Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Obama’s militarism: How Samantha Power gives moral cover to Bill Kristol

For those in Denver,Thursday evening at 6 pm , there will be a panel on North Africa featuring Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, and me, Haider Khan and Rob Prince each commenting for fifteen minutes, at the North Driscoll Gallery of the Driscoll Student Center. It should be a very lively session for which this post, coming from a second part of my remarks about Martin Luther King and American wars Monday at the rally may serve as an introduction. See here and here.

Obama announced his reelection bid Monday, coupling it with a sickening turnaround on upholding the rule of law in American courts - he had once stood out for this, as he stood out for closing Guantanamo. He and Eric Holder were going to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other accused 9/11 terrorists in New York. Now he will "try" them, allowing evidence obtained from torture, in the flimsy "military tribunals" at Guantanamo. Increasingly, Obama descends from being a principled person, fighting in important respects for decency, to being just another Washington politician (someone who does what he does largely to be reelected and raise money). He will be principled say on marriage for gays only when it costs little (he was still principled on this issue, however). In a parallel way, Attorney General Eric Holder has now earned the Bill Kristol-Liz Cheney award. Viciously attacked by this pair of scoundrels for appointing the “Al Qaida 7” - 7 attorneys who took the cases of the Devil’s island prisones at Guantanamo and defended the rule of law - Holder has now gone from failing to prosecute the Bush war criminals and becoming their accomplice - to actively joining them in fake military “proceedings” at Guantanamo. Spain can try the terrorists who blew up the Atocha station publically in Madrid. In contrast, the United States government is too cowardly and unprincipled, too nurturing of war criminals like my student Condi Rice (see here) and Cheney and Rumsfeld and W., to honor the rule of law. In defiance of habeas corpus and the banning of torture – the cardinal principle of English and Anglo-American law, of a system of law as distinct fom tyranny - Obama affirmed the travesty of secret tribunals at Guantanamo.

Obama and Holder have thus just taken a long further step toward consolidating the Bush-Cheney police state. Sadly, it is worthwhile to consider over time how America is moving from democracy, with the rule of law, to becoming an authoritarian regime. Given the alternatives and the fact that Obama remains an attractive and thoughtful human being, one must hope for his electoral success. But Obama the President has shortchanged dramatically Obama the potentially transformational candidate. That is partly because he took over with two losing occupations and with a depression. The stimulus was the best (Keynsian) measure passed in the last half century to put people to work doing broadly speaking green jobs. It should have been larger, but it wasn’t bad. The bail out rewarded the banks – it was the triumph of greed – but also headed off complete financial collapse. But Obama is not willing to stretch to be, as FDR or Lincoln was, a shaping or transformative president (saving the rule of law in these circumstances would be part of that transformation).

Obama knows of full employment, of the dangers of climate change, of the need to revive American productivity by making the economy more green (see Van Jones’ very good The Green Collar Economy which is also an important remedy to soaring inequality). This possiblity was defeated by his and the Democrats’ reliance on the banks. He now seeks to raise $1 billion for his reelection. It will not come so much from the grassroots, though people may well support him given the illegal and immoral move against collective bargaining for public workers in 21 states – this is an attack on freedom of association, on what even Reagan affirmed in support of Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland, on what the US has signed United Nations Treaties and is constitutionally bound to support, and stems from the Bill of Rights. In a healthy society, the “politicians” and businessmen who did this would be as marginalized as the John Birch society once was. Not in America 2011.*

Obama’s trimmed vision, however, has always centered around making some American wars a bit more moral. He took on Samantha Power as an advisor – he met her, they talked for hours, she became an advisor to his campaign – because of the ideas in her book A Problem from Hell. She had written of Saddam Hussein’s horrors, leaving out the American creation and arming of Saddam (that is how she got to be a government advisor at all), but like Obama, did not support Bush’s illegal, unilateral, lying war (actually an aggresson) against Iraq.

She had wanted President Bill Clinton to stop genocide in Rwanda militarily. This is in many ways admirable. The US has the diplomatic and military power to intervene in some such cases. Obama’s speech a week ago Monday made the point that Libya was such a case. Khadhafy threanened a massacre of his opponents - "rats" he called them - and there was little time left before Benghazi would be the scene of a slaughter. France (organized according to his own account by that “disk jockey” of philosophy Bernad Henry-Levy - see here and here - who had direct contact with Sarkozy. (The French foreign secretary had partied with the tyrant Ben Ali in Tunisai to the last and had to be sacked). Sarkozy, deservedly unpopular and in foreign policy, mainly an American flunkey like the British, needed to be seen to be doing something good, and England took the diplomatic lead.

As Obama said, the US launched this war with the support of the UN Security Countcil, some Middle Eastern support (Imperial Qater flew a mission with a bought-from-America jet, the Arab League of tyrants minus Ghadhafy of course, backed it with some grumbling from the Egyptian Amr Moussa, the head. Of course, the Oraganization of African Unity did not).

But Obama made the important point that if refugees from slaughter had fled Libya, its two boundary states are Egypt and Tunisia. This would threaten the new revolutions there. Moreover, if Ghadhafy slaughtered civilians, it would send a chilling message to all those who had stood up in Arab spring. Not Mubarak (held by American military aid to some extent, from a massive slaughter even as every weapon his thugs fired against the protestors – murdering at least 302 – was American-made), but Ghadhafy, less beholden to the United States for military aid and hence more able to act on his murderous desires, would suppress the people as the US stood idly by. Stopping a massacre is unusual. This is the first act of American war policy I can remember thinking was a good thing in my adult life.

But this imperial intervention of Britain (1 submarine), France the US (the US fired $81 million of Tomahawk missiles the first day, see my "Monsters to destroy" here ) and a jet plane (American) sent out by Qatar also interferes with the internal development of Arab revolt. The old imperialists are on the scene (Italy, which once committed genocide in eastern Libya, now recognizes the rebels in eastern Libya…). If the US just got out, having stopped a massacre, it would be helpful. But it turns out the US had had stealth boots on the ground, CIA and mercenary (we do not yet know how many) in Libya for months. The American military has been thoroughly privatized, mercenarized, the life sucked out of government command by private companies. In Afghanistan, Obama secretly sent 70,000 Blackwater/Xe mercenaries in addition to the official 30,000 troops in his escalation. The corporate media publicized the army escalation and left in the dark the greater mercenary escalation.

As Deborah Avant told us at the Korbel School last fall, Bush escalated the aggression in Iraq with 70,000 mercenaries in early 2004, No mention occurred in Congress or the media of this invasion, bringing the number of mercenaries (often paid 10 times as much to soldiers) there to 1 to 1 (50%) I knew the ratios of mercenaries to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in late 2010, neither I nor any one else at the Korbel School of International Studies – an institution with at least a passing interest in American diplomacy and wars – had heard of the 2004 escalation until she told us about it. Jack Balkin, the Yale contitutional law professor (see Balkinization blog), speaks of a bipartisan legal regime making, for example, the absence of habeas corpus and torture for an American citizen, Jose Padilla, the new bipartisan norm of a National Surveillance State. Balkin's locution is, in this case, odd - there is now bipartisan agreement on the extinction of Anglo and Anglo-American law, of a system of law as John Rawls referred to it. The recent disgraceful statements of Lindsay Graham that General Petaeus is now the law illustrate this dementia perfectly. Obama has increasingly taken over Cheneyesque tyrannical "executive" power and made it "bipartisan."

The Obama administration continues the occupation two countries in the Middle East and wages war against Pakisran, and others through drones and Xe/Blackwater and CIA ops) . The likely shutdown of the government this weekend will further destroy the livelihoods of ordinary people – denying a common good. Lawyers in Congress like Paul Ryan are happy enough to do (his budget cuts propose the privatization of Medicare which can leave the old without coverage as well as, if social security is made to go "poof!" on the stock market - eating dog food - American "civilization" in decline). But they do not touch the military and unending wars. In this decisive respect, the military governs the war complex and American policy.**

But Petraeus and the others command a privatized army outside the sphere of public accountability, Congressional debates, and mention by the corporate media. How many troops do we have occupying Iraq. The Times says 55,000. But actually there are 72,000 more mercenaries for Xe/Blackwater and others. The total is, thus, 127,000 and it is not leaving soon (despite the rumored "final drawdown by the end of 2011" on National Public Radio this afternoon). The Iraq government demanded Blackwrter leave after its operatives slaughtered 17 civilizans in Nissour Square. But it stays...

This is a heady thing for Obama, being able to operate beyond any Congressional or Constitutional control...He was modest and careful about war and the constitution, but being President has corrupted him, to some extent, too.

Thus in Libya, the public has no idea of how many troops the US in fact has on the ground. Obama’s word means little in this context. Now Rand Paul (someone who wants to smash unions to get at the Democratic Party, but at the same time, is happy to be owned by the Koch brothers and big banks, a less than admirable person) spoke out well against Obama’s refusal to come to Congress with this policy. The Constitution obligates the President to carry out a Congressional declaration of war. Now Obama could maneuver cleverly diplomatically and multilaterally, get Britian and France to take the lead, the Arab League and the UN Security Council to approve, Qatar to fly a jet…The veneer thins, but stopping a massacre was a good thing. Yet Obama did not even after the fact seek ratification by the American Congress. This teacher of constitutional law is not bound by the Constitution. Rightly not bound by the American constitution, British Prime Minister David Cameron nonetheless took the war to Parliament. Good to know that some leader maintains a façade of legality...

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a statement, saying that the War Powers Act which requires seeking Congressional approval within 60 days did not apply (a Republican reported this; actually she waffled, claiming not to know whether it did). To cure imperial tyranny – the wanton making of wars by Monarchs (see The Federalist Papers), the frivolous waste of lives in the “pleasure party of war” (Kant, "Perpetual Peace"), the War Powers Act, as candidates Obama and Clinton, being competent lawyers, insisted, allows the President to make war only when the US is threatened with aggression and must respond swiftly to block it. That is pretty much never the case (Al Qaida did attack the United States, but it is not a state).

The Libya war, plainly not a war of self-defense, is thus illegal. Yet Obama’s act initially saved lives. The initial intervention was moral. But Obama could have gone to Congress and gotten approval though the debate would not have made the war popular. Americans are already rightly sickened by the other aggressions and occupations the US is waging. Some 50% approved the decision to go to war in Libya (a very low number on what are effectively rigged polls – "do you really agree, with the President, do you pretty much agree with the president, do you agree with the president, are you slightly skeptical of the president, do you disagree with the President?" is the way the questions are phrased – something which lead to, in statisitical terms, invalid figures.

But except for the speech, Obama is making no effort to get approval or fulfill Constitutional demands. And this from a Constitutional lawyer, and initially an anti-"dumb Iraq War" candidate - the corrupting power of American militarism, of the war complex, is highlighted in how far even Obama has gone. This is – much as I like Obama as a person – an horrific change. It is the bipartisan agreement, in the words of Yale constitutional law professor Jack Balkin – that illegal and usually immoral war – is now the American way, that America is effectively ruled by a tyrant or "monarch" and not a constitutional authority.

As Greenwald points out, Dick Cheney, long advised by Straussians (see here), had pressed for arbitrary "executive" or "commander in chief power". As I have shown, this idea was initiated by Carl Schmitt in Political Thelogy (1923) whose opening sentence is: "he is sovereign who makes the decision in the sate of the exception." It was brought to America by Leo Strauss, a follower of Schmitt who could not join the Nazi party like his mentors (Heidegger was the other, see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) because, as Hannah Arendt said, he was a Jew.

His followers, the Straussians (some 15 in the Bush administation, including Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, and Avram Shulsky and publicists around it, notably William Kristol) are the heart of the neocons. They have urged an authoritarian foreign policy, along with duping the masses through Evangelicism (Strauss's picture of what Plato recommends in the Laws, not recognizing that Plato was skeptical of an Athenian Stranger, who unlike Socrates, did not drink the hemlock) to go along with aggression and torture.

But Samantha Power has now given Kristol’s argument for tyranny a moral flavor, Obama has now shown that a broad pattern of American aggression can include a rare figleaf of moral intervention (a good thing in itself, but neither the secret war that follows nor the other wars that this perfumes are). Democratic think-tank "experts" clamor for war. Leslie Gelb wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs, trying to explain why he had been so miserably wrong about Iraq; his conclusion: one cannot get "face-time" on MSNBC or Fox unless one clamors for war. In this context, Power is morally attractive. Democratic think-tank experts are literally neo-neo cons. The Obama/Power policy is thus a cover for the main aspect of unending militarism, and economic collapse at home.

In the case of Egypt, as I have emphasized here and here, Robert Kagan, one of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century, arguing for the unilateral use of American military power to force others at gunpoint to become “democracies” as in Iraq, suggested that the US support the democratic movement from below and, by implication, limit it (the military transition regime is going all out to deter strikes; there will be no further Tahrir Squares of political discussion and deliberation unless the people are very determined). Kristol is supremely unattractive, immoral, and exhausted (he is a tired imperialist, wanting to kill others even in the elite, but not to be taken seriously as a murderer). But Power has now provided Kristolian and neo-neo con war a new moral gloss. If the US weren't broke and even if it is, there is a bipartisan elite consensus - excepting Ron Paul, very good on these matters, and many Congressional Democrats - on new wars...

Now, the nature of American involvement in Afghanistan under Obama needs to be grasped clearly. The Rolling Stone just ran an article by Mark Boal "The Kill Team" (h/t Suzie Wagner and Fernando Ospina). There Bravo Company, with widespread knowledge and coverup by higher officers, took a 15 year old boy in a field, friendly to the Americans, and murdered him. See here and here. Two weeks ago, some American helicopters murdered 9 little boys out gathering wood for their mothers. Petraeus infamously told Karzai that Afghan mothers push their little boys out in front of American soldiers to create incidents. He may have said something more racist – something that will make him notorious for the long run historically – than General Westmoreland who once said that the Vietnamese “don’t value human life” (this from the napalmer of naked children – the little girl running down the dirt road burning, from the murderer of most of the 3 million Vietnamese who died during America’s genocide there. Americans can't be bothered to keep statistics of the Iraqis we kill, but are truly concerned with human life. The American governent calls Karzai corrupt in Afghanistan, but who could be more corrupt than David Petraeus and President Obama for not firing him?

I agree with Obama and Power: American militarism should be judged by its moral understanding…

Bush did not seriously consider a direct moral intervention, say in Darfur (something to confuse the world about whether American aggressions were just about war, oil and military bases, to give Bush’s policies some other aspect). Under cover, however, Bush also sanctioned or employed Gene Sharp and Bob Helvey to pursue nonviolence against pro-Russia tyrants in Eastern Europe. Sharp’s “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” translated into 21 languages by the American intelligence services, was to be a lynch pin. When the Egyptian revolution occurred, the New York Times ran on an odd front page story about Sharp, still rattling around his old house in East Boston, not using the internet and having a young Afghan woman assist him, yet being the "mastermind" of the Egyptian revolt, "Shy US intellectual created playbook used in a revolution." (Feb. 16, 2011) The reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg mentioned the connection of Sharp to Helvey – an officer in military intelligence, the operative who went to Serbia and met a Yugoslav student Slovo who spoke at my school (Slovo related that he had been flown out of Serbia where he was protesting Milosevic to Budapest where he went to a fancy hotel, went up to the penthouse, found a bald headed man sweating in a fancy suit and shiny shoes – he didn’t feel so good – but was then relieved when Helvey gave him “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” Helvey’s travels were funded by the International Republican Institute headed by John McCain.) The article pointed out that Sharp had "run into" Helvey at Harvard, that Helvey was the leg man for Sharp’s ideas, but did not probe further. See here. Once a follower of Gandhi, Sharp used to describe nonviolence as but a tactical matter. With his association with the U.S. government through his Einstein Institution (a misnomer, false to the decency of the great scientist), Sharp now refers to himself ominously as "transpartisan."

As an Arab commentator rightly put it, this is “Lawrence of Arabia” or American orientialism: "Egyptians can't get it together; only the old white guy can"...Actually, Egyptians were horrified by American torture, and its Egyptian version (Bush extraordinarily rendered Arabs, snatched off the street, to be tortured in Egypt among other places; Mubarak’s assistant General Omar Suleiman was to the fore in overseeing torture for Bush – see here). Ordinary Egyptians and Arabs were revulsed by American torture and hypocrisy. They set out democratically to remove Mubarak. They did not make the United States or Obama the chief enemy, even though the tear gas canisters used against them were, every single one of them, manufactured by CSI (Consolidated Systems Inc)…

Sharp and Helvey have a long, partly honorable history of supporting nonviolence, and the power of the people, as Obama put it in his speech when Mubarak fell. See here. Sharp started out as a war resister, going to jail for opposition to Korea. He participated with Coretta Scott King in the civil rights movement, taking part in lunch counter sit-ins. During Vietnam however, he never spoke out against the war (though he was in Cambridge and I was a long time leader of the anti-war movement and met many many people, I never saw him…). He did not speak out against the war in Iraq. "Transpartisan" means the opposite of principled opposition to one's own government's wars...When reporting 300 hits on his website about Iran (my student Negin Sobhani ran this down), he never criticized the likely negative effect of Cheney’s/Netanyahu’s desired bombing of Natanz near Teheran. Even Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall – Ackerman was in US AID, for a long time funded Sharp and the Einstein Institution, and they, too, are probably government ops though they also do something good - noted that that would be counterproductive of a green movement in Iran…

On Sharp’s behalf as on Power's, one can imagine that they have made American policy more decent. In fact, one could suggest that when Egyptian students studied Sharp’s ideas, they contributed to the realization of an unintended consequence. The US government circulated "From Dictatorship to Democracy" - Ackerman conducted a workshop in Cairo - and the April 6th movement, the article suggests, translated the article into Arabic. 21 languages the CIA had provided, including 5 in Burma, but the US was not into fostering Arabs getting democratic ideas.
The pamphlet thus unintentionally contributed to the fall of Mubarak, the disruption of the power of American militarized, pro-Israeli occupation-of-the-territories tyrants in the Middle East. From 'Dictatorship to Democracy" is wooden – it is a dead list of methods. One would never imagine the Mothers of the Disappeared in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina bringing down the dictatorship if one read this book, nor know of their demonstration as a suggestion (in general, though still with important insights, Sharp’s writing on nonviolence has become deader, less full of examples, over the years). But the Egyptians took it their own way.

The US can harm – and the Power/Kristol and Obama/Bush tandem intend to – the unfolding movement of Arab spring, exemplified in Tunisia and Cairo. Obama seeks to honor the free speech and assembly of ordinary Arabs, but to bend their movement away from popular democracy (Slobo described how he went back to Serbia, and suddenly, there were a million all-the-same slogan
printed t-shirts and signs, the large movement against Milosevic, in effect, straightjacketed in a limited program; there was no further thought projected, beyond the overturning of the dictator, of how a democratic movement might sustain popular participation and deliberation...Quite the contrary.

In addition, Western military intervention, an imperial cause against the tyrant Khadhafy, also threatens revolution from below. And yet Obama is also right that protecting innocent protestors from being murdered by Khadhafy is a good thing. It might give the US government a new relationship to Arab spring as well; he was right that allowing the massacre would have made clear that the American government just stands by to see people slaughtered. But only demanding decent treatment for the Palestinians, only standing up against Israeli fascism and making Lieberman and Netanyahu stand down, would create a genuine new direction for American militarism in the Middle East. Only such a move would also enable genuine budget cutting – to remove the vast amount of money - $704 billion officially - and the secret worldwide network of 1,280 military bases.

But things are changing. A vast uprising from below, visible from the demonstrations of April 4th and Madison (Scott Walker's crucial swing ally on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Prosser was just defeated out of nowhere this morning here), real civil disobedience against wars, occupations, outrageous war budgets and the ravaging of the poor, can make a real difference in terms of staving off a now slightly moralized but self-destructive (and destructive of the world) American empire which is collapsing, stone by stone, before our eyes.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
Military Tribunal May Keep 9/11 Motives Hidden
by Ray McGovern

The Obama administration’s decision to use a military tribunal rather than a federal criminal court to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others means the real motives behind the 9/11 attacks may remain obscure.

The Likud Lobby and their allied U.S. legislators can chalk up a significant victory for substantially shrinking any opportunity for the accused planners of 9/11 to tell their side of the story.

What? I sense some bristling. “Their side of the story?” Indeed! We’ve been told there is no “their side of the story.”

Bromides Vice Explanations

For years, President George W. Bush got away with offering up the risible explanation that they “hate our freedoms.” The stenographers of the White House press corps may have had to suppress smiles but silently swallowed the “they-hate-us-for-our-freedoms” rationale.

The only journalist I can recall stepping up and asking, in effect, “Come on; now really; it’s important; why do they really hate us” was the indomitable Helen Thomas.

In January 2010, two weeks after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underpants bomber,” tried to down an airliner over Detroit, President Barack Obama asked White House counter-terrorism guru, John Brennan, to field questions from the White House press.

Helen Thomas took the opportunity to ask why the would-be bomber did what he did. The exchange with Brennan is, hopefully, more instructive than it is depressing — highlighting a limited mindset still bogged down in bromides.

Thomas: "Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why."

Brennan: "Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. ... They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death."

Thomas: "And you're saying it's because of religion?"

Brennan: "I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way."

Thomas: "Why?"

Brennan: "I think this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland."

Thomas: "But you haven't explained why."

One should, I suppose, be grateful for small favors. At least Brennan did not adduce the they-hate-our-freedoms rationale.

So Why?

After the Obama administration announced on Nov. 13, 2009, that it intended to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court for murder, I wrote an article which began by quoting ACLU attorney Denney LeBoeuf regarding some unpleasant facts, such as torture, that the case was likely to reveal.

“I think that we’re going to shine a light on something that a lot of people don’t want to look at,” LeBoeuf said.

Never much for political correctness, I also went into some detail on the light that might be shed on more plausible reasons why “they hate us” — Exhibit A being U.S. support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. You will not find much on this in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), but there is no lack of evidence.

I included, for example, the findings of a Sept. 23, 2004, report of the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board, which I’d suggest now has additional impact in light of the tumult in the Middle East and Northern Africa:

“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.”

The FCM ignored the Defense Science Board report for two months. Finally, on Nov. 24, 2004, the New York Times published a story on the report — but with some revealing surgery in the above paragraph. The Times quoted the first sentence, but pressed the delete button for the one on what Muslims do object to — “what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights…”

The Times story did include the sentence from the original report that immediately followed the (excised) sentence about Israel. So it was clearly a case of surgical removal of the offending sentence, not merely a need to shorten the paragraph.

Even More Obvious Revisions

Back to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: As he was being interrogated, the drafters of the 9/11 Commission Report found themselves wondering why he would bear such hatred toward the U.S.

They were aware that he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina/Greensboro, and speculated that he suffered some kind of gross indignity during his years there.

Not the case, the drafters were told by those with access to the interrogation reports. Rather, the report concludes on page 147:

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

This is among the considerations that prompted the authors to observe later in the Commission report:

“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world. … Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger.”

As for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s motivation, the neocon editors of the Washington Post waited a decent interval — five years – apparently in hopes that few readers would get as far as page 147 in the 9/11 Commission report, and/or that those who did would have short memories.

On Aug. 30, 2009, the Post cited an unspecified “intelligence summary” for a brand new explanation of his motives:

“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States —which included a brief jail stay because of unpaid bills — almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist. … He stated that his contact with the Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”

Let’s give the Post the benefit of the doubt. It could be, I suppose, that the above did not come from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed until his 183rd waterboarding session. In any case, the revised explanation of his motives is surely politically more convenient to those wishing to obscure Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

White House Gives Up

The New York Times article on the Obama administration’s reversal of its earlier attempt to hold key 9/11 trials in a federal court declared in a headline, “White House Gives Up Civilian Court Plan.” But what does the reversal mean?

For one thing, it means there is likely to be far less reportage and publicity than would have been the case in federal criminal court, which normally accommodates a far larger audience. Even plain folks like you and me can go and watch. (In 2009, I attended a U.S. Court of Appeals hearing in D.C. that reversed an earlier decision to release 17 innocent Uighur detainees into the United States from Guantanamo.)

Reduced public access to statements made by the 9/11 defendants was one of the specific reasons cited by Sen. Joe Lieberman and other members of Congress for blocking a federal criminal trial.

"Putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a public courtroom in full view of the public gives him a better platform than any member of al Qaeda has been given to recruit new members," Lieberman said in February, successfully arguing that funds should be denied for holding such a trial.

In other words, Lieberman wanted to prevent Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants from having an opportunity to explain their actions in a way that the U.S. and world public would get to hear.

With the case handled by a much more tightly controlled military tribunal, the defendants are even surer to be denied that public “platform.”

Even if Mohammed somehow could seize an opportunity, before sentencing, to explain what drove him to conduct the attacks of 9/11, his comments would likely fall like the proverbial tree in the forest. There might actually be a few journalists within earshot able to listen and report. But willing?

Favored journalists in attendance would be unlikely to provoke their military hosts or their editors back home by passing along to the readers any inconvenient motives that the defendant might express.

The Guantanamo locale affords the government other distinct advantages. In addition to the fewer attendees, there can be even tighter handling of secrets and the “CLASSIFIED” stamp can be used virtually at will. Transcripts can be heavily censored — all with very little scrutiny.

The government also can select the attendees. In the past, military officials at Guantanamo have cherry-picked — and blacklisted — journalists, depending largely on how obediently they have behaved during earlier cases.

These restrictions — and the choice of Guantanamo — are abhorrent to human rights advocates here and abroad. Neocons, though, can breathe easier, since they are reasonably assured of protection against any loud complaints from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed et al. about “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Still, the tribunal approach may further delay justice in the 9/11 cases, since the untested tribunal rules will likely be subjected to many more legal challenges than would be the case in the well-worn rules of criminal courts.

ACLU director Anthony Romero has noted that the military commission system is “rife with constitutional and procedural problems,” adding that the Attorney General’s “flip-flop is devastating to the rule of law.”

The Constitution on Life Support

The most serious casualty appears to be the Constitution of the United States, given the dubious fairness of the military commissions and the noxious precedent set by the administration’s reversal. It is possible that some future president might expand their coverage to apply to anyone who is deemed to lend any form of support to “terrorists,” such as perhaps leaking U.S. government secrets.

Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow and an attorney, wrote that she was given all of two hours “advance notice” regarding the Justice Department’s decision to not prosecute the remaining alleged 9/11 conspirators in an open court of law.

She asked that we all ponder what this decision says about President Barack Obama, the Justice Department, and the United States of America. She provided her own thoughts:

“As for the Department of Justice, it shows their inability to prosecute individuals who are responsible for the death of 3,000 people on the morning of 9/11. Apparently our Constitution and judicial system -- two of the very cornerstones that make America so great and used to set such a shining example to the rest of the world -- are not adequately set up to respond to or deal with the aftermath of terrorism.

“To me, this is a startling and dismal acknowledgment that perhaps Osama Bin Laden did, in fact, win on the morning of 9/11. And chillingly, I wonder whether it wasn't just the steel towers that were brought down and incinerated on 9/11, but the yellowed pages of our U.S. Constitution, as well.”


Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

*The father of the Koch brothers was a Bircher. The Koch Brothers, as Scott Walker revealed in the fake phone chall from “David Koch” was but a criminal yo-yo talking about whether with provocateurs to break up the amazing nonviolent demonstrations against him at the State Capitol in Madison. If one wants to understand the decadence of the New York Times, read that interview and look over Times’ “reporting” on Wisconsin afterwards…

**During Bush-Cheney authoritarianism, the military leadership fought torture of prisoners (the US has taken the lead in exemplifying torture and Americans captured can certainly expect it at the hands of others - though the US has now given its enemies space to demonstrate a moral superiority...). But in that case, the corrupt civilians ruled. The military dominates the war complex only in what makes it worse, like conducting unending and useless war against children in Afghanistan...

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