Archive for June, 2012
Part I – The Hero Becomes the Hunted
It was back in 2006 that Julian Assange and associates founded the Wikileaks website. Their goal was and is a noble and necessary one. Wikileaks aims at forcing the world’s governments to act with greater transparency, and therefore possibly rule more justly. It was Assange’s opinion that if governments were less able to lie and keep secrets, they would be less prone to break their own and international laws, or at least more likely to adhere to a general rule of decency allegedly shared by their citizenry. This is a truly heroic undertaking. What did Wikileaks do to accomplish this task? It created a web-based non-governmental window on government activity through which it makes public those official lies and secrets. This information is supplied to it by whistle blowers the world over.
Soon Wikileaks was telling the world about “extrajudicial killings in Kenya…toxic waste dumping on the coast of Cote d’Ivoire…material involving large banks…among other documents.” None of this got Assange into great trouble. The simple fact is that the ability of states such as Kenya and the Ivory Coast to reach out and crush an organization like Wikileaks is limited. However, in 2010 the website started publishing massive amounts of U.S. diplomatic and military documents, including damaging information on procedures at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and a video documenting attacks on civilians in Iraq.
It is at this point that Assange, as the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, became a criminal in the eyes of the U.S. government. The hero now became the hunted. Republican Representative Peter King of New York, an Islamophobe who unfortunately chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, labeled Wikileaks a “terrorist organization” and said that Assange ought to be “prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.” On the Democratic side of the aisle, Diane Feinstein of California, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed that Assange had harmed the national interest and “put innocent lives at risk” and therefore should be prosecuted for espionage. Actually, a good argument can be made that the stupid and corrupt policies of American politicians have done much greater harm to objectively defined national interest, particularly in the Middle East. In addition there is no evidence that any of Wikileaks’ actions have resulted in any loss of “innocent lives.” However, none of this can save Assange.
Part II – Who is the Real Criminal?
One of the serious questions raised by the case of Wikileaks and Julian Assange is just who is a criminal? If an organized crime syndicate commits illegal acts and some outside party reveals its activity, the syndicate might mark the witness for punishment. However, which one is the real criminal? Lots of governments act like organized crime syndicates. If you ask King or Feinstein what they think about the behavior of, say, Russia in Chechnya or China in Tibet, they are likely to describe that behavior as criminal. And, if Assange had just exposed the sins of Russia or China, he would be praised within the halls of Congress.
But what happens when the U.S. government behaves like an organized gang of criminals? After all, a very good case can be made that the leaders of the United States are systematically violating their own constitution with policies like indefinite detention. And the government’s behavior in Viet Nam, as well as in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq (for instance, in the application of draconian sanctions which did take the lives of up to a million innocents) and the actual occupation of that country, all violated more moral precepts than one cares to count. Then there is the practice of torturing suspected, but not actually convicted, terrorists, and the current use of drone attacks which kill more civilians than targeted enemies. Along comes Wikileaks and Assange to bear witness against some of these acts. Washington marks him for punishment. But just who is the real criminal?
It is to the enduring shame of most of the U.S. media that they did not, and still can’t, manage a straight answer to that question. The establishment press has always kept its distance from Assange, asserting that he was not a “real” journalist. This no doubt reflects the attitudes of its basically conservative owners and editors. For instance, the New York Times executive editor, Bill Keller, once called Assange a “smelly, dirty, bombastic…believer in unproven conspiracy theories….” He did this even while his own paper selectively dipped into the 391,832 Pentagon documents Wikileaks had divulged. Even then the information was used in the most innocuous fashion. I think it is fair to say that investigative journalism at a local (city or state) level still goes on in the U.S., but at the national level it has become an increasingly rare phenomenon.
Part III – Popular Disbelief
Though a noble and necessary effort, Assange’s Wikileaks experiment always faced very high odds, particularly in the U.S. This is because its revelations play themselves out within the context of an establishment culture that has long ago turned the great majority of people into subservient true believers. True believers in what? In the essential goodness of their nation as it operates in the world beyond its borders. Therefore, transparency might be acceptable for one’s local political environment where the mayor turns out to be corrupt, but foreign policy is something else again. For Americans in the post 9/11 age, foreign policy boils down to promoting democracy and development on the one hand, and protecting the citizenry from terrorists on the other. Within that frame of reference, it is nearly impossible for Americans to conceive of their national government as purposefully acting like a criminal organization. They just refuse to believe it..
Particularly in the so-called war against terrorism, most Americans see nothing noble or necessary about exposing the government’s clandestine operations. Thus, when Julian Assange points out the criminal behavior of those supposedly defending the nation, most citizens are going to feel indignant and rally around the flag. The messenger is soon the one who is seen as criminal and dangerous because he is undermining national security.
There are no greater adherents to this point of view than the political and military leaders who claim to be defenders of the nation. For them the old Barry Goldwater saying, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” excuses all excesses. Wikileaks both challenged and embarrassed them by making their innumerable excesses public. Thus, be they Democrats or Republicans, the so-called champions of homeland security are determined to silence him.
U.S. authorities have latched onto an exaggerated sex scandal in Sweden in which Assange is sought for questioning (though as yet not charged with any crime). They have pressured the Swedes to extradite Assange from his present UK residence when it would be much easier and efficient (as Assange has offered) for Stockholm to send court representatives to England to perform the questioning. So why do it the hard way? Because, once in Sweden, the head of Wikileaks could be given over to the Americans (something the British will not do). Assange will not cooperate in this game. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, “as a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system.” When he recently lost his UK court battle against extradition, he sought asylum in the embassy of Ecuador, a country whose leaders are sympathetic to Assange’s plight. True to form, American media comment on Assange’s appeal for asylum has been disparaging.
Part IV – Conclusion
Julian Assange is now a hero on the run. And, he is probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Even if he makes it to Ecuador he will need bodyguards to protect him from kidnaping or worse. As one Pentagon spokesman put it, “If doing the right thing is not good enough for [Assange] then we will figure out what other alternatives we have to compel [him] to do the right thing.” And what do America’s leaders regard as the “right thing” in this case? Obviously, keeping silent about Washington’s doing the wrong thing.
That is the nature of our world. Submerged in a culture defined by the educational and informational dictates of our leaders and their interests, many of us can not recognize when we are being lied to or misled. And, if someone tries to tell us what is happening, they sound so odd, so out of place, that we are made anxious and annoyed. So much so that, in the end, we don’t raise a finger when the messenger is hounded into silence.
The State Department is that branch of government that has responsibility for foreign policy. Every U.S. embassy and consulate is an extension of the State Department. U.S. citizens traveling abroad, be it on a short vacation to Canada or Mexico or an extended venture for business or study to anywhere on the globe where the U.S. has diplomatic relations, can rely on assistance in an emergency from the State Department. Well, almost anywhere.
How about Israel? In theory there is no difference between the behavior of State Department personnel in Israel and anywhere else. If you go to the State Department’s website and look under Israel, Entry and Exit Difficulties it will tell you how to contact the embassy or consulates, in case of need, depending on where in the country you are. Thus, if you are stuck at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport you should contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy (972) (3) 519-7575. If you are stuck at the Allenby Bridge border crossing you have to ring up the consulate in Jerusalem (972) (2) 630-4000. But, again, that’s theory.
In practice, however, the behavior of the State Department’s diplomatic personnel in Israel is quite different than that of diplomats in other countries. In fact, like everything else touching on Israel, U.S. diplomatic practice has been corrupted by the power and influence of the Zionist lobby in Washington.
Take the recent case of Sandra Tamari. Ms Tamari is a Quaker, the mother of two children, an American citizen of Palestinian descent, and also a member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. She traveled to Israel at the end of May 2012 to “participate in an interfaith delegation involving Palestinians and Israelis working for peace and coexistence.” She was stopped at Ben Gurion Airport and “aggressively questioned for over eight hours before being taken to a detention center and deported back to the United States. During the questioning, Israeli security demanded that she show them her personal email account and accused her of being a terrorist.”
Given her situation, Ms Tamari attempted to contact the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. It took a couple of hours for her to actually get someone to speak to. This someone was Mr. Chris Kane, a General Service Officer. According to Ms Tamari’s account here is how part of the conversation went:
Tamari: They are threatening to deny me entry and to deport me.
Kane: Are you Jewish?
Kane: Have you been here before? …..
Tamari: Yes, several times. I am a Palestinian with family in the West Bank.
Kane: Oh, you have family in the West Bank. Then there is nothing I can do to help you. In fact if I interceded on your behalf, it will hurt your case with the Israelis. …….
Tamari: I don’t understand. You are saying you can’t speak with them. You have no influence….
Kane: ….They won’t harm you. You will be sent home on the next flight out. I hope I have been of good service to you.
Tamari: Frankly, you have done nothing for me.
Kane: Well, at least you can say I did it kindly.
As comical and Kafkaesque as this exchange might sound, it is not particularly unusual. Americans active in the cause of Palestinian rights are often stopped at border points controlled by Israel. Often they are harassed. Sometimes they are deported. Whatever the case, an appeal to the U.S. Embassy or the Jerusalem consulate will not get you help.
Why is this so? The politicians who make up our national elected officials from the President on down are committed to the Zionist point of view. With rare exceptions, this has been the case for at least 65 years. That has been long enough to purge the State Department of almost anyone who is sympathetic to the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. If, by mistake, someone does end up in the Tel Aviv embassy with a bit of heart and shows it in an actual attempt to help someone like Tamari, it will go down as a blot on their service record. He or she would probably find themselves quickly reassigned to Nepal or Iceland.
The situation can get much worse than that experienced by Ms. Tamari. When, in March 2003, 23 year-old Rachel Corrie, an American citizen from Olympia Washington, was murdered by the Israeli army while trying to stop a home demolition the State Department did little. Indeed, if it were not for the public protest of Corrie’s parents and their supporters, it is likely the Department would have done little beyond issuing regrets. As it was, it took over a year for the State Department to issue a call for an independent investigation of the incident. Nor has State ever applied sufficient pressure on the Israelis to bring such an investigation into reality.
Again when, in May 2010, Israeli soldiers murdered a 19 year-old American citizen, Furkan Dogan, during an illegal raid, carried out in international waters, on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza, the State Department’s reaction was muted at best. There was a tendency on the part of Washington to stall and then rationalize Israeli actions. In Congress, the flotilla participants were labeled terrorists.
This behavior on the part of our elected officials and appointed diplomats is a function of corruption. I remember often being challenged by Zionists who would ask, why do you attack Israel? Aren’t there many other nations which you could complain about? My answer, then and now, speaks to problems we face both in the federal government in general and the State Department in particular. It goes like this:
“The fact is that Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of dominion and has, for a long while now, exerted a corrupting power within many of the political institutions of Western governments, and particularly that of the United States. In other words, unlike the Russians or the Chinese and other such governments, the Israelis and their supporters directly influence the policy makers of our own country and this often results in our abetting Israel’s crimes. This makes it imperative that Zionist Israel be singled out as a high priority case from among the many other oppressive regimes that may be candidates for criticism and protest.”
Poisoning Public Discourse An Analysis (9 June 2012) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I NDAA Redux
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is misnamed. The Act has less to do with defense than offense. The offensive it wages is not just against a growing list of alleged enemies but also, from a constitutional perspective, against the rights of American citizens and residents. Major parts of the legislation are based on the assumption that key legal protections for individuals are incompatible with the requirements of national security. The result is that Americans are now caught between the terrorists and the authoritarian propensities of their own government. If one does not get you, the other will.
The NDAAspecifically Section 1021(b)(2)has already institutionalized the U.S. militarys ability to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, citizens and non-citizens alike. This is a serious abuse of power. The monarchical authority our founding fathers sought to escape practiced such disappearance of people. The contemporary dictatorships Washington has so consistently supported practice this horror as well. Now we, having no patience or imagination to seek routes to security compatible with our own legal principles, begin to illegally imprison without recourse those we (rightly or wrongly) fear.
A recent decision by New York Appellate Court Judge Katherine Forrest suspended this part of the NDAA. This was the result of a law suit brought against the Act by seven journalists and anti-war activists and it came as an embarrassing surprise to Justice Department lawyers defending indefinite detention. What will now follow will be an effort to overturn or minimize Judge Forrests ruling because it allegedly restrains future military operations that might be ordered by the commander and chief during wartime. At first the “Justice” Department asserted that the judges ruling applied only to the seven plaintiffs in the suit. She quickly clarified her ruling to make it plain that it enjoined enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) against anyone . The government lawyers will certainly appeal Forrests decision. If necessary, they will declare to the Supreme Court the necessity of eroding the very constitution they are sworn to uphold, and so presently myopic is that court of last resort, that it will almost certainly agree.
However, the negative potential of the NDAA does not stop with the issue of indefinite detention. It has now come to light that the 2013 version of the Act (passed by the House but yet to be taken up by the Senate) allows the State Department and Department of Defense to direct the same kind of massive propaganda campaigns here in the U.S. that are presently waged as part of American war efforts in foreign lands. This latest maneuver is the bi-partisan work of two Congressmen: Mac Thornberry (Republican) of Texas and Adam Smith (Democrat) of Washington State. Both claim that current law, which prohibits these government agencies from propagandizing within the U.S., ties the hands of Americas diplomatic officials, military and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.
Part II What of Public Discourse?
Thornberry and Smiths action raises the question of the role of public discourse. Of course, the discourse coming from government has always been skewed. Yet up to this point there has been legislative recognition that the government should not lie to its own people the way it does to foreign audiences. It is this distinction that Thornberry and Smith would eliminate by writing into the institutional job-descriptions of the State and Defense Departments the mission of selling U.S. government foreign policy and its accompanying wars to Americans through massive advertising campaigns.
Of course Thornberry and Smith do not see their legislation as sponsoring ever more sophisticated efforts at misinformation. These two Congressmen have obviously swallowed whole the official patriotic storyline and now have concluded that every one else must do likewise. This is what happens when elected officials fail to distinguish between propaganda and communicating in a credible way. Their gullibility is not a good sign. It suggests that what often does not work in foreign lands is quite likely to work well here at home.
People in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan know that the U.S. is or was in their countries as a military conqueror. A few might approve of that position, but we can safely say that most do not. The mayhem that surrounds conquest and occupation is so immediate, so close to home, that the millions of American dollars spent for planted news stories and other forms of misrepresentation are not going to counter that reality so as to help improve the U.S. image and win wars.
However, when and if the State and Defense Departments launch professional misinformation campaigns here in the U.S., success is all but guaranteed. That is because there is no countervailing context in which most Americans, including most in Congress, can judge the psychological warfare message. The violence and brutality of invasion, occupation and resistence do not impact the local lives of Americans (except the families of U.S. soldiers who are always considered heros), and so you are left with a relentlessly repeated patriotic message from sources you have been taught to trust.
It is an interesting and certainly significant fact that although the propaganda campaigns of the State and Defense Departments are presently prohibited by law in the homeland, a comparable process of government misinformation takes place nonetheless. Neither the State nor the Defense Departments could have done better than the administration of George W. Bush Jr. in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Washingtons consistent lying, abetted by compliant media allies, paved the way for a popularly supported bloody debacle. In Iraq, the same propaganda, contextualized as it was by widespread violence, brought forth skepticism and disgust.
Whatever the record of such efforts abroad, there seems little doubt that Bushs success in 2003 now inspires the governments information operatives to seek legal authority to wage professionally designed giant marketing campaigns to sell the nations foreign policy and wars to its own citizens. Hence the bi-partisan efforts of Thornberry and Smith.
Part III Conclusion
It should be kept in mind that government bureaucracies, be they civilian or military, are not places of free discourse. They are get with the mission and follow orders environments. While their representatives, drawn as they are from the American public, might give lip service to democracy, honesty and meaningful discussion, they really do not practice these tenets and probably do not believe in them either. That is why, in an era when money stands for free speech and bellicose conservatives own more and more of the media, Thornberry and Smiths legislation appears obvious and logical within the halls of government. If passed into law it will become the capstone of an ongoing process that is turning public discourse into a poisoned well of indoctrination.