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“Crowing” And The Torture Apologists

The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jose Rodriguez Jr. was the leader of counterterrorism for the C.I.A. from 2002-2005 when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders were captured. He told Time magazine that the recent events show that President Obama should not have banned so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. (Mr. Rodriguez, you may remember, ordered the destruction of interrogation videos.)

John Yoo, the former Bush Justice Department lawyer who twisted the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions into an unrecognizable mess to excuse torture, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the killing of Bin Laden proved that waterboarding and other abuses were proper. Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, said at first that no coerced evidence played a role in tracking down Bin Laden, but by Tuesday he was reciting the talking points about the virtues of prisoner abuse.

There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.

That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify President Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago?

There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.

No matter what Mr. Yoo and friends may claim, the real lesson of the Bin Laden operation is that it demonstrated what can be done with focused intelligence work and persistence.

The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.

By: Editorial Board, The New York Times, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign Policy, GITMO, GOP, Homeland Security, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bin Laden Was Not A “Muslim Leader”

The Washington Post this morning ponders a portion of President Obama’s Sunday night speech that likely made many Americans take pause — the portion in which the president explicitly said “bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” This key phrase directly counters an integral tenet of the “war on terror” narrative: the vision of the current era as an epic conflict between the United States and a global Muslim population supposedly guided by the al-Qaida mastermind.

However, despite the ubiquity of this kind of Islamophobic “us-versus-them” framing, and despite the Post’s perseverating, Obama was exactly right, and not just because, as the president correctly noted, bin Laden was “a mass murderer of Muslims” — but because bin Laden doesn’t meet a basic definition of “Muslim leader” in terms of mass support and following in the Muslim world.

That’s right, as the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports, “In the months leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, a survey of Muslim publics around the world found little support for the al-Qaida leader [and] al-Qaida also received largely negative ratings among Muslim publics.”

In fact, a comparison of these results with Pew’s larger study from 2010 shows that in terms of favorability ratings, Obama outpolled bin Laden and the United States outpolled al-Qaida in almost every Muslim nation surveyed.

Of course, just because bin Laden and al-Qaida are wildly unpopular in the Muslim world doesn’t mean the United States is winning over those populations in the long haul.

As America occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs Libya and Yemen, conducts drone strikes in Pakistan and props up repressive dictators in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pew’s data shows the Muslim world still conflicted as to whether the United States is an ally or an aggressor. So, a recent Zogby poll finding that “a majority of the public across the [Middle East] — including a sizable minority in Saudi Arabia — believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a positive development in the Middle East.” That’s not because Muslims necessarily support the Iranian regime at large, but because, as one of the pollsters noted, many Muslims see nuclear arms as the only deterrent to U.S. aggression in the region.

The bottom line, then, is clear: While insinuations that the Muslim world monolithically loved bin Laden and continues to love al-Qaida are absurd, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that our current occupations and bombing raids aren’t winning the “war on terror” — that is, as long as you consider the “war on terror” as much a long-term battle for hearts and minds as a short-term exercise of military maneuvers.

By: David Sirota, Salon, May4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Egypt, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Obama “American” Enough For The Far Right Now?

Now that President Obama and his national security team have proven their mettle in pursuing and finally eliminating the supreme Islamic terrorist, a question arises: Will the not-insignificant chunk of voters who have rejected the president’s basic legitimacy — expressing skepticism about the circumstances of his birth in the face of conclusive proof that he was born here — be more likely to view Obama as “American” now?

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” over the weekend, Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson suggested that the birther movement may not be about race. She compared the buzz around the issue to those conspiracy-minded individuals who tied Bill Clinton to the “murder” of Vince Foster in 1993 — an observation that other have made as well. It just seems too easy to describe the ruling passion of those who label President Obama a secret Muslim (or, to recall Mike Huckabee’s infamous slur, a Kenyan revolutionary), as strictly racist. History, though, yields enough clues to suggest that journalists who look for alternative explanations are wrong.

Birtherism has a distinctive history. If you go to the website, you will find a history lesson along with their creed: “The Birthers: Dedicated to the Rebirth of the Constitutional Republic.” Much like the Tea Partiers, birthers have linked themselves to America’s founding fathers. Their fealty to the Constitution is centered on a single phrase in Article II that requires the president to be a “natural born citizen.”

What does the all-important phrase mean? Birthers interpreting Article II say that “the president must above all else be loyal to this nation.” It is a “self-evident” truth that such loyalty is drawn from nature–and they are quite explicit about what that means: “kinship, our most primitive and natural form of citizenship, from blood”; a nativity which comes “from the soil,” or “place of birth.” It is an ideal of kinship that energizes the birther movement—the transmission of civic identity by descent, through bloodlines, from parents to children.

The website also makes it clear that, for birthers, a natural-born president must have natural-born parents, and that civic identity only exists in a homogeneous population. “If the parents were split in their loyalties,” the website declares, “the child would be split in loyalty to America.” Mixed heritage is thus a liability, for it undermines proper patriotic breeding. Indeed, for the birthers, the breeding question is inextricably linked to a person’s genetic vulnerability.

President Obama was raised by his white, midwestern mother, and her parents. But his actual upbringing matters not a bit to birthers. For most of them, Obama is his father’s son, because kinship is measured though the traditional order of the father’s line. To make their claims stick, birthers have had to erase President Obama’s mother from the fanciful narrative of his African birth. Just as Glenn Beck indelicately declared that Obama had an instinctive hatred of white people, birthers divorced him from his mother’s family. The father he hardly knew remains the dominant force in his life; the president cannot be an American because he is loyal to his patriarchal line, that is, to his father’s race.

Not surprisingly, the birthers have the Constitution all wrong. The delegates who attended the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 were not much concerned with the president’s nativity. In establishing the chief executive’s qualifications, the initial proposal focused on age and duration of residency, and said nothing about his being a “natural born citizen.” The founders made no mention of any requirement that the parents of the president be natural born citizens either. Nor, for that matter, did they require the president to be a Christian. Abigail Adams, the wife of the second president, referred to her daughter-in-law, Louisa Catherine, who married John Quincy Adams, as a “half blood”; by this cultural (though not legalistic) designation she meant that one parent was American, the other English. In sum, the founders could easily have specified that the president have “natural born” parents. But they did not. The reason is obvious. Any talk about kinship and bloodlines bore the taint of aristocracy and royalty, a caste system the founders had rejected during the Revolution.

The convention delegates did, however, vigorously debate the requirements for senators and representatives. Some delegates expressed fears of “foreign attachments”; future vice president Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts indulged in some wild conspiracy mongering when he proposed longer residency requirements for House members to prevent the possibility that foreign governments (he meant the British) might send spies to infiltrate the federal government. He hoped that, in the future, only the native-born would be eligible to serve in the House.

Yet even Gerry could never have imagined the 21st-century birther conspiracy, the most extreme versions of which evoked the “Manchurian Candidate,” a plot so cleverly devised that the institution of the presidency could be subverted by placing a secret Muslim in the White House. In fact, the deepest fear the founders expressed had nothing to do with the president’s qualifications. Instead, it was the military powers with which the Constitution endows him. They worried that as commander-in-chief, he might be bought off by a foreign government and drawn into unnecessary wars at the behest of an ally to whom he felt personally indebted. To counteract their fear, the framers insisted that Congress alone be authorized to declare war.

Despite all their efforts, the birther movement cannot look to the founders for its inspiration. Their ideas grow out of a traditional obsession with the legal status of free blacks and mulattos in the decades before the Civil War. When a firestorm of debate flared over Missouri’s admission to the Union in 1819-1820, northern and southern congressmen tangled and principles yielded to racial prejudices. Missouri’s proposed constitution barred blacks from entering the state who were not the legal property of white men. While northerners argued that free blacks were not “aliens or slaves,” but “free citizens,” opposing politicians and jurists twisted the law to justify the argument that native born free black Americans could be denied the same constitutional protections that native-born white Americans claimed. In the years before the South finally seceded, judges issued decisions in which free blacks were described as “our wards” or “strangers to our Constitutions.” Mississippi’s highest court categorized free U.S. residents of African descent as “alien strangers.”

The question of how to define a natural-born citizen reached the Supreme Court in the notorious Dred Scott case of 1857. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (appointed by unapologetic slave-owner Andrew Jackson) argued that free blacks were never contemplated by the founders as part of the national community. Insisting that African Americans were not recognized as citizens in any state, before or after the Revolution, he dismissed all contrary evidence. To Taney, as with the birthers, facts were irrelevant.

Taney’s goal was to restrict citizenship to one of two processes: naturalization or biological inheritance. Blacks had been explicitly excluded from citizenship in the federal Naturalization Act of 1790, he noted. Even more telling, according to constitutional historian James Kettner, Taney wished to ignore “volumes of judicial precedents emphasizing place of birth without regard to ancestry.” Taney thus transformed “natural born citizen” into a racial category.

The birthers have the same idea in mind. Ultimately, they don’t really care what it says on President Obama’s birth certificate, short or long form. For these modern-day Taneyites, Obama’s citizenship is questionable because his civic identity is tainted by descent — he is, unmistakably, the son of an African man. The birthers, like Taney, believe that a natural-born citizen must be possess the right pedigree: he must descend from the same race as the founders, or be born on U.S. soil in the image of the founders. For Taney, the national community was a closed community. Even if they haven’t gone so far as to say so explicitly, for today’s birthers the presidency is an exclusive club.

Their obsession with placing Obama in Africa at the moment of his birth was a means to diminish the influence of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Republican hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee deliberately circulated the strange story that Obama’s politics can be traced, genetically, to the anti-colonial revolutionary rhetoric that once existed in his father’s homeland.

But what about the equally ridiculous claim that Obama’s paternal grandmother testified to her grandson’s birth in Kenya? Why did that idea capture birthers’ imaginations? Here, historical precedent may again shed light. In 1907, a law was passed in the United States stating that any natural-born female who married an alien automatically lost her citizenship. She was expatriated without her consent. Compare that to the law that prevailed from 1855 to 1922, by which any alien woman who married an American citizen immediately became a citizen, bypassing the normal naturalization process.

It was a longstanding tradition in American history that a wife’s civil and political rights came through her husband. Under the law, marriage made husband and wife “one person.” The argument that citizens cannot have two allegiances was applied to wives: her first allegiance was to her husband. She could not vote or exercise political rights, because she had no independent civic identity. Her husband acted as her political proxy, voting in her stead. Recall that women did to receive the right to vote until 1920.

The birthers, too, in recurring to antiquated racist assumptions, assume that President Obama cannot have dual allegiances. Either he is all-American or else his true loyalty resides elsewhere. Birthers have made Obama’s mother a cipher all over again. Her political identity was subsumed into her African husband’s. In effect, he “voted” for her. Because she is deceased, it has been easy for birthers (not to mention the hubristic Donald Trump) to erase the president’s mother from the picture. She was never able to testify. And her World War II hero father presumably had no need to; his service to his country should have spoken volumes.

At the time of the 1907 law, women who married aliens were considered unpatriotic. Until 1967, interracial marriages could still be considered illegal in most southern states. What matters to birthers, subconsciously or otherwise, is the taint of foreign blood, the taint of African blood, Obama, Sr.’s alien status. Stanley Ann Dunham had made an unnatural and unpatriotic choice of a husband.

The racism of the birther movement, then, is not just a wacko conspiracy. Adherents of this new old cause have a large following because of our country’s troubled history. Of course, Americans are by no means the only culture to rationalize discrimination on racial and gender grounds. It happens on every continent, constantly. In the modern age, anxiety over what makes a “real” American is most often tied to wartime, or “Cold War time”; but in this case, it was the “national emergency” of a person becoming president whose physiognomy tapped into vestigial fears.

Finally, there is the newly hatched probe (thank you, once again, Donald) into the president’s educational pedigree. For hardcore birthers, President Obama cannot possibly deserve his office. There must be a catch somewhere. How, akin to “uppity” free blacks past, did he move into elite circles from which black aspirants were traditionally barred? The world has been turned upside down for birthers.

The term “birther” has always sounded idiotic. If they want a more legitimate-sounding name, they should call themselves “descenters.” For what they really seem to be defending is that every child inherits his nationality from his father, just as he inherits his surname: Barack Hussein Obama II instead of Barry Dunham.

In their campaign to unearth the secret life of President Obama, birthers make descent more important than consent — the republican principle that Americans choose their officeholders by popular election. For them, nature trumps consent. According to their logic, natural-born presidents have natural-born American parents. And by nature, they mean the traits passed down from one’s ancestors to his rightful heirs. We’ve seen this logical construction before: it worked for something known as the “divine right of kings.” Loyalty to the sovereign? Didn’t we, at some point, declare national independence in order to move beyond that sort of thinking?

So maybe those who suggest that it’s not just racism that motivates the birthers really are on to something. Maybe it’s something that really is un-American..

By: Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Salon War Room, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, Democracy, GOP, Politics, President Obama, Racism, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Decimation Of Democracy: Protests In Benton Harbor Follow Martial Law Enforcement

The stripping of all power of the local government in Benton Harbor, MI has brought the national spotlight to the tiny town on the shores of Lake Michigan. The first city to be declared in a “financial emergency” by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, CMDreported that Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Joseph Harris was assigned to the city back in 2010 by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm. But it wasn’t until March of this year that Harris essentially disbanded the local government and boards.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. responded to this takeover while on a tour of the state, calling for a rainbow coalition to organize against the EFM bill and others that Snyder and the Republican-led Senate has passed. At a protest in Benton Harbor, Jackson said that he, along with Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Benton Harbor Mayor Wilce Cook will file a lawsuit to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Governor “Decimates Democracy”

WNDU in South Bend reported on Jackson’s speech to members of Benton Harbor: “It simply decimates democracy and gives dictatory powers in someone who does not live here but has the power to sit down officials and cancel contracts, but have power over assets selling off the properties of the city and its assets, that’s un-American” says Jackson.

Jackson also wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times calling for an “uprising” in Benton Harbor and around Michigan. The town’s poor, mostly African-American population has been highlighted by Jackson and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

“Benton Harbor, Mich., is a town of nearly 11,000 people, about 90 percent of whom are African American. It is a catalogue of the misery of the industrial Midwest,” said Jackson in the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was the headquarters and manufacturing center of Whirlpool, but the last Whirlpool plant closed years ago. Now Benton Harbor has a per capita income of about $10,000 a year. And it is plagued by the ills that accompany poverty in today’s America: high unemployment, broke government, failing schools, crime, drugs and despair.”

Community activist Rev. Edward Pinkney  in his blog, Blanco, notes: “there is nothing to stop the state from abolishing democratic governance in any of Michigan’s cities, if an emergency can be declared or created. On April 15, the mostly black city of Benton Harbor, the poorest jurisdiction in the state, was placed under total financial martial law, its citizens suddenly made more powerless than blacks in Selma, Alabama, prior to the civil rights movement.”

A Developer’s Dream – A Corporate Coup?

The take over of Benton Harbor has been linked to a commercial development plan, backed by Whirlpool and the very legislator who introduced the EFM bill, Rep. Al Pscholka. Pscholka is a former aide to the grandson of Whirlpool’s founder, Rep. Fred Upton, and former vice president of one of the companies involved with the Harbor Shores development and also on the Board of Directors of a non-profit involved with the development. The plan is to build a high-end lakeshore housing development and golf course, taking over the city’s sprawling public park and beach, Jean Klock Park, gifted to the city in 1917.

The latest protest on April 27th saw hundreds of people march through the streets of Benton Harbor with signs and chants decrying the takeover.

Business Insider, however, wrote that “Benton Harbor’s finances are indeed a mess – the result of mismanagement, poor accounting and too much spending.”

But Rev. Jackson doesn’t see it that way. He holds fast to the belief that the problems in Benton Harbor, as in other previously-industrialized cities in the Rust Belt, are a symptom of the resulting poverty that followed the end to factory jobs in these areas. The solution, he says, is to invest in the very people that have all but been forgotten by the Governor Snyder’s office.

“They’ve shut down the jobs, and taken over the schools. Now they want to shut down the democracy and turn the public parks into a rich man’s playground,” said Jackson. “But in Benton Harbor, as in Selma and Montgomery, they forget even the poorest people have a sense of dignity…. In Benton Harbor, it is time for the good people to make themselves heard.”

By: Jennifer Page, Center for Media and Democracy, May 3, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy, Government, Governors, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terrorist Or Martyr?: Not Releasing bin Laden Death Photo Is Smart

It was inevitable, with the emergence and escalation of the “birther” campaign, that we would experience the same bizarre skepticism when it comes to Osama bin Laden. If there are a group of conspiracy theorists who insist on seeing proof of U.S. birth for President Obama, is it any surprise that there would be a concurrent call for proof of death for bin Laden?

President Obama has decided not to release a photo of the dead bin Laden. True, it would perhaps appease those who don’t really believe that the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, under Obama’s direction, completed the task of killing the hated bin Laden. But releasing a photo or video could also rally terrorist forces around the world, buttressing any movement to turn bin Laden into a martyr.

We’ve become unfortunately accustomed to a YouTube, reality TV, cell phone photo approach to living–a world where privacy and dignity are sacrificed for hyper-transparency and more commonly, pure voyeurism. But images matter, and sending provocative images or videos around the world can have a destructive effect. The Internet posting of a video showing the burning of a Koran in Florida is one such example, giving amplified attention to a local pastor whose narrow-mindedness and ignorance does not deserve to be promoted.

What would be the purpose of releasing a photo? Would it really reassure Americans that bin Laden is really dead? Or would it just provoke a new wave of conspiracy theories about doctored photos and lies? There are people, remarkably, who still don’t believe Obama was born in Hawaii, despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. Why would a picture of a dead bin Laden be any more effective? At best, it would give some satisfaction to those of us who want to see the face of hate bloodied and lifeless. At worst, it will incite would-be terrorists around the world.

And at its heart, the demand for pictures of a deceased bin Laden are not much different from the demands for further proof of Obama’s domestic birth. In both cases, we are dealing with people who simply cannot believe that a mixed-race man became president, and further, will refuse to believe he could have accomplished something so great. The Obama haters will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what is shown them. Releasing photos won’t change their minds.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | 911, Birthers, Islam, Journalists, Middle East, Muslims, National Security, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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