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  • Class War

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 17:24:10
  • Calling U.S. Drone Strikes 'Surgical' Is Orwellian Propaganda

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 17:05:05
    'A moment's reflection is enough to understand why intellectually honest people should shun the loaded metaphor.


    The Obama Administration deliberately uses the word "surgical" to describe its drone strikes. Official White House spokesman Jay Carney marshaled the medical metaphor here, saying that "a hallmark of our counterterrorism efforts has been our ability to be exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted." White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan attributed "surgical precision" and "laser-like focus" to the drone program. He also spoke of "delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us." And a "senior administration official" told The Washington Post that "there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."

    They've successfully transplanted the term into public discourse about drones.

    I've been told American drone strikes are "surgical" while attending Aspen Ideas Festival panels, interviewing delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and perusing reader emails after every time I write about the innocents killed and maimed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

    It is a triumph of propaganda.

    The inaccuracy of the claim fully occurred to me as I played back a recent interview I conducted with Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution. (His book Wired for War is a fascinating read.) "You used to measure a surgeon by how still could he hold his hand," Singer told me. "How precise could he make the cut? Well, robotic systems, it isn't a matter of shaking at minute levels. It doesn't shake. You are amazed by a surgeon doing a cut that is millimeters in precision. With robotics it is in nanometers." He was explaining why unmanned systems make sense in a variety of fields, not commenting on the Obama Administration's rhetoric in its ongoing, multi-country drone war.

    But that is how we think of surgeons, isn't it?

    They use a scalpel. Their cuts are precise down to the millimeter. Once in a great while there is a slip of the knife, a catastrophic mistake. In those cases, the surgeon is held accountable and the victim lavishly compensated. Oh, and there's one more thing about surgical procedures: While the person being cut into is occasionally victimized by a mistake, there is never a case where the scalpel is guided so imprecisely that it kills the dozen people standing around the operating table. For that reason, orderlies and family members don't cower in hospital halls terrified that a surgeon is going to arbitrarily kill them. And if he did, he'd be arrested for murder.

    So no, drone strikes aren't like surgery at all.

    "As much as the military has tried to make drone pilots feel as if they are sitting in a cockpit, they are still flying a plane from a screen with a narrow field of vision," Mark Mazzetti reports. "Then there is the fact that the movement shown on a drone pilot's video screen has over the years been seconds behind what the drone sees -- a delay caused by the time it takes to bounce a signal off a satellite in space. This problem, called 'latency,' has long bedeviled drone pilots, making it difficult to hit a moving target." That's one more way drones strikes are unlike surgery.

    Are they "surgical" compared to an H-bomb?

    Er, no, they're less destructive and more precise. To conjure a surgeon with a knife is to lead the listener astray. And it is a downright dishonest metaphor when invoked by an administration that could make their strikes more like surgery but doesn't. For example, the Obama Administration could make certain of the identity of the people it is "operating on." Instead it sometimes uses "signature strikes," wherein the CIA doesn't even know the identity of the people it is killing. It could also attempt autopsies, literal or figurative, when things go wrong. Instead, it presumes sans evidence that all military-aged males killed in drone strikes are "militants."

    Said George Orwell in 1946:

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

    The phrase "surgical drone strike" is handy for naming U.S. actions without calling up images of dead, limb-torn innocents with flesh scorched from the missile that destroyed the home where they slept or burned up the car in which they rode. The New America Foundation, which systematically undercounts these innocents, says there have been at least 152 and many as 192 killed since 2004. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts the civilian death figure at between 474 and 881 killed. Either way, would "surgical" strikes kill innocents on that scale in a region with just 2 percent of Pakistan's population? Using data that undercounts innocents killed, The New America Foundation reports that 85 percent of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes are "militants," while 15 percent are civilians or unknown. What do you think would happen to a surgeon that accidentally killed 15 in 100 patients? Would colleagues would call him "surgical" in his precision?

    Unlike the Democratic politicians and former Obama Administration officials I heard speak in Aspen, retired Brigadier General Craig Nixon didn't say that American drone strikes were surgical.

    He was asked to explain how a farmer was accidentally killed.

    And he used a different metaphor when recounting his field experience:

    A drone or another intelligence device is sorta like being at a football game sitting on the 50-yard line and looking through a soda straw. I mean you see what you see. But there's a lot of other context that you don't see.

    As technology improves, he said, it's a little better, like looking through multiple straws, but there's still a lot of missing context.

    It's a very different image than a "surgical drone strike," isn't it?
  • US investigates possible WikiLeaks leaker for 'communicating with the enemy'

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-28 10:32:20
    'US military's new legal theory threatens to convert unauthorized leaks into a capital offense. Who is the real 'enemy'?


    A US air force systems analyst who expressed support for WikiLeaks and accused leaker Bradley Manning triggered a formal military investigation last year to determine whether she herself had leaked any documents to the group. Air Force investigative documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the analyst was repeatedly interviewed about her contacts with and support for WikiLeaks - what investigators repeatedly refer to as the "anti-US or anti-military group" - as well as her support for the group's founder, Julian Assange.

    The investigation was ultimately closed when they could find no evidence of unauthorized leaking, but what makes these documents noteworthy is the possible crime cited by military officials as the one they were investigating: namely, "Communicating With the Enemy", under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

    That is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit - it carries the penalty of death - and is committed when a person engages in "unauthorized communication, correspondence, or intercourse with the enemy". The military investigation form also requires investigators to identify the "victim" of the crime they are investigating, and here, they designated "society" as the victim:

    How could leaking to WikiLeaks possibly constitute the crime of "communicating with the enemy"? Who exactly is the "enemy"? There are two possible answers to that question, both quite disturbing.

    The first possibility is the one suggested by today's Sydney Morning Herald article on these documents (as well as by WikiLeaks itself): that the US military now formally characterizes WikiLeaks and Assange as an "enemy", the same designation it gives to groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This would not be the first time such sentiments were expressed by the US military: recall that one of the earliest leaks from the then-largely-unknown group was a secret report prepared back in 2008 by the US Army which, as the New York Times put it, included WikiLeaks on the Pentagon's "list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States". That Army document then plotted how to destroy the group.

    But it's the second possibility that seems to me to be the far more likely one: namely, that the US government, as part of Obama's unprecedented war on whistleblowers, has now fully embraced the pernicious theory that any leaks of classified information can constitute the crime of "aiding the enemy" or "communicating with the enemy" by virtue of the fact that, indirectly, "the enemy" will - like everyone else in the world - ultimately learn of what is disclosed.

    Indeed, the US military is currently prosecuting accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning on multiple charges including "aiding the enemy", also under Article 104 of the UCMJ, and a capital offense (though prosecutors are requesting "only" life imprisonment rather than execution). Military prosecutors have since revealed that their theory is that the 23-year-old Army Private "aided al-Qaida by leaking hundreds of thousands of military and other government documents" -- specifically, that "Manning indirectly aided al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by giving information to WikiLeaks."

    It seems clear that the US military now deems any leaks of classified information to constitute the capital offense of "aiding the enemy" or "communicating with the enemy" even if no information is passed directly to the "enemy" and there is no intent to aid or communicate with them. Merely informing the public about classified government activities now constitutes this capital crime because it "indirectly" informs the enemy.

    The implications of this theory are as obvious as they are disturbing. If someone can be charged with "aiding" or "communicating with the enemy" by virtue of leaking to WikiLeaks, then why wouldn't that same crime be committed by someone leaking classified information to any outlet: the New York Times, the Guardian, ABC News or anyone else? In other words, does this theory not inevitably and necessarily make all leaking of all classified information - whether to WikiLeaks or any media outlet - a capital offense: treason or a related crime?

    International Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller made a similar point when the charges against Manning were first revealed:

    "[I]f Manning has aided the enemy, so has any media organization that published the information he allegedly stole. Nothing in Article 104 requires proof that the defendant illegally acquired the information that aided the enemy. As a result, if the mere act of ensuring that harmful information is published on the internet qualifies either as indirectly 'giving intelligence to the enemy' (if the military can prove an enemy actually accessed the information) or as indirectly 'communicating with the enemy' (because any reasonable person knows that enemies can access information on the internet), there is no relevant factual difference between Manning and a media organization that published the relevant information."

    Professor Heller goes on to note that while "WikiLeaks or the New York Times could not actually be charged under Article 104" because "the UCMJ only applies to soldiers", there is nonetheless "still something profoundly disturbing about the prospect of convicting Manning and sentencing him to life imprisonment for doing exactly what media organizations did, as well".

    What these new documents reveal is that this odious theory is not confined to Manning. The US military appears to be treating all potential leaks - at least those to WikiLeaks - as "aiding" or "communicating with" the enemy. But there is no possible limiting principle that would confine that theory only to such leaks; they would necessarily apply to all leaks of classified information to any media outlets.

    It is always worth underscoring that the New York Times has published far more government secrets than WikiLeaks ever has, and more importantly, has published far more sensitive secrets than WikiLeaks has (unlike WikiLeaks, which has never published anything that was designated "Top Secret", the New York Times has repeatedly done so: the Pentagon Papers, the Bush NSA wiretapping program, the SWIFT banking surveillance system, and the cyberwarfare program aimed at Iran were all "Top Secret" when the newspaper revealed them, as was the network of CIA secret prisons exposed by the Washington Post). There is simply no way to convert basic leaks to WikiLeaks into capital offenses - as the Obama administration is plainly doing - without sweeping up all leaks into that attack.

    Of course, that outcome would almost certainly be a feature, not a bug, for Obama officials. This is, after all, the same administration that has prosecuted whistleblowers under espionage charges that threatened to send them to prison for life without any evidence of harm to national security, and has brought double the number of such prosecutions as all prior administrations combined. Converting all leaks into capital offenses would be perfectly consistent with the unprecedented secrecy fixation on the part of the Most Transparent Administration Ever™.

    The irony from these developments is glaring. The real "enemies" of American "society" are not those who seek to inform the American people about the bad acts engaged in by their government in secret. As Democrats once recognized prior to the age of Obama - in the age of Daniel Ellsberg - people who do that are more aptly referred to as "heroes". The actual "enemies" are those who abuse secrecy powers to conceal government actions and to threaten with life imprisonment or even execution those who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing.'

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/27/wikileaks-investigation-enemy
  • U.S. May Have Designated Julian Assange and WikiLeaks An

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-28 10:26:05
    'Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may have been designated an "enemy of the state" by the United States. U.S. Air Force counter-intelligence documents show military personnel who contact WikiLeaks or its supporters may be at risk of being charged with "communicating with the enemy" — a military crime that carries a maximum sentence of death. We speak to attorney Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a legal advisor to Assange and WikiLeaks.'
  • America is the wealthiest nation on Earth...

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-28 10:16:12
    "America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

    Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves."

    ~Kurt Vonnegut, 1969