Jesus, take the wheel. SCOTUS recently handed down a decision — reenforcing an Obama administration policy — that is so dumb it rivals John Roberts’s “what is this ‘email’ you speak of?” moment of shame.
The court, and Obama, broadly defined “material support” of so-called terrorist organizations.
While the relevant statute defines “material support” to include a long list of items that are clearly connected to the violent activities of terrorists, it also includes more ambiguous terms such as “any…service,…training, expert advice or assistance.”
Basically, this decision means peacekeepers like Jimmy Carter could be accused of offering “material support,” meaning any service, which could include counsel or mediation, to groups like the democratically elected Hamas.
Also, notice the term “terrorist group” is a completely arbitrary label. Hamas, though they came to power in a democratic election, is a terrorist group, while Israel, which receives billions of dollars in aid from the US, and uses illegal weapons like white phosphorous against a civilian population, and continues to exercise collective punishment unabated by western bystanders, is an “important ally.”
John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security, has announced a new national security strategy that will focus on the threat posed by homegrown extremists. Except, the target of this strategy doesn’t seem to be all domestic terrorism, but rather domestic terrorism with foreign roots.
There has been a surge in right-wing extremism in the U.S., copiously documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, but which was also predicted by Homeland Security. In fact, the report warned that right-wing extremists, who are “angry at the economy and the election of a black president” might recruit GWOT veterans.
I have been writing about how white domestic terrorism has slipped from the media’s radar, but sadly, it seems like the government is also uninterested by the surge in right wing extremism — possibly because such violence doesn’t fit the helpful war narrative of the “dangerous other” being brown, and from a desert landscape.
If I’m to believe the mainstream press and pundits (most disappointingly, Rachel Maddow,) there are bands of inexplicably evil men sailing around the Horn of Africa, pillaging ships and terrorizing sailors simply because they are pirates. And pirates are evil. End of story.
Except, that’s a rather shallow interpretation of what’s happening in the Somalian waters. Acts of piracy are acts of desperation, and not the acts of evil men. Of course, terrorizing civilians is never acceptable, though I would like to point out my own government is guilty of crimes against humanity that far exceed any acts of Somalian piracy.
In his excellent article, Johann Hari writes of a fascinating exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate. The pirate was captured and brought before Alexander.
[Alexander] demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?
Hari went into further detail about Somalian pirates when I interviewed him for my show Citizen Radio. During the interview, he explained that Somalian pirates are actually poor fishermen. It was only after Somalian waters were poisoned by western nations, and the livelihoods of Somalian fisherman were destroyed, that civilians turned to acts of piracy as means of survival.
What happened in Somalia is that in 1991, the Somalian government collapsed and the country imploded. Two processes began in different parts of Somalia; bearing in mind it has a 3000 km coastline. A European shipping fleet, mostly Spanish, Italian and some British came along and basically started industrially fishing Somalian fish, which is one of the main sources of food in a starving country. Suddenly these tiny little fishermen with nets were being out fished by these industrial trawlers and the fish started just disappearing, so there was a massive increase in hunger in Somalia.
In another part of Somalia, industrial waste from Europe begun to being dumped just off the coast, because it’s expensive to get rid of waste in Europe [whilst] it costs nothing to take it in a boat and dump it outside Somalia. The most incredible thing that was dumped was literally nuclear waste. So after the tsunami, barrels of all sorts of random shit started to wash up on the coast of Somalia, including nuclear waste that we now know [as a result] radiation sickness killed around 300 people but no ones bothering to count or check. That’s [what] the UN special envoys estimate to me was, 300 died, could be far more, no one’s looking, cleaning or doing anything.
Imagine if this happened in Florida, imagine if the government of Florida didn’t have any resources and suddenly Italians came, stole all the fish and everyone was going bust in Florida, and they started dumping nuclear waste. People of Florida would be calling for the nuking of Italy.
The Somalians with very limited resources sent what they called the ‘National Volunteer Coast Guard’ to try and stop these people, and the people we call pirates call themselves the coast guard. This is not that implausible when you bear in mind the context. It’s absolutely true that the some pirates have committed unacceptable acts, I don’t believe it’s ever right to take a hostage, [but] they haven’t killed anyone, harmed anyone, but they have taken hostages. That’s not right, they do it to get money but they then in some cases give it back to [their] communities, which have been desecrated in several instances. So it’s a good example of how something is presented as mindless insanity when actually it’s actually completely different.
Pundits (even our beloved Progressive pundits) adore simplicity, and the pirate coverage off the coast of Somalia presented to them an orgasmic, cartoonish stand-off between “noble seamen,” and “evil pirates.”
The truth is more complicated than that.
Somalians live in a shockingly volatile environment complete with stark poverty and religious fundamentalism. Their environment has been poisoned by the west, their source of food and income destroyed, and now desperate men are resorting to desperate acts.
To stress again: it’s never acceptable to harm civilians, and hostage-taking is never a valid means of negotiation. Still, when considering the stress placed upon Somalia’s civilians, it’s actually pretty surprising that there hasn’t been more violence, and that most nautical conflicts with pirates have been resolved peacefully. (Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, even admitted that “in most of these cases to date, [the] crews have ultimately been released unharmed.”)
It’s important not to demonize Somalians, even the Somalian pirates. When we demonize our enemies, they become less than human, and it becomes easy to apply such blanket rhetoric as “terrorists.” Demonization (particularly by our media) allows hawkish figures an excuse to say that Somalia “must be invaded,” that poor fisherman AKA pirates “must be destroyed,” and that the “axis of evil” has a new peg.
Johann Hari’s official website: http://www.johannhari.com/
India has more than 100,000 millionaires, and is creating new ones at a rate rivalled only be Russia. Meanwhile, nearly half of Mumbai’s 14-18 million residents live in slums. In the United States, poor people suffer under a specialized caste system that masquerades as a functioning democracy. In the good ole’ US of A, the top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.
Yet, in the 2008 election, neither major candidate uttered the word “poor” in the thousands of hours clocked speaking into cameras. But the sickness of ignoring the poor goes beyond John McCain and Barack Obama. The United States government and the corporate media systematically ignore the suffering of the poor, too.
Whether observing FEMA’s shameful handling of post-Katrina New Orleans or the situation in India, it’s pretty clear that governments and corporate media only care about disasters if they involve rich, affluent people. If poor people are drowning, the government takes weeks to throw them rafts. If their slums wallow in poverty and violence for years, the cameras only arrive when terrorists bomb a luxury hotel in Mumbai.
WASHINGTON — The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.
These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.
In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.
Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.
But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.
More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policy makers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.
Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the American officials refused to describe in detail what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.
According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called “Al Qaeda Network Exord,” or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said.
It also allowed senior officials to think through how the United States would respond if a mission went badly. “If that helicopter goes down in Syria en route to a target,” a former senior military official said, “the American response would not have to be worked out on the fly.”
The 2004 order was a step in the evolution of how the American government sought to kill or capture Qaeda terrorists around the world. It was issued after the Bush administration had already granted America’s intelligence agencies sweeping power to secretly detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in overseas prisons and to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush issued a classified order authorizing the C.I.A. to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the globe. By 2003, American intelligence agencies and the military had developed a much deeper understanding of Al Qaeda’s extensive global network, and Mr. Rumsfeld pressed hard to unleash the military’s vast firepower against militants outside the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states, where Qaeda militants were believed to be operating or to have sought sanctuary, a senior administration official said.
Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in Somalia, for instance, need at least the approval of the defense secretary, the administration official said, while targets in a handful of countries, including Pakistan and Syria, require presidential approval.
The Pentagon has exercised its authority frequently, dispatching commandos to countries including Pakistan and Somalia. Details of a few of these strikes have previously been reported.
For example, shortly after Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia in late 2006 to dislodge an Islamist regime in Mogadishu, the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Commandquietly sent operatives and AC-130 gunships to an airstrip near the Ethiopian town of Dire Dawa. From there, members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of a Qaeda cell believed to be responsible for the 1998 American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
At the time, American officials said Special Operations troops were operating under a classified directive authorizing the military to kill or capture Qaeda operatives if failure to act quickly would mean the United States had lost a “fleeting opportunity” to neutralize the enemy.
Occasionally, the officials said, Special Operations troops would land in Somalia to assess the strikes’ results. On Jan. 7, 2007, an AC-130 struck an isolated fishing village near the Kenyan border, and within hours, American commandos and Ethiopian troops were examining the rubble to determine whether any Qaeda operatives had been killed.
But even with the new authority, proposed Pentagon missions were sometimes scrubbed because of bad intelligence or bureaucratic entanglements, senior administration officials said.
The details of one of those aborted operations, in early 2005, were reported by The New York Times last June. In that case, an operation to send a team of the Navy Seals and the Army Rangers into Pakistan to capture Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, was aborted at the last minute.
Mr. Zawahri was believed by intelligence officials to be attending a meeting in Bajaur, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command hastily put together a plan to capture him. There were strong disagreements inside the Pentagon and the C.I.A. about the quality of the intelligence, however, and some in the military expressed concern that the mission was unnecessarily risky.
Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director at the time, urged the military to carry out the mission, and some in the C.I.A. even wanted to execute it without informing Ryan C. Crocker, then the American ambassador to Pakistan. Mr. Rumsfeld ultimately refused to authorize the mission.
Former military and intelligence officials said that Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who recently completed his tour as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, had pressed for years to win approval for commando missions into Pakistan. But the missions were frequently rejected because officials in Washington determined that the risks to American troops and the alliance with Pakistan were too great.
Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for General McChrystal, who is now director of the military’s Joint Staff, declined to comment.
The recent raid into Syria was not the first time that Special Operations forces had operated in that country, according to a senior military official and an outside adviser to the Pentagon.
Since the Iraq war began, the official and the outside adviser said, Special Operations forces have several times made cross-border raids aimed at militants and infrastructure aiding the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The raid in late October, however, was much more noticeable than the previous raids, military officials said, which helps explain why it drew a sharp protest from the Syrian government.
Negotiations to hammer out the 2004 order took place over nearly a year and involved wrangling between the Pentagon and the C.I.A. and the State Department about the military’s proper role around the world, several administration officials said.
American officials said there had been debate over whether to include Iran in the 2004 order, but ultimately Iran was set aside, possibly to be dealt with under a separate authorization.
Senior officials of the State Department and the C.I.A. voiced fears that military commandos would encroach on their turf, conducting operations that historically the C.I.A. had carried out, and running missions without an ambassador’s knowledge or approval.
Mr. Rumsfeld had pushed in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks to expand the mission of Special Operations troops to include intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations in countries where American commandos had not operated before.
Bush administration officials have shown a determination to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provides a legal rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.
Several officials said the negotiations over the 2004 order resulted in closer coordination among the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A., and set a very high standard for the quality of intelligence necessary to gain approval for an attack.
The 2004 order also provided a foundation for the orders that Mr. Bush approved in July allowing the military to conduct raids into the Pakistani tribal areas, including the Sept. 3 operation by Special Operations forces that killed about 20 militants, American officials said.
Administration officials said that Mr. Bush’s approval had paved the way for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to sign an order — separate from the 2004 order — that specifically directed the military to plan a series of operations, in cooperation with the C.I.A., on the Qaeda network and other militant groups linked to it in Pakistan.
Unlike the 2004 order, in which Special Operations commanders nominated targets for approval by senior government officials, the order in July was more of a top-down approach, directing the military to work with the C.I.A. to find targets in the tribal areas, administration officials said. They said each target still needed to be approved by the group of Mr. Bush’s top national security and foreign policy advisers, called the Principals Committee.