Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Islam In America ... en Español

By Wilfredo Amr Ruiz 
Muslim Chaplain, Attorney and Political Analyst 
Posted: 11/16/11 07:27 AM ET 
Courtesy Of "The Huffington Post"

America's ever-growing Latino-Muslim population has yet to be estimated statistically. However, it is indisputable that with exponential growth Latino-Muslims find increasing presence and voice in the American Muslim public square.
Latino paths to Islam are as diverse as Hispanic countries of origin and roots: from the Caribbean, Central and South America or even Spain. The conduits to their new spiritual journeys derive from a variety of life experiences that range from the sublime appeal of accidentally listening to Quranic recitation or from a close encounter with a Muslim performing one of his five daily prayers. Many Latinos, men and women, embraced Islam vicariously through their fiancées' faith before marriage; and we find many who decided to adopt their spouse's faith after years of marriage. For others, the pathway to Islam was forged while trying to fill a spiritual void or satisfy some inquisitiveness after initiating formal academic research or an informal Google search on news related to Islam, the Muslim World, Islamist movements, terrorism, ongoing military conflicts or the Arab Spring.
Some Latino Muslim Americans are completely blended into heterogeneous communities, while others claim distinction within their communities of worship. Take, for example, the Latinos of the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center in Union City, N.J., who recently celebrated their ninth annual "Hispanic Muslim Day" at a well-attended ceremony that concluded with various guests embracing Islam.
Another Muslim American phenomenon is the surge in Muslim organizations founded and operated by Latino Muslims, or in which Latinos play a significant role. Part and parcel of the growing Latino movement to embrace Islam is the burgeoning need to cater to this community in Spanish, its native tongue. This explains the advent of various Latino Islamic organizations such as "Islam in Spanish," whose managing coordinator, Abdullah Danny Hernandez, is a Puerto Rican who studied at Al Azhar University in Egypt. Another active organization is the Latin American Da'wah Organization (LADO) whose director, Mexican-American Juan Galván, leads its educational efforts. Various established organizations now included Latino Muslims in their staff. Such is the case of Nahela Alexandra Morales, a Mexican who works in the Islamic Council of North America's "Why Islam?" project, where she assists in the national and international assemblage and distribution of educational materials in Spanish. In past years, other existing organizations have gradually grown to provide significant space for Latino Muslims. Such is the case of the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), which has distributed more than 20,000 Spanish translations of the Quran and opened a Spanish educational materials distribution branch in Puerto Rico. Also, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) South Florida Chapter's "CAIR en Español" project aims to provide advocacy services for Latino Muslims in pursuit of their civil liberties.
When it comes to Latino Muslim acceptance in the American landscape, they are not exempt from experiencing challenges and struggles confronted by the broader American Muslim community. They too fall victim to Islamophobic discourse carried out by known bigots like Pamela Geller, Joe Kaufman and Robert Spencer, who devote full-time efforts to demeaning Islam and belittling the American Muslim community. They also suffer continuous affronts coming from certain politicians who have adopted a negative approach to Muslims in America, like presidential hopeful Herman Cain and Congressmen Allen West and Peter King. Their unconstructive discourses vilify Muslims, such as when Cain openly revealed his reluctance to appoint Muslims to his cabinet if elected, or when Peter King conducted congressional investigations specifically targeting the American Muslim community. Another elected politician, Rep. Allen West from Florida, is known for his hateful rhetoric slandering Islam and the American Muslim community.
Latino Muslims are predisposed to exemplify tolerance as their historical circumstances render them champions of interreligious dialogue and acceptance. Often, their beloved parents, brothers and sisters practice Christianity and their families are living examples of interfaith love. What is unquestionable is that Latino Muslims are here in the "hood." Their voice and presence in all socio-political spheres is increasingly palpable and growing stronger. They are here to stay and contribute in many positive aspects. Above all, their presence adds to our national value of spirituality in peace and harmony with others.

‘Islam In Europe A Reality Despite Challenges’

By Anil Datta 
Thursday, November 17, 2011 
Courtesy Of "The International News"

Islam in Europe today is a reality the world would have to contend with despite the immense challenges it faces there.

This was the majority opinion among speakers at the two-day seminar, “Islam in Europe”, held at a local hotel, under the aegis of the Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi (KU), and the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad on Wednesday.

The keynote speaker, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, EU ambassador to Pakistan, could not turn up on account of the inordinate delay in the PIA flight that he was supposed to come by.

The first one to speak, Prof Dr Naveed Ahmed Tahir, Director, Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi, said that Islam in Europe was a reality which could no longer be seen as a temporary phenomenon to be just glossed over by the decision-making European elite. The Muslim population of Europe, which by some estimates had risen to 50 million, in addition to the universality of the message of Islam which was attracting large numbers to its fold, was viewed by many in the West as a disturbing phenomenon which, they felt, could not only change the demographics of Europe but also its cultural identity. 

Tracing the history of Islam, she said that the Arab Muslims developed a brilliant civilisation that nurtured literature, philosophy, the natural sciences, and wherever they ruled they left an enduring influence on local cultures.

The Muslims, she said, constituted 23 percent of humanity and possessed the most prized commodities of the industrialised world — oil and gas. Islam, she said, was today the fastest spreading religion of the world.

However, she said, there was a dismal side to the picture too which was manifest in poor governance, deep-rooted corruption, illiteracy, poverty, and stunted socio-economic conditions which had served as a breeding ground for extremism.

Talking about the challenges, she referred to the Swiss ban on minarets and the Swiss People’s Party’s contention that minarets were a symbol of the political will to snatch power and impose Shariah on the country. She said that over the last three decades, the far right in Europe was becoming extremely influential as regards shaping opinions on Islam and the Muslims.

Martin Axmann, resident representative of the Hanns Sedel Foundation Pakistan, in his paper, said there were 53 Muslim groups in Europe in 2007. He said that throughout Europe, including Germany, all individuals were free to practise their religions. Muslims, he said, had existed in Europe since the 12th Century AD and Islam and Europe had interacted much more than was known. 

In his opinion, it was really after 9/11 that Islam and the West came to be considered as antithetic to each other. What followed, he said, was other developments in France Switzerland, and Germany that sharpened this cleavage.

Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, Vice-Chancellor, Karachi University, said that the Balkans and the large number of Muslims in Germany and France, and the fact that they numbered 44 million, or six percent of Europe’s population, made Islam a reality to contend with in Europe.

Muslims may have learnt from Europe but it just could not be denied that they had given it a lot too.

He was a little concerned about the global financial crisis of 2008 which had encompassed the West and still had many countries in its grip, which, he said, could prove very damaging because it was during financial crises like these that discontent arose on account of economic hardship and, if allowed to go unbridled, it could assume the shape of resentment and finally violence against religious or racial minorities.

In his paper titled, “From the Hijab to the Burqa”, Michel Boivin said that Napolean had taken measures to ensure that religious rituals, customs, and practices fell within the ambit of the law. The scarf affair, he said, was seen by the French as a challenge to their much cherished value of secularism.

This was exacerbated by the publication of Samuel Huntingdon’s “Clash of civilisations”. Also, the political right wanted to make dents into the vote bank, he said. 

Duriya Kazi, head of the Visual Studies Department, in her paper, tiled, “Flying carpets lost in desert storms”, talked about the deep-rooted antagonism of the West towards the Muslims, an antagonism which she contended, had become all the more accentuated on account of the most prized resource of the industrial world, oil, which was virtually the exclusive domain of the Muslim world, as, she said, it had increased the dependence of the West on the Muslims.

Former career diplomat Tariq Fatemi lamented the framing of laws in France and Belgium which militated against the rights of the minorities and were racist in content. They projected Muslims as aliens even though Muslims were the citizens of these countries, he said. “Are we witnessing a weakening of the noble and cherished values which formed the foundations of the European community?” he posed the question to the participants. The trends, he said, were frightening because when an economic crisis came, nationalism and fascism reared their ugly heads.

Dr Pierre Gottschlich, a German University professor, said that the main opposition to Islam in Germany came from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but there were other parties of the left, notably the Green party, which were all in favour of giving due representation to the Muslims in German political life, stipulating that religion should be treated as a purely private and personal affair, totally detached from politics. He lamented that today there were four million Muslims in Germany but no political representation.

Dr Ijaz Shafi Gillani traced the history of the Muslims in various European countries and talked about the mutually negative perceptions and cited the results of various polls conducted. He quoted the results of a certain poll in Germany, where 34 percent of the respondents had said that the Muslims were responsible for Germany’s problems and only nine percent had answered in the negative. Similarly, he cited the findings of another poll in the UK where 79 percent of the respondents had said that the ascendancy of Muslim identity in the UK was to the detriment of the country.

Former ambassador Shahid Amin was of the view that relations between the West and Islam really started undergoing a dip after the events of 9/11, and said that it would be in the interest of both to realise that they all had a common destiny and that they would sooner or later have to devise ways and means to live in harmony.

Prof Abdul Wahab Suri of the Department of Philosophy, KU, delivered a philosophical lecture on modernism and post-modernism and discussed the issue in the light of these phenomena.

FBI Tactics: Fake Terror, Entrapment and aid Informants

The FBI has drawn criticism over its apparent use of 'entrapment' tactics. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Critics Say Bureau Is Running A Sting Operation Across America, Targeting Vulnerable People By Luring Them Into Fake Terror Plots 

By Paul Harris in New York 
Wednesday 16 November 2011 12.33 EST 
Courtesy Of "The Guardian"

David Williams did not have an easy life. He moved to Newburgh, a gritty, impoverished town on the banks of the Hudson an hour or so north ofNew York, at just 10 years old. For a young, black American boy with a father in jail, trouble was everywhere.
Williams also made bad choices. He ended up going to jail for dealing drugs. When he came out in 2007 he tried to go straight, but money was tight and his brother, Lord, needed cash for a liver transplant. Life is hard in Newburgh if you are poor, have a drug rap and need cash quickly.
His aunt, Alicia McWilliams, was honest about the tough streets her nephew was dealing with. "Newburgh is a hard place," she said. So it was perhaps no surprise that in May, 2009, David Williams was arrested again and hit with a 25-year jail sentence. But it was not for drugs offences. Or any other common crime. Instead Williams and three other struggling local men beset by drug, criminal and mental health issues were convicted of an Islamic terrorist plot to blow up Jewish synagogues and shoot down military jets with missiles.
Even more shocking was that the organisation, money, weapons and motivation for this plot did not come from real Islamic terrorists. It came from the FBI, and an informant paid to pose as a terrorist mastermind paying big bucks for help in carrying out an attack. For McWilliams, her own government had actually cajoled and paid her beloved nephew into being a terrorist, created a fake plot and then jailed him for it. "I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone," she told the Guardian.
Lawyers for the so-called Newburgh Four have now launched an appeal that will be held early next year. Advocates hope the case offers the best chance of exposing the issue of FBI "entrapment" in terror cases. "We have as close to a legal entrapment case as I have ever seen," said Susanne Brody, who represents another Newburgh defendant, Onta Williams.
Some experts agree. "The target, the motive, the ideology and the plot were all led by the FBI," said Karen Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, who specialises in studying the new FBI tactics.
But the issue is one that stretches far beyond Newburgh. Critics say the FBI is running a sting operation across America, targeting – to a large extent – the Muslim community by luring people into fake terror plots. FBI bureaux send informants to trawl through Muslim communities, hang out in mosques and community centres, and talk of radical Islam in order to identify possible targets sympathetic to such ideals. Or they will respond to the most bizarre of tip-offs, including, in one case, a man who claimed to have seen terror chief Ayman al-Zawahiri living in northern California in the late 1990s.
That tipster was quickly hired as a well-paid informant. If suitable suspects are identified, FBI agents then run a sting, often creating a fake terror plot in which it helps supply weapons and targets. Then, dramatic arrests are made, press conferences held and lengthy convictions secured.
But what is not clear is if many real, actual terrorists are involved.
Fort Dix FiveThe homes of the Fort Dix Five were raided by the FBI. Photograph: Joseph Kaczmarek/AP
Another "entrapment" case is on the radar too. The Fort Dix Five – accused of plotting to attack a New Jersey army base – have also appealed against their convictions. That case too involved dubious use of paid informants, an apparent over-reach of evidence and a plot that seemed suggested by the government.
Burim Duka, whose three brothers were jailed for life for their part in the scheme, insists they did not know they were part of a terror plot and were just buying guns for shooting holidays in a deal arranged by a friend. The "friend" was an informant who had persuaded another man of a desire to attack Fort Dix.
Duka is convinced his brothers' appeal has a good chance. "I am hopeful," he told the Guardian.
But things may not be that easy. At issue is the word "entrapment", which has two definitions. There is the common usage, where a citizen might see FBI operations as deliberate traps manipulating unwary people who otherwise were unlikely to become terrorists. Then there is the legal definition of entrapment, where the prosecution merely has to show a subject was predisposed to carry out the actions they later are accused of.
Theoretically, a simple expression, like support for jihad, might suffice, and in post-9/11 America neither judges nor juries tend to be nuanced in terror trials. "Legally, you have to use the word entrapment very carefully. It is a very strict legal term," said Greenberg.
But in its commonly understood usage, FBI entrapment is a widespread tactic. Within days of the 9/11 terror attacks, FBI director Robert Mueller issued a memo on a new policy of "forward leaning – preventative – prosecutions".
Central to that is a growing informant network. The FBI is not choosy about the people it uses. Some have criminal records, including attempted murder or drug dealing or fraud. They are often paid six-figure sums, which critics say creates a motivation to entrap targets. Some are motivated by the promise of debts forgiven or immigration violations wiped clean. There has also been a relaxing of rules on what criteria the FBI needs to launch an investigation.
Often they just seem to be "fishing expeditions". In the Newburgh case, the men involved met FBI informant Shahed Hussain simply because he happened to infiltrate their mosque. In southern California, FBI informant Craig Monteilh trawled mosques posing as a Muslim and tried to act as a magnet for potential radicals.
Monteilh, who bugged scores of people, is a convicted felon with serious drug charges to his name. His operation turned up nothing. But Monteilh's professed terrorist sympathy so unnerved his Muslim targets that they got a restraining order against him and alerted the FBI, not realising Monteilh was actually working on the bureau's behalf.
Muslim civil rights groups have warned of a feeling of being hounded and threatened by the FBI, triggering a natural fear of the authorities among people that should be a vital defence against real terror attacks. But FBI tactics could now be putting off many people from reporting tip-offs or suspicious individuals.
"They are making mosques suspicious of anybody. They are putting fear into these communities," said Greenberg. Civil liberties groups are also concerned, seeing some FBI tactics as using terrorism to justify more power. "We are still seeing an expansion of these tools. It is a terrible prospect," said Mike German, an expert at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who has worked in counter-terrorism.
German said suspects convicted of plotting terror attacks in some recent FBI cases bore little resemblance to the profile of most terrorist cells. "Most of these suspect terrorists had no access to weapons unless the government provided them. I would say that showed they were not the biggest threat to the US," German said.
"Most terrorists have links to foreign terrorist groups and have trained in terrorism training camps. Perhaps FBI resources should be spent finding those guys."
Also, some of the most serious terrorist attacks carried out in the US since 9/11 have revolved around "lone wolf" actions, not the sort of conspiracy plots the FBI have been striving to combat. The 2010 Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, only came to light after his car bomb failed to go off properly. The Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot dead 13 people on a Texas army base in 2009, was only discovered after he started firing. Both evaded the radar of an FBI expending resources setting up fictional crimes and then prosecuting those involved.
Yet, as advocates for those caught up in "entrapment" cases discover, there is little public or judicial sympathy for them. Even in cases where judges have admitted FBI tactics have raised serious questions, there has been no hesitation in returning guilty verdicts, handing down lengthy sentences and dismissing appeals.
The Liberty City Seven are a case in point. The 2006 case involved an informant, Elie Assaad, with a dubious past (he was once arrested, but not charged, for beating his pregnant wife). Assaad was let loose with another informant on a group of men in Liberty City, a poor, predominantly black, suburb of Miami. The targets were followers of a cult-like group called The Seas of David, led by former Guardian Angel Narseal Batiste.
The group was, perhaps, not even Muslim, as its religious practices involved Bible study and wearing the Star of David. Yet Assaad posed as an Al-Qaida operative, and got members of the group to swear allegiance. Transcripts of the "oath-taking" ceremony are almost farcical. Batiste repeatedly queries the idea and appears bullied into it. In effect, defence lawyers argued, the men were confused, impoverished members of an obscure cult.
Yet targets the group supposedly entertained attacking included the Sears Tower in Chicago, Hollywood movie studios and the Empire State Building. Even zealous prosecutors, painting a picture of dedicated Islamic terrorists, admitted any potential plots were "aspirational", given the group had no means to carry them out.
Nonetheless, they were charged with seeking to wage war against America, plotting to destroy buildings and supporting terrorism. Five of them got long jail sentences. Assaad, who was recently arrested in Texas for attempting to run over a policeman, was paid $85,000 for his work.
This year the jailed Liberty City men launched an appeal and last week judgment was handed down. They lost, and officially remain Islamic terrorists hell-bent on destroying America. Not that their supporters see it that way.
"Our country is no safer as a result of the prosecution of these seven impoverished young men from Liberty City," said Batiste's lawyer, Ana Jhones.
"This prosecution came at great financial cost to our government, and at a terrible emotional cost to these defendants and their families. It is my sincere belief that our country is less safe as a result of the government's actions in this case."

Christian Dominionism


September 2011 
Courtesy Of "You Say Too"

Recent article have associated several GOP/Tea partypresidential candidates with what is termed ChristianDominionism. This is a movement that appears to have surfaced in the late 60’s, although it certainly has much deeper roots, and has come to the fore in the upcoming election. One can research it’s meaning but I did find a very helpful article that offeres the following explanation(

“This highly politicized concept of dominionism is based on the Bible's text in Genesis 1:26: 
• "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (King James Version). 
• "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" (New International Version). 

The vast majority of Christians read this text and conclude that God has appointed them stewards and caretakers of Earth. As Sara Diamond explains, however, some Christian read the text and believe, ‘that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.’ That, in a nutshell, is the idea of ‘dominionism.’" 

I have often talked about how taking Biblical quotes literally and out of context is very dangerous. Further, doing so has been a tool of the right to distort, twist and justify the most ungodly actions. It is one thing to promote ‘worn out dogma,’ it is another to twist that dogma for nefarious ends. The above quotes are at the root of anti-environmental actions on the part of big business as they see biblical justification to do with the planet as they see fit. I guess they figure that God will fix anything they screw up, which ‘He’ did when he caused the ‘Great Flood.’ I don’t see how they might find any comfort in that thought. See the part about secular institutions? Let’s examine this more closely.

“Christian Reconstructionism is a form of theocratic dominion theology. The core theme of dominion theology is that the Bible mandates Christians to take over and "occupy" secular institutions.
Soft Dominionists are Christian nationalists. They believe that Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. They fear that America's greatness as God's chosen land has been undermined by liberal secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in schools. Their vision has elements of theocracy, but they stop short of calling for supplanting the Constitution and Bill of Rights. 
Hard Dominionists believe all of this, but they want the United States to be a Christian theocracy. For them the Constitution and Bill of Rights are merely addendums to Old Testament Biblical law. They claim that Christian men with specific theological beliefs are ordained by God to run society. Christians and others who do not accept their theological beliefs would be second-class citizens. This sector includes Christian Reconstructionists, but it has a growing number of adherents in the leadership of the Christian Right.”

Any sane and rational person should see the danger and the hypocrisy in this co called ‘Christian ‘philosophy. This is religion at its worst. It is a hate philosophy that says unless you’re one of us, you are evil, the spawn of Satan, and if we get into power, we will get you. There is no Jesus here; no love your neighbor, no forgiveness, no peace, no light; only darkness and hatred. These beliefs merely replace the swastika with cross — onward Christian soldiers; hate/kill those who are not like us. In the Waking God Trilogy, we talked about the collapse of the ‘Church’ and the rise of radical religious groups. Fiction is now fact as those who hold to these beliefs have the moneycorporate wealth at their disposal, and the politicians willing to do their bidding. This is a dangerous combination that should not be ignored. With all of the social and political turbulence in this country, it is quite possible that, like their National Socialists predecessors in pre-WWII Germany, they could sneak into power if all are not diligent.

US Spends $32 Million To Make Eight 30,000-Pound Bombs


By Agence France-Presse 
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 
Courtesy Of "The Raw Story"

WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has a new 30,000-pound bomb in its arsenal designed to penetrate targets buried deep underground, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The Air Force started taking delivery of the giant bomb, the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” in September, said Lieutenant Colonel Jack Miller.
Under an August 2 contract worth $32 million, the aerospace firm Boeing is due to produce eight of the giant MOP bombs to fulfil the Air Force’s “operational needs,” according to Miller.
The Air Force could not say how many of the conventional bombs have been delivered so far, but the MOP is seen as a weapon made for going after underground bunkers and tunnels in North Korea or Iran.
The MOP bomb, with more than 5,000 pounds (or nearly 2.5 tons) of explosives, is supposed to fit on a B-2 stealth bomber to strike at underground sites hiding weapons of mass destruction.
About 20 feet (six meters) long, the GPS-guided bomb “will defeat our adversaries’ WMD before they leave the ground,” according to an official description posted on the website of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and US Strategic Command.
The United States, which suspects Iran and North Korea have built nuclear facilities deep underground to thwart any possible air raids, has been developing the MOP bomb since about 2007.
The weapon, made to penetrate up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete before exploding, is ten times more powerful than its predecessor, the BLU-109.
The new MOP is also twice as heavy as the “daisy cutter” bomb employed in Vietnam and in Tora Bora at the outset of the war in Afghanistan.
The “daisy cutter” has since been retired and replaced with the MOAB, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb or “the Mother of All Bombs,” which weighs less than the MOP bomb but contains more explosive power.

US Launches Drones From Ethiopia

Defence Department Says Unarmed Drones Are Being Used To Conduct Missions Over Somalia From A Remote Civilian Airfield. 

Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 01:12 
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

The White House has confirmed that the US military has unmanned drone aircraft in Ethiopia but says no strike missions are being launched from the east African country.

"The US has unarmed and unmanned aircraft at a facility there to be used only for surveillance as part of a broad, sustained, integrated campaign to counter terrorism," Captain John Kirby, a US defence department spokesman, said on Friday. "These unmanned aircraft are being used only for surveillance and not conducting strike missions."

The White House confirmed the drone flights out of an airfield in the city of Arba Minch after the Washington Postnewspaper first reported the operation late on Thursday.

The Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that the MQ-9 Reaper drones flying out of Arba Minch were armed, but the US government on Friday denied that they were.

Reapers are roughly the size of jet fighters and can be armed with bombs and missiles. They fly twice as fast and high as the more well-known Predators.

US Presence

The US presence in Ethiopia is a delicate political issue there, and American officials are anxious to downplay the role of the military and intelligence agencies across the region.

"There are no US military bases in Ethiopia. It's an Ethiopian airfield," Kirby said.

In support of Ethiopia's 2006 invasion of Somalia, US warplanes carried out attacks from a base in Ethiopia. The government ended the arrangement once it became public.

The US also operates Camp Lemonnier, a permanent military base in Djibouti, and an air base in Manda Bay, Kenya, where counter-terrorism experts believe armed drones that have carried out strikes in Somalia are also based.

Unarmed Reapers reportedly also fly from another base in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to monitor pirates.

Chasing al-Shabab

Kenya sent forces into southern Somalia this month to chase fighters from al-Shabab, Somalia's biggest armed anti-government group, but has denied the US or other Western countries are actively involved in the operations.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US was determined to press ahead with counterterror efforts, which have increasingly focused on al-Shabab and al-Qaeda's network of offshoots in the Arabian peninsula.

In July, a US drone, possibly flown from Manda Bay, was reported to have killed two senior members of the movement.

"We are harnessing every tool of American power - military, civilian and diplomatic. The United States is strengthening its intelligence, military and security capabilities and drawing from the full range of enforcement tools in co-ordination with partners around the globe," Carney told reporters.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has increasingly relied on drones to carry out covert strikes against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and others in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The raids are conducted under the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency, not the military, but special operations forces and drone aircraft can be assigned to the spy agency for the strikes.

The covert strikes are an open secret but senior US officials decline to publicly acknowledge the raids.

Administration officials declined to comment on whether the drone surveillance flights out of Ethiopia were focused on Somalia.

But a defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We're obviously very concerned about instability in Somalia."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Understanding The US Torture State

By Anthony Gregory, 
October 28, 2011 
Courtesy Of "Anti-War"

The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse edited by Marjorie Cohn (New York University Press: 2011), 342 pages.

When I was a child in Reagan’s America, a common theme in Cold War rhetoric was that the Soviets tortured people and detained them without cause, extracted phony confessions through cruel violence, did the unspeakable to detainees who were helpless against the full, heartless weight of the communist state. It was torture as much as any evil that differentiated the bad guys, the commies, from the good guys, the American people and their government. However imperfect the U.S. system was, it had civilized standards rejected by the enemy.
In April 2004, the world was shocked to see photos exposing the torment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, one of Saddam Hussein’s most infamous prisons, which was taken over and used by the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Well, most of the world was shocked. Some, mostly conservative commentators, dismissed or defended the barbarity, even comparing it to frat-boy hazing. Others were disgusted but shrugged it off as the work of a few bad apples, not something that should draw judgment down on the whole of U.S. policy and the brave men and women in uniform. Still others of us were horrified but did not see the mistreatment as any sort of aberration — we expected such torture to occur in a war of aggression, figured we had not seen the worst of it, and even argued that what goes on in America’s domestic prisons easily compares with some of the milder photos dominating the nightly news.
A national debate arose out of that scandal. More than one question was pondered: Do these photos depict torture? Is this an anomaly or a systemic problem? Who should be held accountable? Should torture always be illegal?
Over the next few years, more torture controversies came up. The question of whether water-boarding actually constitutes torture was particularly disheartening. Some defenders of the U.S. government said the United States should not and does not torture, but waterboarding doesn’t count. Others said that even if the United States does torture, it is doing so in service of a greater good.
We have actually come to the point where the rhetoric of Reagan’s day no longer holds: American exceptionalists and conservatives no longer claim emphatically that the United States does not and never will torture, as they did before (however disingenuously). An AP poll in June 2009 found that 52 percent of Americans thought torture was justified in some situations — up from only 38 percent in 2005. In Obama’s America, torture is now normalized.
But Americans should recoil from torture absolutely, should recognize it is not an anomaly of the Bush war in Iraq but a practice with decades of U.S. precedent, should understand that responsibility for the Bush-era torture went all the way to the top, should know that domestic and international laws were unambiguously violated in the war on terrorism, should understand and oppose torture even when it’s “only” psychological or used against domestic criminal convicts, and should recognize that Obama has not put a stop to the abuse. A single book will offer a crash course in all these elements of the U.S. torture state: The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, a remarkable and multidisciplinary collection of chapters by scholars, lawyers, and journalists, all compiled by Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
Not Just Bush
It is crucial to recognize that torture is not a new policy that began with George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. Despite the Cold War rhetoric, the U.S. government has been responsible for torture for decades, particularly in Latin America. The preface to the book is written by Dianna Ortiz, a nun who was raped, burnt, beaten, and otherwise tortured in Guatemala in 1989, all under the auspices of a U.S. commander, she is sure. There is no reason to doubt her. A chapter by Bill Quigley surveys the legacy of the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S. Army installation with origins in Panama in 1946 that was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984 and renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. “Together these schools have trained more than 60,000 members of the military from 22 Central and South American countries.”
Students were trained in “the systematic use of torture and executions to neutralize dissidents.” In 1996 the Pentagon admitted using torture training manuals in the SOA. The manuals “were based on materials used in the Vietnam War in the 1960s.”
Some of the worst graduates include Bolivian Gen. Hugo Banzer, who seized the country in a violent coup in 1971; the dictator of Guatemala, Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, who is implicated in “5,000 political murders and up to 25,000 civilian deaths”; Panama’s famed dictator, Manuel Noriega; and “most of the Chilean military who overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.”
El Salvador was probably the scene of most of this U.S.-sponsored barbarity. American support for the death squads is the focus of Terry Lynn Karl’s chapter. The Reagan administration repeatedly defended the regime in El Salvador, despite its outright murder of moderate reformers, Jesuit priests and nuns, and other innocent men, women, and children. “On December 10, 1981, units of the Atlactl Battalion and the Third Infantry Brigade detained between 500 and 900 people in the village of El Mozote and the surrounding area, then executed them in groups, first the men, and then the women and children.” It is telling that “U.S. aid totals in the two years of greatest repression (1980–1981) were far greater than the total for the previous 33 years.” This is one great shame of both the Carter and the Reagan administrations.
Even before George W. Bush took office, what became one of his most scandalous torture programs — the outsourcing of abusive interrogation to foreign thugs, known as “extraordinary renditioning” — was already being developed. Jane Mayer tells of its fledgling beginnings in the Clinton years, when it was also used in the war on al-Qaeda, with most of the renditioned detainees handed over to Egypt, “the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel.” At the hands of Mubarak’s brutal regime, Shawki Salama Attiya claims “that he suffered electrical shocks to his genitals, was hung from his limbs, and was kept in a cell in filthy water up to his knees.” The abuses only expanded under Bush, who renditioned at least dozens of terror suspects. At least some of them, such as Canadian citizen Maher Arar, tortured in Syria, appear to have been completely innocent of any terrorist-related activities.
Just as U.S.-sponsored torture didn’t begin with Bush, it didn’t end with him. The last chapter, written by Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, points out that the Obama administration has “implied that it would continue the practice of extraordinary rendition” and as of his writing Obama “is not complying with the UN Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, or other obligations under international and domestic law, as reports from the Washington Post and other reputable news organizations indicate that torture continues at various U.S. prisons oversees.” Of course, indefinite detention without charge has also continued and Obama has shielded Bush officials from legal recourse.
Psychological Abuse and Solitary Confinement
One misconception about torture is that it has to leave a physical mark, or be physical at all. Alfred W. McCoy’s chapter, “The CIA’s Pursuit of Psychological Torture,” dispels this myth, detailing the agency’s most disturbing past in attempting to master the art of mind control. Starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s and guided by a report on Nazi experiments, chemist Henry Beecher consulted for the CIA in psychological experiments in postwar Germany. Later, “Beecher won a classified military contract to test heavy LSD doses on unwitting human subjects at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1953-4 — a clear violation of the Nuremberg medical code.” McCoy explains how severe psychological torture techniques can be and traces their propagation “among anti-communist allies across Asia and Latin America” and their link to the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam.
The importance of psychological torture is not lost on U.S. officials, who have in the war on terrorism cooperated with professional psychologists to hone this diabolical craft. “[Psychologists] helped to define what constitutes ‘torture’ in general terms of detainee breaking points” to help the administration find the threshold of what would “officially constitute illegal torture,” writes Stephen Soldz. The psychologists “were not just monitors of abuse.” They helped design it. U.S. troops are put through abusive conditions to “evaluate how much stress an individual could tolerate. It was these psychologists on whom the government relied, when it ‘reversed engineered’ … techniques to design ‘counterresistance techniques’ to break down detainees.” Soldz is highly critical of the American Psychological Association for what he says is complicity in this shameful collaboration between members of the profession and the torture state.
Just as physical torture is not the only kind of torture, so wartime enemies are not the only victims. Lance Tapley indicts the entire institution of solitary confinement in America’s supermax prisons as a form of torture. But is he exaggerating?
Severe pain and suffering as punishment are plainly the norm in a supermax. Even when mental suffering alone is considered — ignoring, for example, the coordinated beatings and violent subjugation of recalcitrant prisoners known as “cell extractions” — the prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners has increasingly been described by UN agencies and human-rights organizations as cruel, inhuman, degrading, or torturous.
You don’t have to take the UN’s word for it. Tapley describes compellingly a totalitarian hell for domestic prisoners. Nothing like it can be found in the world of criminal justice, especially the so-called civilized world. And what are “cell extractions”? The author describes one prisoner who endures them “up to five times a day”:
Five hollering guards wearing helmets and body armor charge into a cell. The point-man smashes a big shield into the prisoner, knocking him down. The others spray Mace into his face, push him onto the bed, and twist his arms behind his back to handcuff him, connecting the cuffs by a chain to leg irons. Then they haul him into the corridor, cut off all his clothes, and carry him screaming through the cell block while they continue to Mace him. They put him in an observation room, and bind him to a special chair. He remains there for hours, naked and cold, yelling and mumbling.
Estimates of how many American prisoners sit in supermaxes range between 36,000 and 100,000. Not all inmates are violent rapists and murderers. Many are mentally troubled. Their terrible treatment is one reason some of us were not so shocked by the photos at Abu Ghraib.
Legal Violations and Philosophical Dilemmas
Yet there was something particularly evil about the Bush administration’s torture policies. Many thousands were detained without due process and were exposed to particularly disturbing cruelties. Up to a hundred died in detention, many tortured to death.
The chapter by Marc D. Falkoff, a lawyer for a Guantánamo inmate, humanizes such prisoners, many of whom were swept up in the war in Afghanistan, called the “worst of the worst” by American officials, and deprived of due process for years, even as the Supreme Court struck down one administration attempt after another to circumvent habeas corpus. Falkoff’s client, Adnan, appears to be an innocent victim of circumstance, deprived of the right to see the evidence against him, accused of connections with al-Qaeda, an organization he seems not to know anything about. He suffers from chronic headaches and inner ear pain, the results of a 1994 car accident. He is denied suitable food or anywhere near adequate medical attention for his many health problems. The water he is given has bugs in it. Excerpts from the proceedings and interrogations indicate a code of justice reaching Kafkaesque absurdity. After years of torturous confinement, Adnan went on a hunger strike. In response, “twice a day, soldiers force-feed Adnan a liquid nutrient by inserting a tube up his nose and into his stomach. His arms and legs are strapped to a special restraint chair during the feedings.” Force-feeding is considered torture by the UN.
The legal questions surrounding Bush’s detention and torture policies are discussed at length, in multiple chapters. His narrow redefinition of torture to escape the sanctions of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law is exposed as a despicable yet still technically failing undertaking. The book confronts the extremist argument that the president could inflict even deadly abuse or torture on a child without being in violation of the law.
Michael Ratner writes about attempts to bring U.S. torturers to justice outside of U.S. borders, in other nations’ courts. Jeanne Mirer makes a comprehensive case that the lawyers who guided Bush administration torture policy are legally culpable. Phillippe Sands demonstrates starkly that the arguments of John Yoo and others that the president was above all international law were completely without merit. According to Jordan J. Paust’s chapter, the various legal memos of infamy, from Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, Steven G. Bradbury, and Jay Bybee, far from providing a legal shield for the administration, demonstrate their authors’ complicity in the U.S. torture state. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are also exposed for their involvement in “the Bush legacy of serial and cascading criminality.”
Some philosophical issues are also tackled in the book. John W. Lango has an interesting chapter grappling with the common, yet seemingly absurd, argument that torture might be necessary to stop a ticking time bomb and save thousands or millions of innocent lives. After a thoughtful discussion of the potential ethical dilemmas, he convincingly concludes, “Despite real-world counterexamples to moral absolutism about informational torment, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment must be legally prohibited absolutely.” Richard Falk’s chapter criticizes the left-liberal mind-set that appropriately recoils in horror at the prospect of torture, but not in such completely asymmetrical wars as Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq. Although “the prohibition of ‘torture’ has been benevolently inscribed in the political mentality of liberal legality … the reliance on one-sided warfare stirs no comparable moral concern.” He traces that disconnect back to World War II and the reliance on weapons of mass destruction in the Cold War and calls on people to see wars against the defenseless as deserving condemnation in moral terms and not just in practical ones.
Understanding America’s Torture State
Abu Ghraib was no aberration. It was the result of policies approved by George W. Bush and his immediate executive, military, and legal subordinates. It was also morally consistent with policies pursued by the U.S. government since at least the dawn of the Cold War. American officials have used torture domestically and internationally, directly and by proxy, through methods both physically brutal and psychologically crippling. It is express U.S. policy, even when the government denies what it is doing is torture, for it has explicitly endorsed techniques long recognized internationally to be forms of torture. Torture is also a predictable outcome of U.S. wars of aggression.
At the center of American government is an ethical bankruptcy. There is a rot at the center of the U.S. warfare and welfare state. But aside from the mass looting and mass killing there is also systematic abuse of helpless detainees — in U.S.-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, at Guantánamo, in the dungeons of U.S.-backed and U.S.-sponsored foreign dictatorships, in the hands of terrorists trained by the U.S. Army, in the practice of thugs in league with the CIA, and even in America’s state and federal prisons.
Nothing better demonstrates the moral degeneracy of American political culture than the U.S. torture state. Read Marjorie Cohn’s chilling book and learn about the cruelty inflicted in your name, with your tax dollars, on the guilty and innocent, foreigners and American citizens alike.
Reprinted with permission courtesy of the Future of Freedom Foundation