Cops get $4 million after killing black man

In 2010, George Diego and Allan Corrales of the Los Angeles Police Department shot and killed an unarmed black man, Steven Eugene Washington. The case was one of several high-profile shootings that activists protesting under the auspices of “Black Lives Matter” brought up with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck when they met with him in January: Washington had been walking down Vermont Avenue, minding his own business, when Diego and Corrales drove by in their cruiser, deemed said walking suspicious, and shot him in the head, telling investigators that they feared his cell phone was a gun; the phone wasn’t even in his hand, but it was dark and so was he and so the officers were placed on desk duty instead of being fired.

The officers did have their day in court, though – they sued, alleging discrimination. Would a white cop who kills an unarmed black man get stuck behind a desk or would they get a promotion and be hailed as a hero on AM radio? A jury ruled in their favor, awarding over $4 million to the two killer cops whose only punishment had been getting to keep their jobs as police while facing none of the risks cops cite to justifying killing civilians.

God damn America.” – Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

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Is the CIA deliberately funding Al Qaeda?

On March 14, The New York Times published an article entitled, “C.I.A. Cash Ended Up in Coffers of Al Qaeda,” detailing how the government of Afghanistan used “a secret fund that the Central Intelligence Agency bankrolled” to help pay a $5 million ransom to Al Qaeda, which had kidnapped an Afghan diplomat. Responding to the headline, those who suggest the US government is deliberately funding Al Qaeda in order to create an enemy whose existence it can then cite to justify intervention chortled at the Times’ use of the passive voice. “Oh, come on,” the marginalized conspiracy theorists groaned, “it just ‘ended up’ in their hands, now did it?”

The New York Times often runs terrible headlines, but I would suggest that those who believe this article, based on documents that were reportedly recovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, provides evidence for their theory that the United States is funding Al Qaeda on purpose, are quite mistaken. And the see-through-the-spectacle analysis they apply to Washington? It could also be applied to one of its long-time foes, were their analysis coherent and consistent. Reading past the headline, one discovers that while the Afghan government did indeed take $1 million from that secret fund to pay off an Al Qaeda ransom, “$4 million more [was] provided from other countries.” Pakistan “contributed nearly half the ransom,” the paper notes, while the remainder that didn’t come from the CIA “came from Iran and Persian Gulf states, which had also contributed to the Afghan president’s secret fund.

Are we to believe the Islamic Republic of Iran is deliberately funding Al Qaeda as well? Not only did it help pay the ransom, it contributed to the same secret slush fund as the CIA. That money just “ended up” in the hands of a group whose existence Tehran has cited to justify intervening in both Syria and Iraq? Yes, actually: I don’t believe the evidence that’s not the case is any stronger with respect to Iran than it is with respect to the United States.

If Washington (or Tehran) wanted to fund Al Qaeda, it wouldn’t need to go the indirect route of dropping bags of cash outside Hamid Karzai’s office in Kabul in the hope that some of it would in turn, on occasion, be used to pay off 20 percent of a ransom: It could just end its policy of not paying the ransoms itself. Many have called for it do just that and it would be far from alone in doing so.

Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror,” The New York Times reported last July, noting that Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland have all paid ransoms directly to Al Qaeda and its affiliates: $165 million since 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, and $66 million in 2013 alone. “Only a handful of countries have resisted paying,” the Times observed, “led by the United States and Britain.” If the U.S. empire really does have a deliberate policy of funding Al Qaeda, this stance is perplexing: Here is a clear and convenient opportunity to hand over millions of dollars to extremists, openly, in a way that much of the public would find morally defensible, and it’s not . . . because? I’m sure someone has a theory — I just doubt it’s any good.

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This ain’t ‘anti-imperialism’

Ah, 2003: When opposing imperialism meant opposing imperialism, not simply denying the existence of evil in the world or, worse yet, defending it as good and just. The warmongers’ claim that opponents of invading and destroying Iraq were mere apologists for Saddam Hussein? Oh, grow up, you neocon creep. Where were you when Ronald Reagan was arming the guy? These “apologists” you speak of, George Galloway perhaps excepted, are not actually a thing, pal.

To be young again . . .

These days, most anti-imperialists still hold to the idea that opposing the dropping of bombs does not require simply ignoring or excusing the crimes of any nation-state that is not currently allied with the criminal regime in Washington. Being against war does not, actually, require that one reflexively defend war criminals – a word justly applied to those who would bomb and starve Palestinians, for instance, be they in Gaza or Yarmouk – under the infantile reasoning that raising awareness complicates the antiwar cause. Moral credibility is the anti-imperialist’s strongest card and it’s lost forever when dead children in one place demands all of our outrage while in another conspicuous silence is seen as the only way to be effectively antiwar, or the only way to not be an imperialist, even, which can get confusing: Is this sectarian death squad backed by America or Iran? Both? Damn, this is hard.

If you’re an American, it makes sense to focus on American war crimes and support for them, but it also strikes me as increasingly indefensible to simply ignore the humanitarian crisis in Syria, to name one glaring example, where nearly a quarter million are dead and millions more living in destitution as refugees, because the man most responsible for the killing, hereditary dictator Bashar Assad, is not on good terms with the White House that feeds him intelligence on its bombing campaign against the Islamic State. What’s become clear is that some who were the biggest critics of George W. Bush are some of the biggest defenders of Assad’s “war on terror,” every atrocity at worst the regrettable consequence of fighting “imperialism” and “jihadists,” though the vast majority of victims are civilians and not all Sunnis with guns are members of ISIS.

To these sorts, the war in Syria is but an abstraction — the West vs. a perhaps unsavory (though secular and moderate!) dictator — but let’s take a look at what is actually being defended by amoral “anti-imperialists”:

What’s seen in this video is what happened on March 16, 2015, in the town of Sarmin,  where eyewitnesses report that “Syrian armed forces helicopters dropped four barrels containing [chlorine] gas,” as noted by Amnesty International. A hundred people were exposed: “a small number of fighters from the Free Syrian Army armed group, but the vast majority . . . civilians,” including a an entire family with three small children that suffocated to death. As in every war, those who suffer the most are not the imperialists or the butchers who justify their butchery in the name of anti-imperialism, but innocent men, women and children. This sort of incident is no anomaly in Syria, though typically the atrocity is carried out the humane and enlightened way: with conventional weapons that tear people limb from limb.

“I saw body parts everywhere,” one resident of Raqqa told Amnesty after the Syrian military bombed a crowded marketplace there. “I carried 40 bodies to cars, ambulances and pick-ups that transferred them to [hospitals].” In the span of two weeks last November, regime airstrikes on the Islamic State-occupied city, in “most cases” on non-military targets, killed up to 115 civilians, including 14 children – more than the U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS have killed in over six months (Syria’s state news agency hasn’t reported on civilians killed by either U.S. or Syrian bombs).

Again, even if one were to believe all that is claimed from Assad’s apologists and the vulgar reductionists of the reactionary “left,” the vast majority of people the Syrian government is killing aren’t “jihadists” or “imperial proxies” or “Contras,” but Syrian civilians: 176,000 of them, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, on which the United Nations relies for such statistics; though the Islamic State boats of its crimes, more people have allegedly been killed by the regime snipers (5,761) than the social media-savvy terrorists. And according to Physicians for Human Rights, “The Syrian government is responsible for 88 percent of the recorded hospital attacks and 97 percent of medical personnel killings, with 139 deaths directly attributed to torture or execution.”

If one takes these numbers with an iceberg of salt – which would be fair enough given the fog of war in a country where journalists are denied access by the government and killed by ISIS – the overall picture is fairly clear and the idea that this picture is the product of a State Department fabulist is more than just an absurdity, it’s an insult. Rather than denial, anti-imperialists ought to own the fact that a lot of evil can be perpetrated without the direct support of the U.S. empire — and that the only thing that could make Syria even worse at this point would be a imperial “liberation” by way of airstrikes on the regime or Marines on the ground.

Skepticism is certainly warranted when allegations are made about a state the American empire doesn’t like, but one can be skeptical without being an apologist who white-washes war crimes and baits as an “imperialist” anyone who doesn’t believe every dead baby is the product of a rebel false flag. If I were a young intelligence officer (let me stress that: if) trying to come up with a PsyOp to discredit the anti-war left, though? I would suggest doing just that. There’s no better way to tar anti-imperialists as rank apologists than having anti-imperialists become rank apologists.

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From the killing fields to a prison cell

“The next 5 to 10 years are going to be a shit show.” That’s what an attorney who represents military veterans with PTSD told me when I asked him about veterans treatment courts, which are intended to deal with the particular issues facing alleged criminals who were turned into killers by their government. He’s a fan of those courts, which let veterans avoid prison by undergoing treatment, and would like to see them flourish — anything that keeps people from experiencing incarceration is a good thing — but he says the worst is yet to come, even with these courts: The most troubled veterans aren’t the ones currently getting arrested, but the ones still in special forces overseas masking their deep emotional problems by engaging in continual combat. Instead of committing crimes at home, they are committing them abroad — but someday they will come home and bring their troubles with them. War: It Keeps Killing Long After It’s Over.

On that uplifting note, check out the piece I wrote on this topic for TakePart. And happy Friday!

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Against mugshots

Photos of the state’s latest catch don’t belong in a free press, or so I argue in a piece for Truthout. Check it out.

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When it’s wrong to keep your word

Edward Snowden was trusted with keeping a secret. When he took a job working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), he voluntarily took an oath pledging to not divulge classified information about the US government’s electronic surveillance programs. In the end, he couldn’t keep that oath. He broke it.

Good for him.

Many had access to the same information Snowden had, including members of Congress who had the platform to do something about it — but none did. That’s a shame, because if any member of the political establishment had the courage to inform the public about what was being done in their name (and with their money), we would have known about the NSA’s gobbling up of telephone metadata several years ago. We would have known that the US government can tap into a Skype call or email thread with nothing more than a broad authorization from justices on a secret court that approved a full 100 percent of the surveillance requests they received in 2010.

But we don’t have people like that in Congress. We put people like that in prison.

Oath keepers

“Mr. Snowden broke the law,” Dick Durbin, the second highest ranking member of the Senate, recently told reporters. Never mind the wrongdoing Snowden exposed. What was important to liberal Democrat from Illinois was that Snowden — “a man of limited education and limited life experience” — wronged those whose wrongdoing he swore he’d take to the grave. “They told him, we will give you access to the most important and delicate classified information in America,” said Durbin. “You gotta take an oath that you will never disclose it. We take the same oath, members of Congress. He broke his oath. He committed a crime. He needs to pay a price for it.”

Durbin, of all people, should know better.

On April 25, 2007, the Illinois lawmaker took to the Senate floor to reveal a shocking secret: As a member of the Intelligence Committee during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he knew the Bush administration was lying.

“I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and watch the television newscasts and shake my head because, you see, just a few hundred feet away from here in a closed room, carefully guarded, the Intelligence Committee was meeting on a daily basis for top-secret briefings about the information we were receiving, and the information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American public,” he said.

In particular, Durbin highlighted the case of Iraq’s “aluminum tubes,” which the Bush administration regularly claimed could have no other purpose than to deliver a nuclear warhead to the heartland, despite strong objections from US government scientists. Inside the committee room, this disagreement was acknowledged. Outside the room, however, “members of the administration were telling the American people to be fearful of mushroom-shaped clouds.”

“I was angry about it,” the senator continued. But, “Frankly, I couldn’t do much about it,” he maintained, “because, in the Intelligence Committee, we are sworn to secrecy.”

No courage in Congress

Durbin could have come forward and announced the White House was lying to the American public. He could have dared the Bush administration to prosecute a sitting senator. But he kept his oath; he kept a promise with liars to keep their lies a secret. And then hundreds of thousands of people died.

Durbin isn’t the only senator who has kept silent when he witnessed something wrong, of course. There are 99 others.

Speaking on the Senate floor last year, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden warned the US government was relying on a secret interpretation of the law to justify its broad surveillance programs “should never be a secret from the American people.” In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, he also said that “Justice Department officials have — on a number of occasions — made what we believe are misleading statements pertaining to the government’s interpretation of surveillance law.”

But Wyden kept secret what they lied about. Why? Because he took an oath. As The New York Times reported, the senator “had to be content to sit in a special sealed room, soak in information that they said appalled and frightened them, then offer veiled messages that were largely ignored.”

Telling the truth works

When Snowden broke his oath and leaked evidence of the NSA’s appalling and frightening surveillance capabilities, the evidence wasn’t ignored. It made headlines around the globe. Rather than working within a system designed to stifle dissent, he went directly to the public. And it worked: everyone is talking about it.

In reasonable doses, loyalty can be a good thing. But when loyalty to power comes at the public’s expense, it is a character flaw, not a virtue, something both Snowden and Chelsea Manning before him recognized despite their “limited education and limited life experience.” In fact, that’s probably why they did what they did. Neither had been conditioned by years in Washington to believe there’s anything honorable about keeping an oath with a liar. They knew shutting their mouths would only make them accessories.

Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning would make terrible senators. For that, we should be thankful.

An earlier version of this essay was posted by another website quite a while ago. I prefer this one.

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Trend Watch: Former feds smearing antiwar activists

Coleen Rowley spent more than two decades with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. What’s she up to now? Attacking antiwar activists by suggesting they’re imperialists for being too critical of Syria’s hereditary dictator.

In a piece published by both the Huffington Post and Consortium News, “Selling ‘Peace Groups on US-Led Wars,” Rowley and co-author Margaret Sarfehjooy conclude that a group of Quaker pacifists in Minnesota – the “Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria,” or CISPOS, which is part of “Friends for a Nonviolent World” – is part of a campaign to promote democracy, “U.S. militarism style,” because it hosted “speakers and essayists with strong ties to the violent uprising to topple the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in a war that has already taken some 200,000 lives.”

Observe the language here: the initially peaceful 2011 uprising in Syria is characterized as “violent” (a curious critique for a revolutionary leftist) and to blame for all the violence followed; the brutal crackdown by a state armed with modern fighter jets and crude, indiscriminate barrel bombs is left unmentioned, lest the authors themselves be accused of spreading propaganda for a war against a regime with which the White House is currently coordinating its air strikes on Syria. Rowley and her coauthor strongly insinuate that the peaceniks whom they are tarring as imperialists hosted speakers with ties to the US government, but the most they can come up with is that the State Department has given grants to some opposition activists – it’s done the same in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – and that the ex-husband of one woman who spoke to the group was once, nearly a decade ago, in the same room as Dick Cheney. All they have is innuendo and a series of links to tangentially related evidence that isn’t really evidence of anything that undermines the argument that “this Assad guy seems like a bad dude,” ultimately convincing only to those who skim articles that make arguments with which they are already inclined to agree.

There is a glaring omission, however, which was noted by commentator Louis Proyect: That just a few weeks before they were smeared by a former federal agent (right eyebrow status: hella fuckin’ raised), the imperialists of CISPOS were promoting a protest “against US-led Coalition airstrikes on Syria.” Those strikes, like the Assad regime’s record of mass murder, are not mentioned in Rowley’s article, which might make those inclined to engage in a conspiratorial analysis go: Hmm. But one need not think the moon landing was directed by Stanley Kubrick to think that’s really weird.

Indeed, let’s think about this: Imperial powers are actively bombing Syria in the name of a U.S.-led “war on terror” that Assad has repeatedly expressed a desire in joining himself – he tortured people for George W. Bush and long ago labelled all who oppose him “terrorists,” while the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, in The New York Times, has called for “capitalizing on Mr. Assad’s anti-jihadi instincts” – and a former fed decides now is the time to go after those who oppose both bombing Syria and rehabilitating its brutal (but secular and beardless) dictator as a potential ally of the West? Strange, one might say. Makes ya think.

This isn’t the first time a former federal agent has decided to weigh in on Syria by smearing as “imperialists” members of an antiwar movement they were quite late in joining themselves. In December 2011, former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds wrote of a “very troubling switch of position and changes at AntiWar.com.” The issue, in her view: The site’s coverage of Syria, which by virtue of its being insufficiently apologist, was determined to be “MSM produced war propaganda,” a development – a site called AntiWar learning to love the bomb and go pro-war – she blamed on “mystery-undisclosed funders.”

“I have researchers who are compiling data on their recent changes,” wrote Edmonds, “and running background checks on their new team members who have successfully altered this once truly valuable source of information.” There have been no updates since, presumably meaning that the investigation is still ongoing.

Now, is there a conspiracy to co-opt the antiwar movement by targeting those in it who refuse to go along with the rehabilitation of a butcher who U.S. elites appear to now view as a lesser evil? Yeah, probably not, but regardless: the divisive and disingenuous way these former agents of the state have engaged those who — by the way — were on to the whole “antiwar” thing back while they were still serving empire suggests that, perhaps, the antiwar left has been a little too welcoming of those who haven’t quite given up the with-us-or-against-us mentality of a federal agent. At the very least, we should be viewing their work with as much cynical skepticism as we do the work of other, lesser known freelance writers for web-based publications. And while their transformations are very likely genuine, the Left has every reason to distrust anyone who ever freely associated with the FBI.

Amusingly, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, with which Rowley is now associated, knows there’s a good reason for that general policy of distrust, having been targeted by the FBI for allegedly providing “material support” for terrorism, which took the form of expressing solidarity with the victims of war — like millions of Syrians, for instance, who are currently freezing in refugee camps across the Middle East. As Freedom Road’s Tom Burke told me, the FBI infiltrated the organization during a rare moment of unity in the often divisive world of antiwar activism, the bureau having long sought to sow sectarian division on the left (to that end, the FBI’s woman on the inside would often attack her comrades for being insufficiently militant, masquerading as the only real revolutionary in the room). Around the same time, Brandon Darby, an agent provocateur on the payroll of the FBI, helped entrap activists at the 2006 Republican Convention in Minnesota by encouraging them to set off incendiary devices. One of his favorite approaches for dealing with those who questioned the wisdom of his tactics? “Pointing fingers at and ‘snitch-jacketing’ other people, accusing them of being cops, FBI agents, etc.,” according to Lisa Fithian, one of the many activists he betrayed.

In the case of Syria, the trend embraced by Rowley and Edmonds before her is to “imperial-jacket” those who think maybe the opposition to Bashad Assad has something to do with the policies of Bashar Assad, not just the meddling of outside agitators; rather than engage in good faith those who may have a different opinion, and whose years of antiwar activism ought to buy them the benefit of the doubt, Rowley and others like her have chosen to paint them as tools of empire – perhaps willing ones, they not so subtly insinuate – at a time, ironically, when the empire is busy bombing Syria in the name of fighting terrorism, not Bashar Assad. They may not be in the pay of the federal government, but they’re still policing the antiwar left and the effect of their work is the same, turning leftists against each other when they should be working together to fight the common enemy: those who would have us believe cruise missiles are an effective means of addressing a humanitarian crisis.

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