This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism. Subscribe here to receive this round-up by email.
- This morning: a suicide bomber has detonated in the Malian city of Gao in the north. This is the first incident of its kind in Mali, according to military sources.
- France wants the current African-led mission in Mali to be replaced with a UN-led peacekeeping mission by April.
- “A decade of missteps” in US counterterrorism policies in Africa.
- According to the UNHCR, 5,000 Syrians flee every day.
- CJ Chivers profiles Hajji Marea, a Syrian rebel commander.
- On Saturday, the leader of the Syrian opposition council. Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, met separately in Munich with representatives from the US and Russia.
- The Sunday Times has told British war photographer Rick Findler not to submit any more photos out of Syria in order to not encourage freelancers to put themselves at risk for a photo.
- A former English teacher in Aleppo has become known as Guevara by some and by others as simply “the female sniper.”
- 23 members of Hamas, three of them lawmakers, were arrested by Israel in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
- The 12th summit of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation opened in Cairo Wednesday.
- The Egyptian opposition is claiming that the police tortured 28-year-old activist Mohammed El-Gindy to death.
- Jailed Moroccan rapper El Haqed (Mouad Belghouat) is on hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment.
- The assassination of leading Tunisian opposition figure Chokri Belaid has led to protests and clashes and a greater sense of threat for the nation’s pro-democracy movement.
- Today: gunmen in Kano, Nigeria, killed two health workers administering polio vaccines.
- The UN-backed tribunal in Rwanda overturned two 2011 genocide convictions for two former ministers: Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza, who were sentenced to thirty years in prison.
- According to a new report, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army killed far fewer civilians this year than in the past two years. 51 seems like a pretty sizable number of civilians, but that’s the lowest that number has been since 2007. In 2010 and 2011 it was 706 and 154 respectively.
- The US widened its sanctions on Iran this week with actions that included blacklisting the state broadcasting authority.
- Iran has rejected the idea of direct nuclear talks with Washington while sanctions remain in place.
- Iranian President Ahmedinejad is involved in a feud with one of the country’s notable families.
- Vietnam jailed 22 people for “subversion.”
- North Korea released a YouTube video which depicted a young man dreaming of a destroyed US set to an instrumental version of “We Are the World.”
- A new report from the watchdog group Open Society Justice Initiative reveals that 54 countries aided in 136 CIA renditions (the transfer of a detainee by the US to another country for interrogation).
- From NBC, the DOJ’s white paper justifying the overseas drone strike program.
- The release of the Obama administration’s own legal analysis and justification of the drone program has created a serious public debate over the validity of those arguments and of the drone program.
- David Cole took part in that dialogue with his NYRB response “How We Made Killing Easy.”
- David Cole also has 13 questions for John Brennan.
- Drone strikes also dominated the discussion at Brennan’s rocky confirmation hearings for director of the CIA.
- The CIA runs a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia, established two years ago. Media outlets knew about the base, but refrained from reporting on the request of the administration.
- A secret legal review has asserted the President’s broad powers to order a pre-emptive strike if there is credible evidence a major incoming cyberattack.
- A new lawsuit asserts that the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims violates rules against spying that were created in the 60s and 70s to protect political activists.
- Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that torture was unnecessary to the discovery of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
- According to a new GAO report, the US has spent $97 million in Central America over the past 4 years to fight the war on drugs. It’s questionable how much success that money bought.
- The UK has plans to install spy devices throughout the country’s telecoms network, surveilling citizens’ uses of overseas services like Twitter. These “probes” are part of a larger eventual scheme to track everything the Brits do online.
- Canada is considering changing its laws to allow the possibility of revoking Canadian citizenship for those dual citizens who commit acts of terrorism.
- Slain French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik’s work is on display as an exhibition titled “Revolutions: Photographs of the Arab Spring by Rémi Ochlik” at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University through February 22nd. Ochlik was killed in Syria last year.
- Listen to Iraq war vet Brian Turner, a soldier-poet, read some of his poems for NPR.
- What does Richard III’s body tell us, not just about him, but about the Battle of Bosworth and war in general?
Photo: Damascus, Syria. Insurgents run for cover during fighting. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters.
Liberals liberals liberals. Obama didn’t close GITMO, he’s unashamedly slaughtering brown people with impunity via drones, concealing/withholding information from the US public, defending use of drones against Americans, signed the NDAA, aiding/abetting attack on Libya,…
Escalating militarisation of the US police force to deal with “military-trained thugs” will not bode well for civilians.
Aug. 16 2012
Investigative reporter Nir Rosen once aptly remarked on the tendency in mainstream Western journalism to downplay unfavourable trends occurring in the context of US military operations abroad: “The big scandals like Abu Ghraib, or the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan, eventually make their way into the media where they can be dismissed as bad apples and exceptions, and the general oppression of the occupations can be ignored”.
A similar sort of argument can perhaps be made with regard to incidents such as the August 7 Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin, perpetrated by Wade Michael Page, a decorated former Army psychological operations specialist and a neo-Nazi. Although any Pentagon-sanctioned explanation of the event would undoubtedly rest on the bad apple assumption, it has occurred to media outlets such as the Christian Science Monitor to question whether the intersection of military training and racist extremism in Page’s case is not in fact indicative of a larger pattern.
Noting that civil rights organisations like the Southern Poverty Law Centre ”have warned that hate groups encourage their members to join [the military] for training and experience that they can later use to perpetrate crimes in the United States”, CSM’s Anna Mulrine writes:
“The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division conducts a threat assessment of extremist and gang activity among Army personnel. ‘Every year, they come back with “minimal activity”, which is inaccurate,’ Scott Barfield, a former gang investigator for the Department of Defence, told the Southern Poverty Law Centre in its 2006 report ‘A Few Bad Men’. ‘It’s not epidemic, but there’s plenty of evidence we’re talking numbers well into the thousands, just in the Army’.”
Wade Michael Page’s military service terminated prior to the inauguration of America’s 21st century wars, when - as journalist Matt Kennard documents in his forthcoming bookIrregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gangs, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror - insufficient enlistment levels led to an abandonment of certain recruiting standards and an increased influx of unsavory elements into the nation’s armed forces.
According to a 2005 report sponsored by the US Department of Defence itself, “the military has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy pertaining to extremism”. However, Kennard’s investigations suggest that even blatant “telling” often fails to incur meaningful repercussions. For starters, he reports telephoning five different Army recruitment centres, posing as an aspiring soldier curious as to whether his tattoo of Nazi SS lightning bolts will impede his soldiering aspirations. The upshot: “Despite being outlined in Army regulations as a tattoo to look out for, none of the recruiters reacted negatively and, when pressed directly about the tattoo, not one of them said it would be an outright problem”.
Even more revealing are Kennard’s interactions with Forrest Fogarty, an Iraq war veteran and “white supremacist of the serious Hitler-worshipping type”, whom Kennard meets in Tampa and accompanies on an excursion to the zoo with Fogarty’s two children.
Prior to departing for his tour in Iraq, Fogarty signed up with the Hammerskin Nation, “described by the Anti-Defamation League as the ‘the most violent and best-organised neo-Nazi skinhead group in the United States’”. Although his girlfriend attempted to thwart his deployment by submitting - to his military superiors - photographs of Fogarty at neo-Nazi rallies and performances of his Nazi rock band, he quickly persevered in front of the military committee assigned to scrutinise the circumstances: “I just denied it and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch, which is true”.
Leaders of the white supremacist movement view enlistment as a means of preparation for a domestic race war. Aside from general combat training, job perks include access to a laboratory of Iraqis and others susceptible to dehumanising brutalisation as well as opportunities to mail AK-47s and related items to the US.
As Kennard demonstrates, the race war is not the only domestic conflict to which decaying military recruitment standards are contributing. According to a 2007 FBI report, “members of nearly every major street gang have been identified on both domestic and international military installations”. The report’s authors warn: “Both current and former gang-affiliated soldiers transfer their acquired military training and knowledge back to the community and employ them against law enforcement officers, who are typically not trained to engage gangster with military expertise.”
Kennard meanwhile cites statistics obtained by the Michael D Palm Centre via the Freedom of Information Act, revealing the proliferation in military ranks of felons and similarly qualified individuals. The Palm Centre, an official research unit of University of California at Santa Barbara, summarisedits findings as follows:
“The data indicate that from 2003 through 2006, the military allowed 4,230 convicted felons to enlist under the ‘moral waivers’ programme… In addition, 43,977 individuals convicted of serious misdemeanors such as assault were permitted to enlist under the moral waivers programme during that period, as were 58,561 illegal drug abusers. In the Army, allowable offenses include making terrorist threats, murder, and kidnapping.”
According to Kennard, two of the morally waived terrorist threats involved domestic bomb attacks.
As for mental health waivers, the Army’s foremost mental health expert Col Elspeth Ritchie justified the funnelling into combat of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome on the grounds that “recruiting has been a challenge. And so we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission, with the soldiers’ personal needs”.
What to look forward to
Irregular Army opens with a fifth-century quote on the decline of the Roman Empire from military observer Flavius Vegetius Renatus: “An Army raised without proper regard to the choice of its recruits was never yet made good by length of time; and we are now convinced by fatal experience that this is the source of all our misfortunes.”
Although US imperial decline is certainly nothing to mourn, the military establishment should perhaps consider the fallout of decisions to deploy and redeploy neo-Nazis, gang members, criminals and the mentally ill with the ostensible goal of sustaining empire.
In addition to a likely increase in incidents such as the Sikh temple massacre, not to mention skyrocketing cases ofsuicide resulting from military service, an escalating militarisation of the US police force in order to deal with military-trained thugs with destructive domestic agendas clearly would not bode well for the civilian population.
Kennard notes that city officials in Salinas, California have already explored a military approach to the gang problem, partnering “with combat veterans and lecturers at the Naval Postgraduate School to devise a counterinsurgency operation likened by the veterans to those fought against insurgents on the streets of Mogadishu or Fallujah”. Given that counterinsurgency is often synonymous with collective punishment, non-insurgents in such situations may fail to grasp the benefits.
As for other groups on the receiving end of police metamorphosis, the New York Times mused in December 2011: “[L]ately images from Occupy protests streamed on the internet - often in real time - show just how readily police officers can adopt military-style tactics and equipment, and come off more like soldiers as they face down citizens.”
The absorption of tactics intended for use against foreign enemies into the repertoires of not only racist extremists and gang members but also law enforcement personnel dealing with citizens exercising their civil rights will make for irregular times indeed.
If a high-ranking administration official does it, it’s not illegal. At least not when we’re talking about ordering the death of an American citizen the administration believes to be associated with Al Qaeda.
That’s the conclusion of a Department of Justice “white paper” obtained by NBC’s Michael Isikoff, who published it Monday night. The paper outlines the Obama administration’s legal rationale for the targeted killing of US citizens suspected of terrorism abroad. Administration officials have previously defended such killings as lawful in public. But the white paper, which according to NBC was provided to members of the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees last June, lays out those arguments in greater detail.
The paper states that the US government can kill its own citizens overseas if:
(1) An informed, high level-official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
(2) Capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and
(3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.
This refers to all targeted killing—not just operations using drones, government officials could theoretically send assassins to hunt down suspected terrorists. The paper states that in order to be killed under this program, an individual must be part of Al Qaeda or its “associated forces.” Al Qaeda’s “associated forces” include groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that did not exist in 2001 but that the government nevertheless believes is covered by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Although the administration has previously said that President Barack Obama makes the final call on targeted killing decisions involving Americans, based on recommendations from high-level national security officials, the white paper says that a decision of what it calls “extraordinary seriousness” need not involve the president—nor even multiple people. Instead, the paper argues, a single “high level-official,” whose authority is undefined, can approve a death sentence for an American citizen as long as the target is too difficult for the US government to capture and the loss of civilian life that would result from a targeted killing is not deemed excessive.
When the paper says “imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” however, “imminent” means something other than what you might expect. All it means is that the executive branch of the US government must make a secret, unilateral determination that the person it wants to kill is a member of a terrorist organization: ”The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future,” the paper notes. Not since the torture memos themselves have we seen such a bald defiance of what words actually mean. In the white paper, the government explains its broad definition of “imminent threat” by arguing that delaying a targeted killing “until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.”
Since the administration’s “kill list” is secret, those targeted have no opportunity to challenge their designation as terrorists who may be deprived of life by a “high level national security official.” Nevertheless, the paper concludes, the Due Process Clause—the part of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that protects Americans from being deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”—”would not prohibit a lethal operation of the sort contemplated here.”
The idea that a government official can rubber-stamp the killing of an American citizen echoes the conclusion of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Hamdi that “due process requires nothing more than a good-faith executive determination.” (Or as Stephen Colbert put it, “due process just means there’s a process that you do.”)
The Obama administration claims that the secret judgment of a single ”well-informed high level administration official” meets the demands of due process and is sufficient justification to kill an American citizen suspected of working with terrorists. That procedure is entirely secret. Thus it’s impossible to know which rules the administration has established to protect due process and to determine how closely those rules are followed. The government needs the approval of a judge to detain a suspected terrorist. To kill one, it need only give itself permission.
The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.
The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.
The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.
The announcement also came on the eve of the confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon for John O. Brennan, President Obama’s choice to be director of the C.I.A., who has been the chief architect of the drone program as Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.
Critics accused Mr. Obama of hypocrisy for keeping the legal opinions on targeted killing secret, noting that in 2009 he had ordered the public release of the classified memos governing C.I.A. interrogations under President George W. Bush. Administration officials replied that the so-called enhanced interrogations had been stopped, while drone strikes continue.
Until Wednesday, the administration had refused to even officially acknowledge the existence of the documents, which have been reported about in the press. This week, NBC News obtained an unclassified, shorter “white paper” that detailed some of the legal analysis about killing a citizen and was apparently derived from the classified Awlaki memorandum. The paper said the United States could target a citizen if he was a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda involved in plots against the country and if his capture was not feasible.
Administration officials said Mr. Obama had decided to take the action, which they described as extraordinary, out of a desire to involve Congress in the development of the legal framework for targeting specific people to be killed in the war against Al Qaeda. Aides noted that Mr. Obama had made a pledge to do that during an appearance on “The Daily Show” last year.
The New York Times, “Congress to See Memo Backing Drone Attacks on Americans.”
And watching White House spokesman Jay Carney last night denying that the “alleged memos” existed… ugh.(via inothernews)