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What happened to “look forward, not backward”?

By Glenn Greenwald | April 16, 2010

The Obama Justice Department today announced that it has secured a ten-felony-count indictment against Thomas Drake, an official with the National Security Agency during the Bush years.  Drake’s indictment, of course, has nothing to do with the criminal surveillance undertaken by the NSA.  Rather, the DOJ alleges “that between approximately February 2006 and November 2007, a newspaper reporter published a series of articles about the NSA,” and it claims “Drake served as a source for many of those articles, including articles that contained classified information.”  In other words, he’s being subjected to what The New York Times’ Scott Shane calls a “highly unusual” prosecution for being a whistle-blower on the Bush era’s sprawling and secretive Surveillance State.  Although the indictment does not specify Drake’s leaks, it is highly likely (as Shane also suggests) that it is based on Drake’s bringing to the public’s attention major failures and cost over-runs with the NSA’s spying programs via leaks to The Baltimore Sun.*

Let’s spend just a moment thinking about what this means.  We’ve known since December, 2005, that Bush officials, including at the NSA, committed felonies by eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by law — crimes punishable by a five-year prison term and$10,000 fine for each offense.  All three federal judges to rule on the question have found those actions to be in violation of the law.  Yet there have been no criminal investigations, let alone indictments, for those crimes, and there won’t be any, due to Barack Obama’s dictate that we “Look Forward, Not Backward.”  Thus, the high-level political officials who committed crimes while running the NSA will be completely immunized for their serious crimes.

By stark contrast, an NSA official who brought to the public’s attention towering failures and waste at the NSA — revelations that led to exposés that, as Shane put it, were “honored with a top prize from the Society for Professional Journalists” — is now being prosecuted for crimes that could lead to a lengthy prison term.  Why doesn’t Obama’s dictate that we “Look Forward, Not Backward,” protect this NSA whistle-blower from prosecution at least as much as the high-level Bush officials who criminally spied on American citizens?  Isn’t the DOJ’s prosecution of Drake the classic case of “Looking Backward,” by digging into Bush-era crimes, controversies and disclosures?

Interestingly, the Bush DOJ long threatened to prosecute not only NSA whistle-blowers but also The New York Times for revealing its illegal spying.  It never did so, however, likely because, as Shane speculates, prosecutions for those leaks would cause light to be shined on what the NSA actually did when eavesdropping on Americans.  Yet here is the Obama DOJ prosecuting a whistleblower, a prosecution that is certain to intimidate and deter other whistle-blowers, thus choking off one of the very few avenues which Americans have left for learning about what this sprawling, obsessively secret Surveillance State does.  As Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Presss, told the NYT today:  “The whole point of the prosecution is to have a chilling effect on reporters and sources, and it will.”

For that reason, the DOJ’s aggressive prosecution of someone who exposed serious waste and mismanagement at the NSA could, as the NYT‘s Shane put it, “raise questions about whether the government is merely moving to protect itself from public scrutiny.”  Whatever else is true, decreeing that we must “Look Forward, not Backward” — and then bestowing that Imperial Generosity only to the crimes of the President and his aides but not to courageous whistle-blowers (or, for that matter, anyone else) — is anything but “Justice.”

* The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder summarizes The Baltimore Sun revelations which are almost certainly what Drake is accused of leaking:

In 2006 and 2007, Siobahn Gorman, a highly regarded intelligence reporter for the Baltimore Sun, wrote a series of articles about how the National Security Agency was (mis)managing a highly sensitive, very expensive collection program known as Trailblazer. Relying on interviews with current and former senior intelligence officials as well as internal documents, Gorman was able to show that the NSA’s “state-of-the art tool for sifting through an ocean of modern-day digital communications” was a boondoggle of sorts — and that the agency had removed several of the privacy safeguards that were put in place to protect domestic conversations and e-mails from being stored and monitored.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | 2 Comments

How Obama Must Deal With Israeli Avoidance Methods

By NADIA HIJAB | April 16, 2010

As Barack Obama seeks leadership of the nuclear nonproliferation cause this week, the long shadow cast by the Arab-Israeli conflict is close by. And a proliferation of peace plan advice is coming his way, inspired by reports that his administration may be planning to issue its own plan.

So far, the heaviest hitters’ advice is that from former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Congressman Stephen Solarz, in their jointly written editorial in The Washington Post. They call on Obama to make a dramatic gesture: To travel to Jerusalem with world leaders and declare a four-point plan. This would, they argue, make it possible for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to deal with their recalcitrant elements.

I hope the president doesn’t listen to them. On the face of it, the Brzezinski-Solarz plan-for-Obama’s-plan looks eminently reasonable and even-handed, with bitter pills dished out to “both sides.” But it puts the United States in a needlessly exposed position.

It is one thing for former government representatives to airily dismiss international law as regards Palestinian refugee rights in exchange for an Israeli agreement to share Jerusalem, which is not legally Israel’s to share. It is quite another for the highest American official to do so.

The United States should indeed have a clear idea of its bottom line because it simply cannot leave the matter to be negotiated by the two sides, given the vast imbalance of power. But it should not publicly announce a peace plan. What it should publicly announce is that it will not recognize any changes Israel has made beyond the Green Line, and that it will encourage its partners to do the same.

For starters, Obama could dust off that 1979 State Department ruling that Israeli settlements are “inconsistent with international law.” Never revoked, it peeps through the verbiage every now and then. Now it needs to be rearticulated forcefully.

Further, the Administration should begin public investigations of how much of its own aid — and that of U.S. non-profits — supports settlement activity, with a view to stemming that flow.

This will send the clearest message yet to the Israeli government — and to the settlers — to stop settlements and begin to pull back. Buying property there will become unattractive while supporting settlements would be a risky enterprise for law-abiding Americans.

Concurrently, the Obama administration should continue the steady if unglamorous task of pushing for a final and comprehensive agreement, albeit at a much, much faster pace and backed by clear costs for Israel for not ending its occupation. And it should call on Europe — Israel’s largest trading partner — to help make the costs of occupation clear. This will lessen the heat on the Administration and present Israel with a determined united front that says: Yes, to security for the citizens of Israel, No to occupation, injustice, and inequality.

There is a pressing reason to go public with such a stand. The Israeli government and settlers are rapidly changing the nature of the West Bank and East Jerusalem by expanding settlements, roads, and barriers, according to the people impacted by them. And it is becoming increasingly untenable for Palestinians to hang on to their lands and homes or to a decent living, in spite of the happy spin sometimes spun about the occupied territories. Only U.S. pressure can put a stop to this, and it needs to be done now: Post-November’s midterm elections may be too late.

Any attempt to cajole Israel into better behavior and to seek incremental improvements will be met with well-honed Israeli avoidance methods, as the Administration discovered over the past year. Here are just three examples of such methods.

First, they keep everyone on the run. For example, as Ha’aretz just revealed, a new Israeli military order will enable the deportation of thousands of West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians. Israel benefits even if the order is never implemented: Attention will undoubtedly shift to this new emergency, sucking up time and energy now spent on Jerusalem and settlements.

Second, they dig in their heels for as long as possible, and only offer minor concessions while carrying on business as usual — as with the unconscionable siege of Gaza.

And third, they use diversionary tactics — lately, it is the Iranian ‘nuclear threat’, which even defense minister Ehud Barak said is not an existential threat to Israel.

So, as Obama sifts through the peace plan advice coming his way, he would do well to keep his intentions tucked up his sleeve, go public on what America will not support, and in other ways put a brake on Israel’s fast creation of facts on the ground — while remorselessly pushing the process to a conclusion. This approach won’t be easy. But it is more likely to succeed.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | Comments Off on How Obama Must Deal With Israeli Avoidance Methods

Nuclear Insanities

By Julien Mercille | April 16, 2010

Writing in the 19th century, Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin said that the State is “the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity… this explains why kings and ministers, past and present, of all times and all countries — statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats and warriors — if judged from the standpoint of simply morality and human justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to hard labor or to the gallows.”

The nuclear arsenals built by the United States and Russia and their feeble attempts at dismantling them prove Bakunin right again. Washington and Moscow’s combined stockpiles contain over 10,000 nuclear warheads, each 5 to 25 times more powerful than the bomb that flattened Hiroshima. The just signed New START Treaty will probably result in total cuts of about 800 warheads: in other words, our magnanimous leaders have agreed to reduce the nuclear power they hold in their hands, and over our heads, from one 150,000 to 140,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima… Thank you so much, Mr Obama.

As if this wasn’t enough, the just released US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) tells us how those weapons might actually be used. The NPR’s key sentence is the following: “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

Supporters of the NPR call it an improvement over Bush’s because it states that the United States won’t respond to a chemical or biological attack with nuclear weapons, but rather, with a “devastating conventional military response”.

However, nuclear weapons still play an important role under Obama. First, they can be used against other states that do possess them (like China and Russia) if they attack the US with conventional, biological or chemical weapons, i.e., even if they don’t attack with nuclear weapons. Second, nukes could be used against “non-state actors” like Al Qaeda, as Robert Gates explained: “all options are on the table when it comes to… non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons”. This implies that the country in which those terrorists are located will face nuclear retaliation no matter its standing under the NPT.

Third, countries that Washington determines not to be in compliance with the NPT are subject to nuclear attack even if they don’t possess any nuclear weapons. The reference here is to Iran and North Korea, but since Washington makes that determination not based on facts but on whether a country is “with us or against us”, in practice it means that those the United States deems to be enemies are at risk.

Sadly, Obama is not ready to adopt a “no first use policy” and is content with a situation in which he could be the first to order a nuclear strike. He also leaves about 200 nuclear weapons in five European countries (Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey). In short, as the Federation of American Scientists’ Hans Kristensen concludes his review of the NPR, the document is a “disappointment” for those who were hoping for clear and significant reductions in the role and numbers of nuclear weapons.

The New START Treaty, on its part, calls for two kinds of reductions: nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.

Warheads are the part of a missile or bomb that contains the nuclear explosive charge, and currently, the US has about 2,200 strategic warheads and Russia 2,600. Under New START, both must reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads by 2017. Media reports have emphasized that the treaty will “slash nuclear stockpiles” by about 30% compared to the Moscow Treaty signed by Bush in 2002 that imposed a limit of 2,200 warheads.

The problem with this 30% figure is that it is wrong: the real warhead reductions will be less than that, in fact, probably about 10-15%. This is because of a special counting rule in the treaty by which all warheads associated with one bomber aircraft are counted as one. For example, if an American bomber carries 20 nuclear bombs, that counts as only one warhead, not 20. Therefore, it’s easy to see that the 1,550 limit will in fact “hide” many more actual warheads. How many exactly will depend on how the US and Russia allocate their cuts among submarines, land-based missiles and bombers, but estimates are that when they reach the limit of “1,550” in 2017, the US will in fact possess about 1,800 warheads and Russia slightly less than 2,200 — reductions of about 13% compared to current arsenals, not 30%.

In short, the treaty gives no incentive to get rid of nuclear bombs launched by bomber aircrafts and as such underestimates the real number of warheads deployed by both powers. Further, the treaty does not require that any warhead be destroyed: they are merely to be moved into storage, and could be brought back into operation eventually. And there is no requirement to remove the 200 US tactical nuclear weapons located in Europe.

Delivery vehicles are what brings the warheads to explode on the adversary’s territory in war and are of three kinds: bomber aircrafts, ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, land-based) and SLBMs (ballistic missiles launched by submarines). The treaty imposes a limit of 700 deployed delivery vehicles for each side. But here again, reductions are small: Russia currently has about 600, so it literally has nothing to do since it is already in compliance. The US has 798 and will have to reduce this by 12%, to 700.

The New START Treaty is only a slow move towards disarmament. A top nuclear expert based in the United States summed it all up when he told this author that “as most arms control treaties, New START just codifies the changes that were going to happen anyway.”

Nevertheless, it is important to appreciate the treaty’s positive aspects. For one, it establishes a structure of verification and confidence building between the United States and Russia that will allow for future deeper reductions, and it encourages the two countries’ leaders not to renege on planned cuts in their arsenals.

A question raised both by the NPR and New START is whether or not the Obama administration will build new nuclear weapons. During his election campaign, Obama had promised not to do so. Yet, his 2011 Budget request released last February calls for a 10% increase in nuclear weapons spending next year. Has he reneged on his promises?

The answer depends on how we define the term “new nuclear weapon”. When nuclear warheads age, instead of dismantling them, their life is often extended through various modifications ranging from rebuilding some or all the parts but keeping the original warhead design, to manufacturing new untested nuclear components of new design to replace existing ones. Which ones of those changes should be referred to as yielding a “new” warhead is debatable. The NPR states that “The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads” but that it will extend the lives of aging warheads using the “full range” of available methods. Some analysts have concluded that this in practice means new warheads, and would even permit production of Bush’s Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.

But there is another way in which Obama can be said to produce new nuclear weapons: he is building new delivery vehicles for warheads, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarine, and modernizing existing strategic ballistic missiles such as the land-based Minuteman III and submarine-based Trident II, in addition to plans to replace the nuclear-capable Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). Can’t those be considered new nuclear weapons since they are new vehicles to deliver warheads?

The bottom line is this: we can argue on what constitutes a new nuclear weapon and whether or not Obama is developing them. What is certain however, is that a president truly committed to nuclear disarmament would not even extend the life of aging nuclear warheads and would destroy them before they reach the end of their shelf life. Obama is clearly not that kind of president.

It is sometimes believed that nuclear weapons contribute to maintaining a balance between super-powers, making the international system more stable. In fact, there have been many nuclear near-accidents throughout the Cold War and since then, due to systems’ malfunctioning or human errors. Maintaining nuclear arsenals in place only increases the chance that a real accident will one day happen.

For instance, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the world came very close to global nuclear war, averted thanks to a Soviet submarine commander, Vasili Arkhipov, who countermanded an order to fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo at US warships off Cuba. US destroyers whose orders were to enforce a naval quarantine did not know that the Soviet submarines sent to protect their ships were carrying nuclear weapons and fired at the submarines to force them to the surface. The officers in Arkhipov’s submarine thought this meant World War III might have started, and the first captain said “We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all. We will not disgrace our navy”. But Arkhipov calmed him down and torpedoes were not launched: in the words of Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, “The lesson from this is that a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”

In 1983, at a time of tension in US-Soviet relations, a newly-inaugurated Soviet early-warning system detected incoming American nuclear missiles. However, Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet officer then in charge of monitoring the system and notifying his superiors if an attack was detected, chose not to let them know for he believed the new system was simply malfunctioning. He was right: there were no incoming missiles. The Russian system had indicated otherwise due to a unique alignment of its satellite’s viewing angle with the sun, which caused sunlight to be reflected by the clouds in a way that caused the warning system to indicate that several missiles had been launched against the Soviet Union. Had Petrov chosen to alert his superiors, they could have launched a massive retaliatory strike, changing the course of history.

In 1995, Norwegian and American scientists launched a large rocket from an island off the coast of Norway to study the northern lights. Russian radars detected the rocket but mistook it for a nuclear Trident missile launched from a US submarine. For a few moments, Russia was poised to launch a full-scale nuclear attack on the United States. Reportedly, Russian military doctrine allowed 10 minutes from the time of detection to decide on a course of action. The next day, then President Yeltsin stated that he had in fact activated, for the first time, his “nuclear football”, a device allowing him to communicate with his top military advisers to review the situation.

If the world is not to wait for decades before such risks become history, the New START Treaty must be implemented, and agreements on further cuts need to be reached — fast.


See also “New START Treaty Has New Counting”, 29 March 2010,

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | 1 Comment

Thousands rally to oust Georgian president

RT –  April 14, 2009

Some 15,000 protesters have rallied in front of the President’s residence and the parliament building in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Peaceful protests are set to continue during the upcoming days.
The opposition has rejected proposals to form a coalition government, saying their aim is to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili and not to win seats.

Tents have been set up and hundreds of people filled the small square in front of the building while thousands gathered on the streets adjacent to the residence.

After the completion of the rally, around 20 tents stood and will be occupied by dozens of protesters who are expected to stay – ‘until Saakashvili resigns’.

Levan Gachechiladze of the opposition promised that “every street in Tbilisi will become a protest spot,” and all of Georgia will be involved in the demonstrations in the coming days.

“We declare Saakashvili to be persona non grata in Georgia,” said opposition leader Zviad Dzidziguri. He said Georgians would picket Saakashvili everywhere he goes.

Among the many events at the rally, protesters found a moment to release a white rabbit wearing a red tie onto the grounds of the residence hinting, once again, at the now-famous episode when Saakashvili was seen chewing his tie.

The opposition Conservative Party has called the president ‘rabbit’, accusing him of cowardice, and called on protesters to throw vegetables at the residence.

Meanwhile, Tbilisi authorities have labeled as ‘illegal’ the decision by protesters to picket the president’s residence.

As the mayor’s office has not authorized mass rallies in places other than Rustaveli Prospekt, “a 24-hour picketing of the president’s residence can be deemed as a violation of the law,” according to a source in the mayor’s office as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Aletho News | 1 Comment

Israeli shelling kills Palestinian in Shujaiyah area

Palestine information center – 16/04/2010

GAZA, (PIC)– A Palestinian citizen was killed Friday morning during Israeli artillery and aerial attacks on the eastern part of Al-Shujaiyah neighborhood to the east of Gaza city.

Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the director of emergency unit in the health ministry told the Palestinian information center (PIC) soon after the shelling stopped that the medical crews were trying to evacuate the victim from the bombed area.

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombed the east of the neighborhood at the pretext of targeting resistance fighters who tried to plant an explosive device in the area.

Eyewitnesses told the PIC that the Israeli tanks stationed near the security fence east of Al-Shujaiya neighborhood and the surveillance towers surrounding the area opened intensive gunfire at the Palestinian homes before warplanes participated in the indiscriminate shelling.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | Comments Off on Israeli shelling kills Palestinian in Shujaiyah area

Necessity and Defiance

By Eva Bartlett | April 16, 2010

Mohammed Abu Jerrad, 12, works with his older brother and 4 others to gather their wheat.  Although it is still somewhat early for harvesting, the family hopes to harvest their 5 dunams quickly, preferring the early harvest over the possibility that Israeli soldiers will demolish or light their crops afire, as they have routinely done in the past.  [One such incident occured in Johr Ad Dik last May, when Israeli soldiers shot incendiary devices into ripe wheat and barley fields, setting nearly 3 km, 200 dunams, of crops and fruit trees afire.]

Abu Jerrad’s 5 dunams lie roughly just over 300 metres from the border, along which Israeli military tower and remote controlled machine gun towers loom.  From these towers, Israeli soldiers regularly shoot on farmers, workers gathering rubble and scrap metal for construction uses, and civilians on the land.

This plot of wheat is on rented land.

“We grow it to feed our sheep and goats,” Abu Jerrad says of his 150 animals.

“This morning when we came here to work the Israelis began shooting, so we left,” he says.

“Yes, Mohammed was with us,” he answers of the 12 year old helping him.

“Sometimes they even shoot at the sheep,” he adds. “Are they afraid of the sheep?” he jokes.

The 6 farmers can do two trips of 3 loaded donkey carts per day, if all goes well.  It will take many more days before their crops are harvested.

In a Strip under years of siege and an area where Israeli shooting, shelling and kidnapping is the norm, every incident of farming is an act of necessity and an act of defiance: Palestinian farmers will not be driven off their land.

*Sheep, most often seen scouring Gaza’s vacant lots and garbage dumps, find good grazing land for a change. Much of Gaza’s prime grazing land has been destroyed or is inaccessible due to the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone”.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | Comments Off on Necessity and Defiance