Within days of a federal judge’s ruling in support of the Detroit bankruptcy, the devastating implications for the working class across the US are becoming apparent. States and cities throughout the country are citing the legal precedent of the Detroit ruling to attack public employee pensions, initiating a new stage in the assault on workers’ rights and living standards.
Politicians of both big business parties, media outlets and financial institutions have welcomed the decision by Judge Steven Rhodes, hailing its categorical assertion that federal courts can override state and local guarantees of public workers’ pensions.
The Michigan Constitution declares that accrued pension benefits are “contractual obligations” that “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Many other state constitutions have similar provisions. But Rhodes brushed aside the Michigan Constitution in order to open the door to the gutting of pensions.
On Thursday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a pension bill that slashes benefits for retired as well as active state employees, in violation of the Illinois Constitution’s prohibition of such pension cuts. Described as a “landmark” law, the Illinois measure will raise the retirement age for younger workers by eight years, slash cost-of-living adjustments for current pensioners, and transfer many workers from state-paid pension plans to employee-paid 401(k) plans.
The same day, the New York Times published a front-page article highlighting the plans of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, to gut the pensions of municipal employees in the third largest US city. The newspaper wrote that Emanuel was now “armed not only with the state vote but also with a federal judge’s ruling…to formally send Detroit into bankruptcy.”
The Washington Post published an editorial Thursday hailing the Detroit ruling. The newspaper wrote enthusiastically that the ruling would allow “mayors and city councils in distressed municipalities [to] wield enhanced bargaining power in their negotiations with public-sector unions. Help us limit unfunded-pension liabilities, they can argue, or you may find yourself dealing with a bankruptcy judge some day.”
Wall Street commentators, rating agencies and the financial press welcomed the ruling as a boon to big investors, who have entangled distressed cities in trillions of dollars of bond obligations, credit default swaps and similar financial deals. Mark Palmer of BTIG Research, which serves large municipal bond holders and their insurers, told Forbes magazine: “The fact that the judge in the Detroit bankruptcy case ruled that pensions are not sacrosanct, and they can be cut, translates into potentially higher recoveries for bondholders in future bankruptcies.”
The ruling was particularly welcomed in California, where city officials and lawyers are overseeing bankruptcy cases in Stockton, San Bernardino and Vallejo. As the Sacramento Bee wrote, “[T]he Detroit ruling was a milestone. Experts long suspected that cities could use bankruptcy to force reductions in their pension expenses, but until now they’ve never had a court’s blessing.”
“The administration goes into contortions in its attempt to deny responsibility for actions that are seen around the world, quite correctly, as war crimes. The historical record of bipartisan aggression, mass murder and torture will not be erased by such claims, or by the latest maneuver of the Guantanamo authorities.”—US officials will no longer provide information on Guantanamo hunger strikers
A spokesman for the US military announced this week that the authorities will no longer provide public information on how many prisoners at the American gulag at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are participating in hunger strikes to protest their indefinite detention.
A report by the Associated Press cited an email from Navy Commander John Filostrat, speaking for the Joint Task Force Command Guantanamo.
“JTF-Guantanamo allows detainees to peacefully protest, but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,” Filostrat said. “The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.”
The latest policy and its Orwellian defense (“the welfare of the detainees!”) are in some ways the logical extension of the longstanding practice of brutal force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners, in which a nasogastric feeding tube is forced into their stomachs, causing great pain. The practice has been widely denounced as a form of torture.
The American military had earlier concluded that force-feeding was necessary because it feared that deaths caused by the protests would focus greater worldwide attention on the inhuman conditions at Guantanamo, as well as the by now well-known fact that the vast majority of the detainees are guilty of nothing, even by the legally dubious standards of the US “war on terror.”
Apparently the US government has now decided that it would be even more effective to pretend that the remaining 162 prisoners at Guantanamo do not exist.
The corporate plan to abolish the last vestiges of urban democracy in the United States is proceeding on a “hyper fast track” with this week’s court ruling that Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy “protection.” Judge Steven Rhodes quickly made clear that the only parties to be protected in his venue are the bankers that will get first crack at the Black metropolis’s remaining assets. Public workers’ pensions, he ruled, are not entitled “to any extraordinary attention” under federal bankruptcy law, despite the Michigan state constitution’s prohibitions against tampering with or diminishing pension benefits. The stage is now set for Kevyn Orr, the state-imposed Emergency Financial Manager, to put Detroit in hock to Britain’s Barclays Bank for $350 million, in order to pay off Bank of America and UBS for a 2005 derivatives deal with the city. Barclay’s would then become Detroit’s “super-priority” creditor – King Predator – with first dibs on all city incomes and assets over $10 million.
The trial on Detroit’s “restructuring” begins December 17 in Rhodes’ court but, based on his conduct since assuming jurisdiction, there is little doubt of the outcome. The judge is an empathetic hangman who listens patiently to the pleas of the people – and then swiftly condemns them. He agreed with the pensioners that Orr had failed to negotiate in “good faith” with the unions, but then ruled that the petition for bankruptcy had been filed in good faith – which somehow negated Orr’s bad faith negotiations.
Municipal bankruptcies are very rare, and tend to be long and tortuous legal ordeals, but Rhodes has greased the skids for the banksters to gulp down the city like fast food. He is on an accelerated Wall Street schedule, and there is no time to waste. Detroit is the golden opportunity to shape anti-democratic legal precedents that can be applied, nationwide, with the least resistance from the white American public. The city is guilty of excessive Blackness (82%) and must be punished. In a racist society, Detroit’s bankruptcy fits perfectly the legal maxim that “hard cases” or “great cases” make “bad law.” Whites can be expected to applaud a negative judgment on a Black city, with little thought to the ramifications for their own situations. Michigan voters, who rejected the idea of state emergency managers in a referendum, nevertheless favored Orr’s filing of bankruptcy for Detroit. Whites have always made exceptions to common notions of justice when it comes to African Americans, resulting in grotesquely bad laws.
Wall Street is counting on reflexive racism to smooth the path to a new legal and social order, where capital is unencumbered by democratic constraints. Having already succeeded in disenfranchising a majority of the Black population of Michigan, there are now fewer legal impediments to doing the same thing to whites. After all, thanks to the Black Freedom Movement of the Sixties, the law is race-neutral.
Kevyn Orr, Judge Rhodes and Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder work for the banking cartel – as does President Obama and the leaders of the Democratic Party, who have done nothing to interfere with the urban doomsday process that is unfolding in Detroit. (Barclays Bank and UBS, the prime beneficiaries of Orr’s restructuring plan, were just this week cited for taking part in a massive conspiracy to rig global LIBOR interest rates, in what has been called the greatest financial collusion of the century.) Finance capital, which creates nothing, is confiscating the wealth of the world. In the U.S., a thin veneer of democratic structures stands in the way. Therefore, restructuring is in order. What better place to start than in Detroit, a city filled with people who can be made exceptions to democratic norms.
As you my have heard, there’s a trial going on here in San Francisco about the legality of the complete lack of any sort of due process concerning the US’s “no fly” list. The NY Times has a good background article on the case, which notes that somewhere around 700,000 people appear to be on the list, where there’s basically no oversight of the list and no recourse if you happen to be placed on the list. This lawsuit, by Rahinah Ibrahim is challenging that.
In that case, a Stanford University Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim was prevented from boarding a flight at San Francisco International Airport in 2005, and was handcuffed and detained by the police. Ultimately, she was allowed to fly to Malaysia, her home country, but she has been unable to return to the United States because the State Department revoked her student visa.
According to court filings, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Ms. Ibrahim a week before her trip and asked about her religious activities (she is Muslim), her husband and what she might know of a Southeast Asian terrorist organization. A summary of that interview obtained by Ms. Ibrahim’s lawyer includes a code indicating that the visit was related to an international terrorism investigation, but it is not clear what other evidence — like email or phone records — was part of that inquiry.
The Identity Project blog is covering the trial, which kicked off earlier this week with a ridiculous situation, highlighted by BoingBoing. Apparently, one of the people set to testify in the case, Ibrahim’s oldest daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal (an American citizen, born in the US), was blocked from boarding her flight to the US to appear at the trial, and told that she was on the no fly list as well. Kamal, a lawyer, was an eye witness to her mother being blocked from boarding her flight. The US knew that Kamal was set to testify and from all indications, in a move that appears extremely petty, appears to have purposely blocked her from flying to the US. Kamal was directly told by the airline that DHS had ordered them not to let Kamal to board. The airline even gave her a phone number for a Customs and Border Patrol office in Miami, telling her to call that concerning her not being able to board.
Judge William Alsup, who is known for his rather no-nonsense approach in court (and his willingness to dig very deep into understanding the issues), quickly noted that this apparent blocking of Kamal was ridiculous, and demanded that the government explain what happened. When they insisted they knew nothing about it, Alsup wasn’t satisfied. Nor was he satisfied with the story they eventually came back with. [READ]
The Harper Conservative government made the Toronto G20 summit the occasion for a vast state provocation, with police taking over much of the downtown of Canada’s largest city, and using violence and mass arrests to suppress protests. Last week we learned that in addition CSEC and NSA were jointly conducting a highly sensitive spying operation, thereby furthering a reactionary partnership that has placed the world’s communications under systematic surveillance of the type that the police states of the 20th century could only dream of.
“U.S. officials say the hope is that the General Purpose Force — a [US] trained Libyan military organization — will start to fill the country’s festering security vacuum, initially by protecting vital government installations and the individuals struggling to make this country run. The Obama administration hopes the force eventually will form the core of a new national army.”—
“The filing is unlikely to end an already heated dispute with city workers, who represent Detroit’s largest creditors. The city’s workers are owed $3.5bn in pension payments and another $6bn in healthcare costs. Under one proposal floated before the bankruptcy was approved creditors would receive just 16¢ on the dollar for the pensions they are owed. The average Detroit pensioner gets $19,000 a year – the cut would leave them with $3,040.”—Detroit granted bankruptcy protection after judge rules in city’s favour
Miya Jan was filling potholes on the rutted trail that leads to his village in rugged eastern Afghanistan when he heard the whine of a drone aircraft overhead.
The sunburned 28-year-old farmer looked up and saw a gray, narrow-winged drone circling the village. A few minutes later, he said, it fired a missile that landed with a tremendous thud across a stony ridge line.
Jan ran to the explosion site and recognized the burning frame of his cousin’s blue pickup truck. Inside, he said, he saw blackened shapes — people whose torsos had been sheared off. He recognized the smoking remains of his brother, his brother’s wife and their 18-month-old son. Jan and other villagers say 14 people were killed in the attack; U.S. and Afghan officials place the toll at 11.
“There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Jan, recalling the deadly Sept. 7 late afternoon incident in an interview last week. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.
“Do the American people want to spend their money this way, on drones that kill our women and children?” he asked.
In the latest news report based on documents revealed by Edward Snowden, we’ve learned that the NSA creates profiles of porn viewing, online sexual activity and more from its vast database of Internet content and transactional data as part of a plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through speeches promoting disfavored—but not necessarily violent—political views. The report— by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Grim in the Huffington Post—shows how the NSA proposes to use personal information gleaned from electronic surveillance to blackmail, silence and otherwise marginalize people for advocating “radical” beliefs.
[…] The public and policy makers may hear “foreign intelligence information” and think it means data which helps identify and neutralize people who want to kill Americans, and not that which identifies and undermines peaceable people who merely hold radical, violent or even revolutionary ideas in the eyes of those currently in power.
Of course, intelligence agencies have used embarrassing information against people for their political beliefs in the past. The Federal Bureau of Investigation used recordings it gleaned from bugging Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s private quarters to attempt to blackmail him into silence, despite the fact that King unwaveringly supported non-violent means. It was his revolutionary idea of social equality for all races, and his anti-war beliefs, that made him dangerous.
As Bret Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow at the ACLU National Security Project writes:
King was not alone on the government’s long list of targets; he shared marquee billing with boxer Muhammed Ali, humorist Art Buchwald, author Norman Mailer, and even Senator Howard Baker. But the greater scandal was that — as the Church Committee revealed in 1976 — these big names appeared alongside more than one million other Americans, including half a million so-called “subversives.”
Julian Sanchez at the Cato Institute points out another historical examples of actual and threatened blackmail:
[FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover’s right hand Cartha DeLoach proudly reported that the Bureau had learned of a truculent senator caught driving drunk with a “good looking broad.” The senator, DeLoach explained, was promptly made “aware that we had the information, and we never had trouble with him on appropriations since.”
These practices were disgusting, dangerous and abusive then, just as they are now. What’s new is that, in a mass surveillance ecosystem, the scale and scope on which this kind of activity can take place is unprecedented. Once it collects information about hundreds of millions of people in mass, “dossiers” of potentially embarrassing information—or blackmail quality secrets—dirt on anyone is just a few searches away. Intelligence operatives can secretly tar anyone, seemingly at will, since the NSA has the technological capacity, and no one has identified a law which would, if followed, intercede. These abilities, never mind the will to use them, are incompatible with individual freedom and democracy. [read]
“The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread.
“When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out ‘stop!’
“When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”—Bertolt Brecht (via randomactsofchaos)
“The holiday season begins: "Black Friday 2013: A dispute between two men in a crowded Wal-Mart parking lot in southwest Virginia quickly escalated into a punch, followed by a knife, a rifle, a crowd of panicked shoppers, and two arrests…”—
Christian Science Monitor has more on the festivities
The post-Thanksgiving shopping rush sparked incidents of violence across the United States as a police officer was injured breaking up a fight, a shopper was shot in the leg over a TV and a Walmart was evacuated, according to police and media reports.
The holiday shopping incidents also included a suspected shoplifter shot by police in a Chicago suburb and a woman spitting on another woman’s child in an argument over baby clothes.
On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee approved a spending bill to fund the National Security Agency and other intelligence organizations. Included in the bill is a provision that would set aside $75 million for the NSA to improve its internal security and mitigate insider threats to classified material. In other words, the bill seeks to prevent future Edward Snowdens.
The most ridiculous actor in the fictitious U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is not President Hamid Karzai, the hustler the U.S. installed as its puppet after the American invasion in 2001. The real clowns in this charade are those Americans that pretend to believe President Obama when he says the U.S. war in Afghanistan will end on the last day of next year. Obama is, of course, lying through his teeth. The United States and its NATO allies plan to keep 10,000 to 16,000 troops in the country, occupying nine bases, some of them set aside for exclusive American use – and would remain there at least ten years, through 2024. Shamelessly, Obama claims these troops – including thousands from the Special Operations killer elite – will have no “combat” role. It’s the same lie President Kennedy told in 1963, when he called the 16,000 U.S. troops then stationed in Vietnam “advisors,” and the same bald-faced deception that Obama, himself, tried to pull off, unsuccessfully, in Iraq – until the Iraqis kicked the Americans out.
Barack Obama has arrogated to himself the right to redefine the very meaning of war, having two years ago declared that the 7-month U.S. bombing campaign against Libya was not really a war because no Americans were killed. In Afghanistan, Obama waves his semantic magic wand to transform the past 12 years of war into 10 more years of not-war, simply by changing the nomenclature. This is hucksterism from Hell.
If there was a Devil, he would be laughing his butt off at Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor and raving Banshee of War, whose assignment is to pretend that the U.S. might choose the so-called “Zero Option” if President Karzai doesn’t immediately sign away his country to the Americans for the next ten years. By “Zero Option,” Washington means it might just pick up its killer soldiers and weapons and leave Afghanistan. But that’s an empty bluff. Since when has the U.S. voluntarily left anyplace it has forcibly occupied? There is zero chance of a zero option. But, I am reminded of the events in 1963 Vietnam, when the Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were overthrown and executed in a U.S.-backed coup. Sending the homicidal Susan Rice to get in President Karzai’s face is definitely some kind of threat.
Far from ending U.S. imperial wars, Barack Obama has expanded the theaters of armed conflict. He tried to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, but the Iraqis insisted on the withdrawal terms and timetable they had negotiated with President George Bush. Iraq is now paying a heavy price, as the U.S. and its allies arm Iraqi Al Qaida and other jihadist elements fighting to overthrow the government of neighboring Syria. These U.S.-backed jihadists – the same ones the Americans fought against in Iraq for eight years – now wage war against Shiites on both sides of the border.
If there is any hope for an eventual peace in the region, it is that Washington might finally begin to understand that it can no longer control events through brute force, or by using jihadists as surrogates in the Middle East and South Asia. Maybe that’s why the Americans have tried to strike a deal with Iran. Maybe President Karzai thinks the winds of change will be sweeping through his neighborhood, soon, and he doesn’t want to go out like the puppet he came in. [++]
“According to the document, the NSA believes that exploiting electronic surveillance to publicly reveal online sexual activities can make it harder for these ‘radicalizers’ to maintain their credibility. ‘Focusing on access reveals potential vulnerabilities that could be even more effectively exploited when used in combination with vulnerabilities of character or credibility, or both, of the message in order to shape the perception of the messenger as well as that of his followers,’ the document argues. … An attached appendix lists the ‘argument’ each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal ‘vulnerabilities’ the agency believes would leave the targets ‘open to credibility challenges’ if exposed.”—
While [Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA] and others support using surveillance to tarnish the reputation of people the NSA considers “radicalizers,” U.S. officials have in the past used similar tactics against civil rights leaders, labor movement activists and others.
Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI harassed activists and compiled secret files on political leaders, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. The extent of the FBI’s surveillance of political figures is still being revealed to this day, as the bureau releases the long dossiers it compiled on certain people in response to Freedom of Information Act requests following their deaths. The information collected by the FBI often centered on sex — homosexuality was an ongoing obsession on Hoover’s watch — and information about extramarital affairs was reportedly used to blackmail politicians into fulfilling the bureau’s needs.
… James Bamford, a journalist who has been covering the NSA since the early 1980s, said the use of surveillance to exploit embarrassing private behavior is precisely what led to past U.S. surveillance scandals. “The NSA’s operation is eerily similar to the FBI’s operations under J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960s where the bureau used wiretapping to discover vulnerabilities, such as sexual activity, to ‘neutralize’ their targets,” he said. “Back then, the idea was developed by the longest serving FBI chief in U.S. history, today it was suggested by the longest serving NSA chief in U.S. history.”
That controversy, Bamford said, also involved the NSA. “And back then, the NSA was also used to do the eavesdropping on King and others through its Operation Minaret. A later review declared the NSA’s program ‘disreputable if not outright illegal,’” he said.
Baker said that until there is evidence the tactic is being abused, the NSA should be trusted to use its discretion. “The abuses that involved Martin Luther King occurred before Edward Snowden was born,” he said. “I think we can describe them as historical rather than current scandals. Before I say, ‘Yeah, we’ve gotta worry about that,’ I’d like to see evidence of that happening, or is even contemplated today, and I don’t see it.”
Jaffer, however, warned that the lessons of history ought to compel serious concern that a “president will ask the NSA to use the fruits of surveillance to discredit a political opponent, journalist or human rights activist.”
“The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think it couldn’t use its power that way in the future,” he said.
"The NSA should be trusted to use its discretion" Um… no.
In these United States, built with stolen labor upon stolen land what do we legitimately possess that we can be thankful for? Our tradition of resistance to unjust authority, today carried out by our selfless and courageous whistleblowers and leakers, in the tradition of our maroons.
The political party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan claims to have blown the cover of the CIA’s most senior officer in Pakistan as part of an increasingly high-stakes campaign against US drone strikes.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party named a man it claimed was head of the CIA station in Islamabad in a letter to police demanding he be nominated as one of the people responsible for a drone strike on 21 November, which killed five militants including senior commanders of the Haqqani Network.
John Brennan, the CIA director, was also nominated as an “accused person” for murder and “waging war against Pakistan”.
The US embassy said it could not comment but was looking into the matter. The CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the station chief’s name and declined to immediately comment, AP reported.
If his identity is confirmed it will be the second time anti-drone campaigners have unmasked a top US spy in Pakistan.
In 2010 another CIA station chief, Jonathan Banks, was named in criminal proceedings initiated after a drone strike. Banks was forced to leave the country.
As with the Banks case, questions will be raised about how the PTI came to know the identity of the top US intelligence official in the country.
Although nearly all foreign spies in Pakistan use diplomatic cover stories to hide their occupation, many, including station chiefs, are declared to the country’s domestic spy agency.
The letter signed by the PTI spokeswoman Shireen Mazari demanded the named agent be prevented from leaving the country so that he could be arrested. The PTI said it hoped he would reveal “through interrogation” the names of the remote pilots who operated the drone.
"CIA station chief is not a diplomatic post, therefore he does not enjoy any diplomatic immunity and is within the bounds of domestic laws of Pakistan," the letter said.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit today under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the CIA to release two reports about its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees. This illegal program was devised and authorized by officials at the highest levels of government, and five years after it officially ended, the American public still doesn’t have the full story about some of the most devastating rights violations committed in its name.
The first report, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (“SSCI”), is the most comprehensive review of the CIA’s torture program to date. Led by SSCI Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee reviewed more than six million pages of CIA documents and other records over the course of three years. At the end of 2012, the SSCI approved its Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which spans over 6,000 pages and includes approximately 35,000 footnotes. Senator Feinstein, who deserves major credit for initiating and overseeing such a thorough investigation, stated that the report “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight … [T]he creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes.” According to Senator John McCain, the report confirms that the “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners” is “a stain on our country’s conscience.”
In addition to detailing the CIA’s illegal practices, the report reveals that the CIA misled the White House, the Department of Justice, and Congress about the “effectiveness” of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, and other methods of torture and abuse. As Senator Ron Wyden has noted, these CIA misstatements were eventually communicated to the public — but the agency has failed to set the record straight.
The second report, the CIA’s response to the SSCI, presents the agency’s shameless defense of its torture regime and challenges the SSCI’s investigative methods and findings.
Both reports are critical to a full and fair public conversation about the CIA’s torture program, which is why we and other rights groups have urged President Obama to release the SSCI report, and why we’re bringing suit to enforce our FOIA requests. The public deserves to hear the truth: Torture doesn’t work, and more importantly, it’s never acceptable.
… Transparency alone cannot complete investigations, bring wrongdoers to justice, or compensate victims. But to understand the injuries inflicted by U.S. torture — the resulting deaths, the unspeakable physical and psychological suffering, the harm to our nation’s values, and the cost to our security — greater transparency is a necessary step. If the CIA and the executive branch continue to withhold fundamental facts concerning the torture program, such as the information in the SSCI CIA report and the CIA’s response, a truly meaningful account of this terrible chapter in our nation’s history will continue to be beyond our reach.
[…] By having the approval for the [Bilateral Security Agreement] in hand while refusing to sign it, Karzai has built a huge point of leverage over the final issue that threatened to derail the agreement. Unilateral counterterrorism raids by the US, especially in the form of night raids that enter the homes of Afghan citizens, were the final sticking point for Karzai. The US reluctantly agreed at the final minute to provide an assurance in the form of a letter from President Barack Obama that such raids would occur only under exceptional circumstances when the lives of US troops were at stake. Most likely because he remembers just how readily the US lies when developing agreements with Afghanistan on issues where there is disagreement, Karzai has warned the US that the very next night raid will mean that he never signs the agreement. From ToloNews:
“If there is one more raid on Afghan homes by U.S. forces, there is no BSA. The U.S. can’t go into our homes from this moment onward,” President Karzai said in his closing remarks at the Jirga on Sunday.
Karzai’s brinksmanship has set up a very high stakes game of “chicken” played by two junkies. The US has stated that it must know by the end of this year whether the BSA will be signed now that it has been approved. Karzai has stated that he will wait until at least April for signing. Just who will blink first is anyone’s guess. The US is strongly addicted to night raids. Will they be able to hold off on them, even for a month? Karzai is equally addicted to the billions of dollars the US pumps into Afghanistan’s economy. Will he hold off his signature past the date at which the US has warned it will drop pursuit of the agreement and proceed with a full withdrawal–of both troops and funds? Will the US allow the decision point on the zero option to be delayed until after the April elections?
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai still refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to keep US troops in Afghanistan through 2024 and beyond, National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been dispatched to reiterate US threats to end the occupation outright.
Though Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga surprised many by signing off on the BSA over the weekend, the deal isn’t final without Karzai’s signature, and he’s insisting that should wait until the April election to choose his successor. Rice is said to have told him that waiting until April is “not viable,” and the US already set an ultimatum for the end of the year, threatening to withdraw all troops by the end of 2014 if the deal wasn’t in place by the end of 2013.
Karzai aides say they don’t take the threat seriously, and it’s not surprise. Despite President Obama repeatedly raising the “zero option” during talks with Karzai to try to get better terms out of him, the Pentagon has confirmed time and again that leaving isn’t even being considered.
The White House reports that Karzai is laying out new conditions for his signature, seeking some unspecified changes to the deal, and while they’re insisting on the deal as currently written, there’s no reason to think Karzai will capitulate now, having made his position on one of the last major issues of his presidency so publicly clear.
“I’m usually hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. After all, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony systematically terrorized and slaughtered the very same Pequot tribe that assisted the first English refugees to arrive at Plymouth Rock. So, perhaps ironically, I’m thankful that I know that, and I’m also thankful that there are people who seek out, and usually find, such truths. I’m thankful for people who, even surrounded by millions of Americans eating turkey during regularly scheduled commercial breaks in the Green Bay and Detroit football game; who, despite having been taught, often as early as five and six years old, that the ‘helpful natives’ selflessly assisted the ‘poor helpless Pilgrims’ and lived happily ever after, dare to ask probing, even dangerous, questions.”—Find out what Michelle Obama, John Boehner, Chelsea Manning [is] thankful for this year.
The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.
The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been taken, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top secret military and diplomatic documents.
The Obama administration has charged government employees and contractors who leak classified information — such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning — with violations of the Espionage Act. But officials said that although Assange published classified documents, he did not leak them, something they said significantly affects their legal analysis.
“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
Justice officials said they looked hard at Assange but realized that they have what they described as a “New York Times problem.” If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s the Guardian, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said last week that the anti-secrecy organization is skeptical “short of an open, official, formal confirmation that the U.S. government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks.” Justice Department officials said it is unclear whether there will be a formal announcement should the grand jury investigation be formally closed.
“We have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to tell us what the status of the investigation was with respect to Mr. Assange,” said Barry J. Pollack, a Washington attorney for Assange. “They have declined to do so. They have not informed us in any way that they are closing the investigation or have made a decision not to bring charges against Mr. Assange. While we would certainly welcome that development, it should not have taken the Department of Justice several years to come to the conclusion that it should not be investigating journalists for publishing truthful information.”
Officials at the National Security Agency, intent on maintaining its dominance in intelligence collection, pledged last year to push to expand its surveillance powers, according to a top secret strategy document.
David Skillicorn, a professor in the School of Computing at Queen’s University, says this is one piece of the data-sharing relationship “that has always been carefully constructed.”
“The Americans will not use Canadians to collect data on U.S. persons, nor will any of the other Five Eyes countries,” Skillicorn says.
“In fact, in practice, it’s as if the five countries’ citizens were one large, collective group, and their mutual communications are not intercepted by any in the Five Eyes community.”
Actual situation, as per the Guardian report, the NSA honored its no-spy-on-five-eye pledge in the breach:
Britain and the US are the main two partners in the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others.
But the Snowden material reveals that:
* In 2007, the rules were changed to allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizens’ mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet. Previously, this data had been stripped out of NSA databases – “minimized”, in intelligence agency parlance – under rules agreed between the two countries.
* These communications were “incidentally collected” by the NSA, meaning the individuals were not the initial targets of surveillance operations and therefore were not suspected of wrongdoing.
* The NSA has been using the UK data to conduct so-called “pattern of life” or “contact-chaining” analyses, under which the agency can look up to three “hops” away from a target of interest – examining the communications of a friend of a friend of a friend. Guardian analysis suggests three hops for a typical Facebook user could pull the data of more than 5 million people into the dragnet.
* A separate draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself.
When intelligence community apologists get wrongfooted by these kinds of revelations, one is inclined to wonder: is the so-called security insider who is allaying (and in some cases ridiculing) the public’s anxieties over government surveillance practices a clueless dupe or a duplicitous shill?
Inquiring minds want to know. … [Did] the NSA diddle with traffic patterns through its corporate buddies on the North American backbone and route US persons’ data to Five Eyes partners—like maybe Canada–for storage, collection, and processing, and thereby receive its tittle-tattle on interesting Americans second hand via a foreign intelligence agency, thereby not violating the letter of the U.S. law prohibiting these kinds of interception without a warrant?
… [The] most interesting element for me was one that the Guardian didn’t even bother to report on. It only appears in the Guardian’s reproduction of the 2007 memo (click on the image at the head of the article for the full text) authorizing collection of UK persons’ info. The memo baldly stated that “unmasked” UK data—if I understand it correctly, this simply means in this case “metadata that has been revealed as relating to a UK person” is not only fair game for review by NSA analysts; it may also be dumped into a database for access by GCHQ:
“[US Analysts] Are not required to forward unmasked UK contact identifiers to GCHQ unless specifically requested by GCHQ. GCHQ should receive all unmasked UK contact identifiers via established or mutually agreed forwarding means or the contact identifiers should be available in the GCHQ-accessible five-eyes [deleted] database, the [deleted] access to [deleted], or other GCHQ-accessible metadata stores.”
Hmmm. Certainly sounds like the NSA was not only collecting UK data; it was making it available to GCHQ. If that was the case, one would assume it worked the other way around as well. [++]
… Chomsky also addressed some of the issues confronting anarchist activism, noting that while anarchists stand against the state, they often advocate for state coercion in order to protect people from “the savage beasts” of the capitalists, as he put it. Yet he saw this as not a contradiction, but a streak of pragmatism. “People live and suffer in this world, not one we imagine,” Chomsky explained. “It’s worth remembering that anarchists condemn really existing states instead of idealistic visions of governments ‘of, by and for the people.’”
He then connected the libertarian socialist tradition to currents in American thought, quoting the philosopher John Dewey as saying that “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, communication and transportation … workers should be the masters of their individual fates.” To Chomsky, “Dewey was American as apple pie.”
He contrasted Dewey’s critique of power with the ideals of the liberal/progressive tradition in the United States, noting that many of its leading lights, including Walter Lippmann, Samuel Huntington, and Woodrow Wilson, held extremely dim views of the majority of people, considering them dangerous, ignorant, and in need of control. Despite the historical tendency of elite groups of “ecclesiastical guardians,” like liberal technocrats or the Iranian Guardian Council to which he compared them, to seek control over society, he saw continued resistance. He finished his remarks on an optimistic note by pointing out that the anarchist critics of power are always recurring—during the English Civil War a “rabble” appeared that didn’t want to be ruled by either the king or Parliament—and that anarchism is like Marx’s old mole: always near the surface.
Throughout his talk Chomsky described how he became involved with anarchism. His extended family was involved in left-wing movements in Philadelphia and New York before World War II, and he spent time in New York’s Union Square, where many Leftists congregated—including Catalonian anarchists fleeing reprisals from Francisco Franco. He also pointed out that many working class people of the era were involved in high culture and were familiar with sympathetic poems such as Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, which memorialized the Peterloo Massacre.
It was a theme he returned to with the first question, which was about contemporary engagement with the arts. He contrasted two films from 1954, On the Waterfront and Salt of the Earth. The former was about a worker standing up to a corrupt union, had a wide release, and starred Marlon Brando. The latter was about union workers on strike and was effectively banned in the United States.
“When people in power believe something firmly, that’s worth investigating,” Chomsky said.
Finally, he was asked about the growth of surveillance and the militarization of the police.
“The phenomenon itself shouldn’t be surprising—the scale was surprising—but the phenomenon itself is as American as apple pie,” Chomsky said. “You can be confident that any system of power is going to use technology against its enemy: the population. Power systems seek short-term domination and control, not security.”
“The country belongs to a handful of men who also control the media. Look at General Electric. It produces nuclear weapons for the Pentagon and also owns the NBC News cable channel, which is a very sophisticated censure apparatus, intrinsic to the system. It’s genius. It’s like an electronic cage around the nation which blocks information from getting through.”—The End of Gore Vidal (via theamericanbear)
Imagine your city council telling the police department how many people it had to keep in jail each night.
That’s effectively what Congress has told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a policy known as the “detention bed mandate.” The mandate calls for filling 34,000 beds in some 250 facilities across the country, per day, with immigrant detainees.
Early this morning, just hours after the US had assured Pakistan that drone strikes would be curtailed if Pakistan is able to restart peace talks with the Taliban (after the US disrupted them with a drone strike), John Brennan lashed out with one of his signature rage drone strikes that seems more calculated as political retaliation than careful targeting. Earlier documentation of political retaliation strikes can be seen here and here.
The United States has promised that it will not carry out any drone strikes in Pakistan during any peace talks with Taliban militants in the future, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Wednesday.
Briefing a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Aziz said a team of government negotiators was prepared to hold talks with former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov 2, the day after he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had told reporters last week that the process of peace talks could not be taken forward unless drone attacks on Pakistani soil are halted.
Nisar had said that the drone attack that killed Mehsud ‘sabotaged’ the government’s efforts to strike peace with anti-state militants.
The US launched a drone strike at a seminary in Pakistan’s settled district of Hangu, killing eight people in what appears to have been an attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operations commander of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.
But see that bit about the strike being in “Pakistan’s settled district”? One of the many unwritten “rules” of US drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are restricted to the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, of Pakistan where Pakistani security or military personnel have little to no freedom of movement. In fact, the ability of drones to enter these otherwise forbidden territories is touted as one of their main justifications for use.
At least six people were killed and several injured in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan early in the morning on November 21 when a CIA drone attacked a seminary.
The drone strike appeared to have targeted militants from the Haqqani network, a group the United States governmentbelieves has close ties to al Qaeda and the ISI, Pakistan’s spy agency. However, the strike took place in a settled area of Pakistan when any agreement between the Pakistani government and the US government has only applied to drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an ungoverned area of the country.
This recent drone attack will likely open settled urban areas of the country up to CIA drone strikes.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that its sources:
…said a drone hit a room in the Madrassa where five senior Haqqani commanders were meeting. Several reports said Maulvi Ahmad Jan was killed. He was reportedly a special adviser to Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the group’s spiritual leader and fund raiser. Sirajuddin was reportedly seen at the madrassa a few days before the strike however he was not reportedly killed. Ahmad Jan, in his 60s and a member of the group’s ruling council, was reportedly at the madrassa ‘receiving people who were coming to condole the death of Nasiruddin Haqqani’. Nasiruddin was a leading figure in the Haqqani Network. He was shot dead on the streets of Islamabad on November 11 2013.
The Bureau source named four others killed in the strike: Maulvi Hamidullah, an Afghan ‘special advisor’ to the Haqqani group; Maulvi Abdullah, an Afghan; Maulvi Abdur Rehman Mengal (aka Abdul Rehman); and Karim Khan. NBC News also identified five alleged Taliban commanders, with one difference to the Bureau source. NBC News said Maulvi Ghazi Marjan (aka Gul Marjan) was killed but did not name a Karim Khan among the dead. And Dawn named Kaleemullah among the dead, as well as Ahmed Jan, Hamidullah, Abdullah, Abdur Rehman, and Gul Marjan.
A report in The Guardian additionally reported, “Residents and police claimed three or four missiles were fired at a section of the mud-built madrassa just before 5am. The seminary’s students, many of whom were sleeping in a nearby room, escaped unhurt.”
Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has represented drone victims, suggested this strike was the first drone attack in a settled area of Pakistan.
Based on TBIJ’s prior research, the organization explained:
…[T]hree drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007…
The strike occurred weeks after another drone strike on November 1, which killed Pakistan Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsud. That drone strike was heavily criticized within Pakistan not because Mehsud was a hero to those in Pakistan but because the country was in the process of peace talks with Pakistan and the strike ruined all that had been accomplished.
This strike that reportedly killed Haqqani militant leaders is likely to have a negative effect as well, breeding more violence as Pakistan struggles to maintain stability in the country.
The people of Pakistan are outraged at Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he cannot stop the US from launching drone strikes in their country. They understandably believe he is complicit and, if he was a better leader, he would be able to stop the drones.
The Haqqani network was not designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012. It may sympathize and have a history of cooperation with al Qaeda forces, but whether it is an “associated force” of al Qaeda is debatable.
The judge imposed equally harsh measures that will take effect after Hammond’s release from [ten years in] prison. She ordered that he be placed under three years of supervised control, be forbidden to use encryption or aliases online and submit to random searches of his computer equipment, person and home by police and any internal security agency without the necessity of a warrant. The judge said he was legally banned from having any contact with “electronic civil disobedience websites or organizations.” By the time she had finished she had shredded all pretense of the rule of law.
The severe sentence—Hammond will serve more time than the combined sentences of four men who were convicted in Britain for hacking related to the U.S. case—was monumentally stupid for a judge seeking to protect the interest of the ruling class. The judicial lynching of Hammond required her to demonstrate a callous disregard for transparency and our right to privacy. It required her to ignore the disturbing information Hammond released showing that the government and Stratfor attempted to link nonviolent dissident groups, including some within Occupy, to terrorist organizations so peaceful dissidents could be prosecuted as terrorists. It required her to accept the frightening fact that intelligence agencies now work on behalf of corporations as well as the state. She also had to sidestep the fact that Hammond made no financial gain from the leak.
The sentencing converges with the state’s persecution of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Barrett Brown, along with Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and Sarah Harrison, four investigative journalists who are now in self-imposed exile from the United States. And as the numbers of our political prisoners and exiled dissidents mount, there is the unmistakable stench of tyranny.
This draconian sentence, like the draconian sentences of other whistle-blowers, will fan revolt. History bears this out. It will solidify the growing understanding that we must resort, if we want to effect real change, to unconventional tactics to thwart the mounting abuses by the corporate state. There is no hope, this sentencing shows, for redress from the judicial system, elected officials or the executive branch. Why should we respect a court system, or a governmental system, that shows no respect to us? Why should we abide by laws that serve only to protect criminals such as Wall Street thieves while leaving the rest of us exposed to abuse? Why should we continue to have faith in structures of power that deny us our most basic rights and civil liberties? Why should we be impoverished so the profits of big banks, corporations and hedge funds can swell?
No one will save us but ourselves. That was the real message sent out by the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond. And just as Hammond was inspired to act by the arrest of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, others will be inspired to act by Hammond and the actions taken against him. And we can thank Judge Preska for that.
Why does a police department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan? For that matter, why does a police department in a city of 35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter? And what possible use could police at Ohio State University have for acquiring a heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?
Why are police departments across the country acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield. And as I document in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all being done through federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments across the country.
It’s a Trojan Horse, of course, one that is sold to communities as a benefit, all the while the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army. As journalists Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz report in their insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons,” federal grants provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have “transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.” For example, note Becker and Schulz:
In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank. [continue]
Military prowess is not enough in this age. And the United States knows it. America’s “other army” – its less visible but equally potent cadre of skillful lawyers (in government and even in private institutions) – dutifully got busy crafting appropriate international law narratives for the War on Terror. They realized that winning the battle for defining “legality” on the world stage was critical.
This is something states in the developing world would do well to understand. And particularly, governments of countries that bear the brunt of US military interventions touted as “self-defense” and “counter-terrorism” – Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Such states need to build intellectual-professional capacity to counter precedent-setting international legal arguments strategically employed (or better said: deployed) against them.
No contemporary political discourse provides us with a clearer illustration of this than the heated debate about the (ill)legality of drones and targeted killings.
For the past decade, the United States strategically weaved a narrative of legality around, apparently, “surgically precise” drone strikes. It confidently claimed that strikes fully complied with international law, even as Pakistan objected to them and evidence mounted that women and children had been killed.
Academics, including myself, argued against this simplistic black-and-white narrative. So did UN Special Rapporteurs and others. In contrast, there were many legal minds in the United States, often with a history of US military or government service, who agreed with the government. Rather controversial and unsettled legal arguments were swiftly dug up and supplied to justify and provide legal bases for geographically and temporally expanding the “War on Terror”. This includes the idea of “co-belligerency” (wherein a third party state or non-state actor that does not declare neutrality can be considered a belligerent as well), and the unwilling or unable doctrine that says that since target countries can’t or won’t prevent threats against the US, attacks within their sovereign territory are legal.
Some lawyers in America were, for example, quick to simply assume Pakistani consent to drone strikes on the basis of highly circumstantial evidence. But, conversely, rather slow to recognize that “coerced consent” was a more fitting description of the facts. Other, similar patently obvious political realities were ignored. The hugely asymmetrical power of the United States vis a vis the nations it was attacking or “seeking” consent from, or the fact that hundreds of thousands of non-Americans – far, far, far more than Americans killed by terrorist groups – had been killed as a result of the exercise of “lawful” self-defense by the US since 9/11 – through drones and otherwise.
But this is not surprising. Perhaps the role of international law was not really to ensure equity in the international order or constrain force in accordance with the spirit of international law, but conversely, to provide strategic “legal” fodder for a state that seemed to have an insatiable appetite for undertaking “self-defense” abroad.
Thankfully, the legal debate is far more nuanced today than it was in previous years. Amongst others, UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights organizations have weighed in and exposed the fragility of the US narrative. In fact, even ordinary individuals who previously had no interest or knowledge of international law are now curious to know what global law says about interventions, drones and even military occupation.
So, kudos to the United States for, rather ironically and unwittingly, encouraging this unintended interest in international law in the global popular imagination.