Thursday, June 27, 2013

A President's Private Army; "Dirty Wars" and the Sorcerer's Apprentice


The Sie Center in Denver, near Tattered Cover, just showed Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars with a discussion afterwards led by David Sirota, Scahill’s friend, and a pathbreaking independent journalist in his own right.

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This is no ordinary movie and barely seems – though it is plainly – a documentary (Scahill has also written a long book also called Dirty Wars about his findings).

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The film is framed as a powerful detective story. Scahill goes to dangerous places and as one discovers in an undercurrent, often risks his life. He escapes the embeddedness of American "reporters" in Kabul to view American murders at Gardez. He has to drive during the day; the night "belongs to the Taliban." In a particularly unsettling scene, Scahill is taken, under armed guards and with a decoy car as well, to see killer\torturer war lords who collaborate with those whom they name American “teachers,” “masters of war.”

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The danger parallels the experience as a war reporter described by Chris Hedges in War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. War is high adrenaline. It hooks people and often makes civilian life normal and a bore.

Hedges describes one of his colleagues from Salvador trying to leave, coming back again, knowing that he would get killed, and being shot within a day. He describes his own madness. He raged about an airplane ticket in Salvador, and the clerk, frightened of him, stabbed him in the cheek with his pen.

Hedges left his cheek bleeding all the way to Switzerland as a reminder to himself of his own madness.

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In Scahill, this theme is muted. But danger is part of high stakes war reporting.

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Partly because of his discoveries about Blackwater, Scahill interviews many people in intelligence and testifies before John Conyers committee in Congress. Conyers, the only honorable representative on that committee, alone was there to hear him.

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What Scahill found in Gardez, Afghanistan is that a secret, bearded team of American killers had come in to a house at night and murdered a police chief, Mohammed Daoud, trained by the Americans, a loyalist, as well as two pregnant women.

The father tells the horrific story, underlining that he and the family were pro-American, not remotely Taliban.

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But a brother now wants to go on a suicide bombing against the Americans. One can see why the brother has this reaction and in fact, if he got those responsible and not civilians - suicide bombings usually murder innocents, the same crime of war they often respond to - would even have - this should be especially frightening to and hard to deal with Americans; it is for me - a kind of justice (it would not be, however, a wise response or a way out, but that is a different matter).

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In the discussion following the movie, a woman from Colorado Springs asked what she might say to get people there off being hooked on the military. Sirota wisecracked that the “conservatives” in Colorado Springs combine hatred for the US government, at least for Obama, and any decent things the government does (expenses on social security, education, medical care and the like), with complete dependence on the government. One-third of the economy of Colorado Springs is military-related.

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Sirota gave only one response: highlighting the brother’s reaction to the American murder of his family. The counterproductiveness of JCOS attacks (the killing of Bin Laden excepted) and drones – that they make many more enemies for the United States, produce every lengthening kill lists for Obama to select the hits on, as Obama was publicized for doing in a Scott Shane and Jo Becker article "Secret Kill Lists Test Obama Principles" in the New York Times before the election to prove his "toughness", is a huge matter. See here.

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For Scahill's movie shows each new kill list, ever longer, replacing a shorter one. The story of murdering innocents with the JCOS and drones, under Obama, is that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice (though the military/"security" establishment/war complex which Obama is forced to work with as President, is even less a sorcerer than Obama...).

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Through this secret army - one bigger than the army of most nations - and drones, these unchecked practices strengthen tyrannical, executive power in the United States. Obama does not want to be a tyrant, and yet he has arrogated to himself terrible powers, even a large private army, and is again, somewhat despite himself, morphing into one.

No sorcerers here...

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But the secret killing, by the Joint Special Operations Command and by drones, does not make Americans more secure. Instead, it increases repulsion toward the American government from ordinary people in many countries, and worse yet, justified repulsion. As the recent Congressional hearings after so much damage has been done, have emphasized, it needs to be halted. See the testimony of the Yemeni Farea al-Muslimi, a student who studied and lived in America, a pro-Amerian whose village was anti-Al Qaeda until terrorized by a drone hovering overhead for a day and then taking out a villager. See here.

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Schaill saw a cell phone video of a man who turned out to be the head of the Joint Spcial Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven, personally apologizing to the family for the murders.

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JSOC has some 66,000 troops as reported in the press around the operation taking out Bin Laden. It is otherwise a secret army, reporting directly to the President, not to any military command. Scahill found this secret body operating outside of/unknown to the commanders in the military zones in Afghanistan.

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Scahill then traced their operations, ultimately through the reports of a rightly disgruntled leader within JCOS talking with him secretly, to 12 operations a night (at least) in 75 countries. Most of these countries the US is not formally at war with.

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Imagine if a drone missile from a late 21st century power, say a Saudi-China, had come down and taken out every person in Tattered Cover next door to the Sie Center where we were watching the movie..

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Americans, as I – see "Imagine" here – and Ron Paul emphasize, would rightly feel aggressed against and often join the fight against the foreign power as well as a subservient corrupt government, even if we had little in common with and little liking for the group that did (Mohammed Daoud's brother had initially been repelled by, willing to fight against the Taliban).

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Under Article 2 section 4 of the UN charter which bars acts of war by one state against the people of another, a clause once fought for by the United States and the charge under which the US government conducted the Nuremburg Trials, these acts by the Obama administration - both JCOS killings and the drones - in, for example, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia are the crime of aggression. By American law, Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, treaties signed by the United States are the highest law of the land.

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In addition to aggression, the JSOC under McRaven often targets innocents, the second great crime of war as Michael Walzer shows in Just and Unjust Wars.

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What Scahill found then still in the dark became partially public when Obama took out Bin Laden. The JSOC did it and it was actually McRaven’s assistant who sat at the head of the table at the White House, with Barack and Hilary and Biden and Panetta and others scattered around, watching intently, the kill as it unfolded.

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Suddenly, there was a flash of favorable publicity on this good operation – Bin Laden was a big killer of innocents. See here, here and here. But taking him out and dropping him in the deep blue sea also displayed contempt for the rule of law, primarily as a result of the dysfunction of American politics and the fact that Bin Laden on trial would have revealed a lot of dirty stuff about the original Amerian war in Afghanistan - the CIA then trained Bin Laden to cultivate jihad against the Soviet Union, an action which has come back to haunt the United States - thirty years ago under Reagan.

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But the depredations of the JSOC, bigger and much more efficient than the army of almost any other power in the world – and no other government is waging 12 missions, more or less, every night, in 75 countries, are on a vast scale.

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Scahill spoke with the father of Anwar Al-Awlaki, once an all-American boy, and a go-to person for the Bush administration, as a Muslim cleric, to attack the perpetrators of 9/11. Awlake was turned by the American aggression in Iraq, feeling that the US was wagng war on Muslims. He was wrong (though Obama's speech against him - though, otherwise, warning against militarism - see "Obama's Turning Point" here - reports evidence which has not yet been looked at independently or by anything like a legal process).

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Scahill shows tragically how Obama took out innocent American citizens, not only Awlaki, but as if in a Greek tragegdy (or a Machiavellian nightmare) his 16 year son and his cousin, both Americans. Abdulrahman Awlaki was looking for his father (the Obama administration does not allege that he had committed any crime). They and 10 other innocents were at a food stand in a rural village in Yemen consumed by drones.

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The wrong policy metastasizes from killing proAmerican police chiefs and two pregnant women in Gardez to killing American citizens, without any judicial proceeding against them – no rule of law – at the behest of a, in this respect, "thoughtful" (so Obama sometimes is, so the New York Times presents his "careful" control of drones) tyrant. Here is the neocon doctrine of exectutive/commander in chief power at its reprehensible authoritarian height.

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Scahill also talked with a general who alone in the “security establishment” would speak to him about the Gardez killings. The general insisted that the government should not investigate them. Mohammed Daoud, the American-trained police chief, he suggested, might have been working both sides. The general himself has been shot at by women who thus become combatants…

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David Sirota referred to him aptly as Darth Vader and he is better otherwise unnamed (the film immortalizes him...)

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Between drones and the JSOC, the President Barack Obama is waging a hidden war off the books against nonwhite people in 75 countries. That goes along with illegal spying on all Americans, as Edward Snowden has courageously revealed: what I call anti-democratic feedback of foreign wars in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? and what Barack rightly named, following James Madison, as the danger of authoritarianism arising from permanent war. See here.

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As the question period emphasized, there are a thousand companies who profit from this. The JSOC spends, Sirota guessed, 20-50 billion dollars a year (it is a secret organization...): A lot of armor, vests, weapons, helicopters or planes, etc. The program has therefore a life of its own beyond the will of any President.

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Unlike Bush, Obama is sometimes a semi-competent killer. He did, after all, take out Bin Laden. But arguably, as the film reveals, because the technical capability has grown since Cheney, Obama is even a worse killer than Bush. He does not seize and torture prisoners (though there is a serious undercurrent here of danger in the secret operations and prisons, particularly of cooperating regimes to whom the US may still make "renditions"), he kills suspected enemies.

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In Obama’s recent speech emphasizing the authoritarian consequences domestically of these policies – what I call Obama’s turning point here – he says that his preference is to capture and try not to kill.

But the practices shown in “Dirty Wars” reveal this as deception and self-deception.

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As I raised in the discussion, however, in the context of American aggressions in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a positive point about this terrifying policy. Obama has moved away from large scale American invasions of other countries. Despite great pressure from Netanyahu and Romney, among others, Obama has not bombed Iran. He has not invaded Libya or Syria, and is working to get US forces out of Afghanistan having taken them – except some of the secret Blackwater/mercenaries – out of Iraq. (A note on the corruption here: in the surge in Afghanistan pushed publicly by the insurgent General Stanley McChrystal, Barack didn’t just send the official 30,000 troops; he sent 100,000, 70,000 mercenaries secretly from the American people though approved and known by Congress - again, part of the blocking of Congressional authority and even speech - and 30,000 "official" troops. Thus, the secret wars of JSOC and the mercenaries as well as drone killings – again, kept secret from the American people, go on massively and make ordinary people, as the brother of Mohammed Daoud, the pro-American police chief murdered in Gardez, said, want jihad against Americans)

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The private Presidential army, operating in secret - save for Bin Laden - does horrific and counderproductive things, amking Americans less safe every hour.

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Still, Obama did this while deescalating the main wars, creating some obvious possibility – as he said in the speech about ending the war on terror and turning away the dangers of authoritarianism at home – of doing some nation-building in America, for instance, some spending on education and health care...

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That Obama may be gradually trying to turn the ship of American militarism does not alter, however, Scahill’s point about the horror and danger of the JCOS/drone policy.

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But it does allow one to hope that further movements from below – like the anti-Iraq War movement (or speaking out against Afghanistan, as I did in 2001 then at small rallies and in writing; see "New Institutions for Peace and Democracy" in Sir Roland Kittrie et al, eds., True Seeds of Peace: Responding to the Concerns of a Global Community and the movement to elect and reelect Obama, as well as Madison and Occupy – might expose and stop this.


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For this purpose, Scahill’s movie, book and reporting are as good as it gets. "Dirty Wars" is thus a great public service, in the face of a corrupt and murderous American war complex, Democrat as well as Republican.

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I have been working a lot on the American genocide, from East to West, against indigenous people. It is as grim and merciless a story as there is in history. If red men, women and children are people, then the aggression of the settlers and the US government – and the stunningly horrific treatment which made many other Americans like Silas Soule sympathize with and try to help indigenous people – is clear as a bell…

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It is impossible for me to look at the JSOC murders in Gardez and the operations in so many nonwhite countries, the taking out of women and children, the even blinder than usual signature strikes (where anyone in a “dangerous” area gets killed; so much for Barack’s and John Brennan’s carefulness in “selecting targets”), all flow from this original genocide as well as the racism involved in slavery (see my Black Patriots and Loyalists) and segregation.

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A colonel on the eve of the Iraq invasion tried to shape up his men, three of whom, one a Shawnee, did not have their helmets on. He strode up to them, pointed to the desert, and said “Gentlemen, this is Indian Country>” See here.

The JCOS named the killing of Bin Laden "Code Name Geronimo." Geronimo was a great resister against the barbarism of the government of Mexico (they murdered his wife, mother and daughters...) as well as the United States. He is today rightly and increasingly - outside of US military circles - celebrated as a hero.

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The curse of American racism lives on in the current nightly JSOC murderousness, shown in Jereme Scahill’s Dirty Wars. It would be wise for each of us to take this in and do everything we can to stop it.

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