Monday, December 26, 2011

Who are the Terrorists?

On the morning of July 12, 2007, the year of Bush’s Iraqi Surge which saw 1,000 American combat fatalities, two on-loan Apache AH-64 attack helicopters joined the First Infantry Division as part of Operation Ilaaj (Care) in south Baghdad.  The goal of the six hour operation which involved 240 US infantrymen in 65 humvees and several Bradley Fighting Vehicles was to counter recent attacks on US forces by supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.  In announcing the operation to his Battalion, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich offered the encouraging words “it’s time to get some.”

Embedded with Battalion 2-16 that day was David Finkel, a Pulitzer prize winning Washington Post reporter, who went on to write about what became a world famous horrific experience in a July 13th Post article entitled “US Shiite Fighters Clash in Baghdad” and further expounded about the incident in his acclaimed book, “The Good Soldiers” recounting his embedded status in Iraq between January, 2007 and June, 2008.

In 2003, as the Bush Administration geared up for its pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, criticism of a lack of access for reporters during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan provided the perfect foil for adoption of new agreed-upon journalistic rules to control information from the frontlines.  While providing reporters with protection, the deal required that the 800 American journalists expected to cover the war would be ‘embedded’ with a specific Army unit during combat and that they would sign a contract promising to not reveal certain ‘classified’ information that might assist the enemy.   Every major US media outlet sending a journalist to cover the upcoming conflict jumped at the chance for a ringside seat with little concern that journalistic freedom might be compromised.  Clearly, the Administration and Pentagon were well aware that whoever controls information may also control public opinion – and nowhere is that more true than during war. 

The American media establishment did not need a Thesaurus to know what the term ‘embedded’ meant: that while their reporters would be on the front line of the battle, they were acquiescing their First Amendment rights to interact with the Iraqi population, to question the wisdom of  military decisions and to equitably present both sides of the conflict – independent of any expectation of a favorable bias influenced by 24-7 bonding with American boys; some just off the farm and others away from home for the first time.  With the easy capitulation of major US media outlets, the Pentagon created an effective propaganda arm, reducing war-time journalists to little more than a servile body of stenographers outfitted in 21st Century ballistic helmets and Kevlar vests.  

What Finkel, whose 2006 Pulitzer was in the “Explanatory Reporting” category, had no way of knowing when his book was published in 2009 was that the on-board video from the Apache helicopter would ultimately surface as part of the Wikileaks expose in 2010. 

As reported by Finkel (with co-author Joshua Partlow of the Post’s Foreign Service), the assertion that U.S. “soldiers clashed with Shiite militiamen leaving at least 11 Iraqis dead and an unknown number injured, including two children hit by shrapnel from a U.S. helicopter attack, according to American soldiers who took part in the mission” failed to acknowledge that there was no away for the Apache crew to know beforehand that the group of unarmed civilians in their gun sights were Shiite fighters or militiamen.

The Post article’s statement that “during the fighting, an Apache helicopter “fired bursts of 30mm rounds toward several people who had been directing machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers” is not supported by viewing the 38 minute video.  

The Post article goes on to state that “American soldiers recovered two cameras from the site” and that ‘A camera believed to belong to the Reuters photographer lay nearby. Reporting that  “it was unclear whether the journalists had been killed by U.S. fire or by shooting from the Iraqis targeted by the Apache” and that “the cameraman gave every appearance of preparing to fire an RPG on US soldiers are gross distortions of the facts as confirmed by a review of the video.   The Post article, no doubt written within hours of the attack, fails to mention any weapons being found at the site and it was not until after two Reuters employees were identified among the victims that Pentagon officials claimed the retrieval of an AK47 and an RPG.     

The video begins with the Apache crews impatiently stalking the Iraqis in their cross-hairs with disturbing radio chatter that makes any listener wonder what kind of American family produced the young man who became known as Crazy Horse 1-8.  In their eagerness to ‘engage’, Crazy Horse 1-8 and his counterpart known as Hotel 2-6 mistakenly identified the Reuter’s long telephoto lens  - ‘that’s a weapon,’ “yep,’ and “..two individuals with weapons’ suddenly became “we have five or six individuals with AK 47’s.”   And then, certain of their target, “light’em up…firing..(delay)…come on, fire” followed by “look at those dead bastards,”  “nice shooting”  and “thanks.”

The Post article reported that “The helicopter also fired on a silver Toyota minivan in the area as several people approached the vehicle” yet completely missed the commission of a war crime as two unarmed civilians aiding a wounded civilian were mercilessly gunned down by the Apache crew.  The radio chatter between Crazy Horse and Hotel included “just trying to find targets again” and “we got one crawling around down there but we can definitely get him…” followed by “is he picking up a weapon” and  “you shoot, I’ll talk,”  “come on, let’s shoot.”  Minutes later, “look at that – right through the windshield – aha!” with audible snickers and then ‘…slight movement from the van – looks like kids.”  Once confirmed that a two year girl and her brother had been seriously wounded, “that’s what they get for bringing children to a battle” and “that’s right.” 

As if that was not enough killing for one day,  the unedited version of the video shows a third attack (not mentioned in the Post article or in The Good Soldiers) minutes later when an unarmed Iraqi civilian is seen entering a building, followed by two additional civilians who may be carrying some unidentifiable object enter the same building.  The Apache crew, now claiming “at least six individuals in the building with weapons,” fire three AGM-114 Hellfire missiles into the building which housed three families, killing four to six more Iraqis – and we wonder why the Arab world hates Americans.

In The Good Soldiers, Finkel notes that the Reuters photographer was not ‘embedded’ and therefore had not informed the U.S. military of his presence. Back at camp, while it was ‘concluded that everyone had acted appropriately,” Finkel asks, but “had the (Reuters) journalists?  That would be for others to decide” concluding that “the good soldiers were still the Good Soldiers and the time had come for dinner.” 

Immediately after the incident, the Post article quotes Major Brent Cummings, the Battalion’s Executive Officer that “the Apache crew fired because they had positive identification that the militants" had weapons and were using them against coalition and Iraqi security forces."  Neither assertion is supported by the video.  Cummings went on to say that "No innocent civilians were killed on our part deliberately. I don't know how the children were hurt."  After the incident, Iraqi police referred to the attack as a ‘random American bombardment.”

After the death of its two employees, Reuters filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the video and the Pentagon’s internal investigation. They were refused and until the April, 2010 Wikileaks release, the raw footage of the Apache attacks remained ‘classified.”  Reassessing the day of the Apache’s multiple attacks on Iraqi civilians raises disturbing questions about the role of a free press on crucial issues of Constitutional importance. Coverage of the Apache attack presents an ominous picture of how an ‘embedded’ journalist reports on a combat situation (with irrefutable evidence of at least one war crime) prior to any expectation that the tragedy would become an internationally reviled occurrence. 

The Good Soldier’s chapter about the July 12th incident contains numerous, very specific quotes and details that could only have come from the Apache video – or from Finkel being on-board one of the Apaches (as former CIA agent Ray McGovern believes) as the 2010 Wikileaks video had not been made public by the time TGS went to press in 2009.   So while Reuters was denied a copy of the video in 2007, the possibility exists that an embedded reporter was provided access to a ‘classified’ video in order to complete his manuscript.

Finkel’s responses to questions in his April, 2010 Washington Post blog immediately after  Wikileak release of the video are deliberately vague when he refers to his ‘presence in the area that day’.. “without going into the details…I’ll say the best source of information was being there.”  Whether Finkel was on the ground with the First Infantry that morning or in the company of Crazy Horse 1-8 as a first-hand eyewitness who audio-taped the radio chatter, Finkel’s comment that he “based the account in my book on multiple sources, all unclassified” indicates the irresistible temptation of embedded journalists to report skewed versions of the facts that benefit the military’s eternal goal of sanitizing the horror of war.     

As Bradley Manning awaits a military judge’s decision on whether to set him for court-martial and Julian Assange fights extradition that will surely bring him to the United States for prosecution as a ‘terrorist’, the essential question remains:  Exactly who is responsible for the Apache helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians?    

Recommended Reading

A Must-Read to better understand how the US went to war in Iraq and why the American public is being manipulated with fear of Iran as a prelude to invasion.

"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Senate's Wheel of Vote Rotation

Despite flowery speeches and grand statements about protecting the middle class, it is the Senate’s roll call votes that are the true measure of a Senator’s worth.  A voting record that covers six years in office is more revealing than any 60 Minute interview and communicates more about a Senator’s true beliefs than any Floor speech  – and it is the civic responsibility of citizens to scrutinize those votes or risk being snookered by those who cast votes contrary to the best interests of their constituents.

Bringing new meaning to the old adage that ‘actions speak louder than words,” any citizen curious about how their Senator votes and willing to take the time to monitor those votes, will find that after staring at endless lists of the ayes and nays, it becomes apparent that something does not compute.  A close examination of the public record reveals a plethora of inexplicable Democratic Senate votes in conflict with perceived Democratic principles, votes that were sufficient to defeat certain progressive legislation, most often by a narrow margin.

At first glance, one irregular vote may appear to be just a ‘bad day at the office’ or an aberration when a liberal Senate Democrat votes against an amendment they would be expected to support or votes in favor of legislation they would normally be expected to oppose.  What may seem like trivial minutiae to others is more than just an academic exercise.   The act of sifting through lists of Senate names marked with a Y or a N searching for clues takes on a life of its own with the awareness that there is more here than meets the eye.  

One vote gone awry is only one vote - until it becomes a pattern of ‘bad’ behavior responsible for really important social legislation like the DREAM Act to be defeated as it was in the Senate in December, 2010.  At first, the possibility of collusion on votes may seem a preposterous theory but the recorded votes, enshrined in the Congressional Record, do not lie.

On the surface, there appears to be no logic to justify those baffling Senate votes and monitoring a Senator’s voting history for a length of time becomes a puzzling, sometimes frustrating avocation until suddenly one day, out of the blue, the obvious becomes apparent with the most plausible explanation - the existence of a Wheel of Vote Rotation.  

Hidden deep within one Senator’s voting record, rarely scrutinized for its commitment to a broad progressive philosophy, is evidence of the Senate’s near-total breakdown and its inability to function as a vibrant democratic institution.  When viewed in a wholistic way, from a ‘big’ picture perspective rather than taking each vote as a random separate act, the individual votes become the whole, a pattern emerges with each vote creating a larger paradigm.  It is in reviewing that totality that aberrant votes are most readily apparent.   
The DREAM  (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act provided a path to citizenship for immigrant children who had been in the United States for at least five years and were pursuing higher education or military enlistment.   

During the Congressional lame duck Session of 2010, the still Democratically -controlled House adopted the Act (HR 2965) by a vote of 216 in favor (including 8 Republicans) vs. 198 against (including 38 Democrats.)   With 60 Democrats in the majority in the Senate, the Act (S 3992) went on to lose on a vote of 59 Yes vs. 40 No votes.  Only in the US Senate can 59 votes be declared the losing side while 40 votes carries the day, thanks to the Senate’s acceptance of an arbitrary 60 vote requirement to break a filibuster.    
But here’s the rub on the Dream Act:  Four Senate Democrats (Feingold, Menendez, Merkley and Pryor) voted against the Act while five Republicans (Murkowski, Corker, Crapo, Risch and Vitter) voted in Favor of the Act.  A  reasonable question is what motivated Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive hero who’d been defeated for re-election and was on his way out of the Senate, to vote against citizenship for immigrant children - or why Sen. Bob Menendez, himself the son of Cuban immigrants, voted to not support the Act?  As the votes were being counted that day with ultimately one vote making the difference, did it ever occur to the liberals (Feingold, Menendez or Merkley) that unless they switched their vote, thousands of immigrant children who’d grown up in the United States, the only home they’d ever known, would be denied citizenship and doomed to live in fear of deportation? 

What happened to the Dream Act was not an anomaly and can be found on a wide variety of ‘big’ legislative votes on high profile progressive issues like Supreme Court confirmations (see including assorted war funding and Patriot Act votes among others.   What happened to the Dream Act is a reflection of how totally the elite political-corporate-financial establishment dominates the public’s business.   
Hypothetically, the game is played  after a vigorous spin of the Wheel by the Wizard of Oz.  Each Senator takes a turn casting a ‘bad’ vote; like any prizefighter ‘throwing’ a bout, often enough to spread the burden out over a period of time and to shift the focus so as not to arouse undesirable attention.  

Under the guise of preserving a historic Senate procedure, the Senate’s arcane process of roll call votes, considerably less open and transparent than the House with no electronic tally board, further provides an opportunity to quietly rotate votes without being exposed publicly.  As CSPAN viewers have noted, Senate votes are cast with the public largely in the dark until the final tally is announced.   
Predominately a function of Democrats who have had an identity crisis since the 1980’s, the Wheel of Vote Rotation applies less to Republicans since they vote in block almost 100% of the time and the Republican base is not as easily duped as the more gullible Democratic base.  Senator Bernie Sanders who routinely challenges the ruling oligarchy with relish as if his job depended on it, is the only known exception to the Wheel game.    

There is also a Vote Swinger Option which allows a Senator to be accepted as an unreliable Democratic vote.  Senators Ben Nelson (D-ND) and Joe Leiberman (I-CT) come readily to mind.  This Option comes in handy so that, when necessary,  ‘swing’ votes will not be considered an unusual occurrence.  With no apparent consequence from the Democratic Party, after endorsing John McCain in 2008, Leiberman was rewarded with Chair of the important Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee while the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has already contributed $1 million to Nelson’s 2012 re-election.  Republicans have no comparable Vote Swingers.   
Above all, vote rotation must maintain the appearance of spontaneity for the results to be seen as credible and be apportioned only on very special votes. A tip-off that the Wheel is ‘in play’ is when “moderate’ Democrats like Sens. Kent Conrad or Max Baucus vote (against their natural inclination) in a progressive way as they did on the Dream Act.    

If the vote rotation hypothesis seems like an improbable theory, skeptics can easily (dis)prove its validity for themselves by conducting their own meticulous scrutiny of Senatorial votes that fit a progressive profile. 
 Whether the Senate’s Ethical Deficit Disorder is due to a formalized vote rotation system or whether we are naïve enough to believe that those perverse votes are merely spontaneous errors in judgment, the implications of how a publicly-elected, taxpayer-funded Senator participates in a 21st Century election scam, should be enough to disqualify them from continued public service.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Senate Approves Indefinite Detention

If Al Qaeda needed a recruitment tool for its dwindling numbers, its operatives simply needed to video tape the Senate’s recent consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867). 

What should have been a serious discussion on the cost and moral authority of the President’s endless war policy stretching U.S. military tentacles around the globe morphed instead into a platform for endless harangues about American ‘traitors’ during WWII, inflamed passions about ‘terrorists’, bipartisan ravings in fear of Iran, redefining the Constitution and other war-mongering subjects.    
The grim reality is that with the country presumably on the edge of a cataclysmic deficit crisis, Senate Democrats who once might have been expected to support the Rule of Law, lined up on the side of a $690 billion appropriation for the Pentagon including $119 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with NO debate on military funding over the country’s favored People Programs or the Constitutionality of drone attacks.   

Once the House of Representatives approved the Act (HR 1540) on a 322 – 96 vote (with 90 Progressive Democrats and 6 Republicans against the Act), the legislation was referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee with legislative oversight for all things military including the Department of Defense.  Normal parliamentary procedure would have seen the Act referred to other Committees with shared authority, a series of public hearings would have been conducted with debate on amendments before a Committee vote sent the bill to the Senate floor – but that’s not how the NDAA proceeded.    
Instead, as if a Congressional approval rating of 9% doesn’t matter, the SASC’s autocratic procedure offers proof positive that the Senate not only deserves a lower approval rating but more importantly, that democracy is on a very thin thread.   

Not only did the Committee violate its own legislative procedures which protect the public’s right to know, it never issued its customary Committee report which presents the Committee’s work for public inspection – nor was the Congressional Budget Office or the Congressional Research Service able to prepare their usual summaries prior to Senate floor consideration.  Given what we know now, such a public process would have set off alarm bells raising public concern about why the Senate bill had been prepared behind closed doors and approved by the Committee in secret.     
Through legislative flim-flam, Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich) and ranking minority Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) reworded House-approved Section 1031 to allow any citizen anywhere in the world to be held in indefinite detention by military authorities without charges or trial on the ‘suspicion’ of association with terrorists.  In an on-going attack on the Constitution, the Levin-McCain rewrite offered no opportunity for legal counsel or an opportunity to prove one’s innocence.  The Senate’s transfer of all prosecutorial authority for detentions from the Department of Justice to the Defense Department assures the militarization of all domestic dissent.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) made the point that the inclusion of such language not only jeopardized Constitutional protections but implied a future of never-ending wars.  Neither Levin, McCain nor any other Senator challenged Paul’s assertion.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), smooth as a snake-oil salesman who featured prominently throughout the bill’s consideration, defended S 1867 that “says in law for the first time that the Homeland is part of the battlefield” and that people can be imprisoned “American citizen or not.” 

In a shameful colloquy, Graham played the once-liberal stalwart Levin with the deftness of a Stradivarius, as Graham, who served six years as a Judge Advocate in the Air Force safely ensconced in Germany, offered the alarming assertion that the Posse Comitatus Act does not prevent a military presence from American streets in pursuit of ‘terrorists.’  The goal of the Act, adopted after the Civil War in 1876 when Northern troops were withdrawn from the South, was to prevent Federal military troops from enforcing the law of the land.  Levin, in an ominous metaphor of how liberals have emerged as pro-military, pro-war and neutral on the Rule of Law, never questioned Graham’s logic.
As a prelude to voting on a series of flimsy amendments offered by Sen. Udall (D-Co) and Feinstein (D-Cal) to clarify Section 1031 that American citizens could not be arrested, detained indefinitely or sent to Guantanamo, Sen. Paul Kirk (R-Ill) took the Senate floor and proceeded to educate the Senate on the merits of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution and its ‘inalienable rights.’  For one brief, shining moment, when Kirk returned to defend himself, there was a rare face to face debate on the Senate floor with Graham and McCain sputtering and fuming at Kirk’s insolence.

The gravity of a revised House Section 1031 lies in the fact that while the President has already assumed Executive privilege with the ability to arrest and detain an American (Jose Padilla) without due process and to assassinate (Anwar al Awlaki) American citizens without charges or trial, what Levin and McCain have done is to codify illegitimate precepts like the erosion of habeas corpus and Grand Jury protections, denial of a civil trial and to permit unreasonable search and seizures into American law; further eroding a Constitutional government’s ability to operate within the Rule of Law. 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) lost an opportunity to contribute to world peace by introducing an amendment meant to stir patriotic fervor as it sanctioned the Central Bank of Iran and any financial institution doing business with it. Independent scientists have criticized the recent IAEA report on Iran as a flawed politically-inspired document.  Menendez’ amendment which could have been adopted as a routine unanimous consent item, was brought to a roll call vote (100-0) in order to warn Iran that the US Senate ‘meant business.’   After reciting incorrect assertions with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, the mindless flag-waving threats were reminiscent of 2002 and raised the question of whether the Senate has learned anything in the last decade.
While most Democrats were content to wring their hands in pro-military  doublespeak, Sen. Paul offered a stunning amendment to de-authorize the 2002 Authorized Use of Military Force in Iraq Resolution.  Paul’s amendment would have not only truly ended the Iraq war but would have removed the government’s legal rationale to currently engage in warrantless surveillance on Americans and restore Congressional authority to make war.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) spoke in support citing that the Executive ‘never wants to hand back authority’ and that “Congress has yielded its authority too often; too many times Congress failed to do its fair share in the Constitutional framework.”   Paul’s amendment lost on a 67-30 vote with 25 Democrats voting NO.

With a complicit media blackout similar to how Izvestia ‘managed’ the news, by the time of final passage, 93 – 7 (Sens. Wyden and Merkley of Oregon, Paul, Harkin of Iowa, Lee of Utah, Sanders of Vermont and Coburn of Oklahoma), it was obvious that despite being held in extreme disregard by a huge majority of Americans and with 63% against the war in Afghanistan, the U. S. Senate continues to embarrass itself and the country with no realization that the whole world is watching.  

If a total lack of esteem on the part of American taxpayers is not enough motivation to change, what will it take for Congress to recognize it has a problem and that ‘It” is the problem.

While President Obama’s warning of a veto makes good campaign rhetoric, there is little serious expectation that the Constitutional scholar in the Oval Office will follow-through.