Greenwald: Obama’s “bad negotiating” is actually shrewd negotiating

I’m too busy to write at the moment, so I’m just going to highlite Glenn Greenwald’s latest piece in which he does a great job of shattering the “incompetence theorist” myth that continues to propose that poor Obama keeps on “failing” to enact progressive policies, while being “forced” to enact corporatist friendly ones.

It’s a point that I made here last week, and it’s really nice to see that Glenn and I are on the same wavelength, because he’s awesome.

Obama’s “bad negotiating” is actually shrewd negotiating

Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011 09:14 ET

By Glenn Greenwald

In December, President Obama signed legislation to extend hundreds of billions of dollars in Bush tax cuts, benefiting the wealthiest Americans. Last week, Obama agreed to billions of dollars in cuts that will impose the greatest burden on the poorest Americans. And now, virtually everyone in Washington believes, the President is about to embark on a path that will ultimately lead to some type of reductions in Social Security, Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits under the banner of “reform.” Tax cuts for the rich — budget cuts for the poor — “reform” of the Democratic Party’s signature safety net programs — a continuation of Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies and a new Middle East war launched without Congressional approval. That’s quite a legacy combination for a Democratic President.

All of that has led to a spate of negotiation advice from the liberal punditocracy advising the President how he can better defend progressive policy aims — as though the Obama White House deeply wishes for different results but just can’t figure out how to achieve them. Jon Chait, Josh Marshall, and Matt Yglesias all insist that the President is “losing” on these battles because of bad negotiating strategy, and will continue to lose unless it improves. Ezra Klein says “it makes absolutely no sense” that Democrats didn’t just raise the debt ceiling in December, when they had the majority and could have done it with no budget cuts. Once it became clear that the White House was not following their recommended action of demanding a “clean” vote on raising the debt ceiling — thus ensuring there will be another, probably larger round of budget cuts — Yglesias lamented that the White House had “flunked bargaining 101.” Their assumption is that Obama loathes these outcomes but is the victim of his own weak negotiating strategy.

I don’t understand that assumption at all. Does anyone believe that Obama and his army of veteran Washington advisers are incapable of discovering these tactics on their own or devising better strategies for trying to avoid these outcomes if that’s what they really wanted to do? What evidence is there that Obama has some inner, intense desire for more progressive outcomes? These are the results they’re getting because these are the results they want — for reasons that make perfectly rational political sense.

Conventional D.C. wisdom — that which Obama vowed to subvert but has done as much as any President to bolster — has held for decades that Democratic Presidents succeed politically by being as “centrist” or even as conservative as possible. That attracts independents, diffuses GOP enthusiasm, casts the President as a triangulating conciliator, and generates raves from the DC press corps — all while keeping more than enough Democrats and progressives in line through a combination of anti-GOP fear-mongering and partisan loyalty.

Isn’t that exactly the winning combination that will maximize the President’s re-election chances? Just consider the polling data on last week’s budget cuts, which most liberal commentators scorned. Americans support the “compromise” by a margin of 58-38%; that support includes a majority of independents, substantial GOP factions, and 2/3 of Democrats. Why would Democrats overwhelmingly support domestic budget cuts that burden the poor? Because, as Yglesias correctly observed, “just about anything Barack Obama does will be met with approval by most Democrats.” In other words, once Obama lends his support to a policy — no matter how much of a departure it is from ostensible Democratic beliefs — then most self-identified Democrats will support it because Obama supports it, because it then becomes the “Democratic policy,” by definition. Adopting “centrist” or even right-wing policies will always produce the same combination — approval of independents, dilution of GOP anger, media raves, and continued Democratic voter loyalty — that is ideal for the President’s re-election prospects.

That tactic in the context of economic policy has the added benefit of keeping corporate and banking money on Obama’s side (where it overwhelmingly was in 2008), or at least preventing a massive influx to GOP coffers. And just look at the team of economic advisers surrounding Obama from the start: does anyone think that Bill Daley, Tim Geithner and his army of Rubin acolytes and former Goldman Sachs executives are sitting around in rooms desperately trying to prevent budget cuts and entitlement “reforms”?

Why would Obama possibly want to do anything different? Why would he possibly want a major political war over the debt ceiling where he looks like a divisive figure and looks to be opposing budget cuts? Why would he possibly want to draw a line in the sand defending Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from any “reforms”? There would be only two reasons to do any of that: (1) fear that he would lose too much of his base if he compromised with the GOP in these areas, or (2) a genuine conviction that such compromises are morally or economically intolerable. Since he so plainly lacks both — a fear of losing the base or genuine convictions about this or anything else — there’s simply nothing to drive him to fight for those outcomes.

Like most first-term Presidents after two years, Obama is preoccupied with his re-election, and perceives — not unreasonably — that that goal is best accomplished by adopting GOP policies. The only factor that could subvert that political calculation — fear that he could go too far and cause Democratic voters not to support him — is a fear that he simply does not have: probably for good reason. In fact, not only does Obama not fear alienating progressive supporters, the White House seems to view that alienation as a positive, as it only serves to bolster Obama’s above-it-all, centrist credentials. Here’s what CNN’s White House Correspondent Ed Henry and Gloria Borger said last night about the upcoming fight over entitlements and the debt ceiling:

Henry: I was talking to a senior Democrat who advises the White House, outside the White House today who was saying look, every time this president sits down with Speaker Boehner, to Gloria’s point about negotiating skills, the president seems to give up another 5 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars, 20 billions dollars. It’ s like the spending cuts keep going up. If you think about where the congressional Democrats started a couple of months ago they were talking about no spending cuts on the table. It keeps going up.

But this president has a much different reality than congressional Democrats.

Borger (sagely): Right.

Henry: He’s going for re-election, him going to the middle and having liberal Democrats mad at him is not a bad thing.

Borger: Exactly.

That’s why I experience such cognitive dissonance when I read all of these laments from liberal pundits that Obama isn’t pursuing the right negotiating tactics, that he’s not being as shrewd as he should be. He’s pursuing exactly the right negotiating tactics and is being extremely shrewd — he just doesn’t want the same results that these liberal pundits want and which they like to imagine the President wants, too. He’s not trying to prevent budget cuts or entitlement reforms; he wants exactly those things because of how politically beneficial they are to him — to say nothing of whether he agrees with them on the merits.

When I first began blogging five years ago, I used to write posts like that all the time. I’d lament that Democrats weren’t more effectively opposing Bush/Cheney National Security State policies or defending civil liberties. I’d attribute those failures to poor strategizing or a lack of political courage and write post after post urging them to adopt better tactics to enable better outcomes or be more politically “strong.” But then I realized that they weren’t poor tacticians getting stuck with results they hated. They simply weren’t interested in generating the same outcomes as the ones I wanted.

It wasn’t that they eagerly wished to defeat these Bush policies but just couldn’t figure out how to do it. The opposite was true: they were content to acquiesce to those policies, if not outright supportive of them, because they perceived no political advantage in doing anything else. Many of them supported those policies on the merits while many others were perfectly content with their continuation. So I stopped trying to give them tactical advice on how to achieve outcomes they didn’t really want to achieve, and stopped attributing their failures to oppose these policies to bad strategizing or political cowardice. Instead, I simply accepted that these were the outcomes they most wanted, that Democratic Party officials on the whole — obviously with some exceptions — weren’t working toward the outcomes I had originally assumed (and which they often claimed). Once you accept that reality, events in Washington make far more sense.

That Obama’s agenda includes an affirmative desire for serious budget cuts and entitlement “reforms” has been glaringly obvious from the start; it’s not some unintended, recent by-product of Tea Party ascendancy. Since before Obama was even inaugurated, Digby has been repeatedly warning of his support for a so-called “Grand Bargain” that would include cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And Jane Hamsher and Ezra Klein had a fairly acrimonious exchange very early on in the Obama presidency over the former’s observation that Obama officials were expressly advocating cuts in Social Security while Klein insisted that this would never happen (yesterday, Klein reported that Obama would be supportive of Bowles-Simpson, which proposes deep cuts to Social Security, and boasted of his anticipation weeks ago that this would happen). Before Obama’s inauguration, I wrote that the most baffling thing to me about the enthusiasm of his hardest-core supporters was the belief that he was pioneering a “new form of politics” when, it seemed obvious, it was just a re-branded re-tread of Clintonian triangulation and the same “centrist”, scorn-the-base playbook Democratic politicians had used for decades.

What amazes me most is the brazen claims of presidential impotence necessary to excuse all of this. Atrios has written for weeks about the “can’t do” spirit that has overtaken the country generally, but that mindset pervades how the President’s supporters depict both him and the powers of his office: no bad outcomes are ever his fault because he’s just powerless in the face of circumstance. That claim is being made now by pointing to a GOP Congress, but the same claim was made when there was a Democratic Congress as well: recall the disagreements I had with his most loyal supporters in 2009 and 2010 over their claims that he was basically powerless even to influence his own party’s policy-making in Congress.

Such excuse-making stands in very sharp contrast to what we heard in 2008 and what we will hear again in 2012: that the only thing that matters is that Obama win the Presidency because of how powerful and influential an office it is, how disaster will befall us all if this vast power falls into Republican hands. It also contradicts the central promise of the Obama candidacy: that he would change, rather than bolster, the standard power dynamic in Washington. And it is especially inconsistent with Obama’s claimed desire to be a “transformational” President in much the way that Ronald Reagan was (but, Obama said to such controversy, Bill Clinton was not). Gaudy claims of Fundamental Change and Transformation and Yes, We Can! have given way to an endless parade of excuse-making that he’s powerless, weak and there’s nothing he can do.

Obama’s most loyal supporters often mock the notion that a President’s greatest power is his “bully pulpit,” but there’s no question that this is true. Reagan was able to transform how Americans perceived numerous political issues because he relentlessly argued for his ideological and especially economic world-view: a rising tide lifts all boats, government is not the solution but is the problem, etc. — a whole slew of platitudes and slogans that convinced Americans that conservative economic policy was optimal despite how much it undermined their own economic interests. Reagan was “transformational” because he changed conventional wisdom and those premises continue to pervade our political discourse.

When has Obama ever done any of that? When does he offer stirring, impassioned defenses of the Democrats’ vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It’s not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It’s that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn’t try because those aren’t his goals. It’s not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it’s that he doesn’t use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire.

Whether in economic policy, national security, civil liberties, or the permanent consortium of corporate power that runs Washington, Obama, above all else, is content to be (one could even say eager to be) guardian of the status quo. And the forces of the status quo want tax cuts for the rich, serious cuts in government spending that don’t benefit them (social programs and progressive regulatory schemes), and entitlement “reform” — so that’s what Obama will do. He won’t advocate, and will actually oppose, steps as extreme as the ones Paul Ryan is proposing: that’s how he will retain his “centrist” political identity and keep the fear levels high among his voting base. He’ll pay lip service to some Democratic economic dogma and defend some financially inconsequential culture war positions: that’s how he will signal to the base that he’s still on their side. But the direction will be the same as the GOP desires and, most importantly, how the most powerful economic factions demand: not because he can’t figure out how to change that dynamic, but because that’s what benefits him and thus what he wants.

Ironically, Obama is turning out to be “transformational” in his own way — by taking what was once the defining GOP approach to numerous policy areas and converting them into Democratic ones, and thus ensconcing them in the invulnerable protective shield of “bipartisan consensus.” As Digby put it: “Reagan was a hard-core ideologue who didn’t just tweak some processes but radically changed the prevailing conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, Obama is actually extending the Reagan consensus, even as he pursues his own agenda of creating a Grand Bargain that will bring peace among the dueling parties (a dubious goal in itself.)” That has been one of the most consequential outcomes of the first two years of his presidency in terms of Terrorism and civil liberties, and is now being consecrated in the realm of economic policy as well.

I’m sorry, but Obama is a corporatist tool

“Sorry, I’m feeling a little superior tonight. Seven schools in seven states, and the only thing different is my locker combination.”

~ J.D. – Heathers

Heathers is a movie about tribalism, group think, conformity, and the ways in which people’s thoughts and actions are constricted by the groups they belong to, or aspire to belong to. On the surface, it’s about the ridiculousness of high school, but it’s really about the ridiculousness of EVERYTHING. But more to the point, it’s about how astonishingly difficult it is to be an aware, awake individual existing in the echo chamber of nonsense we think of as reality. And just as it often happens in real life, the character in Heathers who sees things as they truly are is ultimately destroyed by his failure to vigorously shake the zombies from their slumber.

Why on earth am I talking about a Christian Slater film from 1988? Well, I bring it up now because, as my prolonged absence from writing this blog would suggest, I’ve been feeling more and more alienated from the other 99% of the population who seem to be as happy as pigs in shit as long as they have their Nikes, Big Macs, and $5.25 café au laits.

Even though I haven’t been blogging, however, I have been a posting machine on Facebook, where I’m able to interact in a quicker and dirtier fashion than I can here. It’s funny, because I’m seen as a “radical leftist” by my right-leaning acquaintances, and as a closet Republican by a lot of my “liberal” friends who can’t be bothered to look past the fact that I’m criticizing their hero, President Peace Prize, and let’s face it, if you criticize a Democrat then you MUST be a Republican, because there are NO OTHER OPTIONS. Only left and right. Blue and red. You remember what happened when Ralph Nader ran for President as a third-party candidate, don’t you? He ruined EVERYTHING!!!!!! The problem wasn’t all of the other rubes who voted for Bush and Gore, and it certainly wasn’t the crooked Supreme Court. Nope, the problem was the third-party, so I guess we can never try THAT again.

</sarcasm>

Anyway, I’ve decided that the first step towards real change is a realization that change is actually required. With this in mind, I’ve decided to start small and impact my immediate community by using my Facebook page to convince my friends that Barack Obama is a corporatist tool of the military empire. You’d think that this would be a relatively simple task, since most of my friends are well-educated, creative, smart self-proclaimed liberals, and Obama’s allegiance to the new Amerikan fascism is so self-evident at this point that even the Neocon in Chief, Bill Kristol, is finding it increasingly difficult to hide his admiration.

“Of course, since his (Obama’s) sound policies are more like the policies people like me have been advocating for quite a while, I’m happy to support them, you know. He’s a born-again neocon.”

~ Bill Kristol

There you have it, folks.

Game over.

Obama is not a socialist.

Obama is not a progressive.

Obama is not a liberal.

Obama is not a good guy.

In fact, based on the Nuremberg principles, Obama is a war criminal.

Seriously.

It’s as plain as the noses that used to be on the faces of any number of children who have been murdered or maimed by his flying robot brigades in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Good guys don’t bomb civilians by remote control while continuing a completely unnecessary nine-year war (NINE FREAKING YEARS!), and they certainly don’t joke about it.

Now THAT’s some funny stuff right there.

Isn’t Obama a pisser?

He reminds me of this other really funny guy.

Oh, I’m sorry. Bush is a Republican and Obama is a Democrat. It’s ok to criticize one but not the other. I keep forgetting that I’m in bizarro world. Besides, only one of them has received the Henry Kissinger Nobel Peace Prize, and they don’t hand that out to just anybody.

Back to reality.

This is your President.

This is your Nobel Peace laureate.

This is your hope and your change.

You need to snap yourselves out of fantasy land and see this monster for who and what he is; a murderous tool of the corporotocracy.

But let’s go back to the Heathers analogy for a minute, because if you’ve seen the movie, then you know that J.D. was unsuccessful in his quest to pull back the curtain. In fact, he ended up destroying himself instead. I’m finding myself at a cross-roads because I really don’t know what to do any more. You can’t lead a movement when people don’t want to be moved. Especially when so much of their self-esteem is invested in the belief that they’re actually supporting the good guy. This often leads to great logical contortions in order to save face instead of admitting that they’ve been deceived by a carnival huckster with a multi-million dollar P.R. team. I had an exchange on Facebook the other day in response to my posting of the Bill Kristol clip, and I think it sums up what I’m trying to convey here.

After viewing the clip, my liberal friend said this:

“Compromise is the way of a newbie with not enough political clout to get things done in Washington, unfortunately.”

To which I replied:

“Sigh. Yes, that IS unfortunate for all of the dead, maimed, imprisoned, and tortured during the Peace Laureate’s reign. At some point though, I’m certain that the “other” side will get around to compromising so that we can craftily rub our hands together, twist our moustaches and gloat about how the Republicans have adopted, and even stepped up our hoped-for progressive policies.”

My friend’s response:

“Unfortunately was not a word I used to talk about the non-political consequences. But it is worth noting that these political decisions have very real outcomes.”

I’d like to point out that my friend DID acknowledge that there are negative consequences to Obama’s political decisions, which is much more than I usually get in these situations, but there’s certainly no outrage being expressed, and based on experience, I would bet lots of money that if we were talking about a Republican, ANY Republican, my friend wouldn’t be speaking of compromise and wouldn’t be describing the dead and maimed children as unfortunate outcomes. There would be anger and blame.

The rest of my friend’s response:

“Where do you leverage for change of these policies that have real outcomes? Surely not just by mentioning them on fb?”

On the surface, that seems like a valid criticism, but it’s really not. When 50% of the population thinks we should be murdering more Muslims, and the other 49% is walking around worshiping a cult of personality and believing, with all of their heart, that up is down, then you really can’t leverage for something as simple as a change of policies. Before you do anything else, you must convince a great number of people that a change of policies is needed in the first place, and with Obama’s public relations team continuing to successfully brand him to his loyal followers as hope and change personified, regardless of his actual policies, that is proving to be a monumentally difficult task. But again, this is exactly what I’m trying to do with my Facebook campaign, one friend at a time, so here’s how I responded:

“I leverage for change by making people aware that change is needed, and I do this by cataloging, day after day after day, that the change we’ve been sold is actually not change at all, and this is very important in a world where people pay much more attention to branding and advertising campaigns than they do to the performance of the actual product.

In other words, if we keep walking around believing, beyond logic and reason, that Obama and the Democrats are compromising as opposed to simply serving the interests that have put them into power, then we’ve lost before we’ve even begun. I’ve said this before, but the absolute brilliance of the Obama presidency is the way he’s applied the good housekeeping seal of approval to all of the wet dream policies of the neocons and the banking elite. Half of the population wrongly LOVES those policies, and now the other half are afraid to criticize them, or at best, claim that they’re simply compromise.

It’s not compromise. Obama and the Democrats do the things that they do for the same reasons the Republicans do them; because they’re serving the corporate interests that finance them. It sucks. I hate that we’ve been hoodwinked and manipulated based on our innate and socially engineered desires to support a team and to believe that somebody is looking out for us. It makes me feel awful most of my waking hours, but that’s the reality, and until we all come to terms with it, we’re going to be stuck in this feedback loop of corporo-military fucked-upness.”

(Incidentally, it’s been three days and my friend still has responded…)

The last sentence of my response is the key. It’s like that old alcoholic’s anonymous slogan:

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards recovery.

Obviously, the Republicans, with very few exceptions (Ron Paul comes to mind), are empire-loving corporatists. But even though most liberals desperately cling to the notion that the Democrats have the people’s best interests at heart, they really don’t. With very few exceptions (Kucinich, Sanders and a few more) the Democrats are also empire-loving corporatists, and this is especially true of Obama. This isn’t even debatable, it’s totally demonstrable. All one needs to do is to drop the emotional attachment to a party that sold its constituency out decades ago and objectively look at the record, which has been thoroughly documented by a few brave souls named Greenwald, Hedges, Floyd, Pilger, and Silber. A good rule of thumb when examining a policy is to ask yourself how you’d feel about it if it were the brainchild of a Republican.

If Bush was evil for bombing children, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for wire tapping your phone, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for facilitating the largest wealth transfer to the rich in human history, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for having a military budget larger than all other countries combined, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for renditions, torture, and locking people away in gulags without trial, then so is Obama.

If Bush was evil for deep water drilling and ignoring safety regulations, then so is Obama.

It goes on and on and on.

If you have the stomach for a laundry list of Obama’s complicity with the corporate-military-banking complex, then I highly recommend the Fuck Obama thread at Rigorous Intuition. R.I. is a blog and a message board, but more importantly, it’s also my salvation. It’s my safe room, where logic, common sense, and thoughtful analysis win the day. Here’s how I recently described it:

RI is a grass-roots think tank for people who are fed up with bullshit and lies. People who are looking for the thoughtful analysis of their peers, as opposed to the predictive programming disguised as news that spouts from the corporate media. And yes, I DID say peers, but not in an elitist sort of way. I’m only saying that you can’t get thoughtful analysis about the officially declared state of national emergency that’s been ongoing in the U.S. since 9/14/2001, Obama’s extrajudicial assassination program, and cluster bombs in Yemen from people who won’t look up from shopping or college basketball long enough to make themselves aware of those realities. At R.I. we’re trying, as best we can, to fit the puzzle pieces together in a way that explains the madness that surrounds us, because if you don’t understand the hows and whys of what’s being done to you, then you can never hope to do anything about it.

Listen, I know that it’s scary to admit to yourself that you’ve got nowhere to turn. I understand that. It’s also completely demoralizing to admit that you’ve been fooled, even more so when it’s the supposed good guys who have done the fooling. I get that too, but please swallow your pride, and take the first step towards acknowledging that we need real hope and real change, and that, as frightening as it is to admit, it’s not going to come from the current system, or from any of the corporate vampires currently posing as our leaders.

It won’t be easy. The reality that we’ve allowed the vampires to create is an awful place where we’ve been Balkanized by race, color, gender, sexuality, political party, and every other contrived “difference” under the sun, and conformity among these groups is as strictly enforced as it is amongst the preppies, the jocks, and the nerds in high school. You might end up a pariah to many of your “liberal” friends who prefer the comfort of the upside-down version of reality that allows them to put their fingers in their ears and pretend that they’re not complicit in the militarized corporate takeover because they vote for Democrats and still believe the public relations branding. Hopefully though, you’ll also be able to convince some people to join us, and then they’ll convince some people, and so on.

It has to start small and spread by word of mouth.  We’re NOT going to take over the U.S. at the 2012 elections, and our abandonment of the Democratic party in search of real progressives who aren’t bought and paid for will most likely lead to the election of more Republicans in the short-term, but we mustn’t allow this to deter us in our long-term quest to unseat the coporotocracy and give voice once again to the majority of people in the U.S. who really haven’t been represented in a very long time.

Remember, Nader wasn’t the problem, he was the solution, and there will be others if we can break down the walls of the false reality and convince enough people that real change can only come from outside of the current system. Keep pushing, and I’ll be here pushing with you.

July 4th, or … I pledge allegiance to the aircraft carrier

“Wake up sucker! We’re thieves and we’re bad guys. That’s exactly what we are.”

~ Peter — Dawn of the Dead

I watched Dawn of the Dead (the original) on the evening of July 3rd. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, actually, but this was the first time I had watched it in a few years, and the line I quoted above hit me in a totally new way this time around. Instead of hearing it in the context of the movie, I heard it in the context of the ongoing militarized corporate takeover of the planet, and specifically, America’s role in that takeover.

Wake up sucker! We’re thieves and we’re bad guys. That’s exactly what we are.

Indeed.

I paused the movie and said it out loud to the cat sharing the sofa with me. He was unimpressed, and put his head back down on his pillow, which is exactly how most Americans would react to such a statement.

Shut up, dude, I’m trying to watch the glowing box over here. Don’t make me think too hard about anything, and whatever you do, never, ever make me think about America as anything other than the super duperist, melting pottingist, terror-fightingist, democracy-spreadingist, home of the bravest, shiniest beacon on the hill in the history of the known universe.

But, but, but … what about our toppling of the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953? What about our staging of the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident as an excuse for all-out war in Vietnam? And speaking of Vietnam, what about our carpet bombing of Cambodia? What about our unconditional backing of the apartheid state of Israel? What about our fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo? What about our nuclear holocausts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What about our importation of Nazi scientists after WWII? What about our illegal invasion of Afghanistan? What about our illegal invasion of Iraq? What about our drone attacks in Pakistan?  What about our growing misadventures in Yemen? What about our role in the creation of Al Qaeda? What about the Patriot Act and all it’s attendant civil liberty erosions? What about our extra judicial White House assassination policy? What about our off-shore gulags and torture mills? What about our role in protecting Afghanistan’s international heroin trade? What about our destruction of our own working and middle class?  What about our 13 trillion-dollar debt? What about our…

Dude, shut up, I’m trying to watch Ultimate Lions Eating People American Gladiator Shop ’til You Drop Extreme Red Bull Wife Swap NASCAR Cage Fighting. Besides, didn’t you learn in American Exceptionalism 101 that our government only does bad stuff in self-defense against terrorists who hate us for our freedom to lie around watching Ultimate Lions Eating People, while we eviscerate their children’s sorry asses with missiles fired from flying robots? What are you, some kind of communist?

And so it goes here in the last empire standing. The myth is the truth and the truth is a myth, and this upside down version of reality has been fashioned into a corporate swagger stick that keeps us pulling on the rope of empire, just like the beasts of burden that we are.

But there’s always another day, right? For me, the next day was the 4th of July, and I decided to get my bike ride out-of-the-way early, before the ridiculous heat and humidity of New York City summer set in. My ride took me up the bike path along the Henry Hudson Highway, and again, I was seeing it through different eyes this time around. Instead of losing myself in my headphones, I thought about the fact that Henry Hudson wasn’t just some swashbuckling adventurer who happened to discover the area that would become New York City whilst water skiing and parasailing. He actually worked for a colonial corporation called the Dutch East India Company (which I’ll probably write about soon), and his arrival was just another in a long series of conquests by white Europeans that marked the beginning of the end for the native peoples who, in the coming centuries, would be mercilessly destroyed in the name of colonial corporate wealth, and twisted, Kiplingesque progress.

As I continued to ride north, I noticed that the NYPD was out in force, helping to prepare for the evening’s fireworks celebration along the Hudson river. It occurred to me that the police officers had a long hot day ahead of them in their dark navy blue uniforms. Then I remembered that it wasn’t too long ago that the NYPD wore light blue uniforms that were pleasing to the eye, and gave off an unspoken impression of helpfulness, as opposed to the current para-military styled uniforms that are much closer to black than to blue, and wouldn’t seem out of place on a Gestapo agent, which, of course, is the exact intended effect.

Check out Officer Friendly!

As I approached 42 street, I could see a long line of overweight people, clad in ill-fitting, corporate logo’d gear, clutching plastic bottles full of Coke and Pepsi products. Most of them were likely tourists, celebrating the 4th in the most American way possible; by standing in line to pledge allegiance to an aircraft carrier. The Intrepid is a floating museum dedicated to modern-day, jingoistic, chest thumping colonialism, and damned if these people didn’t bring me right back to Dawn of the Dead, aimlessly milling about like zombies, unwilling, or unable to think for even a second about the fact that they are worshiping tools of theft and destruction.

Wake up sucker! We’re thieves and …

Oh, never mind.

Happy fourth of July!

McChrystal out; Petraeus once again skipper of the Good Ship Slaughter

Have you heard all about the Stanley McChrystal hoo ha?

As per MSNBC:

President Barack Obama sacked his loose-lipped Afghanistan commander Wednesday…

and

Obama said bluntly that “Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s scornful remarks about administration officials represent conduct that “undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.”

Obama went on to assure the Military Industrial Complex, ooops, I mean the American people, that “This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy.”

Well shit.  THAT’s a relief.

For a second there I was afraid that a new skipper for the Good Ship Slaughter might mean that we were going to take a completely different approach to our women and children eviscerating corporate empire expansion, but nope, we’re just going to hand the keys back over to the ever loyal David Petraeus, who’s reappointment immediately comforted Lockheed Martin, Boeing, DynCorp, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Blackwater, or Xe, or whatever the fuck that particular CIA cutout happens to be calling itself this week.

Do you remember a few months ago when McChrystal said this?

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”

McChrystal uttered those words just this past March when one of the few reporters who pay attention to such trivia informed him that “American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops.”

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.  It was simply a statement of fact made by the man Obama had hand-picked to be the commander of the American killing machine in Afghanistan.  And hell, Obama himself has claimed the right to murder anyone, at any time, anywhere on the planet, with no trial, or any other of those troublesome trappings of civilization, so why on earth should we have expected him to have a problem with his commander’s public admittance that his killing machine had shot an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?

But holy smokes!  Do not, under any circumstances, ever question the boss.  That’s insubordination and will not be tolerated.  Do not ever say that “Obama didn’t seem very engaged,” or refer to Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, as a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985,” because that, sports fans, will get you fired quicker than screwing your boss’s wife with his high school football trophy.

Meet the new boss, same as the blah, blah, blah…

UPDATE

The great Arthur Silber has written an epic essay on the same subject, and it’s a must read.

Murder with Malice Aforethought, or: Screw You — My Dick Is the Biggest!

So McChrystal is out.

As the murderous destructiveness of the Death State increases in every direction, nauseating charades of this kind will no doubt also occur with increasing frequency. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in analyzing what so many others consider to be questions of significance: whether McChrystal violated the sacraments of the civilian-military command structure, what Obama had to do to maintain his authority as Commander-in-Chief, and so on. I would further suggest that, if you remain a civilized human being to any measurable degree, such questions should be of no concern to you. That these and similar issues of allegedly vital interest have dominated the national debate about McChrystal’s “insubordination” tells you everything you need to know about how disgustingly uncivilized the United States government and its ancillary media culture are today.

Here, we will be astonishingly, unforgivably rude, and we will mention those issues which ought to be the focus of debate — but again, this assumes that civilization and its foundational requirement, recognition of the sacred and irreplaceable value of a single human life, remain operative to a significant degree.

I don’t give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals. I have been planning for some time an explanation of an especially unforgivable aspect of the entirely phony moral posturing engaged in by virtually all those who take part in our national discussion. The particular aspect to which I refer is this: almost no one takes the concepts of war crimes and war criminals seriously at all.

I’ve set out certain key provisions of the Nuremberg Principles before. Read the following again (or for the first time), and as you read it, think about the plain meaning of these words, especially the passages that I’ve highlighted:

Principle VI

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

1. Crimes against peace:
1. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
2. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

2. War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or illtreatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

3. Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.

Yes, I’ve highlighted all of it, because all of it is directly relevant to the war criminals now occupying the highest levels of the Obama administration, as it was directly relevant to the war criminals in the Bush administration.

Item: Obama and his administration claim the “right” to murder anyone in the world, wherever he or she may be, for whatever reason they choose — or for no reason at all. Obama and his administration recognize no upper limit to the number of people they can murder in this manner: they can murder as many people as they wish. And they claim there is nothing at all that may impede their exercise of this “right.”

This is the game entire. Understand this: once Obama and his administration have claimed this, there is nothing left to argue about. They can murder you — and they can murder anyone else at all. What in the name of anything you hold holy remains to be “debated” once a vile, damnable “right” of this kind has been claimed?

This is a war crime: “murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory…”

It is also a crime against humanity: “Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population…”

Under Principle VII, all those who are complicit in these crimes are also guilty.

Item: Ongoing drone attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, which regularly and systematically kill large numbers of civilians. These murders, too, are war crimes and crimes against humanity; all those who are complicit in the crimes are also guilty.

Item: Obama has not “ended torture,” and he never did. See here, here and here. Torture is a war crime and a crime against humanity. All those who are complicit in the crimes are also guilty.

There are many other specifics that could be added to these three items. But — if you are honest about the plain meaning of these provisions of the Nuremberg Principles — any one of the three items alone is sufficient to make the judgment. Put all three of them together, and add in just some of the further specifics that could be mentioned, and the conclusion is unavoidable.

Yet most people continue to avoid it. If you avoid it, do not expect to be viewed with any degree of seriousness or with even a minimal degree of respect by anyone who is genuinely civilized and who gives a damn.

In my earlier article discussing application of the Nuremberg Principles, I wrote:

So which individuals are guilty of the commission of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity? Certainly all the major officials of the Bush administration during the period of the planning and implementation of the invasion of Iraq and during the subsequent occupation. [Al] Gore refers to “they,” dishonestly attempting to place all responsibility with the Republicans. The facts and the historical record will not support flimsy strategems of this kind. So add to the list of criminals all those in Congress who voted for the Iraq AUMF, as well as all those who voted to fund the war and the continuing occupation. With regard to the Bush administration and Congress during the relevant time period, I think the list of those who are not guilty would be very short, indeed. To my knowledge, that list would include only Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. (If there are one or two others, my apologies. But there are certainly not more than a few others.)

And who is one of the people who has repeatedly voted to fund the occupation of Iraq? That’s right: Barack Obama. Obama, the Democratic nominee for President, is guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

You can apply the Nuremberg Principles in the same manner to the Obama administration and the current Congress. The specifics include the items listed above, and the ongoing criminal occupation of Iraq, together with the continuing criminal acts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once again, the list of those who are not guilty would name, at most, four or five people (and probably less).

Given these facts and the indisputable meaning of the Nuremberg Principles, who gives a goddamn whether McChrystal remained in his job or not? His departure will not alter or even slow down the actions of the U.S. government in even one of the ways that matter.

But this kind of public performance is a testament to the deeply nauseating, destructive “games” that bullies play — those bullies at the highest levels of government who claim for themselves the “right” to remake the world as they choose, and now the “right” to murder anyone they choose, simply because that is what they choose to do.

In an article about the disturbing frequency of bullying among children and young adults, I wrote, in “Bullied, Terrorized and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well

“:

Our children are taught that we equate “manliness” and “strength” with close to complete disregard for other people, with emotional repression and insensitivity to the point of catatonia, and with a willingness to resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation, and even in the complete absence of any provocation at all. We tell those people who suffer great emotional pain and even agony, often when they contemplate the terrible suffering of others, to “suck it up” and to have “thicker skins.” The greatest virtue is to feel nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There is one exception: you can feel unreasoning, unfocused rage, and you are free to act on it. You may lash out in any direction you choose. The innocence of your victim is irrelevant.

Our government acts in this manner repeatedly. Our political leaders all applaud it, and offer a lengthy series of “justifications” for our unending national cruelty.

[These children] learned that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward.

Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn’t these children be bullies? It’s what they’ve been taught. In the most crucial ways, it’s all they’ve been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.

So Obama is the biggest bully of all. Who knows, he might even have the biggest dick. He certainly is the cruelest of these murderous bullies and, as I noted in the earlier essay, his reward is therefore the greatest. He is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief of the Death State.

Let me offer a few concluding thoughts (for the moment) concerning how astonishingly unserious almost all commentators are in their discussion of war crimes.

In certain quarters, it remains fashionable to insist on the absolute necessity of prosecuting the leading war criminals of the Bush administration for their actions while in office. I have written extensively about why, in the context of the present political system, I would view all such prosecutions as the worst kind of show trials, the effect of which would be precisely the opposite of that which the advocates of such prosecutions claim to desire. You can consult “Obama and the Triumph of the American Myth” (and the two related essays linked at the beginning of that article) for the details. The briefest statement of my theme is this:

By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole.

The additional discussion above about the meaning and application of the Nuremberg Principles underscores my overall concern.

I obviously do not disagree with the proposition that Bush, Cheney and others committed abominable war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that they deserve the harshest of judgments and punishments. However, and it is a “however” of the most profound consequence, it is far, far more important to stop those who are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity today. Yes, we should punish those have committed unjustified murders in the past — but how much more important and urgent is it to stop the known murderer who continues to commit his crimes in the present, especially when the murderer has made unmistakably clear that he will continue to commit similar crimes tomorrow and in the days to come?

If a person is at all serious about stopping crimes of this kind, he must be demanding impeachment and/or prosecution of Obama and the other war criminals in his administration today, without a moment’s delay. I understand very well indeed that impeachment or prosecution of these individuals will not happen, but if you are genuinely committed to the moral principles involved and if you seek to vindicate them, you must make the demand. If you do not, your understanding of the Principles and their application is essentially amoral and unprincipled. You wish to apply the Principles only to those individuals you view with special disfavor, while you exempt from the Principles’ operation those individuals you personally happen to view less negatively, or even positively. That is, you have transformed principles of profound, universal moral significance into tools of the most disgusting and most superficial politics.

We might adapt a statement from Lewis Carroll to make the point: “The rule is, war criminals tomorrow and war criminals yesterday, but never war criminals today.”

If that is your stance, even if you do not have the honesty to admit it, then damn you to hell.

Witness to the Israeli assault on humanitarian aid ship

Last week, I posted excerpts from Iara Lee’s footage of Israel’s attack on the humanitarian aid ship that was attempting to break the illegal blockade of Gaza.  Today, I’m posting all of the raw footage.

The following text is the video description as posted on the Cultures of Resistance Youtube page:

On the night of Sunday, May 30, showing a terrifying disregard for human life, Israeli naval forces surrounded and boarded ships sailing to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. On the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli commandos opened fire on civilian passengers, killing at least 9 passengers and wounding dozens more. Others are still missing. The final death toll is yet to be determined. Cultures of Resistance director Iara Lee was aboard the besieged ship and has since returned home safely.

Despite the Israeli government’s thorough efforts to confiscate all footage taken during the attack, Iara Lee was able to retain some of her recordings. Above is raw footage from the moments leading up to and during the Israeli commandos’ assault on the Mavi Marmara.

In addition, here is a terrific Dave Lindorff piece based on the testimony of Mavi Marmara eyewitness, Kevin Neish.

What Kevin Neish Saw
Eyewitness to the Israeli Assault on the Mavi Marmara
DAVE LINDORFF

Kevin Neish of Victoria, British Columbia, didn’t know he was a celebrity until he was about to board a flight from Istanbul to Ottawa. “This Arab woman wearing a beautiful outfit suddenly ran up to me crying, ‘It’s you! From Arab TV! You’re famous!’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she told me, ‘I saw you flipping through the Israeli commando’s book! It’s being aired over and over!’”

A soft-spoken teacher and former civilian engineer with the Canadian Department of Defense, Neish realized then that a video taken by an Arab TV cameraman in the midst of the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza of him flipping through a booklet had been transmitted before the Israelis blocked all electronic signals from the flotilla. The booklet had pictures and profiles of all the passengers, and he’d found it in the backpack of an Israeli Defense Force commando.

Neish, 53, was on the second deck of the flotilla’s lead ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, with a good view of the stern, when the IDF, in the early morning darkness of May 31, began its assault with percussion grenades, tear gas and a hail of bullets. He then moved to the fourth deck in an enclosed stairwell, from which he watched took photographs as casualties were carried down past him to a makeshift medical station. Several IDF commandos, captured by the passengers and crew, were also brought past him.

“I saw them carrying this one IDF guy down,” he recalls. “He looked terrified, like he thought he was going to be killed. But when a big Turkish guy, who had seen seriously injured passengers who had been shot by the IDF, charged over and tried to hit the commando, the Turkish aid workers pushed him off and pinned him to the wall. They protected this Israeli soldier.”

That was when he found the backpack which the soldier had dropped. “I figured I’d look inside and see what he was carrying,” Neish says. “And inside was this kind of flip-book. It was full of photos and names in English and Hebrew of who was on all the ships. The booklet also had a detailed diagram of the decks of the Mavi Marmara.”

Meanwhile, he says, more and more people were being carried down the stairs from the mayhem above—people who’d been shot, and people who were dying or people already dead. “I took detailed photos of the dead and wounded with my camera,” he says, adding, “There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head–clearly they were executed.”

Neish smuggled his photos out of Israel to Turkey despite his arrest on the ship and imprisonment in Israel for several days. “I pulled out the memory card, tossed my camera and anything I had on me that had anything to do with electronics, and then kept moving the chip around so it wouldn’t be found,” he says. “The Israelis took all the cameras and computers. They were smashing some and keeping others. I put the chip in my mouth under my tongue, between my butt cheeks, in my sock, everywhere, to keep them from finding it,” he says. He finally handed it to a Turk who was leaving for a flight home on a Turkish airline. He says the card ended up in the hands of an organization called Free Gaza, and he has seen some of his pictures published, so he knows they made it out successfully.

Neish says that claims that the Israeli commandos were just armed with paint guns and 9 mm pistols are “Bullshit–at one point when I was in the stairwell, a commando opened a hatch above, stuck in a machine gun, and started firing. Bullets were bouncing all over the place. If the guy had gotten to look in and see where he was shooting, I’d have been dead, but two Turkish guys in the stairwell, who had short lengths of chain with them that they had taken from the access points to the lifeboats, stood to the side of the hatch and whipped them up at the barrell. I don’t know if they were trying to hit the commando or to use them to snatch away the gun, but the Israeli backed off, and they slammed and locked the hatch.”

“I never saw a single paint gun, or a sign of a fired paint ball!” he says.
He also didn’t see any guns in the hands of people who were on the ship. “In the whole time I was there on the ship, I never saw a single weapon in the hands of the crew or the aid workers,” he says. Indeed, Neish, who originally had been on a smaller 70-foot yacht called the Challenger II, had transferred to the Mavi Marmara after a stop in Cyprus, because his boat had been sabotaged by Israeli agents (a claim verified by the Israeli government), making it impossible to steer. “When we came aboard the big boat, I was frisked and my bag was inspected for weapons,” he says. “Being an engineer, I of course had a pocket knife, but they took that and tossed it into the ocean. Nobody was allowed to have any weapons on this voyage. They were very careful about that.”

What he did see during the IDF assault was severe bullet wounds. “In addition to several people I saw who were killed, I saw several dozen wounded people. There was one older guy who was just propped up against the wall with a huge hole in his chest. He died as I was taking his picture.”

Neish says he saw many of the 9 who were known to have been killed, and of the 40 who were wounded, and adds, “There were many more who were wounded, too, but less seriously. In the Israeli prison, I saw people with knife wounds and broken bones. Some were hiding their injuries so they wouldn’t be taken away from the others.” He also says, “Initially there were reports that 16 on the boat had been killed. The medical station said 16. There was a suspicion that some bodies may have been thrown overboard. But what people think now is that other seven who are missing, since we’re not hearing from families, may have been Israeli spies.”

Once the Israeli commandos had secured control of the Mavi Marmara, Neish says the ship’s passengers and crew were rounded up, with the men put in one area on deck, and the women put below in another area. The men were told to squat, and had their hands bound with plastic cuffs, which Neish says were pulled so tight that his wrists were cut and his hands swelled up and turned purple (he is still suffering nerve damage from the experience, which his doctor in Canada says he hopes will gradually repair on its own).

“They told us to be quiet,” he says. “But at one point this Turkish imam stood up and started singing a call to prayer. Everybody was dead quiet–even the Israelis. But after about ten seconds, this Israeli officer stomped over through the squatting people, pulled out his pistol and pointed at the guy’s head, yelling ‘Shut up!’ in English. The imam looked at him directly and just kept singing! I thought, Jesus Christ, he’s gonna kill him! Then I thought, well, this is what I’m here for, I guess, so I stood up. The officer wheeled around and pointed his gun at my head. The imam finished his song and sat down, and then I sat down.”

While the commandeered vessels were sailed to the Israeli port of Ashdot, the captives were left without food or water. “All we were given were some chocolate bars that the Israelis pilfered from the ship’s stores,” says Neish. “You had to grovel to get to go to the bathroom, and many people had to just go in their pants.”

Things didn’t get much better once the passengers were transferred to an Israeli prison. He and the other prisoners with him, who hadn’t eaten for more than half a day, were tossed a frozen block of bread and some cucumbers.

On the second day, someone from the Canadian embassy came around, calling out his name. “It turned out he’d been going to every cell looking for me,” says Neish. “My daughter had been frantically telling the Canadian government I was in the flotilla. Even though the Israelis had my name and knew where I was, they weren’t telling the Canadian embassy people. In fact the Canadians–and my daughter–thought I was dead, because people had said I’d been near the initial assault. The good thing is that as they went around calling out for me, they discovered two Arab-born Canadians that they hadn’t known were there.”

“Eventually they got to my cell and I answered them. The embassy official said, ‘You’re Kevin? You’re supposed to be dead.’”

After being held for a few days, there was a rush to move everyone to the Ben Gurion airport for a flight to Turkey. “It turned out that Israeli lawyers had brought our case to the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of our capture on international waters. There was a chance that the court would order the IDF to put us back on our ships and let us go, so the government wanted to get us out of Israel and moot the case. But two guys were hauled off, probably by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency). So we all said, ‘No. We don’t go unless you bring them back.’”

The two men were returned and were allowed to leave with the rest of the group.

“I honestly never thought the Israelis would board the ship,” says Neish. “I thought we’d get into Gaza. I mean, I went as part of the Free Gaza Movement, and they had made prior attempts, with some getting in, and some getting boarded or rammed, but this time it was a big flotilla. I figured we’d be stopped, and maybe searched. My boat, the Challenger II, only had dignitaries on board including three German MPs, and then Lt. Col. Ann Wright and myself.

At one point in the Israeli prison, all the violence finally got to this man who had witnessed more death and mayhem than many active duty US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I broke down and started crying,” he admits. “This big Turkish guy came over and asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Sixteen people died.’”

“He said to me, ‘No, they died for a wonderful cause. They’re happy. You just go out and tell your story.’”

41 dead civilians in Yemen. New evidence points to U.S.

Images of missile and cluster munitions point to US role in fatal attack in Yemen

Amnesty International

67/2010

Unexploded BLU 97 cluster bomblet -  the Tomahawk BGM-109D cruise missile would have carried 166 of these (full details below).

Unexploded BLU 97 cluster bomblet – the Tomahawk BGM-109D cruise missile would have carried 166 of these (full details below).

Part of propulsion unit of BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile.

Part of propulsion unit of BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile.

Part of BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile, probably fuel tank section.

Part of BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile, probably fuel tank section.

Amnesty International has released images of a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster munitions, apparently taken following an attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp in Yemen that killed 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children.

The 17 December 2009 attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah in the Abyan area in the south of Yemen killed 55 people including 14 alleged members of al-Qa’ida.

“A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful. The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

The Yemeni government has said its forces alone carried out the attack on al-Ma’jalah, the site of an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp in al-Mahfad district, Abyan Governorate.

Shortly after the attack some US media reported alleged statements by unnamed US government sources who said that US cruise missiles launched on presidential orders had been fired at two alleged al-Qa’ida sites in Yemen.

“Based on the evidence provided by these photographs, the US government must disclose what role it played in the al-Ma’jalah attack, and all governments involved must show what steps they took to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries,” said Philip Luther.

The photographs enable the positive identification of damaged missile parts, which appear to be from the payload, mid-body, aft-body and propulsion sections of a BGM-109D Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.

This type of missile, launched from a warship or submarine, is designed to carry a payload of 166 cluster submunitions (bomblets) which each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries up to 150m away. An incendiary material inside the bomblet also spreads fragments of burning zirconium designed to set fire to nearby flammable objects.

A further photograph, apparently taken within half an hour of the others, shows an unexploded BLU 97 A/B submunition itself, the type carried by BGM-109D missiles. These missiles are known to be held only by US forces and Yemeni armed forces are unlikely to be capable of using such a missile.

Amnesty International has requested information from the Pentagon about the involvement of US forces in the al-Ma’jalah attack, and what precautions may have been taken to minimize deaths and injuries, but has yet to receive a response.

“Amnesty International is gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been used in Yemen, when most states around the world have committed to comprehensively ban these weapons,” said Mike Lewis, Amnesty International’s arms control researcher.

“Cluster munitions have indiscriminate effects and unexploded bomblets threaten lives and livelihoods for years afterwards. All governments responsible for using them must urgently provide assistance to clear unexploded munitions.”

Neither the USA nor Yemen has yet signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty designed to comprehensively ban such weapons which is due to enter into force on 1 August 2010.

A Yemeni parliamentary committee that investigated the 17 December 2009 attack reported in February that 41 people it described as civilians had been killed. In its report the committee said that on arrival at the scene of the attack in al-Ma’jalah it “found that all the homes and their contents were burnt and all that was left were traces of furniture.”

It said the committee “found traces of blood of the victims and a number of holes in the ground left by the bombing… as well as a number of unexploded bombs”, and that one survivor told the committee that his family, who were killed although they had committed no crime, were sleeping when the missiles struck on the morning of 17 December 2009.

In its report, the Yemeni parliamentary committee said the Yemeni government should open a judicial investigation into the attack and bring to justice those responsible for the killings of civilians, but no such investigation is known to have been held as yet.

The committee reported statements by the Abyan Governorate authorities that 14 alleged members of al-Qa’ida were also killed in the attack, but said it had been unable to obtain information confirming this and was able to obtain the name of only one of the 14 from the Abyan authorities.


Image 1, additional details: The Tomahawk BGM-109D cruise missile would have carried 166 BLU 97 cluster bomblets, which are designed to scatter over a wide area, acting indiscriminately when used in civilian areas. Many also fail to explode on impact, as in the photograph above, but may explode if disturbed, making land dangerous for communities to use for months or years after attacks.

CIA has been without an Inspector General for 14 months

AP’s Adam Goldman reminded us all yesterday that the CIA has been without an Inspector General for over a year.  Given that the Inspector General is the only watchdog for the CIA, and considering their central role in prisoner abuses, torture, illicit drug trafficking, extrajudicial assassina…oops, I mean targeted killings, and a plethora of other activities that you’re supposed to believe are only the bailiwick of the “bad guys,” it seems to me that an Inspector General might come in handy.

Unless, of course, the goal is to allow the CIA even more secrecy than ever as its dirty tricks facilitate the unending expansion of the corporate empire.  But wait!  We have a Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House, who promised an unprecedented level of transparency and openness in government.  Oh well, you didn’t actually believe that goebbelsdygook did you?  Not only is the American emperor wearing no clothes, but he’s also brazenly slapping you in the face with his … well, you know what I mean.

And speaking of the CIA’s dirty tricks, have you heard that some of the CIA drone operators are concerned that their drone strikes are doing a wonderful job of creating more terrorists?  Retired Army Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Addicott recently said this:

“Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good…”

He went on to say that CIA officers “are very upset” with the drone strike policy, and that “they’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise,” and that the strikes “infuriate the Muslim male,” making them “view Americans as cowards and weasels.”

Shocking, right?  And all this time, I was under the impression that they hated us for our freedom.

And hell, at this point, the fact that the drone strikes have the troubling side-effect of turning innocent passersby into mincemeat goes without saying, right?

I am again reminded of a terrific quote from one of Chris Floyd’s commenters:

“There is no logical way to respond to being attacked by a robot in the sky.”

Indeed.

But hey, we don’t need no stinking Inspector General.