PASADENA, CALIFORNIA — I hadn’t thought much about the relationship between fruit flies and Predator drones before visiting the California Institute of Technology, but Caltech, which boasts more than 30 Nobel laureates, teaches many things, not least about the fast-growing field of robotics and war.
Fruit flies, as I learned from a graduate student, use optic flow to navigate their environment. Optic flow is the apparent motion of the landscape relative to the insect as it flies through it. When the insect gets closer to an object, that object appears to get larger; the expansion in the optic flow field triggers a collision avoidance response in the fly, which veers away from the expanding object.
“The insect eye is not, and does not need to be, high resolution to make this computation, so it follows that low resolution sensors can be employed in robotics and serve the same purpose,” she told me.
Call this bio-mechanics — biologically inspired engineering principles. It’s a booming field. You’ll find fruit flies tethered to pins under microscopes in a virtual arena with the aim of developing simplified command algorithms that will tell a robot sensor how to mimic the insect for navigation. The feedback loop for the robot is simple: If an object is expanding at a certain rate, that equals proximity, so turn away!
The U.S. military is interested in such experiments because robotics is its hot new thing. The loss of more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 has concentrated minds on putting robots rather than flesh and blood in harm’s way.
When the United States went into Iraq in 2003, it had a handful of pilotless planes, or drones; it now has over 7,000. The invasion force had no unmanned ground vehicles; the U.S. armed forces now employ more than 12,000. One is called the PackBot and is made by iRobot, manufacturers of the popular robot vacuum cleaner called the Roomba.
Since taking office, President Obama has shown a quiet predilection for drone warfare. He’s been vacuuming up targets. There are two programs in operation: a publicly acknowledged military one in Iraq and Afghanistan and a covert C.I.A. program targeting terror suspects in countries including Pakistan.
As Jane Mayer notes in a groundbreaking recent piece in The New Yorker, “The intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed.”
According to a just-completed study by the New America Foundation, quoted in Mayer’s piece, Obama has authorized as many drone strikes in Pakistan in nine and a half months as George W. Bush did in his last three years in office — at least 41 C.I.A. missile strikes, or about one a week, that may have killed more than 500 people.
The dead have included high-value targets like Osama bin Laden’s oldest son and Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in Pakistan — as well as bystanders. Circling drones have struck panic. But as Mayer notes, “The embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force.”
These are targeted international killings, no less real, and indeed more insidious, for their video-game aspect. The thing about robotic warfare is you can watch people get vaporized on a screen in Langley, Virginia, and then drive home for dinner with the kids. The very phrase “go to war” becomes hard to distinguish from going to work. That’s a conflation fraught with ethical danger. The barriers to war get lowered.
P.W. Singer, the author of an important new book called “Wired for War,” told me that, “We are at a breakpoint in history. The U.S. Air Force this year will train more unmanned system pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. And, as Bill Gates has noted, robotics are now where computers were back in 1980.”
Now you might think that a “pilot” sitting behind a computer bank in Nevada blowing away people in Afghanistan is less liable to combat stress than a soldier in a unit deployed there, but Singer said the opposite has often proved the case
It’s time for a reckoning, especially from a president who campaigned so vigorously against the “dark side” of the war on terror. Congressional review of the drone programs and the full implications of robotic warfare is essential to cast light and lay ground rules. The Obama administration should not be targeting people for killing without some public debate about how such targets are selected, what the grounds are in the laws of war, and what agencies are involved. Right now there’s an accountability void.
There are also broader questions. When robots are tomorrow’s veterans, does war become more likely and more endless? Do drones cow enemies with America’s technological prowess or embolden them to think America is not man enough to fight? What is the psychological toll on video-screen warriors?
There’s nothing innocent after all about the fluttering of a fruit fly’s wing.
For drone freaks (and these days Washington seems full of them), here's the good news: Drones are hot! Not long ago -- 2006 to be exact -- the Air Force could barely get a few armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the air at once; now, the number is 38; by 2011, it will reputedly be 50, and beyond that, in every sense, the sky's the limit.
Better yet, for the latest generation of armed surveillance drones -- the ones with the chill-you-to-your-bones sci-fi names of Predators and Reapers (as in Grim) -- whole new surveillance capabilities will soon be available. Their newest video system, due to be deployed next year, has been dubbed Gorgon Stare after the creature in Greek mythology whose gaze turned its victims to stone. According to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, Gorgon Stare will offer a "pilot" back in good ol' Langley, VA, headquarters of the CIA, the ability to "stare" via 12 video feeds (where only one now exists) at a 1.5 mile square area, and then, with Hellfire missiles and bombs, assumedly turn any part of it into rubble. Within the year, that viewing capacity is expected to double to three square miles.
What we're talking about here is the gaze of the gods, updated in corporate labs for the modern American war-fighter -- a gaze that can be focused on whatever runs, walks, crawls, or creeps just about anywhere on the planet 24/7, with an instant ability to blow it away. And what's true of video capacity will be no less true of the next generation of drone sensors -- and, of course, of drone weaponry like that "5-pound missile the size of a loaf of French bread" meant in some near-robotic future to replace the present 100-pound Hellfire missile, possibly on the Avenger or Predator C, the next generation drone under development at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Everything, in fact, will be almost infinitely upgradeable, since we're still in the robotics equivalent of the age of the "horseless carriage," as Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution assures us. (Just hold your hats, for instance, when the first nano-drones make it onto the scene! They will, according to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, be able to "fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window.")
And here's another flash from the drone development front: the Navy wants in. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, reports Jason Paur of Wired's Danger Room blog, is looking for "a robotic attack aircraft that can land and take off from a carrier." Fortunately, according to Paur, the X-47B, which theoretically should be able to do just that, is to make its first test flight before year's end. It could be checking out those carrier decks by 2011, and fully operational by 2025.
Not only that, but drones are leaving the air for the high seas where they are called unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). In fact, Israel -- along with the U.S. leading the way on drones -- will reportedly soon launch the first of its USVs off the coast of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The U.S. can't be far behind and it seems that, like their airborne cousins, these ships, too, will be weaponized.
Taking the Measure of a Slam-Dunk Weapons System
Robot war. It just couldn't be cooler, could it? Especially if the only blood you spill is the other guy's, since our "pilots" are flying those planes from thousands of miles away. Soon, it seems, the world will be a drone fest. In his first nine months, President Obama has authorized more drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal borderlands than the Bush administration did in its last three years in office and is now considering upping their use in areas of rural Afghanistan where U.S. troops will be scarce.
In Washington, drones are even considered the "de-escalatory" option for the Afghan War by some critics, while CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose agency runs our drone war in Pakistan, has hailed them as "the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership." Among the few people who don't adore them here are hard-core war-fighters who don't want an armada of robot planes standing in the way of sending in oodles more troops. The vice president, however, is a drone-atic. He loves 'em to death and reportedly wants to up their missions, especially in Pakistan, rather than go the oodles route.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates jumped onto the drone bandwagon early. He has long been pressing the Air Force to invest ever less in expensive manned aircraft -- he's called the F-35, still in development, the last manned fighter aircraft -- and ever more in the robotic kind. After all, they're so lean, mean, and high-tech sexy -- for Newsweek, they fall into the category of "weapons porn" -- that what's not to like?
Okay, maybe there's the odd scrooge around like Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, who recently complained to the press that the U.S. program might involve war crimes under international law: "We need the United States to be more up front and say, 'OK, we're willing to discuss some aspects of this program,' otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws."
But as Christmas approaches, somebody's always going to say, "Bah, humbug!" And let's face it, just about everyone who matters to the mainstream media swears that the drones are just so much more "precise" in their "extrajudicial executions" than traditional air methods, which can be so messy. Better yet, when nothing in Afghanistan or Pakistan seems to be working out, the drones are actually doing the job. They're reportedly knocking off the bad guys right and left. At least 13 senior al-Qaeda leaders and one senior Taliban leader (aka "high-value targets") have been killed by the drones, according to the Long War Journal, and many more foot soldiers have been taken out as well.
And they're not just the obvious slam-dunk weapons system for our present problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they're potentially the royal path to the future when it comes to war-fighting, which is surely something else to be excited about.
The Wonder Weapons Succeed -- at Home
So why am I not excited -- other than the fact that the drones are also killing civilians in disputed but significant numbers in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, creating enemies and animosity wherever they strike, and turning us into a nation of 24/7 assassins beyond the law or accountability of any sort? Thought of another way, the drones put wings on the original Bush-era Guantanamo principle -- that Americans have the inalienable right to act as global judge, jury, and executioner, and in doing so are beyond the reach of any court or law.
And here's another factor that dulls my excitement just a tad -- if the history of air warfare has shown one thing, it's this: it never breaks populations. Rather, it only increases their sense of unity, as in London during the Blitz under Winston Churchill, in Germany under Adolf Hitler, Imperial Japan under Emperor Hirohito, North Korea under Kim Il Sung, North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and of course (though we never put ourselves in such company, being the exceptions to all history), the United States after 9/11 under George W. Bush. Why should the peoples of rural Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands be any different?
Oh, and there's just one more reason that comes to mind: it so happens that I can see the future when it comes to drones, and it's dismal. I'm no prophet -- it's only that I've already lived through so much of that future. In fact, we all have.
Militarily speaking, we might as well be in the film Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell are forced to live out the same 24 hours again and again -- with all the grimness of that idea and none of the charm of those actors. In my lifetime, I've repeatedly seen advanced weapons systems or mind-boggling technologies of war hailed as near-utopian paths to victory and future peace (just as the atomic bomb was soon after my birth). In the Vietnam War, the glories of "the electronic battlefield" were limned as an antidote to brute and ineffective American air power. That high-tech, advanced battlefield of invisible sensors was to bring an end to the impunity of guerrillas and infiltrating enemy armies. No longer capable of going anywhere undetected, they would have nowhere to hide.
In the 1980s, it was President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, quickly dubbed "Star Wars" by its critics, a label that he accepted with amusement. ("If you will pardon my stealing a film line -- the Force is with us," he said in his usual genial way.) His dream, as he told the American people, was to create an "impermeable" anti-missile shield over the United States -- "like a roof protects a family from rain" -- that would end the possibility of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union and so create peace in our time (or, if you were of a more cynical turn of mind, the possibility of a freebie nuclear assault on the Soviets).
In the Gulf War, "smart bombs" and smart missiles were praised as the military saviors of the moment. They were to give war the kind of precision that would lower civilian deaths to the vanishing point and, as the neocons of the Bush administration would claim in the next decade, free the U.S. military to "decapitate" any regime we loathed. All this would be possible without so much as touching the civilian population (which would, of course, then welcome us as liberators). And later, there was "netcentric warfare," that Rumsfeldian high-tech favorite. Its promise was that advanced information-sharing technology would turn a Military Lite into an uplinked force so savvy about changing battlefield realities and so crushing that a mere demo or two would cow any "rogue" nation or insurgency into submission.
Of course, you know the results of this sort of magical thinking about wonder weapons (or technologies) and their properties just as well as I do. The atomic bomb ended nothing, but led to an almost half-century-long nuclear superpower standoff/nightmare, to nuclear proliferation, and so to the possibility that, someday, even terrorists might possess such weapons. The electronic battlefield was incapable of staving off defeat in Vietnam. That impermeable anti-missile shield never came even faintly close to making it into our skies. Those "smart bombs" of the Gulf War proved remarkably dumb, while the 50 "decapitation" strikes the Bush administration launched against Saddam Hussein's regime on the first day of the 2003 invasion of Iraq took out not a single Iraqi leader, but "dozens" of civilians. And the history of the netcentric military in Iraq is well known. Its "success" sent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld into retirement and ignominy.
In the same way, robot drones as assassination weapons will prove to be just another weapons system rather than a panacea for American warriors. To date, in fact, there is at least as much evidence in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the drones are helping to spread war as that they are staunching it.
Yet, the above summary is, at best, only half the story. None of these wonder weapons or technologies succeeded in their moment, or as advertised, but that fact stopped none of them from embedding themselves in our American world. From the atomic bomb came a whole nuclear landscape that included the Strategic Air Command, weapons labs, production plants, missile silos, corporate interests, and an enormous world-destroying arsenal (as well as proliferating versions of the same, large and small, across the planet). Nor did the electronic battlefield go away. Quite the opposite -- it came home and entered our everyday world in the form of sensors, cameras, surveillance equipment and the like, now implanted from our borders to our cities.
True, Reagan's impermeable shield was the purest of nuclear fantasies, but the "high frontiersmen" gathered and, taking a sizeable bite of the military budget, went on a decades-long binge of way-out research, space warfare plans and commands, and boondoggles of all sorts, including the staggeringly expensive, still not operational anti-missile system that the Bush and now Obama administrations have struggled to emplace somewhere in Europe. Similarly, ever newer generations of smart bombs and ever brighter missiles have been, and are being, developed ad infinitum.
Rarely do wonder weapons or wonder technologies disappoint enough to disappear. Each of these is, in fact, now surrounded by its own mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with its own set of corporate players, special lobbyists in Washington, specific interests, and congressional boosters. Each has installed a typical revolving door that the relevant Pentagon officials and officers can spin through once their military careers are in order. This is no less true for that wonder weapon of our moment, the robot drone.
In fact, you can already see the military-industrial-drone-robotics complex in formation. Take just one figure, Tony Tether, who for seven years was the head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which did its share of advanced robotics research. When he left the Pentagon in September, it was, according to Noah Shachtman, who runs Wired's Danger Room blog, to join "an advisory panel of Scientific Systems Company, Inc., which works on robotics projects for the Pentagon. In June, he joined the board of Aurora Flight Sciences, Inc., developers of military unmanned aircraft." He has also become "a part-time technical consultant and 'strategic advisor' for the influencers at The Livingston Group" which represents some large defense contractors like Northrup Grumman and Raytheon.
The drone industry, too, already has its own congressional representatives. Republican Congressman and former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, for instance, is a major drone booster. In April 2009, he insisted that "we must also press forward with the development of the next generation of UAVs, including the Predator C. During my service in the Marine Corps, I engaged targets with the Predator A and B Series, and I recognize the advantages offered by Predator C." In 2008, General Atomics, whose "affiliate" makes the Predator drone, gave $6,000 to Hunter's election campaign committee, making it his 13th largest contributor. That company was also the number two contributor to his Peace Through Strength political action committee.
In the American Grain
This, then, is the future that you can see just as well as I can. When the Obama administration decides to up the ante on drone use in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as it's soon likely to do, it will be ensuring not the end of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but the long life of robot war within our ever more militarized society. And by the time this set of robotic dreams fails to pan out, it won't matter. Yet another mini-sector of the military-industrial complex will be etched into the American grain.
Whatever the short-term gains from introducing drone warfare in these last years, we are now locked into the 24/7 assassination trade -- with our own set of non-suicide bombers on the job into eternity. This may pass for sanity in Washington, but it's surely helping to pave the road to hell.
Haven't any of these folks ever seen a sci-fi film? Are none of them Terminator fans? Are they sure they want to open the way to unlimited robot war, keeping in mind that, if this is the latest game in town, it won't remain mainly an American one for long. And just wait until the first Iranian drone takes out the first Baluchi guerrilla supported by American funds somewhere in Pakistan. Then let's see just what we think about the right of any nation to summarily execute its enemies -- and anyone else in the vicinity -- by drone.
Is this actually what we Americans want to be known for? And if we let this happen, and General Atomics is working double or triple shifts to turn out ever more, ever newer generations of robot warriors, while the nation suffers 10.2% unemployment, who exactly will think about shutting them down?
[Note on Further Reading: For a fascinating, if underappreciated history of American dreams about ultimate weapons leading to world peace, don't miss Bruce Franklin's remarkable little book (reissued in 2008 in an updated edition), War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. On drones, the piece to read is Jane Mayer's recent "The Predator War" in the New Yorker.
Katherine Tiedemann and Peter Bergen's "Revenge of the Drones," a report from the New America Foundation, has a particularly sensible discussion of a question that is, at present, impossible to answer (because no reporters are around): How many civilians have died in drone attacks in the Pakistani borderlands? Priya Satia's Nation magazine report, "Attack of the Drones," is well worth checking out, too. ("Lord Bingham, a retired senior British judge, compares hunter-killer drones to cluster bombs and land mines, weapons that have been deemed too cruel for use... Airstrikes, manned or unmanned, regulated or not, cannot build a better Afghan future.") And my earlier drone piece, "Terminator Planet," might be worth a glance. The website to keep your eye on for the latest news on drones and other advanced military technology is Noah Shachtman's Danger Room, much cited above.]
The United States of America owes much of the hope it has right now of remaining what John Adams called “a nation of laws, not men” to Italian law enforcement.
Were it not for the fact that Italian prosecutors, unlike their American counterparts, answer to the law rather than a president, the enforcement of laws against a massive crime spree by U.S. officials (and their Italian accomplices) would not have begun.
In 2003, the CIA and the United States military kidnapped a man, a political refugee, in Italy. His name was Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.
CIA agents spied on him from their luxury hotels and gourmet-meal lives in Milano (all paid for by U.S. taxpayers). They were told to kidnap Nasr and send him to Egypt to be tortured, and they did so.
According to recent statements by two of them, they knew perfectly well they were violating the law. But they were not worried enough at the time to refrain from discussing the matter on their cell phones as they enjoyed the dolce vita and racked up credit card bills wasting the same currency the U.S. government claims it has a moral duty not to waste on healthcare.
Nasr was indeed kidnapped, flown to Egypt, and tortured. His wife, Ghali Nabila, testified in Italian court for over six hours. In October 2004, she had been able to see him, briefly out of Egyptian prison. (He was eventually released years later.) Nabila said in court:
“I found him wasted, skinny – so skinny his hair had turned white, he had a hearing aid.”
Ordered, against her will, to describe his torture, she said:
“He was tied up like he was being crucified. He was beaten up, especially around his ears. He was subject to electroshocks to many body parts.”
Asked if that included genitals, she replied “Yes.”
Nasr himself wrote in a letter smuggled out of prison and printed in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera:
“I was hung by my feet from the ceiling, my head down, my hands tied to my back, my feet tied up. I was subjected to electric shocks all over my body, especially in my head, nipples, testicles, and penis. My testicles where also beaten with a stick and squeezed tightly if I refused to answer their questions or was suspected of telling lies.
“They fixed my body to an iron door and on a wooden instrument they call the bride, where my hands where tied over my head from behind and my legs tied together or sometimes each leg on different sides. The torture that takes place during this is electric shocks, and beating with a shoe and cables.”
Presidents Barack Obama and Silvio Berlusconi oppose prosecuting Americans or Italians for kidnapping this man and transporting him to his torturers. The U.S. Department of Justice will, therefore, not prosecute.
In Italy, on the other hand, there is still some measure of law, law as a standard applied to all equally, without immunity for those with the power to commit the greatest crimes.
Last Wednesday, an Italian court convicted 22 CIA agents and one member of the U.S. Air Force. The prosecutor Armando Spataro has repeatedly asked the Italian government to issue an international arrest warrant and request extradition by the United States. It has not yet done so.
One of the convicted CIA agents, Sabrina De Sousa, openly admits that the kidnapping was illegal, but says that she feels betrayed by those who authorized the operation and failed to protect its participants from prosecution.
De Sousa ignores Nuremberg Principle IV, which requires noncompliance with illegal orders or instructions:
“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
But De Sousa also has a point, one well exemplified at Nuremberg: Those at the bottom are not the most responsible.
Those who must be held accountable first and foremost are the decision-makers at the top. And who authorized the policy of kidnapping people and shipping them off to be tortured? Three top U.S. officials have authorized rendition: Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. And in this case, the presidents responsible were Bush and, almost certainly, Berlusconi.
The New York Times reported that most top CIA officials who planned the Abu Omar rendition have since left the agency, with the exception of Stephen Kappes, who was then assistant director of the CIA’s clandestine branch and is now CIA deputy director.
For justice to reach to the highest levels and thereby deter the practice of kidnapping, under the name rendition, in the years ahead, justice must be permitted to proceed on the paths it has blazed thus far.
Americans must make Italians aware of our gratitude for their efforts to save us from ourselves. And Italy must be compelled to obey its laws rather than its president on the question of issuing international arrest warrants and a demand for extradition.
The 23 fugitives already can expect arrest if they visit any nation of Europe. They should not be free to roam the rest of the world.
By U.S. standards, Italy would be justified in kidnapping these fugitives and “rendering” them to Italian prisons. An extradition request would be a generous favor of a sort that the United States does not grant to others.
Failure to take that step on behalf of the rule of law will put the blood of future rendition victims on the hands of the Italian as well as the American people.
David Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town by visiting davidswanson.org
Dorothy Day http://www.catholicworker.com/ddaybio.htm was an anarchist and a pacifist who was arrested multiple times throughout her life (the last time when she was in her 70s). The FBI had a 500 page file on her, and Herbert Hoover hoped to see her arrested for sedition. She’s also been called “the most significant, interesting and influential person in the history of American Catholicism” (by historian David O’Brien in “Commonweal” magazine), and the Vatican has approved considering her cause for canonization.
That’s my kind of saint. I love Dorothy Day. In the great communion of saints, there are a handful of people that I look to as my heroes and role models, my “household saints”. Dorothy Day is one of them, and today is her birthday. She was a “sign of contradiction”, “holiness not easily domesticated”, to quote Robert Ellsberg. She managed to defy stereotypes, and confound both supporters and opponents over the course of her life.
Her radical politics came before her conversion to Catholicism, but her political commitments only grew deeper when she came to faith. In the gospel she found a rejection of power, oppression and violence and a call not only to serve the poor, but to be one of them. Her advocacy for justice was now accompanied by a devotion to works of mercy and to life in community. Along with the eccentric French peasant and itinerant teacher Peter Maurin http://www.catholicworker.org/roundtable/pmbiography.cfm, Dorothy founded the Catholic Worker http://www.catholicworker.org/ movement.
I am reminded of Frederick Buechner’s line that “God makes saints out of fools and sinners because He has nothing else to work with.” I think Dorothy would have enjoyed that, and agreed, seeing what came from the partnership she had with Peter Maurin. There are now over 185 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality, including three in St. Louis, and it all started with soup and coffee in Dorothy’s kitchen.
Dorothy Day never abandoned her anarchism or pacifism. Her politics were a scandal to Christians who felt the church should serve as chaplain to the state and maintain the status quo. Her religion was incomprehensible to the anarchists, Socialists and Communists with whom she’d spent her youth. But Dorothy continued to reach out to both sides, seeing herself as a faithful daughter of the church, and yet a radical called to disturb the comfortable - even when the comfortable were in the pews, or the prelate’s office. And so she often found herself, as she once wrote in her column “On Pilgrimage”, talking “economics to the rich and Jesus to the anarchists.” It wasn’t an easy path.
“Don’t call me a saint,” Dorothy Day once said. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Perhaps she recognized that we often try to add a soft-focus glow to our heroes, and avoid dealing both with their real humanity and the real challenges they present to us. As much as I admire Dorothy, I know that she wasn’t perfect. Her early assessment of the Cuban revolution turned out to be far too optimistic, for instance. On a personal level she struggled with anger and when once asked to hold her temper replied, “I hold more temper in one minute that you will in a lifetime.” That, too, makes her my kind of saint. Her imperfections didn’t prevent her from following Christ with a devotion and determination that is astonishing to me. As Robert Ellsberg said of her, she spent her life “giving proof that the gospel could be lived.”
Dorothy was a prolific writer and my spirituality and politics have both been shaped by her words. Of course, Dorothy Day would point out that my politics should simply be an expression of my spirituality, not a separate category. I’m still learning from her, and I’m not the only one. Her continuing influence is seen not only in the Catholic church but in intentional Christian communities, the New Monasticism, the Christian Anarchist Movement.
I’ll give the last word to Dorothy on her birthday.
What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend. — Dorothy Day
Nothing has ever changed the world as quickly as the Internet.
Less than a decade ago, "60 Minutes" went to the Pentagon to do a story on something called information warfare, or cyberwar as some people called it. It involved using computers and the Internet as weapons.
Much of it was still theory, but we were told that before too long it might be possible for a hacker with a computer to disable critical infrastructure in a major city and disrupt essential services, steal millions of dollars from banks all over the world, infiltrate defense systems, extort millions from public companies, and even sabotage our weapons systems.
Today it's not only possible, all of that has actually happened. And there's a lot more we don't even know about.
It's why President Obama has made cyberwar defense a top national priority and why some people are already saying that the next big war is less likely to begin with a bang than with a blackout.
"Can you imagine your life without electric power?" Ret. Adm. Mike McConnell asked "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft...
It looks like that California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger placed a hidden obscenity in a veto statement that was sent to the lawmaker whose bill was vetoed. The lawmaker, San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, was at odds over Swarzenegger and recently made a scene at an event where he heckled the Governor. You can see the words by reading the first letter of the left hand margin. Other veto notes have spelled words like "poet" and "soap" but nothing this long or this crude. Very unstatesmanlike. The veto note is below:
OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM (IPS) - Israeli authorities are increasingly targeting and intimidating nonviolent Palestinian grassroots activists involved in anti-occupation activities who are drawing increased support from the international community.
Several weeks ago masked Israeli soldiers stormed the home of Ehab Jallad from The Jerusalem Popular Committee for the Celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009.
"Around 3am the soldiers started kicking and banging on the door and threatened to break it down if I didn't open immediately. My young daughters were terrified as they didn't know what was happening," recalled Jallad, a young Palestinian architect from Jerusalem.
"The soldiers then proceeded to ransack my home before confiscating my laptop, several computers, files with my contacts and my ipod. When I asked them why they were doing this and told them I wanted to call my lawyer, they told me to shut up and threatened to beat me up," Jallad told IPS.
This is just the latest incident in which the Israeli authorities have arrested and taken Jallad in for questioning over his organization of cultural events marking East Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture. Jallad has also been monitoring the protests outside al-Aqsa Mosque during the last few weeks.
"The Israeli officer questioning me said he knew I was in contact with the media but stated this would not help. He further warned me that I was being monitored, and if I continued with my activities my family and I would be subjected to further raids and harassment," said Jallad.
The same morning that Jallad was arrested Israeli security forces raided a warehouse used by Jerusalem community groups and cultural events organizers.
"They vandalized material we use for cultural events and confiscated other material," Jallad told IPS.
To date Jallad has not been charged with anything. But a war between Palestinians and Israel continues unabated over Israel's continued Judaization of East Jerusalem.
This has involved the expulsion of Palestinian residents from their homes in the eastern sector of the city and the expropriation thereof to make way for Israeli settlers.
A number of Palestinian families continue to live in tents pitched on streets outside their former homes as they watch Israeli settlers go about their daily business in their former homes.
Periodic violence between the two groups has broken out during the last few weeks with the Israeli police selectively arresting only Palestinians.
The Jerusalem Municipality has deliberately limited building permits for East Jerusalemites despite a chronic housing shortage, while the settlement of Israeli settlers in the area has been actively encouraged. Palestinian homes built without permits are regularly destroyed.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) envisions East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Under international law East Jerusalem is part of the occupied West Bank.
The PA has tried to counter Israel's Judaization efforts by asserting its presence in the contested part of the city. Organizing cultural events has been part of the effort.
Hatem Abdul Qader, a PA official for Jerusalem Affairs, has been arrested by Israeli security forces several times over the last few months. He has also been banned from the city for several weeks on a number of occasions.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Othman, 33, from the northern West Bank village Jayyous, continues to languish in solitary confinement in a dirty Israeli prison cell devoid of natural light or windows.
Othman has been labeled a "security threat" by the Israelis ever since his arrest on 22 September as he crossed into the West Bank from Jordan. Othman had returned from a trip to Norway where he met with senior officials to discuss human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Norwegian government has divested its funds from Elbit, an Israeli company which supplies drones and other military technology.
During his incarceration Othman has been subjected to hours of interrogation, handcuffed, seated in stress positions and denied sleep. Like Jallad he has had no involvement in military activities which could constitute a security threat to the Jewish state. He too, has not been charged with any infringement of the law.
But Othman, a political activist, has been joining the "Stop the Wall Campaign" against the illegal Zufim settlement built by Russian billionaire Lev Leviev. The Stop the Wall Campaign is fighting against Israel's construction of a barrier on West Bank land.
The wall cuts through swathes of Palestinian territory dividing Palestinians from their agricultural fields, and trapping some Palestinian communities in pockets of territory between Israel and the West Bank.
The wall was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, and several years ago an Israeli high court ordered the Israeli military to reroute parts of the wall, arguing that compromised the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers.
Othman is also involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign which has been drawing increased international support.
Othman's supporters believe his main "crimes" are his activities on behalf of the campaign which wants to see a boycott of Israel along the lines of the former boycott against apartheid South Africa.
"I think Israel is worried about its reputation amongst the international community now that more people are waking up to the human rights abuses and injustices being committed here," Jallad told IPS.
"I think in some ways we are perceived as more of a threat than an armed cell of Hamas fighters precisely because we are nonviolent and what we are fighting for is reasonable."
All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2009). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.
Today, a federal Court of Appeals dismissed Canadian citizen Maher Arar's case against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured and interrogated for a year. Arar is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The court concluded that Arar's case raised too many sensitive foreign policy and secrecy issues to permit relief. It leaves the federal officials involved free of any legal accountability for what they did.
Maher Arar is not available to comment in person, but is issuing the following statement: "After seven years of pain and hard struggle it was my hope that the court system would listen to my plea and act as an independent body from the executive branch. Unfortunately, this recent decision and decisions taken on other similar cases, prove that the court system in the United States has become more or less a tool that the executive branch can easily manipulate through unfounded allegations and fear mongering. If anything, this decision is a loss to all Americans and to the rule of law."
Said Georgetown law professor and CCR cooperating attorney David Cole, who argued the case, "This decision says that U.S. officials can intentionally send a man to be tortured abroad, bar him from any access to the courts while doing so, and then avoid any legal accountability thereafter. It effectively places executive officials above the law, even when accused of a conscious conspiracy to torture. If the rule of law means anything, it must mean that courts can hear the claim of an innocent man subjected to torture that violates our most basic constitutional commitments."
CCR Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood said, "With this decision, we have lost much more than Maher Arar's case against torture - we have lost the rule of law, the moral high ground, our independent judiciary, and our commitment to the Constitution of the United States."
The case was re-heard before twelve Second Circuit judges after a rare decision in August 2008 to rehear the case sua sponte, that is, of their own accord before Arar had even sought rehearing.
Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK Airport in September 2002 while changing planes on his way home to Canada. The Bush administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda and sent him not to Canada, his home and country of citizenship, but against his will to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture. He was tortured, interrogated and detained in a tiny underground cell for nearly a year before the Syrian government released him, stating they had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity.
In January 2004, just three months after he returned home to Canada from his ordeal, CCR filed a suit on Mr. Arar's behalf against John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials, the first to challenge the government's policy of "extraordinary rendition," also known as "outsourcing torture."
The Canadian government, after an exhaustive public inquiry, found that Mr. Arar had no connection to terrorism and, in January 2007, apologized to Mr. Arar for Canada's role in his rendition and awarded him a multi-million-dollar settlement. The contrast between the two governments' responses to their mistakes could not be more stark, say Mr. Arar's attorneys. Both the Executive and Judicial branches of the United States government have barred inquiry and refused to hold anyone accountable for ruining the life of an innocent man.
Two Congressional hearings in October 2007 dealt with his case. On October 18, 2007 Mr. Arar testified via video at a House Joint Committee Hearing convened to discuss his rendition by the U.S. to Syria for interrogation under torture. During that hearing - the first time Mr. Arar testified before any U.S. governmental body - individual members of Congress publicly apologized to him, though the government still has not issued a formal apology. The next week, on October 24, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted during a House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing that the U.S. government mishandled his case.
In a strongly worded dissent, Judge Guido Calabresi wrote, "I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay."
Joshua Sohn of DLA Piper US LLP, Katherine Gallagher of CCR, and Jules Lobel, professor at University of Pittsburgh Law School and CCR cooperating attorney, are co-counsel in Mr. Arar's case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights represents other victims of the Bush administration's programs, from Iraqis tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib prison to Muslim and Arab men rounded up and abused in immigration sweeps in the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11, to Guantanamo detainees in the recent Supreme Court case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.