Monday, May 28, 2012

Of drones and detention

As Memorial Day 2012 draws to a close, I notice the American flags flying all around and hear people thanking all those who fought in the likes of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq for "keeping us free." All I can do is look at the flag and think of how much blood has been needlessly shed in its name, how many people have had their lands invaded without cause, how many have been tortured, how many innocent civilians have been "collateral damage," how many atrocities like those at My Lai and Abu Ghraib have been committed.

There have been pretty much three wars in American history that actually defended our freedom: the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and World War II in the Pacific theater. Unless a solider fought in one of those wars, there is no reason to thank him for defending our freedom and protecting our way of life. To the contrary, the illegal engagements we've been involved in since 9/11 have only added to anti-American hatred around the world and bred more terrorists -- because we're doing exactly the kinds of things that led to 9/11 in the first place. We have learned nothing.

And the way this nation slavishly worships anyone in a military uniform is repulsive. The military should be regarded as a horrible last option, when all other attempts at diplomacy have failed -- not as a tool for harassing the rest of the world and bending other nations to our will whenever we darn well feel like it. There is no draft: If people simply refused to serve and fight, these wars could not be fought.

Unless, of course, you replace soldiers with drones. The unmanned planes can indiscriminately drop bombs wherever its controllers want it to -- and with no human element in place when the strike occurs, who knows who's down there on the ground? If we happen to kill some innocent women and kids -- well, that's just the price you pay for fighting the never-ending War on Terror.

 Just look at what your Nobel Peace Prize-winning Commander-in-Chief has accomplished:

Makes you wonder where all the antiwar protests went.

This past weekend alone, drone bombs killed 16 people in Pakistan, including four shoppers at a bakery. In Yemen, hundreds are dying, aided by drone attacks: Up to a dozen civilians were droned to death a few weeks ago -- but that's OK, since the CIA says it's fine to drop bombs even if we're not sure who the targets are.

Naturally, this is not sitting well with the locals under assault despite having done nothing wrong. As puts it:
The bloodshed caused by the Obama administration's offensives in Yemen is probably detrimental to U.S. security. Jeremy Scahill, reporting for Nation, exposed in February after visiting Yemen how U.S. airstrikes that kill civilians and those ill-defined as militants -- along with support for the brutal Yemeni government -- foments anti-Americanism and fuels international terrorism.

Charles Schmitz, a Yemen expert at Towson University in Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times, "The more the U.S. applies its current policy, the stronger Al Qaeda seems to get."
We have learned nothing from 9/11. We have not grasped that blowback is a consequence of our belligerent foreign policy.

And hey, if we're lucky, we can all have drones flying overhead at home to spy on all of us -- in the name of national security, of course.

It's already starting. The FAA recently relaxed rules allowing law enforcement to use drones in Los Angeles County. Elsewhere, a SWAT team recently borrowed a drone from Fatherland Security to make sure it was safe to arrest a rancher over a dispute involving six cows. If you're one of those people who thinks "I don't have to worry about any of this, because I don't have anything to hide," keep this story in mind. This is not a terrorist we're talking about -- it's a rancher in a dispute over some cows. This is what happens when you let the government intrude more and more into our lives and liberties because you're cowering in fear over whatever bogeyman the state has decided to scare you with today.

At least there are victories of a sort and I-told-you-sos on a few fronts. First is the admission from a former TSA executive that whole-body scanners have never resulted in a terrorist-related arrest. Will it make any change in the farce that is Airport Security Theater? Probably not, but it's good to feel vindicated.

Second is the good news that a federal judge has blocked the enforcement, for now, of the indefinite-detention provision of NDAA that O'Bomber signed into law when no one was looking:
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges, who was one of the plaintiffs in the case, told Russia Today that the impact of the decision was "huge."
"It invalidates a law," he explained, "that was, of course, signed by the president on New Year's Eve and permitted the U.S. military -- overturning about 200 years of domestic law -- to engage in domestic policing, to seize U.S. citizens, to hold them in military facilities, including our offshore penal colonies, to strip them of due process, and to detain them … until the end of hostilities, whenever that is."
Hedges emphasized that a major factor in the judge's decision was that the government lawyers were unable to say for certain that he and the other reporters and activists who brought the suit would never be subject to the provisions of the law as enacted.
"We went through the State Department terrorism list," he stated, "and in the course of my twenty years as a foreign correspondent, most of them with The New York Times, I had direct contact with seventeen of those groups, including al Qaeda. And there's no exemption in this provision for journalists."
He also noted that his fellow plaintiffs were particularly concerned that "by linking legitimate dissent to terrorist organizations, the military could be used to crush any kind of protest."
Hedges called the ruling "a tremendous step forward for the restoration of due process and the rule of law." Naomi Wolf was even more exuberant; she said of the judge:
"She is so completely, obviously right. It's nothing short of treason to have put forward legislation like this, let alone to have had most of the people who represent us and our president sign off on this clearly, obviously criminally unconstitutional -- unconstitutional is inadequate. It's anti-constitutional. It's dictatorial."
It should have been obvious to anyone that you can't deny American citizens due process, and that you can't write a bill so vague and far-reaching that it essentially shuts down free speech by turning every critic of American policy a potential terrorist suspect. Yet the vast majority of Congress signed off on it, and former Constitutional law professor Barack Obama signed it into law -- after insisting that the provision for indefinite detention of American citizens be included in the bill.

But never fear: The tyrants, dictators, and traitors weren't done. On May 18, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state and Rep. Justin Amash, a sharp young Paulestinian from Michigan, drafted an amendment that would have repealed the indefinite-detention provision for good. The amendment was defeated, with critics saying it would have enabled terrorists.

That's right. Members of the United States Congress now argue, without embarrassment, that defending Constitutional liberties ENABLES TERRORISTS.

Instead, Congress passed an amendment led by Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, and Scott Rigell, a Republican from Virginia, that essentially says nothing. It states that NDAA will not "deny the writ of habeas corpus or deny any Constitutional rights for persons detained in the United States under the AUMF [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] who are entitled to such rights."

As Amash pointed out:
The first part of the amendment does nothing. In other words, if you have constitutional rights, then you have constitutional rights.
The ACLU made a detailed case against it:
The question with the NDAA was never whether habeas rights are lost. Instead, the question is whether and when any president can order the military to imprison a person without charge or trial. The NDAA did not take away habeas rights from anyone, but it did codify a dangerous indefinite detention without charge or trial scheme. And nothing in the proposed bill by Rigell would change it. The Rigell bill won't stop any president from ordering the military lockup of civilians without charge or trial.

And there's more. Not only is it a useless bill, but it could end up causing harm too. It doesn't accurately and fully list who is entitled to habeas (for example, it doesn't even mention American citizens traveling outside the country), which could end up causing confusion.

They are hoping you will fall for their trick and waste all your time and energy on something meaningless -- and not fight for legislation that actually protects people from indefinite detention without charge or trial.
And people did fall for the trick. But then, weasel words intended to mollify the American public are nothing new with NDAA, with the detention provision itself stating that the military is not "required" to detain American citizens. The military is not required to -- but it still can. The choice of words is downright Clintonian in its effort to distract people from what's really going on. 

It's tough in this ongoing fight to even know who's on your side. Adam Smith is no friend to peace and liberty, despite his support of the repeal of indefinite detention. He voted for NDAA in the first place, and he now supports lifting a ban on the government dissemination of propaganda.

You wonder why the government would feel the need to fill us all with propaganda, until you run across a purportedly leaked document from the U.S. Army detailing how "re-education camps" will work, including the employment of people charged with fostering detainees' appreciation of U.S. policy and weeding out rabble-rousers amongst the detainees. These camps are said to be set up for use on U.S. soil, and in case there's any doubt as to whether Americans would be targeted for detainment, one part of the document refers to identifying captives by their Social Security numbers -- something a member of Al Qaeda is not likely to possess.

Talk of FEMA camps around the country has been going on for a long time now. It sounds crazy, but you have at least one member of Congress railing against the Occupy movement and emphasizing how important it is to prevent the Occupiers from shaping policy, and you have Fatherland Security monitoring the entire movement. We've all seen how the militarized cops have been cracking down on the protests all over the country. Let's face it -- these are the people who, like them or not, are announcing to the world that the emperor has no clothes. They pose a direct threat to the corporate ruling class, which in turn controls the two major political parties. They won't tolerate a threat to their power, and since they own most of the politicians in D.C., including the president, they'll do the corporations' bidding.

Yeah, it all sounds like fringe conspiracy-theory stuff, but as it's been said:

Food for thought. And at the very least, no one has ever died from turning off the TV and doing some critical thinking.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You're free, as long as you comply.

In Seattle, Occupy-inspired peaceful May Day protests turned violent when a band of masked, hooded anarchists infiltrated the crowd. With lawmakers cracking down on peaceful assembly in this country, always in the name of "national security," these people do us all no favors.

But then what if it's the government doing the infiltrating, in an attempt to bring discredit to the Occupy movement? (Or, more conspiratorially, what if the Occupy movement itself was an invention of the feds to more easily bring about popular support for a de facto police state?)

There's no debating that the FBI and other government agencies send their members undercover to essentially goad people into committing crimes. That's what happened in Cleveland on May Day, and it's happened time and time again since 9/11 -- with the end result that the government, for all practical purposes, creates a terror plot for the purpose of foiling people and groups who may or may not have acted out on their own. The feds hand over the incendiaries, the vehicles, and any number of other weapons, wait for their targets to act, make their arrests, and then go on TV to beat their chests and blather about how they've foiled yet another terror plot.

The upshot from this activity is a chilling effect on free expression. If someone goes online to decry the overreaching antics of our government, will that person get a visit from a stranger who "feels just like they do" and "encourages them to take action"? If you don't fall in line like a dutiful citizen and keep your mouth shut, is your government just waiting to entrap you?

As Justin Raimondo of put it, in reference to the Cleveland incident:
In short, it is a propaganda exercise designed to show that the feds need all the "legal tools" given to them by the "Patriot" Act -- and that these incursions on our constitutional rights need to be preserved and extended. It's propaganda aimed at keeping Americans fearful, so that they'll surrender what is left of their rights to a government ready, willing, and eager to extend its authority into every aspect of our lives -- in the name of "fighting terrorism." Our phony "war on terrorism" on the international front has given the government a blank check to descend on Americans and root out "subversion" while trampling on free speech and narrowing the range of permissible dissent.
The Bill of Rights has been turned on its head. Instead of keeping the government out of your life, now the government says you have the freedom to speak your mind, peacefully protest, and be secure in your personal effects from unreasonable search and seizure only when the government says it's OK and not a threat to "national security."

Just ask Laura Poitras, Jacob Applebaum, and William Binney, who were all interviewed by the Democracy Now! program. Poitras, a filmmaker, has made a number of movies relating to the post-9/11 world, including examinations of Iraq, Yemen, and Guantanamo Bay. Applebaum has worked for WikiLeaks. Binney spent nearly four decades at the NSA. Poitras and Applebaum have been detained numerous times at airports and had their phones and computers confiscated. Applebaum, in particular, was handcuffed, denied access to a lawyer while being interrogated, and told that he "wouldn't do well in prison," where he'd be sexually assaulted. Binney left the NSA after the agency removed safeguards shielding citizens' identities post-9/11. After speaking out, the FBI stormed his house and pointed a gun at his head as agents demanded to sit down and have a friendly chat with him.

Binney warns that the government has records of most of our online communications and is building a massive spy center in Utah, where data mining of all our personal information will be taken to a new extreme.

Oh, sure, I can still come online and complain about all this and not be hauled off to some gulag somewhere -- but as Raimondo brilliantly points out, that's part of the game the government plays. With new tools and laws at its disposal every day, the government can easily intercept and collect any amount of information it wants about you. And so if you ever speak out and try to get the masses fired up, that's when the detentions and intimidations begin. They have a full dossier on you, and they'll hold all the cards. So as you go about your daily life, you're left with the illusion that you're free to speak your mind, and we're still democratic and wonderful and out to catch those Bad Guys in foreign lands who mean to do us harm. As long as you keep your head down and your mouth shut, no harm will come to you.

Do you think that's how a free society is supposed to operate? As Glenn Greenwald said on Salon, in reference to Poitras, Applebaum, and Binney:
Whether a country is actually free is determined not by how well-rewarded its convention-affirming media elites are and how ignored its passive citizens are but by how it treats its dissidents, those posing authentic challenges to what the government does. The stories of the three Democracy Now guests -- and so many others -- provide that answer loudly and clearly.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng knows how people are treated in his country when they stand up against the status quo. Chen left the protection of the U.S. embassy after being told that Chinese officials would beat his wife to death otherwise. "Guaranteeing citizens' rights in China is empty talk," Chen said, underscoring the reality that China remains a brutal, oppressive dictatorship, despite all the rosy talk about free-market economic reforms.

It all makes you wonder how long it will be until the situation there is indistinguishable from the situation here -- or how long it will be until this iconic scene plays out somewhere on the streets of America:

And if it does happen here, it's not going to be pretty.

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then." -- Thomas Jefferson