WONâT GET FOOLED AGAIN Mood:
lyrical Now Playing: its all in the song.... Topic: POLITICS
WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN
We'll be fighting in the streets With our children at our feet And the morals when they worship will be gone And the men who spurred us on Sit in judgment of all wrong They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution Take a bow for the new revolution Smile and grin at the change all around Pick up my guitar and play Just like yesterday Then I'll get on my knees and pray We don't get fooled again
The change, it had to come We knew it all along We were liberated from the foe, that's all And the world looks just the same And history ain't changed 'Cause the banners, they'd all flown in the last war
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution Take a bow for the new revolution Smile and grin at the change all around Pick up my guitar and play Just like yesterday Then I'll get on my knees and pray We don't get fooled again No, no!
I'll move myself and my family aside If we happen to be left half alive I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky For I know that the hypnotized never lie Do ya?
There's nothing in the street Looks any different to me And the slogans are out-phased, by-the-bye And the parting on the left Is now parting on the right And their beards have all grown longer overnight
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution Take a bow for the new revolution Smile and grin at the change all around Pick up my guitar and play Just like yesterday Then I'll get on my knees and pray We don't get fooled again Don't get fooled again No, no!
What are we getting in return for the bailout? So far, predatory credit card rates, exorbitant bank fees and obscene Wall Street bonuses. But we're being robbed in other, sneakier ways, too. It seems that taxpayers in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of the county are getting plundered by the same institutions they bailed out. One example is AIG's underhanded fleecing of residents of rural Kentucky.
Middlesboro and Clinton are two tiny, impoverished towns in southern Kentucky with a combined population of 12,000. In 2008, Middlesboro's per capita income was $13,189 a year, only a few hundred dollars more than the average worker earned in third-world Mexico. That is if they were lucky to even get a job. Real unemployment hovers somewhere around 30%, and the state is so broke that half the people eligible for unemployment benefits can't receive them. Life may be tough and most people live in poverty, but that doesn't mean they can't be made a little poorer. That's the lesson locals learned after bailed-out insurance villain AIG took over their water utility and instantly raised rates to squeeze an extra $1 million in profits out of its new customers, forcing some to consider choosing between running water and food.
The towns are so rural, their residents have yet to be touched by the Internet revolution. Forget comment sections or forum threads. In Clinton, you have to track down actual hand-written notes that residents filed with city hall to read their complaints about the rate increase. Luckily, city officials were nice enough to scan some of them.
Here's one, dated August 8, 2009:
My husband and I are on a fixed income and with everything going up in price this would be very a very large burden on us as well as most of the citizens of Clinton. Our town is mostly of people like us and this would be such a hardship for us. A 50.8% raise is outrageous on anything. Please do not let this happen. It would mean the difference in bringing buying food and medicine or paying a high water bill to make someone else's life easier.
Here is how the AIG takeover went down: In 2005, flush with cash from its shady dealings in the mortgage derivatives market, AIG announced that it was in the process of acquiring Utilities Inc., a holding company that controlled scores of small water utilities across 17 different states. With just 300,000 customers, the company wasn't huge, but it boasted of being the largest privately held water utility in the country.
"We have long considered water infrastructure as an attractive investment opportunity and an excellent complement to [our] existing energy infrastructure portfolio. Utilities Inc. is a leader in this industry and we are pleased that [we have] the opportunity to acquire this business,” AIG Chairman and CEO Win J. Neuger gloated in a press release.
AIG had reason to be pleased with its purchase. Water utilities are one hell of a profitable business, with international corporations easily making a 20 to 30% profit margin, according to a 2007 report by Food and Water Watch. In the US, federal regulations limit profits to 10%, a pesky rule that companies easily subvert by shuffling their income around and “investing” it in side businesses. These kinds of returns would be the envy of the pharmaceutical and oil industries. How do water companies do it? According to Food and Water Watch, they charge 50% more for services than public utilities and pocket the difference, thereby unleashing the potential of the free market.
People who have been ripped off by bailed-out banks' schemes to trick late fees out of their customers will recognize what Utilities Inc. did to the people of Middlesboro and Clinton. In the summer of 2008, as AIG was teetering and desperate for funds, it "upgraded" its billing system, and suddenly a slew of late fee charges hit the struggling locals.
Residents had been getting their water bills like clockwork for as long as anyone could remember, but confusion and disorder set in as soon as Utilities rolled out its new and improved billing system. Monthly statements started coming late or didn't come in for months at a time. People were double-billed and double-penalized for bills that never arrived. One month, a bill would include sewer fees, the next month it wouldn't—and you'd be charged if didn't catch the omission. It's obvious the new invoice system was designed for pure harassment, creating chaos and reaping the rewards of the late fees it generated.
Internally, Utilities referred to their revamp of the billing system as "Project Phoenix." It sounded eerily similar to the CIA's "Phoenix Program," which was designed to terrorize, kill and torture uppity Vietnamese villagers into submission during the Vietnam War. One month after Project Phoenix started wreaking havoc on locals, AIG collapsed and took the first of over $150 billion in taxpayer bailout funds. That meant Project Phoenix could still go on terrorizing locals—which it did.
Here is how a local newspaper described the new billing program in Clinton in March, 2008:
It wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that the new bills began to arrive and from Day One, they were messed up. Few customers here in Clinton [called] the water company because they got multiple bills. One business thought it got a break when its bill went down somewhat, only to discover that the bill hadn’t included sewer costs. This went on for several months. Finally, the [sewer bill] showed up – due in full – on one bill. Requests to spread out the payment fell on deaf ears. . . . Some of us were so confused by the bills, we paid them every time they came in. . . . Fears of bad credit reports and shut offs kept most customers paying whenever a bill arrived.
To make it harder for Clinton residents to file complaints, AIG closed the utility's local office as soon as it took over the company. Pleas made by phone were rejected.
Local citizens are angry, upset and fearful. Many senior citizens on fixed incomes are already stretched past the breaking point. Others living below the poverty line without hope of getting a job are worried about how to pay another rising utility bill.
Customers we’ve talked to “want to do something,” but say they cannot afford to file to intervene in the case. The trip to Frankfort is daunting and expensive. Some dare not leave the jobs or businesses they have for the time it would take to travel and attend a hearing in Frankfort.
In November 2008, right as AIG was recieving the second installment of its bailout and the economy was in a free-fall, AIG's water utility notified Middlesbro and Clinton residents that it would be raising rates by 51%. It would mean more than $750,000 in additional revenue a year, just from 8,000 customers. The money wouldn't be used to fund infrastructure improvements—none had been made and none were planned. No, according to a company spokesman, the utility was trying to recoup money it had invested in its "improved" billing system, in effect forcing the victims of the billing system to pay for their own fleecing.
It seems Utilities was quite honest about explaining that a good chunk of the $750,000 would be transferred straight into the pockets of its investors, according to the West Kentucky Journal of Politics and Issues.
[Another] reason came from [the] company's financial expert, Pauline M. Ahern, who opined that a rate increase will allow [the utility] to “earn a range of common equity cost ratio of 11.60% to 12.10%.” In the present market, that is an attractive return on investment.
One million dollars may not seem like much these days, but it sure meant a lot to the poverty-stricken residents of Middlesbro and Clinton. There were quite a few bleak handwritten statements filed with Clinton's city hall during a public hearing on the water rates increase. It makes sense to quote them to get a feel for the level of despair that exists in rural communities like this all over the United States.
Here's one from August 8, 2009:
I get $675.00 a month, if they raise the water, or utilities, I can't pay them. I would have to go without water, etc. or gas. I'm disabled and I can't walk. Raising the utilities hurt a lot of people here in Clinton. Not just me but everyone. As it is I can't pay the water bills because its high. But I pay what I can.
And here is another from August 12, 2009:
I feel that a rate increase of 50.8% will add a heavy burden on our small rural community. Our citizin [sic] that lives in our city are on Social Security, have full time jobs that pay barely minimum wage or are working as many as 3 part time jobs to make their monthly budget.
And another from May, 2009:
“I always have a high bills [sic] to pay. I pay what I can. I am on disable. [sic] I try not to use too much water. But yet I have a high water bill. If the bill goes up, I will be lucky to pay them $10.00 instead of $80.00.
In the end, Kentucky's regulatory commission reduced the water rate increase from 50.1% to 30%. How long before they try raise the rate again? Or until the energy company decides to follow suit? It's hard to say. But one thing is for certain: AIG's takeover shows again that the American people were screwed by the bailed-out billionaires, who, instead of showing gratitude or willingness to reciprocate, have been preying upon the most vulnerable Americans like they are 15th century barons soaking the peasants.
And as our cities and states start leasing out and selling public infrastructure to pay off their municipal debts, we can expect banks to gain more control of public wealth. Middlesbro and Clinton are a glimpse into the future of post-privatized America.
I don’t live in the teepee, but in a trailer down the hill. I come up to the teepee to get online because there’s good reception without a cell satellite. We are building a cabin starting Spring of 2010. Our plan is cement wall against the hillside, another two walls of cement, and the front wall standing 12′ X 3′ logs side by side and energy efficient windows. We just got an 80 watt solar panel and Xantrex xPower 1500. We plan to get more deep cycle batteries and a few more solar panels. So what do we do when the sun doesn’t shine? Honda 5500watt gas generator. I like organic foods and eat and shop, sometimes, at Real Foods in Helena. Just remember, ‘green’ is the new ‘red’.
The federal judge who helped draft Justice Department memos on torture has set up a legal defense fund to pay the costs of defending against possible disciplinary or impeachment proceedings. Jay Bybee, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Las Vegas, quietly set up the fund last July following widespread news reports that he and a former deputy, John Yoo, were the focus of a long-running investigation by the Justice Department's internal ethics unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), over their role in crafting the memos.
But there were no public references to the fund until this, week when Declassified noticed that a link to the fund had popped up on the Web site of Keep America Safe, an advocacy group set up last month by Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, that is highly critical of President Obama's national-security policies. The fund is listed as one of Keep America Safe's "causes we support."
The defense fund may be about to become extremely useful for Bybee, who anticipates legal expenses "well in excess of $500,000" as a result of the Justice investigation, according to a letter from the U.S. Judicial Conference ethics committee posted on the fund's Web site. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that, after a nearly year-long delay and numerous internal reviews, the OPR report into the torture memos was finally slated to be released at the end of this month.
As NEWSWEEK reported last February, the initial draft of the report, completed during the waning days of the Bush administration, concluded that Bybee (at the time assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel) and Yoo may have violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they drafted a controversial Aug. 1, 2002, memo on torture.
But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey rejected the draft report and directed that copies of its findings be sent for comment to the targets (including Bybee, Yoo, and Steve Bradbury, who had by then become assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel). Since then, the report has been redrafted and, after a further round of comments, is now being reviewed for final release by David Margolis, a veteran career prosecutor at the Justice Department.
The initial 2002 memo, signed by Bybee but believed to have been principally drafted by Yoo, concluded that during wartime, President Bush as commander in chief could unilaterally disregard a federal law banning torture in the prosecution of the war on terror. It also concluded that harsh interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA did not constitute torture unless they resulted in the "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." That conclusion opened the door for the CIA to use a wide array of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were approved in a separate memo by Bybee and Yoo on the same day.
Since then, there have been calls for Bybee's impeachment from some liberal advocacy groups and law professors. "He's the only person holding an office that could be the target" of impeachment, said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that has campaigned for "accountability" over the use of torture techniques during the Bush era.
But legal sources familiar with the OPR report (who asked not to be identified discussing it because the process is ongoing) say it is believed to have undergone numerous revisions since the original draft and that it is far from clear what its final conclusions will be. Maureen Mahoney, Bybee's lawyer, declined to comment on the specifics of the report but said, "If DOJ follows settled rules of law, it cannot possibly conclude that Judge Bybee's conduct was unethical."
Bybee, who served in the Justice Department under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was President George W. Bush's first nominee to be assistant attorney general in charge of OLC, the office that effectively serves as legal adviser for the entire federal government. He was then nominated by Bush to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed in March 2003—well before the existence of the torture memos or the CIA's use of waterboarding had become publicly known.
The letter sent to Bybee in May by the chair of the U.S. Judicial Conference's Committee on Codes of Conduct gave approval for the judge to set up the fund based on a set of facts he had presented. Those include the OPR inquiry, and the possibility that the Justice Department might launch investigations into torture and that "some members of Congress have indicated impeachment may be considered."
The letter, from Judge M. Margaret McKeown, approves the creation of a defense fund in which "others may solicit contributions," provided it adheres to rules that the committee has laid down for other judicial funds in the past, namely that the list of contributors be "blind" so that Bybee never learns their identities, and it not include lawyers who have cases before the judge.
James Spears, a Washington lawyer who is one of three trustees of the fund, declined to comment on how much the fund has raised. But the former Justice Department colleague of Bybee's did say, "We're confident that he'll be vindicated."
GITMO detainees = Court - update Nov 16 2009 Mood:
don't ask Now Playing: refer a further five GTMO detainees, including self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, for trial federal court i Topic: TORTURE
The Obama administration’s decision to refer a further five GTMO detainees, including self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, for trial federal court in New York City is a small but significant victory for the rule of law.
Carrie Lemack, whose mother was killed on board one the planes flown into the World Trade Center, welcomed the transfer telling the BBC:
“At the end of the day my mother and nearly three thousand others were murdered. And they deserve the right to have a trial of their murders and their families, me, my sister, so many other families of 9/11, deserve our day in court to hold to account those who did these terrible offenses.”
Yet this decision has predictably provoked a backlash from right-wing Republicans who can’t seem to help themselves when the opportunity for fear-mongering presents itself. Indeed, the Republican Party is proving to be one of Osama bin Laden’s most consistent boosters.
Rudy Giuliani was one of many Republican politicians to make the pilgrimage to Fox News to denounce the decision. The former mayor said that bringing KSM to New York would be “repeating the mistake of history” and he accused the Obama administration of adopting a “pre-9/11 approach” to fighting terrorists.
Rather odd since this is the selfsame Giuliani who hailed the conviction of the aspirant 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court in May 2006 by telling reporters: “The greater value is demonstrating what America is like. America won tonight.” Poor Rudy, he seems a bit confused.
Carrie Lemack and Rudy 2006 have a powerful point, one President Obama himself recently underscored in his eulogy to the victims of the Fort Hood shootings:
“We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.”
Being a nation of laws is no small thing. The rule of law is the foundation on which our way of life is built. It commands respect. Without the rule of law the constitution would, as John J. McCloy famously remarked, be just a scrap of paper.
It is the rule of law that has made America what it is and we set it aside at our peril. That is why the transfer of five terrorist suspects to the federal courts is such a good thing.
It also why the referral of five other cases to the reconstituted Military Commissions is such a mistake. Of particular concern is the referral of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s case. Al-Nashiri is alleged to have been the leader of the successful plot to bomb the USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors were killed.
The USS Cole bombing occurred prior to the apparent start of the Global War on Terror or the passage of the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which begs the question of whether or not Military Commissions have any logical jurisdiction over the case. Furthermore, the Cole bombing was investigated by the FBI and federal prosecutors making the federal courts a practical venue as well.
The families of the USS Cole victims have been particularly outspoken in their criticism of President Obama’s national security policies and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in this instance the administration simply decided to sacrifice principle to political expediency.
And that’s the problem. The Military Commissions are political courts. They exist to ensure convictions in cases where there is insufficient evidence to take to a real court. This is not justice and Commission judgments will lack any legitimacy. And once again we will have allowed the unscrupulous fear-mongers among us to undermine American values and hand Al Qaeda another propaganda victory.
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...