Starting in the US with The War on the First Amendment. Last month, The War on the First Amendment's big revelations were, first, that the Justice Dept had secretly seized the phone records of a 167-year-old news institution, the Associated Press. Then came the revelation that the Justice Dept targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen. Clark S. Judge (US News and World Reports) observed, "It has been a bad few weeks for the First Amendment. The sinister commonality to the Internal Revenue Service and AP scandals and the James Rosen affair is that each appears to have been (strike "appears ": each was) an attempt to suppress a core American right." The distressing news of government assaults on the First Amendment continue. US Senator Bernie Sander's website explained the latest revelation:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April. The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the United States and between the U.S. and other countries. The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
(Cedric and Wally noted that summary this morning.) Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) notes Senator Sanders spoke out on the issue today:
“The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans,” Sanders said. “That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people.”
Sanders added: “While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans.”
Writing for the Guardian Glenn Greenwald scooped everyone last night. It was a major scoop and a major accomplishment. At Ann's site yesterday, I noted: "All the other news outlets are following in his wake, Washington Post, CNN, New York Daily News, Reuters, Bloomberg News, etc. Trained reporters who've made a career out of journalism would kill for this moment so let's hope Greenwald enjoys it. He's got reason to be proud of himself. And from a civil liberties point of view, all Americans have a reason to be scared. The government has truly overstepped its bounds." And there's more. As AP reports today, "Separately, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported Thursday the existence of another program used by the NSA and FBI that scours the nation's main Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs to help analysts track a person's movements and contacts. It was not clear whether the program, called PRISM, targets known suspects or broadly collects data from other Americans."
Of the FISA order, the ACLU notes, "ACLU attorneys have been monitoring the U.S. government's use of the Patriot Act for years, and this document confirms our biggest fears." They have a clickable presentation on the order at the link. The Center for Constitutional Rights released the following statement:
As far as we know this order from the FISA court is the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued: it requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S. It also contains a gag order prohibiting Verizon from disclosing information about the order to anyone other than their counsel.The Patriot Act’s incredibly broad surveillance provision purportedly authorizes an order of this sort, though its constitutionality is in question and several senators have complained about it. The Patriot Act provision requires the FBI to notify Congress about the number of such warrants, but this single order covering millions of people is a deceptive end-run around that disclosure requirement.The presumed incoming FBI director, James Comey, will be the one in charge of and responsible for deciding whether to seek renewals of this order and any future orders like it, which is interesting in light of his complicated history with NSA surveillance. It certainly suggests some questions he should answer in his confirmation hearings.We will continue to challenge the surveillance of Americans in our case currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama.
Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) report today:
After the revelation by the Guardian of a sweeping secret court order that authorised the FBI to seize all call records from a subsidiary of Verizon, the Obama administration sought to defuse mounting anger over what critics described as the broadest surveillance ruling ever issued.
A White House spokesman said that laws governing such orders "are something that have been in place for a number of years now" and were vital for protecting national security. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the Verizon court order had been in place for seven years. "People want the homeland kept safe," Feinstein said.
But as the implications of the blanket approval for obtaining phone data reverberated around Washington and beyond, anger grew among other politicians.
Intelligence committee member Mark Udall, who has previously warned in broad terms about the scale of government snooping, said: "This sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I've said Americans would find shocking." Former vice-president Al Gore described the "secret blanket surveillance" as "obscenely outrageous".
Senator Ron Wyden's office issued the following today:
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), released this statement following news reports alleging that the U.S. Government has collected the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence committee.
“The program Senators Feinstein and Chambliss publicly referred to today is one that I have been concerned about for years. I am barred by Senate rules from commenting on some of the details at this time. However, I believe that when law-abiding Americans call their friends, who they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information. Collecting this data about every single phone call that every American makes every day would be a massive invasion of Americans’ privacy.
The administration has an obligation to give a substantive and timely response to the American people and I hope this story will force a real debate about the government’s domestic surveillance authorities. The American people have a right to know whether their government thinks that the sweeping, dragnet surveillance that has been alleged in this story is allowed under the law and whether it is actually being conducted. Furthermore, they have a right to know whether the program that has been described is actually of value in preventing attacks. Based on several years of oversight, I believe that its value and effectiveness remain unclear.”
Senator Bernie Sanders' office issued the following (and if you use the link, you also have the option of streaming video of Sanders discussing the issue):
June 6, 2013Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today criticized a secret domestic surveillance program that swept up millions of telephone records on calls by Americans who were not suspected of any wrongdoing.
A court order demanding the records be turned over was obtained under a controversial interpretation of a provision in the so-called Patriot Act, which Sanders voted against when it was first enacted in 2001 and when it was reauthorized in 2006 and 2011.
“As one of the few members of Congress who consistently voted against the Patriot Act, I expressed concern at the time of passage that it gave the government far too much power to spy on innocent United State citizens and provided for very little oversight or disclosure. Unfortunately, what I said turned out to be exactly true.
“The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans. That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people,” Sanders added.
“While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans,” Sanders said.
The Obama administration did not dispute a report, first published yesterday by the Guardian, that a classified court order required Verizon to turn over massive phone records to the National Security Agency.
Senator Rand Paul's office issued a statement condemning the spying and calling for a restoration of the Fourth Amendment:
Jun 6, 2013WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Rand Paul today announced he will introduce the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013, which ensures the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment are not violated by any government entity.
"The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive's expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party," Sen. Paul said. "When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment (SA 3436) to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed. Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which would provide exactly the kind of protections that, if enacted, could have prevented these abuses and stopped these increasingly frequent violations of every American's constitutional rights.
"The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause."
Click HERE to view the text of this legislation, which will be introduced when the Senate returns to session on Friday, June 7.
To address the issues involved in the latest news cycle revelations, Marco Werman (PRI's The World) spoke with journalist James Bamford who noted, "The difference is in the Bush administration it was illegal. Since then, they've created this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act and revamped the PATRIOT Act to some degree so what was illegal a few years ago is probably now legal in some secret back corner of the Justice Dept and NSA." At today's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Senator Mark Kirk estimated that this spying would have involved as many as 120 million phone calls. (A key point Bamford made to Marco Werman was that raw data can be overwhelming and counter-productive to spying efforts.) Kirk had one issue -- which was were members of Congress spied on.
Senator Mark Kirk: I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored -- of members of Congress. That would give a future executive branch, if they started pulling this stuff, kind of a -- would give them unique leverage over the legislature?
Attorney General Eric Holder: Uh, with all due respect, Senator, I don't think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss, uhm, that issue. I'd be more than glad to come back in a -- in a appropriate setting to discuss, uh, the issues that you have raised but I -- in this open forum, I don't -- I do not
Senator Mark Kirk: I would interrupt you and say that the correct answer would be: "No, we stayed within our lane and I am assuring you that we did not spy on members of Congress."
Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski: You know I'd like to suggest something here. When I read the New York Times this morning, it was like, "Oh God, not one more thing." And not one more thing where we're trying to protect America and it looks like we're spying on America. I think the full Senate needs to get a briefing on this.
Kirk, Mikulski and Senator Richard Shelby all agreed it was an important question. And it's important because it's them. It's too bad that they don't feel it's important for non-members of Congress. It's too bad that Mikulski's 'answer' is to call for a closed hearing. It's too damn bad that she doesn't think the American people are owed answers. Remember, in American now, "democracy" translates as something that belongs only to elected members of Congress.
Attorney General Eric Holder: While the Department of Justice must not waiver in its determination to protect our national security, we must be just as vigilant in our defense of the sacred rights and freedoms we are equally obligated to protect, including the freedom of the press. In order to ensure the appropriate balance in these efforts, at President Obama's direction, I have launched a review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. Last week, I convened the first in a series of meetings -- with representatives of news organizations, government agencies, and other groups -- to discuss the need to strike this important balance, ensure robust First Amendment protections, and foster constructive dialogue. I appreciate the opportunity to engage members of the media and national security professionals in this effort to improve our guidelines, policies and processes -- and to renew the important conversation, that is as old as our Republic, about how to balance our security with our dearest civil liberties. As part of that conversation, let me make several things clear. First, the Department's goal in investigating leak cases is to identify and prosecute government officials who jeopardize national security by violating their oaths, not to target members of the press or discourage them from carrying out their vital work. Second, the Department has not prosecuted, and as long as I'm Attorney General, will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job. With these guiding principles in mind, we are updating our internal guidelines to ensure that in every case the Department’s actions are clear and consistent with our most sacred values.
Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States and, in that position, heads the Dept of Justice. His remarks might have more meaning if (a) he wasn't investigating himself and his own agency (see CBS News' Bob Shcieffer's Face The Nation commentary on this point ), (b) his remarks were not so easily read as 'Let me say we're targeting American citizens not the press itself so the press can't stop worrying, we're just targeting Americans!' American citizens who are not members of the press have First Amendment rights as well -- though Holder and the DoJ seem unaware of that these days. Government officials also have First Amendment rights. Lois Lerner's made clear that they even have Fifth Amendment rights. And they also have an obligation to inform the public of what's going on. When the government isn't honest with the people -- who are citizens, not its children -- then officials may step forward as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers have protections as well even if the Justice Dept chooses not to recognize that fact. The DoJ targeted journalist James Rosen. Holder appeared in front of Congress days before that scandal broke and appeared to give a full portrayal of DoJ's interaction with the press. And then we learn of the targeting of James Rosen. So his words don't carry a lot of weight. (C) What a ridiculous statement to make on the day when everyone's talking about the federal government monitoring the phone calls of private citizens. No, there is no respect for the First Amendment on the part of DoJ.
This morning, Holder made the remarks in bold while appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee to testify about the DoJ's budget request for Fiscal Year 2014. Richard Shelby is the Ranking Member of the Committee and he stated this morning:
Madam Chair, I would be remiss if I did not mention the controversy that has engulfed the Department and the Attorney General in recent weeks. These issues have overwhelmed the Department and cast a shadow of doubt upon the Attorney General. The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government and as the head of the Department of Justice, it is his responsibility to ensure that laws are enforced and the interests of the United States are defended. The controversy that has embroiled the Department has called into question its ability to fairly administer the law and justice. Further, the questionable actions of this Attorney General have tarnished the integrity, impartiality and efficacy of the position.
It is the responsibility of this Committee to provide the resources necessary to ensure that the Department of Justice can efficiently and effectively enforce the laws, protect our citizens, and administer justice. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Department to ensure that it carries out its duties; that it is responsible and responsive to the citizens of the United States; and that it operates with and tolerates no less than the highest degree of honesty and integrity. Unfortunately, I believe that until these issues are resolved and the controversy laid to rest, a hue of distrust will hover over the Department of Justice. Mr. Attorney General, it is my hope that you will move swiftly to address these issues -- to put this controversy to rest in a full and open manner so that the Department can get back to focusing on the issues central to its mission.
On the scandals, a new NBC News - Wall St. Journal poll has been released. Chuck Todd was on NBC's Today show this morning discussing it with Savannah Guthrie (here for video). Todd noted "major erosion over independents -- political independents -- over a three month period. The President's support among independents has gone from 41% to a very paltry 29%. That is an ominous sign." Last week, Rebecca noted the erosion of independents and last night she noted Jake Miller (CBS News) reporting on the new Bloomberg News poll which finds 47% of Americans surveyed do not believe Barack is being truthful with the American public.
Chuck Todd: But then if you look at certain presidential characteristics, you sort of see how this trio of controversies in Washington -- IRS, Benghazi -- have impacted the president. His ability to handle a crisis -- confidence in this, all down. Strong leadership qualities -- down. Being honest and straight forward -- public down. All of these areas not looking good as far as the public is concerned. And this is the way you can see the public is just not happy with the way the President is running the country.
Here are the numbers displayed onscreen about the three most prominent scandals:
NBC NEWS THE WALL STREET JOURNAL POLL
CONTROVERSIES & DOUBTS
ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION
RAISES DOUBT NO DOUBT
BENGHAZI 58% 27%
DOJ MEDIA SUBPOENA 58% 23%
IRS 55% 26%
Chuck Todd noted, "It is large majorities that say that these scandals raise doubts about the Obama administration. But what's interesting here, so we had 58% on Benghazi, 58% on the Justice Dept and the probe on media leaks and the IRS."
Yesterday on Morning Edition (NPR -- link is audio and text), Linda Wertheimer spoke with the International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann about the ongoing crises in Iraq. Excerpt.
Joost Hiltermann: Well, the government is still there. Now, on paper, it is a power-sharing government. In reality, the various groups in Iraq are indeed in the government. But effectively, it's the prime minister who rules, and the other parties are essentially opponents to the prime minister and trying to oust him. And they've tried so on several occasions through a no-confidence vote in parliament, and they failed. There have been numerous rumors of plots to oust him. I think none of them would have any real basis, but whatever. They didn't succeed, either, if they existed. And the only real way for Maliki's opponents to get rid of him is going to be the elections next year, the national elections. And the real question is going to be: Are these going to be free and fair elections? Meanwhile, there is huge frustration about the lack of services, you know, the poor governance, the very deep divisions that exist between Maliki and the people he represents and the Kurds, and between Maliki and the Shia on the one hand, and then the insurgents and the political representatives of the Sunni community on the other hand. And so it is a very unhappy situation, which could continue for some time, except for the Syria crisis, which is looming.
All Iraq News reports a Mosul home invasion has left a woman and her son injured, a Mosul armed attack killed 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more injured, and a Baghdad car bombing has claimed 2 lives and left ten injured. National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 man was shot dead in Sulaymaniyah. a Baghdad car bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left six more injured, 1 person was shot dead outside his Falluja home, and 2 Nahrawan bombing left 5 people dead and thirty more injured. Hou Qiang (Xinhua) adds, "In northern Iraq, gunmen broke into a house in al-Zanijily district in central the city of Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad, and shot dead two women before they fled the scene, a local police source anonymously told Xinhua." Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 52 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.
From deaths to birth defects, Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani asks today "What's delaying the WHO report on Iraqi birth defects?" (Al Jazeera):
Iraq is poisoned. Thirty-five million Iraqis wake up every morning to a living nightmare of childhood cancers, adult cancers and birth defects. Familial cancers, cluster cancers and multiple cancers in the same individual have become frequent in Iraq.
Sterility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects - some never described in any medical books - are all around, in increasing numbers. Trapped in this hellish nightmare, millions of Iraqis struggle to survive, and they call for help.
At long last, public pressure and media attention to this public health catastrophe prompted a joint study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iraqi Ministry of Health to determine the prevalence of birth defects in Iraq. This study began in May-June 2012 and was completed in early October 2012.
The WHO website says that this large-scale study was conducted in Baghdad (Karkh and Rasafa), Diyala, Anbar, Sulaymaniyah, Babel, Basrah, Mosul and Thi-Qar, with 10,800 households from 18 districts and a sample size of 600 households per district.
The Independent (UK) reported that this study was due to be released in November 2012. But the report has not yet come out.
Alsumaria reports today that congential malformations and rates of cancer are extremely high as a result of the uranium munitions the US military used. It's no longer unusual for a child to be born with two heads or with just one eye, the report explains, and the health statistics are much worse than in Japan in the aftermath of the US using the atomic bombs. In Falluja, children born with deformities account for 14.7% of all births. The report notes that although Iraq has a population estimated at 31 million, there are only 20,000 medical doctors and just over 100 psychotherapists in the country.
While WHO remains silent, UNAMI had something to say today. Hou Qiang (Xinhua) reports:
The top UN envoy in Iraq on Thursday condemned the killing of at least 14 people in an desert area in the country's western province of Anbar and called it a " cold-blooded murder," said Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN secretary-general, at a daily briefing.
Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, urged the Iraqi security authorities to take swift and decisive action to arrest the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice, the spokesman said.
The UN envoy also extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims as well as to the Iraqi police.
Kobler was condemning an attack that took place yesterday. Tuesday, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Turkmen Alliance MP Mohammed Mehdi al-Bayati called the religious authority in Iraq and the United Nations to directly intervene to stop Turkmen displacement in Touz area for 'known political ends,' following the Kurdish regions's replacement [of] the Kurdish police forces by military ones."
Today a governor was elected. NINA reports Ali Dawaiy Lazim was re-elected to a second term as Governor of Maysan as voted on by "members of the new Provincial Council." April 20th, Iraq saw provincial elections take place in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces. As Kirk H. Sowell (Foreign Policy) rightly observed, "Iraq's April 20 provincial elections were like two elections in one country. They included all provinces outside the Kurdistan region except Kirkuk, due to a long-standing dispute over election law, and the predominately Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninawa, where the cabinet postponed elections under the pretext of security following a series of candidate assassinations." The United Nations continues to press for Kirkuk to vote this year. Anbar and Nineveh were first scheduled for voting on July 4th but that's now been moved to June 20th. The KRG will hold elections in their three provinces on September 21st. Juwanro Muhammad (Niqash) speaks with Goran (Change) spokesperson Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim about election issues for the KRG. Goran is a minor third party in Iraq that has received funding from, among others, the US Central Intelligence Agency. Excerpt.
NIQASH: Why is the Change Movement so opposed to this draft of the Iraqi Kurdish Constitution?
Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim: The region's draft constitution – and the KDP is particularly enthusiastic about it – is full of holes and it doesn’t satisfy the demands of all of the different political actors in Iraqi Kurdistan. It gives the region’s president more powers and marginalizes the parliament. This also makes it inconsistent with Iraq’s own national Constitution, which has a parliamentary system rather than a presidential one.
So we want the Constitution reviewed before any public referendum is held. And we believe that that review should result in amendments that limit the region’s president’s powers – he should be elected by the parliament and not directly by the people so that he is responsible to parliament directly.
NIQASH: Why don’t you think it’s logical to just hold a referendum on the Constitution and let the people decide?
Tawfiq Rahim: We are confident that if a referendum is held on the Constitution, the Iraqi Kurdish people will not accept it. When the first draft of the Constitution was passed, there was no real political opposition. Now there is. And it is important that all parties approve of the draft so that everyone feels a sense of ownership of the Constitution. It must then also be acceptable to more than 85 percent of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. But there’s no doubt that if a referendum was held now, on the current draft of the Constitution, that we would urge people not to vote for it.
NIQASH: Recently the KDP and the PUK tried to nominate Iraq’s current President, Massoud Barzani, for a third term. But your party was against this step.
Tawfiq Rahim: According to Iraqi Kurdistan’s laws on the presidency and also according to the draft Constitution, the region’s president may only nominate themselves for two terms. According to that, Barzani doesn’t have the right to another term.
NIQASH: So you’re against Barzani re-nominating himself. Do you have any alternate candidates in mind?
Tawfiq Rahim: We believe that the main reason the KDP is so keen on getting the Constitution passed is to give Barzani the right to nominate himself for a third term in office. If that happens we will try to find someone who could compete against Barzani for the president’s post. But no decision has yet been taken in this regard. And we don’t know if we would nominate our own candidate from within the Change Movement or whether we would cooperate with other opposition parties to come up with a suitable candidate.
NIQASH: Barzani also recently announced that Iraqi Kurdistan’s next elections would be held in September this year. How do you think all of these unresolved issues are going to play out, if everyone goes to the polls?
Tawfiq Rahim: We hope that the elections will be held on time and that they won’t be postponed because of any unresolved issues. We’re very optimistic that votes for the opposition will increase in Iraqi Kurdistan – especially if new measures are introduced to reduce voter fraud.
Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) reports on the matter as well:
On 23 May, Barzani announced that he would call for the referendum and accused the opposition of turning the issue into a political war. “If it’s a bad constitution, people are free not to approve it,” he declared to a huge, cheering crowd in Erbil, the Kurdistan provincial capital.
Opposition groups, however, were swift to blast Barzani’s suggestion.
The rising Change Movement, or Goran, and several Islamist parties demanded that the constitution be sent back to parliament for amendment before any referendum was held. Barzani’s long-term political ally, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also did not agree with the call for the referendum.
The Kurds have been enmeshed in internal wrangling over the elections after Barzani announced plans last month for balloting in provincial, parliamentary and presidential races in September.
The dispute centres around the right of Barzani himself to stand for election for a third term in office, despite the Kurdistan region’s draft constitution which stipulates in article 64 that the president of the Kurdistan region “may be re-elected for a second term as of the date this constitution enters into force”.
Barzani has not declared his candidacy, but his supporters argue that term limits are not retrospective, so Barzani, initially appointed by the Kurdish parliament in 2005, and re-elected by in a public vote four years later, is eligible for re-election. Barzani will complete his two terms in July.
US tax dollars continue to flow into Iraq. Mark Thompson (Time magazine) reports today on the $2 billion contract that the State Dept has with PAE Government Services, Inc., "That’s a million dollars a day over a five-year period, if the contract hits its ceiling. The down payment is $347,883,498 (don’t you just love such precision? It’s almost a prime number, for Pete’s sake)." On the topic of money and motive, Kerry-anne Mendoza (New Interventionist) observes:
The war has also been of great financial cost to the US and British taxpayer. A recent Harvard Study found that Iraq and Afghanistan have added $2 trillion to the US national debt, 20 per cent of the debt incurred between 2001 and 2012.
So if not the ordinary people of Iraq, Britain or the US – who exactly did profit from the invasion of Iraq? Big business.
Corporations received $138 billion (10 per cent of US GDP) of US taxpayer money for government contracts in Iraq. Ten companies took 52 per cent of this sum. Included in their number was Halliburton, a company linked to both the then US Vice President Dick Cheney andthe President George W Bush. Halliburton received $39.5 billionn of contracts in Iraq, without needing to compete against bids from other firms.
Be it Pol Pot, Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, or even The Taliban – the US and UK governments have supported countless undemocratic organizations to take over nations, so long as they sign contracts which profit our companies and support our foreign policy agenda.
To acknowledge that ‘we’ are not the good guys is not easy, and it does require searching for alternative ways of intervening where we feel compelled to act.
With the grotesque Problem From Hell Samantha Power set to become US Ambassador to the United Nations, CounterPunch re-runs Chase Madar's "Samantha Power and the Weaponization of Human Rights:"
Power has recently admitted, perhaps a little ruefully, that “the Kosovo war helped build support for the invasion of Iraq by contributing to the false impression that the US military was invincible.” But no intellectual has worked harder than Samantha Power to propagate this impression.
A Problem From Hell won a Pulitzer in early 2003. America’s book reviewers, eager to be team players, were relieved to be reminded of the upbeat side of military force during the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Surely Saddam Hussein, who had perpetrated acts of genocide against the Kurds, needed to be smashed by military force. Didn’t we owe it to the Iraqis to invade? Hasn’t America played spectator for too long? Power, to her credit, did not support the war, but she has been mighty careful not to raise her voice against it. After all, is speaking out at an antiwar demonstration or joining a peace group like Code Pink really “constructive”? It is certainly no way to get a seat on the National Security Council.
The failed marriage of warfare and humanitarian work is also the subject of Power’s most recent book, Chasing the Flame, a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN humanitarian worker who was killed, with 21 others, by a suicide bomber in Baghdad just months after the U.S. invasion. Most of the book is a sensitive and rather gripping account of Vieira’s partial successes and heroic efforts in refugee resettlement in Thailand, Lebanon, and the Balkans. He eventually rose to become the UN’s high commissioner on human rights—a position he left when asked by George W. Bush to lead a UN “presence” in Iraq. That the UN’s top human-rights official would rush to help with the clean-up after an American invasion that contravened international law may strike some observers as strange. (One can imagine the puzzlement and outrage if the UN’s high commissioner on human rights had trailed the Soviets into Afghanistan in 1979 to help build civil society.) But for Vieira, and for Samantha Power, there is nothing unseemly about human-rights professionals serving as adjuncts to a conquering army, especially when the prestige of the UN—scorned and flouted during the run-up to the war—is on the line. Besides, Vieira had the personal assurances of the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer—a simply charming American: he even speaks a foreign language—that the UN taskforce would have a great deal of sway in how a new Iraq was built.
In June 2003, Vieira arrived in Baghdad and was surprised to find himself completely powerless. That Vieira and company believed the UN insignia would be more than a hood ornament on Blackwater’s Humvees bespeaks not tough-minded idealism but wishful thinking. Power herself claims that Kofi Annan’s main reason for sending Vieira off to Baghdad was to remind the world of the UN’s “relevance” by getting a piece of the action. But for him and his colleagues, this confusion of means and ends proved deadly, one of tens of thousands of blood-soaked tragedies that this war has wrought. The clear lesson is that humanitarian work is always fatally compromised if it’s part of a militarized pacification campaign: NGO workers wield no real power and serve mostly as window dressing for the conquering army.
But this isn’t the moral that Power draws. She is still looking for Mr. Good War. Today, her preferred human-rights adventure is an escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Sammy Power is considered a 'lock' on that position. That has to do with a lot of people on the left who think speaking into microphones makes them smart. Oh, remember Devey D full of bluster -- and everything else -- taking to the KPFA airwaves to lament poor little "Samantha Powers" (no, he couldn't even get her name right and this was in the summer of 2008) was pushed aside by the Barack campaign!
No, she wasn't. Nor was she pushed aside for her 'monster' remark. But idiots like Davey D really did a great job with the distraction.
Samantha Power stepped down, she was not fired, her resignation was not requested. She stepped down because "monster" wasn't the problem, Iraq was.
March 7, 2008, Sammy Power was suddenly out of Barack's campaign. The BBC was airing an interview. Here's what she told the BBC:
Stephen Sackur: You said that he'll revisit it [the decision to pull troops] when he goes to the White House. So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn't a commitment is it?
Samantha Power: You can't make a commitment in whatever month we're in now, in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009. We can'te ven tell what Bush is up to in terms of troops pauses and so forth. He will of course not rely upon some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US Senator.
We covered it in real time. Hours before that interview started airing, Power was in trouble with the press for it. It had leaked out and she suddenly realized the damage. She decided to resign. From the March 7, 2008 snapshot:
Power was not a campaigner, she was a high level, longterm foreign policy advisor being groomed to be the next Secretary of State. As Krissah Williams (Washington Post) notes, Senator Clinton's response to Power's BBC interview was to note Power's agreement that Obama's pledge to have "combat" troops out in 16 months was never more than a "best-case scenario". Hillary Clinton: "Senator Obama has made his speech opposing Iraq in 2002 and the war in Iraq the core of his campaign, which makes these comments especially troubling. While Senator Obama campaigns on his [pledge] to end the war, his top advisers tell people abroad that he will not rely on his own plan should he become president. This is the latest example of promising the American people one thing on the campaign trail and telling people in other countries another. You saw this with NAFTA as well."
We covered it in real time. The same can't be said of Panhandle Media -- the US' alleged "alternative" media? Silence. March 9, 2008, we editorialized on this at Third Estate Sunday Review in "Editorial: The Whores of Indymedia." And we returned to the topic in July, after Tom Hayden 'suddenly' noticed Samantha Power's March BBC interview, "Letters to An Old Sell Out: Iraq." And you can check Third's editorial ("Letters to An Old Sell Out: Iraq") to find examples of the Real Media outlets that covered it while all the beggars of Panhandle Media played dumb -- it's playing right? No one can really be that dumb, can they? What is known is that the watch doggies didn't bark in March 2009. Not Tom-Tom, not Jeremy Scahill, not the forever climbing on the soap box Naomi Klein, not Laura Flanders, not The Nation, not Amy Goodman, not Matthew Rothschild, not one damn radio show on KPFA, WBAI, KPFK, go down the list. (David Corn did cover it in real time for Mother Jones -- in order to insist it wasn't important. That everyone knew -- everyone, he insisted -- that Barack didn't mean any promise he made on the campaign trail.)
That's why she left. She's a known liar and now she's be the US Ambassador to the UN. Known liar appears to be seen as an asset in the Obama administration, hence the nomination of Victoria Nuland to be Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. Nuland, wife of neocon and Iraq War architect Robert Kagan, got exposed for altering talking points on Benghazi. The press has thus far noted that she eliminated terrorist threats from the warnings. They've failed to note that her e-mails published reveal that she was in communication with others -- including not just her superiors in the State Dept but also going over the heads of the various people that were crafting the talking points. Josh Rogin (Daily Beast) notes her nomination may encounter some bumps:
Sen. Richard Burr (R–North Carolina) told The Daily Beast in an interview Tuesday he doesn’t think the Nuland nomination should move forward at all until Republican concerns are fully addressed.
“I don’t think Victoria Nuland should even have a confirmation hearing until we have a full understanding of what happened in Benghazi as it relates to her participation in the talking points, who instructed her to do that, who were the folks she referenced to in her office that would be unhappy. I think all of that has to be vetted before any consideration is given to that nomination,” said Burr.
He even threatened to put a hold on her nomination if his questions aren’t answered to his satisfaction.
“I wouldn’t let her go without a full understanding of her participation,” Burr said.
Sen. John Barrasso (R–Wyoming) told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he also has several concerns about the Nuland nomination related to Benghazi. “Her role in this has been a concern and this will come up as part of her confirmation process,” he said.
Victoria Nuland's support from Republicans will most likely split along the lines of: traditional Republicans opposing her and neocons favoring her.
Returning to today's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
Senator Susan Collins: Mr. Attorney General, it troubles me that the President has virtually unreviewable, unfettered authority to order the killing of any American citizen overseas who is suspected of terrorist activity -- without any kind of charge or trial or judicial review. We've all read this morning of the controversy over the NSA having access to phone records of American citizens. It seems to me that an American currently receives a greater degree of due process from the judicial branch if the government is seeking to listen in on his phone conversations or get information about his phone conversations than if the President is seeking to take his life. That just doesn't make sense to me. Why hasn't the administration proposed to Congress a process that would require some degree of independent judicial review for a targeted lethal strike against a US person overseas -- something, either an expansion of the FISA court or a different kind of classified proceeding before a court to ensure that there's some kind of judicial review rather than vesting that authority to take a life -- an American life, I'm talking about, overseas -- only in the President.
Attorney General Eric Holder: Well -- it -- With all due respect, I-I would say that, uhm, it's incorrect to say that it's only in the, uhm, -- it's in the un- the President has unlimited authority in this regard -- with regard to the use of drones. And we're talking about being more transparent.
Oh, are you talking about that? Well good. Good to know you're talking about being transparent, discussing whether or not to be. The above exchange raises many points and we'll discuss them hopefully in tomorrow's snapshot but we'll use it tonight to note Richard Engel's NBC News report (link is text and video) on The Drone War:
Brandon Bryant says he was sitting in a chair at a Nevada Air Force base operating the camera when his team fired two missiles from their drone at three men walking down a road halfway around the world in Afghanistan. The missiles hit all three targets, and Bryant says he could see the aftermath on his computer screen – including thermal images of a growing puddle of hot blood.
"The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg," he recalled. "And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot." As the man died his body grew cold, said Bryant, and his thermal image changed until he became the same color as the ground.
"I can see every little pixel," said Bryant, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, "if I just close my eyes."
Bryant, now 27, served as a drone sensor operator from 2006 to 2011, at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and in Iraq, guiding unmanned drones over Iraq and Afghanistan. Though he didn't fire missiles himself he took part in missions that he was told led to the deaths of an estimated 1,626 individuals.
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