Headlines: Israel Threatens Palestinians, 21 Killed in Afghanistan Suicide Bombing

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

21 Afghan Police Officers Killed in Suicide Bombing

In Afghanistan, 21 police officers died today after a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform blew himself up inside a police training center in southern Afghanistan. The attack occurred in the city of Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

43 Civilians Die in Pakistan Fighting

In neighboring Pakistan, at least forty-three civilians were killed Sunday when they were caught in the crossfire between Pakistani forces and Taliban fighters. The deaths occurred in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

UN Worker Kidnapped in Pakistan

In southwestern Pakistan, gunmen have kidnapped an American UN worker and killed his driver. John Solecki is the regional head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Later this week, Richard Holbrooke plans to make his first trip to the region as President Obama’s new envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Government Shrinks 3.8%, Most Since 1982

In economic news, the government has reported that gross domestic product declined 3.8 percent in the last quarter. It was the worst contraction since 1982. During his weekly radio address, President Obama said new efforts are needed to boost the economy.

President Obama: “Soon my Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, will announce a new strategy for reviving our financial system that gets credit flowing to businesses and families. We’ll help lower mortgage costs and extend loans to small businesses so they can create jobs. We’ll ensure that CEOs are not draining funds that should be advancing our recovery. And we will insist on unprecedented transparency, rigorous oversight and clear accountability, so taxpayers know how their money is being spent and whether it is achieving results.”

McCaskill on Corporate Executives’ Pay: “These People Are Idiots”

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has proposed new pay limits for Wall Street executives. McCaskill wants any company taking federal bailout money to limit compensation for all employees to $400,000 a year, the same salary as President Obama. McCaskill made the proposal after it was revealed Wall Street firms had given themselves $18 billion in bonuses last year.

Sen. McCaskill: “We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer… These financial institutions, on the brink of extinction, come to the American taxpayer for hundreds and billions of dollars. At the very same time, they think they’re going to buy a $50 million corporate jet. They’re going to pay out $18 billion in bonuses. They paid an average of $2.6 million to every executive at the first 116 banks that got taxpayer money under TARP.”

Despite Economic Crisis, States Shrink Welfare Rolls

New questions are being raised over how the welfare system is helping people affected by the economic crisis. A report by the New York Times has found that the number of people receiving cash assistance through welfare programs is at or near the lowest in more than forty years despite soaring unemployment. Eighteen states cut their welfare rolls last year. Many of the states hardest hit by the economic crisis have made drastic cuts. Michigan cut its rolls by 13 percent. Rhode Island had the nation’s largest welfare decline of 17 percent.

Al Gore: Green Agenda Needed for Global Economic Crisis

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former vice president Al Gore urged governments to focus on a green agenda as they attempt to turn around the global economic crisis.

Al Gore: “Well, I think the solutions to the climate crisis are the same solutions we need for the economic crisis: to have a green stimulus, put people to work building the new green low-carbon infrastructure, get the economy moving in a sustainable direction, and put people back to work.”

Al-Maliki & Allies Poised for Sweeping Victory in Iraq

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies look poised for a sweeping victory in provincial polls. Official results will not be published for weeks, but leaders of rival Shia parties acknowledged today that Maliki’s State of Law coalition appeared to be heading for a strong win in some Shia areas. Just over half of Iraq’s 14 million registered voters went to the polls Saturday, the lowest turnout in elections held since the US-led invasion. Tens of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis were unable to cast their vote. On Sunday, President Obama said a substantial number of the 140,000 US troops in Iraq would be home within a year.

Sri Lankan Hospital Shelled; 13 Dead

In Sri Lanka, at least thirteen people have died after three artillery shell attacks hit an overcrowded hospital ward of mostly women and children. Local medical officials said the shells appeared to have been fired by the Sri Lankan military. The Red Cross reports hundreds of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in fighting since last week as the Sri Lankan military has intensified its offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is threatening to expel foreign diplomats, aid agencies and journalists from the region. On Sunday Sri Lanka’s defense secretary accused CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera of being sympathetic to the Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

Senate Set to Confirm Holder as Attorney General

On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to vote today to confirm Eric Holder as attorney general. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-to-2 to recommend his confirmation.

Daschle Questioned Over Tax Problems

Tom Daschle’s confirmation as secretary of Health and Human Services is now in doubt after revelations that the former Senate majority leader failed to pay $128,000 in back taxes until after he was nominated for the post. Daschle also failed to report $83,000 in consulting income and overstated the size of some charitable deductions. Questions are also being raised about Daschle’s close ties to healthcare firms. In recent years, Daschle was paid tens of thousands of dollars to give speeches before the Health Industry Distributors Association, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Obama Expected to Tap GOP Senator to be Commerce Secretary

President Obama is expected to nominate Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to be Commerce secretary. If confirmed, Gregg would become the third Republican in Obama’s cabinet. If Gregg left the Senate, New Hampshire’s Democratic governor would choose his replacement. Gregg has reportedly assured fellow Republicans that he would not take the job unless he was certain his replacement in the Senate would line up with the GOP caucus.

Michael Steele Becomes First African American to Chair RNC

In other political news, Republican officials have elected former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele to be the party’s next chair. Steele becomes the first African American to chair the Republican Party. During his victory speech, Steele said the Republican Party has an image problem and has been misidentified as a party unconcerned about minorities.

Michael Steele: “We’re going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community. And we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us, and for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.”

Obama Decides Not to End Extraordinary Rendition Program

The Los Angeles Times reports the Obama administration has decided not to end the controversial policy of extraordinary rendition, which gives the CIA authority to abduct anyone throughout the world and secretly transfer them to another country. Current and former US intelligence officials said the rendition program is poised to play an expanded role in counterterrorism efforts. One Obama administration official said, “Obviously you need to preserve some tools. You still have to go after the bad guys.” The European Parliament has condemned renditions as an “illegal instrument used by the United States.”

Olmert Vows “Disproportionate Response” Against Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has threatened to use “disproportionate response” if Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel. On Sunday, a wing of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for firing two rockets. The group is the militant wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. Meanwhile, Israel continues to carry out air strikes inside Gaza.

UN’s John Ging: Israel Is Blocking Humanitarian Aid from Gaza

The United Nation’s top official in Gaza, John Ging, said the humanitarian situation remains dire.

John Ging: “It’s almost two weeks since the declaration of the ceasefires here in Gaza, and I can tell you that the mood has very definitely moved from one of overwhelming grief to a pervasive sense of anger. People here are, of course, coming to terms with their new reality. Tens of thousands of them have no homes anymore; it’s just piles of rubble. And also, the aid effort is hampered by the lack of access.”

John Ging also accused Israel of blocking humanitarian aid from entering Gaza.

John Ging: “Shamefully, there are thousands of tons of aid waiting on the borders of Gaza that need to be connected right now with the people here. The donors have been very generous. You know, the operation in getting it from all over the world to this part of the world has been a success, and very quick. But now we have the bottleneck. And of course, it has to be that the government of Israel, in the first instance, has to find operational solutions to get the crossing points open.”

Obama Releases $21 Million to Palestinians

Over the weekend, President Obama released $20 million from the US Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund for use in the Palestinian region. Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell announced the aid package during a stop in Jerusalem.

George Mitchell: “President Obama has expressed his deep concern about the recent loss of life and the substantial suffering in Gaza. I am pleased to announce that this week the President directed the use of another $20.3 million to provide emergency food and medical assistance to the wounded and displaced in Gaza.”

The $20 million in aid is a fraction of the over $3 billion the US sends annually in aid to Israel.

Spain to Amend War Crimes Law

The Spanish government has announced plans to amend its laws to make it harder for Spanish judges to investigate torture and war crimes committed outside of Spain. In recent years, Spanish courts have investigated several prominent cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction. In 1998, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London under an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who sought to extradite him to Spain for trial. The Spanish government’s decision comes days after a Spanish judge launched an investigation into seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a top Hamas leader, Salah Shehadeh, and fourteen other people, including nine children. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni praised Spain’s decision.

Tzipi Livni: “I was just told by the Spanish foreign minister that Spain decided to change the legislation in accordance to the universal jurisdiction in order to change the possibility of different organization, political organization, to abuse the legal system in Spain in order to put charges against Israelis and others that are fighting terror. I think that this is a very important news, and I hope that other states in Europe will do the same and will follow this.”

Israel Pays $2 Million to Family of Slain British Journalist

In other news from the region, Israel has paid around $2 million in damages to the family of a British cameraman who was shot by an Israeli soldier in Gaza in 2003. The family of James Miller accepted the payment, saying it was as close to an admission of guilt from Israel as they were ever likely to get. Miller was in Gaza working on a documentary about Palestinian children caught up in the conflict. The documentary, Death in Gaza, later aired on HBO and won three Emmys.

Islamist Leader Elected President of Somalia

In Somalia, a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union has been elected president two years after US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in an attempt to end Islamist rule. Over the past two years, more than 16,000 people have died, and one million people were displaced. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is seen as a moderate Islamist leader and as someone who might be able to unite Somalia’s warring clans. The New York Times reports that with the selection of Sheik Sharif Ahmed, Somalia has come nearly full circle to where it was in the summer of 2006, when an Islamist alliance seized control of Mogadishu and pacified it for the first and only time since the country’s central government imploded in 1991.

Norway Blacklists Barrick Gold, Textron

The Norwegian government has sold off its $200 million investment in the Canadian-based mining company Barrick Gold because of the company’s ethical and environmental record. The Norwegian foreign minister accused Barrick of causing severe environmental damage in Papua New Guinea, where Barrick runs a large gold mine. Barrick Gold is the largest producer of gold in the world, with twenty-seven mines in operation. Norway has also blacklisted cluster bomb manufacturer Textron based in Wilmington, Massachusetts.

Leonard Peltier Transferred Back to Prison in Lewisburg, PA

And the imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier has been moved back to prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, weeks after he was attacked shortly after being transferred to another prison in Pennsylvania. Friday will mark the thirty-third anniversary of his arrest. He was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Peltier has long maintained his innocence and is widely considered a political prisoner in the United States.

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Report: Almost 4,000 Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Last Year; 680 by US

Nearly 4,000 Civilians Were Killed In Afghanistan in 2008

A Kabul-based group called the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) has released a new study that tallies civilian casualties in Afghanistan over the past year.

The study–which has a higher tally than other recent studies and was based on information from locals and elected officials–found that 3,917 civilians were killed in insurgency-linked violence in Afghanistan last year.

Additionally:

  • 6,800 were wounded and 120,000 were forced from their homes
  • 2,300 were killed in insurgent attacks
  • 1,100 were killed in military operations by foreign forces
  • 680 were killed in air strikes by US-led forces
  • 520 were killed by Afghan forces

The group has accused all sides of “repeated and systematic” violations of international law, the Geneva Conventions, and Afghanistan’s laws governing warfare.

The United Nations previously estimated civilian casualties in Afghanistan at 2,000 last year. Another organization–the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission estimated casualties at 1,800.

However, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor claims that its tally is more accurate because the UN has limited access to portions of the country because of the security situation.

US Mistakes Leading to Air Strike Deaths in Afghanistan

A new report from Human Rights Watch finds that “mistakes” by US and NATO forces are continuing to contribute to deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan.

With both major party presidential candidates advocating an escalation of the US war in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch has released an important report that studies the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan as a result of US and NATO air strikes. According to the report, civilian deaths from air strikes have nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007.

While casualties have decreased in the past year, Human Rights Watch reports that air strikes by the US and NATO–particularly “rapid response strikes” launched in reaction to calls from soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan–have continued to result in civilian deaths. The organization charges that while the Taliban bears responsibility for some civilian deaths due to its use of human shields, the United States also bears responsibility:

“Human Rights Watch criticized the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur. Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”

Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said in a news release that:

“The US needs to end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians… The US must also take responsibility, including by providing timely compensation, when its airstrikes kill Afghan civilians. While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.”

Bleeding Afghanistan

With the rapidly approaching 7th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan and the continued advocacy of an escalation of the war in Afghanistan by the two major party presidential candidates, Bleeding Afghanistan provides an important look into the reality of what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

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We are quickly approaching the 7th anniversary of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The presidential race has given some attention to Afghanistan, mostly because both McCain and Obama have pledged to send more US troops and “win the war on terrorism.” But, how much do we really know about what is going on in this country and what are the real motives for the ongoing US role in occupying this somewhat forgotten country?

These questions and many others are answered in an excellent book titled Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. Co-authored by James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar, Bleeding Afghanistan can be a useful tool for those not only wanting to understand the country that got the US into the current war on terror, but it can provide important talking points for the anti-war movement which desperately needs to mature its criticism of US foreign policy.

The book begins by providing a detailed account of US involvement in Afghanistan since the early 1970s, when Afghanistan was seen by the State Department as a strategic country during the Cold War. When the Iranian revolution of 1979 occurred, the US had even bigger concerns with Afghanistan which shares a border with Iran. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan later that year, but not without provocation from US backed factions. After the Reagan administration took office in 1981 the US began funneling billions of dollars through the CIA to the Afghan resistance also known as the Mujahideen. The US support lasted until the Soviet withdrawal in 1990 and then the US abandoned Afghanistan to factional infighting. The authors note that this was a source of much anti-American sentiment, since Afghanistan endured years of fighting and brutality after both global superpowers decided to leave the country.

Eventually, the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s with diplomatic support from the US early on. The Taliban were an outgrowth of the Mujahideen and embraced a strict Islamic code that was particularly harsh on women. Despite this, the Clinton administration supported the Taliban, in part, because of resource interests from companies like Unocal. What changed the administration’s position was the fact that Osama bin Laden was now using Afghanistan as a base for his operations. The Taliban then became somewhat of a target by the US and aid was discontinued during the end of the Clinton years.

Then 9/11 happens and the US decides that since bin Laden is using Afghanistan as a base of operation that the US would begin a military campaign against that country. The Bush administration used the Taliban’s treatment of women as a PR tool to gain public support for the aerial bombing of remote areas in Afghanistan to “fight the war on terror.” The authors devote an entire chapter on how Afghani women were used as a political tool by the US government, even though the condition of women did not significantly improve with the removal of the Taliban from power.

Another section of the book is devoted to the role that US news media played in the past 30 years in regards to Afghanistan. The authors demonstrate that when Afghanistan served a particular purpose in US foreign policy the news coverage was significant, like in the years of Soviet occupation or right after 9/11. However, once the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1990, very little coverage was to be found in US media, even though the country was no better off. The same has been the case in more recent years with news coverage of Afghanistan declining rapidly after the Taliban were removed from power in early 2002. Despite new leadership in the country the human rights situation has not improved, opium production is at an all time high and the US/NATO forces continue to commit significant human rights abuses that mirror the detentions, torture and murder in Iraq.

Bleeding Afghanistan concludes with an appeal for Americans to not only support real Afghan democracy movements like RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan) but to call for an end to the US occupation. An important and timely book since Afghanistan is being touted in an election year as the “true focus for winning the war on terror.”

Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

Senator Levin Speaks on Torture

Earlier this month, Michigan Senator Carl Levin delivered a lecture at the University of Michigan arguing why the use of torture is undermining the “War on Terror.”

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Earlier this month, Michigan Senator Carl Levin spoke at the University of Michigan on torture. The topic of his talk was “Torture, the Rule of Law, and American Security.” Levin, who was introduced as “an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq” and “a strong proponent of the need for America to conduct itself according to the highest of ethical standards,” argued that the United States’ use of torture is “a major part of the problem which we face in the world” and that its use is making the United States “less secure.”

Levin began by telling the story of a veteran in Ann Arbor who told him that the United States has lost the support of the people of the world and that the US must win that support back in order to secure the country. Levin said that this credibility is essential to dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “long-term struggle against al-Qaeda and other fanatics.” He stressed that military power is not enough to win those struggles, but that instead the United States must “harness the power of our ideals.” It is worth noting that while Levin repeatedly brought up that the people of the world had a high opinion of the United States and its actions before 9/11, he never provided any evidence to support that claim.

He described the Peace Corps as being representative of how Americans like to see themselves. He said that most Americans see the country “acting as a beacon for human rights and liberties.” However, Levin sad, “When we fail to live up to the standards that we profess, when we project moral hypocrisy… much of the world sees us in a way that we do not like to be seen.” Levin said that now too much of world sees symbol of American values as the image of a prisoner being tortured at Abu Ghraib and not the Statue of Liberty. For many, the stories from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have “compromised our moral authority and hindered our ability to lead the world in our common efforts against common enemies.”

Levin said that the greatest threat to the United States’ security is “the terrorist threat.” In order to fight this threat, Levin argued that it is essential to have allies. He said that this struggle has been undermined by unilateral actions of the Bush administration. Because of their actions, people have a lower opinion of the United States. To support this assertion, Levin cited a 2007 BBC poll in which 29% of people said US is generally a positive influence in the world.

Levin said that the intelligence community knows that the US needs the support of the world’s people to fight terrorism, as it understands that information is the key to preventing terrorist attacks. According to Levin, one person overhearing a terrorist plot could prevent “the mass murder of our citizens.” However, that citizen is less likely to report the information “if he sees the United States as an arrogant bully.” He pointed to recent arrests in Spain that prevented a terrorist attack as an example.

Levin said that the Iraq War–both the decision to invade and the way in which it has been conducted–is one reason why the world’s opinion of the United States has fallen. However, he said the problem is much deeper in that many people resent American “hypocrisy.” He said that people see that America–who was “a champion of a certain set of rules”–is now breaking those rules.

The abuse of detainees has not come simply from lower-level enlistees, but rather “the administration consciously decided to permit the use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that had previously had been viewed as inconsistent with our laws, our international commitments, and American values.” The Department of Justice’s “torture memo” said that for physical pain to constitute torture it must be “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Levin said that violent acts are not necessarily torture under this memo and that there may be exemptions from prosecution if you were acting “under the color of presidential authority.” He said that Rumsfeld authorized military interrogators to keep detainees naked, to keep them in so-called “stress positions,” and exploit their fears with the use of dogs. Moreover, the United States maintains secret prisons and has an “alternative set of procedures” for the CIA’s interrogation of prisoners in these prisons.

Levin cited law enforcement–including FBI–opinion that harsh interrogation techniques can make detainees more resistant and therefore deny the US critical intelligence. Levin said that this treatment “flies in the face” of decades of military practice. He also quoted General Petraeus, who has said that torture is illegal and that it is not typically useful or necessary. Levin said that “our uniformed leaders” understand that torture does not work, but that the civilian leaders who have advocated torture. He said that Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Mukasey, and President George W. Bush that have continued to advocate torture.

Levin said that in the past, much of the respect that the United States has gained has been due to the accountability mechanisms built into the Constitution. However, the current administration has eroded that accountability by adopting legislation authorizing the administration to unilaterally redefine its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. He said that this effort has successfully insulated senior administration officials from accountability and has barred detainees from bringing legal action challenging their detention. The administration has taken the position that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, prohibit torture, and “outrages upon personal dignity,” do not apply to the war against al-Qaida. Levin said, “Happily, that position was rejected by the Supreme Court.” The 1994 Federal Anti-Torture Statue made torture a prosecutable crime, but it has been narrowed to the point where it is inapplicable to intelligence agencies. He said that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005–which attempts to prevent detainees from being subject to torture–was weakened by a signing statement that allows the president to determine when it applies. Levin said that the Bush administration is continuing these efforts, citing a February Senate bill that would have ended the CIA’s ability to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” by making them follow the guidelines in the Army Field Manual that President Bush plans to veto.

Carl Levin told the audience that last year he traveled to Guantanamo to view proceedings against Khaled Sheikh Mahmoud determine the prisoner’s status. While Mahmoud admitted to a role in planning the 9/11 attacks during the hearing, he also presented a statement alleging that the CIA tortured him before being brought to Guantanamo. Levin said that it will be difficult for many to have sympathy for this admitted terrorist, yet there are many reasons to oppose torturing terrorists. Levin said torture, “violates our basic values, it is morally wrong, it produces unreliable information, it leads prisoners who might cooperate if dealt with humanely to instead resist cooperation, it violates domestic and international law, it jeopardizes are own troops if they are captured.” In addition, he said that people are less likely to believe that a confession has been freely given if there are abuses of detainees. He is worried that if the Untied States uses torture, people will focus more on how detainees are treated than what the terrorists have done.

Levin said that the United States’ policies must “reflect our values and ideals.” Current policy does not do that. People can be detained–possibly for life–without ever having a lawyer or knowing what the evidence was against them. He said that the legislature must continue to press for a more humane policy. While last year’s effort was thwarted by a filibuster, he believes that it must be pursued. Levin said that America must be “a beacon” in the world and that it can do so only by acting in accordance with its ideals.

Unfortunately, Levin left out much of his own voting record on torture. Levin has supported legislation opposing the use of torture in the “War on Terror” including the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and a February 2008 measure that would ban the CIA from using “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Similarly, he voted against the Military Commissions Act, which exempts the United States’ treatment of detainees from international law. While his opposition to torture was clear in his speech, it would have benefited from more discussion of his own record.

On the same note, Levin also largely avoided the question of international law, despite its inclusion in the title of his talk. Aside from mentioning the Geneva Conventions a few times, there was little discussion of how international law prohibits the United States’ use of torture. There was also little discussion of how US law bans torture. Levin’s argument would have been strengthened had he both included information on legal obligations under international law and called for a renewed commitment to international law.

Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing The War on Terror

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One of the topics that Americans are likely to hear a great deal of during this election season from candidates of all stripes is “whether or not the US is winning the War on Terror.” Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror is a useful tool in trying to come to terms with that topic. There is one story that the authors share which provides a good context for how much of the rest of the world might see the US. They met a young Muslim man in Florida who told the story of an encounter he had with a young boy in Saudi Arabia. The boy did not speak English but was eager to show this man his cell phone. On the screen were brutal torture images from Abu Ghraib. The Muslim man said, “When young boys have images of Abu Ghraib on their cell phones, you know we are in trouble.”

The book is laid out in three main sections. The first is entitled “Less Free” and deals with the problems of the war on terror on the domestic front. The authors talk about the idea of preventative law enforcement and how the US policies of wire taping, spying, and rounding up of Muslims and Arabs in this country have not made the country safer. They review several cases that have been brought to court which have received significant attention elsewhere. The other part of the first section looks at the Bush administration’s decision to go to war against Iraq, which was labeled a “preventative war.” Again, the authors are merely recounting the argument put forth by the administration for such an action.

Section two is entitled “Less Safe” and presents the collateral consequences of US policy, particularly Iraq and Guantanamo. Here Cole and Lobel present a good analysis of the claims made by the government that its policies are winning the war on terror. The government cites its success on the website Lifeandliberty.gov. One claim the government makes over and over is that those detained at Guantanamo are helping to prevent further acts of terrorism. Cole and Lobel state, “With the exception of fourteen high-level detainees transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006, there appear to be remarkably few actual terrorists held there – even according to the government’s own assessment.” Another claim has to do with immigration enforcement helping in the war on terror. The government claims it has deported 515 people it suspected as being terrorists. The reality is–the FBI cleared them for deportation only after they had determined they were not a terrorist threat. Even if these people were suspected of plotting acts of terrorism, how would deporting them actually prevent them from do so? Cole and Lobel also note that the federal government’s conviction rate “in prosecution of federal crimes of terrorism since 9/11 is 29%, as compared to 92% conviction rate for felonies in general.

In chapter five, the authors look at the cost of the war on terror, both monetary costs and physical costs. Here they cited three main failures of the administration – 1) actual funds that could be used for real prevention have been diverted into the war in Iraq or for the detention programs like Guantanamo; 2) the administration has opted for short term solutions, which means long term solutions have been sacrificed; and 3) because the government has adopted the so called preventive paradigm, it has undermined US credibility abroad. On the last point, the authors cite data by the Pew Research Center, which suggests that of the countries that were poll anywhere between 50 – 85% believed that the US was acting purely in its own interest or without considering what it means for other countries. One other consequence of the US war on terror is that many “repressive regimes around the world have used the United States’ shortcuts in the war on terror as license to adopt their own harshly coercive measures, often directed not at terrorists but at dissidents or opposition parties,” according to Human Rights Watch World Report for 2003. These conclusions about the ill effects of the US war on terror are not just coming from NGOs like Human Rights Watch, but from a broad spectrum of foreign policy analysts, according to the authors. They cite a 2006 bipartisan survey of more than 100 top US foreign policy experts and 87% felt that the US war in Iraq made the US more vulnerable to global terrorism.

The last section of the book is entitled “An Alternative Prevention Strategy.” Here the author’s state that beyond a US withdraw from Iraq and an end to torture and illegal detentions there are other tactics that could minimize the possibilities of terror attacks against the US. First, the US must reduce its military presence around the world and close some of the existing bases. The money saved on base closing could be used to develop more diplomatic resources to deal with global conflict. Cole and Lobel also believe that the US must improve its relations with Muslim countries around the world and decrease our dependency on foreign oil. While I agree that these actions would have potentially positive outcomes, the book does not come to terms with the fact that it is US imperialism that determines these policies. To have less dependency on foreign oil and reduce military bases around the world would require a huge shift in the US economy and political culture, something the authors do not address. In fact, that is the major flaw of the book, in that it does not address to real motivations of US foreign policy. The authors limit their analysis to the current administration, which is understandable for practical reasons, but it ignores that these types of policies have been central to US foreign policy for over 100 years. Despite, these shortcomings, the book is still a useful tool for those seeking to understanding why the current US war on terror is failing.

David Cole and Jules Lobel, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror, (The New Press, 2007).

The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 there have been numerous books that have tried to articulate not only the reasons for the attacks, but also what has changed in the US since. The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot is one of the more recent books that seek to put America in context since those planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Naomi Wolf wrote this book, which is presented in short chapters; to a young man she knows who recently became married in the United States. Wolf had been thinking about the state of the country and says in the preface that she “could no longer ignore the echoes between events in the past and forces at work today.” By echoes, the author means the current policies of the U.S. government “are mirrored in history.” The author uses bits of information to make comparisons between the current U.S. administration and Nazi Germany, with an occasional comparison to Stalinist Russia. Wolf admits this is not an academic book; she is only trying to get people to see the urgency of what is happening in the U.S. and to stir people to action.

Making comparisons to any former government, but particularly to Nazi Germany is a difficult undertaking. I think that this is something that will cause some people to dismiss the book as trite and superficial. There indeed may be broad comparisons, but the public perception of what happened in Nazi Germany is so distorted that to make comparisons can create more misunderstanding than clarity. However, I could see what Wolf was attempting to do by looking at these historical echoes as a means to challenge readers to think about the seriousness of where the country is headed. The historical comparisons are not what are problematic about the book; rather it is this notion that these policy changes in the U.S. only began with 9/11 and under the Bush administration. Some sectors of dissidents have been spied on and targeted for the past century in the U.S., not only recently as the author suggests. The Clinton administration shifted policy in the 1990s to the degree that it paved the way for the Bush administration policies to become reality. Critics of the book my also dismiss it as just more partisan bashing, even though Wolf does not express any sympathy or allegiance to the Democrats.

Looking beyond any of these criticisms the book is well-written in that it is not attempting to provide tons of data to support the author’s argument. Wolf is writing in 2007 and with a sense that something is seriously wrong about what is happening in this country. In some ways The End of America is a clarion call for people to wake up and realize that some of the fundamental rights and principles we learned in civics class are eroding for most of us and for others they have been completely eliminated. Wolf does a good job of acknowledging that those of us who are privileged along race and class lines are not at risk to the same degree that Arabs, Muslims and immigrants are today, but we should not wait to act until things get worse.

Much of the book provides recent incidents of how government policy should concern us all. She talks about professors being targeted for critiquing U.S. policy, the creation of a climate of fear, secret prisons, the use of paramilitary forces, the monitoring of citizens, manipulation of the press, and undermining the rule of law. If readers are not familiar with these issues, then the book will be a wake up call about the dangerous times we live in. However, it is written in such a way that it will leave readers wanting, wanting more information, more conversation, more evidence that our rights are being eroded. Even the seasoned historian and activist may find this book useful and refreshing. I think the strength of Naomi Wolf’s book is her ability to convey the urgency of these issue as if you were talking to someone who only had a rudimentary understanding of current events. Too often when trying to motivate people that we come across in our every day lives we try to hit them over the head with what it is that we are passionate about. Activists and organizers can learn a lesson about how to communicate issues of urgency without sounding like the sky is falling. The End of America can be a useful tool to arm people for the struggle ahead of us.

Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).

Ehlers Votes against Bill Containing Torture Prohibition

Today, Representative Vern Ehlers voted against a bill containing a provision< that would prevent the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from using a form of torture known as “water boarding.” The House of Representative voted 222-199 to pass a version of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization bill that included language restricting the CIA to interrogation tactics outlined in the Army Field Manual. Before the vote, thirty former generals and admirals sent a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees urging them to support the restriction. The Bush administration has threatened to veto the bill if it passes in the Senate, arguing that it is opposed to the interrogation restrictions.

This is not the first time that Representative Ehlers has voted in a manner that may allow the United States to use “torture” in the so-called “War on Terror.” In 2006, he voted for the Military Commissions Act. That bill authorized the president to interpret the “meaning and application” of the Geneva Conventions and gave the president the power to authorize interrogation techniques that may violate the Geneva Conventions. The Act also narrowed the definition of war crimes, permitting forms of interrogation that might constitute torture under international law. Human rights groups asserted that this allows the CIA use “humiliating and degrading practices” that fall short of causing “serious” physical or mental pain and/or suffering. It also offers what is essentially legal immunity for those who may have engaged in or authorized torture from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005, while simultaneously making it difficult for detainees to sue over mistreatment.

Johnathan White Speaks on "the Jihad Movement"

On Wednesday, professor Johnathan White of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) spoke on “the Jihad movement” at a talk sponsored by the Progressive Women’s Alliance. Despite speaking at a “progressive” event, White presented a view that reflected the official United States government position on terrorism.

On Wednesday, September 20 the Progressive Women’s Alliance hosted GVSU professor Jonathan White to speak on “Understanding the Jihad Movement and Homeland Security.” White spoke for about 25 minutes and didn’t address the topic until the final 5 minutes. He did give some figures on global Islam and how many Muslims support acts of terror and how many actually participate in acts of terrorism. None of this data was supported with sources. White spent most of the presentation time talking about the history of Islam.

The Q & A period clearly demonstrated that the audience wanted more information on current US policy and militant Islamic movements. Someone asked about the Christian Fundamentalists in the US, their access to government power and how to counter that. White’s response was for people to “read a book and vote.” This writer asked the question “It is my understanding that since the administration of FDR the US government has had a relationship with militant Islamic groups either by funding them, training them or using them as proxy forces that support US policy in countries like Egypt, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, and Afghanistan. Would you say that the idea that “they hate us” is due in part to their understanding of how they have been a pawn of US policy?” White’s response was “you are probably right. Just imagine what would have happened in Afghanistan if after the Soviets left we gave people money for development so that they would not have to grow poppies for heroin.” This of course denies the fact that the Mujahadeen were trafficking in heroin while they were a CIA asset before the Soviets left Afghanistan (source).

When asked about the US occupation of Iraq, White said that there are two views, Rumsfeld’s view which is to fight with as few troops as possible and the other to have a total war view which Colin Powell supports. On the matter of government intelligence and foreign policy White said that quite often the government doesn’t know what it is doing because of the bureaucracy and even said that as of 2 years ago the FBI did not offer counter terrorism classes. Someone also asked White about the connection between oil and terrorism. He said that “if we would just let the market do what we claim it does, we wouldn’t have this mess of competing interests that lead to conflicts.”

Lastly, he was asked to make comments about Homeland Security to which he said that one of the best preventative measures would be to have police make more traffic stops. Someone in the audience mentioned that is how we caught Timothy McVeigh, which prompted White to discuss the domestic terrorist groups like the Christian Identity Movement. White also put environmental groups and animal rights groups who destroy property in the same category as “domestic terrorists.” White never defined what terrorism is and didn’t really offer up much analysis that differs from the current administration on who the terrorists are and how to deal with them. White has written a book on terrorism and several articles, one which never mentions any US government/military actions as terrorist nor those of groups or countries around the world that the US has had as allies. White was clearly not a “progressive” on this matter, no matter how one defines progressive. If you compared his analysis to that of Bill Blum, you can see how White is reflecting a Pro- US position on the matter of terrorism.

9/11: Five Years and Still Questioning the Military Response to Terrorism

On the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Media Mouse would like people to remember the victims of all forms of terrorismincluding the acts of international terrorism committed by the United States governmentand encourages people to get involved in the struggle against United States’ imperialism.

While most media outlets are dedicating their programming today to re-broadcasting their coverage of 9/11 and commemorating the United States’ victims of September 11, Media Mouse would like to remind people that the “war on terror” has been a complete failure in any respect other than providing a weak ideological pretext for the continued expansion United States’ hegemony and the military-industrial complex in the absence of the Cold War. The “war on terror” has failed to lessen terrorism in the world despite the invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq in which thousands of civilians have been killed in two colossal acts of state terrorism perpetrated by the United States. In November of 2001, scholar Noam Chomsky described the United States as “a leading terrorist state” and outlined several historical instances of state terrorism perpetrated by the United States:

The U.S. is the only country that was condemned for international terrorism by the World Court and that rejected a Security Council resolution calling on states to observe international law. It continues international terrorism. That example’s the least of it. And there are also what are in comparison, minor examples. Everybody here was quite properly outraged by the Oklahoma City bombing, and for a couple of days, the headlines all read, Oklahoma City looks like Beirut. I didn’t see anybody point out that Beirut also looks like Beirut, and part of the reason is that the Reagan Administration had set off a terrorist bombing there in 1985 that was very much like Oklahoma City, a truck bombing outside a mosque timed to kill the maximum number of people as they left. It killed eighty and wounded two hundred, aimed at a Muslim cleric whom they didn’t like and whom they missed. It was not very secret. I don’t know what name you give to the attack that’s killed maybe a million civilians in Iraq and maybe a half a million children, which is the price the Secretary of State says we’re willing to pay. Is there a name for that? Supporting Israeli atrocities is another one. Supporting Turkey’s crushing of its own Kurdish population, for which the Clinton Administration gave the decisive support, 80 percent of the arms, escalating as atrocities increased, is another. Or take the bombing of the Sudan, one little footnote, so small that it is casually mentioned in passing in reports on the background to the Sept. 11 crimes. How would the same commentators react if the bin Laden network blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the U.S. and the facilities for replenishing them? Or Israel? Or any country where people “matter”? Although that’s not a fair analogy, because the U.S. target is a poor country which had few enough drugs and vaccines to begin with and can’t replenish them. Nobody knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of deaths resulted from that single atrocity, and bringing up that death toll is considered scandalous. If somebody did that to the U.S. or its allies, can you imagine the reaction? In this case we say, Oh, well, too bad, minor mistake, let’s go on to the next topic. Other people in the world don’t react like that. When bin Laden brings up that bombing, he strikes a resonant chord, even with people who despise and fear him, and the same, unfortunately, is true of much of the rest of his rhetoric.

Or to return to “our own little region over here,” as Henry Stimson called it, take Cuba. After many years of terror beginning in late 1959, including very serious atrocities, Cuba should have the right to resort to violence against the U.S. according to U.S. doctrine that is scarcely questioned. It is, unfortunately, all too easy to continue, not only with regard to the U.S. but also other terrorist states.

It is from this context that shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, members of Media Mouse began actively participating in the emergent antiwar movement and have continued our involvement to this day. In a statement published online in November of 2001, Media Mouse articulated a number of concerns regarding the United States’ response to 9/11 and the media’s coverage of the United States’ policy decisions and urged people to “question the military response to terrorism” by educating themselves through independent media and acting to challenge the “war on terror.” While our words were unduly toned down in response to the stifling atmosphere of timidity that engulfed much of the left in the months after 9/11, many of our core concerns remain—that the United States military actions will primarily harm civilians and will be a catalyst for further acts of terrorism, that the United States has failed to acknowledge its past role in acts of international terrorism by trying war criminals such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that the security response to 9/11 has brought further repression and surveillance onto United States citizens of which people of color, particularly Arabs, will be the most immediately affected, and that the corporate media has functioned in a manner that reinforces official government positions and downplays dissent. As such, we would like to renew our call for people to resist US imperialism and to organize for a new world.

Donald Rumsfeld said that his mission in the War Against Terror was to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life. When the maddened King stamps his foot, slaves tremble in their quarters. So, standing here today, it’s hard for me to say this, but ‘The American Way of Life’ is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.

Fortunately, power has a shelf-life. When the time comes, maybe this mighty empire will, like others before it, overreach itself and implode from within. It looks as though structural cracks have already appeared. As the War Against Terror casts its net wider and wider, America’s corporate heart is haemorrhaging. For all the endless empty chatter about democracy, today the world is run by three of the most secretive institutions in the world: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation, all three of which, in turn, are dominated by the U.S. Their decisions are made in secret. The people who head them are appointed behind closed doors. Nobody really knows anything about them, their politics, their beliefs, their intentions. Nobody elected them. Nobody said they could make decisions on our behalf. A world run by a handful of greedy bankers and CEOs who nobody elected can’t possibly last.

Soviet-style communism failed, not because it was intrinsically evil but because it was flawed. It allowed too few people to usurp too much power. Twenty-first century market-capitalism, American-style, will fail for the same reasons. Both are edifices constructed by human intelligence, undone by human nature.

The time has come, the Walrus said. Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.

– Arundhati Roy, “Come September