Saturday, December 17, 2011

Obama at Fort Bragg:
A Hypocritical Embrace of a Criminal War

By Bill Van Auken

President Barack Obama used his speech to US troops at Fort Bragg, to embrace the nine-year war in Iraq that he had ostensibly opposed and to declare the destruction of the country a “success.”

NATO Troops on Syrian Border?  
By RT  -   Sibel Edmonds, exposes what is going on around Syria.    Click to watch the video interview

Why Do They Hate Us?
December 16, 2011 "

Even as President Obama and War Secretary Leon Panetta announce the “end” of the Iraq War, a US “covert war” against Iran, as the National Journal put it in a December 4 article, has already begun.

This secret war–at least secret from the American people–is being conducted in part directly by the US, as evidenced by the advanced American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth surveillance drone just recently downed–apparently by sophisticated electronic countermeasures that allowed the taking control of, and landing of the vehicle–by Iran.

Also conducted in part of proxies, including the Iranian anti-government terrorist organization MEK (for Mujahideen-e Khalq), and of course Israel’s Mossad, this dirty covert war has led to an escalating string of acts of terror inside Iran, including a campaign of assassination against Iranian nuclear scientists, and bombings of Iranian military installations.

Not content to simply engage in such illegal hostilities against a sovereign nation that has not threatened the U.S., and that in fact has not invaded another country in some 200 years, President Obama had the effrontery to demand that the Iranians return the spy drone that they had captured!

Imagine for a moment if an Iranian, or some other nation’s, robot spy plane had been captured or shot down over U.S. territory. Imagine the official response if the nation that owned that plane were to demand its return! First of all, Congressmembers, probably almost unanimously, would be clamoring for the US to launch an attack on whatever company launched the spy plane. But the reaction to a demand to return such a device would be truly explosive! The audacity!

Actually, you don’t need to imagine. Look at the right-wing media and the official US government response to the arrest of two men in New York accused of the hard-to-believe conspiracy of planning, allegedly at the direction of Iranian
government sources, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Forget about proving that this far-fetched alleged plot was real at all, and not just another creation of some FBI informant/provocateur,  or whether Iran was really behind it even if it was. There were open calls for bombing Iran immediately!

President Obama, meanwhile, keeps saying that “all options are on the table” for dealing with what the US government alleges is an Iranian campaign to develop nuclear weapons — itself a very dubious claim. And to back up that threat, the US has actually delivered huge non-nuclear “bunker busting” bombs to Israel, a country which has openly been discussing plans to attack Iran.

These are all war crimes under the UN charter and actual acts of war.

But that’s just Iran.

The US is already at war with Pakistan, too, this country’s nominal ally in the war against Afghanistan’s Taliban. Two weeks ago, American planes, ground forces and helicopters attacked two Pakistani border posts, killing several dozen Pakistani troops. There is considerable evidence that these attacks were deliberate, though the US is claiming lamely that its forces had “incorrect coordinates” that led to the fatal attacks.


These days the US doesn’t just rely on Garman GPS devices for its attacks. It sends in drones with high-rez cameras and knows exactly what and who it is killing before it pulls the trigger.

Meanwhile, we’ve been killing people in Yemen for years with planes sent from offshore aircraft carriers, and using missile-firing Predator drones.

In Latin America, American military “trainers” are fighting a war against leftist forces in Columbia, the CIA is supporting opposition groups seeking to oust the elected governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries, and the US Justice Department is shipping weapons into drug-war-torn Mexico and helping to launder Mexican drug money back in the US.

There are credible charges that the US has also been supporting the latest protests against the Vladimir Putin government in Russia (even as our own Homeland Security and “Justice” Departments coordinate violent police crackdowns on the Occupy protests here at home against our own government’s craven support of the corrupt banks that have been wrecking the US and global economies).

And we Americans wonder: “Why do they hate us?”

If real people around the world weren’t dying from all this criminal US behavior, and if real people here in America weren’t suffering because of all the trillions of dollars being wasted over the years on military spending, spying, covert destabilization campaigns and overt war-making, it would all be laughable.

But real people are dying and are suffering and there is nothing to laugh about.

Someday there will come a reckoning for the US, as there came a reckoning for Rome, for the British Empire, for the German Reich and for the USSR. A hollowed-out country like the this one, which is under-funding education, health care, infrastructure investment, research, and environmental protection, while its governing class steadily disenfranchises, disempowers, and impoverishes the public while systematically taking away their right to protest, is ultimately doomed.

It’s just a question of time, and of course a matter of how it happens.

If we’re lucky, the dramatic awakening that began with the Occupy Movement in September will continue to spread and grow until an enraged public rises up en masse and evicts the entire corrupt gang from Washington, replacing them with genuine representatives of the people and a new commitment to true democratic governance.

If we’re not so lucky, this nation is likely to slide into global irrelevance — a backward relic of faded glory, a place where Chinese, Brazilian and European firms will invest to take advantage of our cheap, uneducated labor to produce goods to sell back in their own countries. Such an economic slide would of course not occur without violent conflicts and struggles over ever diminishing wealth and resources.

By then off course, if our government continues on its present course of militarily meddling in other nations, the US will be almost universally loathed and, in stead of being manipulated into fears of nonexistent threats to our “safety,”  we Americans will finally have reason to genuinely fear the actions of other, more powerful, nations, which will find the temptation to compete in meddling in the affairs of what remains of the United States irresistible.

Why They Hate Us in Iraq

Reading the New York Times, an American might have been excused for wondering why Iraqis, and especially the people of Fallujah, would be so happy to see American occupying troops leaving the country at the end of this month and of nine years of war against their country that they were actually celebrating.

The Times made it sound as though Fallujah deserved what happened to it. As the article published Dec. 15 notes dryly, American forces in 2004 twice attacked this largest city in Anbar Province to “pacify” it (there’s a political euphemism for you!) after insurgents there in March of 2004 captured four US “contractors” driving through the city, burned their bodies, and strung them up on a bridge over the Euphrates River.

First of all, let’s also dispense with the euphemistic term “contractors,” which is meant to bring to mind the image of a couple of overweight construction workers. In Iraq, and especially in lawless areas like Anbar at that time, “contractor” means “mercenary,” and we now know that mercenaries in Iraq (and in Afghanistan) were and are a lawless, bloodthirsty, group of former US military personnel and vicious thugs from various foreign fascist states like Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, apartheid South Africa and elsewhere, who have killed countless numbers of civilians in Iraq and elsewhere, operating outside of any government monitoring or legal constraints for “security firms” like Blackwater (now Xe) and DynCorp.

What actually happened in Fallujah though, was that because of Pentagon and US media-stoked domestic public outrage at the treatment of the four captured mercenaries, 20,000 US Marines were sent in to the city to level it and to slaughter its male inhabitants in an example of the kind of massive war crime tactic once popular with the Nazi Wehrmacht in World War II, where it was known as “collective punishment.” 

The Nazis used to burn down villages, particularly in Eastern Europe and the USSR, if even one shot was fired at them. But taking things much further in Iraq, US forces encircled Fallujah, a city of 300,000, in November, 2004, and ordered all non-combatants out of the area. Women and children were allowed to leave through checkpoints, but no males of “combat age”–which was illegally set, according to reports, at the age of 11, or by some accounts, at 14. 

In either case, the whole thing was criminal. Under Geneva Conventions signed by the US, first of all all civilians are required to be granted free passage to escape from any field of battle or impending battle, and secondly, under those same Conventions, all children under the age of 18 are to be protected from war, not considered combatants. Even those who are found armed or captured while fighting are to be treated not as combatants, but as victims.

Instead of obeying the laws of war (which once approved by the Senate have the force of law under the US Constitution), US forces trapped all males in the city, including old men and young boys, and then went in with assault rifles, cannons, ground attack planes, helicopter and fixed-wing gunships, and with illegal weapons and weapons that cause mass deaths such as white phosphorus bombs, napalm, anti-personnel shells and depleted uranium shells. 

US forces basically killed everything that moved in numbers ranging upward of 6000 (In contrast the UN is expressing horror that the government in Syria has killed 5000 people in its crackdown on a democracy movement there). There were accounts of people being shot in the river as they tried to swim away from the city, of hospitals being raided and ambulances bombed, and there were even videos of seriously wounded and unarmed Iraqi fighters being coldly executed by Marines. 

What was done to Fallujah was as vile, evil and criminal a campaign of retribution and vengeance, exercised against enemy fighters and trapped civilians alike, as anything Hitler’s SS ever engaged in.

The Times article made no mention about any of this — an exercise in censorship and propaganda made all the more outrageous because the atrocity was well reported at the time it happened by the paper’s own excellent war reporter, Dexter Filkins.

Knowing what really happened, and what the US military really did in Fallujah, would make much more understandable to Americans why the end of US occupation of Iraq has been greeted with a “festival” atmosphere in the still recovering city of Fallujah.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new Project-Censored Award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.


50 Economic Numbers From 2011
That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe

By Economic Collapse

Most Americans have no idea just how bad our economic decline has been or how much trouble we are going to be in if we don't make dramatic changes immediately.  


 When Corporations Rule the World
Banker Occupation and Europain

By Stephen Lendman

Over half the world's largest economies are corporations. Financial ones controlling the power of money are most dominant. Continue

No Justice for Bradley Manning

The US government has made an example of Bradley Manning to prevent others from challenging the American empire.

By Charles Davis

December 16, 2011 "
Al Jazeera" - - Washington, DC

Private Bradley Manning was just 22 years old when he allegedly leaked hundreds of thousands of US State Department cables and video evidence of war crimes to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. For that act of courage that revealed to the world the true face of the American empire, he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.

After waiting more than 18 months, half of which he spent in torturous solitary confinement that he was only removed from after an international outcry and the resignation of a top State Department official, Manning is finally getting a shot at justice - if we can think of a military court as justice - when his case moves to the pre-trial hearing phase this Friday. 

But whether Manning is ultimately found guilty or not is beside the point: All one needs to know about American justice is that if he had murdered civilians and desecrated their corpses - if he had the moral capacity to commit war crimes, not the audacity to expose them - he'd be better off today.

Indeed, if Manning had merely murdered the nameless, faceless "other", as his Army colleagues on the notorious Afghan "Kill Team" did, he would not have had his right to a speedy trial blatantly violated. 

If Manning had intentionally killed unarmed civilians, posed for pictures with their dead bodies and slashed their fingers off as souvenirs, he would not have had his guilt publicly pronounced by his own commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, months before he so much as saw the inside of a military court. 

If he had killed poor foreigners instead of exposing their deaths, he might even stand a chance of getting out of prison while still a young man.

This isn't really a head-scratching development. While killing unarmed civilians for sport may not be officially sanctioned policy, it doesn't threaten the functioning of the war machine as much as a soldier standing up and refusing to be complicit in mass murder. From the perspective of a Washington establishment much more concerned with maintaining hegemony than its humanity, the former - murder - is much less troubling a precedent than the latter.

And so the US government is making an example of Manning, lest any other cogs in the machine start thinking about listening to their consciences instead of their commanders.

Other young soldiers thinking of telling the truth about America's wars must by now have surely gotten the message: if you see something, don't say something. Meanwhile, Manning couldn't be faulted for wondering why he did not just take a cue from his commander-in-chief and kill some innocent foreigners like a good American boy. Instead of facing a lifetime in prison, he might have been up for a medal.

Had Manning - instead of exposing the crime - been the one pulling the trigger in the US Apache helicopter that in 2007 murdered at least a dozen unarmed people in Baghdad, he wouldn't be facing any legal consequences for his actions. 

Had Manning authorised a 2009 missile strike in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children, instead of releasing the State Department cable that acknowledges responsibility for the killings, we wouldn't even know his name.

But Manning didn't kill anybody. 

Rather, he was outraged by the killing he saw all around him and angered at the complicity of his higher-ups who weren't prepared to do a damn thing about. 

So, the system having failed to ensure accountability, Manning took it upon himself to share the inconvenient facts his government was withholding from the world.
"I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy", he explained in a chat with hacker-turned-informant Adrian Lamo. 

As an Army intelligence analyst, Manning witnessed firsthand the American empire in action - and it changed him. "I don't believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore", he lamented, "only a plethora of states acting in self-interest".

Confronted with the reality of institutional evil, Manning risked his career - and his freedom - in order to expose everything from mass murder and child rape in Afghanistan to US support for brutal dictators across North Africa and the Middle East. 

His actions were heroic, and Amnesty International has even credited them as the spark for jump-starting the Arab Spring. And yet a president who proclaims his commitment to transparency while on the campaign trail is determined to go down as the one whose administration mentally tortured, prosecuted and jailed the most famous whistle-blower in half-a-century.

Colonel Ann Wright, a former top State Department official who resigned in protest of the 2003 Iraq war, says Manning's treatment at the hands of the Obama administration is an outrage that is at odds with the norms of military justice. 

He's been treated "as if he were an enemy combatant in Guantanamo", she says. "His past treatment while in pre-trial confinement and the lack of compliance with the norms of the military legal system of a 'speedy' trial . . . reeks of 18 months of intimidation, retribution and retaliation."

"It's clear the military and those tasked with Manning's case are working hard to make an example of him", says Nathan Fuller, an activist with the Bradley Manning Support Network. 

Like many, he suspects Manning's treatment has at least in part been an attempt to get him to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But even if the Obama administration can't get that, "they're more than happy to use his case to send a message to potential whistle-blowers everywhere".

Politicians aren't the only ones who can send a message. This weekend, activists from around the country, including those involved in the Occupy movement in nearby Washington, DC, will be rallying outside Maryland's Fort Meade, where the pre-trial hearings in Manning's case are being conducted. The hope is that they can convince President Obama and his military brass that punishing a whistle-blower goes against the wishes of the American public. The question is whether that's true - and whether the political establishment really cares.

Charles Davis is an activist and writer who splits his time between Washington, DC, and Nicaragua. He is a contributor to the newswire Inter Press Service and his work has aired on public radio stations across the United States. To read more of his work, visit his website.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

America's Covert War Against Iran
Do 'All Options' Mean Nukes?

By Tom Burghardt
December 13, 2011
"Antifascist Calling

Legendary investigative journalist I.F. Stone famously observed: "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.". . .

Click to continue to the complete article, and read/post comments

Remembering His-Story - Iran Attack Next?

By Bruce K. Gagnon

This map tells the whole story. Each star represents a U.S. military base. In the middle, in blue, is Iran. Iran has no military bases outside its borders. Just north of Iran is Georgia that has essentially become a U.S./NATO base. Turkey belongs to NATO. Iran has been checkmated. North of Georgia is Russia. Can there be any wonder why Russia is so alarmed about an attack on Iran?

Imagine if we saw a map of the U.S. with Russian or Chinese military bases throughout Canada and Mexico along with their warships just off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The American people would be going ballistic. But when we do it to others, no one even blinks an eye.

Following the recent spy drone fiasco over Iran the U.S. has been working hard to justify these flights. In an Associated Press story yesterday it was reported that the covert operations in play are "much bigger than people appreciate," said Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under George W. Bush. . .

But after looking at this map where does the danger really lie? Iran is actually no danger to anyone. The real danger is that the U.S./NATO/Israel have their itchy fingers on the war trigger and could attack at any time. . . .

Friday, December 02, 2011

Rights group urges Bush's arrest during tour

Amnesty says Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia have an "obligation" to bring former US president "to justice".

Amnesty has called on African authorities to arrest Bush during his visit for 'crimes under international law' [Reuters]

A human rights organisation has urged Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to arrest and prosecute former US president George Bush for violating international torture laws during his African tour this week.

"International law requires that there be no safe haven for those responsible for torture"

- Matt Pollard,
Amnesty's senior legal adviser

Amnesty International said the three nations have an obligation to arrest Bush under international law during his tour of these countries from Monday to promote efforts to fight cervical and breast cancers.

"Amnesty International recognises the value of raising awareness about cervical and breast cancer in Africa, the stated aim of the visit, but this cannot lessen the damage to the fight against torture caused by allowing someone who has admitted to authorising water-boarding to travel without facing the consequences prescribed by law," the group said in a statement on Thursday.

"All countries to which George W Bush travels have an obligation to bring him to justice for his role in torture," Matt Pollard, Amnesty's senior legal adviser, said.

'Responsible for torture'

"International law requires that there be no safe haven for those responsible for torture; Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia must seize this opportunity to fulfil their obligations and end the impunity George W Bush has so far enjoyed."

Amnesty made a similar appeal to Canada in October when Bush visited British Columbia for an economic summit.

The group claimed Bush authorised the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and "waterboarding" on detainees held in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency between 2002 and 2009.

Amnesty's case relies on the public record, US documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush's own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the US's war on terror policies.

Amnesty cites several instances of alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by the US military.

The cases include that of Abu Zubaydah - also known as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husain and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described 9/11 mastermind, both arrested in Pakistan. The two men were waterboarded a total of 266 times from 2002 to 2003, according to the CIA inspector general, cited by Amnesty.

Human rights organisation says Canada must prosecute former US president during October visit for "authorising torture". ( 12-Oct-2011 )

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street (OWS):
Too Big to Fail

Posted: 2011/11/29
From: Mathaba

An idea whose time has come resonates globally.
The masses in the western bankrupt states that bombed Libya for 8 months to destroy People's Power (Jamahiriya) there, are now calling for the same as what the Libyans had: power and wealth in their hands.

by Stephen Lendman

Unknown Snipers and Western Backed Regime Change
Death Squads in the Service of Western Intelligence

By Gearóid Ó Colmáin

The Western powers are the masters of discourse, who own the means of communication. The Arab Spring has been the most horrifying example of the wanton abuse of this power.

The Folly of Sanctions

By Ron Paul

November 29, 2011 "Information Clearing House" --

Many people have the misconception that sanctions are an effective means to encourage a change of behavior in another country without war.

However, imposing sanctions and blockades are not only an act of war according to international law, they are most often the first step toward a real war starting with a bombing campaign.

Sanctions were the first step in our wars against Iraq and Libya, and now more sanctions planned against Syria and Iran are leading down the same destructive path.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) latest report, just out this month, there is no evidence that Iran has diverted enriched uranium from the peaceful and lawful generation of power toward building a nuclear weapon.

According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has every right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes...

We should be clear about this: sanctions against Iran are definite steps toward a US attack. Already we see US warships approaching the region, moving dangerously close to Syrian waters.

The tougher sanctions currently under consideration would disrupt global trade and undermine the US economy, which in turn harms our national security. . .

This race to war against Iran and Syria is both foolhardy and dangerous.

UN Report on Syria:
Based on Witness Accounts..... OUTSIDE of Syria

By Tony Cartalucci

Humanitarian concerns "dressing up" the military conquest of Syria. Continue

Target Iran: Washington's Countdown to War

By Tom Burghardt

The Iranian people know what it means to earn the enmity of the global godfather.

Obama Fulfilling the Neocon Dream
Mass Regime Change in Muslim World?

Glenn Greenwald

In October, 2007, Gen. Wesley Clark gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco (seven-minute excerpt in the video below) in which he denounced what he called “a policy coup” engineered by neocons in the wake of 9/11.

After recounting how a Pentagon source had told him weeks after 9/11 of the Pentagon’s plan to attack Iraq notwithstanding its non-involvement in 9/11, this is how Clark described the aspirations of the “coup” being plotted by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and what he called “a half dozen other collaborators from the Project for the New American Century”:

Six weeks later, I saw the same officer, and asked: “Why haven’t we attacked Iraq? Are we still going to attack Iraq?”

He said: “Sir, it’s worse than that. He said – he pulled up a piece of paper off his desk – he said:

“I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years – we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”

U.S. Intervention in the Middle East


This partial chronology of U.S. intervention in the Middle East illustrates the lengths to which the U.S. power structure has gone to gain and maintain U.S. domination of the Middle East--a region considered key to the U.S.'s standing as an imperialist world power.

Dead Afghan Kids Still Not Newsworthy

By Peter Hart

November 29, 2011 "Fair" --

Back in March, we wondered when U.S. corporate news outlets would find U.S./NATO killing of Afghan kids newsworthy. Back then, it was nine children killed in a March 1 airstrike. This resulted in two network news stories on the evening or morning newscasts, and two brief references on the PBS NewsHour.

On November 25, the New York Times reported--on page 12--that six children were killed in one attack in southern Afghanistan on November 23. This news was, as best I can tell, not reported on ABC, CBS, NBC or the PBS NewsHour.

There were, on the other hand, several pieces about U.S. soldiers eating Thanksgiving dinners.

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald was one of the few commentators to write about the latest killings. As he observed:

We're trained simply to accept these incidents as though they carry no meaning: We're just supposed to chalk them up to regrettable accidents (oops), agree that they don’t compel a cessation to the war, and then get back to the glorious fighting.

Every time that happens, this just becomes more normalized, less worthy of notice. It's just like background noise:

Two families of children wiped out by an American missile (yawn: at least we don't target them on purpose like those evil Terrorists: we just keep killing them year after year after year without meaning to).

It's acceptable to make arguments that American wars should end because they're costing too much money or American lives or otherwise harming American strategic interests, but piles of corpses of innocent children are something only the shrill, shallow and unSerious--pacifists!--point to as though they have any meaning in terms of what should be done.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Bankers Have Seized Europe
Goldman Sachs Has Taken Over

By Paul Craig Roberts

The European Union, just like everything else, is merely another scheme to concentrate wealth in a few hands at the expense of European citizens, who are destined, like Americans, to be the serfs of the 21st century. Continue




Peter Van Buren, Thought Crime in Washington

By Peter Van Buren
Posted on November 27, 2011, Printed on November 28, 2011

When I arrived at Zuccotti Prison one afternoon last week, the “park” was in its now-usual lockdown mode. No more tents. No library. No kitchen. No medical area. Just about 30 leftover protesters and perhaps 100 of New York’s finest as well as private-security types in neon-green vests in or around a dead space enclosed by more movable police fencing than you can imagine. To the once open plaza, there were now only two small entrances in the fencing on the side streets, and to pass through either you had to run a gauntlet of police and private security types.

The park itself was bare of anything whatsoever and, that day, parts of it had been cordoned off, theoretically for yet more cleaning, with the kind of yellow police tape that would normally surround a crime scene, which was exactly how it seemed. In fact, as I walked in, a young protestor was being arrested, evidently for the crime of lying down on a bench. (No sleeping, or even prospective sleeping, allowed -- except in jail!)

Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s police assault on the park, OWS has largely decamped for spaces unknown and for the future. Left behind was a grim tableau of our distinctly up-armored, post-9/11 American world. To take an obvious example, the “police” who so notoriously pepper-sprayed non-violent, seated students at UC Davis were just campus cops, who in my college years, the 1960s, still generally wore civvies, carried no weapons, and were tasked with seeing whether students had broken curfew or locked themselves out of their rooms. Now, around the country, they are armed with chemical weapons, Tasers, tear gas, side arms, you name it. Meanwhile, some police departments, militarizing at a rapid rate, have tank-like vehicles, and the first police surveillance drones are taking to the air in field tests and capable of being weaponized.

And keep in mind, when it comes to that pepper-spraying incident, we’re talking about sleepy Davis, California, and a campus once renowned for its agronomy school. Al-Qaeda? I don’t think so.

Still, terror is what now makes our American world work, the trains run more or less on time, and the money flow in. So why should we be surprised that, having ripped Zuccotti Park apart, destroyed books, gotten a rep for pepper-spraying and roughing up protesters (and reporters, too), the NYPD should propitiously announce the arrest of yet another “lone wolf” terrorist. And can anyone be shocked that we’re talking about a disturbed, moneyless individual -- he couldn’t even pay his cell phone bill, no less rent a place to live -- under surveillance for two years, and palling around with an NYPD “informant” who smoked marijuana with him and may have given him not only a place to build a bomb but encouragement in doing so.

It was a police-developed terror case that evidently so reeked of coaching even the FBI refused to get involved. And yet this was Mayor Bloomberg’s shining moment of last week, as the NYPD declared his home a “frozen” zone, the equivalent of declaring martial law around his house. And who was endangering him? An OWS “drum circle.” In the United States, increasingly, those in power no longer observe the law. Instead, they make it up to suit their needs. In the process, the streets where you demonstrate, as (New York’s mayor keeps telling us) is our “right,” are regularly transformed into yet more fenced-in, heavily surveilled Zuccotti Prisons.

This may not be a traditional police state (yet), but it is an increasingly militarized policed state in which the blue coats, armed to the teeth, act with remarkable impunity -- and all in the name of our safety from a bunch of doofuses or unhinged individuals that its “informants” often seem to fund, put through basic terror courses, and encourage in every way until they are arrested as “terrorists.” This is essentially a scam on the basis of which rights are regularly abridged or tossed out the window.

In twenty-first-century America, “rights” are increasingly meant for those who behave themselves and don’t exercise them. And if you happen to be part of a government in which no criminal act of state -- torture, kidnapping, the assassination of U.S. citizens abroad, the launching of wars of aggression -- will ever bring a miscreant to court, only two crimes evidently exist: blowing a whistle or expressing your opinion. State Department official Peter Van Buren, whose new book about a disastrous year he spent in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, is a must read, learned that the hard way. So did Morris Davis. So may we all. Tom

No Free Speech at Mr. Jefferson’s Library
George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury Would Have Recognized Morris Davis's Problem

By Peter Van Buren

Here’s the First Amendment, in full: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Those beautiful words, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Go ahead, reread it aloud at this moment when the government seems to be carving out an exception to it large enough to drive a tank through.

As the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, like those pepper-sprayed at UC Davis or the Marine veteran shot in Oakland, recently found out, the government’s ability to limit free speech, to stopper the First Amendment, to undercut the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances, is perhaps the most critical issue our republic can face. If you were to write the history of the last decade in Washington, it might well be a story of how, issue by issue, the government freed itself from legal and constitutional bounds when it came to torture, the assassination of U.S. citizens, the holding of prisoners without trial or access to a court of law, the illegal surveillance of American citizens, and so on. In the process, it has entrenched itself in a comfortable shadowland of ever more impenetrable secrecy, while going after any whistleblower who might shine a light in.

Now, it also seems to be chipping away at the most basic American right of all, the right of free speech, starting with that of its own employees. As is often said, the easiest book to stop is the one that is never written; the easiest voice to staunch is the one that is never raised.

It’s true that, over the years, government in its many forms has tried to claim that you lose your free speech rights when you, for example, work for a public school, or join the military. In dealing with school administrators who sought to silence a teacher for complaining publicly that not enough money was being spent on academics versus athletics, or generals who wanted to stop enlisted men and women from blogging, the courts have found that any loss of rights must be limited and specific. As Jim Webb wrote when still Secretary of the Navy, “A citizen does not give up his First Amendment right to free speech when he puts on a military uniform, with small exceptions.”

Free speech is considered so basic that the courts have been wary of imposing any limits at all. The famous warning by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes about not falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater shows just how extreme a situation must be for the Supreme Court to limit speech. As Holmes put it in his definition: “The question in every case is whether the words used… are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” That’s a high bar indeed.

The Government v. Morris Davis

Does a newspaper article from November 2009, a few hundred well-reasoned words that appeared in the conservative Wall Street Journal, concluding with these mild sentences, meet Justice Holmes’s high mark?

“Double standards don't play well in Peoria. They won't play well in Peshawar or Palembang either. We need to work to change the negative perceptions that exist about Guantanamo and our commitment to the law. Formally establishing a legal double standard will only reinforce them.”

Morris Davis got fired from his research job at the Library of Congress for writing that article and a similar letter to the editor of the Washington Post. (The irony of being fired for exercising free speech while employed at Thomas Jefferson’s library evidently escaped his bosses.) With the help of the ACLU, Davis demanded his job back. On January 8, 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress on his behalf. In March 2011 a federal court ruled that the suit could go forward.

The case is being heard this month. Someday, it will likely define the free speech rights of federal employees and so determine the quality of people who will make up our government. We citizens vote for the big names, but it’s the millions of lower-ranked, unelected federal employees who decide by their actions how the laws are carried out (or ignored) and the Constitution upheld (or disregarded).

Morris Davis is not some dour civil servant. Prior to joining the Library of Congress, he spent more than 25 years as an Air Force colonel. He was, in fact, the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo and showed enormous courage in October 2007 when he resigned from that position and left the Air Force. Davis had stated he would not use evidence obtained through torture back in 2005. When a torture advocate was named his boss in 2007, Davis quit rather than face the inevitable order to reverse his position.

In December 2008, Davis went to work as a researcher at the Library of Congress in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division. None of his work was related to Guantanamo. He was not a spokesperson for, or a public face of, the library. He was respected at work. Even the people who fired him do not contest that he did his “day job” as a researcher well.

On November 12, 2009, the day after his op-ed and letter appeared, Davis was told by his boss that the pieces had caused the library concern over his “poor judgment and suitability to serve… not consistent with 'acceptable service'" -- as the letter of admonishment he received put the matter. It referred only to his op-ed and Washington Post letter, and said nothing about his work performance as a researcher. One week later, Davis was fired.

But Shouldn’t He Have Known Better Than to Write Something Political?

The courts have consistently supported the rights of the Ku Klux Klan to use extreme and hateful words, of the burners of books, and of those who desecrate the American flag. All of that is considered “protected speech.” A commitment to real free speech means accepting the toughest cases, the most offensive things people can conceive of, as the price of a free society.

The Library of Congress does not restrict its employees from writing or speaking, so Davis broke no rules. Nor, theoretically at least, do other government agencies like the CIA and the State Department restrict employees from writing or speaking, even on matters of official concern, although they do demand prior review for such things as the possible misuse of classified material.

Clearly, such agency review processes have sometimes been used as a de facto method of prior restraint. The CIA, for example, has been accused of using indefinite security reviews to effectively prevent a book from being published. The Department of Defense has also wielded exaggerated claims of classified material to block books.

Since at least 1968, there has, however, been no broad prohibition against government employees writing about political matters or matters of public concern. In 1968, the Supreme Court decided a seminal public employee First Amendment case, Pickering v. Board of Education. It ruled that school officials had violated the First Amendment rights of teacher Marvin Pickering when they fired him for writing a letter to his local paper criticizing the allocation of money between academics and athletics.

A Thought Crime

Morris Davis was fired by the Library of Congress not because of his work performance, but because he wrote that Wall Street Journal op-ed on his own time, using his own computer, as a private citizen, never mentioning his (unrelated) federal job. The government just did not like what he wrote. Perhaps his bosses were embarrassed by his words, or felt offended by them. Certainly, in the present atmosphere in Washington, they felt they had an open path to stopping their own employee from saying what he did, or at least for punishing him for doing so.

It’s not, of course, that federal employees don’t write and speak publicly. As long as they don’t step on toes, they do, in startling numbers, on matters of official concern, on hobbies, on subjects of all sorts, through what must be an untold number of blogs, Facebook pages, Tweets, op-eds, and letters to the editor. The government picked Davis out for selective, vindictive prosecution.

More significantly, Davis was fired prospectively -- not for poor attendance, or too much time idling at the water cooler, but because his boss believed Davis’s writing showed that the quality of his judgment might make him an unsuitable employee at some future moment. The simple act of speaking out on a subject at odds with an official government position was the real grounds for his firing. That, and that alone, was enough for termination.

As any devoted fan of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, or Philip K. Dick would know, Davis committed a thought crime.

As some readers may also know, I evidently did the same thing. Because of my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, about my experiences as a State Department official in Iraq, and the articles, op-eds, and blog posts I have written, I first had my security clearance suspended by the Department of State and then was suspended from my job there. That job had nothing to do with Iraq or any of the subjects I have written about. My performance reviews were good, and no one at State criticized me for my day-job work. Because we have been working under different human resources systems, Davis, as a civil servant on new-hire probation, could be fired directly. As a tenured Foreign Service Officer, I can’t, and so State has placed me on indefinite administrative leave status; that is, I’m without a job, pending action to terminate me formally through a more laborious process.

However, in removing me from my position, the document the State Department delivered to me darkly echoed what Davis’ boss at the Library of Congress said to him:

“The manner in which you have expressed yourself in some of your published material is inconsistent with the standards of behavior expected of the Foreign Service. Some of your actions also raise questions about your overall judgment. Both good judgment and the ability to represent the Foreign Service in a way that will make the Foreign Service attractive to candidates are key requirements.”

There follows a pattern of punishing federal employees for speaking out or whistle-blowing: look at Davis, or me, or Franz Gayl, or Thomas Drake. In this way, a precedent is being set for an even deeper cloud of secrecy to surround the workings of government. From Washington, in other words, no news, other than good or officially approved news, is to emerge.

The government’s statements at Davis’s trial, now underway in Washington D.C., do indeed indicate that he was fired for the act of speaking out itself, as much as the content of what he said. The Justice Department lawyer representing the government said that Davis’s writings cast doubt on his discretion, judgment and ability to serve as a high-level official. (She also added that Davis’s language in the op-ed was “intemperate.” One judge on the three-member bench seemed to support the point, saying, “It’s one thing to speak at a law school or association, but it’s quite a different thing to be in The Washington Post.” The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court.

Free Speech is for Iranians, not Government Employees

If Morris Davis loses his case, then a federal employee’s judgment and suitability may be termed insufficient for employment if he or she writes publicly in a way that offends or embarrasses the government. In other words, the very definition of good judgment, when it comes to freedom of speech, will then rest with the individual employer -- that is, the U.S. government.

Simply put, even if you as a federal employee follow your agency’s rules on publication, you can still be fired for what you write if your bosses don’t like it. If your speech offends them, then that’s bad judgment on your part and the First Amendment goes down the drain. Free speech is increasingly coming at a price in Washington: for federal employees, conscience could cost them their jobs.

In this sense, Morris Davis represents a chilling precedent. He raised his voice. If we’re not careful, the next Morris Davis may not. Federal employees are, at best, a skittish bunch, not known for their innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. Actions like those in the Davis case will only further deter any thoughts of speaking out, and will likely deter some good people from seeking federal employment.

More broadly, the Davis case threatens to give the government free rein in selecting speech by its employees it does not like and punishing it. It’s okay to blog about your fascination with knitting or to support official positions. If you happen to be Iranian or Chinese or Syrian, and not terribly fond of your government, and express yourself on the subject, the U.S. government will support your right to do it 110% of the way. However, as a federal employee, blog about your negative opinions on U.S. policies and you’ve got a problem. In fact, we have a problem as a country if freedom of speech only holds as long as it does not offend the U.S. government.

Morris Davis’s problem is neither unique nor isolated. Clothilde Le Coz, Washington director of Reporters without Borders, told me earlier this month, "Secrecy is taking over from free speech in the United States. While we naively thought the Obama administration would be more transparent than the previous one, it is actually the first to sue five people for being sources and speaking publicly." Scary, especially since this is no longer an issue of one rogue administration.

Government is different than private business. If you don’t like McDonald’s because of its policies, go to Burger King, or a soup kitchen, or eat at home. You don’t get the choice of federal governments, and so the critical need for its employees to be able to speak informs the republic. We are the only ones who can tell you what is happening inside your government. It really is that important. Ask Morris Davis.

Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), has recently been published. To read about the grilling he’s gotten from the State Department for his truth-telling, click here.

[Note on further readings: You can check out the ACLU’s full-filing text on behalf of Davis by clicking here.]

[Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the U.S. Government. It should be quite obvious that the Department of State has not approved, endorsed, or authorized this post.]

Copyright 2011 Peter Van Buren

© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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