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Obama's Gift to Al-Qaida, Support for Tyranny, and FBI Monitoring of Dissent
Numerous individual events from this week alone signify important trends in US government policy
This week will likely entail light posting, but here are several items worthy of note:
(1) I can't recall any one news article that so effectively conveys both the gross immorality and the strategic stupidity of Obama's drone attacks as this one from Monday's Washington Post by Sudarsan Raghavan. It details how the US-supported Yemeni dictatorship lies to its public each time the US kills Yemeni civilians with a drone attack, and how these civilian-killing attacks are relentlessly (and predictably) driving Yemenis to support al-Qaida and devote themselves to anti-American militancy:
"Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known.
"'Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,' Mohammed said. 'If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.'
"Public outrage is also growing as calls for accountability, transparency and compensation go unanswered amid allegations by human rights activists and lawmakers that the government is trying to cover up the attack to protect its relationship with Washington. Even senior Yemeni officials said they fear that the backlash could undermine their authority.
"'If we are ignored and neglected, I would try to take my revenge. I would even hijack an army pickup, drive it back to my village and hold the soldiers in it hostages,' said Nasser Mabkhoot Mohammed al-Sabooly, the truck's driver, 45, who suffered burns and bruises. 'I would fight along al-Qaeda's side against whoever was behind this attack.'"
Similarly, the LA Times has a long article on drone attacks in Yemen and quotes Ahmed al Zurqua, an expert on Islamic militants, explaining the obvious: "The drones have not killed the real Al Qaeda leaders, but they have increased the hatred toward America and are causing young men to join Al Qaeda to retaliate."
History will surely record that one of the most moronic collective questions ever posed is "Why do they hate us?" - where the "they" are: "those we continuously bomb and kill and whose dictators we prop up." Noting the two US drone attacks on December 24 in his country, the 23-year-old Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana asked: "Two US drone strikes in Yemen today. Should we consider them a Christmas gift?!" That's exactly what al-Qaida undoubtedly considers them to be.
(2) Speaking of the "why-do-they-hate-us?" question, the Bahraini democracy activist Zainab al-Khawaja has a powerful Op-Ed in the New York Times detailing the extreme brutality and repression of the regime against its own citizens, and explaining the self-destructive though steadfast support for that regime by the US and its close Saudi allies:
"But despite all these sacrifices, the struggle for freedom and democracy in Bahrain seems hopeless because Bahrain's rulers have powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States.
"For Bahrainis, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the Saudis and the Americans. Both are supporting the Khalifa regime to preserve their own interests, even if the cost is the lives and rights of the people of Bahrain.
"The United States speaks about supporting human rights and democracy, but while the Saudis send troops to aid the Khalifa government, America is sending arms. The United States is doing itself a huge disservice by displaying such an obvious double standard toward human rights violations in the Middle East. Washington condemns the violence of the Syrian government but turns a blind eye to blatant human rights abuses committed by its ally Bahrain.
"This double standard is costing America its credibility across the region; and the message being understood is that if you are an ally of America, then you can get away with abusing human rights."
With rare exceptions, the only people delusional and naive enough to believe the US is serious about its "commitment-to-human-rights" rhetoric - as opposed to exploiting human rights concerns as a tool to undermine regimes it dislikes - are found in the west. In the regions where the US enthusiastically supports even the most repressive regimes provided those regimes show fealty to US dictates, the stench of this hypocrisy, of this radical dishonesty, is so potent that it cannot be evaded.
But it is an extraordinary testament to the power of propaganda that one constantly finds westerners claiming with a straight face that the same country that hugs and props up the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis and so many others is committed to undermining tyranny and spreading freedom and democracy. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in 2009: "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family."
(3) The long-time Berlin correspondent for Al Jazeera, Aktham Suliman, recently resigned, and he explains in this rather amazing interview that he did so because the regime in Qatar, which owns the network, has been increasingly shaping and dictating the news network's coverage of events to advance the regime's interests. In particular, he cites Al Jazeera's coverage of the conflicts in Libya and Syria which, he says, has been systematically distorted in order to justify the wars which the Qataris seek against the dictators in those countries which they dislike:
"Of course Muammar Gadhafi was a dictator, and of course he'd ruled for far too long. Of course there was a desire among the Libyans to get rid of him. All that is clear. But it's also clear that killing a dictator, as happened with Gadhafi, is absolutely unacceptable on human rights grounds, revolution or no. And that's not emphasized. That is: We stressed the necessity of a revolution in Libya and the humanity of the revolutionaries, but said nothing about the murder of a dictator.
"What should also give us pause for thought is that it wasn't just Gadhafi who was killed. Many others were killed after him - including, incidentally, the man who shot Gadhafi. He was killed by another group of revolutionaries. That's the actual environment in Libya. And that's exactly what you don't see on today's Al Jazeera. That's not professional.
"In Syria, too, society is divided. You have the pro-Assad people, and those who are against him. However, when you make one side out to be mass murderers and turn the others into saints you're fueling the conflict, not presenting the situation in an appropriate and balanced way. There are murders, injustices and good things on both sides. But you don't see that on Al Jazeera. My problem is and was: When I see Al Jazeera's Syrian coverage, I don't really understand what's going on there. And that's the first thing I expect from journalism."
As was true of Saddam, there is no question that Gadhafi and Assad have committed atrocities. But just as was true in Iraq, that does not justify the grossly simplistic propaganda that distorts rather than clarifies what the realities in those countries are.
(4) Documents just obtained from the FBI by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reveal, as the New York Times put it, that "the [FBI] used counterterrorism agents to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, including its communications and planning" and in general show "how deeply involved federal law-enforcement authorities were in monitoring the activities of the movement." The heavily redacted documents, which can be read here, reveal numerous instances of the FBI collaborating with local police forces and private corporations to monitor and anticipate the acts of the protest movement.
As obviously disturbing as it is, none of this should be surprising. Virtually every seized power justified over the last decade in the name of "terrorism" has been applied to a wide range of domestic dissent. The most significant civil liberties trend of the last decade, in my view, is the importation of War on Terror tactics onto US soil, applied to US citizens - from the sprawling Surveillance State and powers of indefinite detention to the para-militarization of domestic police forces and the rapidly emerging fleet of drones now being deployed in countless ways. As I've argued previously, the true purpose of this endless expansion of state power in the name of "terrorism" is control over anticipated domestic protest and unrest.
It should be anything but surprising that the FBI - drowning in counter-terrorism money, power and other resources - will apply the term "terrorism" to any group it dislikes and wants to control and suppress (thus ushering in all of the powers institutionalized against "terrorists"). Those who supported (or acquiesced to) this expansion of unaccountable government power because they assumed it would only be used against Those Muslims not only embraced a morally warped premise (I care about injustices only if they directly affect me), but also a factually false one, since abuses of power always - always - expand beyond their original application.
(5) At the excellent online journal Jadaliyya, Max Ajl has a very interesting essay that presents a much different view on the debate over the Chuck Hagel nomination specifically, and on US policy toward Iran and Israel more broadly. I don't necessarily endorse his argument, but it's well-argued, provocative and highly worth reading.
(6) After film critics almost unanimously gushed over Zero Dark Thirty and showered it with every accolade they could get their hands on, the list of writers, commentators, officials and others who have denounced the film for its favorable (and false) depiction of torture has grown quite rapidly. Here is the most updated list of just some of those critics; if you read just one of these essays, I'd recommend this by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney.
In an LA Times Op-Ed strongly condemning the film, Terry McDermott reports that, at one point, FBI agents were chasing around geese in Central Park because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, under torture, had told his CIA interrogators that al-Qaida "had explosives stuffed up their ass". Had Zero Dark Thirty included a depiction of that scene, it at least would have been mildly more entertaining, offering some redeeming value for this film. As is, there is basically none.