Category Archives: War on Terror

Another Global War on Terror Toxic Legacy

Our disposable society example #807.

It looks like the US’ major military involvements seem to poison US soldiers and the civilians of the countries we fight.  Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Gulf War syndrome in that war. Now the US government has covered up the burning of toxic waste in open pits at US miltary bases by private contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), a former subsidiary of Halliburton.

Since the illness’ effects are delayed, respiratory issues or cancers, the VA won’t cover it. Iraqi and Afghan civilians, like the Vietnamese, are just left to suffer.

Of course, outsourcing the burn pits to private contractors allowed them to cut costs by cutting corners:

Did the military’s use of private contractors like KBR in some ways help to facilitate this crisis?

KBR operated many of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are some regulations for contractors, but they’re not nearly as stringent, and the penalties are not nearly as harsh for contractors as they are for soldiers. So these contractors were super-careless with these burn pits. There were burning anything and everything in them, and they didn’t care and they didn’t think they could be held accountable.

They’ve grown to the point where they feel that the government can’t operate without them. These companies have that arrogance. Contractors that were operating the burn pits in Iraq were actually told by their headquarters, “If they’re going to investigate us over these burn pits, don’t worry about it. If we pull out, they can’t run this base.”

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration hasn’t been helpful to whistle-blowers on this issue. Thankfully, in the documents that Chelsea Manning leaked is information about how the US military was aware of the burn pit health hazards.

The GWoT just keeps giving.

Disposable military dogs

Our disposable society example #806.

Looks like the military’s practice of discarding soldiers applies to bomb-sniffing dogs used in Iraq and Afghanistan according to an NYPost investigation. Robby’s Law allows military dog handlers to adopt the dogs they worked with, but “hundreds of handlers [are] still searching for their dogs — and the Army, the Pentagon and K2 Solutions [are] covering up what happened, and what may still be happening.” Of course the military mercenary private contractor is blaming the military since the dogs are owned by the military, but it isn’t clear who really owns the dogs.

Soldiers suffer:

“I guess I had PTSD before, but I never really noticed till I gave Fistik up,” Kornse says. “I started having nightmares. I never experienced that before. She made ­everything better for me — that’s the best way I can describe it.”

And the dogs suffer:

“All of these dogs have PTSD,” Scarborough says. “Squires said that to me.”

“Half of the dogs were on human Prozac and Xanax,” kennel master Greg Meredith tells The Post.

And so may the public:

None of the people who sought to adopt was vetted. None was asked what they planned to do with the dogs, or if they were capable of dealing with a dog with war wounds. None was asked whether they had small children.

Someone made money off of these dogs and the dogs sacrificed for our expeditionary wars. Apparently it is too much to ask that they find people who need them and can take care of them.

A Drone for you, and two for you …

Naked Capitalism brought my attention to this video on what drones can do and what they might do in the future.  It makes for rather concerning viewing.

Personally, I have no doubt that within the next ten years, drones will be small enough and cheap enough to follow us and record all of our actions in public.  My guess is that many of us will have more than one permanently following us.  My guess is that people will object to governments tailing us with a drone, though I wouldn’t put it past them.  However, I wouldn’t put it past corporations to monitor the public lives of their employees or ex-spouses for that matter.  I am sure that many might have them to monitor themselves.  The government could then use a warrant (or not) to gather the recordings.

I keep thinking of writing a story of woman as she goes about her day, from greeting the drones that keep track of her in the morning to saying good night to them, and everywhere in between.  There would be one from the corporation she works for, one from her ex-husband, one from her child’s school, one from the school where she takes night classes, and so on.  The cheaper drones become, the more we will use them, afterall.  If you want to write such a story, you have my blessing, though please contact me so I can promote it.

On to the video.

Obama and the permanent terror war

By now some of you have heard about or read the recent Washington Post story by Greg Miller about the Obama administrations efforts to make permanent its powers to kill anyone on the planet in the name of the war on terror. Glenn Greenwald, talking about the Post story and citing work by the ACLU of Massachusetts on the government's continuing attempts to increase their surveillance of us all, paints this chilling picture:

What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a "matrix" that determines the "disposition" of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be "disposed" of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

As if this were not bad enough, we know we have entered new territory in the destruction of our rights when a government official likens drone strikes to swatting flies as in this quote from Micah Zenko's Council on Foreign Relations post, Institutionalizing America’s Targeted Killing Program:

“It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?”

Will you are I be a fly to some future administration? If we are, as Spencer Ackerman at Wired noted, we can thank Obama for that.

What type of government surveillance do you want?

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Stewart Baker posted a blog post entitled Times Square bombing — where were the cameras? and posits that it is better to have lots of small surveillance cameras that can only be accessed after the fact instead of fewer surveillance cameras that are centrally recorded and administered.  The comments are pretty good, but this one caught my eye:

… if we’re all soldiers in the war to defend the Constitution against terrorists, some of us are going to get killed in that defense. And some of us will be killed because ‘defending the Constitution’ means observing the limits it puts on government even when violating them might be more tactically opportune.

I’m sure cameras everywhere would be effective; it just wouldn’t be very American.

I just had to read one more thing …

Of course I had to check my RSS feeds one last time before I went to bed and came across this piece from Boing Boing on the CIA torture memos:

Salon's Mark Benjamin went spelunking in the recently released CIA
torture memos and comes back with a stomach-churning account of the
waterboarding practiced at Gitmo. This fine-tuned torture process
repeatedly took its victims to the brink of death (one victim was
waterboarded 180+ times) until many of them simply gave up on breathing
and tried to allow themselves to drown, only to be revived by unethical
medical personnel who collaborated with the war criminals conducting
the torture.

documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur
in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed
to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he
inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands
to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's
mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of
liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a
detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to
keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a
session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners
were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

"This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing," said Dr. Scott
Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights
at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for
Physicians for Human Rights. "The so-called science here is a total
departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying,
'This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going
to do it.' It just sounds like lunacy," he said. "This fine-tuning of
torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine."

As a friend noted, waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, it is drowning.  "Enhanced interrogation techniques" are just mealy mouthed words for hiding the war crimes that our government carried out.

Of course VP Cheney was a "big supporter of waterboarding" as reported to ABC News via Andrew Sullivan & The Atlantic:

KARL: Did you more often win or lose those battles, especially as
you got to the second term?

CHENEY: Well, I suppose it depends on which battle you're talking
about. I won some; I lost some. I can't…


KARL: … waterboarding, clearly, what was your…

CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big
supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques that…

KARL: And you opposed the administration's actions of doing away
with waterboarding?


It is too late to impeach him, but there is no statute of limitations on trying war criminals.

Obama, like Bush before, claims authority to assassinate US citizens

Green Change quotes a Glenn Greenwald article that states that the Obama administration has compiled a list people, including US citizens, which president Obama has authorized the military and intelligence services to kill:

Just think about this for a minute.  Barack Obama, like George Bush
before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens
murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim
that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and
imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests."  They're entitled to no
charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations.  Amazingly,
the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign
nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges —
based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists —
produced intense controversy for years.  That, one will recall, was a
grave assault on the Constitution.  Shouldn't Obama's policy of
ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or
checks of any kind — not imprisoned, but killed — produce at least as
much controversy?

Obviously, if U.S. forces are
fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have
the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including
American citizens.  That's just the essence of war.  That's why it's
permissible to kill a combatant engaged on a real battlefield in a war
zone but not, say, torture them once they're captured and helplessly
detained.  But combat is not what we're talking about here.  The people
on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in
their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a
whole array of other activities.  More critically still, the Obama
administration — like the Bush administration before it — defines the "battlefield" as the entire world
So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed
anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities
carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his
say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks.  That's quite a
power for an American President to claim for himself.

Greenwald lays it out pretty well and it is worth the read.

Eight years later, using nonviolence in Afghanistan still looks like a good choice

In March of 2002, while running for Treasurer of the Commonwealth, I did a one day tour of the Fall River/New Bedford area including speaking engagements, radio appearances and an interview with the Herald News in Fall River.  I was aided by David Dionne, a great and tireless activist for social justice, peace, and the environment.  David had setup the whole day and first on the itinerary was the interview with the Herald News.

Now March, 2002 was about five months after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one of the reporter's first questions was what would be the Green Party's alternative to invading Afghanistan.  I stated that invading the country was the wrong approach and the US would have been better off in the long-term by building a nonviolent resistance movement to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that sought the development and liberation of all of its citizens.

With President Obama's announcement that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 US soldiers, 43,000 NATO-ISAF soldiers, and 68,000 Pentagon contractors, the long-term has arrived.  When all is said and done, we are easily on track to have been there for a decade or more propping up a corrupt government run by warlords who share the Taliban's desire to keep women down. 

According to, a National Priorities Project, the US has spent $232 Billion funding military related operations in Afghanistan since our invasion in 2001.  This figure represents over $8,000 per Afghan citizen, or about $1000 a year for each person.  With Afghanistan's per capita yearly GDP at about $450, this amount would represent a tripling of the income of the average Afghan.  This figure is even more striking when you consider that we haven't delivered on the $5 Billion in aid we pledged to help Afghanistan rebuild.

We could have devoted a fraction of what our military has spent occupying Afghanistan on promoting economic development, education and health as well as building a native Afghan nonviolent resistance movement.  Would we have overthrown the Taliban by now?  Possibly.  People who have enough to eat, a job with a decent income and the ability to read have much more ability to organize and use nonviolent tactics to undermine the support of their leaders.  We forget when we judge the success of a nonviolent resistance that, after eight years of violent resistance to the Taliban, there is very real prospect that they may yet reestablish themselves as the rulers of Afghanistan.

By taking a long-term nonviolent approach, one that focused on economic development, education and improving the health of all Afghans, we would have left Afghanistan a far better place than we have so far.  Even if a nonviolent resistance movement had not succeed by now, it would have a good chance of succeeding in the future.  Obama's choice to double down on the Bush strategy doesn't look like its chance of success will be any better, but the cost in lives and debt will be immensely higher.

Can we impeach Bush yet?

We know from the Downing Street Memo that Bush was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq.  Here is more evidence:

Bush Ignored Intelligence on Iraqi Weapons, Says Ex-CIA Officer

By Dan Glaister
The Guardian UK

Monday 24 April 2006

A former leading CIA official said yesterday that the White House deliberately
  ignored intelligence that showed that there were no weapons of mass destruction
  in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Tyler Drumheller, who was once the highest-ranking CIA officer in Europe, told
  CBS’s 60 Minutes programme that the White House shifted its focus to regime
  change in the months before the invasion.

"The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking
  for intelligence to fit into the policy," Mr Drumheller said.

Meanwhile a leaked Pentagon document showed that Donald Rumsfeld, the defence
  secretary, is pressing ahead with plans to reshape the armed forces despite
  recent criticism of his stewardship from several retired military officers.
  Plans approved last month by Mr Rumsfeld and leaked to the Washington Post revealed
  the increasing use of special forces and an increased role for the military
  in areas that have been the domain of the CIA.

Mr Drumheller, who had a senior role in the run-up to the war, told 60 Minutes
  that the CIA provided the White House with information from Iraq’s then foreign
  minister, Naji Sabri, who had reportedly made a deal with the US.

"[The source] told us that there were no active weapons of mass destruction
  programmes," Mr Drumheller said. He said that the then-CIA director, George
  Tenet, passed the information on to George Bush, Dick Cheney, the vice-president,
  and other senior officials, who were initially excited. But that changed, he

"The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq
  war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said ‘Well, what
  about the intel?’ And they said ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This
  is about regime change.’"

Mr Drumheller said the decision to invade Iraq would be remembered as a grave
  mistake. "It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an
  intelligence failure … This was a policy failure … I think, over time, people
  will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think,
  policy mistakes of all time," he said.