Saturday, May 23, 2015

Congratulations Ireland!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

BREAKING: Bush And Cheney MAY HAVE Said Some Lies In Lead-Up To Iraq War

Everybody with two brain cells to rub together at least SUSPECTS that there was some fishy business in the run-up to the war on Iraq, what with the fact Saddam had not attacked us, no WMDs were ever found, etc. And Iraq is back in the news right now, mostly because Jeb Bush, brother of brush-clearing, flightsuit-wearing George W. Bush, has been stepping all over his own dick for a week, trying to explain how the Iraq war wasn’t a mistake, except that it was, NO YOU SHUT UP, etc. Marco Rubio got in on the action too, dancing a jaunty jig on his own dick, because Questions Is Tough.

Well now, we have some more concrete information as to exactly HOW the Bush administration may have done all its lying, in the form of Mike Morell, a high ranking CIA dude who used to be Dubya’s CIA intelligence briefer. Morell appeared on Hardball Tuesday night and explained, under the duress of Chris Matthews’s verbal waterboarding, that he would tell Bush and Cheney things, at which point they would go on television and instead say whatever they had wanted to say in the first place. For instance, he claims he did not tell them that Iraq had the capability to make a nuclear bomb, which to Dick Cheney’s lying ears, apparently sounded just like “IRAQ HAS NUKES, BOMB BOMB BOMB!”:

Host Chris Matthews asked Morell about a statement Cheney made in 2003: “We know he [Saddam Hussein] has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Here’s the conversation that followed:

MATTHEWS: Was that true?

MORELL: We were saying—

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Was that true?

MORELL: That’s not true.

MATTHEWS: Well, why’d you let them get away with it?

MORELL: Look, my job Chris—

MATTHEWS: You’re the briefer for the president on intelligence, you’re the top person to go in and tell him what’s going on. You see Cheney make this charge he’s got a nuclear bomb and then they make subsequent charges he knew how to deliver it…and nobody raised their hand and said, “No that’s not what we told him.”

Morell goes on to say that it is NOT his fault that Bush and Cheney went on teevee and made up their own bullshit, and it was not his responsibility to watch all their interviews and speeches to make sure they weren’t lying or otherwise fucking up. And meh, that might be true, since he was sort of in a “serving at the pleasure of the President” situation. However, he outright admitted that yes, they did misrepresent his briefings “on some aspects.” So, again, try to cloak the shock boner that this story just gave you, about how Bush and Cheney might be lying liars who lied. A lot.

Chris Matthews correctly noted that this revelation is a “big deal” and Morell agreed that it is also a “big deal,” so we have consensus, on this being a big fucking deal, since Republicans just LOVE to fall back on the whole “all our intelligence was wrong, it was nobody’s fault!”

How many people actually share the blame for the run-up clusterfuck that led to the actual-war clusterfuck? Who knows, but the answer is probably somewhere between WE’LL NEVER TELL and ALL OF THEM, KATIE!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No Miscegenation Please: we’re Israeli!

Jaw dropping stuff here by David Sheen. Only in the Only Democracy in the ME™!

Watch on Utoob:

What needed to be said…

The best thing about this political moment in the U.S. (if not for the good people of Iraq) is that the rise of ISIS and the Republican candidates’ embrace of the Iraq war is posing that deep and permanent question to the American public, Why did we invade Iraq?

Last night Chris Matthews asked that question again and David Corn said it was about the neoconservative desire to protect Israel. Both men deserve kudos for courage. Here’s part of the exchange:

Matthews: Why were the people in the administration like [Paul] Wolfowitz and the others talking about going into Iraq from the very beginning, when they got into the white house long before there was a 911 long before there was WMD. It seemed like there was a deeper reason. I don’t get it. It seemed like WMD was a cover story.

Corn: I can explain that. For years. Paul Wolfowitz and other members of the neocon movement had talked about getting rid of Iraq and there would be democracy throughout the region that would help Israel and they came to believe actually a very bizarre conspiracy theory that al Qaeda didn’t matter, that Saddam Hussein was behind all the acts of violence…

Matthews: The reason I go back to that is there’s a consistent pattern: the people who wanted that war in the worst ways, neocons so called, Wolfowitz, certainly Cheney.. it’s the same crowd of people that want us to overthrow Bashar Assad, .. it’s the same group of people that don’t want to negotiate at all with the Iranians, don’t want any kind of rapprochement with the Iranians, they want to fight that war. They’re willing to go in there and bomb. They have a consistent impulsive desire to make war on Arab and Islamic states in a neverending campaign, almost like an Orwellian campaign they will never outlive, that’s why I have a problem with that thinking. … we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. Why did they take us to Iraq, because that’s the same reason they want to take us into Damascus and why they want to have permanent war with Iran.

What a great exchange. And it shows up Paul Krugman, who mystifies this very issue in the New York Times. (“Errors and Lies,” which poses the same question that Matthews does but concludes that Bush and Cheney “wanted a war,” which is just a lie masquerading as a tautology.)

Here are my two cents. We invaded Iraq because a powerful group of pro-Israel ideologues — the neoconservatives — who had mustered forces in Washington over the previous two decades and at last had come into the White House were able to sell a vision of transforming the Middle East that was pure wishful hokum but that they believed: that if Arab countries were converted by force into democracies, the people would embrace the change and would also accept Israel as a great neighbor. It’s a variation on a neocolonialist theory that pro-Israel ideologues have believed going back to the 1940s: that Palestinians would accept a Jewish state if you got rid of their corrupt leadership and allowed the people to share in Israel’s modern economic miracle.

The evidence for this causation is at every hand.

It is in the Clean Break plan written for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1996 by leading neocons Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser — all of whom would go into the Bush administration — calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein and the export of the Palestinian political problem to Jordan.

It is in the Project for a New American Century letters written to Clinton in 1998 telling him that Saddam’s WMD were a threat to Israel. (A letter surely regretted by Francis Fukuyama, who later accused the neocons of seeing everything through a pro-Israel lens.)

It is in the PNAC letter written to George W. Bush early in 2002 urging him to “accelerate plans for removign Saddam Hussein from power” for the sake of Israel.

the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles — American principles — in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred.

It is in Netanyahu testifying to Congress in 2002 that he promised there would be “enormous positive reverberations” throughout the region if we only removed Saddam.

It is in Wolfowitz saying that the road to peace in the Middle East runs through Baghdad. (Possibly the stupidest thing anyone has ever said in the history of the world, including Douglas Feith.)

It is in all the neocon tracts, from Perle and Frum’s An End to Evil, to Kristol and Kaplan’s The War Over Saddam, to Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, saying that Saddam’s support for suicide bombers in Israel was a reason for the U.S. to topple him.

It is in war-supporter Tom Friedman saying that we needed to invade Iraq because of suicide bombers in Tel Aviv– and the importance of conveying to Arabs they couldn’t get away with that.

It is in the head of the 9/11 Commission, former Bush aide Philip Zelikow, saying Israel was the reason to take on Iraq back in 2002 even though Iraq was no threat to us:

“Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 – it’s the threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002. “And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”

It is in Friedman saying that “elite” neoconservatives created the war in this interview with Ari Shavit back in 2003: 

It’s the war the neoconservatives wanted, Friedman says. It’s the war the neoconservatives marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11 came, and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. So this is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite. Friedman laughs: I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.

It is in Tony Judt’s statement about the Israel interest in the war back in 2003:

For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel.

And yes this goes back to rightwing Zionism. It goes back to Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol launching neoconservatism in the 1970s because they said that the dovish policies of the Democratic Party were a direct threat to Israel– an analysis continued in this day by Norman Braman, Marco Rubio’s leading supporter, who says that the U.S. must be a military and economic power in order to “sustain” Israel.

An Economist blogger wrote several years ago that if you leave out the Zionism you won’t understand the Iraq war:

Yes, it would be ridiculous, and anti-semitic, to cast the Iraq war as a conspiracy monocausally driven by a cabal of Jewish neocons and the Israeli government. But it’s entirely accurate to count neoconservative policy analyses as among the important causes of the war, to point out that the pro-Israeli sympathies of Jewish neoconservatives played a role in these analyses, and to note the support of the Israeli government and public for the invasion. In fact any analysis of the war’s causes that didn’t take these into account would be deficient.

Many writers, including Joe Klein, Jacob Heilbrunn, and Alan Dershowitz, have said the obvious, that neoconservatism came out of the Jewish community. And I have long written that the Jewish community needs to come to terms with the degree to which it has harbored warmongering neoconservatives, for our own sake.

But America needs to come to terms with the extent to which it allowed rightwing Zionists to dominate discussions of going to war. This matter is now at the heart of the Republican embrace of the war on Iran. There is simply no other constituency in our country for that war besides rightwing Zionists. They should be called out for this role, so that we don’t make that terrible mistake again. And yes: this issue is going to play out frankly in the 2016 campaign, thanks in good measure to Matthews.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Steven Harper plans to prosecute Canadian Jews


I’ve never been keen on boycotts. The one against Italy for invading Abyssinia didn’t work. Nor did the arms blockade on Spain. I’m still not sure that boycotting South Africa really brought down apartheid. I rather suspect that the old racists simply realised they were hopelessly outnumbered by the blacks of South Africa and that the game was up.

And I’m still unconvinced that boycotting Israel, even though it frightens the  right-wing crazies in Benjamin Netanyahu’sgovernment, will achieve a two-state solution, human rights for Palestinians, etc. I’m free to refuse to buy products from Jewish colonies in occupied Arab land (I do not buy them), but, when I visit Israel, I stay at the King David Hotel in west Jerusalem, visit the Tel Aviv gallery of art and buy Israeli-published books. Some Israeli academics support a boycott of their own country. They may be right in doing so.

But in Canada – and I had to literally rub my eyes when I read this – the totally pro-Israeli Conservative government of Stephen Harper intends to list the boycotting of Israel as a “hate crime”. This is not only ludicrous, stupid, pointless and racist because it assumes that anyone opposed to Israel’s vicious and iniquitous policies of land-grabbing in the West Bank is an anti-Semite, but it is also  anti-democratic. Those who believe in non-violence have always espoused boycott movements on the grounds that economic pressure rather than bombs is a moral way of putting pressure on a country that violates international law.

Yet Harper, who would surely be elected to the Knesset if he were an Israeli, went so far as to suggest on a recent visit to Jerusalem that merely to criticise Israel can be a form of anti-Semitism. The newly retired Canadian Foreign minister John Baird (normally a fairly sane guy) has described Canada’s Boycott Israel movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism”. In January, he actually signed an official agreement with Israel to fight the Boycott Israel organisation, known locally as the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) group. Steven Blaney, who rejoices in the title of Canada’s “Minister of Public Safety”, says that boycotts of Israel cannot be separated from anti-Semitic hate speech and the recent attacks against Jews in France.

This is preposterous. If I decline to buy Israeli-produced oranges at a British supermarket, this doesn’t make me a Nazi murderer. To criticise Israel doesn’t turn Canadians into Jew-haters. A number of liberal Jewish groups have protested against Harper’s proposed new law – far too many Jewish organisations have praised it – on the grounds that it assumes that all Jews support Israel or approve of its actions. And since Jews are also members of boycott-Israel groups, Harper’s Comic Cuts new law would have to put Jews on trial in Canada for anti-Semitism.

Cloaked as usual in the kind of Blairite (and Cameronite) clichés that all law-and-order politicians adopt, Canadians are told that their government will show “zero tolerance” towards groups advocating a boycott of Israel. Of course, we show “zero tolerance” on the streets towards theft, mugging and gangland thuggery. But “zero tolerance” against those who wish to boycott a nation whose army slaughtered more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza last year, more than half of them civilians? Really? It was significant, I thought, that, after the killing of a Canadian soldier outside the Ottawa parliament by a Muslim last year and a murderous attack on Canadian servicemen, Harper publicised the message of condolence he had received from Netanyahu, as if the commiserations of a man who ordered the bombardment of Gaza were something to be proud of.

The dark little catch in all this is that last year Canada changed its definition of hate speech to include statements made against “national origin”, not just race and religion. Thus statements or speeches critical of Israel – like a number of public lectures I have given in Canada – may now be classed as statements against Jews (even though Jews are often among the organisers of my own speaking engagements in America). And, in due course, editorials in papers such as the Toronto Star can be deemed anti-Semitic and thus worthy of being denounced as a “hate-crime”.

If Canada’s parliament is dumb enough to pass this new law, it will put a lot of civil society groups under the cosh. The United Church of Canada and Canadian Quakers could find themselves in court and judges, however much they personally recoiled from Israel’s abuse of Palestinians, would have to abide by this outrageous piece of legislation and exercise “zero tolerance” against the free speech of those who condemn war crimes by Israel in the Middle East.

It is worth remembering that tens of thousands of Jews throughout the world, and especially in America and Poland, called for a boycott of Nazi Germany in 1933 for the very anti-Semitic acts that led directly to the Holocaust. American diplomats were critical, lest it provoked Hitler to even crueller deeds. But they didn’t threaten the protesters with “zero tolerance” of “hate crimes” because of the “national origin” of the Germans they proposed to boycott.

In the end, of course, it’s quite simple. Boycotting a state for its crimes is a non-violent but potentially powerful way to express moral outrage at a time when political statements – or cowardly governments like that of Stephen Harper – fail to represent the anger of voters or have any effect on a state that ignores international law. If you take that away, then the Boston bomber, now facing the execution chamber, can say that his was the only way.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Casus Belly Laughs

Presidential aspirant Jeb Bush this week may have damaged his chances by flubbing the answer to an entirely predictable question about his big brother’s decision to attack Iraq.

On Monday, Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked the former Florida governor: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Jeb Bush answered, “I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Kelly: “You don’t think it was a mistake.”

Bush: “In retrospect, the intelligence that everyone saw — that the world saw, not just the United States — was faulty.”

After some backfilling and additional foundering on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bush apparently memorized the “correct” answer. So on Thursday, he proceeded to ask the question himself: “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions: Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

It is a safe bet that, by Thursday, Iraq War champion Paul Wolfowitz, now a senior adviser to Jeb Bush, had taken him to the woodshed, admonishing him along these lines: “Jeb, you remembered to emphasize the mistaken nature of pre-war intelligence; that’s the key point; that’s good. But then you need to say that if you knew how mistaken the intelligence was, you would not have attacked Iraq. Got it?”

It was then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — together with his boss Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and a string of neocon advisers — who exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to make war on Iraq, which they had been itching for since the 1990s. They tried mightily (and transparently) to link Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. Following their lead, the fawning corporate media played up this bum rap with such success that, before the attack on Iraq, polls showed that almost 70 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein played some kind of role in 9/11.

Not so, said honest intelligence analysts who, try as they might, could find no persuasive evidence for Hussein’s guilt other than the synthetic kind in Wolfowitz’s purposively twisted imagination. Yet the pressure on the analysts to conform was intense. CIA’s ombudsman commented publicly that never in his 32-year career with the agency had he encountered such “hammering” on CIA analysts to reconsider their judgments and state that there were operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

The pressure was reflected in pronouncements at the highest levels. A year after 9/11, President Bush was still saying, “You cannot distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was more direct, claiming that the evidence tying Iraq to al-Qaeda was “bulletproof.”

But Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush and Chairman of George W. Bush’s President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, supported honest analysts in CIA and elsewhere, stating publicly that evidence of any such connection was “scant.”

There was the looming danger of a principled leak, or possibly even an insurrection of some kind on the part of those opposed to creating pretexts for war. And so the administration chose to focus first and foremost on “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD).

It would be an easier – and scarier – sell a claim that Iraq had chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear weapons and that the Iraqis could give them to “terrorists” for another attack on the “homeland” (introducing a term that both the Nazis and the Soviets used to good effect in whipping up nationalistic fervor in wartime).

Brimming with WMD

Unable to get honest intelligence analysts to go along with the carefully nurtured “noble lie” that Iraq played a role in 9/11, or even that operational ties existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the administration ordered up a separate but related genre of faux intelligence – WMD. This PR offensive was something of a challenge, for in the months before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had insisted publicly that Saddam Hussein posed no security threat. You don’t remember?

On Feb. 24, 2001, Powell had said, “Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”

And just six weeks before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice told CNN: “let’s remember that his [Saddam’s] country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.” Obligingly, the compliant U.S. media pressed the delete button on those telling statements.

How many times have we heard that, after 9/11, “everything changed.” Well, we were soon to observe a major attempt to apply this adage to Saddam’s inventory of WMD that Rice and Powell had said did not exist. The world was being asked to believe that, almost immediately, hundreds of stealth WMD had wafted down like manna from the heavens for a soft landing on the sands of Iraq.

Just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld began promoting the notion that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction and that “within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qaeda.” This was an early articulation of the bogus “conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” now immortalized in what is the most damning, first-hand, documentary evidence of U.S./U.K. collusion in launching a war of aggression on false pretenses and how it was to be “justified.”

This evidence was contained in the “Downing Street Memorandum,” written on July 23, 2002, though not published until May 1, 2005, by The London Times (discussed in more detail below). The goal was to systematically conflate Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda and 9/11, as a kind of subliminal fear/revenge message to the American public.

It was not long before the agile Rice did a demi-pirouette of 180 degrees, claiming that Saddam had suddenly become “a danger in the region where the 9/11 threat emerged.” By the summer of 2002, the basic decision for war having been taken, something persuasive had to be conjured up to get Congress to authorize it. Weapons of mass deception, as one wag called them, together with warnings about “mushroom clouds” were just what the Doctor Rice ordered.

Sadly, CIA’s malleable director George Tenet followed orders to conjure up WMD in a deceitful National Intelligence Estimate issued on Oct. 1, 2002. The NIE’s main purpose was to deceive Congress into authorizing war on Iraq, which Congress did just ten days later.

Amid the media din about WMD, and with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, the sole exception, no legislator proved willing to risk being seen as “weak on terrorism” as the mid-term elections approached in November, the disinformation operation was – well, you might say a “cakewalk.” Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin satisfied President Bush they could fashion the evidence into a “slam dunk,” and then fed the cooked intelligence to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the U.N.

Riding High, Wolfowitz Slips

Basking in the glory of “Mission Accomplished” after Baghdad fell in April 2003, Wolfowitz succumbed to a brief bout of hubris-induced honesty. He openly admitted that the Bush administration had focused on weapons of mass destruction to justify war on Iraq “for bureaucratic reasons.” It was, he explained, “the one reason everyone could agree on” – meaning, of course, the one that could successfully sell the war to Congress and the American people.

As for the real reasons, Wolfowitz again let his guard drop at about the same time. When asked in May 2003 why North Korean WMD were being treated differently from those claimed to exist in Iraq, he responded, “Let’s look at it simply. … [Iraq] swims on a sea of oil.”

Other usually circumspect senior officials have had unguarded moments of candor. In another moment of unusual frankness – this one before the war – Philip Zelikow, a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2003, spilled the other key reason. Discounting any real danger to the U.S. from Iraq, Zelikow pointed rather to the threat he said Iraq posed to Israel as “the unstated threat.” It was a threat, he added, that dared not speak its name – because it was so politically sensitive.

Are you getting the picture why the Bush administration didn’t want to level with the American people who might have viewed the war very differently if the real motives and the nagging doubts had been expressed frankly and bluntly?

The force with which CIA analysts were pressed to manufacture intelligence to serve the cause of war was unprecedented in CIA history and included personal visits by Vice President Cheney to make sure the intelligence analysts knew what was wanted. That many of my former colleagues in the Analysis Directorate took willing part in this unconscionable charade was hard to believe. But they did.

At about this time, an anonymous White House official – believed to be George W. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove – reportedly boasted, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities.”

As exemplified by Jeb Bush’ memorized lines this past week, there continues to be a huge premium among disciples of Rovian historiography, to “create new reality,” blaming “mistaken intelligence” for the debacle in Iraq and the ensuing chaos throughout the region. The intelligence was wrong; but it was not mistaken; it was out-and-out fraud.

This had become so clear, yet so little known, that ten years ago this month I was finishing a draft for a chapter I called “Sham Dunk: Cooking Intelligence for the President” to appear in Neo-CONNED Again! Hypocrisy, Lawlessness, and the Rape of Iraq.

I was just finishing the draft when a deus ex machina arrived in the form of a major leak to the London Times of official minutes of a briefing of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, eight months before the war on Iraq, and three days after visiting CIA Director George Tenet to confirm for Blair exactly what Bush and Cheney were planning. The Downing Street document destroyed the argument, already being promoted in 2005 by those responsible for the fraud, that intelligence mistakes were to blame for the war in Iraq.

The Downing Street Memorandum

I would like to draw from the first couple of paragraphs of the chapter, since, sadly, they seem relevant today as the historical rewrite about “intelligence errors” is recurring now at the start of Campaign 2016. But first, here is the text of the most damaging part of the Downing Street Memo as “C” — Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence – reported on recent talks in Washington:

“There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” (emphasis added)

Following is the introduction to my chapter:

“Let’s review. It was bad intelligence that forced an unwitting president to invade Iraq, right? The sad fact that so many Americans believe this myth is eloquent testimony to the effectiveness of the White House spin machine. The intelligence was indeed bad — shaped that way by an administration determined to find a pretext to effect ‘regime change’ in Iraq.

“Senior administration officials — first and foremost Vice President Dick Cheney — played a strong role in ensuring that the intelligence analysis was corrupt enough to justify, ex post facto, the decision to make war on Iraq. It is not altogether clear how witting President George W. Bush was of all this, but there is strong evidence that he knew chapter and verse. Had he been mousetrapped into this ‘preemptive’ war, one would expect some heads to roll. None have. And where is it, after all, that the buck is supposed to stop?

“The intelligence-made-me-do-it myth has helped the Bush administration attenuate the acute embarrassment it experienced early last year [2004] when the casus belli became a casus belly laugh. When U.S. inspector David Kay, after a painstaking search to which almost a billion dollars and many lives were given, reported that there had been no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since 1991, someone had to take the fall.

“Elected was CIA director George Tenet, the backslapping fellow from Queens always eager to do whatever might be necessary to play with the bigger kids. For those of you just in from Mars, the grave danger posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was what President Bush cited as the casus belli for invading Iraq. It was only after Kay had the courage to tell the truth publicly that Bush fell back on the default rationale for the war; namely, the need to export democracy, about which we are hearing so much lately.

“Not surprisingly, the usual suspects in the mainstream media that played cheerleader for the war are now helping the president (and the media) escape blame. Flawed intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq was the fault of the US intelligence community, explained the Washington Times last July 10 [2004], after regime loyalist Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released his committee’s findings.

“Nine months later, after publication of similar findings by a commission handpicked by the president, the Washington Post’s lead headline was ‘Data on Iraqi Arms Flawed, Panel Says.’ The date was, appropriately, April Fools Day, 2005. In a word, they are playing us for fools. The remarkable thing is that most folks don’t seem able, or willing, to recognize that – or even to mind.

“On May 1, 2005, a highly sensitive document published by The Sunday Times of London provided the smoking gun showing that President Bush had decided to make war on Iraq long before the National Intelligence Estimate was produced to conjure up ‘weapons of mass destruction’ there and mislead Congress into granting authorization for war.

“The British document is classified ‘SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL – U.K. EYES ONLY.’ And small wonder. It contains an official account of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting with top advisers on July 23, 2002, at which Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 (the U.K. equivalent to the CIA), simply ‘C’ in the written document, reported on talks he had just held in Washington with top U.S. officials. Blair has now acknowledged the authenticity of the document.

“As related in the document, Dearlove told Blair and the others that President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action, that this ‘was seen as inevitable,’ and that the attack would be ‘justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.’ He continued: ‘… but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’

“Dearlove tacked on yet another telling comment: ‘There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.’ British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw concurred that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, but noted that finding justification would be challenging, for ‘the case was thin.’ Straw pointed out that Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.

“As head of MI6, Dearlove was CIA Director George Tenet’s British counterpart. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been saying since January 2003 that the two intelligence chiefs’ marching orders were to ‘fix’ the intelligence around the policy. It was a no-brainer.

“Seldom, however, does one acquire documentary evidence that this – the unforgivable sin in intelligence analysis – was used by the most senior U.S. government leaders as a way to ‘justify’ a prior decision for war. There is no word to describe our reaction to the fact that the two intelligence chiefs quietly acquiesced in the corruption of our profession on a matter of such consequence. ‘Outrage’ doesn’t even come close.”

Challenging Rumsfeld

A year later in Atlanta, I had an unusual chance to publicly challenge then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld – no stranger to the dissembling about WMD – about his earlier claims saying he knew were the WMD were in Iraq, and knew of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. My question grew into a mini-debate of four minutes, during which he lied, demonstrably, on both issues. As luck would have it, May 4, 2006 was a very slow news day, and our mini-debate took place in early afternoon, enabling serious journalists like Keith Olbermann to perform a “fact-check.”

Finally, on June 5, 2008, then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller made some remarkable comments that got sparse attention in U.S. media. Announcing the findings of a bipartisan report of a five-year study on misstatements on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Rockefeller said:

“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

Anyone know what “non-existent” intelligence looks like?

What has become painfully clear since the trauma of 9/11 is that most of our fellow citizens have felt an overriding need to believe that administration leaders are telling them the truth and to ignore all evidence to the contrary. Many Americans seem impervious to data showing that it was the administration that misled the country into this unprovoked war and that the “intelligence” was conjured up well after the White House decided to effect “regime change” in Iraq (or introduce democracy, if you favor the default rationale) by force of arms.

I have been asking myself why so many Americans find it so painful to delve deeper. Why do they resist letting their judgment be influenced by the abundance of evidence, much of it documentary, exposing how little or no evidence there was to support what was a most consequential fraud? Perhaps it is because they know that responsible citizenship means asking what might seem to be “impertinent” questions, ferreting out plausible answers, and then, when necessary, holding people accountable, rectifying the situation, and ensuring it does not happen again.

Resistance, however, remains strong. At work – in all of us to some degree – is the same convenient denial mechanism that immobilized so many otherwise conscientious German citizens during the 1930s, enabling Germany to launch its own unprovoked wars and curtail civil liberties at home. Taking action, or just finding one’s voice, entails risk; denial is the more instinctive, easier course.

But it is too late for denial. We might take to heart Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning: “… there is such a thing as being too late. … Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”



Friday, May 08, 2015

Mohammed Cartoons Scenario – Spot the Paradox

Following Garland (TX), Geller and her ilk will ‘exercise their right to free speech’ with another cartoon fest. More terrorists will die. Maybe some other people too.

X amount of time later, some other bunch of twits will do the same, possibly with Geller and Wilders in attendance. Maybe then some more terrorists will die, maybe some cartoonists too.

Not to be outdone, another group, this one maybe lead by Robert Spencer, will organise some more Mohammed ‘cartoons’. Some terrorists and some LEO get killed or maimed.

Maybe David Horowitz will want a slice of the action: more silly ‘principled’ cartoons, more humans maimed or buried.

Richard Dawkins decides to lend a hand too: despite tight security, terrorists manage to kill some attendants before perishing in a hail of lead.

Etcetera etcetera, ad infinitum.

Spot the paradox.
(What a victory for Liberal Democracy! Three Cheers! Hurray!)

Besides, what would become of this society if it didn't uphold the right of a citizen to piss on Jesus in the form of a sex doll and upload the video to the Utoobs, eh?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Myth of the Free Syrian Army?

Glenn Greenwald:

Throughout 2012, numerous American factions were pushing for U.S. intervention in Syria to bring down the regime of Bashar Assad, who throughout the War on Terror had helped the U.S. in all sorts of ways, including torturing people for them. But by then, Assad was viewed mostly as an ally of Iran, and deposing him would weaken Tehran, the overarching regional strategy of the U.S. and its allies. The prevailing narrative was thus created that those fighting against Assad were “moderate” and even pro-Western groups, with the leading one dubbed “the Free Syrian Army.”

Whether to intervene in Syria in alliance with or on behalf of the “Free Syrian Army” was a major debate in the West through the end of that year. Then-Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry was openly discussing ways for the U.S. to aid the rebels to bring about regime change. Sen. Joe Lieberman was saying: “I hope the international community and the U.S. will provide assistance to the Syrian Free Army in the various ways we can.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while ruling out direct military intervention, said: “[W]e have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.”

A U.N. resolution calling for Assad to step down was supported by NATO states but vetoed by China and Russia, who were concerned that it would be depicted as a “regime change” endorsement to justify Western military intervention. By the following year, John Kerry, by then Obama’s secretary of state, was arguing that direct U.S. military action in Syria against Assad — a full-scale bombing campaign — was a moral and strategic imperative.

As it turns out, the “moderate” “Free Syrian Army” was largely a myth. By far, the most effective fighting forces against Assad were anything but “moderate,” composed instead of various Al Qaeda manifestations and even more extreme elements. After the U.S. and its Gulf allies funded and armed those groups for a while, the U.S. did ultimately go to war in Syria, but more in alliance with Assad than against him.

In December 2012 — as the pro-intervention cause was strengthening — a group of five journalists working for NBC Newsincluding its star international reporter Richard Engel, was kidnapped inside Syria. They were held for five days, threatened with death, treated inhumanely, and forced to record a video in which Engel was made to call for an end to U.S. involvement in Syria. Scrawled on the walls of the room where the video was recorded was graffiti of pro-Assad messages along with well-known Shiite references.

The obvious intent was to make it appear that these NBC journalists had been kidnapped and mistreated by Shiite forces associated with Assad. By all accounts, the kidnappers went to great lengths to make their hostages believe that as well, and they succeeded. Engel and his fellow captives believed (understandably) they had been kidnapped by pro-Assad forces, only to be rescued by brave and kind Sunni rebels who freed them. Once they were released, NBC said at first that the journalists had been “kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group,” but Engel quickly gave numerous interviews unequivocally stating that the captors were aligned with Assad and that he was rescued by anti-Assad forces. That then became unquestioned fact on NBC.

As but one of many appearances, Engel appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show on December 21 and recounted in detail what happened. He described how he was in “a very rebel-friendly area,” traveling with a “rebel commander” and his team, when they were “ambushed” by “government people”: pro-Assad forces. “We knew it was government by what they were saying,” Engel explained.

Engel then described how the rebel commander heroically tried to sacrifice his own life to save the journalists, but to no avail: the “pro-government forces” brutalized, tortured and threatened the reporters and even executed some of the rebels:

And so, we knew we were with pro-government forces. The rebel commander was saying to them, kill me, these guys are journalists, they have nothing to do with it. Kill me, I’m a rebel commander. Let them go …

They drive from there to one of their safe houses, don’t know exactly where, but roughly in this area up here. So it is a farm house. They take the guard, the rebel commander’s guard out of the truck. Kill him. Execute him …

And then they took all of us, including the rebel commander, in the safe house. He continually said let them go. … We were here, they wanted to move us here, to Fou’a. And Fou’a is a place that is very hard core Shia, very loyal to the government. It’s mostly surrounded by the rebels, it is being air-supplied by the Syrian government. … So this is a hand-in-glove relationship between the government and this very nasty militia group.

The ordeal ended, Engel said, only when his pro-government captors accidentally ran into a rebel checkpoint, where the rebels heroically killed some of Assad’s forces and freed the journalists, treating them with great compassion:

I don’t know who are these guys and we talk to them a little bit and it was quite clear they were from the rebel group and they couldn’t have been nicer to us. They were hard fighters, clearly good shots. … And then they brought us back to the headquarters, gave us food and water, let us make a phone call. And then they escorted us personally to the border.

Three days earlier, in a December 18 appearance on Maddow’s show, Engel — after describing how brutal and inhumane his captors were — actually linked them to both Iran and Hezbollah in response to a question from David Gregory:

I think I have a very good idea of who they were. This was a group known as the Shabiha. This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar al Assad. They are Shiite.

They were talking openly about their loyalty to the government, openly expressing their Shia faith. They are trained by Iranian revolutionary guard. They are allied with Hezbollah.

As Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone details, Engel told this story in various ways in numerous different media forums.

There were ample reasons at the time to be suspicious that this was a scam (perpetrated on (not by) Engel and his fellow captives) to blame Assad for the abduction. There was skepticism expressed by some independent analysts — although not on NBC News. The truly brilliant political science professor and blogger As’ad AbuKhalil (who I cannot recommend enough be read every day) was highly skeptical from the start about the identity of Engel’s captors, just as he was about the pro-intervention case in Syria and the nature of the “Free Syrian Army” generally (in August 2012 he told me: “Syria is one of the biggest propaganda schemes of our time. When the dust settles, if it does, it will be revealed”).

On December 18 — the day the Engel story became public — Professor AbuKhalil published an email from “a knowledgeable Western journalist” pointing out numerous reasons to doubt that the kidnappers were aligned with Assad, including the fact that prior kidnappings had been falsely attributed to pro-Assad forces. He argued that the Engel abduction “seems very much like a setup, like the kidnappers wanted him to think he was taken by Shiites.” AbuKhalil himself examined the video and wrote:

I looked at the video and it is so clearly a set up and the slogans are so clearly fake and they intend to show that they were clearly Shi’ites and that they are savages.  If this one is believable, I am posing as a dentist.

Of course, I am not saying that Engel was [in] on this plot. I think that they were really kidnapped but that the kidnappers of the Free Syrian Army typically lied to them about their identity, which has happened before.

Other knowledgeable bloggers raised all sorts of questions about whether Engel’s captors were actually Sunni rebels posing as pro-Assad soldiers.

As it turns out, that seems to be exactly what happened. Last night, Engel posted a new statement on the NBC News website stating that, roughly one month ago, he had been contacted by The New York Times, which “uncovered information that suggested the kidnappers were not who they said they were and that the Syrian rebels who rescued us had a relationship with the kidnappers.” That inquiry from The NYT caused him to re-investigate the kidnapping, and he concluded that “the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia” and that “the group that freed us” — which he had previously depicted as heroic anti-Assad rebels — actually “had ties to the kidnappers.”

That’s all fair enough. Nobody can blame Engel — a courageous reporter, fluent in Arabic — for falling for what appears to be a well-coordinated ruse. Particularly under those harrowing circumstances, when he and his fellow captives believed with good reason that their lives were in immediate danger, it’s completely understandable that he believed he had been captured by pro-Assad forces. There is no real evidence that Engel did anything wrong in recounting his ordeal.

But the same is most certainly not true of NBC News executives. In writing his new account, Engel does not mention the most important and most incriminating aspect of The New York Times reporting: that NBC officials knew at the time that there was reason to be highly skeptical of the identity of the captors, but nonetheless allowed Engel and numerous other NBC and MSNBC reporters to tell this story with virtually no questioning.

In a very well-reported article this morning, The NYT states that “Mr. Engel’s team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.” That rebel group is “known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade” and is “led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj.” Amazingly, NBC executives knew that this was at least very possible even during Engel’s kidnapping, and yet:

NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals. Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events.

In other words, NBC executives at least had ample reason to suspect that it was anti-Assad rebels who staged the kidnapping, not pro-Assad forces. Yet they allowed Engel and numerous other NBC and MSNBC personalities repeatedly and unequivocally to blame the Assad regime and glorify the anti-Assad rebels, and worse, to link the hideous kidnapping to Iran and Hezbollah, all with no indication that there were other quite likely alternatives. NBC refused to respond to The NYT‘s questions about that (The Intercept’s inquiries to NBC News were also not responded to at the time of publication, though any responses will be added (update: an NBC executive has refused to comment)).

The Brian Williams scandal is basically about an insecure, ego-driven TV star who puffed up his own war credentials by fabricating war stories: it’s about personal foibles. But this Engel story is about what appears to be a reckless eagerness, if not deliberate deception, on the part of NBC officials to disseminate a dubious storyline which, at the time, was very much in line with the story that official Washington was selling (by then, Obama was secretly aiding anti-Assad rebels, and had just announced – literally a week before the Engel kidnapping — “that the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative”). Much worse, the NBC story was quite likely to fuel the simmering war cries in the West to attack (or at least aggressively intervene against) Assad.

That’s a far more serious and far more consequential journalistic sin than a news reader puffing out his chest and pretending he’s Rambo. Falsely and recklessly blaming the Assad regime for a heinous kidnapping of Western journalists and directly linking it to Iran and Hezbollah, while heralding the rebels as heroic and compassionate — during a brewing “regime change” and intervention debate — is on the level of Iraqi aluminum tubes.

At the very least, NBC owes a serious accounting for what happened here, yet thus far refuses to provide one (note how, as usual, the media outlets who love to sanctimoniously demand transparency from others refuse to provide even a minimal amount about themselves). There were — and are — a lot of shadowy interests eager to bring about regime change in Syria and to malign Iran and Hezbollah with false claims. Whether by intent or outcome, that’s what this story did. If it was not only false at the time, NBC executives repeatedly broadcast it, but recklessly disseminated with ample reason to suspect its falsity, that is a huge journalistic scandal.

UPDATE: About this story, Professor AbuKhalil this morning emailed this comment about what happened here at NBC:

This is a culture: they all were part of a charade to promote and champion the Free Syrian Army when that very army was kidnapping innocent Lebanese Shi’ites and killing people on sectarian grounds. They didn’t want to believe it.

He also passed a long an email from a Western correspondent based in the region, asking not to be identified, who said: “Everybody knew that it was a Sunni group tied to the [Free Syrian Army] that had kidnapped [Engel] from the moment it happened: people were talking about it in South Turkey, journalists, opposition people.” That’s essentially what Professor AbuKhalil — and others — said at the time.

On a different note: as I noted above, Engel claimed repeatedly that the anti-Assad rebels killed some of his pro-government captors when rescuing him. He stated the same thing in Vanity Fair article he wrote recounting his kidnapping. But as The New York Times notes today, Engel now acknowledges that he never saw a body.

UPDATE II: In addition to AbuKhalil and the other above-cited sources, The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer expressed serious doubts about the Engel/NBC story almost immediately. Writing on December 22, he said, among other things, that “the NBC version … omits much and is at odds with what security sources involved in the freeing of the group say happened,” and that “the gunmen who seized the crew may also have included rogue members of the rebel [Free Syrian Army] – something top FSA commanders are keen to obscure.” Moreover:

NBC’s security advisers were convinced that there was some FSA involvement in this and contacted wealthy Syrian-American donors of the rebel group, pointing out that Richard had been supportive of the uprising against Assad.

That there was ample reason to doubt Engel’s belief about the identity of his captors is proven by how many people publicly called it into doubt. That NBC’s broadcasts reflected none of this doubt, and instead allowed a one-sided tale that we now know to be false to go unquestioned by the entire network is bad enough. That these executives seemed to have had ample reason to doubt the story themselves makes it far worse than just merely “bad”: it is the type of systematic journalistic deceit and propaganda that we have seen over and over, almost always on the side and in service of the U.S. government’s agenda of endless war.