Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dirty Wars chapters 10 and 11, Somalia and Yemen

Chapter 10 details the US involvement in Somalia after 9/11, specifically late in 2002 when the US government officially threw themselves with the worst of the warlords that were running the country in lieu of a nearly non-existent central government. There is a little background to the beginning of US involvement with Somalia under Clinton.
The story of our involvement reads like any other US intervention, only the names and places change the practice is the same.  So, on one hand you have intelligence officers, CIA, military etc. talking up the idea that East African was becoming a haven for terrorists. On the other hand you have Somalia experts, i.e. academics, people who had spent their lives studying the country, questioning this narrative. Yes, maybe you had some AQ people running to Somalia from other places but there did not appear any kind of underlying support for radical Islam. You did have country that over the past 10 (now 20) years ravaged by war and a population (guessing here) mainly concerned with survival.
In theory you had a choice here, you could pay a major warlord to do your work.  This would be taking the risk that said warlord, now flush with unlimited cash and weapons support, might just take it upon themselves to interpret the “war on terror” in their own way. The other option might be the take that cash and, oh I don’t know, strengthen the central government? Increase safety, access to food and water, and in the process infiltrate the country to carefully weed out the terrorists that were never part of the community anyway. While the second option sounds more labor-intensive it would not have to be “nation-building”. The biggest issue with Somalia has always been safety; I’m thinking that plenty of international groups would do most of the heavy lifting if a skeletal military force were there and people were not worried about being killed-if the CIA was going to be all over anyway couldn’t they help out with this as well?
Needless to say the first option was exercised, and the warlords quickly engaged in the game of let’s grab anybody remotely Islamic or who we don’t like, and see if the Americans will give us a check. This, in addition to general destabilizing activities, made a bad situation worse. But, they hate us for our FREEDOM. The fact is you will get AQ recruits much faster in a destabilized, poor, under-attack community.  An interesting note in this chapter was a description of how, under Clinton, members of Islamic Jihad, including Ayman al Zawahiri (Bin Laden’s number two), were sent to Egypt through “extraordinary rendition” and tortured. Not long after al Zawahiri published a letter in a British paper vowing revenge against America in “a language they will understand.” Days later the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were carried out, killing 224 people (12 Americans).
It has to be asked, what if these guys were arrested, and put on trial? A public trial, with redactions, closed parts as necessary, but relatively open, so that the world could see were serious about our principles? Now I don’t have any illusions that such a case would be easy, nor do I have a good answer to what is an appropriate punishment for terrorists, and I do not think your committed AQ member can be easily rehabilitated if at all. But you have to wonder how that might “shake up the field” so to speak. If the US walked the walk when it came to bringing suspects to justice what kind of effect would that have on AQ recruits, and their support networks? I think trials need to be done on moral grounds but there are real, practical reasons to do them. Tragically I do not think these ideas ever enter the minds of those in Washington.
Chapter 11 Yemen
Chapter 11 describes the period in Yemen 2003-2006, beginning after the major terror attack in Saudi Arabia, which included the US defense contractor, the Vinnell Corporation. After the ensuing crackdown most AQ members fled to Yemen.
During this period the US took its eye off of Yemen, satisfied that the Saleh had arrested many key AQ figures, and the most elite hunter-killer forces of JOSC were in Iraq. But in 2004 there was a major uprising of the Houthi minority in the north, and Saleh utilized all he had to put in down, which included massive Saudi help as well as easing off AQ to put down the insurgency.
Saleh also used AQ suspects and members as leverage against the US, refusing to hand over suspects, prosecuting and sentenced in Yemen. Hundreds of Yemeni suspects would ultimately be released back into Yemen, essentially allowed to do what they wanted as long as it was not in Yemen. So really, this was period for AQ to gather strength, which I believe is still the case today.
As it has been for a while, Yemen is complex place. But, again, playing the “what if” game you have to wonder if military involvement has stopped at Afghanistan, and there could have been a proper focus on Yemen and Somalia. Now, you certainly could argue that countries are better off when the US ignores them but in both of these cases the US ‘s only interest in these areas would be getting the terrorists out. In theory the US could, especially in the case Yemen, put pressure on through Saudi Arabia to get the terrorists out and possible help broker something of a peace agreement between the various groups. Yes, I know, there is not really any history of the US playing such a role in any conflict-that is usually the US pushes its agenda and tells everybody else to go fuck themselves. But I strongly believe you have to imagine what you want to see to make it happen, or even to try limit bad alternatives.
What if instead of looking inward after 9/11 the US had looked outward-tried to really mediate some of the conflicts that helped perpetuate the terrorists strength? What if the US had tried to demonstrate of the values of the constitution instead of tossing in the garbage? What if?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dirty Wars chapters 8 and 9-the US Officially Embraces Torture, Stanley McChrystal

Chapter 8 begins describing another bureaucratic battle-this between the FBI and the CIA. Generally, the FBI favored interrogation tactics that were not torture, but parts of the CIA did, goaded on by the Pentagon. It’s important to note not all of the CIA embraced “enhanced interrogation”but generally those people were isolated (or even isolated themselves) or were not promoted. But even with the CIA moving in his direction that wasn’t enough for Rumsfeld, so he looked to programs in the DoD that he thought would be helpful.
These programs included the JSOC, the JPRA, and the SERE. The JSOC was previously introduced, the JPRA is the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. This group was responsible for rescuing military personnel trapped in enemy territory, especially in “denied areas” which knowledge of their presence could cause a lot of problems. JPRA also prepared military personnel for capture by the enemy, this was the SERE program Survival, Evacuation, Resistance, and Escape. The SERE program kept a huge record of torture techniques, going back to the Civil War, and exposed military servicemen to these techniques. Rumsfeld’s idea? To officially use these techniques-“terrorists”remember this is stuff that the worst dictators we know used, that we know at least occasionally killed people-on. I think it’s important to put “terrorists” in quotes. I don’t question that there are people out there that want to do harm to the US, and that maybe it’s appropriate to do large sweeps in suspected areas, maybe it’s ok to take whatever the Pakistan government hands you. A lot of suspects were picked up this way, and I think its reasonable to assume many innocent people, or at least people who were not really that involved and not worth picking up, were taken this way. If you have been paying attention at all to the news at this time (2002-2003) and this chapter makes clear it was obvious that torture techniques were used indiscriminately. That is, if you were unlucky to get picked up, you were put through the mill.
Even if you think torture can be justified-I believe most people would identify torture as not an American value-there is plenty of evidence that torture DOES NOT WORK. Who says it doesn’t work? Is it pointy-headed liberals? Is it those dirty hippy peace activists types? Is it those who are “soft” on terrorism? No, it is veteran interrogators at the FBI, at the CIA. Did they state this clearly and unequivocally to the White House? Yes, yes, did. Did the White House show any sign they took the view of the professional seriously on this matter? No, they did not. They crafted a “torture” memo that basically said if you didn’t kill the person, it was not torture. See, legal! Fixed it for ya as the kids like to say. Congress was “briefed”-even if they were not fully informed I think its clear they didn’t ask any questions, so later they had some wriggle room to claim they didn’t know, in the off chance somebody cared.
I’m not going to describe the torture, which Scahill gives a general description of. All I want to say, if you treat somebody like an animal , you should not be surprised when they, or their family, act like one.
The rest of the chapter discusses the “gray” area of governance for military and intelligence operations. “Covert” operations require permission you might say, “clandestine” operations do not, if said operations are in countries with “anticipated hostilities”. In addition there was conflicting Congressional oversight. R and C of course, saw the whole world as their battlefield, so they used JSOC, which was kind of in-between anyway, and basically did whatever they wanted. But it wasn’t just the CIA and Congress that R and C wanted free of, it was military oversight as well. In essence R and C wanted to have a Special Ops to report directly to them, and to start killing many people right away. As before, there were plenty of military commanders who thought, um, maybe we ought to wait on some intelligence that seems useful, and then go kill lots of people. This was not enough for Rumsfeld, who as always as quick to dismiss anybody who did not agree with him, if you didn’t agree you were gone.  
R and C continued to push for independence, and aggressiveness of action. JSOC was “freed” from military oversight, and began working with an intelligence group known as Gray Fox. Even as Brent Scowcroft (chair of a 2002 commission, former Bush senior official), recommended pushing  more intelligence unit into the CIA, Rumsfeld went the other way.
In April 2002 Project Icon was established, funded by diverting Pentagon funds (not briefed to Congress), later known as Strategic Support Branch or SSB. This group was made up of teams of Special Ops units paired with intelligence personal. Gray Fox and SSB together were in essence R and C’s own army, with Stephen Cambone their main guy. Cambone would be further promoted in 2003 to a position that previously did not exist- undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Again, plenty of professionals in the CIA and military did not think this was a good idea, State department officials noticed a lot of people out of place- R and C did not think they needed to inform ambassadors and the like that operatives were in their cities. As one official says “We know the Geneva Convention was thrown under the bus, so to say, pretty early”. Some officials tried to stay away from it.
Chapter 9 Stanley McChrystal
Chapter 9 is a short bio of McCrystal. He is described as a good solider, a smart one, but also one who knows where the power lies. Actually, the overall description reads like the fawning over General Patraeus. McCrystal is a “warrior scholar” but can relate to his men. He comes off a smart and tough but there is nothing to suggest he possesses any remarkable skills.
The chapter runs through the early part of Iraq War, briefly describing the “leadership” of Bremer, the early, destabilizing decisions of “de-Baathification” and disbanding the Iraq military. “De-Baathification” left out the people most likely to lead the country—it was practically a requirement to join the Baath party if you were to get anywhere professionally. Disbanding the military put thousands of Iraqis out of job and pension-not to mention these were people who might know how to conduct armed resistance?
May 1st-the famed “Mission Accomplished” speech, and a few months later the guerilla insurgency started. Of course the White house tried to claim this was not happening but you can only deny reality for so long. On August 19th, the UN was bombed and most UN personal were gone by the time the UN was bombed a second time Sept 2003.
That same month McChrystal became JSOC commander and was charged with crushing the insurgency. Although Rumsfeld had grand plans for JSOC it became all consumed by fighting terrorism in a “nation that had no AQ presence before US tanks rolled in a year earlier.” The chapter discusses Zarqawi, the infamous deck of playing cards, and the development of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force (HVT).   The chapter introduces William Raven, McChrystal’s right hand man, who ultimately would sustain a major injury and work to vet High Value Targets for JSOC to kill. The chapter ends noting the huge increase in the manhunt list, and “credits” the “improvement” in JSOC to Raven, McChrystal, and Mike Flynn (Flynn was an experienced commander in Afghanistan McChrystal worked with for a short time.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dirty Wars Chapter Seven, the Build Up to the Iraq War

Chapter 7 goes into some parts of the GBWA’s prep for the Iraq war, specifically the use and manipulating intelligence, and R and C’s (Rumsfeld and Cheney) efforts to promote the Pentagon over the CIA. Unlike the R and C, the CIA did not have a particular goal to invade or destroy anybody. As most people who were paying attention at the time will know, the “proof” of ties between OBL and Iraq was essentially fabricated. R and C and their understudies such as Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, just picked out and strung together random details from CIA raw data.  The amount of executive pressure put on the CIA, generally by senior officials and personally by Cheney was completely unprecedented, as were the intelligence reports Feith gave to the president behind Tenet’s back. After intense, unrelenting, pressure, the CIA eventually produced reports the administration could use.
I read this chapter a few months after the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war, in the midst of an Iraq that seems as unstable and violent as ever. During the anniversary period a lot of the left a lot of energy seemed to be spent on who was right and who was wrong-and aggressively reminding those who were wrong, that they WERE WRONG. At some point, it just seemed really mean and counter-productive. I understand some of the journalists, such as Scahill himself, have been intimately involved with people’s lives that have been irrevocably harmed by the war and its aftermath. I understand that as journalists, you take the role seriously of what the media does, and that had media gone the other way maybe things would have been different. I guess if your happy beating up Ezra Klein for statements he wrote in college, Jeremy, I guess you’ve earned it. But to me, excessive energy spent on calling out journalists who were wrong on Iraq gives the appearance that everybody who was for the war deserves to be blamed equally.
What seemed to me to be lacking—and I am sure I missed things—was more analysis of, if the war couldn’t have been stopped, at least to make people pay for what they had done. To make every effort that it not happen again. Because let’s be real here, Ezra Klein, Dan Savage, even Christopher Hichens do not bear ultimate responsibility for the Iraq War. The people whose fault it is that we went to war against Iraq were the people who wanted it, who always wanted it. Who had a fundamental view that US resources and lives should be expended in the name of word domination-because really that was the goal of Rumsfeld and Cheney.  The people who helped them, some whose names we know well, Condolezza Rice, Feith, Wolfowitz, and some who names we do not know. The Congressional members who voted for the war, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton among them. These are the people who should be shunned and shamed. We should never forget there was no justifiable reason for the Iraq war; it caused countless deaths, Iraqi and American. We will all be paying for it, literally and figuratively, for the rest of our lives.
Ideally, in a world where people have to bear the consequences of their decisions Rumsfeld and Cheney should not be able to get any kind of job, and every Congress member who voted for the war should have been voted out of office. This of course not only did not happen, but most of the principles have either sailed through the typical trajectory of post-government official life and/or simply carried on in their positions. Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton of course have done especially well. This is really the question to ask, why, when their records and erroneous, dangerous behaviors are so well known, how can Rumsfeld write a book, be interviewed, and treated like a human. Why can Condolezza Rice get a position at an esteemed university-be considered a presidential candidate- after her obvious support and complicity for the destruction of a country and so many lives.  To my knowledge, no regret has been expressed with the decisions by any the Bush administration who actively pushed for war. Ironically, it would seem on the Republican side only the former president has suffered in the PR department, although that is probably as much to do with the financial meltdown as the war.
On the Democratic side it was not much better. On one hand I absolutely believe Hilary Clinton’s support for the war lost her the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. It alienated her from a key part of the activist base, and pushed many of them, especially women who otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed of voting for anybody else, to look elsewhere. I believe Clinton’s choice was a cold, political one. She could have stood against the war, it would have transformed her to a leader of the anti-war movement, put her on track to challenge Bush in 2004—all would have been forgiven, at least for a while. THAT, not a Matt Yglesias post, could have stopped the war. If this sounds like hyperbole remember back to the excitement of the Howard Dean campaign-almost entirely based on his Iraq anti-war position which was an after thought. (He got into the race to talk about health care.)  I have to think had one of the most well-known politicians in the country come out against it-if the former president had joined her?-something really could have happened.  
Of course it didn’t happen, and was probably not ever in the realm of possibility. It’s possible Clinton really thought invading Iraq was legitimate, but more likely she thought it was a way to be “serious”, that is get greater access to power.  The idea that there could be power in rallying masses against the war as opposed to being able to sit at the cool kids table, (to be respectable in important circles) I’m guessing never even entered her mind. More importantly, probably not even something she was interested in, as in terms of action she has never deviated from a neoliberal agenda. Either way, whether it was true belief or political calculation, she was dead to me after that and I think it left enough of a sour taste in some Democratic voters mouths to look at Obama more seriously.
Looking back on the post-Iraq war period I believe the lack of political consequences played a large role in where we are today, although I certainly didn’t think about it this way at the time. Part of the problem was that the anti-war apparatus was I think somewhat spilt between those who were not politically inclined/active (that is more focused on resistance and protest) and the part that was politically active was basically an arm of the Democratic Party. The same Democratic Party whose leaders, (not everybody) had supported the war.  The few anti-war signs of political life, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, rose and fell with their candidate’s political campaign. Dean returned to the conventional politician that he was, and Kucinich did not appear to have skills or the interest in trying to lead a movement.
I wonder what would have been different if there had been a mass-based anti-war party, one politically orientated but expressly focused on anti-war positions of candidates. Such a group could have threatened the Democratic base in key elections, it might have caused some movement. If nothing else maybe a genuine anti-war candidate could have emerged in 2004. Building such an organization is difficult, requiring time, money, and organization. Even if people had been thinking this way, I admit it’s a long shot to seeing to happen.  It’s true that 3rd parties in general have a poor record of “success”, that is if you define success in terms of getting elected. But you can have an effect by not getting elected, see the Tea Party who have managed to have strong effects on Republican positions by just the threat of a primary. What if similar pressure could be put on Democrats? It’s important to note that while Occupy tends to get compared to the Tea Party they are very different. While parts of the Tea Party could be considered “grassroots” it had solid financial backing, from right-wing sources. Occupy on the other hand was a true organic movement with no such financial resources, and was broken-up in large part through state police intervention.  If enough people stayed home, if even one or two established figures went down or were seriously challenged, could that have changed anything?
Of course part of the reason why the war happened was due to the after effects of 9-11, the manipulation of fear by those who did want to go to war. What is it about our culture that killing people is considered “brave” and choosing to not to kill people is considered “weak”? The few public figures, even just celebrities, who dared to speak out, were ridiculed/shunned. Here is probably where the media can be legitimately blamed; contributing to a culture that seems to think the US is simply a force for good in the world, that if the government says its true, well most of it must be true. Part of the anti-war crowd’s problem was that the majority of the population, speaking generally, does not want to believe the government would flat-out lie to its population, actually put it’s people in risk, for imperial power. In spite of people’s overall skepticism toward government, I feel when push comes to shove, especially national security, most people want to believe what they are told.
Getting back to blame for the war there is another group of people; those who were not for it, but arguably did not do enough to stop it. You could put some Congressional members in this category, if you were feeling generous but I am thinking primarily of members of the GBWA who were against the war, as well as professionals at the CIA. Colin Powell and most of the State department appeared to be against the war, but ultimately supported it. What if Powell had refused to “sign-off” on the war?  What if he had just make his case public, say supported Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. Certainly, he was one of the most popular members of the administration and it would have been difficult for R and C to isolate him politically in a public way as they had done privately. But I recognize that such a scenario would be just as likely as the Hilary Clinton scenario I sketched out, but for slightly different reasons. Somebody like Colin Powell has spent his entire life following orders and to not follow orders, even when in a theoretically a position of power, would be out of character. Again, it would have meant not sitting at the cool kids table, i.e. invitations to the Council on Foreign Relations and the like, probably no corporate speaking gigs. It would have put one with the dirty, hippy anti-war people, even though that included a lot former Bush senior officials. It seems crazy that culture should be such a powerful pull over what is morally right, but there it is.
Finally, what about the professionals at the CIA who ultimately supported, against their will you might say, the Iraq war? What should we expect of such people? Do we put the same level of responsibility on them as those higher up the food chain? There is line of reasoning that says any involvement in a crime makes you as guilty as the perpetrator. While CIA analyst sounds like an exotic job, ultimately it is a job. I imagine that many of those people have families, mortgages, and I would guess that many of them had been there long enough that they didn’t think leaving/or getting “fired” for protesting the war was a good career move. We all like to think we’d do the right thing when circumstances present us with a serious, moral, choice. I’d like to think I’d do the right thing if I was a worker bee in the CIA, I’d like to think I’d leave and/or protest the war, as forcefully as I did in real life, but I don’t know for sure.