America's decade of reverse-nation-building at home

In Sunday's NYT, EL Doctorow (no relation) with a remarkable polemic on how the USA has spent the past 12 years dismantling any justification for "American Execptionalism" with a series of domestic and international foolishnesses, evils, and crimes.

Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.

Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.

Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.

Unexceptionalism: A Primer Read the rest

Brian Wood's DMZ: a critical look back

As the final volume of Brian Wood's brilliant anti-war graphic novel DMZ nears publication, Dominic Umile looks back on the series' 72 issue run of political allegory and all the ways that it used the device of fiction to make trenchant comic on the real world. DMZ is a story about the "State of Exception" that the American establishment declared after 9/11, a period when human rights, civil liberty, economic sanity, and the constitution all play second-fiddle to the all-consuming war on terror. Like the best allegories, it works first and best as a story in its own right, but it is also an important comment on the world we live in.

In DMZ #8, Matty Roth reviews a series of New York Times newspapers to reconstruct a timeline of the book’s war. Burchielli’s panels are nearly blacked-out. It’s as if Roth is squatting on a darkened stage: Nothing behind him is discernible outside of more yellowed newspapers, each slugged with copy that’s painfully close to our own real-life headlines. Brian Wood’s chief character is despondent and sounds like many of us do today in the era of Occupy Wall Street, hostilities in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s drone campaign, and rampant corruption plaguing state and federal government, all amid an ever-theatric run-up to another presidential election.

Even as DMZ had another 64 issues and more than five years to go, Roth’s thoughts are rendered with an undeniable degree of both prescience and finality: “I never paid attention to politics. Never seemed to be a point.

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Tony Blair channels Ronald Reagan, "doesn't remember" sending dissidents to Libya for torture

When the Qaddafi regime fell in Libya, the headquarters of the secret police were occupied by the rebel forces, who retrieved a large quantity of memos and documents detailing the cooperation between western governments and the Qaddafi regime, including the sale and maintenance of network surveillance equipment, and, notoriously, the use of Qaddafi's torturers on suspected terrorists who were secretly rendered to Libya by western intelligence agencies.

One set of documents show that the UK intelligence service worked to kidnap and render Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, for a horrific round of torture that was directly overseen by UK intelligence agents, with the knowledge of the CIA.

Now Tony Blair, who was prime minister of Britain at the time of the illegal kidnapping and torture, denies having any recollection of the programme, and insists that Libya was a fine partner in the war on terror.

A UK parliamentary committee is attempting to investigate the matter, and filed a freedom of information request with the US government for documents on UK participation in illegal rendition programmes. The CIA objected to the request, and a US judge denied it on the grounds that it had been made by a "foreign government entity" (the UK's all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition). Deputy committee chair Tony Lloyd called the ruling "odd" and "an abuse of the spirit of freedom of information." He noted that the judge had not rejected the proposal on the grounds of national security, but because "a parliamentary body that was part of the British state was 'not acceptable.'" Richard Norton-Taylor has more in the Guardian. Read the rest

US government orders UK carriers to extend no-fly list Brits travelling to non-US destinations, even on flights that don't pass through US airspace

The Independent's Simon Calder reports that the US Department of Homeland Security has ordered air carriers to hand over the personal information of British people travelling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, even for flights that don't fly over US airspace. What's more, they demand the right to order passengers to be yanked from flights right up to boarding time, without explanation. Essentially, they're extraterritorializing the No-Fly list, a list of thousands and thousands of people who are deemed -- for secret reasons -- to be so dangerous that they're not allowed to fly, but not so dangerous that they can be arrested.

Given that this is April 1, I'm slightly suspicious, as this is so blatantly evil that it's hard to believe that UK carriers would capitulate to it. On the other hand, everyone capitulates to the undemocratic absurdities of the American security-industrial apparatus.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: "The concern by the US for its own security is entirely understandable, but it seems to me it's a whole different issue that American wishes should determine the rights and choices of people travelling between two countries neither of which is the US."

...Any passenger who refuses to comply will be denied boarding. Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will "take boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate ... If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list." In other words, travellers cannot find out whether they will be accepted on board until they reach the airport...

Read the rest

Bruce Schneier hands former TSA boss his ass

As the Economist's debate between Bruce Schneier and former TSA boss Kip Hawley draws to a close, it's clear that Schneier has crushed Hawley. All of Hawley's best arguments sum up to "Someone somewhere did something bad, and if he'd tried it on us, we would have caught him." His closing clincher? They heard a bad guy was getting on a plane somewhere. The figured out which plane, stopped it from taking off and "resolved" the situation. Seeing as there were no recent reports of foiled terrorist plots, I'm guessing the "resolution" was "it turned out we made a mistake." But Hawley's takeaway is: "look at how fast our mistake was!" (Thanks, Dee!) Read the rest

Matt Ruff discusses his alternate history novel The Mirage

Rick Kleffel's always-great Agony Column podcast interviews Matt Ruff about his extraordinary "golden rule" alternate history novel The Mirage, in which the Arabia is the cradle of democracy, the USA is a collection of basket-case Christian theocracies, Germany has been partitioned in a two-state solution that makes Berlin the capital of Israel, and a war on terror is launched when Christian "crusader" terrorists crash jetliners into Baghdad's Twin Towers. The Mirage is very likely to be the best novel I read in 2012, and Ruff is very coherent and interesting in discussing his work.

Matt Ruff is anything but a tortured soul himself, and that makes the creation of a novel like 'The Mirage' all the more remarkable. He's easygoing but clearly very meticulous, very particular about his writing. He's got a lot to say about his new novel, and what is refreshing is that he can sy it and still have the entire novel left for the reader as a fresh new experience.

Generally, I don't arrive at an interview with specific questions in mind, but my producer at KUSP had asked me, essentially, just what the heck did Matt think he was doing? Ruff of course knew exactly what he was doing and why. But he head a lot of new stuff to tell me about the novel, in ways I thought really opened up the book for me.

The origins of the book are not based in the politics. In fact to the degree it can be, this is not a very political novel.

Read the rest

FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent

Icecube sez, "Earlier this month, a flier was released by the FBI saying that TOR users might be terrorists. It seems that there is another article that was recently published that says that if you see someone paying for a cup of coffee in cash, they too could be a terrorist. I wonder how much longer it'll be before drinking a cup of water at home could be considered suspicious as well."

Using cash for small purchases like a cup of coffee, gum and other items is a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal without leaving the kind of paper trail created using a debit or credit card for small purchases.

The most recent update asks coffee shop owners, baristas and other customer-service specialists to be on the lookout for the enemy who walks among us (who evidently has been reanimated from the graves of the 1950s Red Scare era of blacklisting and Communist-baiting or the KGB's constant witch hunt for capitalist sympathizers or people who resent being witch-hunted for their political beliefs).

Update: From the comments, kPkPkP nails it: "If you see anything, say anything"

How to avoid being tagged as a terrorist: Don't pay cash for coffee (Thanks, Icecube!)

(Image: Coffee Shop, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dailylifeofmojo's photostream) Read the rest

North Carolina town still protesting CIA rendition program, ten years later

Moms, priests, and peace-minded activists in a small North Carolina town haven't forgotten that a local aviation contractor was a key player in the CIA's “torture taxi” business. “I don’t want to live in a country that acts this way,” said Julia Elsee, 87, protesting at the Johnston County Airport. Read the rest

Matt Ruff's The Mirage: spectacular alternate history of Arabian manifest destiny

I am a huge fan of Matt Ruff's novels, so when friends in the know started to spontaneously tell me about how fantastic the advance manuscript they'd just read for his next novel, The Mirage, was, I just assumed, yeah, it'd be more great Matt Ruff.

But this isn't just more Matt Ruff. This is Matt Ruff with the awesome turned up to 11. To 12. To 100.

The Mirage is an alternate history novel set in a world where Arabia, the United Arab States, are the world's historic superpower. It's Arabia that intervenes in WWII (outraged over Nazi incursions into Muslim North Africa), and after the war, Arabia partitions Germany and establishes a Jewish homeland, Israel, with Berlin as its capital ("Israelis" enjoy a special "right of return" entitling them to visas to visit Jerusalem, of course).

Arabia prospers, though it is not without its internal strife. A notorious crime-boss called Saddam Hussein earns a fortune through narcotics (AKA whiskey) smuggling, abetted by a tabloid newspaper publisher called Tariq Aziz; a hawkish senator called Osama bin Laden commands a secretive private intelligence service called Al Qaeda; and a clownish governor called Moammar Qaddafi is a sort of Sarah Palin figure, running a private fiefdom. On the other hand, Qadaffi is very good to Internet startups, like the group-edited encyclopedia called "The Library of Alexandria" (excerpts from this are sprinkled through the book, written in perfect Wikipediese).

But Arabia is a good place to live. A great place. Until a fateful day: November 9, 2001. Read the rest

Report: North Carolina aviation company handled extraordinary rendition flights for CIA

From Physicians for Human Rights: "A report (PDF) prepared by professors and students at the University of North Carolina School of Law states that the CIA has been relying on Aero Contractors, Ltd., a North Carolina operated civil aviation company to transport detainees to international destinations for detention, interrogation and torture." Read the rest

Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo

The NYT gives space to Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested on secret evidence that he was planning to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. Despite the fact that the case was found without merit by Bosnia's highest court, he was kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay by US forces and held for seven years, subjected to torture and isolation from his family. A US court finally freed him. You remember when they started releasing Gitmo prisoners and there was all that hand-wringing on how these dangerous,dangerous people couldn't possibly be released because they were all jihadis? Yeah, that.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo.

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DOJ to America: we won't reveal the circumstances under which you can be assassinated by us

The DOJ has rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from the New York Times that asked the agency to reveal the legal basis for the newly unveiled American program of strategic drone-attack assassinations of American citizens off the field of battle.


* The government dropped a bomb on a U.S. citizen, * who, though a total dick and probably a criminal, may have been engaged only in propaganda, * which, though despicable, is generally protected by the First Amendment; * it did so without a trial or even an indictment (that we know of), * based at least in part on evidence it says it has but won't show anyone, * and on a legal argument it has apparently made but won't show anyone, * and the very existence of which it will not confirm or deny; * although don't worry, because the C.I.A. would never kill an American without having somebody do a memo first; * and this is the "most transparent administration ever"; * currently run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

For Christmas, Your Government Will Explain Why It's Legal to Kill You Read the rest

Memoir of a child kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay, tortured for six years, and released

When Mohammed el Gorani was a boy in Saudi Arabia, he found that he could not find good work or education because his family was from Chad. A friend from Pakistan offered to connect him with relatives there who would help him get educated. He took his work savings and flew to Pakistan, where he was kidnapped by local thugs and sold to the US Army as an Al Qaeda operative. He was tortured by the thugs, then tortured by the Army, then sent to Guantanamo for six years, where he was tortured further. He was eventually released and exonerated, but a confidential agreement between the government of Chad and the US State Department prohibits him from rejoining his family in Saudi Arabia. He suffers lasting health problems. Here is his story.

We landed at another airstrip. It was night. Americans shouted: ‘Terrorists, criminals, we’re going to kill you!’ Two soldiers took me by my arms and started running. My legs were dragging on the ground. They were laughing, telling me: ‘Fucking nigger!’ I didn’t know what that meant, I learned it later. They took off my mask and I saw many tents on the airstrip. They put me inside one. There was an Egyptian (I recognised his Arabic) wearing a US uniform. He started by asking me: ‘When was the last time you saw Osama bin Laden?’ ‘Who?’ He took me by my shirt collar and they beat me again. During all my time at Kandahar, I was beaten. Once it was like a movie – they came inside the tent with guns, shouting: WE CAUGHT THE TERRORISTS!

Read the rest

The Homeland Directive: taut technothriller for the paranoid era

Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston's stand-alone graphic novel The Homeland Directive is a tight, suspenseful technothriller (in Bruce Sterling's definition of the term: "a science fiction story with the president in it"). Mysterious government spooks are hunting a pair of CDC epidemiologists. One is murdered, the other, Dr Laura Regan, is framed for a variety of crimes and barely escapes in the company of rogue spooks who spirit her away to a safe house. The story that unfolds -- a plot to terrorize America into accepting an otherwise unthinkable authoritarian rule in the name of fighting terrorism -- is taut, filled with great spycraft and action sequences. A great, paranoid read for the modern age. Read the rest

ACLU: FBI practicing racial profiling on an "industrial scale"

The ACLU has sent a Read the rest

The FBI and the War On Us: Racial profiling on an "industrial scale"

Justin Elliott in Salon: "New documents obtained by the ACLU show that the FBI has for years been using Census data to “map” ethnic and religious groups suspected of being likely to commit certain types of crimes." Read the rest

Awlaki's 16-year-old son killed by US drone

Glenn Greenwald rounds up a number of reports related to the killing of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son by an unmanned aerial drone from the US:

Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen — far from any battlefield and with no due process — it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager’s life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people.

Initial US reports stated he was 21, but a birth certificate obtained by The Washington Post shows that he was born 16 years ago in Denver. According to the boy's grandfather, he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when they were killed.

(thanks, @ioerror) Read the rest

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