Archive for Salon

Personalizing civil liberties abuses

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by loonwatch

(cross-posted from Salon)

By Glenn Greenwald

It’s sometimes easy — too easy — to think, talk or write about the assault on civil liberties in the United States, and related injustices, and conceive of them as abstractions. Two weeks ago, the Editorial Page Editor of The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, wrote that ever since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has created “what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims.” That should be an extraordinary observation: creating a radically different — and more oppressive — set of rules, laws and punishments for a class of people in the United States based on their religious affiliation is a disgrace of historic proportion. Yet here we have someone occupying one of the most establishment media positions in the country matter-of-factly observing that this is exactly the state of affairs that exists on American soil, and it prompts little notice, let alone protest.

There are many factors accounting for the willingness to tolerate, or even approve of, this systematic persecution, most of which I’ve written about before. But one important reason I want to highlight here is that — as is true of America’s related posture of endless wars — its victims, by design, are so rarely heard from. As is true for most groups of humans who remain hidden, they are therefore easily demonized. This invisibility also means that even those who object in principle to what is being done have difficulty apprehending in a visceral way the devastation that is wreaked in the lives of these human beings who have done nothing wrong. Their absence from our discourse can confine one’s understanding of these issues to the theoretical realm, and thus limit one’s ability to truly care.

I spent the last week traveling to several cities where, without planning to do so, I met dozens of people whose lives have been seriously impeded or fully wrecked by the abuses carried out in the name of the War on Terror. This happens whenever I travel to speak at events, and it’s one of the reasons I do it. Meeting such people isn’t the reason for my travel. These meetings usually are unplanned. But the decade-long abuses carried out in the post-9/11 era are so pervasive, so systematized, that no matter what city I visit, it’s very common for me to end up meeting people — usually though not always Muslims — whose lives have been unjustly and severely harmed by these state actions. And it’s not only the targeted individuals themselves, but entire communities of people, whose lives are substantially damaged. Being able to meet and speak with people directly affected personalizes the issues for me that are most frequently written about here, and so I want to describe several of those encounters I had just in the last week.

* * * * *

On Thursday, I was in Ottawa to speak at St. Paul University on civil liberties, secrecy and militarism as it affects the U.S. and Canada. Ottawa happens to be the long-time home of Maher Arar. Arar is the Canadian-Syrian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government (with the help of Canada) in September, 2002, at JFK Airport, when he was about to board a connecting flight back home to Ottawa after a vacation. After being held for two weeks in solitary confinement and denied access to a lawyer by the U.S., they “rendered” him not back to his home in Canada, but to Syria (where he hadn’t lived for 15 years). He was imprisoned in Syria for the next year, ten months of which was in extreme solitary confinement. As the U.S. knew would happen, he was continuously interrogated, beaten and tortured. Because (as everyone now admits) Arar had no involvement of any kind with Terrorism, he had nothing to tell his Syrian captors, which caused them to beat him ever more harshly. Once even the Syrians concluded that he was innocent, they released him back to Canada.

While the Canadian government publicly accounted for its role in this travesty, apologized to Arar, and paid him a substantial monetary sum for what was done to him, all of Arar’s efforts to obtain justice from the U.S. Government in American courts have been denied. The Bush and the Obama DOJ both insisted that allowing Arar’s claims to be heard in a U.S. court would risk disclosure of vital “state secrets,” and American federal judges — as they almost always do in cases involving Muslim defendants — meekly complied with the government’s directives. Arar continues to be banned from entering the U.S., thus ensuring he cannot travel to this country to speak about what was done to him.

When I met with him, Arar explained to me the lingering effects of being snatched away from your own life for no reason and being shipped halfway across the world to be brutalized and tortured without any charges of any kind and without any end in sight. At the time that happened, Arar was working as an engineer — he has a Masters degree in engineering from the University of Quebec — and he lived with his wife, a Ph.D in Finance who works as a college professor, along with their two small children. His wife, Monia Mazigh, wrote an incredibly moving book about the devastation this “rendition” wreaked on their lives and her battle to free him.

Since then, the stigma of what happened to him follows him wherever he goes. He found it difficult to resume his engineering career. He was reluctant to speak in any detailed way, but was clear that this horrific experience, even nine years later, affects him emotionally and psychologically in all sorts of profound ways. He spends most of his time working on an excellent online political journal he founded in 2010, Prism Magazine, where he and a group of writers report and comment on civil liberties and foreign policy.

He’s extremely smart, knowledgeable, articulate, passionate and engaged. He attempts to direct the anger over what was done to him into constructive causes: in particular, using his platform to highlight the dangers of untrammeled government power and the ongoing erosion of core liberties in the name of Terrorism. But it’s not hard to see that the severe abuse he suffered at the cooperative hands of the U.S., Canadian and Syrian governments — the complete loss of one’s sense of security from being arbitrarily snatched out of one’s life by unaccountable forces which, in the case of the U.S., continue to view him as some sort of threat — will be a central part of his identity and internal life probably forever.

* * * * *

On Saturday, I was at the University of Chicago for an event to discuss humanitarian intervention and empire. One of my fellow speakers was Tariq Ramadan, the highly regarded Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford. He’s one of the world’s most accomplished scholars in his field. For almost six years — from 2004 until 2010 — Ramadan was banned from entering the U.S. In 2004, he had accepted a tenured position at Notre Dame University, but was forced to resign it when, nine days before he was to move with his family to Indiana, his visa was suddenly revoked by the State Department pursuant to the “ideological exclusion” provision of the PATRIOT Act. Ramadan had been an outspoken critic of violence carried out by Muslims against civilians in the name of the Koran, as well a vigorous opponent of violence carried out by the U.S. Government in the Muslim world; for the latter act, he was accused by the U.S. Government, with no charges or trial, of being a Terrorist sympathizer and a threat to national security. Only once the ACLU sued for years on his behalf and the State Department was ordered by a federal court to more fully justify the exclusion in 2010 was he granted a visa. After years of living with the cloud of “Terrorist sympathizer” over his head, he is now finally able to enter the U.S. again to speak and attend academic conferences.

One of the sponsors of that University of Chicago event was the school’s Muslim Students Association, and one of the undergraduate student leaders of that group is Ali Al-Arian. Ali is the son of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian whose ongoing persecution by the U.S. Government is one of the most repellent and unjust of any in the post-9/11 era. I can’t begin to convey all or even most of the extreme injustices that have been imposed on him.

In 2003, while working as an engineering professor at the University of South Florida, he was indicted by the Ashcroft DOJ on multiple counts of “material support for Terrorism.” Al-Arian was an outspoken advocate for Palestinians and a steadfast opponent of the Israeli occupation. The U.S. government had been monitoring all of his telephone communications for more than a full decade, yet obtained no evidence that he was involved in any way in plotting any sort of violence. The indictment was all based on his alleged support for Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group that has nothing to do with the U.S. or Americans, but is instead focused exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. While awaiting his trial, he was held for almost three years in extreme solitary confinement.

When his trial finally took place in 2006, the government’s evidence against him consisted almost entirely of his speeches, the list of books he read, the websites he visited, the magazines he edited, the rallies he attended: in sum, the U.S. Government — as it so often does with Muslims — tried to prosecute him as a Terrorist by virtue of his political views and activities. Even with a judge extremely hostile to his defense, the Central Florida jury acquitted him on half of the counts, and deadlocked on the other half (10 out of 12 jurors wanted to acquit him on all charges). This was one of the very, very few times a Muslim in the U.S. has been acquitted when accused of Terrorism. Rather than be subjected to a new trial that could send him to prison for life, he pled guilty to a single count of “contributing services” for the benefit of a designated Terrorist group (far, far less than what is being provided right this moment by a glittering bipartisan cast of Washington officials to the MEK, also a designated Terrorist group). In an extremely unusual move, the federal judge presiding over the case disregarded the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations and sentenced him to a longer prison term than what the plea agreement called for: the maximum permitted by law.

That prison sentence was to end in 2007, after which he would be deported. Yet al-Arian was never released from prison. He continues, nine years later, to be denied his liberty by the U.S. Government, with no end in sight. Shortly before he was to be released and deported, he was subpoenaed to testify in a separate criminal case — one involving an Islamic think tank in Northern Virginia — by Gordon Kromberg, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia who is notorious for his bigoted anti-Islamic zealotry. Fearful that any testimony he gave would be seized on by Kromberg to prosecute him again, al-Arian refused to testify, and was then imprisoned on civil contempt charges for the maximum 18-month period permitted by law. Once that 18-month period ended, Kromberg, in 2008, indicted him on criminal contempt charges.

In response to this new criminal indictment, al-Arian’s lawyers, in 2009, asked the federal district judge to dismiss the criminal indictment. While the motion was pending, the judge ordered him confined to house arrest. That was 3 years ago. But the judge has simply never decided the motion. It just sits there, for years now, undecided. And al-Arian thus continues to be confined to house arrest, not permitted to leave without express permission of the court, which is rarely granted (he has left his small apartment only twice in the last 3 years, to attend the weddings of his two daughters). In the meantime, the criminal case for which he was subpoeaned to testify has been dismissed. But no matter. Al-Arian is in a frozen zone: denied his most basic liberties but without any ability to contest the charges against him. He’s now been imprisoned in one form or another since 2003, all stemming from extremely dubious charges that the U.S. Government, less than two years after the 9/11 attack, could not even get a Central Florida jury — with a very hostile judge — to convict him on. In reality, al-Arian has been persecuted for one reason only: because he’s a Palestinian activist highly critical of the four-decade brutal Israeli occupation.

It was al-Arian’s son, Ali, who drove me back to my hotel after the University of Chicago event was concluded. He recounted the harrowing details of his father’s plight, much of which I knew, but also explained, in stoic though very affecting tones, the ways in which the lives not only of his father but also his own and his brothers and sisters have been torn asunder by the ongoing persecution taking place. Dr. al-Arian’s five college-age children, all highly accomplished and educated in their own right, have worked steadfastly on the injustices to which their father is still being subjected, but there’s little they can do: each time it appears that his plight will finally be over, the U.S. Government concocts a new process to ensure that he remains a prisoner.

* * * * *

Last night, I spoke in Washington at the annual event for the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, a group formed in late 2010 to work against these Terrorism-justified travesties that are now embedded in the American judicial system. Seated at my table was James Yee, the Muslim chaplin at Guantanamo who complained in 2003 about the treatment of detainees, and shortly thereafter was arrested, charged with sedition and espionage, and held in intense solitary confinement: in other words, subjected to the very same treatment as the Guantanano detainees to whom he had been ministering. Ultimately, the U.S. military decided to suddenly drop all charges against him, though to date has never apologized for what was done to him. He described the ongoing psychological harm from this ordeal, and the battery of medication needed to treat it. Adorning the wall of the event was an exhibit showing the names of dozens of people — mostly, though not all, Muslims — who have been prosecuted overwhelmingly due to their political views, not because of any violent acts they undertook. For the entire three-hour event, a Muslim male dressed in an orange jump suit sat alone in a tiny makeshift cell at the front of the room as a reminder of the hundreds of prisoners, held in indescribably oppressive conditions, who have been prosecuted “pre-emptively” in the post-9/11 era: due to their political beliefs.

On the afternoon before the event, I met with Gulet Mohamed’s brother, Liban. Gulet is the Somali-American who last year, at the age of 19, was detained in Kuwait at the behest of the U.S. Government, beaten and tortured while interrogated, and then blocked from returning home to the U.S. I still vividly recall, as though it were yesterday, calling Gulet on his illicitly obtained cell phone while he was in Kuwaiti detention and hearing the extreme levels of fear and confusion in his voice over why this was happening to him. His brother described to me the numerous ways that Gulet continues to be affected by that experience: all ones you would expect if you put yourself in the position of being 19 years old and having that happen to you. I then had the pleasure to meet Gulet himself at the event that evening, and he appears to be a normal now-20-year-old — except that he was detained without charges and beaten and tortured at the behest of his own government.

In both Chicago and Washington, I also spoke with several people, all American Muslims, who have been placed by the U.S. Government on its no-fly list. That means they are barred from boarding an airplane. None has been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime. They were never notified that they were being placed on the list. They learned of it when they tried to fly and were denied boarding at the airport. They are unable to obtain any explanation for why they have been so barred. They have no idea who made the decision to place them on this list, what the basis was for that decision, or when they might be removed. For many of them, it means they cannot visit family members in other countries. They have simply been decreed as Security Threats by their own government with no explanation or transparency of any kind, and have no recourse to challenge the designation.

Those I spoke with were unwilling, at least for now, to speak out publicly by name out of fear that the U.S. Government will retaliate against them if they do. This fear is well-grounded given how many Muslims who have protested the government’s treatment of them have ended up being accused of unrelated crimes, or have had close family members similarly targeted. Just this week, a Pittsburgh resident, Kalifah Al-Akili, was scheduled to hold a press conference to complain that the FBI had introduced a dangerous and unstable person into his life in order to entrap him into joining an FBI-created Terrorist plot; once al-Akili refused, and sought to complain publicly, the FBI — on the day before he was to hold his Press Conference — arrested him on a completely unrelated and old firearm violation, thus ensuring his silence.

Then there’s the systematic infiltration of American Muslim communities, mosques and other groups by the U.S. Government. Just today, the Associated Press won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for exposing the pernicious surveillance program of the NYPD aimed at Muslims suspected of no wrongdoing whatsoever (except for being Muslim). Also today, The Washington Post has a very good article detailing the FBI’s chronic use of informants to target young Muslims and use every conceivable inducement — money, psychological manipulation, peer pressure — to cajole them into joining the FBI’s manufactured Terrorist plots. This is all done so that the FBI can swoop in at the last minute, praise themselves for stopping a Terror attack, keep fear levels among the American population high, and then send the targeted Muslim to prison for decades (and not just any prison, but usually to the uber-repressive wing at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana — “GITMO North” — a living, inhumane hell). The federal judge who presided over the most recent of these FBI-concocted cases — the tough-on-crime, former federal prosecutor Colleen McMahon — said in open court: “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition.”

This constant government surveillance, infiltration, and use of informants — many who are paid large sums of money by the FBI and who themselves have a history of violent behavior and lying — predictably create extreme levels of fear and suspicion in American Muslim communities. They are instantly suspicious of any new person they meet. Because so many of these prosecutions have relied on the political statements and views of the accused Terrorist supporters, they are petrified to express their views about American foreign policy, let alone to engage in meaningful activism around those views. They fear speaking out when they are targeted or otherwise victimized by state injustices.

* * * * *

In sum, these are American citizens whom the rest of us have allowed to be subject to such an intense, limitless climate of fear and intimidation that any Constitutional guarantees are purely illusory for them. And they know it: they know that if the U.S. Government acts unjustly against them — if government agents even utter the word Terrorist in their direction — huge numbers of their fellow citizens will automatically assume that there must be some justification for the accusations. As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum recently explained, he simply assumes that when the Obama administration accuses someone of involvement in Terrorism that there must be some solid basis for the accusation — even if they don’t reveal what that basis is — because President Obama is too good of a person to be involved in the baseless, bad faith punishment of someone on Terrorism allegations.

Many of the Muslims with whom I spoke know that many of their fellow citizens — the ones who are never subjected to these abuses — “reason” in a similar manner. Most are wallowing in the authoritarian assumption that the U.S. Government, while not infallible, is well-motivated and honest. Many Muslims thus know that they will stand almost entirely vulnerable if they are so targeted; few others will object or even care. That the Obama administration — in concert with Peter King — has been repeatedly insistingthat the primary threat is now “homegrown Terrorism,” and has thus been importing War on Terror framework onto U.S. soil, means that citizenship is no longer any shield from even the most egregious abuses. So they are afraid, and are tempted to avoid doing anything, including exercising their most basic rights of free speech and assembly, to avoid attracting attention.

As is always the case, the government abuses justified in the name of Terrorism have expanded far beyond the Muslim community to which they were first applied. Domestic peace activists have been targeted by abusive applications of the Patriot Act; American advocates of WikiLeaks have been legally harassed in all sorts of ways; and just last week I detailed the persecution of filmmaker Laura Poitras for the crime of producing documentaries that reflect poorly on U.S. policy.

But American Muslims have borne the brunt of these assaults for a full decade now, and — more than a full decade after 9/11 — continue to bear them in increasingly oppressive ways. And it’s worthwhile, really necessary, to be reminded of the very personal ways that these actions harm the lives of innocent human beings. Blame undoubtedly lies first and foremost with the U.S. Government for perpetrating these attacks. But it lies as well with the American citizenry that — convinced that they will not be affected — permits and even cheers them.

Glenn Greenwald: When Killer is One of Us, We Find Excuses

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by loonwatch

In this Aug. 23, 2011 Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.  (Credit: AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

In this Aug. 23, 2011 Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. (Credit: AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

Discussing the motives of the Afghan shooter

(Salon.com)

Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivated U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales on March 11 to allegedly kill 16 Afghans, including nine children:

† He was drunk.

† He was experiencing financial stress.

† He was passed over for a promotion.

† He had a traumatic brain injury.

† He had marital problems.

† He suffered from the stresses of four tours of duty.

† He saw his buddy’s leg blown off the day before the massacre.

Et cetera.

Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivates Muslims to kill Americans: they are primitive, fanatically religious, hateful Terrorists.

Even when Muslims who engage in such acts toward Americans clearlyand repeatedly explain that they did it in response to American acts of domination, aggression, violence and civilian-killing in their countries, and even when the violence is confined to soldiers who are part of a foreign army that has invaded and occupied their country, the only cognizable motive is one of primitive, hateful evil. It is an act of Evil Terrorism, and that is all there is to say about it.

Note, too, that in the case of Sgt. Bales (or any other cases of American violence against Muslims), people have little difficulty understanding the distinction between (a) discussing and trying to understand the underlying motives of the act (causation) and (b) defending the act (justification). But that same distinction completely evaporates when it comes to Muslim violence against Americans. Those who attempt to understand or explain the act — they’re responding to American violence in their country; they are traumatized and angry at the continuous deaths of Muslim children and innocent adults; they’ve calculated that striking at Americans is the ony way to deter further American aggression in their part of the world — are immediately accused of mitigating, justifying or even defending Terrorism.

There is, quite obviously, a desperate need to believe that when an American engages in acts of violence of this type (meaning: as a deviation from formal American policy), there must be some underlying mental or emotional cause that makes it sensible, something other than an act of pure hatred or Evil. When a Muslim engages in acts of violence against Americans, there is an equally desperate need to believe the opposite: that this is yet another manifestation of inscrutable hatred and Evil, and any discussion of any other causes must be prohibited and ignored.

* * * * *

I’ll be speaking at several events over the next few weeks. For now, I’ll note two: (1) this Thursday, March 22, in Philadelphia, I’ll be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, at 5:00 pm, on “Endless War and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in the Age of Terrorism”; it is free and open the public, and event information is here(2) on Thursday, April 12, in Ottawa, Canada, at 7:00 pm, I’ll be speaking at an event coordinated by long-time commenter Bill Owen, and in attendance will be the heroicMaher Arar; ticket and event information is here. Over the next few weeks, I’ll also be speaking in Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C. and will post details as those dates approach. Finally, this Friday night, I’ll be on Real Time with Bill Maher.

 

UPDATE: From today’s issue of Reader’s Express, the Washington Post‘s publication for Metro riders:

Can you even imagine what would happen to someone who wrote or published an article like this about a Muslim killer of Americans?

 

UPDATE II: I have an Op-Ed in The Guardian today about the removal by the U.S. military of the accused shooter from Afghanistan.

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Qur’an Burning: The causes of the protests in Afghanistan

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Media, Loon Politics with tags , , , on February 28, 2012 by loonwatch
Afghan ProtestersAfghans carry a protester injured during an anti-U.S. demonstration in the northern city of Kunduz. (Ezatullah Pamir, Associated Press)

More than 30 people have been killed in the violence that erupted after American personnel burned Qur’ans on a US air base in Afghanistan.

In the wake of the protests, many are asking, “Why are Afghan Muslims so angry over burning the Qur’an?

After all, it’s just a book! Why would Muslims get violent over it!?! 

Glenn Greenwald explains why misleading media coverage leaves the public with a false impression.

The causes of the protests in Afghanistan

by Glenn Greenwald, Salon

(H/T: Saladdin)

Most American media accounts and commentary about the ongoing violent anti-American protests in Afghanistan depict their principal cause as anger over the burning of Korans (it’s just a book: why would people get violent over it?) — except that Afghans themselves keep saying things like this:

Protesters in Kabul interviewed on the road and in front of Parliament said that this was not the first time that Americans had violated Afghan cultural and religious traditions and that an apology was not enough.

This is not just about dishonoring the Koran, it is about disrespecting our dead and killing our children,” said Maruf Hotak, 60, a man who joined the crowd on the outskirts of Kabul, referring to an episode in Helmand Province when American Marines urinated on the dead bodies of men they described as insurgents and to a recent erroneous airstrike on civilians in Kapisa Province that killed eight young Afghans.

“They always admit their mistakes,” he said. “They burn our Koran and then they apologize. You can’t just disrespect our holy book and kill our innocent children and make a small apology.”

And:

Members of Parliament called on Afghans to take up arms against the American military, and Western officials said they feared that conservative mullahs might incite more violence at the weekly Friday Prayer, when a large number of people worship at mosques.

Americans are invaders, and jihad against Americans is an obligation,” said Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a member of Parliament from the Ghorband district in Parwan Province, where at least four demonstrators were killed in confrontations with the police on Wednesday.

The U.S. has violently occupied their country for more than a decade. It has, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself explained, killed what he called an “amazing number” of innocent Afghans in checkpoint shootings. It has repeatedly — as in, over and over — killed young Afghan children in air strikes. It continues to imprison their citizens for years at Bagram and other American bases without charges of any kind and with credible reports of torture and other serious abuses. Soldiers deliberately shot Afghan civilians for fun and urinated on their corpses and displayed them as trophies.

Meanwhile, the protesters themselves continue to be shot, although most American media accounts favor sentences like these which whitewash who is doing the killing: “running clashes with the police that claimed the lives of another five Afghan protesters” and “in Nangarhar Province, two Afghans protesting the Koran burning were shot to deathoutside an American base in Khogyani District” and “protesters angry over the burning of Korans at the largest American base in Afghanistan this week took to the streets in demonstrations in a half-dozen provinces on Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many more injured.”Left at least seven dead: as As’ad AbuKhalil observed, “notice that there is no killer in the phrasing.”

It’s comforting to believe that these violent protests and the obviously intense anti-American rage driving them is primarily about anger over the inadvertent burning of some religious books: that way, we can dismiss the rage as primitive and irrational and see the American targets as victims. But the Afghans themselves are making clear that this latest episode is but the trigger for — the latest symbol of — a pile of long-standing, underlying grievances about a decade-old, extremely violent foreign military presence in their country. It’s much more difficult to dismiss those grievances as the by-product of primitive religious fanaticism, so — as usual — they just get ignored.

UPDATE: Beyond all these points, it’s perversely fascinating to watch all of this condescension — it’s just a book: who cares if it’s burned?  – pouring forth from a country whose political leaders were eager to enact a federal law or even a Constutional amendment to make it a criminal offense to burn the American flag (which, using this parlance, is “just a piece of cloth”). In fact, before the Supreme Court struck down such statutes as unconstitutional in 1989 by a 5-4 vote, it was a crime in 48 states in the nation to burn the flag. Here is what Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in dissent about why the Constitution permits the criminalization of flag burning (emphasis added):

The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another “idea” or “point of view” competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence, regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have.

Might one say the same for Muslims and the Koran? Along those lines, just imagine what would happen if a Muslim army invaded the U.S., violently occupied the country for more than a decade, in the process continuously killing American children and innocent adults, and then, outside of a prison camp it maintained where thousands of Americans were detained for years without charges and tortured, that Muslim army burned American flags — or a stack of bibles — in a garbage dump. Might we see some extremely angry protests breaking out from Americans against them? Would American pundits be denouncing those protesters as blinkered, primitive fanatics?

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.More Glenn Greenwald

New York Times Article Understates How Overstated Islamic Terrorism Threat Really Is

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2012 by loonwatch

The New York Times recently reported on a study that showed how exaggerated the threat of “Islamic” terrorism is–how “Radical Muslim Americans Pose Little Threat.”  The article is a good one, but in fact, it doesn’t adequately convey how truly minuscule the threat is.  I’ll reproduce the article below and then briefly recount why Americans (and Europeans) shouldn’t fear Islamic terrorism at all:

Radical U.S. Muslims Little Threat, Study Says

WASHINGTON — A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

The report also found that no single ethnic group predominated among Muslims charged in terrorism cases last year — six were of Arab ancestry, five were white, three were African-American and two were Iranian, Mr. Kurzman said. That pattern of ethnic diversity has held for those arrested since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

Forty percent of those charged in 2011 were converts to Islam, Mr. Kurzman found, slightly higher than the 35 percent of those charged since the 2001 attacks. His new report is based on the continuation of research he conducted for a book he published last year, “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists.”

The decline in cases since 2009 has come as a relief to law enforcement and counterterrorism officials. In that year, the authorities were surprised by a series of terrorist plots or attacks, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam, Maj. Nidal Hasan.

The upsurge in domestic plots two years ago prompted some scholars of violent extremism to question the conventional wisdom that Muslims in the United States, with higher levels of education and income than the average American, were not susceptible to the message of Al Qaeda.

Concerns grew after the May 2010 arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen, for trying to blow up a sport utility vehicle in Times Square. Mr. Shahzad had worked as a financial analyst and seemed thoroughly assimilated. In a dramatic courtroom speech after pleading guilty, he blamed American military action in Muslim countries for his militancy.

The string of cases fueled wide and often contentious discussion of the danger of radicalization among American Muslims, including Congressional hearings led by Representative Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

But the number of cases declined, returning to the rough average of about 20 Muslim Americans accused of extremist violence per year that has prevailed since the 2001 attacks, with 193 people in that category over the decade. By Mr. Kurzman’s count, 462 other Muslim Americans have been charged since 2001 for nonviolent crimes in support of terrorism, including financing and making false statements.

The 2011 cases include just one actual series of attacks, which caused no injuries, involving rifle shots fired late at night at military buildings in Northern Virginia. A former Marine Corps reservist, Yonathan Melaku, pleaded guilty in the case last month in an agreement that calls for a 25-year prison sentence.

Other plots unearthed by law enforcement last year and listed in Mr. Kurzman’s report included a suspected Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a scheme to attack a Shiite mosque in Michigan and another to blow up synagogues, churches and the Empire State Building.

“Fortunately, very few of these people are competent and very few get to the stage of preparing an attack without coming to the attention of the authorities,” Mr. Kurzman said.

Here are some key points that the article could have included to have truly conveyed how absolutely minuscule the threat of Islamic terrorism is to Americans (and Europeans):

1.  According to the FBI’s own database (available from 1980-2005), less than 6% of terrorist attacks in America were committed by Muslims.

2.  Europol has been documenting terrorism for the last half decade.  Their annual terrorism reports show that less than 1% of terrorism in Europe involves Muslims.

3.  Since 9/11–which was over a decade ago–zero U.S. civilians have been killed by Islamic terrorists.

4.  Similarly, zero European civilians have been killed by Islamic terrorists in the last half decade.  In fact, the only injuries incurred from Islamic terrorism were to a security guard who “was slightly wounded.”  Perhaps the “anti-jihadist” blogosphere should find this one security guard and give him a medal of honor and declare him a martyr for the cause.

Putting this into perspective, you as an American have a much greater chance of being struck or even killed by lightning than being killed by an Islamic terrorist.  Using conservative estimates, at least 300 Americans are struck by lightning every year, and of them, 67 die–way higher than the whopping zero Americans that die every year from Islamic terrorists.

Another way to think of this is that you as an American have a much higher chance of dying from a peanut than an Islamic terrorist: at least 120 Americans die from an allergic reaction to peanuts every year.  Should we wage a War on Peanuts?

The NYT article also fails to mention that many of those people arrested on charges of Islamic terrorism were in fact goaded into terrorism by the FBI, which has a habit of using entrapment as a means to orchestrate–and then foil–its own terrorist plots.  (See Glenn Greenwald’s article: The FBI Thwarts Its Own Terrorist Plot.)  That could explain why the number of arrests for Islamic terrorism do not match up with actual attacks and casualties.

Dr. Charles Kurzman is quoted in the article as saying of the would-be Islamic terrorists: “Fortunately, very few of these people are competent and very few get to the stage of preparing an attack without coming to the attention of the authorities.”  But, it’s not just that they happen to come to the attention of the authorities in the nick of time: it’s the fact that the authorities are the ones who fed them the idea of being terrorists in the first place.  That’s why so “few get to the stage of preparing an attack,” since they are being monitored even before the thought comes to their mind.

Even more worrisome is the fact that the vast majority of Muslims arrested on terrorism-related offenses have been accused of, as the article says, “non-violent crimes in support of terrorism, including financing and making false statements.”  Many of these arrests have been widely criticized by civil rights groups because six-degrees of association are used to incriminate American Muslims.

One other interesting aside: the NYT article mentions the Fort Hood Shooting, which was labeled as an act of Terrorism.  The shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and the Army’s prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.  Hasan’s victims were all soldiers (aside from one, who was part of the U.S. Army Reserves).

Meanwhile, Staff Sargent Frank Wuterich was responsible for butchering 24 Iraqi civilians in what is called the Haditha Massacre: under his command, American soldiers systematically exterminated Muslim civilians, killing them execution-style.  This has been corroborated by eyewitness account, forensic and photographic evidence.  Yet, not only did the Army prosecutor not seek the death penalty for this war crime, but instead charged him with “involuntary manslaughter” and sought a maximum penalty of 90 days in the brig.  Even this Lindsay Lohan-style punishment was dropped in a plea bargain, with Wuterich let off with zero jail time and just a pay cut and demotion.  He didn’t even get fired.  Imagine walking into your job and shooting another employee and not getting fired!

Eight U.S. soldiers were charged for the Haditha Massacre.  Charges were dropped for six of them, and the seventh was acquitted.  Only one, Frank Wuterich, was held to account and all he got was a slap on the wrist: a pay cut and demotion.  Meanwhile, when it comes to acts of Islamic terrorism, it’s not just the perpetrators who are sought out and punished, but rather, their financiers, their supposed financiers, those who “harbored” them, those who made “false statements”, those who even gave them a pair of socks to wear or ponchos and raincoats to use, etc. etc.  Whole religions, nations, and civilizations are blamed for such acts.  Countries are bombed because they are held to be responsible.  But, the United States government could not find any responsibility or guilt in the men who actually held guns in their hands as they blasted a couple dozen Iraqi civilians–men, women, and children–to death.

Haditha Massacre

Imagine the comparison between these two men: Hasan is a Muslim and is therefore a Terrorist, even though he only acted against soldiers.  Meanwhile, nobody in the media (or anywhere for that matter) has called Wuterich a Terrorist, even though he slaughtered civilians.  Wuterich committed this act of terrorism ”negligent dereliction of duty” (that’s the euphemism we use to refer to the butchering of 24 Muslim civilians) as a retaliation for the killing of an American soldier (a soldier who was on Iraqi soil and part of an occupying force) by an IED.  If Hasan had killed 24 American civilians in Meriden, Connecticut (Wuterich’s home city) in retaliation for the death of a Muslim civilian from a U.S. drone strike, would anybody be calling this anything other than Terrorism?  Had that been the case, the right-wing and the media would be on a continuous spin cycle talking about how Evil and Dangerous those Moozlums are.   Muslims would be bending over backwards issuing apology after apology and uttering the mandatory serial condemnations of Terrorism.

A friend emailed me a comment made on Facebook by someone in the U.S. military, who said (in defense of Frank Wuterich):

Is it hard for me to believe that a human being lost his mind at the sight of the man fighting to his left being blown to pieces? No. It absolutely is not.

Why is it then so hard for you to believe that a human being lost his mind at the sight of seeing his entire family, neighborhood, village, and country being blown to bits by Americans (or Israelis)?  That he would then want to retaliate by killing Americans (or Israelis) just as Wuterich took his vengeance out on Iraqi civilians?  Palestinians have had their entire villages wiped off the face of the earth, yet I do not think this person (or the average American) would be so forgiving when that Palestinian would then take it out on Israelis.

Nidal Hasan, a Muslim, killed 13 soldiers on a U.S. military base, whom he specifically targeted because they were about to be dispatched to join an occupation force in Iraq and Afghanistan, two Muslim countries that have been savaged by the United States.   Meanwhile, Frank Wuterich was part of an occupying force and killed 24 Muslim civilians–civilians in a country that was occupied and savaged by the United States.  The former is an act of Terrorism; the latter is “negligent dereliction of duty.”  If you’re a Muslim, then it’s Terrorism; if you’re fighting Muslims, then at most it’s “negligent dereliction of duty.”

This is, as Glenn Greenwald always says, the true definition of the word “Terrorist”:

It means:  anyone — especially of the Muslim religion and/or Arab nationality — who fights against the United States and its allies or tries to impede their will.  That’s what “Terrorism” is; that’s all it means.

I’ve been inspired by an image I saw here to create this image to properly depict the situation:

Wuterich killed 24 Iraqi civilians in retaliation for one U.S. soldier being killed (a soldier, mind you, who was part of an occupying force on Iraqi soil).  Why are we so amazed at how primitive and backwards those Muslims are when they get angry about the over one million civilians we have killed of theirs?

Hasan’s act of violence is troublesome from a moral point of view because it occurred on U.S. soil, but Greenwald points to an example that occurred on Iraqi soil: this is the case of Faruq Khalil Muhammad Isa, an Iraqi born man who was officially accused of “Terrorism” for “the Murder of Five American Soldiers” on Iraqi soil.  Greenwald notes:

Isa is charged with “providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy” because he allegedly supported a 2008 attack on a U.S. military base in Mosul that killed 5 American soldiers. In other words, if the U.S. invades and occupies your country, and you respond by fighting back against the invading army — the ultimate definition of a “military, not civilian target” — then you are a . . . Terrorist.

Putting that in graphic form, we have:

Were the civilians of Haditha not “terrorized” by Frank Wuterich and his men?  Wasn’t that exactly the point of the massacre: to terrorize the Iraqi population to the point where they would no longer resist American soldiers?  Were the Muslim civilians killed in Haditha any less in a state of terror–terrorized–than the soldiers on the Fort Hood base?

One last point: the NYT’s article fails to make the logical conclusion: it’s not enough to say that the threat of Islamic terrorism is overblown.  Rather, the real question is why it is so: it’s to justify our many wars in the Muslim world and our occupations of their lands.  It’s war propaganda.

Addendum I:  

I would like to apologize for comparing Lindsay Lohan to Frank Wuterich: prosecutors sought much longer jail sentences on her than him, and she spent more time in jail than he did.  Does anyone want to create a side-by-side image comparison of Lohan and Wuterich?  I’ll update the article and put it up if it’s worthy enough.

Update I:

Here’s another “fun” graphic I just created:

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Glenn Greenwald: The Growing Iranian Military Behemoth

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 4, 2012 by loonwatch

Even as the United States threatens to invade Iran, you must always remember: Iranians/Muslims are the violent, aggressive, and warlike ones.

The growing Iranian military behemoth

By Glenn Greenwald

The tranquility of my Saturday morning was disrupted — and that’s putting it mildly — when I read on Glenn Reynolds’ popular right-wing “Instapundit” blog that we can learn important “Lessons About Iran From Hitler.” To know that we have yet another New Hitler in our midst is alarming indeed. Reynolds’ link takes one to an even more jarring warning about the Persian menace, by David Goldman, that extensively compares the fallen Nazi leader to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and argues that because both figures are maniacal monsters presiding over a dying nation, only a full-scale military attack can stop them. ”However much it costs in Iranian blood and well-being, it’s still worth it,” Goldman casually decrees.

Sociopathic calls for aggressive attacks on other nations and cheap invocations of Hitler are not worth commenting on: neocons churn those out reflexively. But what is worth noting is the event Goldman is flagging as proof of Iran’s aggressive intentions: “Iran is planning to double its defense budget even though its currency is collapsing,” he warns. A doubling of its defense budget! Who among us can remain calm in the face of such naked militarism?

That Ahmadinejad claims that Iran will increase its military budget for next year by 127% was widely reported this week. For a variety of reasons relating to Iran’s economic difficulties, that plan is quite infeasible — typical Ahmadinejad blustering — but let’s assume for the moment that it will actually happen. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database, Iran’s total annual military spending is $7 billion; an increase of 127% would take it to $15.8 billion — also known as: less than 2% of total U.S. military spending (which was$698 billion for fiscal year 2010). According to Defense News, Iran’s official military budget for 2011 is actually $12 billion; an increase of 127% would bring it to $27.2 billion, also known as: less than 4% of U.S. military spending. Taking the largest number possible for Iranian military spending (the one provided by Defense News), behold the frightening, Nazi-like military threat Iran poses:

These kinds of scary claims about Iran’s military might have been issuing for years. Back in 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command,announced that Iran has the most powerful military in the Middle East, even though Israel has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons, as many as 200, while Saudi Arabia annually spends almost $60 billion on its military (more than 5 times Iran’s current spending) or “10% of GDP on defence, more than double the proportion spent by America.” Both of those Iranian rivals (Israel and Saudi Arabia), and many others in that region, are recipients of vast amounts of sophisticated military weaponry from the U.S.  Here is a list of 11 extremely sophisticated weapons that the U.S. — and it alone in the world — possesses. And then there’s the fact that the U.S. basically has Iran completely encircled, as demonstrated by this graph from Juan Cole’s blog, showing U.S. military bases near Iran:

As Cole put it: “Each star is a US base. But just to be clear, Iran is the one that is threatening us.” Indeed: imagine if the blue in that map were the U.S. (rather than Iran), and the large red areas were Mexico and Canada (rather than Iran’s neighbors), and the stars represented Iranian military bases. Then further imagine that Iranian political leaders and media figures routinely told their population that it was the U.S. that was an aggressive, threatening power that had to be stopped: the mocking condemnations of that level of propaganda would be endless. Yet American political officials and commentators feel free to insist, with a straight face, that Iran is an aggressor nation posing a serious threat to the U.S.: such a serious threat, in fact, that war may be necessary to stop it. And there is, tragically, little doubt that if there is an attack on Iran by Israel — with direct U.S. involvement or, more likely, U.S. support and approval — there will be little opposition in either American political party, and even less challenge to the ludicrous claims about the Grave Iranian Threat that will be invoked to justify it.

Who are the Victims of Civil Liberties Assaults and Endless War?

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2012 by loonwatch

Opponent of war and advocate of civil liberties  (Credit: AP)

Opponent of war and advocate of civil liberties (Credit: AP)

Who are the victims of civil liberties assaults and Endless War?

BY GLENN GREENWALD

(updated below)

In The Washington Post yesterday, Law Professor Jonathan Turley has an Op-Ed in which he identifies ten major, ongoing assaults on core civil liberties in the U.S. Many of these abuses were accelerated during the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, but all have been vigorously continued and/or expanded by President Obama.  Turley points out that these powers have long been deemed (by the U.S.) as the hallmark of tyranny, and argues that their seizure by the U.S. Government has seriously called into question America’s status as a free nation: “They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian.” All ten of these powers are ones very familiar to readers here: Assassination of U.S. citizens; Indefinite detention; Arbitrary justice; Warrantless searches; Secret evidence; War crimes; Secret court; Immunity from judicial review; Continual monitoring of citizens; and Extraordinary renditions.

I’ve written volumes on all of those powers over the last several years, but — especially today — I want to focus on one narrow but vital question: who are generally the victims of these civil liberties assaults? The answer is the same as the one for this related question: who are the prime victims of America’s posture of Endless War? Overwhelmingly, the victims are racial, ethnic and religious minorities: specifically, Muslims (both American Muslims and foreign nationals). And that is a major factor in why these abuses flourish: because those who dominate American political debates perceive, more or less accurately, that they are not directly endangered (at least for now) by this assault on core freedoms and Endless War (all civil liberties abuses in fact endanger all citizens, as they inevitably spread beyond their original targets, but they generally become institutionalized precisely because those outside the originally targeted minority groups react with indifference).

To see how central a role this sort of selfish provincialism plays in shaping political priorities, just compare (a) the general indifference to Endless War and the massive civil liberties assaults described by Turley (ones largely confined to Muslims)  to (b) the intense outrage and media orgy generated when a much milder form of invasiveness — TSA searches — affected Americans of all backgrounds. The success of Endless War and civil liberties attacks depends on ensuring that the prime victims, at least in the first instance, are marginalized and easily demonizable minorities.

The fundamental interconnectedness between war and civil liberties abuses on the one hand, and the targeting of minorities as part of those policies on the other, is, of course, nothing new. It was most eloquently emphasized in the largely forgotten, deliberately whitewashed 1967 speech about the Vietnam War by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who himself was targeted for years with abusive domestic surveillance by the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover). Dr. King devoted that extraordinary speech generally to the way in which the war in Vietnam was savaging not only the people of that country but also America’s national character. He specifically sought to answer his critics who were objecting that his increasingly strident opposition to the Vietnam War was a distraction from his civil rights work; instead, he insisted, his war opposition and advocacy of civil rights are, in fact, causes that are inextricably linked:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. . . .

It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through [Lyndon Johnson’s] poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such . . . .

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. . . .

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land. . . .

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

King notably added another reason why he felt compelled to prioritize issues of war: “another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission.” As he put it: “ This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.” If only that award were similarly understood today. His essential point was that nothing good could possibly happen in America so long as it continued on its path of warfare and bombing and invading foreign countries, and it was therefore necessary to prioritize protests against the war on at least equal footing with every other issue.

Over the weekend, I recorded a BloggingheadsTV session with The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt in which several of these same themes were discussed; it was a good, civil, constructive discussion, and the video is below. Part of the debate over the last couple weeks among progressives regarding political priorities, the Obama presidency, the Ron Paul candidacy and the like has entailed a litany of accusations — smears — hurled at those of us who insist on the prioritization of issues of war and civil liberties abuses, and who vocally highlight the ways in which the Democratic Party generally and President Obama specifically have been so awful on these matters. Some Democratic loyalists have explicitly argued that contrasting Obama with Ron Paul on these issues is warped because issues of war and civil liberties are, at best, ancillary concerns, while others have gone so far as to claim that only racial and/or gender bias — white male “privilege” — would cause someone to use the Paul candidacy to highlight how odious Obama has been in these areas.

Leaving aside the fact that (as I detail in the discussion with Pollitt),numerous women and people of color have made the same points about the vital benefits of Paul’s candidacy — voices which these accusers tellingly ignore and silence — these accusations are pure projection. Those who were operating from such privilege would not seek to prioritize issues of war and civil liberties; that’s because it isn’t white progressives and their families who are directly harmed by these heinous policies. The opposite is true: it’s very easy, very tempting, for those driven by this type of “privilege” — for non-Muslims in particular– to decide that these issues are not urgent, that Endless War and civil liberties abuses by a President should not be disqualifying or can be tolerated, precisely because these non-Muslim progressive accusers are not acutely affected by them. The kind of “privilege” these accusers raise would cause one to de-prioritize and accept civil liberties abuses, drone slaughter, indefinite detention and the like (i.e, do what they themselves do), not demand that significant attention be paid to them when assessing political choices.

As I noted the other day,  it isn’t white males being indefinitely detained, rendered, and having their houses and cars exploded with drones — the victims of those policies are people like Lakhdar Boumediene, or Gulet Mohamed, or Jose Padilla, or Awal Gul, or Sami al-Haj, or Binyam Mohamed, or Murat Kurnaz, or Afghan villagers, or Pakistani families, or Yemeni teenagers. In order to get the full depth of the oppression and injustice of these ongoing War on Terror policies, one has to do things like listen to this amazing — and tragically rare — interview conducted by Chris Hayes this weekend with Boumediene, as the former GITMO detainee explained in Arabic how his life was devastated by indefinite detention. It’s easy to convince yourself that these abuses are not an urgent priority if, like those above-linked accusers, your non-Muslim privilege (to use their accusatory terminology) enables you to be shielded from their harms.

This is the primary point made so brilliantly by Falguni Sheth, the Political Theory and Philosophy Professor, in arguing that white progressives throwing around these accusations are themselves the ones guilty of it by virtue of their willingness to subordinate these issues to partisan gain — in other words, no longer desiring that these abuses be vested with prime political priority now that it’s their Party and their President guilty of them:

But HERE FOLKS! I am a brown woman (in case my bio didn’t clue you into that), and I am downright livid at policies passed during the Obama administration (which a number of folks will attest that I anticipated before the 2008 election), which are even worse than expected. I am as livid with progressives who affect a casual? studied? indifference to the Administration’s repeated support for warrantless wiretapping (remember Obama’s vote during the 2008 election season when he took a break in campaigning to return to Washington to vote for the renewal of FISA; for his support of the Justice Department’s withholding of evidence (and even habeas corpus) from detainees on grounds of national security; his commitment to indefinite detention (NDAA was not the first time it’s arisen. We saw his support in the gesture to move Gitmo detainees to a federal prison in Illinois—with only a casual suggestion that they might receive civilian trials—only to watch it die quickly under even modest resistance. Guantanamo is still open with detainees languishing); the expansion of troops into Afghanistan in the first part of his term; the unceasing drone attacks in Pakistan, etc. . . .

Here’s my other question: Why does this have to turn into a “guilt by association” debate? Why can’t we discuss the questions that are being raised as serious and important questions, rather than referendums on voters’ or pundits’ moral character? I don’t have to like Ron Paul (and why do we need to LIKE our politicians?). I don’t have to have dinner with him. He doesn’t need to be a friend. He is raising the questions that every other liberal and progressive and feminist (yes, including you, Katha) should be raising and forcing the Democrats to address. As Greenwald has pointed out, these issues only become outrage-worthy when the Republicans are spearheading human rights violations, because it gives the libs and progs a lever by which to claim political superiority. The silence on the Democrats’ record of human rights violations is deafening. And they’re more than cherries on a blighted tree. They’re dead bodies on the blighted conscience of Americans.

As I said the other day, I don’t run around accusing progressives who have different political priorities than I do of being driven by racial and religious bias. I genuinely recognize that there are all sorts of benign and even noble reasons why one might have different political priorities or might even value partisan loyalty more than I do. But there is one thing I know for certain: to smear with this kind of innuendo those insisting on the prioritization of war and civil liberties issues or devoting oneself to these causes is indescribably irrational and reckless. One driven by racial or other forms of privilege would seek to de-prioritize or ignore these issues, not highlight them. Indeed, a primary reason why these fully bipartisan policies of Endless War and civil liberties assaults largely go unchallenged is precisely because their primary victims are anything but privileged. That’s exactly why these issues are not a distraction from the cause of equality; they are an embodiment of it.

* * * * *

On a related note, International Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller reviewsthe debate raised here and elsewhere last week about the murder of Iranian scientists and argues that these acts, definitively and without question, are acts of Terrorism.

Here is the 55-minute discussion I had with Pollitt this weekend, one which, as I indicated, I thought was quite constructive and helpfully illuminated the key points:
ttp://bloggingheads.tv/videos/8737?in=00:00&out=54:55
UPDATE: The always smart Freddie De Boer has some poignant insights on all of this – on progressives, war and civil liberties — that are well worth reading.

The scandal that isn’t on the video

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2012 by loonwatch

I was going to write an article about this topic, but then Prof. Saree Makdisi beat me to it on Salon.  Although I find U.S. Marines urinating on dead Afghans to be morally repugnant, it is not as morally repugnant as the killing of said Afghans.  The desire to distance themselves from the former is born out of the fact that it would hamper doing more of the latter.  It’s bad publicity and takes away from the very important work of killing, bombing, and occupying Afghans.

The scandal that isn’t on the video

Is it worse to desecrate a few corpses than to mass produce a lot of them?

BY SAREE MAKDISI

The United States and its allies were quick to go into damage control mode to try to contain the political and diplomatic fallout from a video posted on YouTube apparently showing US Marines urinating on the mangled corpses of dead Afghans,

A Pentagon spokesman, Captain John Kirby, told CNN: “Regardless of the circumstances or who is in the video, this is egregious, disgusting behavior. It’s hideous. It turned my stomach.”  Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed.“This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms.”.

It ought to go without saying that urinating on  corpses, whether of Taliban fighters or Afghan civilians (or any one else for that matter), is disrespectful and degrading and ought to be condemned. What is interesting, and somewhat unsettling, about the outpouring of sentiment following this new scandal, however, is that it raises more questions than it answers.

Isn’t it odd, for example, that there seems to be more concern about urinating on these bodies than there is about the actual killing that transformed them from living human beings to splayed-out corpses in the first place? Is it really possible that peeing on dead bodies is seen as horrific, but killing people is perfectly acceptable? Isn’t something missing from this picture?

This seems an especially pressing question given that much of the US military (and related CIA) effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan so often seems to involve simply killing—or, to use the rather more circumspect military term, “degrading”—as many militants as possible, not necessarily in actual combat operations, but by twos and threes and tens and dozens, in bombings and air raids and drone attacks, as they sleep or drive or eat or pray or brush their teeth. Day after day we read reports of 8 militants being killed here, 5 being killed there , and 6 somewhere else. It is as though the earth keeps vomiting forth “militants,” who then simply need to be mown down like so much vermin in a “war” reduced to its lowest common denominator—killing for the sake of killing, without any kind of strategic aim or vision or logic, much less a sense of when it might end.

Sure, every now and then someone (very rightly) raises a question about how many civilians are being killed in air raids or drone attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan; not that it makes any difference. There is even the occasional report about the “vast drone/killing operation” being conducted by the Obama Administration, and a few people, including Glenn Greenwald, have been warning of the menace that an unchecked, unregulated, program of extrajudicial executions means, or ought to mean, to Americans and others alike.

But, these exceptions aside, the routine, hum-drum slaughter of “militants” slips by far too readily without sufficient questioning, without enough people pausing to ask who these people are, what they want, what threat they really pose to the US with their AK-47s and RPGs, what plan, if any, there is to do something to stop their seemingly autochthonous emergence (by addressing its causes, for example) rather than merely mowing them down by the dozen after they emerge–or whether the plan really is simply to go on killing as long as there is a supply of living bodies to soak up our ordnance. After all, President Obama has deliberately chosen to kill rather than capture people because he knows that pictures like those that emerged from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are bad news—but that there will be few pictures and fewer questions about the endless slaughter of anonymous militants in the dusty backwaters of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For all the furor, the current scandal proves that point all too grimly, precisely because the scandal consists in the urination rather than the killing itself.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos called the act of urinating on the corpses “wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history.” A NATO spokesman added, “This disrespectful act is inexplicable and not in keeping with the high moral standards we expect of coalition forces.”

But what does it mean to speak of a “warrior ethos” and “high moral standards” in a war when most of the killing is being done by remote control—and not in the heat, intensity and sweaty, adrenaline-driven fear of battle (which the very concept of a “warrior ethos” is supposed to describe), but rather clinically, in air-conditioned comfort, from the safe distance of 20,000 feet—or, rather, 10,000 miles?

It is all too easy to look at the young Marines urinating on the corpses in that video and condemn them (rightly) for their callous brutality. It is far more difficult, however, to put their adolescent action back in its fuller and more meaningful context and ask ourselves what it means that we hardly seem to attach more value to a human life than they do, and that we have come to accept the “reaping” of human lives—for it is not without reason that one of the biggest drones is called Reaper—as a matter to be dismissed with a careless flick of the morning newspaper or click of the mouse.

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA and the author of, among other books, “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.” Follow him @sareemakdisi on Twitter.