IPS Blog

An Appeal to Canada to Stand with El Salvador, the First Nation to Halt Gold Mining

I paid a visit this week to the Canadian Embassy with colleagues from the Institute for Policy Studies and other environmental and public policy organizations to deliver a letter to the Canadian Ambassador to the United States. We are demanding that his government tell Pacific Rim — the Vancouver-based mining company — to stop bullying the people of El Salvador.

John Cavanagh, IPS Director, speaks with Canadian Ambassador to discuss how Canadian company Pacific Rim is bullying El Salvador.

Our letter was co-signed by Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Earthworks, the Center for International Environmental Law, and others. We wrote:

“Given the severe environment and human rights implications associated with Pacific Rim’s investment in El Salvador and the gold mine and cyanide leach-water processing plant it is proposing, we urge the Canadian government to alert Pacific Rim that its investor-state claim against the Salvadoran government for enforcing its own environmental laws and striving to protect its water and communities tarnishes the image of the Canadian mining industry.”

Salvadoran community leaders tell us that, since 2009 when they came to Washington DC to receive the Letelier-Moffitt human rights award from IPS, Pacific Rim has been trying to transform itself from victimizer to victim. This behavior is reprehensible. Some have lost their lives due to anti-mining activities, such as Marcelo Rivera, the brother of one of those who received the awards, who was assassinated for speaking out about the perils of gold mining.

This is the effect of free trade agreements.

Despite the prospect of major environmental damage, Pacific Rim says it has the “right,” under the investor–state regime allowed by investment rules in free trade agreements, to reap the profits that would have been brought by gold mining. In pursuit of these so-called lost profits, Pacific Rim is demanding up to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation at the International Centre for Settlement of International Disputes (ICSID), an unaccountable World Bank tribunal that operates behind closed doors.

The Sierra Club “opposes trade and investment agreements that allow foreign corporations to attack environmental and public health protections in secret trade tribunals,” says Ilana Solomon, trade policy expert at the Sierra Club. “This lawsuit by Pacific Rim, which threatens the health and safety of communities in El Salvador, is a case in point for why we oppose these secret tribunals.”

Using large roll-out maps of El Salvador watersheds that he brought along, IPS director John Cavanagh explained to the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy that, though there is always danger from the mining and processing necessary to extract gold, Pacific Rim’s activity in El Salvador is particularly threatening given that El Salvador is the second most water-starved country in our hemisphere. A full 98 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated, some of it from mining activity halted decades ago. Yet Pacific Rim stands to exacerbate El Salvador’s water problems, threatening the river that supplies water to over half the population.

There is a broad consensus in the department of Cabañas and throughout the country that opening a mine in the Lempa River watershed presents a dangerous risk that El Salvador cannot afford. Polling shows that the people of El Salvador oppose gold mining and the government supports this mandate.

Pacific Rim claims that those who oppose gold mining are “certain,” “rogue,” and “anti-developmental” organizations. But hundreds of environmental organizations in the United States, Canada and globally stand firm to defend the right of the people of El Salvador — the first nation to halt gold mining — to defend their environment and to implement public policies to this end. Yesterday we asked the embassy official to notify his government that we expect an escalation in worldwide protests demanding that Pacific Rim drop its suit at the World Bank’s ICSID, and leave El Salvador.

In addition to environmental concerns, Pacific Rim’s project has caused divisions and severe human costs. As our letter states:

“We are deeply troubled by the human rights abuses associated with the Pacific Rim mine. Already, four environmental activists have been assassinated and many more have been threatened, including journalists who operate a local radio station.”

No company should have the right to threaten a country like this.

This Week in OtherWords: November 14, 2012

This week, OtherWords features an op-ed by Sarah Anderson and a cartoon by Khalil Bendib that highlight the dangers of the “Fix the Debt” campaign. Spearheaded by big corporations and their CEOs, this slick and well-financed initiative could only make our national financial situation worse by slashing tax revenue and cutting Social Security and other earned benefits.

As always, I encourage you to visit the OtherWords blog and subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. The Trojan Horse in the Debt Debate / Sarah Anderson
    Dozens of CEOs are running a misleading campaign that would just make matters worse.
  2. Our Nuclear Insecurity Complex / Peter Stockton
    The government has yet to address the lapses in bomb-grade uranium storage security that an 82-year-old nun and her accomplices revealed months ago.
  3. Fracking our Thanksgiving Feast / Joel Greeno
    Could mining Wisconsin sand lead to butter and cranberry shortages?
  4. Voting Can Be Good for Your Health / Hillary Gibson
    Obama’s re-election means insurance companies won’t be able refuse to cover the treatment I will need for the rest of my life.
  5. The Return on Those Bad Bets on Romney / Sam Pizzigati
    Billionaires can win politically even when they lose on Election Day.
  6. Without Unity, We’ll Tumble Over the Fiscal Cliff / Mattea Kramer
    Our lawmakers have an opportunity to negotiate a better budget deal for this country.
  7. The Biggest Loser in Politics / Jim Hightower
    Billionaires expect better returns than Karl Rove pulled off on Election Day.
  8. Please Don’t Shoot the Messengers / William A. Collins
    Official secrecy doesn’t just shield high-ranking officials from the personal embarrassment that comes with taking the term “embedded” too literally.
  9. The ‘Fix-the-Debt’ Racket / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
The 'Fix the Debt' Racket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The ‘Fix the Debt’ Racket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Equatorial Guinea Briefly Disappears Dissident

Human rights lawyer Fabian Nsue Nguema.

Human rights lawyer Fabian Nsue Nguema.

Equatorial Guinea is one of those friends Washington generally prefers not to publicize. A most recent embarrassment only adds to an international reputation as one of the most corrupt and unjust nations on the planet. One of the nation’s leading human rights lawyers, Fabian Nsue Nguema, was temporarily disappeared.

After vanishing on October 22nd, he was presumed to be under secret detention. He was released on October 30th after enduring nine days of solitary confinement. Such are the punishments for dissenters in Teodoro Obiang’s fiefdom.

Nsue has been tortured and harassed by the government for years. He was held during his recent stint at the gruesome torture chamber Black Beach prison.

Black Beach Prison.

Black Beach Prison.

Obama has not substantially altered the Bush administration’s reopening of relations with Equatorial Guinea. The reasons are the usual ones. EG is the “Kuwait of Africa” and Obiang is happy to arrange greater profits from the natural national resource for foreign oil companies than the general citizenry of his country. The nation is a major supplier to the U.S. crude market, situated as it is, on the West African coast – a source Washington has increasingly favored for domestic consumption. The U.S. is EG’s largest buyer.

President and Mrs. Obiang and friends.

President and Mrs. Obiang and friends.

For this reason, relations between the two nations are “positive and constructive” according to the State Department. In September 2009, Obama even consented to a photo with Obiang and their spouses.

Obiang’s rule is so corrupt however – per capita the nation is one of the world’s wealthiest, at parity with Belgium, though citizens live in grinding poverty and die young – that he enlists extra help to manage his image from the likes of the notorious pal of Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis.

The ties to the U.S. go beyond government relations. Teodoro’s son has a mansion estate in Malibu and calls himself a prince, requiring his employees to line up to greet him and bid him farewell as he comes and goes, as if he is living out a sinister version of Eddie Murphie’s Coming to America. The excellent journalist Ken Silverstein depicts a man who literally does no work: “His days consisted entirely of sleeping, shopping and partying.” His theft of his country’s resources has financed such an array of luxury cars he is able to tell his drivers things like, “I’m wearing blue shoes, so get me the blue Rolls today.”

This spoiled child of the ruling class has been treated gently by the U.S. government, which continues to suffer his presence in the country in apparent violation of U.S. law against the entry of foreign corrupt officials. Despite amassing a damning amount of evidence on his corruption on an epic scale, the government has declined to prosecute him. Why alienate the future ruler of such a useful ally?

It is worth pausing to emphasize that everyone who collaborates with Equatorial Guinea’s oil exploitation, from governments, to foreign oil firms like Exxon, to private security companies like Virginia’s Military Professional Resources Initiative, are complicit in the theft of an entire people that should be living comfortable lives off the wealth under their soil, not the destitution they are currently condemned to.

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinean human rights advocates like Nsue and the writer Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, who fled to Spain earlier this year after going on a hunger strike in protest of Obiang’s rule, continue their lonely fight against the superpower’s partner in crime.

Along with Kevin Funk, Steven Fake is the author of “Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA” (Black Rose Books). They maintain a website with their commentary at scrambleforafrica.org.

The U.S. and the Middle East: The Next Four Years

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. Conn Hallinan outlines and analyzes them, starting with the Middle East.

Syria

The most immediate problem in the region is the ongoing civil war in Syria, a conflict with local and international ramifications. The war—which the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited by its crushing of pro-democracy protests— has drawn in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The U.S., France and Great Britain are also heavily involved in the effort to overthrow the Assad government.

The war has killed more than 30,000 people and generated several hundred thousand refugees, who have flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. It has also badly damaged relations between Turkey and Iran. The former supports the insurrection, the latter supports the Assad regime. Pitting Shite Iran (and to a certain extent, Shite Iraq and the Shite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon) against the largely Sunni Muslim opposition has sharpened sectarian tensions throughout the region.

The war itself appears to be a stalemate. So far, the regime’s army remains loyal, but seems unable to defeat the insurrection. The opposition, however, is deeply splintered and ranges from democratic nationalists to extremist jihadist groups. The US and Britain are trying to weld this potpourri into a coherent political opposition, but so far the attempts have floundered on a multiplicity of different and conflicting agendas by the opponents of the Assad regime.

Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to find a peaceful solution have been consistently torpedoed, because the opposition and its allies insist on regime change. The goal of overthrowing the government makes this a fight to the death and leaves little room for political maneuvering. A recent ceasefire failed, in part, because jihadist groups supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia refused to abide by it and set off several car bombs in the capital. The Sunni extremism of these groups is whipping up sectarian divisions among the various sects of Islam.

There are a number of things the Obama administration could do to alleviate the horrors of the current civil war.

First, it should drop the demand for regime change, although this does not necessarily mean that President Assad will remain in power. What must be avoided is the kind of regime change that the war in Libya ushered in. Libya has essentially become a failed state, and the spinoff from that war is wreaking havoc in countries that border the Sahara, Mali being a case in point. In the end, Assad may go, but to dismantle the Baathist government is to invite the kind of sectarian and political chaos that the dissolution of the Baathist regime in Iraq produced.

Second, if the US and its allies are enforcing an arms embargo against Assad’s government, they must insist on the same kind of embargo on arms sent to the rebels by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Third, China and Russia should be asked to negotiate a ceasefire and organize a conference aimed at producing a political settlement and transition government. China recently proposed a four-point peace plan that could serve as a starting point for talks. A recent Assad government controlled newspaper, Al Thawra, suggested the Damascus regime would be open to such negotiations. A key aspect to such talks would be a guarantee that no outside power would undermine them.

Palestinians

The conflict that will not speak its name—or at least that is the way the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians was treated during the 2012 US elections. But as U.S. Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, the military formation responsible for the Middle East, said last spring, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a “preeminent flame that keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East, particularly as the Arab Awakening causes Arab governments to be more responsive to the sentiments of their populations” that support the Palestinians.

Rather than moving toward a solution, however, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently announced yet another round of settlement building. There are approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers currently on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, although all such settlements are a violation of international law. While Netanyahu says he wants negotiations, he continues to build settlements, which is like negotiating over how to divide a pizza while one of the parties is eating it.

Proposals to annex the West Bank, once the program of far-right settlers, have gone mainstream. A conference this past July in the West Bank city of Hebron drew more than 500 Israelis who reject the idea of a Palestinian state. The gathering included a number of important Likud Party officials and members of the Knesset. Likud is Netanyahu’s party and currently leads the Israeli government.

“Friends, everybody here today knows that there is a solution—applying sovereignty [over the West Bank]. One state for the Jewish people with an Arab minority,” Likud Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely told the audience.

Conference organizer Yehudit Katsover put the matter bluntly “We’re all here to say one thing: the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Why? Because!”

A major argument against absorbing the West Bank is that it would dilute the Jewish character of Israel and threaten the country’s democratic institutions. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak argues. “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

But right-wing conference goers dismissed that argument because they reject that there is a demographic threat from the Palestinians. According to The Times of Israel, former ambassador to the US Yoram Ettinger told the crowd that estimates of the Palestinian population are based on “Palestinian incompetence or lying” and that there are actually a million fewer than the official population count.

Legal expert Yitzhak Bam said he expected there would be no fallout from the Americans if Israel unilaterally annexed the West Bank, since Washington did not protest the 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. Both areas were conquered in the 1967 War.

The Times reporter Raphael Ahern writes that that the conference reflects “The annexationists are growing in confidence, demanding in outspoken fashion what they always dreamed of but have never dared to say quite so publically.”

The expanding settlements are rapidly making the possibility of a viable two-state solution impossible. Eventually there will be no pizza left to divide.

The Obama administration has dropped the ball on this issue and needs to re-engage, lest the “pot” boil over.

First, the Tel Aviv government needs to be told that all settlement expansion must cease, and that failure to do so will result in a suspension of aid. At about $3.4 billion a year, Israel is the US’s number-one foreign aid recipient.

Second, the US must stop blocking efforts by the Palestinians for UN recognition.

Third, negotiations must cover not only the West Bank and Gaza, but also the status of East Jerusalem. The latter is the engine of the Palestinian economy, and without it a Palestinian state would not be viable.

Iran

The immediate danger of a war with Iran appears to have slightly receded, although the Israelis are always a bit of a wild card. First, the Obama administration explicitly rejected Netanyahu’s “red line” that would trigger an attack on Teheran. The Israeli prime minister argues that Iran must not be allowed to achieve the “capacity” to produce nuclear weapons, a formulation that would greatly lower the threshold for an assault. Second, there are persistent rumors that the US and Iran are exploring one-on-one talks, and it appears that some forces within Iran that support talks—specifically former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani— are in the ascendency.

Netanyahu continues to threaten war, but virtually his entire military and intelligence apparatus is opposed to a unilateral strike. Israeli intelligence is not convinced that Iran is building a bomb, and the Israeli military doesn’t think it has the forces or weapons to do the job of knocking out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Polls also indicate overwhelming opposition among the Israeli public for a unilateral attack. This doesn’t mean Netanyahu won’t attack Iran, just that the danger does not seem immediate. If Israel should choose to launch a war, the Obama administration should make it clear that Tel Aviv is on its own.

US intelligence and the Pentagon are pretty much on the same page as the Israelis regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Even with its powerful military, US generals are not convinced that an attack would accomplish much more than delaying Iran’s program by from three to five years. At least at this point, the Pentagon would rather talk than fight. “We are under the impression that the Iranian regime is a rational actor,” says Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Polls also indicate that nearly 70 percent of the American public favors negotiations over war.

In short, a lot of ducks are now in a row to cut a deal.

However, the US cannot make uranium enhancement a red line. Iran has the right to enhance nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and as long as inspectors are in place—as they currently are—it is virtually impossible to create bomb-level fuel in secret.

Not only has intelligence failed to show that Iran is creating a nuclear weapons program, the country’s leader has explicitly rejected such a step. “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons,” says the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, calling nuclear weapons “a great and unforgivable sin.” The Iranian government has also indicated that it will take part in a UN-sponsored conference in Helsinki to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

The Obama administration should endorse this effort to abolish nuclear weapons in the Middle East, although this will force it to confront the only nuclear power in the Middle East, Israel. Israel is not a NPT signatory and is thought to have some 200 nuclear weapons. Such a monopoly cannot long endure. The argument that Israel needs nuclear weapons because it is so outnumbered in the region is nonsense. Israel has by far the strongest military in the Middle East and powerful protectors in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While Egypt and Syria did attack Israel in 1973, it was to recover territories seized by Tel Aviv in the 1967 war, not an attempt to destroy the country. And that was almost 40 years ago. Since then Israel has invaded Lebanon twice and Gaza once. Countries in the region fear Israel, not vice-versa.

While the White House has recently eased restrictions on the sale of critical medicines to Iran, the sanctions are taking a terrible toll on the economy and the average Iranian. So far, the US has not explicitly said it will remove the sanctions if talks are showing real progress. Since no one likes negotiating with a gun to the head—in this regard Iranians are no different than Americans—there should be some good faith easing of some of the more onerous restrictions, like those on international banking and oil sales.

Lastly, the option of war needs to be taken off the table. Threatening to bomb people in order to get them not to produce nuclear weapons will almost certainly spur Iran (and other countries) to do exactly the opposite. A war with Iran would also be illegal. The British attorney general recently informed the Parliament that an attack on Iran would violate international law, because Iran does not pose a “clear and present danger,” and recommended that the US not be allowed to use the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to launch such an attack.

The Gulf

Because US relies on the energy resources of the Persian Gulf countries, as well as strategic basing rights, it is unlikely that the Obama administration will challenge the foreign and domestic policies of its allies in the region. But then Washington should not pretend that its policies there have anything to do with promoting democracy.

The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are monarchies that not only suppress dissent but also systematically oppress women and minorities and, in the case of Bahrain, the Shite majority. The extreme jihadist organizations that the countries of the Gulf fund and arm are destabilizing governments across the region and throughout Central Asia. Washington may bemoan extremism in Pakistan, but its Gulf allies can claim the lion’s share of the credit for nurturing the groups responsible for that extremism.

The Gulf Council is not interested in promoting democracy—indeed, political pluralism is one of its greatest enemies, nor does it have much interest in the modern world, aside from fancy cars and personal jet planes. This past summer Saudi Arabia executed a man for possessing “books and talismans from which he learned to harm God’s worshippers,” and last year beheaded a man and a woman for witchcraft.

Lastly, the Obama administration should repudiate the 1979 Carter Doctrine that allows the US to use military force to guarantee access to energy resources in the Middle East. That kind of thinking went out with 19thcentury gunboats and hangs like the Damocles Sword over any country in the region that might decide to carve out an independent policy on politics and energy.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

Attacks on First Responders Transform Criminality of Drone Strikes to Sadism

Remember the “dead bastards” — as in “look at those” — video, which was the first of the Bradley Manning stash released by WikiLeaks? It depicted an April 2010 Apache helicopter strike that killed a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees. Its impact was fourfold because it featured:

1. an attack on civilians
2. an attack on journalists
3. callous pilots, and the icing on the outrage cake …
4. a second round of missiles launched at those who arrived in a van to assist at the scene.

Those of us on the left who came of age during the Vietnam War, as well as the period when CIA meddling in foreign affairs to deadly effect was at its peak, may have thought we’d lost our capacity to be shocked at what the United States has shown itself capable. But attacking those coming to the assistance of the injured, which the military calls “double tapping” and doesn’t even attempt to hide, caught me off-guard with its cold-blooded cruelty. It’s not only used in helicopter attacks, but in drone strikes as well.

A February article by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) provides more insight into this insidious practice. TBIJ also served as a key source for the landmark report Living Under Drones released in September by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. The TBIJ article reads:

A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

Attempting to prove its legality is a non-starter.

… Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification. ‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

It’s hard enough to digest the information that the nation in which one lives and to which one pays taxes attacks those rushing to the aid of the injured. But it gets worse.

More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.

One scheme was positively diabolical.

On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’ according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his … book The Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.’

The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others.

You can see that Langley remains as much of a conceptual charnel house as ever.

Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians. US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA attack.

None of this, of course, is new. If not by the United States, medics have long been attacked in war. Today, Israel has targeted Palestinian medics and the Syrian army has targeted resistance medics. Meanwhile, Bahrain persecutes medical personnel who have assisted the injured opposition.

But, in the case of the United States, drone attacks are intended, in part, to act as an alternative to — and method of fending off — a declaration of war on another country. Yet, with its barbaric tactics, the drone program not only apes the tactics of war, but draws the opposition into believing all-out war is what both sides are fighting.

Petraeus Biographer Strokes More Than Just His Ego

While interviewing General David Petraeus’s co-biographer Paula Broadwell, John Stewart asked her what it was like to be “embedded with a person at this level.” Little did he know how embedded she was.

Of course, Petraeus resigned after his brief affair with Ms. Broadwell — and his obsessive attempts to revive it in the form of over one thousand emails — were discovered. Still, today’s climate is forgiving enough to allow someone in such a high position to continue his job. One thinks of President Clinton.

However, it was out of the question in Petraeus’s case, not only because he was head of an intelligence organization, but because Ms. Broadwell is under investigation for reading sensitive emails that Petraeus wrote. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The computer-security investigation … points to one reason Mr. Petraeus and the White House decided he couldn’t remain in the senior intelligence position. An extramarital affair has significant implications for an official in a highly sensitive post, because it can open an official to blackmail. Security officials are sensitive to misuse of personal email accounts—not only official accounts—because there have been multiple instances of foreign hackers targeting personal emails.

FBI agents on the case expected that Petraeus would be asked to resign immediately rather than risk the possibility that he could be blackmailed to give intelligence secrets to foreign intelligence agencies or criminals. In addition, his pursuit of the woman could have distracted him as the CIA was giving Congress reports on the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11.

Conservatives had already been claiming that someone at the CIA was “asleep at the wheel” of the Benghazi train wreck. Some now view one-time favorite Petraeus as a means by which they can further savage the administration over the attack. At Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman writes:

The Wall Street Journal cites several anonymous officials who go after Petraeus hard. The CIA [presence in Benghazi] … with the mission of hunting down ex-dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s unsecured rockets and missiles … operating out of an “annex” near the 13-acre consular compound, dwarfed the regular diplomatic presence in Benghazi. That apparently led to an expectation at the State Department that the CIA would secure the compound in the event of a disaster, which never congealed into a formal arrangement.

Worse …

The CIA had 10 people to protect its annex in Benghazi, but the State Department relied on a previously obscure British firm, Blue Mountain, [which] … paid its Libyan guards $4 an hour … to guard the entire compound. … It’s speculative, but the State Department’s expectation that the CIA would be “the cavalry” in an assault … might have contributed to State’s relatively lax security posture at the consulate.

Meanwhile, let’s try to envision a scenario in which Ms. Broadwell perused Petraeus’s official email account.

1. While he’s deep in post-coital sleep, she sneaks off to his laptop. He has carelessly failed to log out of his email account.
2. While he scrolls through his emails, he lets her look over his shoulder.
3. He actually gave her his password. His intent might have been to allow her to log on and view saved drafts of emails he’s written, but refrained from sending to avoid tracking. But, the sheer volume of emails he sent otherwise tends to invalidate this hypothesis.

Still a key question remains: was Ms. Broadwell just poking around on Petraeus’s account out of curiosity? Or was she looking for something specific? If so, what?

In the end — in fact, this story is just getting started — it’s ironic to those of us who have long stood in opposition to Petraeus that the woman who helped “hagiograph”* him was the catalyst for his fall from grace. Thanks to Petraeus’s fatal encounter with Ms. Broadwell, he was transformed from engaged CIA director and “national hero” to a man who wrote over one thousand emails to the woman who’d broken up with him — a common cyber-stalker, in other words.

*Write an idealizing biography.

Drones Obliterate Shades of Gray Between Militants and Civilians

Under the Obama administration, the CIA drone program uses what they call signature strikes, as you’ve no doubt heard. Usually, the term “signature” has a positive connotation, as in a characteristic that distinguishes one from others. But, to the CIA, it just means that any military-age males in an area it has decided is a strike zone are combatants. In other words, they look like they’re “up to no good” and deserve to die.

In September, as you may be aware, the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law released a landmark report titled Living Under Drones. In one section it reveals the sheer simple-mindedness of dividing individuals under surveillance into either civilians or militants. In fact, most of those labeled militants should be painted in shades of gray. (Emphasis added.)

Major media outlets in the US, Europe, and Pakistan that report on drone strikes tend to divide all those killed by drone strikes into just two categories: civilians or “militants.” This reflects and reinforces a widespread assumption and misunderstanding that all “militants” are legitimate targets for the use of lethal force, and that any strike against a “militant” is lawful. This binary distinction. … distinction is extremely problematic, however, from a legal perspective.

[First] use of the word “militant” to describe individuals killed by drones often obscures whether those killed are in fact lawful targets under the international legal regime governing the US operations in Pakistan. It is not necessarily the case that any person who might be described as a “militant” can be lawfully intentionally killed.

Even if one buys into the drone program, he or she must acknowledge that

… in order for an intentional lethal targeting to be lawful, a fundamental set of legal tests must be satisfied. For example … the targeted individual must either be directly participating in hostilities with the US (international humanitarian law) or posing an imminent threat that only lethal force can prevent (international human rights law).

But that’s only the beginning of the criteria that should be used in determining if someone is Predator or Reaper fodder.

[First] members of militant groups with which the US is not in an armed conflict are not lawful targets, absent additional circumstances … Further, simply being suspected of some connection to a “militant” organization—or, under the current administration’s apparent definition, simply being a male of military age in an area where “militant” organizations are believed to operate–is not alone sufficient to make someone a permissible target for killing.

… Second, the label “militant” also fails to distinguish between so-called “high-value” targets with alleged leadership roles in Al Qaeda or [the Taliban], and low-level alleged insurgents with no apparent … means of posing a serious or imminent threat to the US. National security analysts—and the White House itself—have found that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan have been low-level alleged “militants.”

To make matters worse, along with the CIA failing to properly discriminate about who it attacks

… Often, little to no information is presented to support the claim … that a certain number of those killed were “militants.” And, it is entirely unclear what, if any, investigations are carried out by the Pakistani or US governments to determine who and how many people were killed.

The drone program was key in preventing many of us from throwing our support behind President Obama in the election. In future posts, we’ll examine further atrocities within the atrocity that the drone program as a whole constitutes.

Benghazi: Conservative Concerns May Be Reality Based for Once

Mitt Romney embarrassed himself at the second presidential debate when he tried to score points against President Obama over the attack on the U.S. Benghazi consulate. As you no doubt recall, he claimed that the president didn’t label it an “act of terror” for two weeks. However feeble a “gotcha” it would have been, as debate moderator Candy Crowley informed Romney, the president used the words in a press conference the day after the attack.

Romney supporters then mounted a brief campaign in an attempt to kill the messenger (Crowley) by insisting that correcting Romney showed partisanship on her part. The right has continued to make the case that the president and his administration were unprepared for the attack and responded poorly. In fact, some thought this would be critical to election results.

Specifically, the right asked:
1. Why wasn’t the consulate more secure, especially with al Qaeda in the region?
2. Why weren’t U.S. forces able to fend off the attackers?
3. Why is the Obama administration hiding the truth about the attack?

Obama supporters brushed them off. But is there any truth to the right’s concerns about the Benghazi attack? At Counterpunch, Melvin Goodman, who writes about the decline of the CIA [I'm not exactly sure what constituted its peak -- RW], answers in the affirmative, but for reasons more complicated than the right believe.

It’s now apparent that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was no ordinary consulate; in fact, it probably was. … the diplomatic cover for an intelligence platform and whatever diplomatic functions took place in Benghazi also served as cover for an important CIA base.

Furthermore

Any CIA component in the Middle East or North Africa is a likely target of the wrath of militant and terrorist organizations because of the Agency’s key role in the global war on terror waged by the Bush administration and the increasingly widespread covert campaign of drone aircraft of the Obama administration. … The U.S. campaign to overthrow Gaddafi didn’t clean the slate of these abuses; it merely opened up the opportunity for militants and Islamists to avenge U.S. actions over the past ten years.

In other words, speaking as the former CIA analyst that he is, Goodman writes

Americans are devoting far too much attention to whether a so-called proper level of security in Benghazi could have prevented the attack, instead of trying to learn the motives and anticipate the actions of these militant organizations.

The CIA should have learned from a previous incident.

The CIA failure to provide adequate security for its personnel stems from degradation in the operational tradecraft capabilities of the CIA since the so-called intelligence reforms that followed the 9/11 attacks. Nearly three years ago, nine CIA operatives and contractors were killed by a suicide bomber at their base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan in the deadliest attack on CIA personnel in decades.

Virtually every aspect of sound tradecraft was ignored in this episode.

But not much improved between then and the Benghazi attack.

The security situation in Libya, particularly Benghazi, was obviously deteriorating; the consulate was a target of a bomb in June. … Overall security for the consulate had been in the hands of a small British security firm that placed unarmed Libyans on the perimeter of the building complex. The CIA contributed to the problem with its reliance on Libyan militias and a new Libyan intelligence organization to maintain security for its personnel in Benghazi.

On the night of the attack, the CIA security team was slow to respond to the consulate’s call for help. [Also] Ambassador Christopher Stevens was an extremely successful and popular ambassador in Libya, but he had become too relaxed about security in a country that had become a war zone.

Meanwhile, at GQ, Sean Flynn, who recently wrote the definitive account of the Utoya kilings, also provides one for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s final days. He concludes:

Even the apparently important operational question—namely, was there enough security—seems irrelevant, because there can never be enough to prepare for every scenario. “The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented—there had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya,” a senior State Department official said. “In fact, it would be very, very hard to find an attack like that in recent diplomatic history.”

But we’ll give Goodman the final word.

The Benghazi failure is one more reminder of the unfortunate militarization of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, in the wake of 9/11 that finds our major civilian intelligence service becoming a paramilitary center in support of the war-fighter.

Now, Will Obama Break His Climate Silence?

Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.

Climate scienceYou didn’t have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn’t taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don’t change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.

And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama’s victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.

After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term “climate change,” he’s signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” as he did in his acceptance speech.

In the past four years his “all of the above” approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.

And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of “low-carbon” energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.

“The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote,” Obama said in his acceptance speech.”America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together.”

We can’t sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can’t abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.

Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren’t waiting for our leaders to take action. They’re already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.

Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org

This Week in OtherWords: After the Superstorm

As authorities in the Northeast order new evacuations and the airlines cancel hundreds of flights in anticipation of another fierce storm, OtherWords is taking stock of the many ways in which Sandy may prove a teachable moment.

Daphne Wysham and John Talberth show how this latest bout of extreme weather exposes the shortcomings of relying on GDP to measure economic progress. William A. Collins, one of the 8.5 million people who lost power last week, asks whether Mother Nature was disciplining Wall Street for its dirty-energy finance. Michael Brune, who grew up in one of New Jersey’s hardest-hit towns, calls for bigger investments in clean energy. Ryan Alexander calls for a more responsible approach to the nation’s flood insurance system. And Khalil Bendib’s cartoon can accompany any of these commentaries.

Be sure to visit the OtherWords blog, where many of our writers are parsing the elections. And please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. How Sandy Reveals the GDP’s Twisted Logic / John Talberth and Daphne Wysham
    Extreme weather doesn’t boost the economy.
  2. Hurricane Sandy’s Wakeup Call / Michael Brune
    Sandy is only the latest and most devastating incident in a pattern of extreme weather that’s become impossible to ignore.
  3. Social Security: It Ain’t Broke / Elizabeth Rose
    It’s a basic part of what makes America run, like our national highway system.
  4. Rebuilding Resilience / Ryan Alexander
    We have to stop subsidizing people to live in harm’s way.
  5. The Invisible Hand Won’t Stop Inequality in Its Tracks / Sam Pizzigati
    We’ll have more economic and climate disasters on Sandy’s scale unless our political systems intervene.
  6. Why the Chicken Crossed the Road / Jim Hightower
    Factory farms are animal concentration camps.
  7. Shivering in the Land of Climate Denial / William A. Collins
    If Wall Street doesn’t get Mother Nature’s hint, it will become the entire world’s tragedy.
  8. Sandy Trumps Romney’s Climate Joke / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
  9. Sandy Trumps Romney's Climate Joke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Sandy Trumps Romney’s Climate Joke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

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