Archive for May 2013
Before recalling James Madison’s admonition that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare” President Obama reminded us that “a price must be paid for freedom”. Speaking at the National Defense University on Thursday President Obama delivered a speech about a range of US counter terrorism issues. Touching upon everything from his administration’s controversial drone strikes to force feeding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, from the nature of current threats posed by a network of global terrorists to the government’s chilling response to information leaks Obama sought to respond to growing criticism that his administration is unaccountable, secretive and contemptuous of the law.
Obama wasted no time responding to such criticisms: “Over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.”
Rather than clarifying his Administration’s counterterrorism policies and addressing their legality, Obama masterfully demonstrated his ability to wield nice rhetoric about morality, accountability, just wars and their end. But any claims of transparency, accountability and ending the war over are immediately discredited by the Administration’s habitual use of secrecy and the disturbing theory used to justify America’s longest war, “the world as a battlefield” doctrine. This is real and it’s referred to in elite circles as the “Operational Preparation of the Battlespace“.
Without even commenting on Guantanamo the Obama Administration’s record of accountability and transparency is laughable. Even more so in light of Obama’s campaign promise to usher in the “most transparent government” in history. A short list of three alarming developments over the past four years looks something like this:
1. War on whistle blowers and journalists – President Obama has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more governmental whistle blowers than all other US Presidents combined. Since taking office Obama has prosecuted six whistle blowers under the anachronistic act and as stated last night will continue to “keep information secret that threatens our operations”. The 2009 indictment of Stephen Kim, a State Department Adviser who is being prosecuted for allegedly sharing information with Fox News correspondent James Rosen that North Korea would respond to new UN sanctions by performing additional nuclear tests shows the Obama Administrations obsession with secrecy. The information Kim is accused of communicating to Rosen was not even classified. So if a government employee doesn’t share top secret information, steal classified documents and release them to the public or collude with the enemy, that employee, like Mr. Kim can still face up to 10 years in prison for “spying”, also known as talking outside of the Department of Defense. Talking is illegal when the Obama Administration says so. Thomas Drake, John Kirakou, Shami K. Leibowitz, Jeffery Sterling, Bradley Manning and Stephen Kim can all attest to this. The AP leak scandal is further evidence of this disturbing trend. By punishing governmental whistle blowers the Obama Administration effectively freezes the outflow of information about its policies and conduct. This threatens the essence of investigative journalism, the very instrument used to keep power in check. The flow of information is becoming increasingly unilateral. This past weeks mantra: “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
2. Secret Kill List and Strategic Declassifications – Terror Tuesdays have been a weekly ritual carried out by Obama, his top intelligence advisors and cabinet members and apparently, as Obama divulged yesterday with Congressional approval too: “Congress has agreed on every strike that we have made, including Awlaki”. The convenient declassification of documents relating to the “targeted killing” of Awlaki and three other Americans killed in signature strikes a day before Obama addressed the National Defense University follows a strategic pattern of releasing classified information to the public before brief televised statements about the controversial material. The same thing happened earlier this year. A day before John Brennan’s confirmation hearing for CIA directorship was scheduled, NBC magically obtained a copy of the Department of Justice memoranda that purported to justify Obama’s targeted killing program without due process. The staged spectacle was carried out with thespian fervor reaching a climax when protagonist Dianne Finestein boasted about the Senate’s oversight of drone strikes paving the way for the responsible new assassination czar John Brennan. The declassification of documents pertaining to the due-process-free killing of four Americans follows the Obama Administration’s strategy of releasing controversial information for brief, controlled statements about government activities. During his speech Obama referred to codifying oversight and accountability by signing the Presidential Policy Guidance. But the only thing that has been codified by the Obama Administration are the reviled policies of Bush II including warrantless wire-tapping, sprawling surveillance, indefinite detention, and the frightening Bush/Cheyneyesque view that the planet is a massive battle ground that the US must engage. Which brings us to Obama’s assertion on Thursday that all wars must end.
3. The War is Permanent – Obama’s claims that America’s longest war is finite counter previous statements by his Administration. Last Thursday Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reported that Assistant Secretary of Defense, Michael Sheehan while speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on the AUMF -the statutory basis that makes Obama’s war a “legal war” and with some moral gymnastics, a “just war” – stated that the war would last “at least another 10 to 20 years”. That’s because Obama’s war on terror, like that of his predecessor, is by it’s very design endless. As Obama acknowledged himself “Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies”. As long as the US “is at war with terrorists” the cycle will continue to reproduce the violence it claims to end. With every Fort Hood, Christmas Bombing attempt or Boston Marathon attack, the Administration reasserts its right and the rationality of executing a war against terrorism. Until the US war effort in all of its manifestations, conventional or space age stops being a “local” phenomenon waged asymmetrically against the most marginalized peoples across the world the words of Obama will ring hollow and the rage of Obama’s victims will be channeled into anti-imperialist, anti-American ideologies. Furthermore there is too much riding on the perpetuation of this war for big interests. Military contractors and the surveillance industry who benefit the most from continual warfare will do everything in their power to keep the nation at war and their ranks are seated in top offices throughout the government.
Obama’s speech on Thursday was characterized by fugues of moralistic posturing and cynical promises. A drone court? A journalist shield law? These non-sequiturs in the Administration’s logic = a FISA court styled rubberstamp factory for assassinations and a piecemeal law that provides the barest protections to journalists while prosecuting with the full weight of law the very people journalists need as their sources, government employees.
The price that “must be paid for freedom” couldn’t be clearer. Americans must accept the “legal” diminshment of their legal rights. Freedom of the press, of speech, of due process, habeas corpus, freedom from assassination by government, privacy in communications, the security of living in a country that doesn’t furnish new enemies and living with the confidence that the government will put its citizens before war profiteers are all dreams of a halcyon past. Americans have been ordered to relinquish any claims to such rights. Challenging the awesome powers of the US government is grounds for prosecution as America’s six brave whistle blowers have demonstrated. Challenging the official narrative that the American execution of global war is anything other than good and just warrants a oneway conversation with the President where you are told, “Why don’t you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do.” This has been the command of choice for authoritarians since time immemorial.
Nearly 100 national delegations met in Brussels Wednesday at the international donor conference for development called “Together for a New Mali”. Opening up the conference, EU Committee of the Regions President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso called upon delegations to pledge their support for The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali. Broken down into a 12 point approach, the plan focuses on everything from ensuring “peace, security and public services everywhere” to organizing elections. But the 48 page plan that formed the basis of the conference fails to addresses the ethnic fault line that was again ripped open between sub-saharan blacks and lighter-skinned Tuaregs, Berbers and Arabs of the Saharan north by the crisis that began last January.
At the beginning of 2012 Mali descended into turmoil when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) chased the Malian military out of the northern stretches of the country, a territory it claims is the historical homeland of the peoples of northern Mali. The MNLA is comprised predominantly of ethnic Tuaregs but it’s ranks also include Songhai, Fulani, and Arabs. Exploiting the instability battle hardened islamists from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) soon took control from the MNLA terrorizing Mali’s northernmost cities and clearing the way for the foreign mujahideen fighters of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine of Timbuktu to seize control of Mali’s northern expanse. Interim President Diancounda Traore requested military assistance from France after the northern territories were taken.
The French led military intervention that was launched on January 11, 2013 was swift and received widespread support from Malians. France with military assistance provided by the US (Germany, Belgium, Canada and Denmark also provided logistical and financial support for the incursion) overwhelmed the islamist forces. After reconquering territory from the islamists the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) was charged with maintaining security in the “liberated” zones of the north. As France begins reducing troops to make way for a UN peace keeping force scheduled for deployment in northern Mali on July 1st sporadic attacks continue to shake the region.
Despite The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali’s stated objective – to ensure peace and security across the country and foster economic development – Malian leaders unwillingness to engage a dialogue with any factions that don’t renounce their claim to territories in the north seriously undermines the Malian governments affirmation that “the “essence of the Roadmap reflected in this plan incorporates the lessons learned from this crisis”.
A brief recap of the Tuareg’s 50 plus year struggle for independence, something unmentioned in The Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali highlights the irony of calling this conference Together for a New Mali.
Tuaregs and other minority ethnic groups of the north have launched successive revolts against the state of Mali since it’s independence in 1960. Although the exact boundaries of this idealized state are vague, it is clear that Azawad refers to the towns and territory that Tuaregs, Songhai, Fulani and Berabiche Arabs have historically roamed through and occupied in the Saharan north. Dreams of reclaiming this vast desert territory have led to decades of tensions between the desert dwellers of the north and sub-Saharan groups in the South that have fomented rebellion.
The first major Tuareg rebellion in the early 1960’s was ultimately quashed by the Malian army relegating Tuaregs to a virtually unrepresented ethnic group in the poverty stricken north. The second Taureg rebellion in 1990′s descended the country into an effective civil war fought in Mali’s northern territory. Though that conflict ceased with the 1995 Peace Accord and the ceremonial Burning of the Guns in Timbuktu, the Tuaregs remained restive, resentful of their lack of participation in the military, and politics and frustrated by the lack of resources invested in their region. By 2006 a short outburst had gripped the north as Tuaregs attacked government buildings in Gao, citing lack of opportunity as an aggravation. According to the IMF the more fertile south of the Sahel state constitutes 95 percent of GDP, 91 percent of the population and 99.5 percent of tax revenue.
The roots of Mali’s current conflict broke through parched earth last year when Tuareg mercenaries returned to Mali heavily armed after the fallout of Qadaffi to reclaim their historical homeland from the weak government, mired with corruption in the South.
Tensions between the north and south have only been heightened by allegations of human rights abuses carried out by Malian soldiers against Tuaregs in the North. Many Malians blame the MNLA for initiating the rebellion and problematically conflate innocent civilians in the north with separatists and Al-Qaeda. Pascal Fletcher reported in Reuters this past March:
“MNLA, Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM, they are the same, they need to be punished,” said Alou Gniminou, a 39-year-old cobbler who is secretary general of the artisan market.
Having raised over $4 billion to ensure peace and security without addressing the historical grievances of a marginalized and impoverished population is bound to perpetuate future conflicts. On the issue of the restive peoples of the Saharan north the summit meeting may have been more appropriately named Together for the Same Mali.
Delegates from nearly 50 countries, as well as representatives from major international organizations met in London yesterday to attend the Somalia Conference and discuss signs of progress in a country that has been devastated by 21 years of war. The British Foreign Office described the goals of the conference in anticipation of the event:
The Somalia conference in London aims to capitalize on the significant progress made over the past year and to agree coordinated international support for the government of Somalia’s plans to build political stability by improving security, police, justice and public financial management systems.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud seized the opportunity to call upon assembled heads of governments, foreign investors and international financiers to secure the funding needed to spearhead Somalia’s security and development challenges. “We need support; we need assistance and investment; and we need protection from those who try to knock us over.”
With the United States pledging to provide $40 million in additional funds to develop Somalia’s security sector, stabilize the country and provide humanitarian assistance on top of the UK’s commitment of $54 million to assist Somalia in it’s fight against international terrorism, and piracy, it looks like Somalia left the conference with it’s gift basket full.
Somalia has a recent history of accepting assistance from countries that have helped create the problems Somalia must confront.
As early as 2001 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speculated, “Somalia has been a place that has harbored al Qaeda and, to my knowledge, still is.” Early plans to conduct military strikes in Somalia as part of America’s “war on terror” were initially abandoned “because of insufficient intelligence”. In 2006 the United States provided training, drones and military equipment to Ethiopian troops to oust the Islamic Courts Union, a group American intelligence officials theorized had connections to an East African Al-Qaeda cell. Headed at the time by Sheik Sharif Ahmed, the United States sought to destroy the Islamic Courts Union and the Sheik himself. Once the nascent order established by the Islamic Courts Union was toppled, Al-Shabaab, the feared islamist group conference attendees vowed to help dismantle, sought to fill the power vacuum. In a policy u-turn Washington decided to support newly elected President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, the leader they overthrew three years earlier and then train and arm his security forces to confront the mushrooming enemy. In 2009 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew to the US Embassy in Nairobi to confirm the United State’s support for Somalia’s new leader and pledge assistance in developing the country’s security forces. Within months Somalia was receiving US training and military equipment to assist the transitional government in it’s fight against the islamist organization, Al-Shabaab.
The origins of Al-Shabaab are rooted in the 2006 intervention. After the Islamic Courts Union was defeated by US backed Ethiopian forces hardline members splintered from the movement, merged with disparate groups of radical islamists and formed Al-Shabaab. In a policy u-turn Washington decided to support the leader they previously overthrew and then train and arm his security forces to confront the mushrooming enemy.
In addition to setting the stage for Al-Shabaab the United States implementation of “preventative counter insurgency operations” in the Horn of Africa have by some estimates resulted in the killing of 42 civilians. Detailed analysis by The Nation’s Jeremy Schahill reveal the extent to which the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the CIA have been carrying out a covert war in the country with lethal consequences for enemies and non-enemies alike. On January 7, 2007 the United States carried out it’s first military strike on Somalia after tracking a suspected Al-Qaeda convoy with a predator drone which was reported to have killed militants responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings. A third air-strike three days later was reported to have had different results.
4-31 total reported killed
4-31 civilians reported killed, including 1 child
Heavy civilian casualties were reported in airstrikes on Hayi near Afmadow, on Hayi, 250km northwest of Ras Kamboni, and other parts of southern Somalia, in confusing reports which may conflate activity by US and other forces. An elder told Reuters 22-27 people had been killed, while a Somali politician told CBS News that 31 civilians ‘including a newlywed couple’ had been killed by two helicopters near Afmadow, while Mohamed Mahmud Burale told AP that at least four civilians were killed on Monday evening in Hayi, including his four-year-old son.
The young Yemeni Farea Al-Muslimi’s testimony before a Senate hearing on drones last month illustrates the counter productivity of American drone and air strikes in countries associated with the war on terror. Muslimi, whose village had been bombed by drones a week before the hearing described how these operations increased the numbers of people who sympathized with extreme islamists rather than preventing the growth of anti-American sentiments.
What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.
AQAP’s power and influence has never been based on the number of members in its ranks. AQAP recruits and retains power through its ideology, which relies in large part on the Yemeni people believing that America is at war with them . . .
I have to say that the drone strikes and the targeted killing program have made my passion and mission in support of America almost impossible in Yemen. In some areas of Yemen, the anger against America that results from the strikes makes it dangerous for me to even acknowledge having visited America, much less testify how much my life changed thanks to the State Department scholarships. It’s sometimes too dangerous to even admit that I have American friends.
With President Mohamoud lined up to receive an additional $95 million from the United States and the UK to help Somalia combat terrorism, one wonders if terrorism in Somalia is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. The United States main target in Somalia continues to be Al-Shabaab as African Command General Carter Ham reported before the American Forces Press Service. Yet Al-Shabaab was non-existent before America began it’s “classic proxy war” by assisting Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia in 2006. Furthermore it was not until 2007 that leaders of the islamist group affiliated themselves with Al-Qaeda, six years after the United States identified Somalia as part of the war on terror.
President Mohamoud will receive the support, assistance, investment and protection he sought at yesterday’s Somalia Conference. Unfortunately he will be receiving it from those largely responsible for creating the conditions that threaten “to knock [Somalia] over”.
You can also see this article with the comments at Truth-Out.