Whatever Happened to the Department of Justice?

Maybe we should change the name of the DOJ to the Department of Expedience. The War on Terrorism continues to be a War on the American and our Constitutional idea of justice. Eric Holder’s speech yesterday at Northwestern’s School of Law puzzles many of us that had hoped a change from the Bush/Cheney regime would mean a return to civil liberties.  Assassination of US citizens–implying no trial, no jury of peers, and no due process–by classifying them as terrorists is an end run around our Constitution that must not stand.   Eric Holder’s thin justification of the Obama policy of assassination sounds a lot like triangulation.

Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

Glenn Greenwald explains it like this.

When Obama officials (like Bush officials before them) refer to someone “who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” what they mean is this: someone the President has accused and then decreed in secret to be a Terrorist without ever proving it with evidence.

This process still seems to be a murky one as pointed out at Empty Wheel. This is beyond unacceptable.

As of a month ago–four months after Awlaki was killed–the Senate Intelligence Committee had not been provided with the legal framework for Awlaki’s kill. This, in spite of the fact that SSCI member Ron Wyden had been requesting that framework for over five months before Awlaki was killed.

I said when Wyden made that clear that it showed there had not been adequate oversight of the killing. By his words–if not his deeds–Holder effectively made the same argument.

The speech appears to be an elaborate justification of a policy that could basically spin on the whims of a president and his/her cronies. This is especially appalling given the FBI “stings” that have been aimed at catching terrorists that seem more aptly labelled as pushing some depressed, emotionally damaged people into becoming aspirational terrorists and then enabling them to do something dangerous. I can only assume that the CIA is probably just as bad if not worse.

The Holder speech was weak as a public explanation.  It’s basis in law appears weaker.

Still, the speech contained no footnotes or specific legal citations, and it fell far short of the level of detail contained in the Office of Legal Counsel memo — or in an account of its contents published in October by The New York Times based on descriptions by people who had read it.

The administration has declined to confirm that the memo exists, and late last year, The Times filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act asking a judge to order the Justice Department to make it public. In February, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a broader lawsuit, seeking both the memo and the evidence against Mr. Awlaki.

Last month, Justice Department court filings against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009, provided a detailed account — based on his interrogations — of Mr. Awlaki’s alleged involvement.

Mr. Holder, by contrast, did not acknowledge the killing of Mr. Awlaki or provide new details about him, although he did mention him in passing as “a U.S. citizen and a leader” of Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch when discussing Mr. Abdulmutallab.

Holder even objects to the word “assassinations”. 

Holder also noted that in using lethal force, the United States must make sure that it is acting within the laws of war by ensuring that any target is participating in hostilities and that collateral damage is not excessive. And he noted that law-of-war principles “do not forbid the use of stealth or technologically advanced weapons” — an apparent reference to drones.

More broadly, Holder argued that the targeting of specific senior belligerents in wartime in not unusual, and noted the 1943 U.S. tracking and shooting down of the plane carrying Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He said that “because the United States is in an armed conflict, we are authorized to take action against enemy belligerents under international law . . . and our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields of Afghanistan.”

Holder said he rejected any attempt to label such operations “assassinations.”

“They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced,” he said. “Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self-defense against a leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the executive order banning assassination or criminal statutes.”

Holder said “it is preferable to capture suspected terrorists where feasible — among other reasons, so that we can gather valuable intelligence from them — but we must also recognize that there are instances where our government has the clear authority — and, I would argue, the responsibility — to defend the United States through the appropriate and lawful use of lethal force.”

I am not a constitutional lawyer.  I do not even play one on TV so I can’t speak to the finer points of the due process clause.  I just know this does not pass my “smell test”.   I have read statements by lawyers.  Here’s a sampling from MOJO and Adam Sewer.

Both supporters and opponents of the administration’s targeted killing policy offered praise for the decision to give the speech. They diverged, however, when it came to the legal substance. “It’s essential that if we’re going to be doing these things, our top national security and legal officials explain why it’s legal under international and constitutional law,” said Benjamin Wittes, a legal scholar with the Brookings Institution, who said he thought the speech fulfilled that obligation. “I think [the administration] is right as a matter of law.”

In a statement, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project, called the authority described in the speech “chilling.” She urged the administration to release the Justice Department legal memo justifying the targeted killing program—a document that the ACLU and the New York Times are currently suing the US government to acquire. “Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”

Here’s a point-by-point list of things that I think is worth reading from Lawfare.  This is a small portion of that article.  I really suggest you go read all of the points to get an understanding of the policy and its process.

That is, the speech asserts that Due Process permits targeting of a citizen at least when the target is:

(i) located abroad rather than in the United States,

(ii) has a senior operational role

(iii) with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda-associated force,

(iv) is involved in plotting focused on the death of Americans in particular,

(v) that threat is “imminent” in the sense that this is the last clear window of opportunity to strike,

(vi) there is no feasible option for capture without undue risk, and

(vii) the strike will comply with the IHL principles of necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity

All of this takes away from the many questions surrounding the first recipient of the assassination treatment. Marcy at Empty Wheel reminds of the thin ice upon which Holder skates.

Perhaps it’s because of all the dubious reasons the Administration continues to keep its case against Anwar al-Awlaki secret, but Eric Holder gave the impression of not knowing precisely what evidence the government had shown against Awlaki.

Or, deliberately misrepresenting it.

Holder mentioned Awlaki just once–purportedly to summarize Abdulmutallab’s case against Awlaki they released last month.

For example, in October, we secured a conviction against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his role in the attempted bombing of an airplane traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.  He was sentenced last month to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  While in custody, he provided significant intelligence during debriefing sessions with the FBI.  He described in detail how he became inspired to carry out an act of jihad, and how he traveled to Yemen and made contact with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  Abdulmutallab also detailed the training he received, as well as Aulaqi’s specific instructions to wait until the airplane was over the United States before detonating his bomb. [my emphasis]

Note, this misrepresents what Abdulmutallab said, at least as shown by the summary released last month (setting aside the reasons DOJ chose not to test those claims at trial). What the summary did say was that Awlaki gave Abdulmutallab specific instructions to ignite his bomb while over the US. It did not say Awlaki was “a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” That’s DOJ’s elaboration, a frankly dishonest one, given the construction (and one that was probably at least significantly challenged by the intelligence Jubeir al-Fayfi delivered ten months after Abdulmutallab gave his testimony).

This is obviously a complex situation that needs full time attention by a lot of folks with a lot more than I can provide here.  It’s something, however, we all need to follow.


Who Exactly Is The Enemy On Our Doorstep?

It’s hard to keep up with the outrageous statements and positions of various 2012 presidential candidates.  One might reasonably ask: Who let the loons out?

As offensive as all these assaults, affronts and crazy talk have been, there’s been something else operating in the background, which begs the question:

What’s up with the joint military/police exercises being conducted in our cities?

The question lingers in the air, a thick mist of doubt laced with a pinch of paranoia.  We live in an era that breeds both with incredible ease.

On the heels of the National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA’s] passage, replete with an indefinite detention clause that President Obama signed onto, against the security advice of the FBI and NSA, it’s a question that leads even the level-headed to ponder the rhyme and reason of military/police training maneuvers inside American cities.

In late January, Los Angeles was an operational site.  In August of last year, Boston and earlier exercises were held in Miami and Little Rock.  The purpose?  According to official statements:

This will be routine training conducted by military personnel, designed to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments, prepare forces for upcoming overseas deployments, and meet mandatory training certification requirements.

Hummm.  I thought that’s what military bases were for?  And forgive me, I don’t see anything ‘routine’ about this.  I grew up near Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base in NJ.  We had plenty of planes and helicopters in the sky and military equipment trucking down the highways.

But military exercises in our living space?  Never.

We’ve seen the images from Greece, the Cradle of Democracy in flames, the populace pushed to extremes by financial/political deals that insist on further tightening of the economic thumbscrews.  These remedies never apply to those inflicting the misery.  But for the general population?  Pain is good.  Could these draconian prescriptions and subsequent reactions happen here?

Lest we forget, we’ve seen the prologue. Here:

I’ve written before about the creeping militarization of local police force units, where routine calls are turned into SWAT team events, complete with wartime accouterments—uniforms, weapons and vehicles.  And then there are the drones added to our airspace for additional surveillance and security, features that some would tell us are simply the next reasonable step in effective police work. The President has signed the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which among other things authorizes drone utilization in American airspace.  The Agency projects 30,000 drones in operation by 2020.

And now our cities are hosting military and police force exercises, presumably to prepare for overseas’ deployment.

The local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles started with this lead:

If you notice a heavy military presence around downtown Los Angeles this week, don’t be alarmed — it’s only a drill.

Whistling past the graveyard?  Color me suspicious but I find this whole concept disturbing.

Former Police Chief Norm Stamper, a 35-year police force veteran who oversaw the disastrous response to the 1999 WTO Battle in Seattle, has been vocal in his concern about militarizing our domestic police forces. He takes himself to task in going along with the brass in Seattle, where police took a hard-ass stand that resulted in injury and considerable property damage.  Instead of the cautionary tale that Seattle might have provided, the paramilitary mindset was further cemented into place after 9/11.  The Department of Homeland Security funded cities and small towns across America for ‘terrorist preparedness’ training and equipment. And those small, unlikely terrorist targets took those funds and armed their Police Departments to the teeth.

To the horror of many, we watched this equipment and personnel turn against Americans during the Occupy Wall St. protests, most spectacularly in Oakland, CA.

Stamper blames this on:

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

He also cites the military model adopted by police bureaucrats, an archaic attitude that fosters a dedication to authoritative regulations rather than an officer’s behavior in the streets.  And the senseless ‘War on Drugs’ that adds an overblown righteousness to the mayhem, a policy that criminalizes non-violent drug use and imprisons more of our citizens, ratio to population, than anywhere else on the planet.  The US represents 5% of the world’s population, yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Let that sink in!

Five percent of the world’s population = Twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population.

What the hell are we doing?  To our own people.

Shortly before leaving for Christmas, I’d read the announcement about the exercise in Los Angeles, scheduled and carried out in late January.  Frankly, I had no idea that these other ‘exercises’ had ever taken place.

Here’s a description [after the fact] of the ‘training exercise’ in Boston:

Land chopper on roof

U.S. military commandos practiced raids in the shuttered Agassiz Elementary School last month, including a nighttime helicopter landing on the school’s roof, the Gazette has learned.

The elite special forces training was done without notice to nearby residents. No live ammo or explosives were involved and safety measures were taken, according to military spokesperson Kim Tiscione.

A vaguely worded July 25 press release from the Mayor’s Office announced citywide “military training exercises,” including helicopters, through Aug. 5. In fact, the exercises were top-secret training for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), whose commandos recently killed terrorist Osama bin Laden, Tiscione told the Gazette.

“I know a lot of it can look really different when it’s in your own back yard,” Tiscione said of the training, which included the two-minute helicopter landing around 9 p.m. on July 28. “Safety is absolutely something we are concerned about.”

Safety is of prime concern?  One would think local residents would have been thoroughly informed and prepared before a helicopter was landed on the roof of an abandoned school.  Elsewhere the ‘helicopters’ were identified as a Black Hawks, buzzing among familiar business locations, always at night.

Brian O’Connell, a resident of Jamaica Plain had the following to say, following the Boston maneuvers:

Our great nation (which as you know, doesn’t tax the super rich or corporations) is currently engaged in a legislative battle royal over spending priorities. Meanwhile, the estimated price tag for our wars in the Middle East is $4 TRILLION. We close down schools in heavily populated urban areas and use the space for Special Forces raids while our unaccountable elected leaders pander behind close doors with the military industrial complex and use our communities as a commando training site. I find all of this obscene, and I know that there are many people who feel the same.

Correct me if I’m wrong but where are these ‘future deployments’ envisioned when the Iraq war has been officially ended and Afghanistan will be drawing down next year?  I’m all for defending the country but who or what are these combined forces defending it from?  Are these training exercises for a possible Iran invasion?  The drumbeat for war has been incessant, while most Americans have little appetite for another round of senseless, endless conflict.  Or are these staging operations preparing for something else?

Chris Hedges, never reluctant to criticize a system he considers thoroughly corrupt and acting against the public’s interest [not to mention Constitutional law] had this to say:

And I think, without question, the corporate elites understand that things, certainly economically, are about to get much worse. I think they’re worried about the Occupy movement expanding. And I think that, in the end–and this is a supposition–they don’t trust the police to protect them, and they want to be able to call in the Army.

I sincerely hope the man is wrong.  Unfortunately, Hedges’ has been a modern day prophet, predicting the corporate takeover of the United States that we, citizens-at-large are beginning to recognize everywhere we look.

Which begs two questions:

  • What’s up with the military/police exercises being conducted in our cities?
  • And would we be prepared for the truth, whatever that might be?

I stumbled across several quotes the other day, two of which had me rear back for a second.  So, I’ll leave you with the following:

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. [Goethe]

And,

Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world. [Henry Kissinger]

And here’s one of my own:

Better to vigorously question any official statement than to merely nod and fall back to sleep.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fast on the heels of giving the US Military props for their funding, R&D and real-time application of alternative energy sources, I’m reminded that in all things involving humans, the good, the bad and the ugly principle applies.  Chalk this up to a gentle knock on the noggin, a serious reminder that our military’s purpose is to defend the country, develop defense and wartime strategies [alternative energy works into this] and support all things weapon-related with gusto.

In this case, the subject is drones, aka UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], a new generation that is sure to amaze.  And disturb.

An article I recently read made my jaw drop with awe and an undeniable sense of foreboding.  We could call this the nascent I Robot stage of drone development.   I’ve written to the subject of drones before.  The science is incredible but I find the use of drones, war and peace applications alike, incredibly creepy.

The X47B, however, a fully-automated drone being tested by the Navy is in a class of its own.

Fully automated.  Meaning no one in Omaha is joy-sticking the X47B remotely, guiding its maneuvers, reconnaissance or defensive/offensive usage.  This drone will be dependent on onboard computers, perceiving threats through highly attuned sensors, and then acting, accordingly.

How sophisticated is this drone?  X47B has been designed to land on an aircraft carrier at sea.  My husband served in the Navy and lived on a carrier [a floating city] of approximately 5000 personnel.  Though not a pilot, he’d be the first to say that landing an aircraft on any carrier is incredibly challenging.

X47B is that advanced, that sophisticated.

The speed with which robotic aircraft is developing is frankly . . . stunning.  On 9/11, the US military had few drones in its arsenal.  Reportedly, 1 in 3 US aircraft are now robotic, primarily because of the cost effectiveness in comparison to traditional planes and reduced casualties to military personnel.  As aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo stated in his book “Let Robots Do the Dying:”

More aggressive robotry development could lead to deploying far fewer U.S. military personnel to other countries, achieving greater national security at a much lower cost and most importantly, greatly reduced casualties.

But as has been pointed out in numerous articles, we aren’t fighting Robot against Robot wars.  At least not yet.  Israel’s R&D drone technology is said to have started as early as 1992. Russia, Pakistan, even Iran are funding and developing their own drone programs. In fact, according to ABI Research, 65 countries are utilizing or developing drone programs. We’ve seen and read of the carnage when drones miss their target or targets are just plain wrong.  We’re talking Robots vs. Humans and the question of accountability cannot be dismissed.

X47B is a new generation, a next step.  As startling as its capabilities sound, the X47B will not be alone in the expanding robotic landscape.  We have robotic ground vehicles, mapping robots, IED detecting devices [that look like oversized Tonka toys] in the field, as well as robotic submarines and tanks to small, insect-like drones, complete with micro-cameras, in development.Small Fry Drones Utilizing Micro-Cameras

Ready or not, we’re approaching a Brave New World of robotics and weapon development.  The US military sees robotic vehicles, surveillance equipment and weapon systems replacing manned missions to handle the Three Big D’s—dull, dirty and dangerous. Defenders of autonomous systems insist that on-ground personnel will have the ability to abort missions and on-board computer-driven directives.  Still, the question lingers–if on-board computers are making split second computations would a manual ‘abort’ order have any relevance?

But what sets the X47B apart from its predecessors?

The GPS-based navigation and landing system is state-of-the-art, making the carrier landings feasible for this fighter-sized vehicle.  In addition, the program will allow the drone to conduct aerial refueling.  Missions would be preprogrammed, making remote guidance unnecessary. The X47B provides a far larger payload, allowing it to attack larger targets and perform multiple back-to-back missions, many of which would be beyond human endurance.  And it has stealth capabilities.

Robotic technology is racing forward.  What has not proceeded with equal speed or ease is the conversation about the ethics and morality involved in using these systems, particularly as relates to the chain of accountability.

As Noel Sharkey, computer scientist and robotics expert, recently stated in the LA Times:

Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability. This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?

The LA Times further states:

Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.

There is no denying that we’re entering a far different world in the way wars, international tensions, border protection, even domestic policing will be handled in the near future.  Let’s hope the right questions are asked and adequate answers provided before we slide down a very slippery slope.

Is there oversight? you may ask.  If the Congressional Unmanned Vehicle Caucus is an example, not much.  Though the caucus likes to advertise itself as a watchdog it has become little more than a booster club for all things drone.  For instance, instead of questioning the enormous amount of money, the cost-effectiveness of domestic drones used for border surveillance—illegal drug smuggling and illegal immigration—or even the success rate of the domestic drone fleet [which is anything but spectacular], the Department of Homeland Security actively supports the acquisition of ever-expanding systems.  As is so often the case, it’s a ‘follow the money’ love affair. Alternet reports that:

In the 2010 election cycle, political action committees associated with companies that produce drones donated more than $1.7 million to 42 congressional members who were members of the congressional drone caucus.

Yup, it’s always the same formula, working the cheap seats with suitcases of ready cash.

X47B will be testing its carrier landing capabilities in 2013, aerial refueling in 2014, and if all goes as planned the drone will be operational by 2016-17.

There’s still time for Americans to demand a serious Q&A.  But not much time.


Frank Rizzo and a Militarized Police Force

While I grew into my young adulthood, Frank Rizzo was the Police Commissioner and then later served as mayor of Philadelphia, Pa. Rizzo died in 1991 but I suspect somewhere in the Great Unknown, the man wails with disappointment, bemoaning the fact he lived before his time.  Rizzo once said that if necessary he would roll tanks down Market Street to preserve the peace.

My parents loved Rizzo’s blustery, make-my-day style.  I thought he was nuts.  As it turns out?  The man was a visionary.

One of the overlooked or rarely mentioned contributions of the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been the public eyeballing of today’s military style, domestic police force.  Many were surprised, even appalled by the military-style uniforms, the aggressive force, the ‘shock and awe’ approach of smoke and sound cannons caught on video.

Let me start off by saying I enjoy safe environments, appreciate the fact that children walk our streets without the fear of immediate abduction, that little old ladies are not routinely bashed over the head for their social security checks or that drug cartels have yet to murder mayors and judges in turf wars [eg., Mexico].

Crime is down in America.  That’s a good thing.

But the push for overkill security measures from our national police forces, fueled by the residual shock of 9/11, defense contractors recognizing small but reliable profit centers and Federal grants under the Homeland Security Department has shot into hyper-drive.  This transformation has occurred not simply in urban settings, where drug-related crime is often a legitimate concern, the source of violence against innocent citizens and police alike. No, the rise of military-style SWAT teams has come to small town America. And numerous Federal Agencies.

Why should we, ordinary citizens, be concerned?  Surely, there is a parallel between the military and police—the hierarchal structure, the use of weaponry and force.  However, the main difference is a soldier is expected to kill the enemy, break the place up in times of war.  In contrast, police departments are expected to protect the peace and citizenry, as well as respect our Constitutional rights.  Situations quickly grow hairy when these roles [soldier/policeman] begin to morph into one another.

A case in point, actually several cases were laid bare by Radley Balko, who as early as 2007 testified before Congress, warning of the growing number of SWAT Teams in America and/or the militarization of our police departments.  This did not happen overnight.  In fact the swing to military-style policing has been growing steadily since the 1980’s when Congressional legislation made military surplus available to police departments.

Here are a few examples that Balko has described:

Dress cops up as soldiers, give them military equipment, train them in military tactics, tell them they’re fighting a “war,” and the consequences are predictable. These policies have taken a toll. Among the victims of increasingly aggressive and militaristic police tactics: Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md., whose dogs were killed when Prince George’s County police mistakenly raided his home; 92-year-old Katherine Johnston, who was gunned down by narcotics cops in Atlanta in 2006; 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda, who was killed by Modesto, Calif. police, during a drug raid 2000; 80-year-old Isaac Singletary, who was shot by undercover narcotics police in 2007 who were attempting to sell drugs from his yard; Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor shot as he tried to flee a gang of narcotics cops who jumped him at a gas station in 2009; Clayton Helriggle, a 23-year-old college student killed during a marijuana raid in Ohio in 2002; and Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after police deployed a flash grenade during a mistaken raid on her Harlem apartment in 2003.

As well as:

. . . paramilitary creep has also spread well beyond the drug war. In recent years, SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, including one at an American Legion Hall in Dallas. In 2006, Virginia optometrist Sal Culosi was killed when the Fairfax County Police Department sent a SWAT team to arrest him for gambling on football games. SWAT teams are also now used to arrest people suspected of downloading child pornography. Last year, an Austin, Texas, SWAT team broke down a man’s door because he was suspected of stealing koi fish from a botanical garden.

Btw, the case of child pornography?  Turned out the man raided had a password-free wifi connection.  It was his next-door neighbor who was into kiddie porn.

On SWAT teams employed specifically by Federal Agencies:

In 2007, a federal SWAT team raided the studio of an Atlanta DJ suspected of violating copyright law. And in June, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General sent its SWAT team into the home of Kenneth Wright in Stockton, Calif., rousing him and his three young daughters from their beds at gunpoint. Initial reports indicated the raid was because Wright’s estranged wife had defaulted on her student loans. The Department of Education issued a press release stating that the investigation was related to embezzlement and fraud — though why embezzlement and fraud necessitate a SWAT team isn’t clear, not to mention that the woman hadn’t lived at the house that was raided for more than a year. Ignoring these details, however, still leaves the question of why the Department of Education needs a SWAT team in the first place.

The Department of the Interior also has one [SWAT team], as does the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Last August, gun-toting federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar factory in Nashville, Tenn. The reason? The company is under investigation for importing wood that wasn’t properly treated.

In 2006, a group of Tibetan monks inadvertently overstayed their visas while touring the U.S. on a peace mission. Naturally, immigration officials sent a SWAT Team to apprehend them.

Concerned yet?

According to Andrew Becker and GW Schulz from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Federal funds deluged America after 9/11 with little oversight.  And so, a place like Fargo, ND though an unlikely target for jihadist terrorism, has received 34 billion dollars over the last decade, resulting in a wild spending spree.

In recent years, they [Fargo’s PD] have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. Until that day, however, the menacing truck is mostly used for training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.

And,

No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the Federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.

Last month, I wrote a post for Sky Dancing on the growing popularity of drones for domestic applications, Eyes in the Sky.  Yes, it is true police departments have routinely employed helicopters for apprehension purposes but a drone can be kept in the air for 20+ hours, employ cameras to spy on citizens in their own homes.  There’s been no public discussion or debate on using drones in American airspace.  For good reason, I would argue.  The public identifies the drone to our recent wars in the Middle East, an effective killing machine.  On its face, remote aircraft application takes the issue of surveillance to another level, one that many citizens would reject.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that with all the money spent on military weaponry and hardware over the last decade+, it’s reported that local municipalities have pinched costs when it comes to basic training, the how to’s, the when and wherefores for their personnel.  Basic safety and procedural training protects not only the innocent citizen bystander but police officers as well.

The tragedy we witnessed in Oakland during the Occupy protests where Scott Olsen, an Iraqi vet, was nearly killed was a preventable action.  The pepper-spraying and crackdown of peaceful protestors in NYC and elsewhere by overzealous police is a chilling development, as is the routine use of stun guns on the elderly, on children, even pregnant women, and/or the multiple shooting of family pets in warrantless house raids [an alarming number of which have been mistakes].  These are steps too far, steps we will surely regret as a society.  This is particularly true at a moment when authoritative incursions are being made on our basic civil rights, eg., the recent sign off on indefinite detention; the kill order on and ultimate assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a bad guy but an American citizen nonetheless; a continuing war against whistleblowers; the veil of secrecy in an ever-expanding state of war and surveillance; the deliberate fear-mongering and scapegoating used by our politicians; the disturbing rise and spread of corporatism, etc.

The slide into tyranny is an easy hop, skip and jump from where we find ourselves right now.  We’re deluding ourselves by pretending our democratic principles cannot be/have not been eroded.  This should not be a partisan issue because all parties have been responsible and all parties will be injured if the trend continues.

Frank Rizzo may be smiling in the afterlife.  But Benjamin Franklin leans over his shoulder, reminding us all:

‘Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. ‘

Sorry, Frank.  Ben was the far wiser man.


Wednesday Reads: History…War on Christmas, War in Iraq, and the Fog of War

Peace River Citrus...tasty orange juice, freshly squeezed.

Good Morning!

Ooof, that is quite a lot of war in the title for today’s post…lots of things to share with you this morning. It’s been raining pretty steady and the wind is whipping up the cows in the pasture down here in Banjoland.

Today’s post is going to focus on a theme that revolves around History…but first, a quick article about  something meteorological.

This weather link is so damn cool!

I saw this article when it was first published earlier this week, and planned on using it for today…Weird Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Clouds over Birmingham and let me tell you, it is freaky!

While driving through Birmingham, Alabama, Redditor alison_bee couldn’t help but notice the bizarre, repetitive wave shapes appearing in the clouds near the horizon. While these strange cloud formations look otherworldly, they’re an example of what’s called Kelvin-Helmholtz instability — which is a pretty awesome name for a spectacular phenomenon.

What did I tell you?

Heres what Redditor and meteorologist zensunnioracle had to say:

Meteorologist here. These are indeed Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. What is happening is that the nocturnal near-surface layers (lowest 50-100m) of the atmosphere are much more stable than the layers above it in the mornings. Until the ground heats up due to daytime heating, the surface layers stay more stable than the air over it. Kelvin-Helmholtz waves occur when the wind shear between the layers destabilizes the topmost portion of that stable layer, and entrains the air into the unstable layer. What you see is stable air being lifted, cooled, and condensed so that this process becomes visible, though this commonly happens many places without being visible.

As spectacular as these waves are here on Earth, the same forces create similar patters on the gas giant planets like Saturn and Jupiter. While those are some truly enormous waves, these pictures from alison_bee should show that the Earthbound variety aren’t to be sneezed at either.

Video of these clouds as they roll over the city at the link…

Do you remember that hostage situation in a Russian cinema back in 2002? European Court Orders Russia to Pay Victims of 2002 Theater Siege

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay more than $1.3 million to victims of the government’s mishandled attempt to end the siege of a Moscow theater in 2002.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled Tuesday that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by a lack of planning and poor execution of the rescue operation.

Chechen militants refused to surrender after a standoff at the Dubrovka theater lasting several days, leading Russian security forces to launch a raid on the theater, where the militants were holding more than 800 people hostage. The troops fired an unidentified gas into the theater to try to knock out the militants, but nearly 130 hostages died in the attempt.

In addition, the report stated that Russia did not provide adequate medical aid to the hostages after its rescue effort and failed to conduct an effective investigation of the tragedy.

This comes at a time when tensions are running high in Russia, as Peggy Sue described it in a post last week, The Russian Winter.

Well, the Arab Spring is still ongoing, I thought this next post was interesting because it discusses British History in the Middle East, and the lessons that should be learned. The ‘Arab spring’ and the west: seven lessons from history

talat harb 1956/2011

October 2011: Egyptians in Talat Harb square, Cairo, protest against military rule; October 1956: Egyptians demonstrate in the same square against British-French invasion. Photograph: Getty/Associated Press

There’s a real sense in which, more than any other part of the former colonial world, the Middle East has never been fully decolonised. Sitting on top of the bulk of the globe’s oil reserves, the Arab world has been the target of continual interference and intervention ever since it became formally independent.

Carved into artificial states after the first world war, it’s been bombed and occupied – by the US, Israel, Britain and France – and locked down with US bases and western-backed tyrannies. As the Palestinian blogger Lina Al-Sharif tweeted on Armistice Day this year, the “reason World War One isn’t over yet is because we in the Middle East are still living the consequences”.

Just a side note, I think the comparison of those two photos is a perfect introduction to this article.

The Arab uprisings that erupted in Tunisia a year ago have focused on corruption, poverty and lack of freedom, rather than western domination or Israeli occupation. But the fact that they kicked off against western-backed dictatorships meant they posed an immediate threat to the strategic order.

Since the day Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, there has been a relentless counter-drive by the western powers and their Gulf allies to buy off, crush or hijack the Arab revolutions. And they’ve got a deep well of experience to draw on: every centre of the Arab uprisings, from Egypt to Yemen, has lived through decades of imperial domination. All the main Nato states that bombed Libya, for example – the US, Britain, France and Italy – have had troops occupying the country well within living memory.

If the Arab revolutions are going to take control of their future, then, they’ll need to have to keep an eye on their recent past. So here are seven lessons from the history of western Middle East meddling, courtesy of the archive of Pathé News, colonial-era voice of Perfidious Albion itself.

Please go to the link to read about the seven lessons, the first one is a big lesson that we will probably never learn…there are also embedded videos to support the article, some go back to Libya and Jerusalem in the 1930′s.

And for another History Lesson, there is a lengthy timeline here at this link to MoJo: Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq

George Bush Dr. Strangelove

At A congressional hearing examining the march to war in Iraq, Republican congressman Walter Jones posed “a very simple question” about the administration’s manipulation of intelligence: “How could the professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?”

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, responded with an equally simple answer: “The vice president.”

Oh… this is extremely detailed, so just go read the entire thing! Perhaps it will make you remember some of the events listed, as it made me recall them, in my mind’s vivid memory.

History has yet to write the story of Bradley Manning, however, Amy Goodman has done a good job of reporting on his case. Amy Goodman: Bradley Manning and the Fog of War

Accused whistle-blower Pvt. Bradley Manning turned 24 Saturday. He spent his birthday in a pretrial military hearing that could ultimately lead to a sentence of life … or death. Manning stands accused of causing the largest leak of government secrets in United States history.

Goodman explains the reasons for his “imprisonment” and gives a summary of what his outlook may be:

Back in the Fort Meade, Md., hearing room, defense attorneys painted a picture of a chaotic forward operating base with little to no supervision, no controls whatsoever on soldiers’ access to classified data, and a young man in uniform struggling with his sexual identity in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Manning repeatedly flew into rages, throwing furniture and once even punching a superior in the face, without punishment. His peers at the base said he should not be in a war zone. Yet he stayed, until his arrest 18 months ago.

Since his arrest, Manning has been in solitary confinement, for much of the time in Quantico, Va., under conditions so harsh that the U.N. special rapporteur on torture is investigating. Many believe the U.S. government is trying to break Manning in order to use him in its expected case of espionage against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It also sends a dramatic message to any potential whistle-blower: “We will destroy you.”

For now, Manning sits attentively, reports say, facing possible death for “aiding the enemy.” The prosecution offered words Manning allegedly wrote to Assange as evidence of his guilt. In the email, Manning described the leak as “one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.” History will no doubt use the same words as irrefutable proof of Manning’s courage.

There are so many things going on these days that indicate a change in the rights and liberties of American citizens. We are in the process of losing these rights in this Bush/Obama Administration.

I love this history theme for today’s post…here is another article from Truthdig: William Pfaff: History Tells Us Not to Dismiss a Democratic Challenge to Obama

A week ago, in the Providence Journal newspaper (in Rhode Island), the publisher of Harper’s Magazine, John R. MacArthur, wrote that President Barack Obama, through expedient political compromises, has lost the moral authority that an American president must command, and therefore has lost his right to a second presidential term. Mr. MacArthur quotes in support of his argument the veteran journalist Bill Moyers, who was a member of President Lyndon Johnson’s staff from 1965 to 1967, and since has become a prominent commentator on public television and in liberal and Democratic Party circles.

Just click the link to read the rest…and there is a note at the end of the post you may find interesting too. (Especially those following the Euro/EU economic news.)

And for the last link, we’re going Medieval…on the Right and Left’s perceptions of the “War on Christmas.”  Illuminating the “The War on Christmas” — Got Medieval

No snark today, just a few pretty medieval pictures interspersed with thoughts on this whole War on Christmas thing that you hear so much about these days.

At heart, I think, the War is a matter of incompatible perception. One camp looks at Christmas and sees this:

British Library MS Additional 52539, f. 2 (click-expandable)

And the other, this:

British Library MS Egerton 2045, f. 95 (click to expand)

Behold, a pair of “Adoration of the Magi”.* Neither version looks very much like the medieval marginalia this series typically features** but they both muck about with the page’s margins, nevertheless, so they’re fair game.

The second adoration is actually the most properly called “marginalia”; look closely, and you’ll see there’s a tiny rectangle of text there in the middle of the page, barely a half line of scripture.  Everything else–Jesus and Mary, the three magi and their retainers, the gifts, the castle, even the camel–is located fully within the page’s sumptuously decorated margin, a margin that has expanded so as to nearly blot out the page’s text.

Likewise with the first; it’s marginal, if only just.  While it’s technically a “historiated initial,” if you squint at the lower left quadrant, you’ll see that the kneeling cup-bearing servant is slipping out into the margin.  Everyone else is crowded in so that there’s no room left for him to stand in the main image.

Which one is the metaphor for the Christmas War-Uponers, and which the Christmas Defense Squad?

There is so much one can learn about the attitudes and thought process of the Medieval mind through the art of page decorations.

As the above blog post analyzes the pictures of Christmas, that include the Savior, an occasional Christmas “Beasty” and all the other familiar characters, i.e. the Three Wise Men, I wonder what the three idiots on the curvy couch would have to say about all this marginalization going on.

So this is your History Lesson for the day, what else are you reading and thinking about? See y’all later in the comments.

Hmmm…that makes me think of the phrase, See You in the Funny Papers.