Category Archives: Jeremy Scahill

John Brennan’s confirmation hearing is “a very sobering moment” says Jeremy Scahill

On Thursday [Feb 7th] at the Senate confirmation hearing, nominee for next Director of the CIA, John Brennan, defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the administration’s increased use of armed drones and its targetted killings of American citizens. And whilst Brennan refused to acknowledge that waterboarding is a form of torture, he was nevertheless forced to admit that he had not tried to stop its use during the time he was a top CIA official under President George W. Bush.

On Friday, Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist, producer and writer of the documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and also the forthcoming book, Dirty Wars. Reminding us that Brennan “has served for more than four years as the assassination czar,” Scahill summed up Thursday’s hearing as “total kabuki oversight”:

Well, you know, if you—if you look at what happened yesterday at the Senate Intelligence Committee, I mean, this is kabuki oversight. This was basically a show that was produced by the White House in conjunction with Senator Feinstein’s office. I mean, the reality was—is that none of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way. In the cases where people like Senator Angus King or Senator Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA asserts the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the questions were very good. Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. […]

But at the end of the day, I mean, I can’t say I was surprised at what happened on Capitol Hill, but it really was more or less a love fest between the most powerful senators, when it comes to intelligence operations in the U.S., and John Brennan, a man who could not get confirmed last time Obama tried to make him CIA director, because of very serious questions about his views on and role in the torture program under the Bush administration— [he] has served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they were discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol Hill. I mean, it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand right now.

I would invite Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee to travel to Abyan province in Yemen, where I was a few months ago, and meet with the Bedouin villagers of al-Majalah, where more than 40 people were killed, several dozen of them women and children, their bodies shredded into meat with U.S. cluster bombs, and then come back and go on national television and talk about single digits. There were over 40 people killed in one strike alone. And you know what? That wasn’t even a drone strike. That was a cruise missile strike. Everyone is talking about drones these days and obsessed with drones. The U.S. uses AC-130 gunships, night raids, Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. Some of the most devastating strikes were not even drone attacks.

So, you know, this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. You know, they allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, “Well, I’m not a lawyer,” while simultaneously saying, “Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal.” And then they say, “Well, what about torture?” And he goes, “Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications.” I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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another massacre in Gaza: Israel thanks President Obama

At the end of a week of intensive air strikes against Gaza causing the deaths of over 150 Palestinians, and injuries to a thousand more, even those most pro-Israel must be questioning the efficacy, to say nothing of the outright immorality, of inflicting such massive and disproportionate casualties on what is a largely civilian population. Just what do the leaders of Israel and others who support such a deliberate escalation of violence think it will ever achieve?

On Sunday [Nov 18th] Barack Obama said:

Israel has “every right” to defend itself against missile attacks by militants inside Gaza but warned that escalating the offensive with Israeli ground troops could undermine any hope of a peace process with the Palestinians.

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said at press conference in Thailand at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.1

Click here to read the full nbcnews article.

Whilst Obama is quite right to say that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders”, this is precisely the situation the people of Gaza also find themselves in – his underlying message appearing to be that Palestinians don’t count. And as for the “precipitating event”, which was, according to Obama (and Israel), the “ever-escalating number of missiles”, well that all depends on when you decide to start the clock. Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer”, outlined this on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

History can be determined by when you start the clock. If we start the clock the way most of the U.S. press now is, which is a change, now saying that this escalation began when Israel assassinated a Hamas leader on November 14, that is one time-line. The Israeli position is, well, we did it because they fired — the Palestinians fired a rocket at an Israeli Jeep. Well, why did that happen? That happened because a few hours before there had been that firing on an Israeli military Jeep and a patrol, there had been the killing of a 13-year-old child in Gaza who was playing soccer. Two days before that, there had been the assassination of a young man walking in the no walk area, the no go zone near the border, where Israelis say, we told him, we called out to him not to go there and he did not listen.

It turns out this was a mentally disabled man who maybe didn’t hear, maybe didn’t understand, continued to walk and was shot dead. We could start the clock then. But, at the end of the day, we can look back four years, we can look back to the end of [Operation] Cast Lead and say, since Cast Lead, 271 Palestinians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, have been assassinated by Israeli air strikes, by drones, by planes, by helicopters. 271 Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israelis, zero Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets.

If Israel was seriously trying to protect its population, that’s the period when no Israelis were killed. During this escalation, three Israelis were killed, tragically, civilians who should not have been killed. But, the reality is, that this goes back to the occupation. If we don’t acknowledge this in the context of occupation, the siege of Gaza, the traditional occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we will never be able to stop it. We can get a ceasefire right now, stop it for the moment, but then it will continue because there is no option.

In other words, the “precipitating event” that leads to the Palestinian rocket attacks is really nothing less than decades of fear and oppression living under the shadow of a menacing Israeli presence. This is not to condone or to justify Palestinian terrorist attacks (any use of indiscriminate violence to political ends being, by definition, acts of terrorism), but merely to contextualise. The onslaught on Gaza being the latest infliction of altogether more terrifying (since more effective) Israeli state terrorism, which has no clear purpose other than the collective punishment of the ordinary Palestinians, whilst meanwhile presenting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the opportunity to prove his ‘toughness’ just before he faces re-election.

Phyllis Bennis again:

We hear a great deal from world leaders about the responsibility to protect [which is] the new mantra of the United Nations. We have a responsibility to protect the people of Libya, we have a responsibility to protect the the people of Syria. There are serious reasons why the responsibility to protect should have been invoked, in my view, not the way it was, but the world did owe a level of protection to people living under repressive regimes around the world. That has also been true of U.S.-backed regimes that continues around the world. What we have seen in Bahrain and other places.

But, in the question of Palestine, that responsibility to protect for the Obama administration — as was true of every administration before it — only applies to Israel. We heard it again and again from President Obama, from other officials of the administration, members of congress. Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel has the right of self-defense. Asked whether Palestinians have the right of self-defense, the State Department’s spokesperson said, “Israel has the right of self-defense.” Implying Palestinians have no rights at all, they only apparently have the right to die under Israeli rockets. […]

It’s extraordinary for Obama to say no country would allow this, as if the Palestinians don’t even exist, that they don’t have those same rights. So, I think if we’re serious about this, two things need to happen. An immediate ceasefire on all sides to stop the rockets in all directions, stop the bombings in all directions. But, immediate end to the siege of Gaza that has given rise to this kind of desperate resistance in the first place. If that does not happen, the immediate ceasefire that will happen, whether it’s today or tomorrow, that will happen, but it will not last unless the fundamental underlying root causes are addressed. The immediate root causes have to deal with the siege of Gaza, the closure, the turning of 1.6 million Gazan residents, half of them children under 16, into inmates in an open-air prison. That’s what has to stop.

Four days after the so-called “Operation Pillar of Cloud” offensive began, Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said the following:

“This effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration led by President Obama.”

And Phyllis Bennis concurs:

This is very definitely a U.S. central institutionalized action that’s going on. We heard, just in the last couple of days, from the Israeli Defense Minister who said directly, this effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration led by President Obama.

I think that’s the most important thing for those of us in the U.S. to keep in mind. This is something where the United States has made clear that it is giving Israel carte blanche to use U.S.-made weapons — we’re talking about F-16’s, we’re talking about Apache helicopters, we’re talking about armored Caterpillar bulldozers, we’re talking about drones — most of which are produced in the U.S., purchased with our tax dollars, in violation, in this use, of U.S. laws, specifically the Arms Export Control act that makes it illegal to use U.S. arms in an illegal way. For example, in maintaining an illegal occupation, in violating the Geneva conventions, etc. […]

If there is not an end to the siege of Gaza, if the Gaza crossings are not opened, the Israeli controlled crossings — because, we should remember, Gaza is still under occupation, despite the withdrawal of troops and soldiers in 2005, Israel continues its control over the airspace, the waters, the borders, everything about Gaza is under Israeli control. Given that, if there is not an agreement to end that control, to open the border crossings, to let Gaza breathe, this will continue. It will continue in a year, in two years, in four years. Maybe once again just after the next U.S. elections, that seems to be the favorite Israeli timeline. Maybe just before the next Israeli elections, which is what we’re looking at right now.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! Website.

In the last few hours, a ceasefire has been agreed, and we must all hope for the sake of the people in Gaza and Israel that the peace is lasting. Realistically, however, the spiral of violence between Israel and Palestine will never be ended so long as the Israeli occupation continues, and it is only Israel that can decide to make this change. Of course, they will need America to push them.

If Obama sincerely wishes to see a long-term peaceful settlement to the conflict, he must also begin demanding an immediate return to the rule of international law. Deliberate targetting of schools, private residences, civil service offices and media centres (news journalists in the same tower having been bombed twice) is illegal, and for all such war crimes, the perpetrators should now be brought to justice.

*

Additional:

On November 18th, Glenn Greenwald published a concise but carefully documented article reflecting on America’s role in the latest assault on Gaza and the unsurprisingly tilted mainstream news coverage. Here is an extract:

[But] pretending that the US — and the Obama administration — bear no responsibility for what is taking place is sheer self-delusion, total fiction. It has long been the case that the central enabling fact in Israeli lawlessness and aggression is blind US support, and that continues, more than ever, to be the case under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The same article also includes (near the end) an embedded video showing a short interview with Middle East expert Jeremy Scahill. Scahill discusses Obama’s foreign policy both in the region and more widely.

 

1 From an article entitled “Obama: Israel has ‘every right’ to defend itself from Gaza missile attacks” published by nbcnews. http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/18/15257041-obama-israel-has-every-right-to-defend-itself-from-gaza-missile-attacks?lite

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Obama wants Yemeni journalist Shaye kept in prison – Jeremy Scahill investigates

In January 2011, a Yemeni state security court gave the journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a five-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges following a trial that has been condemned by several human rights and press freedom groups. Within a month of Shaye’s sentencing, then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he was going to pardon the journalist – and it should be noted that the imprisonment and pardon of journalists is repeated time and again by the Yemeni authorities as a way to “bludgeon journalists into submission”. But on this occasion, Saleh changed his mind. Thirteen months later Shaye remains behind bars.

The Obama administration is now facing criticism for its role in the continuing imprisonment of Shaye, especially in light of the fact that Saleh’s unusual decision not to issue a pardon appears to have been made in direct response to a phone call from President Obama.

Prior to his arrest, Shaye broke a number of important stories about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as recording the last known interview with Anwar al-Awlaki just before it was revealed that Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric, was on a CIA hit list. Shaye also exposed how the United States was behind a 2009 bombing in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children.

On Thursday [March 15th], Democracy Now! examined the case and its significance in an extended report and interviews with Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose latest article published in The Nation is entitled “Why Is President Obama Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?”

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I learned about his case because of the bombing of al-Majala in December of 2009. You’ll recall it was the first time that President Obama, that we know of, authorized a U.S. strike against Yemen. And when the strike initially happened, the United States’ position was to say nothing. There were some anonymous officials that had leaked some information to news networks indicating that the U.S. was behind the bombing, but the official position was that it was a Yemeni strike and that an al-Qaeda camp had been targeted and that 34 members of al-Qaeda had been killed.

Then Amnesty International obtained photographs of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs from the scene and pictures and video of the bodies of dead women and children. And Amnesty International then determined that it had to have been a U.S. strike, because Yemen didn’t have those missiles and didn’t have those cluster bombs, and that, in fact, the victims of—among the victims of that strike were a tremendous number of women and children. Well, the individual who provided that documentary evidence to Al Jazeera—or, excuse me, to Amnesty International and to Al Jazeera and other networks was Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Yeah. The trial does not pass the laugh test, at all. And the court does not pass the laugh test. And actually, in my research, I could not locate a single case that was tried in this special—specialized criminal tribunal—you can just tell by the name that this is—this is not going to be a serious affair. I could not find a single case that met, even remotely, like fair trial standards. So there’s no transparency. There’s no proper appeals process. Lawyers are deprived of a lot of the files. Things are slid in last minute. It just failed to meet those standards. And this is not just my opinion, but this was observed by every single person who attended these sessions, when they were allowed to attend.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What’s important to realize here, and what Mohamed is saying, is that, on one side of this, you have major media freedom organizations. You have major human rights organizations—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. You have every legal and human rights organization in Yemen. You have very prominent foreign correspondents who have spoken out on this case, some of whom knew Abdulelah Haider Shaye. So they’re on one side of it, condemning his trial as a sham, talking about who he actually was as a journalist.

And on the other side of it, you have the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, a specialized criminal tribunal set up to go after journalists, and the White House. And so, President Obama is the single person keeping that man in prison right now, because even the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was prepared to release him, and it was a phone call, not from one of Obama’s people, from Obama himself, that kept him in prison.

And so, when I called the State Department, one of the things I said is, “What is the evidence that you have to support your contention that Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a terrorist or is affiliated with al-Qaeda?” And they said, “We don’t have anything to say on that right now.” So, you know, that’s how much of a sham this is. So anyone who wants to say, “Well, Obama must know what he’s doing,” needs to realize that you’re taking a position against major human rights organizations and journalist organizations against the United States, which is currently engaged in its biggest crackdown on whistleblowers in history. So just be clear on what side of the line you’re on, if you’re a journalist, when you say that.

Click here to watch the report and interviews and to read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Yesterday’s Storyville also premiered Sean McAllister’s powerful documentary “The Reluctant Revolutionary”. The film follows the political awakening of Kais, a tour guide in Sana’a, who although initially irritated by the demonstrations, gradually feels inspired to join them. A very intimate and at times deeply shocking film, Kais and Sean McAllister ultimately become eyewitnesses to the massacre of 52 protesters almost exactly a year ago [“Friday of Dignity” March 18, 2011] that helped put an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign in Yemen.

Storyville: The Reluctant Revolutionary

broadcast on BBC4 at 10:00pm-11:10pm on Monday 19th March
Director: Sean McAllister

Click here for link to BBC iplayer

Available on BBC iplayer until 12:09 am on Tuesday, 3rd April 2012

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Filed under did you see?, Jeremy Scahill, Uncategorized, USA, Yemen

distracted from distraction by distraction

Logging into my email account, half-glancing through the scrolling headlines on Yahoo news, as you do, come on now, be honest… well a few days ago, they went as follows: – “Robbie in Strictly thrust ban”; “Xmas elf stolen, OAP sought”; “Push-up bra model is a man” – the usual crud in other words, but then there’s often an odd-one-out, and on the occasion in question it happened to be this: “Why Britain is moving closer to war with Iran”. And it jolted me, which is not something that generally happens as the Yahoo titbits roll past, dulling my senses and enfeebling my mind with tawdry ‘human interest’ slush and air-brushed celebrity dross.

According to the news, of course, the decade-long war on neighbouring Iraq is over. So we hear Obama making speeches about the completion of a successful mission, and reports of the compete withdrawal of US troops from the country. But all of this is only a half-truth (and the biggest lies, as Orwell pointed out, are frequently those of omission).

The larger official truth is that as ordinary US troops are being moved out, thousands of ‘contractors’ (i.e., mercenaries) will remain in place, although not Blackwater this time, since Blackwater were banned from Iraq after the massacre of civilians at Nisoor Square in 2007.1 Perhaps you remember it? Here is Jeremy Scahill speaking on Democracy Now! in December 2008 about “the token prosecution of a handful of Blackwater guys” involved in that massacre:

Click here to find the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

And then, two year later, Democracy Now! also reported on how all charges against those Blackwater operatives were subsequently dismissed by federal judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington:

Click here to find the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

As a consequence, Blackwater is gone… or at least, by name, it is gone…

The security firm once known as Blackwater on Monday changed its name for the second time in less than three years as its owners continue to reshape the company they bought from its founder a year ago.

The Arlington-based company announced it will no longer be known as Xe Services and is now called Academi. The name is inspired by Plato’s Academy in ancient Greece and is designed to connote elite, highly disciplined warriors who are thinkers as well as fighters.2

Taken from a recent article [Dec 12th] in the Washington Post.

With US troops finally leaving, Academi are, surprise, surprise, one of the private military contractors heading the queue for a piece of the new action:

Returning to the immediate situation elsewhere in the Middle East, and our attention is rapidly being switched to that other old enemy, Iran. For even though war against Iran has been a constant theme ever since 9/11 (and before), the sabre-rattling is suddenly louder than ever.

If we turn back to October, for instance, we had that ridiculous fiasco of an Iranian plot involving a used-car salesman and an alleged attempt to assassinate a Saudi ambassador. This was good enough to send all the hawks in Washington and abroad squawking for immediate retaliation. Concurrently, Craig Murray’s exposé on the deeper scandal of the Liam Fox and Adam Werritty affair, was uncovering, little by little, firm evidence that a secret Israeli plot has already been hatched to foment a war with Iran. Somehow the mainstream media has managed to put a cap on that story, although it perhaps leaked out just enough to maintain the illusion that we still have a free press.

In this latest wave of mainstream propaganda, and like a deja vu happening all over again, we are told that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has “increasing concern” regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. Yet in terms of balance, there is little or no mention of veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s repeated dismissal of any solid evidence for such alarmist claims.3 We’ve also had Dick Cheney’s more recent demands, that instead of asking Iran to give back America’s missing surveillance drone, Obama should have ordered an airstrike instead.4 Now if, conversely – and God knows how this could ever happen – an Iranian spy drone had been shot down over Texas, well Tehran would have been flattened already. But then as Cheney’s record shows: might is right (although the Iranians might contend that possession is still nine tenths of the law). Meanwhile, as Obama tried to get his spy plane back, trouble at the British embassy allowed Foreign secretary William Hague to seize yet another opportunity for threatening “serious consequences” for Iran, whilst adding: “it’s a nice little place you’ve got here, you wouldn’t want anything to happen now, would you…?”

But really this is scary stuff. The stuff of nightmares coming true. Since any kind of military attack on Iran would mean the near certain prospect of a huge conflagration across the Middle East, involving multiple millions of fatalities. It would mean a return to the height of the Cold War standoff, with Russia and the USA squaring up directly in efforts to secure access to resources and a battle that could so easily go nuclear. It is no exaggeration to say that any attack on Iran might be the spark that ignites a world war – THE WORLD WAR. So why, when this is featuring as headline news, as it did on Yahoo, are still we hearing so little outspoken opposition? In fact, why is it that, for the most part, no one mentions any of the wars much at all these days? Even Yahoo news has moved on… to “Woman lives Xmas every day”; “Celebs wearing bad jumpers”; “Kate tops good manners list”; “Military Wives outselling Little Mix”; “Why Britain is moving closer to war with Iran” Hang on, there it is again… WAR WITH IRAN!!! Not that it needs to be written in capitals, apparently.

Nearly a decade ago, as the false accusations against Iraq were just beginning to spin our course to a bloody conflict, it was enough to galvanise millions to voice their opposition on the streets; and it was the voice of a two million strong protest in London which undoubtedly forced Blair to lie in parliament. A few years later, when Bush had the whole God-forsaken ‘Axis of Evil’ in his sights, and war against Iran was being seriously mooted for the first time since 9/11, there was also plenty of public discussion and a loose gathering of opposition. Back then, the anti-war movement still sustained a little momentum. Whereas, it would seem that a similar build-up this time around is being accomplished so stealthily that there is next to no resistance.

Every week or so brings another story, and a further opportunity for publicity-seeking politicians to puff themselves up with talk of the “serious consequences” for Iran, and it’s almost as if no one actually believes the bluster any more. Or perhaps the public simply accepts that the war’s going to happen whatever they do, and they’re just dog-tired of fighting. Or could it be some deadly combination of both disbelief and fatalism, and the fact that we’ve now been sold a dummy on Iran enough times to finally kill off all reason to have a response.

Here, for example, is Michel Chossudovsky speaking on Russia Today about the building of a pretext to attack Iran and the terrible repercussions of such action back in February 2010:

A decade ago, Hans Blix, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and then head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, had refused to bow to pressure from Washington and to twist the evidence in favour of the existence of WMDs in Iraq. In a saner world, Hans Blix would surely have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to stop the illegal war on Iraq, but instead his honourable part in that shameful episode of imperialist adventuring has been largely written out.

This week Russia Today interviewed Hans Blix and asked him about the unstable situation in North Korea as well as the rising threat of war against Iran:

“Well there are some similarities in the escalation of the language and the threats that we had in the case of Iraq, and now have in the case of Iran. On the other hand, we must remember that in the case of Iraq they talked about the weapons that in fact did not exist. Today they are talking about Iranian intentions that may or may not exist. But the difference is that Iran certainly has a lot of nuclear installations. Iraq did not have that.”

Asked his opinion of whether Iran is any kind of imminent threat to any nation at this point, Blix replied:

“I don’t think so really. It is true that Ahmadinejad has come out [with] some very bad language about wiping Israel off the map of the world. But I think, and most people with me think, that he’s really talking to the Arab streets. He has wanted to destabilise Arab states that have supported the United States. Iran does not have a track-record of aggression. In fact, it was Iraq that attacked Iran. So I don’t see an immediate threat from Iran. But I can understand that Israelis are nervous.”

And does Blix think that Iran has a nuclear weapon?

No, I think nobody really thinks they have a nuclear weapon, and I think one must read that [IAEA] report rather carefully. What they say is that they see some evidence that could be explained if they were dealing with a weapon or aiming at a weapon. And that they’ve seen some other evidence that is very hard to explain unless they were working towards a weapon. But they have not said that they established that Iran actually intends to do it. They might stop short of a weapon. […]

We know from the case of Israel that they do not admit that they have nuclear weapons. They say that they will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Maybe one day the Iranians will also say that we also will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and maintain a situation of ambiguity. But I think it would be better if all the parties came to the conclusion that they should have neither nuclear weapons nor enrichment capability.

The bitter irony might yet be that during a time of so much cause for righteous indignation over the economic collapse and the imposition of ‘austerity measures’ across the world, and as political dissent reaches new peaks with protests spreading from city to city, and from nation to nation, the way is accidentally left open for the warmongers: a way to stifle rising popular dissent by another means. After all, war is not only good for business, it is also an ideal pretext for flushing out unruly dissent, whilst persuading the rest of the masses to rally around the flag and accept a little more hardship.

But who cares, some of you may be thinking, since in almost precisely one year’s time, the world is going to end, or so they say… You’ve seen the movie, right? No, okay – me neither. But you know about the Mayan calendar, I presume, and since when have the Mayans ever been wrong about anything:

“The timewave will culminate on 21 December 2012. At that point novelty on the planet will reach infinity. This would be an endpoint – a time at which anything and everything conceivable to the mind would occur at the same time.”

What do you mean, “who says so?” They say so – the future-seers…

No, I’m not going bonkers! I’m merely quoting from a book entitled “Worldshift 2012: Making Green Business, New Politics & Higher Consciousness Work Together”. Look, it’s a serious book, or so it claims. It has a foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev, and describes itself as “The Club of Budapest’s Handbook of Conscious Change”. The late Václav Havel was an honorary member of the same group, as are Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, not to mention Peter Gabriel and Bianca Jagger. And I’m quoting from Chapter 3: “The 2012 Horizon: The Time in ‘Timely Change’”. It’s all taken from a section on “The 2012 Prophesies”, which closes as follows:

“None of these prophesies and predictions [of impending doom/imminent change] is one hundred percent certain, but in their ensemble they are highly significant. When we also take the time-horizon given by the cross-impact of global trends into account, we get serious grounds for viewing the end of 2012 as a critical point in history, when the fate of humankind could hang in the balance.”5

Don’t you see? – they’re taking “the time-horizon given by the cross-impact of global trends into account”, which is important, right? These guys aren’t mucking around…

Although they do concede a slightly lower than a one hundred percent guaranteed certainty that the end of 2012 will prove to be such a critical point in history, giving us at least a slim chance nothing much will happen (aside the continuing economic meltdown which can only be reversed by currently off-the-table and unfashionable policy changes). And obviously we must hope that all of this rehashed scaremongering about Iran is just another distraction that will fizzle out and be forgotten. Much as, no doubt, the whole ‘End of Days’ doomsday business about 2012 and ‘The Rapture’ (which have somehow been grafted together and used to bewitch Christian fundamentalists across the Bible Belt of America so they regard every new catastrophe as if it were a divine blessing) will quickly be forgotten in a year’s time. If I’m wrong then I’ll humbly eat the smouldering remains of my hat…

And should the insanity of the powers within Washington know no bounds, and, in which case, the balloon really does go up, then Yahoo news probably won’t be alone in carrying the big story. I’m guessing that it’ll read something like this: “Justin Bieber cuts himself shaving on hearing news that World War III has started”. Bless him.

“Justin — is that you in the bathroom again?”

Cartoon courtesy of George Bennett Boswell*.

1 See BBC news article entitled “Blackwater incident: What happened” published December 8, 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7033332.stm

2 From an article entitled “Former Blackwater security firm changes name again, from Xe to Academi, as changes continue”, published in the Washington Post on December 12, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/former-blackwater-security-firm-changes-name-again-from-xe-to-academi-as-changes-continue/2011/12/12/gIQAhyxhpO_story.html

3 See “Iran and the I.A.E.A.” posted by Seymour M. Hersh for The New Yorker on November 18, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2011/11/iran-and-the-iaea.html#ixzz1eNafDh4A

4 See “’They’ll likely send the drone back in pieces’: Dick Cheney rips Obama for failing to act on downed spy plane”, written by Thomas Durante, published in the Daily Mail on December 13, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2073428/Dick-Cheney-rips-Obama-failing-act-downed-US-drone-Iran.html

5 Taken from “Worldshift 2012: Making Green Business, New Politics & Higher Consciousness Work Together”, written by Ervin Laszlo, published in 2009 by Inner Traditions. ISBN 978-1-59477-328-0

*Although based around an idea I suggested, the artwork is entirely the creation of my very talented 11 year-old nephew George.

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Filed under Craig Murray, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jeremy Scahill, Seymour Hersh

12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

*

Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Iraq, Jeremy Scahill, mass surveillance, Pakistan, police state, September 11th, Somalia, Uncategorized, USA

Blackwater militia to work for the UAE

According to the New York Times, the United Arab Emirates has confirmed hiring a company headed by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater. The UAE secretly signed a $529 million contract with Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, or R2, to put together an 800-member battalion of mercenaries:

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said.1

On May 18th, Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, about the new revelations.

In part 1, Amy Goodman asked Scahill to talk about the significance of Erik Prince’s move to the UAE:

“I mean, look, the fact is that one of the major sources of income, and one of the things that the UAE is becoming famous for, is being a playground for the war game globally. Companies that service the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have set up shop there, because of the tax situation, because of its proximity to these war zones. And so, you have massive, massive presence of the U.S. war industry in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And so, for Erik Prince to set up shop there is no surprise. I mean, I know—when I went to Afghanistan late last year, when you’re in the airport in Dubai, it’s journalists, rich Emiratis, or it’s people in transit to Bangladesh or other countries, or it’s the war industry. You see the 18-inch biceps, the wraparound sunglasses. I mean, it really is sort of a gateway to war and a good place to position yourself if you want to make a killing.”

In part 2, Scahill questions the continued use of mercenaries under the Obama administration:

“[Despite] the fact that this Crown Prince can sit with President Obama one day and then be hatching mercenary plots with Erik Prince the next day, is a stunning commentary on how little things have changed from Bush to Obama on this issue of mercenaries.”

Scahill also says:

“I think it’s just a matter of time before we start to see an incursion of special operations contractors going into Libya, if they’re not there already.”

Amy Goodman then asks about the appointment of former attorney general, John Ashcroft, as “chief ethics officer”:

“But, I mean, putting John Ashcroft in charge of ethics at Blackwater is like asking the fox to take care of the baby chicks, you know, on a farm somewhere and hoping everything is going to be fine. I mean, he’s going to devour the very idea of ethics. If you look at his track record when he was attorney general, I mean, this is not an ethical man and not anyone that has any business overseeing the ethics of a notorious mercenary firm.”

Scahill believes that Prince sees himself as “a Christian crusader whose role in the world is wiping out Muslims and Islam in general”:

“We can look at documents submitted in federal court cases from Prince’s own former employees, who say that he is—he views himself as a Christian crusader whose role in the world is wiping out Muslims and Islam in general. They said that he set a tone at Blackwater that rewarded the taking of Muslim life, viewed the operations in Iraq as, quote, ‘payback for 9/11’, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11…”

“It’s very dangerous, Amy, when you have these kinds of forces in such volatile environments, with all of the uprisings happening. The last thing that region needs is a Christian crusader force [there will be no Muslims in the new militia] that appears to have the legitimacy or backing of the United States government, regardless of if it actually does. You know, it’s incendiary, and it’s just—it’s dousing an already burning fire with gasoline. And it’s very, very dangerous. The Obama administration, if they’re not supporting this, they need to do something about it. If they are, well, then that’s serious, and they need to answer questions about what on earth they’re doing continuing this business with Erik Prince’s Christian crusader force.”

For further background on Erik Prince and Blackwater, I also recommend this earlier Democracy Now! interview with Scahill, in which he explains how the “Rumsfeld Doctrine” (first outlined on September 10th 2001) really set the ball rolling for the privatisation of the US military:

1 From an article entitled “Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder”, by Mark Mazzetti and Emily B. Hager, published on May 14th 2011 in The New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html

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Jeremy Scahill provides analysis on Yemen and Libya

Jeremy Scahill talking yesterday with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

As Mass Uprising Threatens the Saleh Regime, a Look at the Covert U.S. War in Yemen.

The crisis in Yemen is growing following high-level defections from the regime of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Monday, a dozen top military leaders announced their pledge to protect the protest movement after 45 people were killed and some 350 were wounded when Yemeni forces opened fire on demonstrators in the capital of Sana’a on Friday—after two months of nationwide demonstrations. In recent years, the United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military and security aid to Yemen. “The Obama administration has really escalated the covert war inside of Yemen and has dramatically increased the funding to Yemen’s military, particularly its elite counterterrorism unit, which is trained by U.S. Special Operations Forces,” says Democracy Now! correspondent and independent journalist Jeremy Scahill. “It could get much worse if Ali Abdullah Saleh decides to unleash the U.S.-trained counterterrorist units on his own population.”

“The No-Fly Zone Has Always Been a Recipe for Disaster”: Jeremy Scahill Says Libyan Strategy Has No Endgame. The U.S. and allied air strikes on Libya have entered their fourth day as part of an international effort to enforce a no-fly zone. While the United States is denying it is attempting to assassinate Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, allied forces bombed his compound for the second night in a row. “In Iraq, [the no-fly zone] resulted in a strengthening of Saddam Hussein’s regime… I think that it could end up backfiring in a tremendous way and keeping Gaddafi in power even longer,” says Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent and independent journalist.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Jeremy Scahill, Libya, Uncategorized, Yemen