Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tell Me Why It Is We Vote For Democrats Again?

Journalist Jeremy Scahill commented on today's Democracy Now! that Obama's United Nations speech was "really naked sort of declaration of imperialism[...]" I couldn't help but notice that President was really just echoing his progressive predecessor Jimmy Carter. And not in a good way.
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world's exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world's oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.
This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened.
Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.-- President Jimmy Carter 1980 State of The Union Address

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.--President Barack Obama 2013 United Nations General Assembly Address. 
Someone needs to quickly explain to me again about the lesser of two evils or else I might come to hold the heretical belief that both parties's leadership is committed to an imperialist foreign policy for the United States. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bradley Manning is a Prisoner of Conscience

One of the most disgraceful elements of the corporate media’s campaign against whistleblower Bradley Manning has been the constant attempts at character assassination. The corporate media, when they cover Manning, constantly need to obsesses over gossipy details of Manning’s personal life. While that may be the grade of material tabloids thrive on it has nothing to do with Manning’s extraordinary act of conscience that will land him in prison for possibly the rest of his life.

    PBS’s Frontline* despicable episode on Bradley Manning is an excellent example of this. It gives extensive coverage of Manning’s personal life, which very well may have been slightly troubled (I imagine most of the readers of this have experienced troubled times during their life) and gives almost no consideration of possible political, moral, or ethical reasons for why Manning did what he did. The point of this media narrative is to diminish the rational behind Manning’s act. Manning leaked classified information, because he was a mentally unstable individual, a misfit, and a malcontent. Exposing war crimes at risk to one’s personal liberty is not a profound moral act exhibiting the best in human behavior, it is an anti-social act carried out by a disturbed individual looking for attention or an artificial sense of belonging.

    However, we know from Manning’s own words, both from the chat logs that led to his persecution and his statement in court what motivated him. He makes it very clear that his political consciousness developed through routinely watching the dehumanization of the Iraqi people and the senseless violence against them it allowed.

    Manning told Adrian Lamo, who assured Manning that as a “journalist and minister” Manning’s “confession or interview” would “enjoy a modicum of legal protection,” that “the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything” was

watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

During his opening statement at Manning’s court martial his defense attorney David Coombs  recalled a story that illustrates Manning’s deep moral convictions. On Christmas Eve a roadside bomb went off. It was meant to target a US convey, but missed. Instead it killed an Iraqi civilian. Manning’s fellow troops went onto celebrate the escape, but according to Coombs Manning “couldn’t celebrate...He couldn’t forget about the life that was lost on that day. He couldn’t forget about the family lost on that Christmas Eve.”

    Manning suffered from the problem that he believed Iraqi lives were equal to American ones and that the loss of Iraqi life, the torture of the Iraqi people were grave moral wrongs. Moral wrongs that he wanted to right. This is what motivated Manning to become a whistleblower. As his lawyer explained, “When he decided to release this information, he believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by it and he believed if the American public saw it they too would be troubled by it and maybe things might change”

    Or as Manning said in his own words at his trial

“I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I [Iraq War Diaries] and CIDNE-A [Afghanistan War Diaries] tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan”


He stated that he believed by his actions he was “removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare.” Daniel Ellsberg, possibly America’s most famous whistleblower, said at a Free Bradley Manning rally that asymmetric wars are wars that are
“the strong against the weak. What used to be called colonial wars. Wars asymmetric because one side has planes, helicopters, drones, napalm, artillery, tanks, and the other side has none of that--only suicide bombers if they’re fighting and IEDs--improvised explosive devices--so it’s asymmetric. And the result of that is the great slaughter of innocence which a war crime..”

    Mannning’s detractors have often pointed out that he not only leaked information detailing rampant violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but diplomatic cables--thus proving that Manning is not a whistleblower, but an irresponsible attention seeker who dumped a large amount of information without forethought. However, Manning explained these actions to Lamo very lucidly as well. He stated that he had access to “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings ... the non-PR-versions of world events and crises” and that he believed the  diplomatic cables demonstrated “how first-world countries exploited third-world countries.” While much brouhaha has made over the sanctity of diplomacy and the importance of secrecy in carrying it out when one sees that the cables reveal things such  as how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation it becomes very clear how the “first world” exploits the “third world.”

    What emerges here is a clear pattern. Manning’s actions and motivations are not that of a troubled individual, a misfit, or a malcontent, but someone who saw great crimes being committed, crimes that shocked his conscience. He believed that if the American public saw these crimes they too would be shocked, that they would make sure that they did not continue in their name.

    Sadly, this was not the case. The corporate media with its self-appointed role as gatekeepers of information has always censored and kept from the public at large the senseless violence implicit in US wars. It has also now marginalized Manning for failing to be what Prof. Cornel West has for years refereed to as “well adjusted to
injustice.”  It is because Manning refused to be “well adjusted to injustice,” that he saw slaughter and corruption and decided to follow his conscience to stop it that he is now imprisoned most likely for the rest of  his life.
  Bradley Manning is a prisoner of conscience. But we must not rest. We must not only continue to demand his freedom, to demand that those who commit war crimes be prosecuted, not those who blow the whistle on them, but we must also demand an end the senseless dehumanization of foreign people that allows our government to murder and exploit them.

*Certainly not the “corporate media” in a technical sense but this particular piece is most illustrative of a wider trend.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manning Verdict In

After just a few hours my previous blog post on the ramifications of the worst potential outcome of the Manning trial is already outdated. And I can't say I am sorry as it means Manning was found not guilty of the most serious charge against him--aiding the enemy. He was also not found guilty of charges under the Espionage Act for his release of the collateral muder video.

 The Collateral Murder Video

However, today was not an overwhelming victory for Manning. In addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to earlier this year he was convicted of 19 counts, including violations of the draconian Espionage Act which was created during World War I and used at that time largely to criminalize the anti-war movement. Together, these charges means Manning could face up to 154 years in prison. The graphic below breaks down the charges, Manning's pleas, and the verdict.


 As someone who has followed this story from when the Collateral Murder video was first posted online, through Manning's torture and pretrial punishment, and finally the trial itself I have very mixed emotions about today. I am glad the worst that could have happened did not happen. Still, I am very disgusted that any whistleblower should be persecuted under the color of law while war criminals go free. As I take time to decompress what happened, I will be writing more about my thoughts on the verdict, Manning, the war on whistleblowers, and the unsavory history  of the Espionage Act.

What’s At Stake With Bradley Manning’s Verdict

In a matter of hours the military will decide whether Bradley Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy, amongst other charges. The corporate media has done a remarkably poor job of covering Manning’s trial (those outlets that have covered it all) so what is at stake in tomorrow’s verdict has been relatively obscured.
 I am certainly willing to debate anybody about whether Manning is a whistleblower and as a result deserves protection under the law not persecution under it, but that is ultimately not the issue of today’s verdict. Manning has already pled guilty to leaking classified information and will be serving 20 years in a military prison.  Even the most ultra-orthodox authoritarian should be satisfied since the absolute importance of maintaining the secrecy of information deemed secret by the government even if said information details criminal activity has been upheld. End of story.
 Instead Manning is being charged with the lunatic charge of “aiding the enemy.” Aiding the enemy not only carries life imprisonment, a truly sickening thought in this case, but it has serious ramifications for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and whistleblowers everywhere.
Manning did not seek to give information to a hostile terrorist organization or state in hopes of furthering their military campaigns against the United States. He did not leak troop positions, military strategies, and his leak has in no way endangered US lives or military actions. Instead, it embarrassed the government, documented violence against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exposed war crimes.
The argument is that because he put this information in the public domain bin Laden or other evil doers can access it. Because bin Laden has a lab top he can access Wikileaks or the New York Times and read about how the most powerful country on Earth used its diplomats to try to bully one of the poorest countries in the world (Haiti) into not raising its minimum wage at the bequest of a private corporation. He could learn that the United States keeps a causality count in Iraq or that they have found new ways of making sure Iraqis they don’t like are being tortured in a way that allows the US not to actually get its own hands dirty. None of this information helps the hypothetical evil doer in anyway really other than maybe confirming their preconceived biases against the United States or giving them new ideological capital. But if that’s the case should all wrongdoing or unflattering information about the United States should be hidden in case it might make people do bad things? Doesn’t it also have the power to inspire the American people to stand up and take charge of the government which is carrying out these distasteful policies in their name? To use their democratic process to say “Enough is Enough?”
 Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler,testifying for the defense during a hearing to dismiss the aiding the enemy charge, stated that if Manning can be found guilty of aiding the enemy so can any of media outlet publishing the information online (like The New York Times).
  The question is where is the line become drawn? If I read a New York Times article that has potentially embarrassing information about the United States government’s foreign policy and discuss it with a friend at a Starbucks should I be concerned than if an unknown evil doer is listening that I may be aiding the enemy? Should I be afraid to write about the case against Manning on my blog or mentioning information that I learned from its coverage in the New York Times, NPR, PBS, CNN, etc? After all, there is no device on blogger to block evil doers from reading this blog.
 And why stop just at foreign policy or even classified information? Don’t people who point out the buffoonery of the Tea Party Republicans in Congress embarrass the American government and make it appear weak and inept? Is that aiding the enemy?
 Of course, this nightmare totalitarian situation, while a logical extension of the case against Manning, is never going to happen. The New York Times will not be shut down and its editorial board will not be imprisoned. No one will be dragged out of Starbucks unable to finish their latte for discussing today’s headlines on NPR. However, this extension of what it means to aid the enemy will be used selectively and its victims will be those who oppose the policies of endless warfare and corporate domination. And that’s ultimately what this trial is about. If it was merely about protecting classified information the government would have quit when Manning pled guilty to essentially leaking classified information. Instead, they have forged ahead with this insane charge in hopes of fashioning a new tool to be used to intimated whistleblowers, journalists, and any dissidents who oppose global empire and neoliberal capitalism.
 As a result, we should be viewing this case not through the prism of whether Manning leaked classified information, but through the prism of one of the most important freedom of speech and freedom of press cases in decades. It is important that everyone understand what is at stake.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Pepper Spray, Rubber Bullets, and IRS Questionares"

Earlier this week Truth Out published an original article of mine. It's entitled "Pepper Spray, Rubber Bullets, and IRS Questionnaire" and deals with a very peculiar trend that I've noted in the American corporate media. As I write in my piece,

Pepper spray, rubber bullets or an IRS questionnaire - which of these poses the greatest threat to your political speech? If the recent brouhaha over the IRS's singling out of Tea Party groups and the lack of a similar uproar over the systematic use of state violence against the Occupy movement is any indication, only the IRS questionnaire poses any threat to our democracy. It may seem rather bizarre, but in our current political and media climate, Karl Rove and his well-monied friends are potential victims of a nefarious political police and Occupiers are just a public nuisance.
The full piece can be read here. Additionally, Popular Resistance, a new website that seeks to provide daily news about the grassroots movements that challenge corporate hegemony, has reprinted it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Unhappy is The Land In Need of Heroes"

     In light of the recent spate of whistleblowers and their subsequent unprecedented persecution by the Obama administration CNN has taken to asking whether a given individual, be it Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Edward Snowden, is a “hero or traitor.” Ignoring the fact that Assange is an Australian and thus incapable of being a traitor to the US (or perhaps CNN is asking its viewers if Assange has committed treason against the Commonwealth of Australia by publishing leaked US diplomatic cables?) this dichotomy reflects a rather broader view taken in the discourse surrounding whilstleblowers. Whistlblowers must either be totally and completely unblemished individuals, and thus heroes, or completely and utterly villainous beyond redemption and thus rendering their acts of personal sacrifice completely beyond the reach of our collective admiration. 
This has led to an increasingly disturbing fetish on the part of the corporate media with the personal lives of whistleblowers. This fetish often times ends up overshadowing whatever the whistleblower exposed. Instead of talking about the killing of civilians by American Armed Forces in Iraq, the secret and possibly illegal bombing of Yemen, or just how large and secretive the surveillance apparatus of the United States has become we end up talking about the personalities and personal conduct of Assange, Manning, Snowden, etc. Because, of course, any personal defects, minor or major, on the part of the whistleblower instantly nullifies any criticism of the government conduct they exposed. This exploration of personal misconduct does range the gament from very serious to very laughable. Assange is wanted for questioning (but is not currently charged with) very serious sexual crimes. The New York Times which does not see fit to send a correspodent to cover the trial of Bradley Manning, did see fit to discuss whether Assange flushes the toilet after every use.
Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat, was not only the man who brought down Richard Nixon and caused a larger evaluation of the shadowy and criminal practices of the United States government at home and abroad. He also oversaw the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations and was convicted of violating the constitutional rights of American citizens. Felt was certainly not a very likable or noble person (I’ll leave it to CNN viewers to decide if he was a hero or traitor), but it certainly doesn’t undermine the significance or importance of his actions.
Personally, I believe the act of revealing the misconduct of a state at great risk to oneself to be an inherently heroic act. I also don’t think there is any requirement for the individual to be a saint for this to be true. That being said every time I see “Hero or Traitor” scrolling across the bottom of CNN I cannot help, but recall an exchange from Bertolt Bretch’s play The Life of Galileo. It is worth prefacing that regardless of the traits of the historical Galileo Brecht’s Galileo was a drunkard, glutton, lackluster father, and self-admitted coward. Whether he flushed the toilet after every use Bretch, much to the dismay of the fine journalist at America’s paper of record, neglected to mention. Near the end of the play, Galileo after having publicly renounced his findings that the Earth revolves around the sun is confronted by his assistance Andrea. Andrea, enraged by Galileo’s cowardice tells him “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” Galileo replies “No. Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Why I Am Marching For Bradley Manning

"I start from the supposition that the world is topsy turvy. That things are all wrong. That the wrong people are in jail, and the wrong people are out of jail. That the wrong people are in power, and the wrong people are out of power. I start with the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down." --Howard Zinn

Bradley Manning, the whistleblower responsible for the trove of Iraq, Afghan War and diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, is scheduled to stand trial beginning on June 3. This weekend at Ft. Meade there will be a protest before his trial calling for Manning’s release (For more info check out this site). I plan on attending and have outlined a few reasons why I personally am committed to freeing Bradley Manning

1. Bradley Manning has been tortured.

While Bradley Manning has pled guilty to some of the charges against him, he has not yet been tried and has been in custody since May 2010, meaning that he has been held for three years without a trial. The military judge ruled that part of his time in custody was an illegal form of pretrial punishment and has credited any future sentence Manning would receive with 112 days time served.
Even more disturbing than the fact that the treatment Manning endured was pretrial punishment is that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture found that his treatment during this time constituted “cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment.”  / Manning was kept in an extreme form of solitary confinement during which he was confined to a windowless 6 x 12 ft cell for 23 hour day. The conditions were worse than those experienced by American citizens on death row.  
2. The Charges Against Bradley Manning Are Not Only Baseless, but Dangerous
As mentioned earlier Manning has pleaded guilty to ten of the charges against him. Amongst the charges he has not pleaded guilty to include the count of “aiding and abetting the enemy.” This charge is very serious, as it carried the possibility of death sentence (although the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty Manning would still receive life without parole if convicted). It also undermines any notion of democracy as it essentially criminalizes whisteblowing, journalism, and even dissent. Manning is not accused of giving secrets to a hostile foreign state or terrorist organization. Instead, he is accused of leaking information to the whistleblowers website Wikileaks, which in turn turned over such information to newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Guardian.
At first glance, it is unclear who the government considers the  enemy to be. Is it Wikileaks? The New York Times? Or we the American people? However, the prosecutor's argument is that by placing information in the public domain through such sources as Wikileaks and the New York Times “the enemy,” which includes al-Qaeda, was able to access it.
If this was a work of fiction, perhaps something from the cannon of Franz Kafka, this charge would be comical. However, its implications are deeply disturbing and essentially criminalize all whistleblowing and even journalism since any information in the public domain, on the internet, or in newspapers can potentially be accessed by the “enemy.”
Furthermore, no US lives have been endangered by Manning’s action and he revealed no military intelligence or battle plans. It is unclear why al-Qaeda would feel aided by knowing that the American occupation forces in Iraq had a policy of ignoring complaints of torture or that American diplomats conspired with American corporations in actively pressuring the Haitian government against raising the minimum wage. This is unless the American government believes that any information exposing corruption or unflattering actions on their part aids groups engaged in violence against the American people and the American government. This too has deeply disturbing implications. If carried to its logical extreme once again it would de facto criminalize any whistle blowing or even any dissent as “aiding the enemy.”
Luckily, the military judge has rejected the prosecutor's theory of what it means to aid the enemy and instead ruled that the government must prove that Manning acted ““with reason to believe such info could be used to the injury of the US or to advantage of any foreign nation.”
This is certainly is an improvement over what the prosecution wanted, but it still is a threat to whistleblowers everywhere to try Manning for aiding the enemy, particularly when he has already pled guilty to leaking classified information. Furthermore, Manning is a whistleblower and should not be facing any criminal prosecutions. 

3. Manning’s Whistleblowing was a Contributing Factor for the Arab Spring and the US Withdrawal From Iraq .
It is hard to determine what role a single event ever plays in the course of human history. There is also no question that oppostion to corrupt US-backed dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as opposition to the occupation of Iraq long predated Manning’s actions. However, while we do not know what would have happened had Manning not leaked information documenting extreme corruption amongst US client states or the Arab world or the Collateral Murder video such releases helped to spur both the Arab Spring and the eventual US withdrawal from Iraq.


To this day not a single American official has been charged with any crime relating to the murderous, brutal, illegal, and quite frankly evil invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. None of the key architects of the post 9/11 policies of torture have ever faced any criminal sanctions. Obama, to this day, continues to assassinate people via drone strikes, including a 15 year-old American citizen accused of no crimes or links to terrorism (Robert Gibbs suggested his death was his own fault though he not having picked a better father). Decades of support for Israel’s brutal policies of apartheid, colonization, and occupation and for Latin American oligarchs, death squads, and coups have similarly warranted no formal legal sanctions. Yet, Manning stands accused of essentially revealing to the American people the corrupt acts of their government and he has punished without being tried, tortured, and now stands to potentially be imprisoned for life. Clearly the world is topsy turvy.