Daily Archive: 06/07/2013

Jun 07 2013

Now They Tell Us They Didn’t Know Who They Were Killing

As if many of us didn’t know that the CIA didn’t always know who they were dropping hellfire missiles on from drones, NBC News’ Richard Engel and Robert Windrem revealed classified documents that confirmed it. The documents were from a 14 month period that began in 2010 listing 114 drone strikes that killed as many as 613 people. However, in some of those strikes, the CIA did not know the identity of the victims.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as “other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists — picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.

Micah Zenko, a former State Department policy advisor who is now a drone expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “incredible” to state that only one non-combatant was killed. “It’s just not believable,” he said. “Anyone who knows anything about how airpower is used and deployed, civilians die, and individuals who are engaged in the operations know this.”

Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence from Jan. 2009 to May 2010, declined to discuss the specifics of signature strikes, but said “to use lethal force there has to be a high degree of knowledge of an individual tied to activities, tied to connections.”

This article in McClatchy News, found that fewer of than 2% of those killed were Al Qaeda leaders, which is who the U.S. government says it targets.

Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just al Qaida leaders

by Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers,  April 9, 2013

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.” [..]

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.” [..]

McClatchy’s review found that:

– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

Who’s the US Killing in Pakistan? Even the CIA Doesn’t Know

by Daphne Eviatar, Huffington Post, June 6, 2013

In his speech at the National Defense University in May, President Obama said that his administration “has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists — insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance” that he had just signed.

Conveniently for the government, that policy guidance remains classified — which pretty much negates the claim about oversight and accountability.

The laws of war allow the United States to kill only members of declared enemy armed forces or civilians directly participating in hostilities. It’s hard to believe the U.S. government is actually following that law if it doesn’t even know who a quarter of the people it’s killing even are.

President Obama’s speech sounded pretty good when he made it, but the more facts trickle out about the drone program the more reason we all have to be skeptical.

What can be done? Human Rights First has set out exactly what steps (pdf) the United States can take to make sure its drone program complies with international law and doesn’t undermine human rights.

The president should start by making public that Presidential Policy Guidance he announced with such pride. Otherwise, neither the American public nor foreign allies or enemies have any reason to believe the U.S. government has reined in its clandestine killing operations at all.

Meanwhile, the White House and the Justice Department says that the assassinations of Americans is constitutional because they said so. At Huffington Post, Ryan J. Reilly reports on the lawsuit,  Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the estates of Anwwar Al-Aulaqi and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan. The lawsuit claims that their deaths were unconstitutional because they were denied due process.

The administration’s court filing also claimed that the government deserved qualified immunity because the plaintiffs “failed to allege the violation of any clearly established constitutional rights.” The government maintained that neither Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to members of Congress nor Obama’s speech on national security had any effect on its legal posture in the case even though it was the first time the government formally acknowledged it had killed the American citizens. The previously classified information disclosed by Obama and Holder is “wholly consistent with Defendants’ showing that Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s due process rights were not violated,” the government said.

The judicial branch, the Obama administration argued, “is ill-suited” to evaluate the myriad “military, intelligence, and foreign policy considerations” that went into the decision to kill the American citizens. The government also argued that because Khan and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi were not specifically targeted by the government, they cannot claim they were subjected to an unconstitutional process.

So the Executive Branch is claiming to be judge, jury and executioner because the courts couldn’t possibly understand their reasoning now matter how illegal, unlawful or criminal the actions were because, omg, they were terrorists, maybe. Never mind, that we still don’t know who was targeted that resulted in the killing of Abdulrahman. Maybe if was the cafe owner, one of the other customers or the cousins. No other explanations has been given. That is not acceptable.

So long as the legal arguments for these drone strikes and “targeted” killings remain classified, it makes it damned difficult, if not impossible, to have an open debate in public on the effectiveness and legality of this program and other counter-terrorism programs. The vague statements, filled with nebulous claims are not going to placate the critics of these not so clandestine programs. We need to know what the government is doing in our names.

Time to come clean, Barack.

Jun 07 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: President Obama’s Dragnet

Within hours of the disclosure that federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

Those reassurances have never been persuasive – whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism – especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability.

Paul Krugman: The Spite Club

House Republicans have voted 37 times to repeal ObamaRomneyCare – the Affordable Care Act, which creates a national health insurance system similar to the one Massachusetts has had since 2006. Nonetheless, almost all of the act will go fully into effect at the beginning of next year.

There is, however, one form of obstruction still available to the G.O.P. Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the law’s constitutionality also gave states the right to opt out of one piece of the plan, a federally financed expansion of Medicaid. Sure enough, a number of Republican-dominated states seem set to reject Medicaid expansion, at least at first.

And why would they do this? They won’t save money. On the contrary, they will hurt their own budgets and damage their own economies. Nor will Medicaid rejectionism serve any clear political purpose. As I’ll explain later, it will probably hurt Republicans for years to come.

Jonathan Turley: Obama’s Verizon Surveillance Reveals Massive Erosion of US Civil Liberties

In February, the Administration succeeded in blocking a challenge to its surveillance policies by arguing that any confirmation of such programs would put American lives at risk. Now that the case is dismissed, they have simply acknowledged the program. The decision is Clapper v. Amnesty International, No. 11-1025, and it is a true nightmare for civil liberties. The Supreme Court rejected the standing of civil liberties groups and citizens to challenge the Obama Administration’s surveillance programs. President Obama has long been criticized for his opposition to such lawsuits and his Justice Department has continued a successful attack on the ability of citizens to challenge the unconstitutional actions of their government in the war on terror. The 5-4 opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. insulates such programs from judicial review in yet another narrowing of standing rules. [..]

Now we can see the inevitable consequence of this secret court and the Administration’s surveillance program. The Administration is creating a massive databank for all calls, including calls within the United States. This surveillance program is the result of a sense of political immunity reflected in this Administration. With some Democrats blindly following this President, there appears no concern over excessive surveillance or the ever-expanding security state. It is the final evidence of how Obama has truly crippled the civil liberties movement in the United States.

Kristen Breitweiser: Hey America — ‘Can You Hear Me Now?!’ Obama, Verizon, and Executive Power Run Amok

Today’s news relating to the Verizon data and records siege speaks volumes about this president and his absolute abuse of power.

And when coupled with Eric Holder’s abuses regarding the targeting of journalists and whistleblowers, Obama’s positioning of John Brennan at CIA and James Comey at FBI, along with Obama’s shift of drone warfare from CIA to DOD, which will now conveniently enable drones to operate within our borders, we all should be very, very scared. Because dissent, discussion, debate can no longer exist with this sort of omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent government.

In short, the deck is stacked against us.

John Nichols: The Senate’s Next Feingolds Must Step Up to Defend Privacy Rights

Russ Feingold is no longer in the US Senate.

And that is unfortunate.

No one took more seriously the duty to defend privacy rights than the civil libertarian senator from Wisconsin, who served for the better part of two decades as the essential member of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee – and who cast the only Senate vote against the Patriot Act because of the threat he recognized to the guarantees outline in the Fourth Amendment.

But with the report by The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald that the NSA has been tracking every call by Verizon business customers, and with the New York Times report that a National Security Agency program took e-mails and other information from companies that included Google, Apple and Facebook, it is important to recognize that there are a few new Feingolds in the Senate.

Richard Seymour: Obama’s Verizon Phone Records Collection Carries on Bush’s Work

In opposition, he criticised policies allowing phone calls to be monitored; in office, he has continued and even extended them

Barack Obama built up much of his electoral base as a critic of George W Bush’s policies, from war to surveillance. In office, he has pursued many of the same policies even more vigorously, and nowhere is this more true than in his hoarding of executive power. The administration’s collection of phone records data, and its legal defences thereof, illustrate the problem acutely. [..]

The conventional liberal critique of such practices is prudential. As the liberal writer Stephen Holmes argued, secrecy undermines security by allowing the state to conceal and perpetuate errors. It removes the necessity to have plausible reasons for one’s policies, so that eventually one stops having plausible reasons. These strictures apply even more in the case of emergencies. Holmes evoked the image of an emergency room, in which medical staff are having to cope with life-threatening situations; unless their behaviour is governed by certain rules, medical staff will be prone to error.

Jun 07 2013

I Don’t Care What the Excuse Is!

Originally posted at Voices on the Square

I’m so pissed i could spit, so consider this rant my virtual spitting.

I don’t care if the president is a registered Democrat – I’m not gonna play cutesy semantic games because of it. And I don’t care who started it – I’ve been pissed for a looong time about this. Now there is undeniable proof that all of our fears – fears that many of us were vocal about for more than a decade now – over what the Patriot Act could be used for are, in fact, well grounded and not some tin foil conspiracy theory. And don’t get me wrong – this is SPYING on the entire populace. Period. They may not have listened to your phone calls – YET – but they have no legitimate reason to have scooped them all up in the first place. None. This kind of overreach is EXACTLY the kind of thing (at least in spirit) the founders had in mind when they put that Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

I don’t care that technology makes it easy to do. We have a need for privacy and there is a pretty clear penumbra of privacy in the Bill of Rights. No need for privacy you say? How far do you think the Founders would have gotten if the British government did this kind of spying? How many slaves would have been able to be moved through the Underground Railroad if government had had this level of legal access to all communications?

Yeah – I don’t care if it was legal. 15 years ago it was not legal and would have been considered an affront to our Constitutionally guaranteed (a guarantee that seems quaint and antiquated now) civil liberties. That the Big Brother government has managed to tailor a law to allow them to legally get away with suspect behavior does not make it a good thing or an ethical thing. Tailoring a law to make behavior legal is what the Bush Admin did with torture. And lest we all forget – slavery was legal once too…

I don’t care if some companies have access to that information. My phone company has an interest in having my phone records – they bill me for them. The government on the other hand has no legitimate vested interest in my phone records. Marketing firms track my web surfing, fine. It bothers me, but they don’t have much power over me at all. Government on the other hand has an exponentially large amount of power over me and history is littered with examples of governments exercising that power in myriad negative ways. So yeah, companies have various facets of this info on me, but now government has the legality and apparently the want to have ALL of these various facets of information on me. Like a dossier, we all have our own private FBI file now – and not for bad or suspect behavior – just for simply existing in this country.

So our Big Brother government HAS to SPY on all of our phone calls in order to make us “safe”. God Orwell would be rolling over in his grave if he saw how much life was imitating art.

Jun 07 2013

On This Day In History June 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

June 7 is the 158th day of the year (159th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 207 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town.

Port Royal was built on a small island off the coast of Jamaica in the harbor across from present-day Kingston. Many of the buildings where the 6,500 residents lived and worked were constructed right over the water. In the 17th century, Port Royal was known throughout the New World as a headquarters for piracy, smuggling and debauchery. It was described as “most wicked and sinful city in the world” and “one of the lewdest in the Christian world.”

Earthquakes in the area were not uncommon, but were usually rather small. In 1688, a tremor had toppled three homes. But four years later, late in the morning on June 7, three powerful quakes struck Jamaica. A large tsunami hit soon after, putting half of Port Royal under 40 feet of water. The HMS Swan was carried from the harbor and deposited on top of a building on the island. It turned out to be a refuge for survivors.

Piracy in Port Royal

Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain and Panama. Buccaneers found Port Royal appealing for several reasons. Its proximity to trade routes allowed them easy access to prey, but the most important advantage was the port’s proximity to several of the only safe passages or straits giving access to the Spanish Main from the Atlantic. The harbour was large enough to accommodate their ships and provided a place to careen and repair these vessels. It was also ideally situated for launching raids on Spanish settlements. From Port Royal, Henry Morgan attacked Panama, Portobello, and Maracaibo. Roche Brasiliano, John Davis (buccaneer), and Edward Mansveldt (Mansfield) also came to Port Royal.

Since the English lacked sufficient troops to prevent either the Spanish or French from seizing it, the Jamaican governors eventually turned to the pirates to defend the city.

By the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World where most residents were pirates, cutthroats, or prostitutes. When Charles Leslie wrote his history of Jamaica, he included a description of the pirates of Port Royal:

   Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.

The taverns of Port Royal were known for their excessive consumption of alcohol such that records even exist of the wild animals of the area partaking in the debauchery. During a passing visit, famous Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck is said to have described the scenes:

   The parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.

There is even speculation in pirate folklore that the infamous Blackbeard met a howler monkey while at leisure in a Port Royal alehouse whom he named Jefferson and formed a strong bond with during the expedition to the island of New Providence. Port Royal benefited from this lively, glamorous infamy and grew to be one of the two largest towns and the most economically important port in the English colonies. At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking house for every ten residents. In July 1661 alone, forty new licenses were granted to taverns. During a twenty-year period that ended in 1692, nearly 6,500 people lived in Port Royal. In addition to prostitutes and buccaneers, there were four goldsmiths, forty-four tavern keepers, and a variety of artisans and merchants who lived in 2000 buildings crammed into 51 acres of real estate. 213 ships visited the seaport in 1688. The city’s wealth was so great that coins were preferred for payment rather than the more common system of bartering goods for services.

Following Henry Morgan’s appointment as lieutenant governor, Port Royal began to change. Pirates were no longer needed to defend the city. The selling of slaves took on greater importance. Upstanding citizens disliked the reputation the city had acquired. In 1687, Jamaica passed anti-piracy laws. Instead of being a safe haven for pirates, Port Royal became noted as their place of execution. Gallows Point welcomed many to their death, including Charles Vane and Calico Jack, who were hanged in 1720. Two years later, forty-one pirates met their death in one month.

Although a work of historical fiction, James Michener’s The Caribbean details the history, atmosphere and geography of Port Royal accurately.

Jun 07 2013

Around the Blogosphere

 photo Winter_solstice.gifThe main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

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This is an Open Thread.

It’s been a lively day on the tubes with most of the posting on the super secret leaked FISA Warrant by Glenn Greenwald and the national security crew at The Guardian. Nice work for your first week on the job, Spencer.

Our friends at Voices on the Square have some great posts on Bradley Manning and workers rights:

At Corrente, lambert gives “mad props” to Glenn and an opinion piece at Bloomberg by Noah Feldman.

Also from DCblogger:

and libbyliberal:

Over at Americablog, Our friend Gaius Publius tells us what’s is in the tar sands oil besides oil:

Gaius calls it “sludge,” I’d call it “toxic.”

At FDL News Desk, DSWright has this news:

Jon Walker at FDL Action tells about these developments:

At FDL’s The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola gives an the inevitable news:

Glenn, Spencer, here come the secret subpoenas for your phone and e-mails.

At Salon, lapsed blogger David Dayen tell you the truth about your student loan, it’s not really a loan. h/t Yves Smith at naked capitalism

Well, this is a really good question from digby at Hullabaloo:

Atrios wants to know what 20,000 NSA employees do all day.

The last words today go to Mike Masnick at Techdirt, just in case you weren’t disgusted or paranoid enough about the US government:

  • Oh, And One More Thing: NSA Directly Accessing Information From Google, Facebook, Skype, Apple And More

    This program, like the constant surveillance of phone records, began in 2007, though other programs predated it. They claim that they’re not collecting all data, but it’s not clear that makes a real difference:

       The PRISM program is not a dragnet, exactly. From inside a company’s data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all.

       Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade key in “selectors,” or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness.” That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by the Post instruct new analysts to submit accidentally collected U.S. content for a quarterly report, “but it’s nothing to worry about.”

       Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content.

    I now need a couple of vodka martinis and just leave the jar of olives on the bar.