Monday, January 11, 2010

"My government, the most violent in the world" - Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967

       On torture, kidnapping or murder in foreign territory, sweeping up whomever the US could (for our casual and ill-informed agents who often do not speak the relevant languages, those Arabs often have. like Sami El-Hajj, names that are “easy to confuse” with those of other Arabs, one photographer for another who took a photograph of bin Laden, see here and here), the Bush-Cheney administration blazed a path of international corruption.* They did not just tear down the international laws against torture and aggression which the United States initiated and to which it is morally as well as legally bound (by Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the “Supremacy Clause”); they made other governments and secret services, even those resistant to the Iraq war accomplices or deceived them.  Recently 23 CIA officers were convicted in absentia by the Italian courts along with 2 Italian agents.  But it is not just Italy, not just one bad incident, not a mistake.  This is systematic policy.  It is the America Bush made (and even under Obama, an America waiting to happen again when he is no longer President).  

       The United States has also hollowed out its government, private corporations sucking the life out of public functions and making them increasingly indecent, even given an  often criminal starting point.  Note that Blackwater agents are not accountable (just like other private torturers, for instance, Stephen Stefanowicz of CACI, identified but not indicted during Abu Ghraib).  The head of the renamed Xe corporation, Erik Prince, is under some suspicion of  having murdered a Blackwater employee (does the United States still have a legal system which can deal with such a case honorably? After all, Prince probably knows more dark secrets about the Agency than CIA director Leon Panetta). Thus, Jeremy Scahill reports on an attempted murder in a “dark” operation by Blackwater of a putative bin Laden associate/agent - or perhaps someone breathing while Arab - in Germany.  For as the second story below notes, German prosecutors investigated Darkanzali for 2 years, and did not press charges against him because, on their findings, he was neither a member of Al-Qaida nor involved in criminal activity.

        Even some American Congressional representatives see the horror here (Ze corporation has now effectively become the US “government”; in a peculiar symbiosis, the CIA and Ze are just names for one another:

        “His concerns were echoed in the US by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. 'This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can't talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations,’ Schahowsky said. ‘And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities like that.’

       Obama has sadly put his seal of approval on this.  I should emphasize with Ray McGovern, presidential daily briefer for the CIA for 27 years and activist in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, that the covert operations wing of the CIA is wholly harmful, even before being privatized.  He likes to quote President Truman, who, after leaving office,  became very insightful on the dangers of CIA operations beyond preparing reports for the President, separating criminal and anti-democratic activities from knowledge-gathering.  The CIA is a secret police force, always tending in CIA chief William Casey’s words during Iran-Contragate, to have an “off the shelf” or outlaw  – outside the law, outside democratic supervision – capacity.  See here.  Aside from such capacities, that organization was responsible, at the order of American Presidents,  for the overthrow of some 12 to 15  nonwhite democracies during and after the Cold War, and is a matter of infamy, in the judgment of most ordinary people internationally (myself included) about what American “democracy” means in foreign policy.

            But all of this corruption precedes the new merger, the spider-like eating of the CIA from within by Blackwater, the pallid surface or dead mask of a government agency over the reality of Xe in the most recent era.  The CIA (and much of the army) are being replaced by a private organization led by a Christian crusader who from Nissour Square to the personal charges against him, seems now to take the lead in or be specially inventive about atrocities. In Iraq, the ratio of mercenaries to soldiers was 1 to 1.   In Afghanistan under Obama, the ratio of contractors to soldiers is now a shocking 7 to 3.  The New York Times printed a very good editorial yesterday "Privatized War and its Price" criticizing Obama for going back on campaign promises to restrict the use of mercenaries (see below). But even the Times does not make clear this shocking change (since it was first reported by Scott Horton two weeks ago at, and the Times often picks up Horton's posts on legal issues, this omission is not accidental).  The Obama administration is keeping this aspect of the escalation - that it is more mercenary than soldiers, paid at a higher rate and immune from prosecution - from the public.  Even in rightly criticizing him, the Times appears once again to go along.

    In addition, the knowledge aspect of the CIA/Xe seems to be eroding. Incompetent analysis, for instance letting the bomber from Nigeria onto planes bound for Detroit despite a warning from his father (an inability somehow to add 2 and 2, even though that seems the minimum for the job) or the blowing up by a double agent of 8 operatives in Afghanistan (two from Xe corporation) who knew something about Al-Qaida, seems a concomitant to all of Agency’s and Xe’s villainies (for instance, Tenet’s “professionalization” of torture, based on the amateur “psychologists" Mitchell and Jessen  – see here).  Bad at knwledge-gathering; capable only of committing crimes largely against innocents. 

        Ray McGovern was what CIA officers often were at their best.  The FBI, though also mainly a corrupt secret police organization, still seems to function once in a while as an intelligence agency.  Thus, Colleen Rowley, another leader in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, tried to warn that some Arabs were learning how to fly planes in Minnesota but had no interest in learning how to land (see also the story of Ali Soufan here).  My student Condi Rice and other officials in the Bush administration prevented Rowley from connecting with Richard Clarke, somebody who would have known what to do and acted.   That these professionals are shoved aside and that Obama is still dependent on Blackwater marks a whole new stage in American decadence: paying off Ze to pretend to be an intelligence agency while creating ever new roadblocks to the intelligent and committed people in the intelligence establishment (McGovern, Rowley, Ann Wright, Soufan). The death of civil service continues under Obama.

        One should take in the moral significance of what is happening.  As I noted here, like the German politician Hans-Christian Stroebele, many think about what the US does everywhere else by imagining, as if in John Rawls’ original position, what the reaction would be if some arrogant foreign power (even an ally as in the case of Ze in Germany) were to commit crimes on American soil like that. 

           “Hans-Christian Ströbele, a prominent German Green Party politician, however, said he was unconvinced. ‘The fact is that the CIA can, for the most part, do whatever it wants here in Germany,’ the member of parliament said. 'The secret prisoner transports after September 11 showed that--and no one dared to do anything about it.' Try to imagine the opposite happening, he said. `Imagine if (Germany's federal intelligence agency) the BND were to carry out a hit job via a front company, say in New Orleans. It would be a shocking occurrence,’ he said...

          As I have noted, similar judgments, largely by black and white Christians characterized the American movement against slavery before and during the Revolution.  See my Emancipation and Independence, forthcoming, Chicago 2010 and here and here). Imagine if your child went down to the creek to fetch a pitcher of water, were seized and sold into slavery...

        After A Theory of Justice, Rawls himself moved toward a political rather than “a metaphysical” conception, one which placed less weight on the original position.  He moved some way towards the idea, common among metaethical relativists like Richard Rorty, that moral judgments are just what “we” happen to believe, roughly like tastes in ice cream.** About torture or aggression or genocide, however, relativism seems to most of us insubstantial or a cop-out, motivated by concerns about alleged problems in epistemology and failing to look at glaring moral facts.  

         Ironically given Rawls’ attenuation of it, his original position turns out to be both peculiarly American, as I show in my book on Emancipation and Independence, and universal.  Putting oneself in another's shoes, trying to imagine being picked up off the street, tortured and jailed for 7 years or being in the wrong place and injured or murdered by a private firm/government employee – that’s just what moral thinking is.  Put another way, what is moral is not metaphysical.  And it is not, in the least, undermined by serious metaethical argument.  That is what I and Hilary Putnam among others call moral realism.

        As Barack Obama has said, sacrificing human rights does not contribute to the security of ordinary Americans.  A handful of terrorists who want to murder Americans could not bring America down.  Responding by lurching about,  invading Middle East countries, torturing and murdering often innocent people, sabotaging international law, spying on Americans, shutting decent people who have criticisms of these policies out of the commercial press and having a comical  spectrum of “mainstream” opinion from the American Enterprise Institute to the Brookings Institution, all to license a frenzy of speculative profit-taking until economic collapse – that has brought down America. It has impoverished many of us and made each of us less secure.  Gore Vidal’s remark on America being the only country with a single party with two right-wings might here be echoed: a community of foreign policy “experts” programmed by the war complex which differs over – how many wars to wage at once…

        What is decent in the United States and in America’s example internationally – say the Bill of Rights – had been trashed by Bush-Cheney administration, but was restored by the American people in the election, against all odds, of Barack Obama.  Yet as this story and the lack of government investigation or potential prosecution for any of these crimes shows, that decency is still being steadily compromised.

      Torquemada was an international figure.  The Inquisition burned jewish teenagers at the stake in Lisbon (Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, book 26).  The Gestapo functioned outside of Germany.  Stalin struck down Trotsky in Mexico.  After that, the number of those who outcompete the “unipower” gets slim.  If one wants to understand how Obama, given his initial decency and knowledge of constitutional law, has become so weak on habeas corpus and human rights, what America has become during the Bush-Cheney administration needs to be taken in for what it is. 


The Nation

Did the CIA Deploy a Blackwater Hit Team in Germany?

by Jeremy Scahill

German prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that the CIA deployed a team of Blackwater operatives on a clandestine operation in Hamburg, Germany, after 9/11 ultimately aimed at assassinating a German citizen with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. The alleged assassination operation was revealed last month in a Vanity Fair profile of Blackwater's owner Erik Prince.

The photograph would not reproduce.

FILE - In a July, 21, 2008 file photo, founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide Erik Prince is seen at Blackwater's offices in Moyock, N.C.(AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

According to Vanity Fair, one of the team's targets was Mamoun Darkazanli, a naturalized German citizen originally from Syria. Darkazanli has been accused by Spain of being an Al Qaeda supporter with close ties to the alleged 9/11 plotters who lived in Hamburg. The Blackwater/CIA team "supposedly went in 'dark,' meaning they did not notify their own station--much less the German government--of their presence," according to Vanity Fair. "[T]hey then followed Darkazanli for weeks and worked through the logistics of how and where they would take him down." Authorities in Washington, however, "chose not to pull the trigger."

This week, a senior lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union called on Washington to provide an explanation. "If this commando really existed and the U.S. government knew about it but didn't notify our government then this would be a very grave incident," said the lawmaker, Wolfgang Bosbach.

His concerns were echoed in the US by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can't talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations," Schahowsky said. "And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities like that."

Dieter Wiefelspütz, the domestic policy spokesperson for the parliamentary group of Germany's center-left Social Democrats, told Der Spiegel it is irrelevant that Darkazanli's targeted assassination was never carried out. "If it can be confirmed, then this was a murder plot," he said. The conservative Christian Democratic Union joined the Social Democrats in calling for an official inquiry.

From Der Spiegel:

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a prominent German Green Party politician, however, said he was unconvinced. "The fact is that the CIA can, for the most part, do whatever it wants here in Germany," the member of parliament said. "The secret prisoner transports after September 11 showed that--and no one dared to do anything about it." Try to imagine the opposite happening, he said. "Imagine if (Germany's federal intelligence agency) the BND were to carry out a hit job via a front company, say in New Orleans. It would be a shocking occurrence," he said...

Ströbele said he would call for the parliamentary control committee to discuss the allegations. He said one also had to ask "where the German intelligence services were." After all, he said, "they are supposed to find out whether other services are romping about here."

In an interview on German TV this week, Darkazanli said he was "speechless" at the story. Ströebele, the Green Party lawmaker, also asked for a probe about what the German government knew about the alleged CIA/Blackwater operation. "It can't be true that they knew nothing," he said.

This brewing scandal in Germany is the latest allegation to surface in what is a clear pattern of the US conducting clandestine rendition and assassination operations within the borders of allied countries. In November, an Italian judge convicted 23 US intelligence operatives in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian imam from a Milan street as part of a CIA extraordinary rendition operation. Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, aka Abu Omar, was taken to Egypt, where he said he was tortured.


Published on Monday, January 11, 2010 by Agence France Presse

CIA Planned to 'Rendition' Suspects in Germany: Report

BERLIN - The CIA had 25 agents in Germany after the September 11 attacks and planned to "rendition" illegally al-Qaeda suspects without informing the German government, Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

"It was about grabbing people without the Germans knowing about it," the German weekly magazine cited an unnamed former CIA agent as saying. "We were planning stuff that was totally illegal."

The plan went so far that other parts of the Central Intelligence Agency were in the loop, but in the end it was scrapped because of objections by the agency's German section, Spiegel cited its source as saying.

"We said 'no' because we were of the opinion that you just couldn't do a thing like that in a friendly country where there were so many US soldiers based," the source is cited as saying.

The claim follows a Vanity Fair magazine report that the US spy agency intended to "find, fix and finish" an al-Qaeda suspect in Hamburg, where several of those involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States formed an Islamist cell.

Vanity Fair said that the CIA team was sent to assassinate Mamun Darkanzali, a Syrian-born German believed at the time to have known at least three of the hijackers, but in the end Washington pulled the plug.

Darkanzali was detained by German authorities in 2004 but prosecutors dropped their investigation in 2006, saying that although he had served as a contact for several Al-Qaeda members, he could not be considered a member.

Spiegel, however, cited its source as denying there was any such plan, saying: "That would have been completely impossible in a country like Germany."

The "extraordinary rendition" programme was set up by the administration of then president George W. Bush after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. It involved the transfer of "war on terror" suspects by the CIA to countries known to practise torture.

In November, an Italian court convicted in absentia 23 US secret agents for the CIA's kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003, including the CIA's Milan station chief at the time, Robert Seldon Lady.

One of those convicted, Sabrina DeSousa, said after the trial that she "broke the law" but that everything she did was "approved back in Washington."


Privatized War, and Its Price

Published: January 10, 2010

A federal judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, has provided another compelling argument against the outsourcing of war to gunslingers from the private sector. In throwing out charges against Blackwater agents who killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, Judge Urbina highlighted the government’s inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit.

Judge Urbina correctly ruled that the government violated the Blackwater agents’ protection against self-incrimination. He sketched an inept prosecution that relied on compelled statements made by the agents to officials of the State Department, who employed the North Carolina security firm to protect convoys and staff in Iraq. That, he said, amounted to a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.”

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed over who would take the toughest line against mercenaries. It is clear that the only way for President Obama to make good on the rhetoric is to get rid of the thousands of private gunmen still deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The killings in Nisour Square were hardly the first misdeeds by hired guns in Iraq, or the last. The army has said contractors from firms like CACI International Inc. were involved in more than a third of the proven incidents of abuse in 2003 and 2004 in the Abu Ghraib prison. Guards from Blackwater — which has renamed itself Xe Services — and other security firms, like Triple Canopy, have been involved in other wanton shootings.

On Jan. 7, two former Blackwater guards were arrested on murder charges stemming from a shooting in Afghanistan last May that left two Afghans dead.

Still, the government has failed to hold armed contractors accountable. When its formal occupation of Iraq ended in 2004, the Bush administration demanded that Baghdad grant legal immunity to private contractors.

Congress has tried to cover such crimes with American law. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act extends civilian law to contractors supporting military operations overseas, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice was broadened in 2006 to cover contractors.

But the government has not prosecuted a single successful case for killings by armed contractors overseas. An Iraqi lawsuit against American military contractors by Iraqi victims of torture at Abu Ghraib was dismissed by a federal appeals court that said the companies had immunity as government contractors.

Furious that the Nisour Square case was dismissed, the Iraqi government said it might file civil suits in the United States and Iraq against Xe. But its chances of success are not considered great. The families of many of the victims of the rampage accepted a settlement from Xe last week, worried that had they pursued their civil suit they might have gotten nothing.

There are many reasons to oppose the privatization of war. Reliance on contractors allows the government to work under the radar of public scrutiny. And freewheeling contractors can be at cross purposes with the armed forces. Blackwater’s undersupervised guards undermined the effort to win Iraqi support.

But most fundamental is that the government cannot — or will not — keep a legal handle on its freelance gunmen. A nation of laws cannot go to war like that.

*That administration chose to ignore intelligence produced by competent agents like Ali Soufan who knew Arabic and got real information.  See "What the torturer knew" here. They had the possibility of doing something better; they just trashed it for tyrannical purposes, and in Cheney’s case, madness.  

**Rawls always knew about deep or very likely unshakable moral judgments, for instance against slavery and racism.  He liked my idea of "the integrity of ethics," Democratic Individuality, ch. 1.  Though a complicated constructivist, he was not tempted by relativism, even as he designed a stand alone, overlapping consensus view of core moral judgments.

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