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.

Sources:

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

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/52/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/american-italian-hostages-killed-in-cia-drone-strike-in-january-1429795801

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/16/us-un-drones-idUSBRE92E0Y320130316

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/24/us-accused-drone-hearing-lawyer-visa-pakistan

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/19/noam-chomsky-obamas-drone-program-most-extreme-terrorist-campaign-modern-times

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistani-court-declares-us-drone-strikes-in-the-countrys-tribal-belt-illegal-8609843.html

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Terrorism and the Economy: How the War on Terror is Bankrupting the World

Napoleoni_TerrorismEconomy_largeUS Attorney General Eric Holder, after five years in the Obama administration DOJ, has announced his resignation. Responses in the elite press have ranged from the kind of subordination to power typical in establishment circles to outright canonization. The dominant portrayal of Holder is an Attorney General staunchly committed to racial justice and civil rights but very protective of the status quo as it relates to Wall Street criminality and the crimes of the national security state. As the New York Times observed in their review of Holder’s record “On the financial front, he did not prosecute a single prominent banker or firm in connection with the subprime mortgage crisis that nearly destroyed the economy.” Few, if any, journalists have attempted to draw the connections between how Holder’s defense of white-collar criminals within the United States informs his support for war crimes abroad. Economist and financial analyst Loretta Napoleoni draws these crucial connections between domestic and foreign policy in her highly informative study Terrorism and the Economy: How the War on Terror is Bankrupting the World. Central to Napoleoni’s text is the assertion that the financial lawlessness that precipitated the 2008 economic disaster emerged from a reservoir of fear and irrationality that was traceable to the events of September 11, 2001. It was after this attack that the US adopted a new form of politics that linked exaggerated fears of “terrorism” with the need to finance illegal wars using massive amounts of credit. This systemic over-reliance on credit, what Napoleoni described as the “borrow-invest spiral”, was then exacerbated by aggressive imperial policies carried out in the name of “democracy.”

A similar dynamic could be perceived in the legal decisions of Attorney General Holder. Not only did he perpetuate the dangerous ideology that certain financial institutions are “too big to fail”, a flagrant violation of principles that mandate equal treatment under the law, but he also legitimized executive authorizations of extrajudicial assassination under the ludicrous notion that “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” In both cases, Holder was nurturing a culture of power where the public is expected to entrust high officials with rights that no ordinary citizen could conceivably possess. In addition to inflicting unimaginable suffering on people abroad, these policies threaten US citizens as well. One particularly grotesque example of how the politics of fear negatively affect the global economy can be found in the frequency of food crises. These crises are not created, as commonly argued, due to scarcity of goods. Rather, these crises are intimately linked with a particular model of financing embodied in what are called “agricultural futures.”

“The culprits of the 2008 food crisis,” Napoleoni states “were neither famine nor natural disasters but rather food prices.” The food crisis arose because “hordes of speculators invading future markets prompted the inflation [in food prices].” Furthermore, “the race to purchase these [agricultural] futures led to price increases, inflating speculative demand without ever creating any actual scarcity. This explains the anomaly of a food shortage in a world where there is plenty of food to feed everyone.” Napoleoni attributes this tragic state of affairs to “two gigantic mystifications”: “the strategy of fear administered by the politicians,” and “the irresistible fascination with the fatuous promise of eternal wealth …” What was the Obama DOJ’s unprecedented attack on whistleblowers if not a reiteration of this “strategy of fear”? And what was Holder’s exoneration of Wall Street if not a clear declaration that he would work vigorously to preserve this “irresistible fascination” by granting financial elites god-like immunity and placing them above the law?

It is through these policies, Napoleoni argues, that the professed goal of Osama Bin Laden—“to bleed the American economy until it is bankrupt”—was, in many ways, fulfilled. In fact, September 11 alone dealt a decisive blow against the American economy. Shortly after the towers collapsed, Muslim investors, very much aware of the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab animus that would be generated within the US, withdrew their money from the United States or as Napoleoni notes “a year after 9/11, about $700 billion belonging to Muslim investors had left the US.” The Bush administration then compounded this damage by engaging in deflationary economic policies and plunging the country further into debt. Ever since the tenure of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan these low interest rate policies were pursued with a religious zeal. “If during the 1990s Greenspan created the bubble, after 9/11 the financing of two conflicts inflated it.” Beyond the devastating human and material loss that these socially destructive policies inflict is a much more troubling ideological orthodoxy that is singularly committed to fulfilling the desires of the wealthy at the cost of the lives of the very poor.

Among the alternatives to this orthodoxy is what Napoleoni describes as “Islamic finance.” Features of Islamic finance include the prohibition on the charging of interest and the embracing of zakat or “religious almsgiving requiring all Muslims to pay 2.5 percent of annual profits or disposable income, and the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.” Napoleoni locates the origins of modern Islamic finance “in the 1950s in rural Egypt and outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.” It was not until the late 1990s that Islamic finance began playing a prominent role in global affairs, particularly after the Asian stock market crash in 1997 and September 11th. A central figure in the ascendancy of Islamic finance as a competitor to “western” state-capitalism was Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. In addition to rejecting IMF intervention in Malaysia, Mohamad “criticized Western speculation for devaluing Asian currencies and accused Western finance of purposefully weakening the economy of his country.”

It is from historical examples like this that new and innovative conceptions of finance will likely gain inspiration. Napoleoni, in her prescription on how to structurally confront this systemic problem, suggests that “western” countries nationalize their banking industries. “We should nationalize the banking sector and save only that part which serves to keep the economy afloat,” she states, adding “if derivatives led to the creation of toxic assets then why not outlaw them? Why should taxpayers be required to rescue insurance companies that acted like hedge funds, which created and sold credit default swaps … without having the capital to back them up?”  In order to meaningfully deal with these conflicts of domestic and global importance these points of convergence between class warfare and imperial war must be highlighted.  Terrorism and the Economy effectively draws attention to this convergence of power interests and offers constructive paths forward to combat them.

Source:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/opinion/eric-holders-legacy.html

Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, & the (Un)making of Terrorists

41KqfuJMVDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Writing on the Obama administration’s military campaign against ISIS, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman provided a stark illustration of the prevailing mindset within elite circles in times of war. “The rise of the Islamic State,” he intoned “is triggering some long overdue, brutally honest, soul-searching by Arabs and Muslims about how such a large, murderous Sunni death cult could have emerged in their midst.” Disregarding the by now uncontroversial fact that the rise of ISIS can be traced, in large part, to the criminality of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, a war of aggression Friedman endorsed with near psychotic enthusiasm (see video below), this statement should raise fundamental questions about dominant portrayals of those we call “the enemy.” Scott Atran’s brilliant study Talking to the Enemy thoroughly deconstructs these media representations, offering an incredibly detailed and empirically grounded understanding of how sub-national terrorist groups are organized, the ideologies they subscribe to, and the goals they aspire to achieve. Quite apart from the simplistic “Sunni death cults” of the Thomas Friedman school of journalism, Atran draws from an extensive record anthropological field work, interviews, and surveys to show how terrorist atrocities (9/11, the 2002 and 2005 bombings in Bali, the 2004 Madrid Train bombings, etc.) are not centrally organized plots carried out after years of religious indoctrination in Pakistani or Indonesian madrassas.

Instead, these events are the end product of highly decentralized and self-organized groups motivated to reach a common goal. These goals are not religious in nature but extremely political. Take for example the 2004 Madrid Train bombings. This attack was organized by a Moroccan drug dealer by the name of Jamal Ahmidan, three Spanish collaborators (Emilio Trashorras, Carmen Toro, and Antonio Toro), and a large group of friends led by a Tunisian named Abdelmajid Serhane. As Atran notes, “there was no ingenious cell structure, no hierarchy, no recruitment, no brainwashing, no coherent organization, no Al Qaeda.” This amorphous character of sub-national terrorist operations plays an integral role in Atran’s study because it reveals how small group dynamics, what he calls “imagined kin”, are the principal drivers in the plotting and execution of terrorist attacks. In the case of the Madrid Train bombings Ahmidan’s and Abdelmajid’s social circles played soccer together.

Another major factor in the ideological backdrop that motivated the Madrid bombings was the 15th century conquest of Muslim Spain, a world historic event witnessed by Italian terrorist, and “founder” of the “New World” Christopher Columbus. “I saw the King of the Moors sally from the gates of said city … and kiss the royal hands of your Highnesses,” Columbus observed. Memories of this humiliating moment were revived centuries later in a video left in the wreckage of the apartment where the Madrid Train bombers blew themselves up. The video condemned the “Spanish crusade against the Muslims,” and “the tribunals of the Inquisition.”

Willingness to point out verifiable facts of this kind is rare in an intellectual culture eager to conflate mere explanation of potential motives behind horrific crimes with justification of those crimes but ignoring them virtually ensures that a discourse will not emerge to discourage future acts of violence, whether they be committed by subnational retail or wholesale state terrorists. For example, attributing sub-national terrorism to an innate, religiously fueled desire for martyrdom, completely divorced from any empirical analysis or investigation of how these plots come in to being, does nothing to illuminate the nature of this phenomenon. In fact, this frame of reasoning, when sincerely felt, can erect huge barriers to genuine understanding.

Such is the case with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist who, in Atran’s words, “insists that secular moderation toward religion and ecumenical tolerance only enable bizarre and belligerent beliefs to thrive and extremists to flourish with cruel and savage consequences for the world.” And Harris is by no means alone in his valiant stand against the purveyors of “ecumenical tolerance.” He is joined by esteemed biologist Richard Dawkins, who laments “suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools.” Dawkins also ridicules the “mainstream religious instructors” who “[line children] up in madrassahs” so they can “rhythmically [nod] their innocent little heads up and down while they [learn] every word of the holy book like demented parrots.”

Perhaps this lurid portrait of religious indoctrination will set off alarm bells among racists at NSA headquarters or “mosque crawlers” in the NYPD’s surveillance unit, but among serious analysts it’s hardly worth responding to. Not only did “none of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers or thirty-odd Madrid train-bomb conspirators [attend] a madrassah” but statistical data from Indonesia and Pakistan—“the two countries with the greatest number of madrassas as well as jihadi groups”—reveal “less than 1 percent of the madrassas can be associated with jihadis.”

Far from idle, academic debate, recognizing these realities ought to play a significant role in how we conceptualize so-called “enemies” and, more importantly, how we respond when power systems portray massive state violence and terror as the only legitimate solution. In his highly anticipated speech before the UN, President Obama stated, in reference to ISIS, “the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.” Compare Obama’s rhetoric to the approach of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At a recent event held by the Council on Foreign Relations journalist Fareed Zakaria asked how the Turkish government managed to free 49 Turkish hostages who were being held by ISIS or as he put it “What did you give ISIS? Why did they give back your hostages?”

Erdogan’s answer was instructive: “When we say the word ‘operation,’ people only think of air strikes, bombs, aircraft, [and] weaponry. But an operation isn’t only that. Operations are political sometimes, or diplomatic, or civilian. And they involve discussions, contacts.” So alien is this perspective—that anyone could actually diplomatically deal with ISIS—that if a US Congress member or media personality were to go as far as suggesting a diplomatic solution they’d be immediately marginalized as irrelevant or, more insidiously, an ISIS sympathizer. Another possibility is a member from the commissar class would publish an Op-Ed in the Newspaper of Record, not to inquire whether or not such an approach is feasible, but to contemplate, in austere tones, whether or not the person who advocates such an outlandish position has a soul.

It’s therefore no surprise that Erdogan elicited harsh denunciations from the Captain of The Reluctant Warrior’s Cheer Squad. In addition to standing for “authoritarianism, press intimidation, crony capitalism and quiet support for Islamists, including ISIS”, as Thomas Friedman mournfully observed, he “won’t even let us use our base in Turkey to degrade ISIS from the air”, prompting the question “what’s in his soul?” Bombing countries without Congressional or UN authorization is perfectly fine. But disobeying the Godfather? This is the ultimate crime, if not the enigmatic behavior of a spiritless monster.

Apologetics of this kind is ugly but standard, as is the behavior President Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power, and the rest of the “we-don’t-negotiate-with-terrorists” camp. Unless they are checked by popular dissent they will continue to operate under the doctrine that overwhelming military force must be used to terrorize the world into their image but much more informed analysts and scholars have long ago realized that such blind devotion to state violence endangers us all (Obama’s latest contribution to nuclear proliferation is a dramatic example of this). It is for these reasons that Scott Atran’s book should be required reading for those of us willing to confront these tribalistic taboos and a morally complacent intellectual culture that would like nothing more than to keep them intact.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/opinion/thomas-friedman-isis-crisis.html?_r=0

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2014/09/24/obama-united-nations-general-assembly-syria-iraq-islamic-state/16143767/

http://www.cfr.org/turkey/turkish-president-erdogan-isis-regional-security/p33488?cid=soc-Twitter-in-turkey_erdogan-092314

 

 

 

 

A Critique of Sam Harris’ Commentary on “Martyrdom As a Genuine Metaphysical Principle”

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Official doctrine requires that those recognized as members of the educated class scrupulously avoid any serious self-reflection. Any crime or atrocity must be traced back to the incurable savagery of the Great Enemy. Today that Great Enemy is “Islamic terrorism.” Much like the “international communist conspiracy” which preceded it, “Islamic terrorism” is meant to strike fear in the hearts of all right-thinking Americans. Any deviation in this arena is troubling a sign of one’s lack of patriotism or, even worse, “anti-Americanism.” In accord with these highly jingoistic narratives, one can easily find intellectuals willing to volunteer their talents in order to sustain this image of the US as a bastion of civilization valiantly resisting the “scourge” of Muslim “extremism.” Among the partisans in this campaign are the so-called New Atheists, in particular neuroscientist Sam Harris. Harris contends that the violence emanating from domains of US control are not the result of decades of imperial policies that has left the region in ruins. Instead, these incidents of sub-state violence demonstrate that Muslims believe in martyrdom as “a genuine metaphysical principle.” Harris made this argument in a 2006 debate with author Scott Atran.

In order to advance this view he relied on the oft-repeated myth of Iranian “human wave” attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. When astrophysicist Niel deGrasse Tyson asked if Muslims resort to suicide bombing because they lack an Air Force and tanks Harris was quick to dismiss it. “How do you get a mother to celebrate the suicidal atrocities of her children,” Harris asked. Absent from this complete fabrication was the fact that Iranians were compelled to engage in the “human wave” tactic because they lacked the military equipment to combat Iraqis by conventional means. This fact was pointed out in Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s excellent study of Iranian society, Going to Tehran. Here they observe that Iranians “did not have adequate [military] equipment.” Furthermore, “at times some Iranian soldiers did not even have rifles … or protective gear.” So not only was Harris incorrect in his conclusion that the desire for “martyrdom” lay behind the “human wave” attacks, but Tyson’s suggestion—that suicidal terrorism is partly traceable to the radical disparity in military technology—would be reinforced if Harris were more intellectually honest about Iranian history. Even the New York Times highlighted this disparity in a 1987 report on the human wave attacks in their description of “Iraq’s vastly superior military arsenal.” A recent report from Flinders University’s Suicide Terrorism Database undermines Harris viewpoint as well. The report concluded that “more than 90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force,” and “Of the 524 suicide terrorists carried out in the past 30 years, more than half of the attackers were secular.”
Human Wave AttacksNone of these unacceptable facts are likely to enter into any discussion about the horrors of “Islamic terrorism.” Consequently, Harris joins the chorus of other scholars for empire who, in the words of the Leveretts, “embellished” this historical moment “with colorful but unsubstantiated accounts of plastic ‘keys to heaven’ being distributed to soldiers and actors dressed as Imam Husayn appearing on horseback to inspire frontline units.” Alongside this complete whitewash of the empirical record is a corresponding dedication to obscuring the US role in fueling atrocities in the Middle East. Therefore, Harris can feign moral indignation over mothers who “celebrate the suicidal atrocities of their children,” but this same sense of outrage it nowhere to be found in relation to US crimes. For instance, in the same video where Harris counters Tyson’s comment on how suicide terror may be linked to the disparity in weaponry he portrays the Iran-Iraq war as a conflict in which the US had no role: “Get the US out of this. Look at the war between Iran and Iraq.”

Any moderately informed student of history could easily point out that it’s impossible to “get the US out” the Iran-Iraq war. Not only did the US support Saddam Hussein in his aggression against Iran, but they also supplied him with the critical intelligence needed to use chemical weapons against Iranians (a fact affirmed in a recent Foreign Policy piece which elicited no cries of “barbarism!” from Harris or any of the other New Atheists). Harris’ response was similarly muted in the aftermath of Israeli terror in Gaza. In an article titled Why I Don’t Criticize Israel? Harris states “the onus is still more on the side of the Muslims here,” and “Even on their worst day, the Israelis act with greater care and compassion and self-criticism than Muslim combatants have anywhere, ever.”

One passage of particular interest is when Harris describes how “Muslims”—He doesn’t designate a specific organization. A crucial feature of essentialist narratives—“have committed suicide bombings, only to send another bomber to the hospital to await the causalities—where they then blow up all the injured along with the doctors and nurses trying to save their lives.” In military parlance, these kinds of attacks are called “double taps”, a clear sign that the culprit is engaged in terrorist atrocities. It’s therefore of special interest that Harris has no words to condemn President Obama, who also engages in double taps in his international drone assassination program. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has carried out meticulous analysis of this grotesque policy in multiple reports.

If one does a search through Harris’ blog one can only find one passing reference to drone strikes and it’s quite instructive, not only because of its brevity but also its content. On the necessity of drone strikes in Pakistan Harris writes “Yes, our drone strikes in Pakistan kill innocent people—and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the West. But we wouldn’t need to drop a single bomb on Pakistan, or anywhere else, if a death cult of devout Muslims weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent people and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to open societies.” Just two months prior to this statement from Harris (August 2013) the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report which stated “Across seven attacks, reports suggested the [CIA] had deliberately targeted a mosque with worshipers inside; to have targeted funeral prayers for a victim of a previous strike; and on six occasions, to have deliberately targeted people going to rescue victims and retrieve the dead from the scene of an earlier attack – a tactic also known as a ‘double-tap’ strike.”

sam-harrisAs a thought experiment, suppose Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi responded to criticism of IS by saying “Yes, our fighters behead journalists and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the Islamic State. But we wouldn’t need to behead a single journalist from the United States, or anywhere else, if a death cult of patriotic Americans weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent Muslims and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to Muslim societies.” Even if all of al-Baghdadi’s claims were accepted as true—that the US was making life miserable for millions of Muslims—no rational person would accept such a statement as legitimate because it justifies the murder of innocent people. Yet this elementary moral observation is jettisoned when the security of Harris’ “open society” is under threat. Here Harris is endorsing policies which, by his own admission, “kill innocent people” (in fact, kill innocent people in a way strikingly similar to suicide bombers). Perhaps the “moral imbalance” between “Muslims” and “us” is not disturbed by these outbursts of mass murder because the perpetrator of these unspeakable crimes cannot be accused of religious fanaticism or Islamic “dogmatism”, a “psychopathology” exclusive to those with “frontal lobe anomalies.” We also must scrupulously avoid the fact that Obama consults the “just war” doctrines of Christian theologian St. Augustine to put a nice “civilized” gloss on his murders.

What Harris and other like-minded commentators have failed to do is recognize the transparently political character of the violence carried out by those who the US condemns as enemies. Makerere University professor Mahmood Mamdani articulated this reality in his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. “Suicide bombing,” Mamdani notes “needs to be understood as a feature of modern political violence rather than stigmatized as a mark of barbarism.” As these samples of imperial apologetics illustrate, Harris would much rather decry the savage “barbarism” of “Muslims” than investigate the roots of this violence or, more importantly, the violence carried out by the so-called leaders of his own country. Such hypocrisy reveals a commitment to power systems that rises above mere tribalism. This is state worship as a “genuine metaphysical principle.”

Sources: 

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett 

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/05/world/human-wave-raid-losses-iran-s-favor.html

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/08/01/get-the-data-the-return-of-double-tap-drone-strikes/

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/25/secret_cia_files_prove_america_helped_saddam_as_he_gassed_iran

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/06/richard_dawkins_sam_harris_and_atheists_ugly_islamophobia_partner/

Retail Realpolitik: Washington, The “Just God”, & The Islamic State in Iraq

CNNBreakingNewsIt’s standard for powerful states to justify the most egregious of crimes by cloaking it in obscure terminology. Torture becomes “enhanced interrogation”, kidnapping is “extraordinary rendition”, and civilian casualties are “collateral damage.” While moderate criminals limit themselves to mere terms, more ambitious crooks embrace entire schools of thought to legitimize their behavior. Take for example what’s called in international affairs scholarship realpolitik. Realpolitik proposes that “foreign policy ought not to be driven by the demands for justice,” and that “a society’s principles, no matter how deep-rooted or heartfelt, [have] to be compromised in the name of international stability.” These are the words of Princeton University political scientist Gary J. Bass in his description of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger employed this concept in his backing of the Pakistani genocide in East Bengal, one of his lesser known contributions to global “stability.”

Perhaps no other doctrine has been applied with as much consistency and rigor and this one. President Obama’s policies in the Middle East offer a textbook example. While providing support to “rebel factions” in Syria, he has authorized airstrikes against the closely associated Islamic State in Iraq. The consequences of these policies have been gruesome. One effect was graphically portrayed in the murder of Global Post journalist James Foley. Captured in Syria in 2012, Foley was beheaded by a member of the Islamic State. According to the killer, the murder was carried out in retaliation against the Obama administration’s decision to bomb Iraq after news surfaced that Iraqi Yazidis, driven from their homes by IS terror, were under siege atop Sinjar mountain.

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day,” intoned Obama after receiving news of Foley’s murder. Without a doubt, IS has amply demonstrated their capacity for cruelty and indifference but this is obvious. Less obvious is how they arrived at this point and, furthermore, if Washington shares any responsibility in their rise. This deeply disturbing connection between US policy in the Middle East and the proliferation of sub-state terror has a long history. In symbolic terms, this connection could be discerned in Foley’s attire at the time of his execution. As the New York Times acknowledged in a recent report, “the video shows the journalist kneeling in a desert landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit — an apparent reference to the uniforms worn by prisoners at the American military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

Aside from its transparent illegality, the existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp has long been recognized as a “recruitment tool” for terrorism. So unavoidable is this reality that even conservative outlets like the Council on Foreign Relations concede this. In a 2010 “expert roundup” report there was unanimous agreement on this fact. William Yeomans of the Washington College of Law described the prison as “a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists,” adding that a decision not to close the prison “would be calamitous.” Four years have passed since the publication of this report and 149 prisoners (more than half of them cleared for release) remain caged in this penal colony far outside the bounds of international law. And this isn’t the only case of the Obama administration consciously pursuing policies which escalate the threat of terrorism. For years, the Obama administration has ignored statements, even by those within his administration, that his drone assassination program—a campaign of international terrorism unparalleled in global affairs—is heightening the threat of terrorism.

In his penetrating study Obama and the Middle East: the End of America’s Moment? London School of Economics International Relations professor Fawaz Gerges states that “the Obama administration has so far been unwilling to acknowledge the link between escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rising incidence of homegrown radicalization.” When the so-called Times Square bomber cited the Obama administration’s drone campaign as the reason for his attempt to set off a bomb in New York CIA chief John Brennan (then White House counterterrorism adviser) “dismissed the notion,” and “argued that the suspect was ‘captured by the murderous rhetoric of Al Qaeda and TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan] that looks at the United States as an enemy.'” Meanwhile, “in private deliberations, according to Bob Woodward, Obama’s national security team [appeared] to be aware that their policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan [helped] fuel radicalization and terrorism.” Even Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, in one of her more overlooked statements, addressed this dangerous linkage when she visited Obama in the White House. Incidentally, these crimes, unlike those of IS, received the blessing of Washington’s deity , presumably because the author of these atrocities internalized the “just war” doctrines of St. Augustine prior to engaging in acts of terror that that have left approximately 3,800 dead in Pakistan alone.
james foley Given this sordid history of terror-generating policies, it’s not the least bit surprising that the New York Times published a story on August 10 headlined US Actions in Iraq Fueled the Rise of a Rebel. Writing on the ascendancy of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Times observed “most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.” This is but one of many reports highlighting the troubling intersection between US military aggression and the growth of subnational terror. While Global Post journalist Lauren Dean stated IS “was born out of a security vacuum left by the 2003 American invasion”, UK investigative journalist Robert Fisk described the brutality of IS as “the epic violence which our invasion unleashed.” Anyone serious about reversing the influence of IS would not dismiss these reports.

For example, no serious person would look at the US-instigated terror drowning the entire region in blood and urge “sudden”, “swift”, and “surgical” strikes against IS, but this is precisely what retired General John Allen called for in a recent piece published in Defense One. Portraying IS as a grave threat to America and Europe, General Allen implored the Obama administration to act “NOW” (he actually used all capital letters. A tell-tale sign of intellectual sobriety). Moreover, this military action would not limit itself to Iraq. It also would extend to Syria, “a failed state neither capable of acting as a sovereign entity nor deserving the respect of one.” Contrarily, the United States—the “greatest threat to world peace” according to a recent WIN/Gallup poll—is not a “failed state,” but “remains the only nation on the planet capable of exerting the kind of strategic leadership, influence and strike capacity,” to eradicate the IS “scourge.” Consequently, the UN initiative to provide technical support to the Iraqi government to aid imperiled Yazidis atop Sinjar Mountain is, as Gen. Allen describes the border between Syria and Iraq, “irrelevant.” Equally irrelevant is the analysis of distinguished scholars like Flynt Leverett. Appearing on Background Briefing with Ian Masters he remarked that “nothing will rehabilitate [ISIS] like being bombed by the United States.”
Destroy ISIS NOW

This clear record of the US instigating rather than diffusing terror is rarely, if ever, highlighted in the pages of the “free press.” Instead the public is treated with alarmist descriptions of a “the most despicable band of barbarians to plague the world since the Khmer Rouge.” Los Angeles Times columnist David Horsey used these terms to describe IS, a group that has inflicted such extreme levels of violence that “a comparison to the Nazis” would not be “an exaggeration.” Conversely, he describes the US invasion of Iraq—the “supreme crime” of military aggression under the standard of the Nuremberg Tribunal—as a “misguided and frustrating occupation” and a “past mistake.” Notice the problem with the occupation was not that it killed over half a million Iraqis while turning hundreds of thousands of others into refugees. Rather, it was the “frustration” of the occupiers unable to subdue a population by force, a standard view within the American intellectual class.

Quite apart from a “misguided” war, the assault on Iraq was a carefully guided and deliberate war crime. The horrors unfolding in Iraq cannot be properly understood unless this elementary reality is first acknowledged.  It’s worth recalling that Obama hailed the invasion of Iraq as a war that left the country “to its own people.” Omitted from this statement was the long record of state-terror the US has inflicted on Iraq from bombings under the First Gulf War, to the genocidal sanctions of the 1990s, to the 2003 invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq’s central government. With the commencement of this aerial bombing campaign, Obama has opened another chapter in Washington’s multi-decade torture session of Iraqis. It shouldn’t require stating, but aerial bombing will only exacerbate the nightmare that has enveloped the region. The actions of the Obama administration are not only illegal—he authorized air strikes in violation of the War Powers Act and the UN Charter—but they evade viable, peaceful alternatives that would significantly lower the risk of more violence.

Perhaps this is just another iteration of presidential “realism.” As Harvard University scholar Stephen Walt stated in a recent article which appeared in Foreign Policy magazine “[Obama’s] style as president resembles Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone and Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in many ways. They don’t make many threats, they never bluster, and they rarely raise their voices. But when the time comes, they dispatch opponents with remorseless indifference and pay little attention to who might get hurt in the process. ‘It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.'” Likewise, IS murdered James Foley with “remorseless indifference.” Moreover, they paid “little attention to who might get hurt in the process.” Did not the “cancer” of IS merely emulate, in a less sophisticated form, the “realpolitik” of their despised foe albeit in a more “personal” fashion? Why then are we rightfully appalled by their heinous crimes, but coldly silent about our own? Perhaps these questions will be contemplated by the more honest among us who remain unconvinced by the harsh moral judgments of President Corleone’s “just God.”

Sources:

Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? by Fawaz Gerges

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass

http://www.cfr.org/human-rights/should-guantanamo-bay-closed/p21247

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/world/middleeast/us-actions-in-iraq-fueled-rise-of-a-rebel.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/world/middleeast/isis-james-foley-syria-execution.html?_r=0

http://goingtotehran.com/flynt-leverett-on-iraqi-politics-iranian-iraqi-relations-and-how-to-think-about-the-islamic-state

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/140820/why-the-islamic-state-still-so-strong

http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/08/gen-allen-destroy-islamic-state-now/92012/

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/10/11/205176/obama-and-first-lady-meet-with.html

https://www.aclu.org/national-security/guantanamo-numbers

http://www.salon.com/2014/01/09/the_top_4_threats_to_global_peace_guess_who_is_number_one_partner/

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/middle-east-crisis-we-know-all-too-much-about-the-cruelty-of-isis–but-all-too-little-about-who-they-are-9681873.html

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/19/is_barack_obama_more_of_a_realist_than_i_am_stephen_m_walt_iraq_russia_gaza?utm_content=buffer23543&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-iraq-air-strikes_b_5662055.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/26/obama-defends-iraq-invasion-a-little/

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/8/8/as_us_air_strikes_in_iraq

Why Won’t These “Terrorists” Renounce Violence?

Mandela ViolenceAnyone closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the Israeli massacres in Gaza will by now have noticed that Israeli officials and their apologists in the US press depend heavily on a restricted narrative to describe Palestinians. This narrative makes use of evocative imagery and buzzwords to steer public attitudes in desired directions. “Terror tunnels”, “human shields”, and “the Hamas Charter” are just a few of the phrases repeated ad nauseam to drill the right ideas into the public’s mind. Alongside these predictable attempts to de-legitimize Palestinian resistance is a more insidious doctrine that seeks to rob Palestinians of a right enshrined in international law, namely the right to resist foreign occupation by force. The typical form this doctrine takes is in the demand for Hamas to “renounce violence.” Underlying this demand is an understanding, unique to imperial societies, that those suffering under military occupation are the aggressors and not the victims. This notion can be discerned quite easily in mainstream commentary and the press generally.

In March of 2013 when President Obama visited Jerusalem, he made sure to reinforce this dogma. “Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself,” remarked Obama. He continued “And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Interestingly, there was no concomitant demand that Israel, the nuclear-armed and vastly more militarily advanced power, “renounce violence.” Unlike the rockets from Hamas, the F16s, tanks, and machine guns provided to Israel are interpreted to be for “defensive” operations.

Given the resilience of this ideology, it would be instructive to ask if there is any historical precedent that would help illuminate the thought pattern that might lay behind double standards of this kind. Fortunately, such a precedent does exist. In June of 1990 the New York Times, like the Obama administration, was also demanding that a certain “terrorist” renounce violence. This “terrorist” was, in President Obama’s words, “the last great liberator of the 20th century,” who was able to hold “his country together when it threatened to break apart.” The name of this violent “terrorist” was Nelson Mandela. Under the headline “Why Mandela Won’t Renounce Violence” David G. Sanders, a minority staff consultant at the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, perfectly anticipates the hasbara currently dominating the establishment press. “Who is the real Nelson Mandela?,” asks Sanders. “Before his supporters drape him in the garments of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., they should take a close look.” This “close look”, Sanders continues, requires that Mandela answer “one simple question”, namely “Why won’t he and the A.N.C. renounce violence?”

The “simple question” was not directed at the South African apartheid regime and its use of far more devastating violence but at the ANC. Consequently, Sanders embraces the very same ideology of today’s apologists for Israeli terror. Take for example Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times condemning “Palestinian militancy” for “[accomplishing] nothing but increasing the misery of the Palestinian people.” Kristof went on to say if Palestinians “turned more to huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns, the resulting videos would reverberate around the world and Palestine would achieve statehood and freedom.”

Perhaps Kristof was unaware, but he was basically regurgitating commentary that Sanders made in 1990 in reference to ANC resistance in apartheid South Africa. Back then, Sanders observed that Mandela’s “conflicting public statements on violence may be prolonging the suffering,” in South Africa, adding that “acts of A.N.C. violence and intimidation [called] into question the group’s commitment to political pluralism.” Furthermore, Sanders lectured that Mandela “would do far better to associate himself more closely with the words of Dr. King and Gandhi than those of [Vladimir] Lenin” (an ideological precursor to Kristof’s “huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns”).

Source: Chicago Tribune

And the New York Times wasn’t alone in these ludicrous demands. In the same month that Sander’s published his “peace” manifesto on Nelson Mandela and the ANC, the Chicago Tribune reported the following:

“President Bush and a chorus of voices as diverse as American Jewish leaders, Dr. King`s colleagues, Cuban Americans and members of Congress have called on Nelson Mandela to emulate Martin Luther King more closely. By this they mean he should renounce violence, embrace civil disobedience and distance himself from some of his old comrades-in-arms, such as Communists and the notorious human-rights violators Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro.”

Unmentioned in this passage was that Mandela’s “comrades-in-arms”, the Palestinians and Cubans, were victims of the same US subversion and complicity that landed him in prison. Similarly, unmentioned was that Fidel Castro played an integral role in deterring apartheid South Africa’s aggressive war in Angola, an aggressive war that the US supported. In this respect, Cuba assumed the role that Hezbollah and Iran play today, namely a country stigmatized by their decision to militarily assist a population of people resisting foreign domination, an unforgivable sin in imperial circles. This is to say nothing of the comical notion that George H.W. Bush cared at all about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Months before joining this diverse “chorus of voices” he was dropping bombs on Panama in a flagrant war of aggression after one of his clients, Manuel Noriega, committed the supreme crime of disobedience.

In all, there’s something grotesquely hypocritical about journalists, who are citizens of a imperial state that has generated more violence and militarism than any other country in the post-war period, lecturing significantly weaker “enemies” to “renounce violence” while refusing to make equal demands of their own government. Nonetheless, these glaring moral deficiencies have only worsened since the demise of South African apartheid, as has the historical amnesia necessary to ensure no one notices them. Therefore, it’s rarely, if ever, acknowledged that in 1987 the US and Israel rejected a UN Resolution, which endorsed as legitimate the use of armed force to secure “the right of self-determination, freedom, and independence … particularly [for] peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation.” The final vote on this resolution was 153 to 2, hence “the US and Israel were alone in the world in denying that such actions can be legitimate resistance, and declaring them to be terrorism.”

At bottom, this record illustrates fundamental flaws in elite conceptions of “violence.” Instead of demanding that those under occupation “renounce violence”, those genuinely interested in peace would focus on the source of armed resistance, which in the case of Israel-Palestine is clearly the multi-decade military occupation, preceded by many years of Israeli terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Here resides the “one simple question” that President Obama, David Sanders, Nick Kristof and innumerable others have not asked. Until this question is asked we can only expect more armed resistance, more hypocritical demands from oppressors to “emulate” Gandhi and less historically grounded understandings of liberation struggles. Rather than passively absorb these distortions as uncontroversial truths, they should be aggressively challenged. As the IDF continues its ruthless assault on the people of Gaza, its difficult to conceive of any intellectual or moral struggle more urgent.

Source:

Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18618/hrw-whitewashes-israel-the-law-supports-hamas_some

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/nelson-mandela-memorial-100930.html#ixzz39IhUlvg6″

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/21/opinion/why-won-t-mandela-renounce-violence.html

http://fair.org/take-action/media-advisories/cia-and-mandela-can-the-story-be-told-now/

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-06-30/news/9002220709_1_nelson-mandela-american-south-dr-king

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-whos-right-and-wrong-in-the-middle-east.html?referrer&_r=4

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/21/remarks-president-barack-obama-people-israel

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.

Cinco_heroes_cuban_five_2
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.

 Sources:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-us-plan-to-help-cubans-communicate-should-be-applauded/2014/04/06/28ba5794-bc2b-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/04/15/when-is-foreign-aid-meddling/democracy-aid-is-legitimate-but-risky
http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-wp-blm-news-bc-bg-editorial-cuba04-20140404,0,6443154.story
http://www.democracynow.org/2013/10/30/headlines/un_general_assembly_votes_overwhelmingly_against_us_embargo_of_cuba