CNAS Report is a Sign of the Times

For another data point on the marked shift in American discourse on Israel/Palestine that has been occurring in recent years, check out the new report on “Setting the Conditions for a Palestinian State” that was released today by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The report lays out the framework for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a potential two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.

As is so often the case, what’s important here is not what is being said, but rather who is saying it. CNAS was founded in 2007 by Michele Flournoy (now the Obama administration’s undersecretary of defense for policy and rumored to be a potential successor to Robert Gates) and Kurt Campbell (now a top Asia hand at the State Department), who were only two of the nearly dozen CNAS vets to join the Obama administration. A major part of the reason for CNAS’s pipeline into the administration is the organization’s success in portraying itself as the home of “serious” liberals that even a hawk could respect. Without detracting from the organization’s fellows, many of whom are genuinely excellent, it is fair to say that CNAS has strived to cultivate an reputation for technocratic problem-solving rather than ideological liberalism. The organization did not make its name with outspoken denunciations of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it made its name with pragmatic recommendations for how to wage the wars more effectively. (The fact that the organization formed and its leadership came to public prominence well after the wars were already underway means that we will never know whether many of its leaders would have favored the wars in the first place.) In particular, CNAS has carved out a niche as the think-tank of choice for proponents of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, currently enjoying something of a renaissance in popularity; CNAS’s current president, Lt. Col. (ret.) John Nagl, helped write the military’s counterinsurgency field manual under General David Petraeus.

CNAS’s apparent aversion to political risk-taking makes it all the more surprising to see the organization wade into the fray on Israel/Palestine — and particularly to raise the once-taboo issue of an international peacekeeping force to enforce a two-state agreement. Coming on the heels of the recent controversy surrounding Petraeus’s own views on Israel/Palestine — he came under fire from hawks for suggesting [PDF, p. 12] that the perpetuation of the conflict harms U.S. interests — the release of the CNAS report suggests two things. First, there is a growing belief both in the military and in Washington national-security circles that the status quo on Israel/Palestine is unacceptable and that assertive US action is necessary to change it. Second, there is a diminishing level of fear about the political consequences of making such beliefs public.

Andy Worthington brings us “Habeas Week”

Andy Worthington, an absolutely tireless seeker of the truth as it pertains to the continuing U.S detention of terror suspects abroad, has decided the mainstream news has done such a pathetic job at covering what could be one of the most important national security issues of the decade, that he’s putting up a tutorial for the rest of us who give a damn:

In an attempt to raise awareness of the importance of the rulings being made in US courts on the habeas corpus petitions of the prisoners held at Guantánamo (as authorized by a significant Supreme Court ruling in June 2008), I’m devoting most of my work this week to articles covering the 47 cases decided to date (34 of which have been won by the prisoners), as a series entitled, “Guantánamo Habeas Week.”

The amazing thing is that 34 out of 47 prisoners — that’s 72 percent — have contested their detentions by the federal government in court and won. According to Worthington, their cases were bolstered by the fact that much of the evidence against them was so flimsy:   “primarily, confessions extracted through the torture or coercion of the prisoners themselves, or through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners, either in Guantánamo, the CIA’s secret prisons, or proxy prisons run on behalf of the CIA in other countries,” Worthington writes.

These and other curious and damning revelations have come out through judges’ individual rulings, he adds. For example, Worthington makes the point that we now know that  “the majority of the prisoners” at Guantanamo Bay “were not, for the most part, seized by US forces ‘on the battlefield,’ as senior Bush administration officials claimed, but were, instead, mainly rounded up by the US military’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at a time when bounty payments were widespread, and were never adequately screened at the time of capture to determine whether or not they had ever been engaged in any kind of combat.”

That might well explain the high rate of release among prisoners who the fear-mongers in the last administration (and people like Liz Cheney today) insisted were so dangerous that even the thought of releasing them would be like lobbing a live grenade down Main Street.

Well, Liz can take a breather because the military is appealing some 11 of the cases, ensuring that at least some of those prisoners remain in custody even beyond their victories in court. Meanwhile, 35 alleged terrorists who the government believes has enough evidence to convict, remain in limbo while everyone fights over which court to try them in. Another 44 are cleared to leave, but have no where to go.

A lot of threads to entangle and examine, and Worthington seems ready and more than able to take on the work so we won’t have to. But make no mistake, as Americans, these things are going on in our name, so we have no small obligation here to take Worthington up on his offer and pay attention.

‘Collateral Murder’ Veterans Apologize to Iraqi Families

WikiLeaks and their defenders have been under fire for “not supporting the troops,” by releasing the video now titled “Collateral Murder.”

The video shows American snipers killing Iraqis on the ground, including children and journalists. The Pentagon and others have charged the the video is “out of context.”

How about this for context:

Two soldiers from Bravo Company 2-16, the company depicted in the video, have written an open letter of apology to the Iraqis who were injured or lost loved ones during the attack (they say that this sort of thing is a regular occurrence in this war).

Here is the text of the letter:


From Current and Former Members of the U.S. Military

Peace be with you.

To all of those who were injured or lost loved ones during the July 2007 Baghdad shootings depicted in the “Collateral Murder” Wikileaks video:

We write to you, your family, and your community with awareness that our words and actions can never restore your losses.

We are both soldiers who occupied your neighborhood for 14 months. Ethan McCord pulled your daughter and son from the van, and when doing so, saw the faces of his own children back home. Josh Stieber was in the same company but was not there that day, though he contributed to the your pain, and the pain of your community on many other occasions.

There is no bringing back all that was lost. What we seek is to learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to tell others of our experiences and how the people of the United States need to realize what have done and are doing to you and the people of your country. We humbly ask you what we can do to begin to repair the damage we caused.

We have been speaking to whoever will listen, telling them that what was shown in the Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created. From our own experiences, and the experiences of other veterans we have talked to, we know that the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how U.S.-led wars are carried out in this region.

We acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones as we tell Americans what we were trained to do and carried out in the name of “god and country”. The soldier in video said that your husband shouldn’t have brought your children to battle, but we are acknowledging our responsibility for bringing the battle to your neighborhood, and to your family. We did unto you what we would not want done to us.

More and more Americans are taking responsibility for what was done in our name. Though we have acted with cold hearts far too many times, we have not forgotten our actions towards you. Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny.

Our government may ignore you, concerned more with its public image. It has also ignored many veterans who have returned physically injured or mentally troubled by what they saw and did in your country. But the time is long overdue that we say that the value of our nation’s leaders no longer represent us. Our secretary of defense may say the U.S. won’t lose its reputation over this, but we stand and say that our reputation’s importance pales in comparison to our common humanity.

With such pain, friendship might be too much to ask. Please accept our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out. We are doing what we can to speak out against the wars and military policies responsible for what happened to you and your loved ones. Our hearts are open to hearing how we can take any steps to support you through the pain that we have caused.

Solemnly and Sincerely,
Josh Stieber, former specialist, U.S. Army
Ethan McCord, former specialist, U.S. Army

The soldiers are asking Americans to co-sign the letter on this website.

Boeing: Bringing Death From the Skies

With all the talk, pro and con, about the WikiLeaks video “Collateral Murder,” not much attention has come to the company without which the whole operation would be impossible: Boeing.

This excellent video combines Pentagon collateral damage videos with Boeing’s well-known commercial. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Check out some of the dialog:

“We have a black Bongo truck picking up the bodies, request permission to engage…”
“This is bushmaster 7, roger to engage.”

“I got a wounded girl we need to take to Rustamyah.”

“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into battle.”

“That’s right.”

This sort of warfare enables the soldiers to operate like they are in a video game, and they talk like that’s what they are doing.

In 2008 alone, Boeing earned over $31 billion from military contracts.

Netanyahu Cancels DC Visit Fearing Ambush

Like the gleeful sound one makes upon hearing that a particularly obnoxious and troublesome relative will not be attending a family gathering, Washington officials probably issued a collective sigh of relief when hearing the news that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has canceled his visit to Washington planned for next week. The Israeli Prime Minister has caused enough diplomatic problems for the Obama government recently and his appearance at an international summit on the spread of nuclear weapons could have further embarrassed both Israel and the United States.

Netanyahu will not attend the weapons conference because he is afraid to confront a group of representatives of Arab nations who plan to bring up the issue of Israel’s non-participation in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. These nations want to force Israel to publicly acknowledge its nuclear capability and permit international inspection of its facilities.

The Jerusalem Post refers to the Israeli nuclear arsenal as “alleged,” maintaining the ludicrous Tel Aviv “policy of ambiguity.” The headline of the Hebrew version of Ynet says Netanyahu is afraid of an “ambush” by the Arab delegates to the conference. Israel will send Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor to the conference to be the flak-catcher for Netanyahu. The Israeli leader’s absence will deflect attention from the potential bad publicity that discussion of Israel’s nuclear capability will generate.

Israel maintains an arsenal which is assumed to be between 100 and 300 warheads depending on the source of the data estimate. Mordechai Vanunu revealed details of Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the British press in 1986. He served 18 years in an Israeli prison after being abducted from Italy by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. Vanunu is prohibited from leaving Israel, where his freedom of speech, association and movement have been severely limited by authorities since his release. He has been designated as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

According to the Federation of American Scientists website, it has been reported that “fearing defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled 13 twenty-kiloton atomic bombs.” The fact that Israel may have seriously considered a nuclear strike in 1973 first became known to the general public in Seymour Hersh’s 1993 book, The Samson Option. If my memory serves me, Hersh claimed that Israel loaded the nukes on missiles and aimed them.

Surely the Americans must be ecstatic about Netanyahu not coming for another visit, although they are forced by their “very special relationship” with Israel to explicitly deny the obvious. The dubious honor for the denial fell on the shoulders of General James Jones, who told reporters that “of course we wanted the Prime Minister [Netanyahu] to come [back for another visit].”

Isn’t the very special Israeli-American relationship getting more special all the time?

The National Endowment for Democracy’s Kyrgyzstan Legacy

This is a photo of an undercover policeman kicking the head of a Kyrgyz demonstrator this week.

The National Endowment for Democracy and the Bush adminsitration were proud of their role in the uprising that led to the current government taking power in Kyrgyzstan.

Maybe the Endowment’s apologists will claim that the demonstrator is getting a pro-democracy kick in the head.

Kudos to Vladimir Pirogov, the brave Reuters photographer who got this shot. And triple kudos to the Kyrgyz people for stalwartly fighting an oppressive government.