Tag: War on Terrorism

Obama the Decider

You know, if our politics were in any way sane, this piece, about how the Obama Administration decides on drone strikes, would be a big fucking deal. It came out two weeks ago and I’ve been tossing it around in my head while I waited for the liberal explosion of rage that would accompany an article indicating Mitt Romney was even planning something like it. I’m still waiting.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

You really really should read the whole thing. It’s not just about the drone strikes, although that is the heart of the article. It shows how Obama addresses almost every aspect of the War on Terror. It talks about how he left loopholes in his “bold” closing off of Bush policies, how they keep civilian casualties down in drone strikes*, and how they have navigated the legal waters. It is an absolute must-read if you are going to debate the War on Terror.

(*They, no kidding, conclude that any male of military age near a terrorist target is also a terrorist. By that standard, if Ted Kaczynski has decided to revisit his old haunts at Berkeley, any professors killed in a drone strike … well, we won’t go there. But I’m reminded of cops questioning and arresting people in the wee hours because they must be up to something if they’re out at that hour.)

On the one hand, I’m encouraged that the President knows what’s going on and is making decisions based on pragmatics, not on ideology. It’s nice to know that there is a process to this and the President ultimately is taking responsibility. On the other hand, this “pragmatic” approach has led us to a point where the President of the United State and a Noble Prize Winner now has an enemies list from which he designates people for assassination. It has expanded the executive power of the President even further into regions that, according to an excellent piece by Andrew Napolitano, are unconstitutional and dangerous.

It’s important to remember, in this discussion, that evil is not usually done by people rubbing their hands together and cackling insanely. It is done by people who think their actions are justified and for the best. And for all the Obamaites who read this and are impressed by the process … imagine that process in the hands of someone else. Imagine Sarah Palin making these decisions.

This is not about Obama. It’s never about Obama. It’s about the process. People like me focus on process — sometimes obsessively — because we believe that a good process will, in the long run, produce better results. When a President assumes this kind of power, you never know what will happen five, ten, twenty years down the road.

There’s one other thing that bothered me about the article and it took me a week to put my finger on it. It’s the overwhelmingly positive spin. We get sentences like this:

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.

Student of Augustine and Aquinas. Nicely done. This frankly reads like a piece written by Obama’s staff. There is little, if any, criticism. And much of the information comes from classified, unnamed sources — the kind of sources Obama would come down on like a ton of bricks if they were leaking something he didn’t want coming out. So in the end, this is not a hard-bitten piece of investigative journalism. It’s a puff piece aimed at re-election.

Look, taking out terrorists is a nasty business. They hide in crowds and among innocents. They claim the mantle of God and declare holy wars. Their biggest leaders don’t strap on bombs themselves but inspire younger dumber people to do so while they surround themselves with women and children. No on ever said this was going to be pretty.

But I’m not convinced it has to be quite this ugly.

Update: All you need to know about the Left wing response to this: Democratic Hub’s list of Obama accomplishments? Half of it consists of people he killed.

Detention Hall

I’ve been warning for some time that the regime of indefinite detention of terror suspects — started by Bush and continued by Obama — would not stay confined to foreign terrorist (it never really was, as Jose Padilla could tell you). Well, here we go:

Either Monday or Tuesday the Senate will vote on a bill that allows the US military to imprison civilians with no formal charges and hold them with no trial.

The ACLU reports even US citizens wouldn’t be immune as the legislation aims to declare national territory part of the “battlefield” in the War on Terror.

The bill gives the President unilateral power to detain anyone, mandates detention of civilians outside of military control and transfers control of detention to the Department of defense.

Mark Udall and Rand Paul are trying to strip this provision from the defense bill and Obama is threatening a veto. The ACLU has more here.

McCain and Levin — the authors of this provision — respond here. Almost all of their points address concerns that we’re not giving the President enough power to declare anyone to be a terror suspect and turn him over to DoD indefinitely. The closest they come to addressing civil liberties concerns is a claim that they are simply codifying what the President is already doing:

No provision in the legislation expands the authority under which detainees can be held in military custody. On the contrary, it codifies detention authority that has been adopted by two administrations and upheld in the courts. The bill states clearly that it does not expand or limit the president’s authorities under the original 2001 authorization of the use of force against al-Qaeda.

Even if this were true — and the ACLU thinks it isn’t — the detention power the Presidents have assumed since 9/11 already goes too far, is too arbitrary and has no review or oversight. To call it “Star Chamber justice” is to insult star chambers. It grants our president the power no president should ever have: the ability to declare someone an enemy and throw them into a prison for as a long as he wants. This includes American citizens caught on American soil.

Notice something else about the McCain-Levin op-ed. It includes a plethora of phrases that Terror Warriors use to try to frighten us into surrender:

the unprecedented kind of war that came to our shores on Sept. 11, 2001 … the threat posed by al-Qaeda … al-Qaeda terrorists who participate in planning or conducting attacks against us …

Whenever I see these asides in an article, post or speech, I know what follows is likely bullshit. They are the War on Terror’s answer to liberal asides like “corporate power” and “wealth disparity”. They are the grease for the multi-pronged dildo that is to follow.

Al-Qaeda is waning as a threat. This President has taken out their nominal leader and most of their upper echelons. And the response is … to increase our government’s anti-terror powers? What McCain and Levin are unwittingly revealing is what civil libertarians have been claiming all along: that this was never about terrorism; this was about increasing government’s power.

The Ever-Expanding Definition of “Extremism”

I am going to quote an article below that, when you read the second to last paragraph, you might believe was prompted by the recent killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, but as you can see from the date in the title, it was written a little over a year ago. Because of that, I thought it better to start a new post, rather than take the Awlaki thread too far afield, but it is tangentially related in the context of the issues raised, even if not because of any specific relation to Awlaki.

Not surprisingly to me, my concerns/objections to the Awlaki killing were greeted with mixed reviews. I understand the reactions that were/are supportive of the drone attack in Yemen, as it wasn’t all that long ago that I would’ve shared them. A lot has transpired in America since 9/11/01 that has caused me to reevaluate my relationship to my government though. Mostly having to do with an “official” hostility towards conservatism, the government has set about an effective propaganda program intended to create the illusion that words such as, “conservative, rightwing, racist, hate, violent, militia, Tea Party” etc. are synonymous in the minds of easily-led, unthinking drones. This is evidenced by the DHS report entitled, “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”  which began with the words, with my emphasis added:

The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing* terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.

They start out by saying there is no basis for this report, while using nothing but bureaucrat-arrived-at conjecture that racism is among “unique drivers” for rightwing terrorism. The asterisk doesn’t ameliorate the conjectural nature of the first paragraph either, as it refers the reader to the following note:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

So, according to this brainless conjecture, a person who believes that the 10th Amendment means what it says, and who supports its verbiage in a vocal, legal manner, may well be a rightwingernutjobracisthatemongerwannabeterrorist. It reads more like a Jeff Foxworthy rendition of “You Might Be A Rightwing Terrorist If….” than any kind of intelligence-gathering effort by a law-abiding law enforcement entity, as does the rest of the “report.”

The “report” cited above was troubling enough on its own, but many conservatives matched their outrage at being so vilified by their own government, with employing their investigative abilities in trying to figure out where the data underlying the “report” came from. Americans For Limited Government was among the most successful in uncovering the sources that DHS used for the “report,” and this is where it gets personal for me.

I have been active on many forums over the years. I have a wide variety of interests, from politics to music to motorcycles to survivalism to guns and knives. One look at my Bookmarks file would immediately verify this fact, as I frequent multiple forums related to all of those interests. On a forum devoted to the shooting sports, collecting knives or learning useful survival techniques, the issues of politics will always overlap to a degree, but it never occurred to me that participating at various sites where 95% or better of my participation had zero to do with politics, would put me on the radar of my government as a potential “extremist.” But it did. Twice. From two different sources who contributed “data” to the above-referenced DHS *conjecture* on rightwing extremism and “recruiting.” Americans For Limited Government gives most of the sources that DHS used, and late last year I was notified by “friends” from a couple of my regular internet haunts that quotes by me, quoted by two different far-left organizations, were included in the “data” that were part of the “basis” for the DHS “report.” Oh, did I forget to mention that the “basis” for tagging pro-gun, pro-life, returning vets and anti-illegal-immigration folk as *potential* terrorists was nothing more than a bunch of DHS hacks and the leftist organizations they enlisted to help them surf the web for extremism? That’s right. Popping off in disgust or anger or even just pining for the good ol’ days in opposition to Obama landed many an otherwise thoughtful, law-abiding Patriot in the underlying “data” of that DHS “report,” myself and several of my internet “friends” included.

So my bumper sticker that I had on my car when I went to Washington D.C. to protest the passage of ObamaCare was not nearly as tongue in cheek as I thought it was, as just one month later the DHS report was leaked to the public. The bumper sticker said simply, “Proud Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.” I went alone and carried a small, hand-made sign that said, “I Am The Mob.” I guess the sarcasm would’ve been lost on any DHS “protector” of the republic who might’ve seen that too.

So OK, with that anecdotal example in mind of how one goes about becoming an *official* potential rightwing terrorist without ever having engaged in a single illegal anti-government act or conspired to foment same, and keeping in mind my view of the Awlaki killing and legal questions it raises, here comes the point of this post, an article from a year or so ago that I ran across while surfing one of those websites from which a quote of mine was culled and considered “evidence” of a burgeoning rightwing terrorist threat. It hit home for me.

April 22, 2010
What About the Government?

The Slippery Definition of Extremism

by JAMES BOVARD

Americans are once again hearing of the perils of extremism. But the definition of this offense is slippier than a politician’s campaign promise. The definition of extremism has continually been amended to permit government policies that few sober people previously advocated.

Prior to 2000, anyone who asserted that the Census Bureau was deeply involved with the roundup of Japanese-Americans for internment camps in 1942 was considered an extremist. The Census Bureau spent 60 years denying its role but finally admitted its culpability ten years ago after academics uncovered undeniable proof. Regardless of the Census Bureau’s past abuses or perennial deceit, only extremists believe that their answers to this year’s census could ever be used against them.

Prior to September 2001, anyone who suggested that the U.S. government lead a crusade to “rid the world of evil”would have been labeled both an extremist and a loon. But when George W. Bush promised exactly that three days after 9/11, the media cheered and his approval ratings soared.

Prior to November 2001, anyone who suggested that the president had the power to suspend the right of habeas corpus and perpetually detain anyone he accused of serious wrongdoing would have been considered an extremist. But Bush’s executive decree on enemy combatants made this the law — or at least the policy — of the land.

Prior to 2002, anyone who suggested that the U.S. government create a Total Information Awareness database of personal information on tens of millions of Americans would have been considered an extremist. But federal spy agencies rushed forward with exactly such plans, and the feds have stockpiled far more data on citizens.

Prior to April 2004, anyone who asserted that the U.S. military was torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan was seen as an anti-American extremist. The leaking of the Abu Ghraib photos and official reports on abuses at Guantanamo and elsewhere proved that the extremists’ worst fear had become national policy. And when Congress effectively ratified Bush’s torture policies in the 2006 Military Commissions Act, “extremists”came to connote people who believed that American democracy had utterly disgraced itself.

Prior to the war on terror, anyone who advocated using tortured confessions in judicial proceedings would have been considered an extremist and perhaps also a medievalist. But the Justice Department and Pentagon effectively claimed a right to use confessions regardless of how they were acquired.

Prior to late 2005, anyone who asserted that the National Security Agency was routinely and massively illegally wiretapping Americans’ phone calls and email without a warrant was considered paranoid — as well as an extremist. Within weeks of the New York Times’ exposing the government’s warrantless surveillance apparatus, Republican congressmen stood and cheered during Bush’s State of the Union address when he boasted of his intrusions.

Prior to recent years, anyone who suggested that Uncle Sam should be able to take naked snapshots of all airline passengers would have been considered a lunatic, as well as an extremist. But the Transportation Security Agency, with its Whole Body X-ray systems, is doing exactly that in many airports around the nation. And the TSA’s promises that such photos will not be stored or abused are as credible as TSA’s earlier promises that no one would be delayed more than 10 minutes waiting in airport checkpoint lines.

Prior to the post-9/11 era, if someone suggested that the federal government should bloat its Terrorist Watch List with more than a million names, the person would have been considered a fool and an extremist. But this is exactly what the feds have done — and that is part of the reason why the watch lists have become almost useless as well as a peril to scores of thousands of innocent Americans.

Prior to this decade, only extremists believed that the president should be permitted to order the assassination of American citizens — with no attempt to arrest or try the suspected wrongdoer. Yet, President Obama recently officially made this the national policy.

Time and again, the U.S. government has adopted policies that only extremists advocated a few years earlier. And yet, no one is supposed to think that the government has become the biggest extremist of them all.

JAMES BOVARD serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation and is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.

So who here either is now, or has ever been, an extremist? Because no matter what, you either were at some time in the past, or are now, as the shifting and ever-expanding definition of the word purposely gets us all in its clutches just because it is shifting and ever-expanding. If you don’t understand my “slippery slope” arguments in light of this indisputable fact, well, I don’t know what to say. You might when you realize that your name, your family, maybe even your freedom, are all at risk due to nothing more than expressing opposition to the government whose duty and responsibility it is to protect your right to do so.

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