Category Archives: National Security State

In which our leadership cast themselves into the fiery pit and pull us all down behind them

Someone said this on Facebook a day or two ago: “At risk of being called somebody who would have given the Nazis a free pass at Nuremburg, terrorists aren’t exactly the most sympathetic of victims. I think the political will to prosecute Bush, Cheney etc. is near zero. As harsh as it may sound, I don’t think most Americans care about this.”

That’s not an uncommon response among the ones I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere, and of course the bit about many Americans not caring is impossible to dispute. But the risk, the sin there, isn’t attached to giving Nazis a free pass at Nuremberg; rather, it’s attached to giving them a free pass before Nuremberg. Enough Germans regarded Jews — and Gypsies, Communists, Socialists and others — as not exactly the most sympathetic of victims in the years leading up to the war and the Holocaust, that the authorities felt comfortable pursuing their expanding and escalating regimen of state terror. Once you introduce the nature of the victims into the question of whether or not we should marginalize/oppress/torture someone, all is lost. Anyone can be demonized when the conditions are ripe.
Continue reading

On Patriot Day, we begin the war we have been fighting for years

Yesterday was Patriot Day, by proclamation of the President. The proclamation was released by the press office at 9:24 AM, about two hours before the office released excerpts from the speech the President delivered about 10 hours later.

Pre-speech excerpts are a tradition. These are the lines administration officials want the chucktodds of the press to be talking and writing about in the hours before the speech, the “Tonight, the President will say” lines. These are the lines meant to manage expectations and convey gravitas. They’re released in the morning so the chucktodds have time to write something up that is similar to but not identical with what all the other chucktodds are saying and writing, and which includes responses from anonymous administration officials — somber, but favorable — and public experts (“experts disagree!”).
Continue reading

Folks torturing folks, redux: Obama plants his flag on the wrong side of Nuremberg

When you come down on the same side of an argument as the Nazis and other Germans guilty of crimes against humanity, you’re doing something wrong.

Not long after he took office, President Obama invoked the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the folks who tortured folks. That’s the one where the Germans who committed what are now known as crimes against humanity said they had the right to assume that superior orders are lawful. A few days ago, he described anyone wanting torturers held to account as sanctimonious because we were all afraid after 9/11.
Continue reading

Torturers, looters and oligarchs let their freak flags fly

The people who variously collapsed the economy, bought the political process and brought torture into polite society are tired of your disrespect and they’re not afraid to let you know it.

The latest in the parade of former Bush administration officials and CIA personnel to come in from the cold the suburbs and either defend or brag about their roles in the Bush torture regimen is psychologist James Mitchell, the prominent member of the helping professions who is credited with having designed the procedures used by the CIA to torture prisoners and is supposed to have tortured at least one prisoner himself. In an interview with The Guardian, Mitchell said “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” Mitchell follows in the footsteps of former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who say the times required torture and the results justify it, and anyway it wasn’t torture.

In some circumstances, in some countries, admitting to having not just devised torture procedures but practicing them as well would land one in hot water. In the US, however, torturers have a very prominent advocate for letting bygones be bygones: the current President. In 2009, when he ordered the release of the documents the Bush administration’s legal team wrote to retroactively and prospectively justify torture, President Obama said that “[i]n releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
Continue reading

Bartleby, the President

Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby, in a singular mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
           — Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener is the story of a man who one day decides he would prefer not to — first work and, eventually, live. We needn’t worry about that with Bartleby, the President. He has too high a degree of self-regard to starve himself from indolence or despair, as should we all, and insufficient attachment to principle to risk his life on a hunger strike.

As you must know, the passions of various Senators on the Senate intelligence committee are inflamed by agents of the CIA having illegally surveilled them and illegally executed covert operations against them. We say illegally because the CIA is proscribed from practicing its arts domestically on anyone, even Senators and their staffs, who probably bear watching more than most of us, even when the CIA believe themselves to have good reason; especially so, in fact, because that’s when the risk is highest. The CIA think they have good reason now because the Senate intelligence committee has been preparing a report that will document the agency’s crimes against humanity, including torturing people and disappearing them.

The surveilling and operating was evidently done with the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, one John Brennan. It is particularly fraught because the CIA is an executive branch agency, and the executive branch is not meant to spy upon or coerce other branches of government. This is in part why the great Richard Nixon lost his job. What we have here is the very definition of a constitutional crisis, a plain breach of the separation of powers.
Continue reading

Lickspittles, Poltroons and Slubberdegullions

Referring, obviously, to congressional Democrats who wish to further reduce food stamp benefits and to cast a Nixon spell on the NSA, rendering all its predations lawful. The latter would be Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-NSA), who is expressing her outrage over the eavesdropping on allies by writing legislation that fully legitimates spying on citizens, and the former a host of other Democrats whose starting point in the negotiations about the SNAP program (food stamps) is a $4 billion cut on top of the $5 billion lost as the stimulus ends.
Continue reading

Somebody is seriously pissed off about the Obama administration’s iteration of the national security state

The Obama administration has sprung a gusher. This is pretty remarkable. In the space of three days, we have learned (so far) that

  1. The National Security Agency has been collecting complete call records on Verizon users (and probably all the other telcom customers as well) for perhaps seven years;
  2. The National Security Agency is vacuuming user data, including audio and video conversations, directly from the servers of some 40 internet-based companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others (notably, not Twitter); and,
  3. The US President has drawn up a list of cyberwarfare targets in a directive that reads very much as though it is intended to be used.

More, please. Also, I hope The Guardian is more enthusiastic about defending Glenn Greenwald than they have been about Julian Assange.

James Comey, Obama’s candidate to head the FBI, approved illegal warrantless wiretapping and torture. Forward!

Then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama disappointed some of his liberal supporters when he voted in 2008 to immunize our country’s giant telecommunications firms from any consequences of cooperating with the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping scheme. Now, he’s nominating a champion of that scheme to head the FBI.

James Comey, who served as John Ashcroft’s deputy in the Bush II justice department, is getting a lot of love from liberals for a 2004 episode in which he faced down senior Bush administration officials who attempted to bulldoze his hospitalized boss into extending his approval of an as-yet undisclosed National Security Agency assault on the Constitution. The administration scaled the program back from whatever so appalled the bed-ridden Ashcroft to the apparently less ambitious but still unconstitutional effort revealed by the New York Times in 2005 — after they politely sat on the story for a year at the administration’s behest — and approved by Ashcroft and Comey.

It was the telcoms’ cooperation with the scaled-down, Comey-approved program that gave Barack Obama the opportunity to earn their gratitude with his vote to immunize them from the criminal and financial liability for their actions. Despite some serious misgivings, Comey also signed on to the Bush administration’s authorization of torture. So the guy that the Democratic president wants to run the FBI, the guy that Charlie Pierce calls “a legitimate choice to head the FBI,” the guy Josh Marshall says “came down on the side of the rule of law,” is a guy who has a history of approving illegal government activities up to and including crimes against humanity.

More and more, the Obama administration brings to mind a political version of the famous Aristocrats joke.

“What do you call them?”

“The Liberals.”

Routine carnage in Boston

I was browsing through my news feed yesterday morning when I ran across a story about the US bombing a wedding in Afghanistan. I thought something like “Jeez, again?”* and didn’t click through for the full story because it was so familiar. Now I can’t find it, but I think it said 30 dead. A few minutes later I ran across this story, which I also didn’t read beyond the summary but for some reason flagged in the feed: Bombs kill more than 30 across Iraq before local poll. (That turned out to be a very low, early estimate.)

It wasn’t too long after that, maybe 20 minutes, when reports of the atrocity in Boston began popping up on the feed, and among my first reactions when I saw the early accounts of two dead was “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Less than the 30 dead at the wedding and the 30 in the other bombs in the other cities, anyway. It took a little while to locate some shock, and 24 hours later I still find myself thinking the same thing — horrible but could’ve been worse — and wondering the same thing that occurred to me yesterday when I was looking at stories about it: what would the papers be like if this was happening in an American city every week or two?

I got thousands of results when I searched Google News for the bombing. Initially they were the same two or three stories and then there were more. I stopped regularly watching television news more than 20 years ago — around the time the elder Bush’s Iraq extravaganza broke CNN’s Bernard Shaw — and haven’t seen more than an hour of it here and there since so I don’t know how that went, but I know how it went.

I don’t know how it went in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the wedding and the bombs and whatever other violence they suffered. I don’t know what they have by way of newspapers or what the penetration of television is. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a daily roundup of the front pages of more than 400 US newspapers (more than 800 worldwide) every day, but none from Iraq and only one from Afghanistan. All but a very few US papers have a Boston story today — I didn’t look at all of them but I only noticed two that didn’t. Many of the overseas papers do too. The one paper listed for Afghanistan, the Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes, doesn’t.

The US is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think Americans collectively are responsible; certainly some thousands of people should be in chains, and of course everyone who did their killings and kidnappings and whatever counter to the rules upon which the people who don’t go to war have settled. I don’t know what could have been done short of throwing some tens of millions of bodies upon the gears, in Mario Savio’s formulation; that is, climbing into the intakes of the engines on the troop and equipment transports, blocking the meetings of Congress, and otherwise physically impinging upon the ability of the concern to do business.

I guess that’s what we should have done, but that’s blood over the dam now. What I wonder, though, is how many Americans will wonder now what it’s like to live through a bomb at the marathon or the market or the church, or the missile attacks that may or may not be errant, every week or two or three, and whether if they get a sense of it then they might stoop to recklessness to stop the next reckless US government. Or whether we would just get used to it.

*This turns out to have been this, an 11-year-old London Daily Mail story that somehow burbled up in the feed.