using gas on the Kurds indeed was an act of genocide but you omitted one crucial fact namely that the United States supported Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds. The US also supported his poison gassing of Iranians. This was revealed explicitly in a relatively recent article published in Foreign Policy magazine.

The article states the following: “U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. … The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence.” So yes it was a genocidal campaign that the US supported.

Also why do you call Saddam’s torture “real” torture as if what the US is doing is not torture? Water boarding is a form of torture that Japanese fascists practiced during the Second World War. In fact, they were executed for water boarding POWs, a punishment I highly doubt you would recommend for US officials. And I have read about the torture of Saddam Hussein. Once again you are omitting the undeniable fact that Saddam was a US ally throughout the 1980s–the worst period of his crimes–which reinforces my previous point about US support for ruthless dictatorships.

There is nothing “specious” about the facts that I have described. I can recommend you several books to read on these topics if you are interested in a more detailed analysis. My observations also have very little to do with a “liberal” education. Incidentally, the “liberal” class–as defined by the Democratic party–has consistently been on the side of the oppressors when it comes US imperial interventions in the world. These are well-documented and uncontroversial facts that are available to anyone with a serious interest in developing a more honest picture of world affairs.


With Liberty & Justice For Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality & Protect the Powerful

9781250013835In a recent appearance on CBS Face the Nation former NSA head Michael Hayden described NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as someone who had committed “treason.” Statements of this kind have unfortunately become commonplace in the US where those who expose flagrant criminality are demonized while the very criminals who carry out the most reprehensible illegal acts are honored. It’s important to highlight the historical conditions that gave rise to this stark disparity, at least if there’s to be any concerted effort to reverse this phenomenon. Glenn Greenwald’s devastating indictment of contemporary America’s “two-tiered” “justice” system With Liberty and Justice for Some stands out as an indispensable contribution to this struggle. Written with the precision and insight necessary to assess the utter depravity of elite lawlessness, Greenwald offers a thorough critique of elite conceptions of the rule of law. Under the current administration (and its predecessors) the rule of law basically amounts to a blunt instrument to bludgeon the powerless and the poor. Alongside the severely punitive measures Washington and its corporate backers impose on the powerless is a culture of impunity for those in the highest positions of economic and political authority. Greenwald identifies the origin of this pernicious culture in Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal. It was here that an overt cultural precedent was set whereby high political officials were free to commit crimes without any fear of legal consequences. In short, Washington elites were granted “a license to break the law.” This license was granted despite the fact that Nixon “committed serious felonies.”

The impunity that accompanied Nixon’s departure from office was then ingrained as a defining characteristic of political power in the US soon to be replicated in George H.W. Bush’s pardon of top Reagan administration officials for their sponsoring of terrorist atrocities in Nicaragua, Bill Clinton’s termination of any inquiry into credible allegations that Bush Sr. “illegally supplied Saddam Hussein with large amounts of money, weapons technology, training, military intelligence, and … nuclear components,” and Barack Obama’s pathetic mantra that we should “look forward, not backwards,” when confronted with the task of investigating the worldwide torture regime of Bush Jr. Incidentally, Greenwald notes that President Obama’s refusal to investigate Bush Jr.’s torture regime not only evinces a contempt for basic norms of accountability but represents an egregious crime in itself. Citing the Third Geneva Convention which legally obligates political leaders to “search for persons alleged to have committed [torture],” and to “bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts,” Greenwald concludes “a criminal investigation of torture allegations is thus mandatory.” Obama’s “looking forward” slogan is therefore “a new violation of the law separate from the original acts of torture.” These inconvenient facts reach new levels of hypocrisy when juxtaposed with the Obama administration’s unprecedented assault on whistleblowers from Thomas Drake, to John Kiriakou, to Chelsea Manning (a whistleblower who Obama publicly claimed “broke the law” long before he was convicted in a court.)

Apart from assertions of elite immunity, the executive embrace of political assassinations, indefinite detention and illegal spying is also highlighted in this text. The role of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies in carrying out illegal spying against American citizens offers the harshest commentary on the dangerous unity between corporate and state power, a marriage whose destructive effects we are currently witnessing in newspapers across the world thanks to the courageous actions of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. It’s difficult to overstate the sea change these revelations have triggered not only in circles of power but at the grassroots level as well. Many Americans are coming to realize what was recognized by federal judge Vaughn Walker in 2006. Judge Walker chose not to dismiss a lawsuit brought against AT&T by its customers writing that “AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the domestic dragnet was legal.” Despite this clear legal precedent zero telecommunication corporation executives faced jail time for their crimes. This lack of accountability was made possible after the telecommunications industry mobilized an army of lobbyists to essentially purchase the legislative branch. Their contributions were rewarded in the form of retroactive immunity for all the crimes they carried out in this program.

The criminality that permeated the everyday operations of the national security state took on a more explicit class-based character in the management of the US economy. Perhaps the most graphic illustration of this “two-tiered” “justice” system in the realm of economics can be observed in comparing the 2008-2009 financial bailout of AIG with the bailout of the auto industry. In the case of AIG Washington covered 100% of its debts. Additionally, Goldman Sachs, one of AIG’s creditors , was projected to lose an estimated $20 billion if AIG collapsed. Washington could have lessened the cost of the bail out by using its economic leverage to force Goldman to offer a discount on AIG’s debt. Instead of doing this it bailed out both AIG and Goldman using the rationale that they wouldn’t dare interfere in a contractual agreement between two private entities. In sharp contrast to this policy of non-interference in the contracts of financial elites the US government conditioned the bail out of the auto industry on guarantees that workers in the United Auto Workers union would agree to “massive reductions in contractually stipulated benefits.” Double standards of this kind led Greenwald to conclude that “the sanctity of contract rights shields the entitlements of financial elites but is no barrier to forcing ordinary Americans to give up vested rights upon pain of losing their jobs.” The Obama administration’s response to the housing crisis unfolded in a similar fashion as home foreclosures skyrocketed and banks seized property without a hint of accountability or remorse.

The core ideology of this state-corporate structure is embodied in Washington’s passionate hatred of domestic and international law not only in practice but also in theory. It’s hard to imagine anyone with a minimal respect for elementary morality failing to pause in shock upon reading about how the Obama administration coerced the Spanish and British judiciary to terminate its criminal investigations into Bush-era torture. Upon receiving news that the British High Court was investigating the Guantanamo Bay torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed the Obama administration literally threatened the UK as follows: “if the British court disclosed the facts of Mohamed’s torture, US intelligence agencies would no longer pass on to Britain any information about terrorist plots aimed at British citizens.” To put it plainly, the Obama administration threatened to allow terrorist attacks to take place against British citizens unless the details of Bush administration gangsterism was successfully buried. After submitting to the Obama administration’s threat and agreeing to conceal the details of Binyam’s torture, a torture which included genital mutilation, the British High Court lamented “if we restored the redacted paragraphs [detailing Mohamed’s torture] , the United States government … could inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.” Outside of Obama’s drone assassination campaign, a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions, one would be hard-pressed to find a more unambiguous example of international terrorism as defined in the US Code (violent acts designed to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction …”)

As eye-witnesses to this systematic abuse of power and elite criminality, it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness, that the consolidation of illegitimate authority has so severely damaged American society and its institutions that its life-shattering effects are irreversible. With 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the prison population, the American penal state imbues these sentiments with a frightening degree of substance. As Greenwald notes in his moral condemnation of the draconian criminal “justice” system imposed on those without the wealth or privilege to purchase legal immunity “the American justice system has become a weapon to control, exploit, and profit off vast numbers of American citizens. That the victims of this exploitation are disproportionately the poor and the powerless makes it all the more repugnant.” It is precisely Greenwald’s acknowledgement of these “repugnant” realities that ranks With Liberty and Justice for Some as one of today’s most consequential judgments of an entire culture of power that deserves the death penalty it so callously enforces against the weak. For this reason, this text is an especially important read with lessons that carry serious implications for our collective survival.