5 Quick Political Facts for Today (2/11/15)

  • The situation in the Sudan is still really terrible and children are being raped.  Despite the splintering of the country into two pieces, things are still horrific as stated in a new report by Human Rights Watch:

Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls in a Darfur village in a series of organized, house-to-house attacks last year…the new report, based on more than 130 telephone interviews with survivors, witnesses and army defectors, says girls as young as 10 were raped by Sudanese forces, and that some women and girls were assaulted multiple times and in front of their families.

  • “We are punishing people for their poverty.”  Part of the cycle of poverty in the U.S. has to do with the fact the poor are put in jail and can’t pay the fines they accrue so they sit in jail longer which means they cannot go to work or take care of their children.  And these are not because they are committing violent crimes, as noted:

Although violent crime has declined almost 50 percent in the past two decades, annual admissions to jails have almost doubled to 11.7 million…75 percent of the population of people in jail are awaiting trail and are there for nonviolent offenses.

  • Yemen continues to provide proof the U.S. can’t kill its way to victory in the War on Terror.  The U.S. and other Western allies will be shredding their documents and leaving their embassies in Yemen this week.  It’s been noted heavily since the coup (or allegedly not-a-coup, as pointed out in the article) that Yemen was held up as a “model” for how to conduct the War on Terror through a persistent and heavy amount of drone strikes.  That worked out well…
  • A U.S. drone burned a 13-year old Yemeni boy to death.  Just another incident in that “model” country that goes unnoticed by most Americans.  But hey, according to sadistic U.S. law, he was “military age” and a male so he’s an enemy combatant and not just a child.  Some of his family won’t have to mourn his death since his father and brother were already killed by drones.  I’m sure an attack like that will offend absolutely no one that will want to seek revenge against the West sometime in the future.  Because that’s how an-eye-for-not-an-eye works.
  • Wisconsin Governor and potential Republican 2016 candidate Scott Walker dodges a question on whether he believes in evolution.  Which is fantastic if you are cheering for the Democrats to hold the White House in the next election.  The hilarious aspect of questions like this and the recent spat on vaccinations is there are clear majorities of Americans that are on one side of these issues and these potential presidential candidates are sometimes choosing the side of the minority.  They aren’t issues that will win you too many voters but they are issues that will turn voters off when you take seemingly crazy positions.  So, for Walker to dodge the question and make himself look a little wacky when there’s an obviously easier path, I say go right ahead buddy!

What if Drone Hit American Wedding”

e6c59edbbAn excellent piece in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf on a recent drone strike that attacked a wedding party convoy in Yemen killing 17 and critically wounding 9. Friedersdorf explains that if that happened in America all drone strikes in the U.S. would stop. He also goes on to make many other good points regarding the killing of innocents through drone strikes and how the government does not care.

Read Here.

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NSA, CIA, and Targeted Killings

nsa072way-6ff6dccc27700cd7f0508fce24bafecbf46865da-s6-c30A must-read in The Post on how, “…a collection of records in the Snowden trove that make clear that the drone campaign — often depicted as the CIA’s exclusive domain — relies heavily on the NSA’s ability to vacuum up enormous quantities of e-mail, phone calls and other fragments of signals intelligence, or SIGINT.”

Where does it end???

Read Here.

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Blatant Hypocrisy in Manning Sentencing Phase by Prosecution

As the sentencing of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning continues, a bit of sad hypocrisy from the military crept out today.  As reported by Reuters:

Testifying for the prosecution, (Navy Commander Youssef) Aboul-Enein said al Qaeda used a video Manning had provided to WikiLeaks of a U.S. helicopter gunship in 2007 firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. A dozen people were killed, including two Reuters news staff.

The helicopter also fired at a truck in which a child was seated, seriously wounding him.

Al Qaeda used the video to demonstrate to Muslims that “this could be your child,” Aboul-Enein said.

On the surface, a cynical person might point out the military is not saying the shooting of the child or the civilians was bad, just the releasing of the video showing the act.  And since I’m cynical, I’m pointing that out.

But if a wounded or dead child is a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, then we must ask what has been more useful for the organization.  Is the one video of a child being shot more effective than the children killed by drone strikes?  We recently learned 94 children were confirmed to be killed by drones in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 and the total number is likely close to 200 at this point.

And this is completely ignoring the larger number of civilians killed during the same time period.

If the military is going to convict and sentence one of its own based on the notion that the revealing of harm done to a child is a good recruiting tool for the enemy, then maybe it’s time the military reexamines how it is fighting the War on Terror.  If that is not done, then this is simply hypocrisy at its worst and a long sentence (or any prison time at all) given to Manning will only exemplify that.

Who Are Al Qaeda’s Associated Forces?

The_Pentagon_January_2008-620x412A good piece on Salon.com by Cora Currier of ProPublica asks the question who these “associated forces” are of Al Qaeda’s who the White House is always mentioning? Shouldn’t we know the answer to this question when the U.S. is currently killing members of these forces with our drones, in our name?

Read Here.

Countering the Right: Foreign Affairs Op-ed Defending Drones Part II

Continued from part I here

Carrying on the argument against the op-ed in Foreign Affairs advocating drone use, his next point gets at a key point in the debate:

Individuals join anti-American terrorist groups for many reasons, ranging from outrage over U.S. support for Israel to anger at their own government’s cooperation with the United States. Some people simply join up because their neighbors are doing so.

What he fails to mention here is that some people also hate and attack America because of the United States’ killing people overseas, which would obviously include drone attacks.  We know incidents like the Ft. Hood shooting and the Boston Marathon Bombing were carried out for this reason because the perpetrators have said so.  In short, it is a cycle of violence with no real end in sight or an end that is truly feasible without one side ignoring past casualties, a scenario that is highly unlikely.

But sometimes imminent and intolerable threats do arise and drone strikes are the best way to eliminate them.

This assumes, of course, every drone strike that is carried out is launched against an “imminent” threat, a point that is highly debatable since we now know drones have been used to kill people who were not after the United States.  If all or even most of the “militants” killed by drones were “imminent threats”, why has the government been so reluctant to give any proof of a just a few of the lesser known casualties?  We know about the bigger names killed as they are reported extensively, but they are the minority.  Can’t they just give us some of the smaller fish and show exactly how they were deemed “imminent threats”?  Since the attacks are carried out in the name of U.S. citizens, it is something we deserve to know and be able to confirm.

A memo released by the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks revealed that Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, privately asked U.S. military leaders in 2008 for “continuous Predator coverage” over antigovernment militants, and the journalist Mark Mazzetti has reported that the United States has conducted “goodwill kills” against Pakistani militants who threatened Pakistan far more than the United States.

Wait, I thought I was making the case for that being a bad use of drones?  Kind of bizarre an advocate would mention it as well since this is a clear misuse of the system.  And with calls for austerity and the ongoing sequester, how much of our tax dollars went into fighting Pakistan’s battles for them?  As the NSA scandal has focused on secrecy from a domestic perspective, we should keep in mind that that is not the only government secrecy we should be worried about because a much more destructive kind is being carried out overseas.

A 2012 poll found that 74 percent of Pakistanis viewed the United States as their enemy, likely in part because of the ongoing drone campaign…A poll conducted in 2007, well before the drone campaign had expanded to its current scope, found that only 15 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of the United States. It is hard to imagine that alternatives to drone strikes, such as SEAL team raids or cruise missile strikes, would make the United States more popular.

And we are now taught by this that our only “alternatives” to drones are boots on the ground or bigger bombs.  In other words, we can choose the “kill a lot of people approach” or the “kill even more people approach”.  Here’s an idea.  How about neither?

I’m reminded of a comment bin Laden made back in 2004 just before the U.S. presidential election.  He stated, “…contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom.  If so, then let him explain to us why we don’t strike for example – Sweden?”  A fair question.  And since it has been so long, maybe that has changed…Nope.  Still no Islamist attacks on Sweden.  I wonder what those crazy Swedes do so different from the U.S.?  Are they putting boots on the ground instead of using drones?  Maybe their bombs are bigger?  Or maybe they do neither and don’t get targeted in return.  Just a thought.

Indeed, it appears that Awlaki is the only U.S. citizen who has been deliberately killed by a drone.

This is a nice dodge of the fact the government has acknowledged four Americans were killed by drones, including a minor and a man on the FBI’s Most Wanted List (who we apparently weren’t specifically targeting).  He does use the word “deliberately” to deliberately ignore this fact and it’s clever.  Shady, but clever.  In all honesty, with thousands killed by drones, I don’t know why the author even bothers going out of his way to dodge this.  It’s a well known fact at this point so who does he think he is hiding this from?  It’s just a weak attempt at covering the truth about how many American citizens have been killed by drones.

The ultimate truth about drones is the faster we retire the program, the faster we will be doing something to actually stop the level of hatred in the Islamic world of one vicious aspect of United States’ foreign policy.

Countering the Right: Foreign Affairs Op-ed Defending Drones Part I

Foreign Affairs published op-eds recently to debate the for and against sides of drone warfare (although the against often sounds like a commendation of the program).  Since I have made no secret about being against the policy, I’ll be taking a closer look at many of the points advocating for drones.  Let’s get into it.

Critics of drone strikes often fail to take into account the fact that the alternatives are either too risky or unrealistic…Worse yet, in Pakistan and Yemen, the governments have at times cooperated with militants. If the United States regularly sent in special operations forces to hunt down terrorists there, sympathetic officials could easily tip off the jihadists, likely leading to firefights, U.S. casualties, and possibly the deaths of the suspects and innocent civilians.

The author here is admitting the only difference between drones and the alternatives is U.S. casualties since the other deaths would likely happen either way.  In other words, the deaths of foreigners are acceptable, whether innocent or not.  Can’t imagine why that position would anger anyone overseas.

And this ignores the fact that, just maybe, governments are helping their own people because they are not fans of their sovereignty being violated by a foreign power and they look weak when their people are attacked.  The author points out there are secret agreements between the U.S. and these governments but they still openly oppose them to their populations.  This means, from the perspective of their citizens, anytime an attack happens their governments look weak and powerless against the U.S., further stoking hatred in the general population against America and creating more extremism.

And even if a raid results in a successful capture, it begets another problem: what to do with the detainee. Prosecuting detainees in a federal or military court is difficult because often the intelligence against terrorists is inadmissible or using it risks jeopardizing sources and methods. And given the fact that the United States is trying to close, rather than expand, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it has become much harder to justify holding suspects indefinitely. It has become more politically palatable for the United States to kill rather than detain suspected terrorists.

So, we have enough evidence to kill someone but we can’t prove that in a court of law?  One way of looking at that is the part highlighted.  Another, however, is the fact that more than half of the inmates at the mentioned Guantánamo Bay facility have been granted their release but still remain in prison.  Which begs the question: are we choosing to kill because of the inadmissibility of evidence and giving up intelligence or are we doing it because we don’t want to admit we get info wrong about many suspects and do it more often than we want to acknowledge?  Considering the facts, it’s a very fair question.

Furthermore, although a drone strike may violate the local state’s sovereignty, it does so to a lesser degree than would putting U.S. boots on the ground or conducting a large-scale air campaign.

This still ignores the fact that it’s a clear violation of international law and it angers people throughout the world, whether friend or foe, when the U.S. conducts these acts regardless of which we choose.  The anti-drone argument gives some of the international polling data on drones with “Turkey (81 percent against), Jordan (85 percent against), and Egypt (89 percent against)…51 percent of Poles, 59 percent of Germans, 63 percent of French, 76 percent of Spanish, and a full 90 percent of Greeks” opposed to the policy.  And it should be noted those countries are not the ones being attacked with drones.

Obama’s New Drone Policy

obama_drone-620x412Yesterday, Pres. Obama outlined a new policy for using drone attacks across the Middle East that will be more transparent, more involved by Congress, and less prolific across the board. Here’s a good article on this topic in the NYT. The article also goes on to outline Obama’s new policies on Gitmo and relieving us from a constant war footing here in the U.S. regarding terror.

 

Read Here.

 

Drone Attacks Receive Analysis Today in NYT

JP-DRONES-articleLargeA good article in the NYT on various things regarding the drone strike policy. Pres. Obama plans to lay out new architecture of usage in speech today, drone strikes have decreased from 2010 on, and quotes from high-ranking critics are also included in the piece. Must read.

Read Here.

The Tough Question: Did Drones Indirectly Lead to Boston Bombing?

After reading an article last week about Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei condemning the bombing in Boston but criticizing the U.S. policy on drone attacks, the question came to mind as to just how relevant it was for him to associate the two so closely.  He stated:

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which follows the logic Islam, is opposed to any bombings and killings of innocent people, no matter if it is in Boston, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria and condemns it…The US and other so-called human rights advocates remain silent on the massacre of innocents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but they cause a ruckus after a few blasts in the United States.

This week an op-ed appeared in the Atlantic addressing this issue specifically.  An important summary from the piece:

But propaganda is most powerful when it’s at least within shouting distance of the truth–and, unfortunately, that’s the case here. Obama’s drone strikes have killed, if not more civilians than mujahideen, lots of civilians, including women and scores of children. Every time such killing happens, the jihadist narrative, the narrative that seems to have seized the minds of the Tsarnaev brothers, gains a measure of strength.

The evolution of terrorism?

This is a commonsensical realization but there is another underlying issue that would contribute to this argument: the evolution of Al Qaeda’s message.

What I mean by that is there seems to be a change in how Al Qaeda once presented its message and how it delivers it now.  If we look at the issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s magazine, linked in the Atlantic piece, we see many articles addressing and encouraging lone wolf-types of attacks similar to what we saw in Boston.  This comes along with ideas on how to attack as an individual, such as creating car crashes and, coincidentally, using ricin.

Overall, the emphasis in the rhetoric seems to be on attacking and terrorizing civilians.  As noted by the author:

That’s where drone strikes can come in handy, and the latest issue of Inspire spells out the logic explicitly: Because America is “ruled by the people,” its “rulers (people) should pay for their country’s action till they change their system and foreign policies.” So “war on America including civilians” is legitimate, says Inspire, so long as Americans are killing Muslim civilians with drone strikes. “The equation should be balanced. Like they kill, they will be killed.”

But if we look back at some of Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, he doesn’t seem to be as concerned with attacking civilians as he is with attacking what he sees as more symbolically important targets.  And he even makes a distinction between the American people and the actions of the government.  After describing many instances of what he sees as American oppression, he leaves the reader with these remarks:

In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida.  No.

Your security is in your own hands.  And every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.

Bin Laden clearly had a eye on symbolism, along with casualty counts, when he targeted the U.S. for his attacks.  America’s military dominance was attacked by hitting the Pentagon and the U.S.S. Cole.  America’s economic dominance was attacked by bringing down the WTC.  And America’s heavy hand in foreign affairs was attacked when Al Qaeda struck at U.S. embassies.

And therein lies the new evolution and difference with the Boston attack.  It wasn’t an attack on a structure that also carried a certain symbolism for the U.S.  It was specifically targeted at civilians and civilians only just as the rhetoric contained within the pages of Inspire would suggest.  There may not be a direct link between the Boston bombers and Al Qaeda (and in all likelihood none will be found) but there is little doubt where the Tsarnaev brothers drew their inspiration.

As American tactics in finding and destroying Islamic extremists has evolved over the years with the expanded use of drone, the tactics used against us has gone through its own evolution.  We are seeing the next phase in the War on Terror and the likelihood of more lone wolf attacks in the future is seemingly high.  The question now becomes: how much longer will we let drone attacks be carried out in our name when we are being told they are the reason for the oncoming lone wolves?