Friday, February 28, 2014

Obama: Just the Latest "Cat" in a Cynical and Long-running "Cat and Mouse" Game?

Well . . . I knew about Bobby Sands and the other IRA hunger strikers . . . so how come I had never heard of the "Cat and Mouse Act" . . . ?

The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo held an event last night about the hunger strikes by detainees at Guantanamo, and the forced feeding of those detainees by the Obama administration.

We watched a film that detailed the involvement of health professionals (doctors, psychologists, and others) in the U.S. torture program -- Doctors of the Dark Side -- and then heard from three prominent experts about the political, ethical, and practical dimensions of hunger strikes and forced feeding.

Dr. Frank Summers, Ph.D.
It was a pleasure to see Dr. Frank Summers, Ph.D., speaking in person; I feel like I already knew him after watching the film Beneath the Blindfold numerous times and learning from him about the terrible consequences of sensory deprivation. Dr. Summers spoke last night about numerous aspects of the hunger strike and forced feeding issue. The part that was most helpful for me was his explanation of the "principle of self-preservation," and how the "self" implies a great deal more than just continued biological existence. Thus, a hunger strike may be a vitally important assertion of self, particularly in a situation where every other means is denied to a person. In that situation, the risks to the self's biological existence are weighed by the individual against the other dimensions of self assertion. The "self" must, fundamentally, be a deciding "self."

Dr. Summers contrasted this act of hunger striking -- a fundamentally political act -- with suicide - a consequence of a clinical condition known as depression.

We were also privileged to have as a panelist the Muslim chaplain at Depaul, Abu Noor Abdil-Malik. Abdil-Malik explained to the audience that, from the perspective of Islam, it is most important to look at the situation from the standpoint of intention, and also to ask if actions are being taken out of despair or out of hope.

Abu Noor Abdil-Malik
Suicide is something that is done out of despair, i.e. there can be no good intention to speak of. And, added Abdil-Malik, Guantanamo has been designed to produce despair!

(Abdil-Malik also stressed the way in which Guantanamo and the treatment of Muslim prisoners there has come to create despair throughout the Muslim community.)

I was struck by how the explanation offered by this spiritual leader was consistent with the explanation that the clinical psychologist, Dr. Summers, provided earlier.  And I was also struck by how the interpretation offered from the Muslim tradition aligned with the discussions of these issues that I have heard coming from Christian (Lutheran) theologians.

But the big "Aha!" moment came for me when the third speaker, Dr. Irene Martinez, reminded us of a little history.  She asked us to recall that hunger strikes were a big part of the resistance of the women who fought for equal political rights -- the suffragettes. Furthermore, she referred to the fact under existing legislation at the time authorities would release imprisoned suffragettes from jail/prison when their hunger strikes reached the point that their health was gravely imperiled, and then re-imprison them as soon as they recovered their health. This latter practice was referred to as cat and mouse "because of a cat’s habit of playing with its prey (a mouse) before finishing it off." Moreover:

This act was aimed at suppressing the power of the organisation by demoralising the activists, but turned out to be counter-productive as it undermined the moral authority of the government. The Act was viewed as violating basic human rights, not only of the suffragettes but of other prisoners. The Act's nickname of Cat and Mouse Act, referring to the way the government seemed to play with prisoners as a cat may with a captured mouse, underlined how the cruelty of repeated releases and re-imprisonments turned the suffragettes from targets of scorn to objects of sympathy. (See Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 on Wikipedia)
The experience of suffragettes in England echoes forward to today, to the practices at Guantanamo:
Many women, such as Grace Roe and Kitty Marion, were force fed more than 200 times. Some wrote accounts of their horrendous experiences for the WSPU organ the Suffragette or the few sympathetic newspapers that would print their story. That an all-male "Liberal" government inflicted such torture upon women who were excluded from the parliamentary process added to the sense of revulsion that many women and some members of the public felt. (See The Guardian, Suffragette hunger strikes, 100 years on:When the first suffragette began her strike, she politicised her body and contributed to a radical tradition of non-violent protest)
Is the cynical "cat and mouse" game still going on? I am finding it very provocative to wonder about what it would take for the public to become as outraged in 2014 at the abuse of men being force fed by Barack Obama's government at Guantanamo, as they were in 1914 at the abuse of women being force fed on the orders of England's Liberal government.

B/W photos courtesy FJJ.

Related posts

I can testify that Bobby Sands demonstrated the power of a prisoner to command the attention of the world and shine a light on the misdeeds of his tormentors, because I can remember as if it was yesterday the way every news report during those days over 30 years ago -- during March, April, and May, 1981 -- started with news of Bobby Sands and his resistance.

(See HUNGER: When Detainees Turn the Tables On Their Tormentors)

It is perhaps the signal achievement of the film "Beneath the Blindfold" that it portrays four different survivors, each of whose experience of torture was distinct from that of any of the others, and each of whom has an otherwise unique personality, and yet each makes clear that they share a long-lasting trauma. One leaves the film with a deeply-felt sense of the lasting trauma caused by torture of any kind.

(See The Revelations of "Beneath the Blindfold" )

What have the hunger strikers taught us? First, that the atrocities of the U.S. government just don't stop. Second, that everyone -- even those most oppressed -- has means at their disposal to resist.

(See Occupy State and Jackson)

Most recently, we have seen the conviction of members of U.S. Army "kill teams" that murdered and otherwise engaged in outrages upon Afghanistan people, including "playing with the corpse of [a murdered] teenager 'as if it was a puppet'" . . . keeping a "victim's skull as a trophy" . . . "slicing off body parts from Afghans, including the fingers of a man, and keeping them or giving them to other soldiers as trophies."

(See VAU Afgh 101: Outrages Upon Personal Dignity )

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry

Thermonuclear Monarchy:
Choosing Between Democracy and Doom
by Elaine Scarry

Purchase on Amazon
Publisher page
Below are links to reviews, interviews, excerpts, event info, and related material for Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom by Elaine Scarry, my sister.

“That we have escaped disaster so far is a near miracle. Scarry’s remarkable contribution should inspire us to abolish this colossal folly.”

Noam Chomsky

“. . . urgent and lucid . . . [a] prolonged rallying cry of a book.”

Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

“ Elaine Scarry is right: Americans live in a thermonuclear monarchy.”

Kennette Benedict, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

“Scarry’s assault on the reigning complacency about nuclear weapons rests on her belief in the capacity of an interpretation to reconfigure the world.”

Nathan Schneider, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Thermonuclear Monarchy is a work of deadly serious political science by an analyst dwelling on the constitutional implications of giving a democratically elected president sovereign-like autocracy.”

Nick Smith, Engineering and Technology (U.K.)

“Scarry’s book requires any thoughtful reader to revisit the basic postulates and the deepest human purposes of our system of government.”

Laurence H. Tribe, professor of constitutional law, Harvard Law School

Thermonuclear Monarchy:
Choosing Between Democracy and Doom
by Elaine Scarry

Purchase on Amazon
Publisher page
“A really remarkable work, ranging across ethics, law, and politics to pose genuinely radical challenges to the confused and potentially lethal systems that pass for democracy in our world.”

Rowan Williams, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and former Archbishop of Canterbury

“Elaine Scarry offers a coruscating critique of current policies, arguing that they are antithetic to the spirit of the U.S. constitution, and indeed to basic democratic principles. . . . [The] book offers a compelling case for swifter progress toward their elimination.”

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal (UK)

“I congratulate Elaine Scarry on her intellectual courage and moral clarity, and in proposing the only possible way out.”

Marcelo Gleiser, author of A Tear at the Edge of Creation


Elaine Scarry presentation at MIT, September 30, 2014, part of "Understanding the Call to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons" (Elaine Scarry presentation begins at 35:15)


February 10, 2014, Nick Smith in Engineering and Technology Magazine: "Command and Control/Thermonuclear Monarchy"[Two very different but equally revealing reviews of the legacy of the Cold War are among our pick of the new technology books]

February 17, 2014, Nathan Schneider in The Chronicle of Higher Education: "A Literary Scholar's Voice in the Wilderness: Elaine Scarry fights American complacency about nuclear arms"

February 24, 2014, Kennette Benedict in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "Can true democracy exist in a nuclear weapon state?"

March/April 2014, Craig Lambert in Harvard Magazine: "Nuclear Weapons or Democracy: 'Out of ratio' weapons are essentially ungovernable"

(undated), Steve Donoghue in Open Letters Monthly: "The Danelaw" [Review of Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom]

March 7, 2014, David Swanson on Washington's Blog: "Thermonuclear Monarchy"

March 21, 2014, Richard Rhodes in the New York Times: "Absolute Power: ‘Thermonuclear Monarchy,’ by Elaine Scarry"

April 30, 2014, on the Gleebooks website: "Thermonuclear Monarchy"

May 7, 2014, John Myers on the Personal Liberty Digest website: "Obama And Putin Have A Holocaust On Their Hands; Steps You Must Take To Survive"

May 23, 2014, Mark J. Palmer on the Earth Island Journal website: "The Decision to Wage Nuclear War Should Rest With the Body Politic, Argues Author"

June 20, 2014, discussed in Simon Waxman on the Al Jazeera America website: " Americans support the Obama Doctrine: Popular approval for the president’s conciliatory approach matters more than accusations of weakness"

August, 2014, Rosalie G. Riegle in Sojourners: "A Reign of Terror"

October 14, 2014, Jonathon Sturgeon on Flavorwire: "10 Mind-Altering Philosophy Books from 2014 "

Undated, Jasmine Farrier in Law and Politics Book Review (Sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association): "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" [book review]


"The Contradiction of Nuclear Democracy" - Simon Waxman in the Boston Review

"On Thermonuclear Monarchy: An Interview with Elaine Scarry" - by Sarah Gerard in The American Reader

"Elaine Scarry: The U.S. Constitution Bans Nukes" - by David Swanson on Talk Nation Radio

"Interview with Elaine Scarry, author of 'Thermonuclear Monarchy'" - by Kenneth Baker in SFGate

"Are we numb to Nukes?" - Christopher Lyden on Radio Open Source


"Why We Must Disarm the U.S.’s Unprecedented Nuclear Arsenal" - Elaine Scarry in TIME, August 5, 2014


"The floor of the world"- in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 2014 (subscription site)



Saturday, March 15, 2014, 3:45 p.m. -- Boston, MA -- Boston College, Stokes Hall, S195 - Keynote Address by Elaine Scarry, Harvard University, "The Floor of the World." Respondent: Paulo Barrozo, Boston College Law School. (Part of the conference, On Violence: Ethical, Political and Aesthetic Perspectives)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 7:30 p.m. -- McMinnville, OR -- Linfield College, 900 SE Baker St Elaine Scarry, Harvard University, "The Floor of the World."

Thursday, March 27, 2014, 5:00 p.m. -- Washington, DC -- George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs, Room 505, 1957 E St NW Elaine Scarry, Harvard University, "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom". Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy. RSVP: Sponsored by the Center for International Science and Technology Policy

Thursday, April 3, 2014, 6:00 p.m. -- Cambridge, MA -- Harvard University, TSAI Auditorium, CGIS South, Room S010, 1730 Cambridge Street - Elaine Scarry on her new book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. with responses by Philip C. Bobbitt, Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence, Columbia Law School, and Charles Fried, Beneficial Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.

August 6, 2014
Boston Remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
Moving from Violence to Unity

Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 7:00 p.m. -- Cambridge, MA -- MIT Stata Center (Room 32-155), 32 Vassar Street - Understanding the Call to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons: Jim Walsh and Elaine Scarry. In November 2013, the UN Disarmament Committee passed a resolution establishing the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This event is held in answer to that call. (Audio - Elaine Scarry presentation begins at 35:15)

Saturday, November 8, 2014, Cambridge, MA -- MIT Room 34-101 • 50 Vassar St. - Presentation at A Foreign Policy for All: Re-Thinking U.S. Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

Thursday, November 13, 2014, 6:00 p.m. -- New York, NY -- Graduate Center CUNY (Room C204-205), 365 5th Avenue - The Making and Breaking of Cities - Presentation at Abiding Cities, Remnant Sites: A Conference hosted by the Dept of Comparative Literature, CUNY.

Sunday, January 11, 2015, 4:00 p.m. -- Chicago, IL -- Wellington Ave. UCC, 615 W Wellington - Thermonuclear Monarchy: Book Talk  - Chicago Area Peace Action event.

Also by Elaine Scarry

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1987)

"Stunningly original, enormously important, powerfully written....The beauty of her writing is that she can make us see torture and war as we have never seen them before, read the Bible and Marx as we have never read them before--indeed, see our day-to-day world in a usefully new manner."--Eric J. Cassell, M.D., Cornell Medical Center

"An extraordinary book: large-spirited, heroically truthful. A necessary book."--Susan Sontag

"An absolutely astonishing achievement...I believe it will change many lives, not by persuasion, but by widening the scope of consciousness. The book itself is a great act of courage, intelligence, and style."--Allen Grossman, Brandeis University

Rule of Law, Misrule of Men (2010)

"Excoriating and elegant, Elaine Scarry takes us to the big issues: why the rule of law matters, what went wrong, and what is needed to put it right." Philippe Sands, author of Lawless World and Torture Team, Professor of Law, University College London

"Some of the most trenchant and passionate analysis of the politics of democracy and terror in the United States. These essays are a searing call to conscience, an eloquent plea for justice, and a damning indictment of the Bush administration's response to 9/11." David Cole, Professor of Law, Georgetown University, coauthor of Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror

On Beauty
and Being Just

Thinking in an

Dreaming by the Book

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Air Power Infatuation (1967 All Over Again)

I've been thinking a lot about the new Miyazaki film -- The Wind Rises -- and the questions it raises for us about whether we can enjoy the thrill of new technology without being sucked into the evil things done with that technology.

Part of this is being honest with ourselves: what is it about flight that is so intoxicating? There are so many cultural expressions of our love of airplanes and everything they represent . . . .

And lo and behold! this morning WFMT started playing a series of classical compositions inspired by airplane flight and other technology. There are a whole series of works dating from the 1920s onward that express how shockingly new these flying machines have felt, and how exhilarating it has been to associated with them.

Somehow my thoughts progressed from George Antheil (Ballet mecanique, Piano Sonata No. 2 ("The Airplane") to Karlheinz Stockhausen (Helikopter Streichquartett) to John Adams (Short Ride in a Fast Machine) . . . until I landed on that most pure, popular expression of the joy of flight, practically the anthem of my childhood:  "Up, Up, and Away" performed by The Fifth Dimension.

Here, I thought, is the feeling that Miyazaki is talking about in The Wind Rises. "Don't talk to me about all the airborne violence that the modern age has brought," he seems to be saying. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
And then I thought about 1967, the year "Up, Up, and Away" was released, and the irony of the real face of air flight in 1967.

I recently read the article on the Huey helicopter in The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects. Iconic, deadly, transformative ....

Please watch the helicopter attack scene from Apocalypse Now. Just as people in the '60s were intoxicated with the sights and sounds of the latest technologies like the Huey helicopter gunship -- "The Ride of the Valkyries" - get it? -- and people in 1920s Japan were thrilled with the new fighter planes that could go 200 miles per hour, people in the 2010s are being lured into the next generation of air power infatuation: call it "drone love."  And just as Francis Ford Coppola so brilliantly realized, many of us can watch the footage over and over again, without even seeing the suffering of the people on the ground.

We need film and music and the other arts to keep turning our attention back to the truth.  Despite the fact that creative expression can sometimes be confusing, distracting, or even misleading, it does tend to keep bringing us back to the deep questions, and to open our eyes to what we were unable to see just yesterday.

The creative resistance to drone warfare is just beginning . . . .

Related posts

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?" How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

(See Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises"))

More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air & Water Show)

In his 1979 essay, "The Robot As Enemy," Isaac Asimov wrote, "Will human beings deliberately build robots without the Laws? I'm afraid that is a distinct possibility . . . " (p. 448). He specifically foresaw the exact developments in the robotization of the military that we are seeing today:
"computerized planes, tanks, artillery, and so on, that would stalk the enemy relentlessly, with superhuman senses and stamina. It might be argued that this would be a way of sparing human beings. We could stay comfortably at home and let our intelligent machines do the fighting for us. If some of them were destroyed -- well, they are only machines. This approach to warfare would be particularly useful if we had such machines and the enemy didn't." (p. 449) 
(See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises")

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?"

How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

I'm finding this particularly hard to understand since I just finished re-watching Miyazaki's 1988 antiwar masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies.  It is hard to reconcile the unflinching portrayal of two children fending for themselves during the WWII firebombing of Japan with the airy romance of The Wind Rises.

What I did think of immediately was another dramatic work: Dr. Atomic, the opera by John Adams that tells the story of another scientist who devoted himself to creating weapons. Both works address the conundrum of smart, creative people who "just want to make airplanes" or "just want to explore physics": why can't they pursue their dreams without being part of the war machine?

And in this sense Miyazaki's work couldn't be more timely.  A whole new breed of flying machines -- they fly without a pilot! -- is proliferating worldwide; is anyone stopping to ask what is going on in the minds of the thousands of engineers who are creating drones and the elaborate information systems that support them?

Perhaps a proof of Miyazaki's success in forcing us to ask, "Why is it like this?" is the way he conveys the unrepentant joy of his airplane designer in the sheer beauty of flight and flying machines. "Can you feel it?" he seems to be demanding. (In my own case, it wasn't long before he had me thinking of my own love affair with a slightly different variety of sleek, aerodynamic machine: the white Fender Stratocaster that I played in a band in high school.)

I wonder how many young people will go to see The Wind Rises. We in the antiwar movement talk a lot about "counter-recruitment" -- obstructing the attempts to lure high school students into the military. I can't think of a more meaningful form of counter-recruitment than encouraging young people to see The Wind Rises, and to think about the questions that it asks.  It would be a privilege to be able to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings on seeing this film.

Related posts

More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air & Water Show)

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

A big Hollywood production of Ender's Game provided a perfect opportunity for us to ask: Are we happy seeing our schools turned into "Battle Schools"?

(See "Ender's Game" and the Militarization of Youth: Can We Talk About This? )

The U.S. military is desperately trying to beef up the ranks of its drone pilots - to meet a "near insatiable demand for drones." There's only one way that's going to happen, and that's if we let our young people think that it's okay to sign up. The world of military service is more abstracted and foreign than ever. If ever there was a time that young people needed guidance from others about what military service might mean for them, that time is now.

(See Mothers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Drone Pilots)

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Curious Incident of the "Lone Wolf" Terrorist

Sherlock Holmes is currently experiencing a tremendous resurgence in popularity, and so I am probably not the only person who thought of Holmes upon reading about Jose Pimentel:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

(See "Silver Blaze" on Wikipedia)
Pimentel's case, of course, involves the curious incident of a so-called "lone wolf" terrorist. Pimentel was charged with building a pipe bomb and intending to strike a variety of American targets. And yet, according to the New York Times report, "No evidence has been produced in court that Mr. Pimentel had co-conspirators or was taking instructions from terrorist organizations abroad."

The explanation offered by the authorities for this "curious incident" depends on a species of "auto-genesis," a sort of Muslim twist on the Great American Dream of the self-made man.

Consider the words of N.Y. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton:
This young man really was self-radicalized.
And those of D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr.:
[T]he threat against us from home-grown terrorists is very real.

Of course!  

"Self-radicalized" . . . "home-grown" . . .  He did it to himself . . . !

And yet . . . .

The Pimentel case involved "an undercover officer, two confidential informers and hundreds of hours of recorded conversations." Pimentel pled to a single count of "attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism."  According to his attorneys, however, Pimentel "was easily enticed by the informer to build bombs after being plied for months with free food and marijuana."

Anyone who followed the NATO3 case in Chicago is completely aware of the degree to which all the planning and intent in that case seemed to originate with the undercover police, and that the defendants were led down the garden path. (See Keystone (Undercover) Kops and the Lemonhead Gang)

Jose Pimentel
Undercover police . . . months of infiltration, taping, coaxing, inducements . . . an alleged "terrorist" device . . . lots of police assertions about what the defendant was thinking and intending and wanting . . . Yes, there are an awful lot of similarities to the NATO3 case.  And just as in the case of the NATO3, the feds seemed to think this case was too fishy to get near: "The case in state court was unusual because the federal authorities typically handle terrorism prosecutions. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had monitored Mr. Pimentel, decided not to pursue charges . . . . "

(Of course, one difference was that Pimentel is a Muslim. It is sobering to see the picture of Pimentel in his Muslim skullcap and Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit and remember, "Oh, yeah . . . if you're a Muslim, they bring the hammer down that much harder on you.")

D.A. Vance -- probably detecting the same opportunity to sound Sherlockian that I did -- observed, "The most important aspect of this case is not what happened but what didn’t." In other words, ignore the fact that no crime was actually committed by the defendant; just be grateful for the demonstration of the state's ability to manipulate events. Feel "safe."

The Pimentel case is just one in a long line of government set-ups of Muslims since 9/11.  People who want to learn more about the unbroken string of such "curious incidents" are encouraged to read The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, by Trevor Aaronson.  And once you do that, get involved in the campaign to stop the wave of prosecutions of Muslims: Project SALAM and Salam Illinois.

Related posts

Naturally, the jury in the NATO3 case has no reason to buy into Anita Alvarez's narrative about the threat of terrorism from ordinary citizens and how it justifies a culture of fear and a militarized, all-seeing, secret-driven police state. Which is not to say that they're not concerned about terrorism.

(See In Chi-town USA: got terrorism?)

The NATO3 trial was full of evidence of what "law enforcement" consists of today: undercover cops goading and prodding and coercing people toward doing something -- ANYTHING -- that can be ginned up into a prosecution.

(See ENTRAPMENT: "I know it when I see it!")


I think the U.S. is in the midst of a big shift.  I think that for over a decade following 9/11 people have been so enmeshed in fear that their instincts weren't working properly. I think that we are in the midst of a slow process of awakening: people are emerging from the shadow of fear to a wider range of sensibility -- and they are realizing there are some things that are out of joint.

(See Too Much State Power? (Asymmetric Warfare and Asymmetric Policing))

Saturday, February 15, 2014

DRONE LOVE: If the Chicago Tribune Represents American Public Opinion, the Republic is in Trouble

Tribune Tower gargoyle
It's reasonable to ask what the titans of media who sit high atop the Tribune Tower think of the rest of us. Sometimes they let us know loud and clear.

Everybody needs to read the editorial that appeared in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. The editorial appears online under the title "America's drone program needs to keep flying." The title of the editorial in the paper edition that showed up on people's doorsteps on Friday was "Drones in the cross hairs." (More on that discrepancy below.)

The editorial represents the worldview of the editorial board of one of the major newspapers in the country. What it says is alarming, and it should serve as a call to action to thinking people throughout the country.

*   *   *   *   *

Here are just the high points -- or should I say, low points -- of what the Tribune is saying.

(1) For the Love of Drones

To the people at the Tribune, moderating the drone program amounts to putting "drones in the cross hairs." For them to use this language betrays a profound confusion about the nature of injury.  Not to mince words, it is deranged to talk about drones or the drone program being "in the cross hairs," and to compare drones or the drone program to people who are injured by drones (and all other manner of U.S. military force).

(The Tribune editorial board also speaks of U.S. anti-terrorism programs "strangled by red tape.")

It is not coincidental that the same editorial board smirks at the fear and pain that might be experienced by actual people: "we imagine he is avoiding rooftops and other open-air venues" . . . "nervously glancing at the skies" . . . .

This syndrome -- in effect letting the machines take over -- is a danger that social critics long ago warned against.  (See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones)

(2) Due Process (NOT)

The editorial board at the Tribune has completely lost sight of the notion of due process, of the idea of a nation of laws.

How else can you explain their absorption with the idea that administration officials can and should make decisions about executions? They deride what they see as a "saunter to judgement" -- by implication insisting, "We need a rush to judgement!"  They actually print the words, "What's taking so long?"

Not only has the Chicago Tribune abandoned the idea of courts of law, now they're even dismissive of the ersatz process that the Obama administration has substituted for the courts: "We can't think of a more dangerous prospect than U.S. drones tangled in bureaucracy . . . ."

Sadly, the Obama administration has been successful in dodging due process. (See Eric Through the Looking Glass) Not satisfied, the Tribune insists on throwing the last shred of caution to the wind.

(3) Drone Effectiveness (?)

The fulcrum of this entire, sad discourse is the suggestion that drones are "effective."

The sub-title of the editorial is "The value of this anti-terrorist weapon" and the text refers to the drone killing program as "[o]ne of America's most effective anti-terrorist programs." However, the editorial offers no specifics in support of this assertion; it points to no proof of this claim.

And how could it? The facts of the drone program are secret.

That's why the most important thing we could be doing right now is to demand that the Obama administration come clean with the full details of all drone strikes to date. (This is what the United Nations has called for.)

Until that happens, the American public will continue to be subjected to the assertion that drone killing is "effective" with zero facts to back up the claim.  (See Drone Killings: Come Clean)

(4) The Global "Battlefield" and (5) The Case of the Disappearing Sovereignty

One could go on and on about all the things that are benighted about the Chicago Tribune and its editorial board's ideas about drones, law, security, and international relations. I'll conclude by pointing to just two more.

The editorial jingoistically touts House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers' recent pronouncement about how individuals are "removed from the battlefield" by U.S. counterterrorism operations. This is a reminder to us that a whole swath of our government and power elite consider the world a battlefield, and have abandoned any notion of the law of nations or the need for a declaration of war before engaging in hostilities.

And so perhaps it should not be surprising -- though I find myself astonished -- that the Tribune editorial berates Pakistan and Afghanistan for voicing opposition to the U.S. drone program. (As if they should have any say about what happens in their own countries!)

I won't try to capture here the smug, imperialist tones of the Tribune. You have to read it for yourself.

(See How About a REAL (Tea) Party? SHUT DOWN THE MILITARY BASES! )

*   *   *   *   *

It is startling to reflect that, on the day before this editorial appeared, the very same Tribune editorial page featured a cartoon by Joe Fournier, entitled "Thinking Outside the Drone," which had these crystal clear words:
OBAMA: As we both know - it's wrong to kill U.S. citizens with drones . . .
HOLDER: and illegal
OBAMA: and illegal . . .
The Chicago Tribune: deranged and forgetful . . . .

Related posts

Since a jury just got done saying NO! to the efforts of the Cook County State's Attorney's attempts to use the Illinois terror statute to foment fear and repress dissent . . . and since February 11 was designated "The Day We Fight Back" against state surveillance, repression, and intimidation . . . and since the media is broadcasting a fresh threat by the Obama administration to assassinate a U.S. citizen using a drone strike . . . and since the Illinois primaries for every seat in congress fall just a few weeks away (March 18), it seems like a good time to ask all the members of the Illinois congressional delegation -- current and prospective -- Hey Illinois pols! Where do you stand? (On U.S. surveillance, secrecy, and assassinations)

A September 5, 2013, U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed six people - including Sangeen Zadran -- a "senior militant commander" who was "implicated in a long-running kidnapping drama involving an American soldier." Or so we are told by the U.S. media. Will we ever learn the real facts?

(See September 5 in Pakistan: Another Day, Another Drone Killing)

We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Chi-town USA: got terrorism?

On Friday, a jury brought back its decision in the so-called NATO3 case. They found the defendants not guilty on the terrorism charges against them.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez couldn't understand it.
Have we forgotten about Boston here?

Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks?
Okay: this got me thinking. Alvarez is talking about the marathon bombing in Boston, right? But . . . what's that got to do with the NATO3 case? Is there something about Boston that's supposed to justify surveillance, coercion, arrests, and prosecutions of the NATO3 in Chicago? (Especially considering that the marathon bombing in Boston happened a year after the NATO summit in Chicago??) And why is she talking about "homemade bombs in backpacks"? Why would she be talking about the alleged facts in another case? What's wrong with the facts in this case?

Off with their heads!
(Don't confuse me with the facts!!)

Well . . . since she's "opened the door" . . . (I love lawyer talk) . . . I'm going to talk about why she's doing these things and why the jury was on a totally different wavelength.

 Why Anita Alvarez wants this to be about terrorism

In Chicago, Illinois:
The "law enforcement" system in Cook County -- as in the rest of the U.S. -- has come to depend on a narrative cooked up from a deadly cocktail of elements:
* fear - The linchpin of all of this is fear. The job of the general populace -- at least, according to our leaders -- is to live our lives in fear.  As we passed the ten-year mark and the more immediate impact of 9/11 began to wane, and the general populace has begun to think more rationally. At the same time, we have begun to see more and more desperation on the part of those who thrive on the police state. They're desperate to remind people, "Be afraid!  Be very afraid!"  Their desperation will only get worse as the general public becomes more lucid.

* coercion and entrapment - Since 9/11, the federal government has hatched scheme after scheme to "work on" and "get close to" and "lure" and "induce" people into various compromising situations that could become the basis of prosecutions on terrorism charges. This pattern has been described by Trevor Aaronson in his book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism.   

A climate of fear . . .
* a pipeline of the "usual suspects" - First, they filled Guantanamo with people who were guilty of nothing more than having Muslim names and beards. Second, Federal authorities have brought cases against a long list of Muslim men, as part of the trumped-up cases described above.  Many of them languish in "little Gitmos" in Illinois and Indiana. (The true test will come when we free the Guantanamo hostages -- er, detainees -- as well of those who have been improperly prosecuted, as well as beginning to refuse to let any more Muslim people get railroaded.)

* surveillance - People in Chicago have the distinction of living with the most police cameras of any U.S. city. And that's even before you count NSA surveillance, or undercover CPD police, or FBI surveillance and raids like those in September, 2010.

* militarization of the police - The narrative of "constant terrorist threat" supports a new approach to policing based on armor, automatic weapons, tanks, and drones. The Department of Homeland Security has become the armourer of U.S. police departments -- though some communities are pushing back.
(And I've purposely saved for another day a discussion of how all this intersects with mass incarceration.)

Anita Alvarez (read: the so-called "law enforcement" establishment in Chicago and Cook County) needs people to live in continual fear of terrorism, and to dine on a constant diet of "security theater." That, she believes, will eliminate all possible questions about the growing police state in which we live.

What would lead an otherwise intelligent person like Anita Alvarez to rave about Boston and backpacks? She sees she's losing her audience -- and she's desperate to get it back to following her narrative.

Why the jury in the NATO3 knows about real "terrorism"

Naturally, the jury in the NATO3 case has no reason to buy into Anita Alvarez's narrative about the threat of terrorism from ordinary citizens and how it justifies a culture of fear and a militarized, all-seeing, secret-driven police state.

Which is not to say that they're not concerned about terrorism.

Illinois' terrorism statute points to the "intent to intimidate or coerce a significant portion of a civilian population."  The kind of ordinary Cook County residents that sit on juries have a very clear idea of what intimidation and coercion look like, and it's not the kind of thing the NATO3 were engaged in.

The members of the jury in the NATO3 trial were much more likely to be asking themselves this question:  "Why didn't Anita Alvarez indict the Chicago police officer who discharged all 16 rounds in his firearm over the course of 4 seconds, killing Flint Farmer while Farmer lay face down on the ground?"

Of course, Anita Alvarez declined to charge the police officer because she "did not think that they could show that the shooting was unreasonable." Well, if that isn't terrifying, I don't know what is.

It is a fact that large numbers of African-American Chicago residents (and African-American people throughout the U.S.) are terrified that a member of their family will similarly be shot by a police officer.  It is indisputable that a large portion of the civilian population is "intimidated or coerced" by the so-called "law enforcement" authorities in Cook County.

Drone Gaze, Drone Injury:
The War on Communities of Color
OR . . . perhaps the members of the jury in the NATO3 trial were asking themselves this: "When U.S. and NATO drones are in the skies constantly over villages in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia -- don't the civilian populations there live in a state of terror? Where's the outrage over that?"

In the last year, there has been widespread recognition that people "living under drones" live in a state of terror.  2013 was the year that the United Nations began to take concrete action to shine a bright light on the way U.S. drone killings violate international law; 2014 promises to be the year that the international community actually does something about it.

So . . . Chicago terrorism? U.S. terrorism?  Yeah, we got terrorism.  Just not where Anita Alvarez is pointing.

Related posts

The NATO3 trial was full of evidence of what "law enforcement" consists of today: undercover cops goading and prodding and coercing people toward doing something -- ANYTHING -- that can be ginned up into a prosecution.

(See ENTRAPMENT: "I know it when I see it!")

There will be elections for 435 House seats in 2014. In at least some of those races, U.S. surveillance, secrecy, and assassinations will be an issue.

Herewith an Insider's Guide to the 7 S's (surveillance, secrecy, and assassinations) in the 2014 Midterms.

(See Will the 2014 Midterms be a Referendum on Obama's Surveillance, Secrecy, and Assassinations? )

Even if the current Obama administration approach of releases were to succeed in bringing about the release of everyone at Guantanamo, it would not have begun to address the wrong that has been committed.

(See US to its Humans Rights Violations Victims: "Shut up and take what you're given!" )