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Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

It’s sort of like the Emperor’s New Clothes, isn’t it?  Everybody pretends that we have waged a successful war. Mission accomplished!!  It’s like we don’t want to admit what surely everyone knows: the whole thing was a fraud.  Remember the reason we went to war? I do. Weapons of mass destruction – that was it. Old George Bush told us the Iraqis had them. He was sure of it. They had nukes. They had yellow cake from Niger. Colin Powell dragged out the high altitude photos – just like the Kennedy administration did before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Remember how the U.S. had taken photos with U-2 spy planes of the Russian ICBMs that were being set up in Cuba? I do. So there was old Colin Powell doing the same thing, showing the world the photos taken from spy planes or satellites. “Look.” he said, “biological warfare equipment!! Chemical warfare equipment!!”

The sabres rattled.  The stern warnings were pronounced. Saddam Hussein loudly protested that he had no weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t have any nukes, he said.  He didn’t have any biological warfare labs. He didn’t have any chemical warfare labs. “Hah!” said George Bush. “You’re a liar, Saddam. A rotten liar.” we all said. (We meaning the U.S. collectively – not necessarily you and me.)  Saddam kept protesting and old, sly George just rattled the sabre more loudly. The we launched. Shock and awe. Death from above. That would do it. Those Iraqis would surrender in a few days, right? No. They didn’t.

Then, as we were constantly told that victory was imminent, this new entity comes along – Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Whoever heard of them anyway? Saddam hated Al Qaeda. You never heard a peep from Al Qaeda when Saddam was in power, but when the U.S. drove him underground (literally), they surfaced. And then the U.S. found that if they  were looking for a fight, well they found one.  And so, the war on weapons of mass destruction (which never existed and old, sly George and old, sly Colin, and old, sick, sly Dick probably knew that all along – from day minus one even) was quietly forgotten and the war in Iraq became a war against the terrorists – who were happily saying goodbye to our troops in Afghanistan who were leaving to fight the war against terror in Iraq.

Well, I am glad to report the war on terror and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is over. Yep. The last of our combat troops are gone. President Obama was true to his word and now we can all sleep better, knowing we don’t have to worry about those Iraqi “nucular” missiles.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand: as of the end of 2009 there were 4287 Americans killed in Iraq and 30,182 wounded. Where are the protests? Doesn’t anyone get it? This wasn’t a patriotic war. Iraq didn’t attack us. They didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. George Bush just decided he was going to eliminate Saddam Hussein and he did, all based upon trumped up “evidence” that was shaky on the day it was created.  Where is America’s outrage? Where is the Tea Party when you need them? Where is Sarah with her indignation? Doesn’t she get it?

When I look back at Vietnam and the riots in the streets and the civil disobedience, I wonder why we were so indignant then about a war that had a very tenuous justification and now we are OK with a costly war in both human lives and our treasure. But now I know why. It’s the draft. Or, more precisely, the lack of a draft. See, in the old days when Uncle Sam beckoned you had to go. Now, you don’t because Uncle Sam doesn’t beckon – he just pays good money to people, many, many of whom can’t hope for a job that pays as well as being an Army grunt. We have a professional military these days. (Thanks to Tricky Dick Nixon) Some would say we have  a mercenary army. So why should anyone be outraged about all the unnecessary deaths and ripped apart bodies? They’re all volunteers aren’t they? And that is really it, isn’t it? There are no demonstrations in the streets because if you don’t want to go you don’t have to go.

So what about, you know, the ethics of the whole thing? You know. The lies, the fabrications, the complete ignoring of international law. What about that? Who cares? Or so it seems, anyway.

So, as we celebrate our glorious victory in the name of Pax Americana, our legions return home from the lands of the foreigners. They go to their bases and prepare for their next war. Professional soldiers.

Meanwhile, sly George smugly sits and gloats while sick Dick lurches from hospital to hospital and Colin is still trying to figure out what happened to his career and his reputation. And the American people? What do they think?

Tea Party People!  Please enlighten me!  Was the whole thing just a big mistake? Was it a secret plan crafted by geniuses in the White House basement? Was it all for nothing? Are we wrapping up a glorious era or a gory error?

You can Go ask Sarah, I suppose, but I don’t think she’ll know. (My apologies to Grace Slick.)

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There is a very old joke that goes something like this: a man is walking along the street at night when he sees another man on his hands and knees crawling around beneath a street light. He walks over and asks the man, “Did you lose something?”

“Yes,” the man replies, “I lost a quarter.”

“Oh. Well, just where did you lose it?” the first man asks.

“Over there,” the other man says, pointing down the street towards the darkness.

“Well then, why in the world are you looking here?” the first man asks.

The man on his hands and knees just looks up impatiently and replies, “Because there’s more light over here!”

Today, the U.S. military in Afghanistan is in the midst of a major battle. The target of the coalition (mostly U.S.) forces is the Taliban in Helmand province – a Taliban stronghold. The U.S. Marines are attacking with full force and driving the Taliban out of the cities and into the hinterlands of Afghanistan. The idea is that this will allow the Afghan government to exert more control over Helmand. It will also help destroy the opium crop, which is said to be a way the Taliban raise money.

I suppose it is easy to forget, in all the turmoil of war, that it wasn’t the Taliban who attacked the U.S. It was Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  At least that’s what the NSA says, based upon their communications intercepts that preceded the 9/11 attack.

Apparently the people of the Netherlands have come to the conclusion that this war with the Taliban doesn’t make a lot of sense. They are going home. Their sentiments are not much different from a lot of Europeans, and that has Secretary of Defense Gates worried. He says the European anti-war mentality is a danger to peace.

Dick Cheney was right about only one thing in his entire life. When we first got into the war against Al Qaeda he said it would have to be a different kind of war, a clandestine war. He also said we wouldn’t be hearing much about the war because it would be waged in secret. He was wrong about the second part, we hear about the War on Terror all the time. But he was right about the first part – this kind of war has to be different. It’s not the kind of war an army can win. It has to be more like a police action – a secret police action. Maybe a CIA kind of thing or a job for something like Israel’s Mossad.  It’s simply too easy for a nimble organization like Al Qaeda to evade a slow-moving army or the Marine Corps. That has been effectively demonstrated for the last nine years in Afghanistan.  Pretending that the Taliban is our real 9/11 enemy doesn’t help in countering the true threat from Al Qaeda.

The would-be captured terrorist Najibullah Zazi has said recently that he was close to launching a new attack on the U.S. It’s worth noting that his capture had nothing to do with the U.S. Army or Marine Corps or Air Force or Navy.   Al Qaeda is planning more attacks – not spectacular attacks like 9/11, but smaller ones – deadly but smaller.

One must ask: is our attack on the Taliban really an effective way to fight Al Qaeda? The answer has to be: “No”.  The problem we have is that this is the type of fighting our military is trained to do, but warfare has changed and we have not adapted to the change. We still haven’t learned the lesson of Vietnam. You can’t fight unconventional forces in a conventional way. The tactics of World War II, even though they were gloriously successful, just don’t apply here. But, that’s what our generals are trained to do, so we do it.

We’ve been lucky. Our FBI or CIA or some other quasi-police agency caught Najibullah Zazi. However, there are probably others like him: sleeper agents and spies. Infiltrators.  The question our military should be addressing is how to counter these clandestine agents because that is the real military threat we face. The Taliban do not pose an imminent threat to America. We all know are not nice people, in fact they seem to be really nasty people.  But they are on the other side of the world and their primary concern is Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s primary concern is America. The Taliban is not Al Qaeda, and that is exactly the problem with our defense against Al Qaeda.

We’re like the guy looking for his lost quarter under the street light.

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Suppose you were going out to dinner and you called a babysitter to take care of your children. Then, after you made the arrangements for the sitter, a friend tells you that your babysitter has been exposed to bubonic plague.  Would you still let this person babysit your children? But wait – what if they didn’t show any symptoms of bubonic plague; wouldn’t it be alright then?

Today, the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (administered by the FBI) has over 1,300,000 names on its Terror Watch List. Two sets of names are extracted from this ever-growing list. One set of names is the No Fly list.  The other set of names is the Selectee list.  The Selectee List is the list of names of people who must receive extra screening of some sort.  The No Fly (the name is self-explanatory) list is much, much shorter than the Terror Watch List.  Since the underwear bomber incident, the No Fly list has been growing longer. Even so, the are still a lot more names on the watch list than on the no fly list.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

1. We have pretty much proven that a terrorist can sneak through our security screeners with either box cutters or underwear bombs.  There are probably lots of other ways to sneak through security too.  The simple fact is that a really clever person can probably outsmart the system.

2 The 1.3 million people on the Terror Watch list make up about 0.014% of the world’s population. (The current world population is about 6.7 billion people.)

So, taking item # 2 first, we need to ask ourselves this question: in the larger scheme of things, how important are these 1.3 million people to our nation’s economy?  How important are these people to us, as a nation, in any way at all? All we really know is that we think they might want to kill us – but we aren’t sure. It’s sort of like the babysitter we hired. There are, of course, plenty of other babysitters we could hire. There are also plenty of other people who we might like to visit our country, besides these 1.3 million people we’re not too sure of.

Secondly, let’s remember the guy with the bomb in his underpants.  There must be a lot of other creative ways to disguise a bomb – after all drug smugglers even carry little amulets of their product in their intestines sometimes.  My point is that you really can’t be sure you are going to detect the guy’s bomb, or maybe some other dastardly weapon, he might be carrying.  Who knows, maybe he’s some sort of Al Qaeda Ninja and he can fabricate a deadly weapon out of his paperback book or something.

The sensible thing to do is to simply ban everyone whose name is on the FBI Watch List from entering the U.S., and if they are already in the U.S. (because they are U.S. citizens) they should be banned completely from flying.  That, of course, doesn’t make us 100% safe – you can never be that, but it makes us a lot safer than we are now. As for the 1.3 million people on the Watch List who can’t come here because we don’t trust them – well, it’s just too bad. They can either clear their name by presenting evidence to the FBI demonstrating that the FBI is all wrong about them, or they can just stay where they are and we’ll work with the other 6,698,000,000 people in the world.

Oh. And one other thing. Janet Napolitano has to go. She was one of President Obama’s political appointees, but as the head of Homeland Security she is clearly in way over her head.  When she said that the “system worked” that was a clue.  Unless, of course, airline passengers are now a key part of the Homeland Security System – could that be what she meant?  Homeland Security has been plagued with political hacks since its inception.  That needs to change.  The President needs to appoint a brilliant non-politician to this job.  It is one of the most important jobs in America and it cannot be entrusted to politicians or to people who are simply being repaid for some political favor.

If there is one message we should take from the underwear bomber it is this: it is time for this country to finally – finally – take homeland security seriously.  We were lucky this time.  The next time a terrorist sneaks through our “system” the results could be far, far worse.

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September 11th will always resonate in the mind of Americans, and much of the world’s population as well.  Synonymous with deceit and murder, it raises the question of whether it is, or ever will be, possible for humans to trust each other.  The fact that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Muslims is really only incidental.  Half a century earlier an equally horrendous act was carried out by the Japanese.  Surprise attacks and treachery have been carried out throughout history, and there can be little doubt that there will be more attempts at mass murder in the future – if not by Al Qaeda then by someone else.  But the question that is on many people’s minds today, not the least of whom is Dick Cheney – the former Vice President who never fails to bring up the prospect of Al Qaeda sneaking a small nuclear bomb into the U.S. – is this: will Al Qaeda attack the U.S. mainland again?

There is little doubt that if they could they would. This group of men, who would probably serve as a good definition of the word “maniacs”, is committed to the destruction of Western civilization.  However, their capabilities are extremely limited, and it appears that even these limited capabilities are diminishing. The hallmark of Al Qaeda attacks has been improvisation and preying on unsuspecting targets – most of whom are entirely innocent of doing any harm to these people.  They are the “Jack the Rippers” of the Arab world.  The key to their prior success was that the western world did not take them to be a serious threat and therefore did not expend sufficient resources in trying to apprehend them or to defend themselves for what was considered to be an unlikely attack.  The fact that Al Qaeda had already bombed the World Trade Center years before 9/11 didn’t even produce enough concern in Washington.

The attacks on 9/11 changed everything.  Like the Japanese Navy many years before, Al Qaeda had awakened a sleeping giant.  Until then, Al Qaeda attacks had received only a relatively small response, and while Osama bin Laden probably expected (and perhaps even hoped for a massive response as a result of the attack) it is unlikely he could have conceived of the nature of the U.S. response in the years since 9/11.  It is unlikely he knew the extent of the capabilities of the NSA to intercept worldwide communications.  It is unlikely that he knew he would be identified so quickly as the leader of the effort, and it is unlikely that he expected the massive attacks on Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Al Qaeda teams that were responsible for the 9/11 murders had it easy.  They simply walked past our almost non-existent airport security mechanisms.  The flight crews and passengers on the planes were defenseless. The country was asleep.  Not any more.  Airport security continues to get ever tighter.  Many, if not most, U.S. flight crews are well armed.  Clandestine, but heavily armed, Federal Air Marshals also ride on U.S. airline flights.  The doors to all airline cockpits are now armored. There will never be a replay of 9/11.

But what about other types of attacks? What about Dick Cheney’s worst nightmare? Could it happen?  Could Al Qaeda pull it off? They say “never say never”, and in an inherently uncertain world we have to admit that is true.  Nevertheless, the probability of such an attack by Al Qaeda is extremely remote.  Every moment of every day Al Qaeda is hunted by clandestine warriors.  They are targeted by clandestine drones that fire high speed missiles at their mountain hideouts.  They are unable to use radio or telephone communications without being monitored.  A vigilant America not only guards its own borders and people, but it actively and relentlessly seeks Al Qaeda wherever they might be.  Al Qaeda’s only future is its own inevitable destruction – a destruction that will undoubtedly catch them on one dark night by complete surprise, much as 9/11 caught America by surprise.

Does this mean we can relax? Is it safe to fly again?  Is it OK to visit New York City?  Answering these questions in reverse order: yes, it is safe to visit NYC, yes it is safe to fly, no we cannot relax.  That was how Al Qaeda was able to succeed.  That is how Japan was able to succeed.  The lesson we have learned and forgot many times, most recently from Pearl Harbor, is that eternal vigilance is  the price for liberty.  Today, our country stands alert.  Our “War on Terror” continues both openly and clandestinely.  And it is because we are vigilant that we are safe, not only from Al Qaeda, but from others in the world who would also seek to harm us.

Our country has once again learned a difficult lesson about trust.  Let us not forget it this time.

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Dick Cheney is at it again.  Like an undead vampire he has returned, being interviewed on CNN and once again espousing the virtues of torturing prisoners.  It is in a way surreal.  How can it be that a former U.S. Vice President can advocate a policy that completely disregards human rights?  Under Cheney’s direction the U.S. engaged in a systematic program of capture and torture of people who had suspected Al Qaeda connections.  He claims that through techniques, such as waterboarding (were there also other methods, even more diabolical that we don’t know about?) the U.S. obtained key information that allowed us to preempt terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, all the details of the information and the preemptive strikes are so secret the American people can’t be trusted to know the details of these episodes – even though they are episodes that happened in the past.  Cheney is convinced that it was only through these extraordinary measures that America has been kept safe.  So how come Cheney never used his wonderful torture techniques to find out where Osama bin Laden was hanging out?

It might be instructive to take a brief look at the career of another person who seems to have shared Cheney’s admiration for the use of torture. This person is known today as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad became ruler of a part of Romania, called Wallachia, upon the death of his father. He was confronted by a host of enemies and within a short span of time he had lost and regained his crown three times.  During his main reign, from 1456 to 1462, Vlad attained his reputation for torturing his prisoners. Torture was used for various purposes, but one of the primary purposes was to instill fear in his enemies. Vlad would impale his prisoners on posts and set them outside Wallachia as a warning to attacking armies.  When Sultan Mehmed II attacked Wallachia in 1462 he was faced with the sight of 20,000 impaled Turkish prisoners between him and Vlad’s town.  Mehmed was undeterred and simply drove his army forward and quickly conquered Wallachia.  It seems that Vlad’s practice of extreme torture was ineffective as a deterrent.  It is also likely that any information he obtained by torture was equally useless because it is well known that people under torture will say anything just to make the torture stop.  Confessions given under torture are never admissible as evidence in a court of law.  Today, not many people are familiar with the career of Vlad the Impaler. Most people have never heard his name.  However, almost everyone in the world knows him today by his other name: Vlad Dracula or simply Dracula.  Even for Dracula, torture just never worked as well as he hoped it would.

Getting back to Cheney, our former Vice President is now making the rounds of the news media, asserting that President Obama is making us less safe because he is stopping the torture and extraordinary rendition programs that Cheney the Torturer so loved.  What he fails to mention is that it was during his watch, as Vice President, that this country was attacked.  What he fails to mention is that his beloved torture program failed to lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden.  What he fails to mention is that his torturing of prisoners from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to the dark and secret recesses of former Soviet prisons somewhere in Eastern Europe has failed to prevent terrorist attacks in Spain or England.  More importantly, his torturing of prisoners has not stopped thousands and thousands of undocumented people flooding across our border with Mexico throughout his term as Vice President. I wonder if an Al Qaeda terrorist could do that too? So how does Cheney’s program of torture prevent that?

Cheney claims that the U.S. is vulnerable to attack, and he should know.  He methods of torture have been ineffective, his Department of Homeland Security is incompetent, and his war in Iraq irrelevant.  The Pashtun tribes who occupy the border regions between Afganistan and Pakistan are rumored to be helping Osama bin Laden and his buddies, but who can be sure? If we were sure we would capture them, wouldn’t we? The simple fact is that Dick Cheney has looked for Al Qaeda everywhere except where we think Al Qaeda really is. We have sent our armed forces into Iraq and Afghanistan, but no where near the Al Qaeda hideouts.  Cheney and Bush tortured people for seven years and their torture produced no effective result.

These days, Cheney the Torturer is still advocating and justifing torture. So did Vlad the Impaler throughout his life.  The puzzling thing is this: it really didn’t work very well for Vlad, and it clearly didn’t work very well for Cheney either.

Maybe they both liked torture for some other reason.

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The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp stands as a monument to the hypocrisy of the George Bush/Dick Cheney administration. So-called “captured enemy combatants” have been secretly transported to Guantanamo from various locations around the world, while the Bush administration denied that these people were entitled to any rights under the Geneva conventions, which governs the treatment of prisoners of war.  Only the convoluted minds of Bush, Cheney, and their gang could say with a straight face that people who were captured during the “War on Terror” are not prisoners of war.  It is the twisted minds of this gang of “patriots” who chose to deny these prisoners the basic human rights that the U.S. has sworn to uphold under the Geneva accords.  It is these people who even sanctioned the use of torture on these prisoners in order to try to gain information.  Far from being inspired by Thomas Jefferson, this President and Vice-President more legitimately owe their vision of the appropriate treatment of war prisoners to Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum.

Now, President Obama seems to be wrestling with George Bush’s dilemma: should we close Guantanamo and bring the prisoners to the U.S. for trial? For Bush the answer was a firm “NO”. This is because he felt that if the prisoners were brought to U.S. soil then they would be entitled to the rights of a U.S. citizen – like the right to a fair trial.  A fair trial? Yes, something that George Bush was determined that they would not have.  Wait a minute.  Just wait a minute. A fair trial is not some sort of lofty “Americans only” right. It is a human right – it is a right that every person on earth has.  It is one of those self-evident rights that everyone is born with –  it is one of those rights that Jefferson spoke so eloquently about.  The Bush/Cheney denial of a fair trial to these prisoners was not a denial of American rights; it is a denial of human rights.

None of us should be afraid of giving any captive a fair trial.  Why should we be afraid?  They are either guilty or they are not. We either have evidence of their guilt or we don’t.  And if we don’t have any evidence of their guilt then why in the world are we holding them captive?  Keeping people prisoner when you have no valid reason to believe they are guilty of a crime is lunacy – which probably begins to explain why Bush/Cheney locked these people up and threw away the key.  Oh, I know the story about classified information – you know, the evidence that condemns these people is so secret we can’t tell anyone about it.  I don’t believe it.  There are plenty of people – thousands, I’m sure – who have all sorts of security clearances who could be on a jury for these cases.  That argument doesn’t make any sense – it’s just Bush/Cheney lunacy again.

So what can Obama do? First, get these people out of Cuba and bring them to the U.S. for trial.  Now, a lot of people say they are afraid of having these “terrorists” in their local prison, and I suppose they might have a point.  Just in case these people are as dangerous as Bush/Cheney have claimed, they need to be locked up in an ultra-secure facility that is in nobody’s backyard.  What could be better than Alcatraz?  I know it is no longer an active prison – but it could be reactivated for this particular task.  There is no record of anyone ever successfully escaping from Alcatraz. So, the first step is to do a quick rehab of a section of Alcatraz, in order to make it habitable again. With enough priority, I expect this could be done in six months.  The work could be even be paid for with the economic stimulus package.  Think how many construction jobs it would create!

Then the trials would begin in the Federal courts.  Let the government make its case against each prisoner and let the courts decide innocence or guilt.  Those who are convicted of serious acts of terrorism could be sent right back to Alcatraz for a life sentence.  Those who are found “not guilty” would be returned immediately to those countries of which they are citizens.  It seems pretty straightforward to me.  People are either guilty or they are not.  This Bush/Cheney imprisonment-and-torture-forever-on-suspicion-of-guilt is as unAmerican a process as anything ever dreamt up by the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition.  It is more than unAmerican, it is a disgrace to humanity, and it is a blot on each of us until we bring it to an end.

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