Zbig’s Blowback Outlives Him

Zbigniew Brezezinski passed away today of cancer at the age of 89. My condolences to his family.

I share(d) a birthday with him, and once slept in a room he used during the first cabinet meetings of the Carter Administration. So I’ve always had some curiosity about, if not quite affinity to, him.

Perhaps as a result I’ve always been acutely aware that he is the man who set off the chain of events, 38 years ago, that has led to the war on terror (without even — as he optimistically claimed in 1998 — ending the Cold War). Here’s the 1998 interview where he boasted of the decision.

Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [integrisme], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Of course, while the Cold War may have paused, it’s back in full swing now, and Sunni extremists continue to wreak havoc on targets within and outside of the Middle East.

Zbig’s blowback has officially outlived the man. May we remember the soldiers, of every country, who have died as a result this Memorial Day weekend. Rest in Peace.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

What Fake French News Looks Like (to a British Consulting Company)

Along with reports that APT 28 targeted Emmanuel Macron that don’t prominently reveal that Macron believes he withstood the efforts to phish his campaign, the post-mortem on the first round of the French election has also focused on the fake news that supported Marine Le Pen.

As a result, this study — the headline from which claimed 25% of links shared during the French election pointed to fake news — has gotten a lot of attention.

The study, completed by a British consulting firm (though the lead on the study is a former French journalist) and released in full only in English, is as interesting for its assumptions as anything else.

Engagement studies aren’t clear what they’re showing, but this one is aware of that

Before I explain why, let me stipulate that accept the report’s conclusion that a ton of Le Pen supporters (though it doesn’t approach it from that direction) relied on fake news and/or Russian sources. The methodology appears to suffer from the same problem some of BuzzFeed’s reporting on fake news does, in that it doesn’t measure the value of shared news, but at least it admits that methodological problem (and promises to discuss it at more length in a follow-up).

Sharing is the overt act of taking an article or video or image that one sees in social media and, literally, sharing it digitally with one’s own followers or even into the public domain. Sharing therefore implies an elevated level of interest: people share articles that they feel others should see. While there are tools that help us track and quantify how many articles are shared, they cannot explain the sharer’s intention. It seems plausible, particularly in a political context, that sharing implies endorsement, yet even this is problematic as sharing can often imply shock and disagreement. In the third instalment [sic] of this study, Bakamo will explore in depth the extent to which people agree or disagree with what they share, but for this report (and the second, updated version), the simple act of sharing—whatever the intention—is nonetheless highly relevant. It provides a way of gauging activity and engagement.

[snip]

These are the “likes” or “shares” in Facebook, or “favourites” or “retweets” in Twitter. While these can be counted, we do not know whether the person has actually clicked through to read the content being shared before they like or retweet. This information is only available to the account owner. One of the questions that is often raised about social media is whether users do indeed read the article or respond simply to the headlines that appear in their newsfeed. We are unable to comment on this.

In real word terms, engagement can be two things. It can be agreement—whether reflexive or reflective—with the content shared. It can also, however, be disagreement: Facebook’s nuanced “like” system (in which anger is a valid form of engagement) or Twitter’s citations that enable a user to comment on the link while sharing it both permit these negative expressions.

The study is perhaps most interesting for what it shows about the differing sharing habits from different parts of its media economy, with no overlap between those who share what it deems “traditional” media and those who share what I’d deem conspiracist media. That finding, more than almost any other one, suggests what might be needed to engage in a dialogue across these clusters. Ultimately, what the study shows is increased media polarization not on partisan grounds, but on response to globalization.

Russian media looks very important when you only track Russian media

As I noted, one of the headlines that has been taken away from this study is that Le Pen voters shared a lot of Russian news sources — and I don’t contest that.

But there are two interesting details about how that finding came to be that important to this study.

First, the study defines everything in contradistinction from what it calls “traditional” media.

There are broad five sections of the Media Map. They are defined by their editorial distance from traditional media narratives. The less accepting a source is of traditional media narratives, the farther away it is (spatially) on the Map.

In the section defining traditional media, the study focuses on establishment and commercialism (including advertising), even while pointing to — but not proving — that all traditional media “adher[e] to journalistic standards” (which is perhaps a fairer assumption still in France than in the US or UK, but nevertheless it is an assumption).

This section of the Media Map is populated by media sources that belong to the established commercial and conventional media landscape, such as websites of national and regional newspapers, TV and radio stations, online portals adhering to journalistic standards, and news aggregators.

It does this, but insists that this structure that privileges “traditional” media without proving that it merits that privilege is not meant to “pass moral judgement or to define what is ‘good’ or ‘evil’.”

Most interesting of all, the study includes — without detail or interrogation — international media sources “exhibiting these same characteristics” in its traditional media category.

These are principally France-based sources; however, French-speaking international media sources exhibiting these same characteristics were also placed into the Traditional Media section.

But, having defined some international news sources as “traditional,” the study then uses Russian influence as a measure of whether a media cluster was non-traditional.

The analysis only identified foreign influence connected with Russia. No other foreign source of influence was detected.

It did this — measuring Russian influence as a measure of non-traditional status — even though the study showed this was true primarily on the hard right and among conspiracists.

Syria as a measure of journalistic standards

Among the other kinds of content that this study measures, it repeatedly describes how those outlets it has clustered as non-traditional (primarily those it calls reframing outlets) deal with Syria.

It asserts that those who treat Bashar al-Assad as a “protagonist” in the Syrian civil war as being influenced by Russian sources.

A dominant theme reflected by sources where Russian influence is detected is the war in Syria, the various actors involved, and the refugee crisis. In these articles, Bachar Assad becomes the protagonist, a perspective opposite to that which is reported by traditional media. Articles touching on refugees and migrants tend to reinforce anti-Islam and anti-migrant positions.

The anti-imperialists focus on Trump’s ineffectual missile strike on Syria which — the study concludes — must derive from Russian influence.

Trump’s “téléréalité” attack on Syria is a more recent example of content in this cluster. This is not surprising, however, as Russian influence is detectable on a number of sites in this cluster.

It defines conspiracists as such because they say the US supports terrorist groups (and also because they portray Assad as trustworthy).

Syria is an important theme in this cluster. Per these sources, and contrary to reports in traditional media, the Western powers are supporting the terrorist, while Bashar Assad is trustworthy and tolerant leader, as witness reports prove.

The pro-Islam non-traditional (!!) cluster is defined not because of its distance from “traditional” news (which the study finds it generally is not) but in part because its outlets suggest the US has been supporting Assad.

American imperialism is another dominant theme in this cluster, driven by the belief that the US has been secretly supporting the Assad regime.

You can see, now, the problem here. It is a demonstrable fact that America’s covert funding did, for some time, support rebel groups that worked alongside Al Qaeda affiliates (and predictably and with the involvement of America’s Sunni allies saw supplies funneled to al Qaeda or ISIS as a result). It is also the case that both historically (when the US was rendering Maher Arar to Syria to be tortured) and as an interim measure to forestall the complete collapse of Syria under Obama, the US’ opposition to Assad has been half-hearted, which may not be support but certainly stopped short of condemnation for his atrocities.

And while we’re not supposed to talk about these things — and don’t, in part, because they are an openly acknowledged aspect of our covert operations — they are a better representation of the complex clusterfuck of American intervention in Syria than one might get — say — from the French edition of the BBC. They are, of course, similar to the American “traditional” news insistence that Obama has done “nothing” in Syria, long after Chuck Hagel confirmed our “covert” operations there. Both because the reality is too complex to discuss easily, and because there is a “tradition” of not reporting on even the most obvious covert actions if done by the US, Syria is a subject on which almost no one is providing an adequately complex picture of what is going on.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the measure of truth on Syria has become the simplified narrative you’re supposed to believe, not what the complexity of the facts show. And that’s before you get to where we are now, pretending to be allied with both Turkey and the Kurds they’re shooting at.

The shock at the breakdown of the left-right distinction

What’s most fascinating about the study, however, is the seeming distress with which it observes that “reframing” media — outlets it claims is reinterpreting the real news — doesn’t break down into a neat left-right axis.

Media sources in the Reframe section share the motivation to counter the Traditional Media narrative. The media sources see themselves as part of a struggle to “reinform” readers of the real contexts and meanings hidden from them when they are informed by Traditional Media sources. This section breaks with the traditions of journalism, expresses radical opinions, and refers to both traditional and alternative sources to craft a disruptive narrative. While there is still a left-right distinction in this section, a new narrative frame emerges where content is positioned as being for or against globalisation and not in left-right terms. Indeed, the further away media sources are from the Traditional section, the less a conventional left-right attribution is possible.

[snip]

The other narrative frame detectable through content analysis is the more recent development referred to in this study as the global versus local narrative frame. Content published in this narrative frame is positioned as being for or against globalisation and not in left-right terms. Indeed, the further away media sources are from the Traditional section, the less a conventional left-right attribution is possible. While there are media sources in the Reframe section on both on the hard right and hard left sides, they converge in the global versus local narrative frame. They take concepts from both left and right, but reframe them in a global-local context. One can find left or right leanings of media sources located in the middle of Reframe section, but this mainly relates to attitudes about Islam and migrants. Otherwise, left and right leaning media sources in the Reframe section share one common enemy: globalisation and the liberal economics that is associated with it.

Now, I think some of the study’s clustering is artificial to create this split (for example, in the way it treats environmentalism as an extend rather than reframe cluster).

But even more, I find the confusion fascinating. Particularly in the absence of — as it did for Syria coverage — any indication of what is considered the “true” or “false” news about globalization. Opposition to globalization, as such, is the marker, not a measure of whether an outlet is reporting in factual manner on the status and impact and success at delivering the goals of globalization.

And if the patterns of sharing in the study are in fact accurate, what the study actually shows is that the ideologies of globalization and nationalism have become completely incoherent to each other. And purveyors of globalization as the “traditional” view do not, here, consider the status of globalization (on either side) as a matter of truth or falseness, as a measure whether the media outlet taking a side in favor of or against globalization adheres to the truth.

I’ve written a fair amount of the failure of American ideology — and of the confusion among priests of that ideology as it no longer exacts unquestioning sway.

This study on fake news in France completed by a British consulting company in English is very much a symptom of that process.

But the Cold War is outdated!

Which brings me to the funniest part of the paper. As noted above, the paper claims that anti-imperialists are influenced by Russian sources, which it explains for criticism of Trump’s Patriot missile strike on Syria. But it’s actually talking about what it calls a rump Communist Cold War ideology.

This cluster contains the remains of the traditional Communist groupings. They publish articles on the imperialist system. They concentrate on foreign politics and ex-Third World countries. They frame their worldview through a Cold War logic: they see the West (mainly the US) versus the East, embodied by Russia. Russia is idolised, hence these sites have a visible anti-American and antiZionist stance. The antiquated nature of a Cold War frame given the geo-political transformations of the last 25 years means these sources are often forced to borrow ideas from the extreme right.

Whatever the merit in its analysis here, consider what it means for a study the assumptions of which treat Russian influence as a special kind of international influence, even while conducting no reflection on whether the globalization/nationalization polarization it finds so striking can be measured in terms of fact claims.

The new Cold War seems unaware that the old Cold War isn’t so out of fashion after all.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The #FakeNews about Iraqi WMD Got Hundreds of Thousands Killed

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-2-12-32-pm

This morning, Dana Milbank — who used to have a podcast with Chris Cillizza on which he once suggested Hillary would choose to drink Mad Bitch beer —  wrote a piece warning of the dangers of fake news.

After writing about a threatening email he received, Milbank considered whether episodes like the attack on Comet Ping Pong — which he described as “the family pizza place in Northwest Washington I’ve been frequenting with my daughter ever since she was a toddler a decade ago” — were the new normal. Milbank described the role of Alex Jones in making a “bogus and bizarre accusation” against Hillary. Then he turned the attack on Comet Ping Pong, in part, into an attack on the media.

This would appear to be the new normal: Not only disagreeing with your opponent but accusing her of running a pedophilia ring, provoking such fury that somebody takes it upon himself to start shooting. Not only chafing when criticized in the press but stoking anti-media hysteria that leads some supporters to threaten to kill journalists.

The man whose “Mad Bitch beer” comment targeted Hillary ended his piece by scolding Trump for fueling rage against Hillary and those who support her.

If Trump were a different leader, he would declare that political violence is unacceptable in a free society. Perhaps he’d say it after eating a “Steel Wills” pie at Comet.

But instead he continues to fuel rage against his opponents and his critics.

On Twitter, Peter Singer — who wrote a very worthwhile book that uses fiction to lay out near term threats to the US  — RTed Milbank’s story with the comment, “stop winking and nodding” at fake news because it can get people killed.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-2-29-06-pm

Singer works at New America Foundation, but he used to work at Brookings Institution, which employs people like Michael O’Hanlon and Charles Lister to write propaganda, funded in part by Qatar, designed to generate support for endless wars in the Middle East.

In response to Singer’s tweet, I RTed it and pointed out that “The #fakenews about Iraqi WMD DID get hundreds of thousands killed.” That in turn led to some interesting discussions, most notably with Zeynep Tufekci, who claimed that by “conflating two very, very different types of failure” I was being unhelpful because those different kinds of fake news operated via different mechanisms.

Tufekci is right. The means by which an uncritical press — enthusiastically joined by the WaPo’s editorial page and many, but not all, of its reporters — parroted Dick Cheney’s lies about Iraqi WMD are different than the means by which millions of people sought out the most outrageous claims about Hillary. The means by which the financial press claimed the housing market would never collapse are different than the means by which millions of people sought out conspiracy theories about the people who didn’t prosecute the banksters. The means by which Dana Milbank got to insinuate the Secretary of State might choose Mad Bitch beer are even different than the means by which millions of people sought out news that called the former Secretary of State #CrookedHillary. The means by which the traditional press focused more attention on Hillary’s email server than on Trump’s fraudulent business practices are different than the means by which millions of people sought out claims that Hillary’s email server was going to get her indicted. All of those traditional news examples of fake news included an editorial process designed to prevent the retelling of fake news.

The means by which traditional news media shares fake news are different than social media’s algorithm driven means of sharing fake news.

Until you remember that a week before the election, Fox’s Bret Baier, who eight months earlier had moderated a GOP primary debate, reported that the investigations into Hillary “will continue to likely an indictment.” While Baier retracted the claim just over a day later, the claim was among the most damaging pieces of fake news from the campaign, not least because it confirmed some of what the most inflammatory social media claims were saying and magnified the damage of Jim Comey’s irresponsible announcement about finding new emails.

Baier got manipulated by his sources who knew how to game the means the press uses to avoid fake news. Baier got manipulated into sharing fake news that served the goals of his sources. It turns out Baier was not any more immune from the manipulation of his biases than your average news consumer is.

Now, the NYT (though not, I think, the WaPo) apologized for their WMD coverage and Milbank apologized for his Mad Bitch podcast and Baier apologized for his indictment scoop. No one has yet apologized for focusing more attention on Hillary’s email server than Trump’s own corruption, but I’m sure that’s coming. I’m not aware that the financial press apologized for the cheerleading that ultimately led to millions of Americans losing their homes to foreclosure, but then it also hasn’t stopped the same kind of fake news cheerleading that led to the crash.

Indeed, while it shows remorse after some of the worst cases, the traditional news media still lapses into the habit of reporting fake news, often in a tone of authority and using an elite discourse. Such lapses usually happen when a kind of herd instinct or a rush to get the news first sets in, leading news professionals to tell fake news stories.

And, now that social media has given average news consumers the ability (and after financialization has led to the disappearance of reliable local news), average news consumers increasingly bypass news professionals, listening instead to the stories they want to hear, told in a way that leads them to feel they are assuming a kind of self-control, told in a language and tone they might use themselves. At its worst — as in the case of PizzaGate — a kind of herd instinct sets in, with news consumers reinforcing each others’ biases. On Sunday, that almost got a lot of innocent people — families like Milbank’s own — killed.

Elite commentators may view the herd instincts of average news consumers to be more crude than the herd instincts of professional news tellers. Perhaps they are. Across history, both types of herd instincts have led to horrible outcomes, including to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

But as we try to deal with our herd instincts and the mistakes we all make (myself very much included), we might do well to exhibit a little less arrogance about it. That certainly won’t eliminate the mistakes; we are, ultimately, herd animals. But it might provide a basis to rebuild some trust, without which leads all of us — the professionals and the average news consumers — further into our own bubbles.

Update: This Current Affairs piece treats WaPo’s peddling of fake news — including the PropOrNot story — well.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Our Syrian Rebels Are Issuing Threats Via WaPo

This is a striking article in the WaPo. It deals extensively with setbacks rebels in Syria have already suffered at the hand of Russia’s campaign. But it bears this headline, as if Trump’s administration, not Russian intervention (and Obama’s mixed commitment), is the key change.

Fearing abandonment by Trump, CIA-backed rebels in Syria mull alternatives

As I said, the story provides plenty of evidence the real change here stems from Russian involvement, not Trump’s election. But Trump’s election provides a way for a bunch of people to issue threats about what rebels might do in response to their fading fortunes.

The story quotes some anonymous US officials which likely includes Adam Schiff, who is also quoted by name, as well as an anonymous “U.S.-vetted rebel commander” who apparently speaks for the thousands the article claims to represent, and Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Jassim al-Thani, suggesting that if rebels aren’t helped more America’s alliance with the Gulf States may be in trouble. It also lays out what Trump’s incoming team, including Mike Flynn and James Mattis, might feel about how a Syrian win would help Iran.

I’m most interested in this part of the article, in which a single US official lays out a certain narrative about the US backed rebels — basically pretending that the covert program has worked.

The possibility of cutting loose opposition groups it has vetted, trained and armed would be a jolt to a CIA already unsettled by the low opinion of U.S. intelligence capabilities that Trump had expressed during his presidential campaign.

From a slow and disorganized start, the opposition “accomplished many of the goals the U.S. hoped for,” including their development into a credible fighting force that showed signs of pressuring Assad into negotiations, had Russia not begun bombing and Iran stepped up its presence on the ground, said one of several U.S. officials who discussed the situation on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The United States estimates that there are 50,000 or more fighters it calls “moderate opposition,” concentrated in the northwest province of Idlib, in Aleppo and in smaller pockets throughout western and southern Syria, and that they are not likely to give up.

“They’ve been fighting for years, and they’ve managed to survive,” the U.S. official said. “Their opposition to Assad is not going to fade away.”

Not only does this passage far overstate the success of US efforts, but it — like Qatar’s foreign minister — threatens that these armed men won’t go away if the US backs Assad.

No matter what you think of US efforts in Syria, this kind of narrative from the people who’ve backed an unsuccessful covert program is fairly disturbing, as if even the US officials in the story are siding with the more explicit threats from Qatar against the US.

Yes, if Trump really remains committed to his promised partnership with Russia (assuming he and the nutjobs he has hired can manage that relationship, which I doubt), the rebels will side with Qatar (and the Saudis and who knows what Erdogan will do?) against Assad — which has basically been what they’ve been doing all this time anyway. Yes, if that happens, the US will lose its leverage over Qatar, with potentially dangerous consequences.

But this sounds awfully close to Americans turning against American policy, no matter how untutored Trump is.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

After We Help the Saudis Commit More War Crimes We’re Going to Mars!

mars-globe-valles-marineris-enhanced-br2This afternoon, the Senate had a debate on Chris Murphy and Rand Paul’s resolution to halt the sale of $1.5 billion in arms to the Saudis to use on their invasion of Yemen.

The debate was repulsive.

The opponents of the measure — led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham — had little to say about the well-being of Yemenis.

Lindsey even shrugged off both Saudi support for terrorism.

[shrugs] They have double dealing in the past of helping terrorist organizations.

And Saudi bombing of civilians.

They have dropped bombs on civilians. There’s no way to wage war without [shrugs again] mistakes being made.

But we had to help the Saudis kill Yemeni civilians, Lindsey argued, because Iran humiliated American sailors who entered Iranian waters, purportedly because of navigation errors.

That argument — one which expressed no interest in the well-being of Yemenis but instead pitched this as a battle for hegemony in the Middle East — held the day. By a vote of 71-27, the Senate voted to table the resolution.

If your Senators voted against tabling this amendment, please call to thank them:

Baldwin (D-WI)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Heller (R-NV)
Hirono (D-HI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Leahy (D-VT)
Lee (R-UT)
Markey (D-MA)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Paul (R-KY)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schatz (D-HI)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Warren (D-MA)
Wyden (D-OR)

The creepiest thing, however, came just after the vote. Bill Nelson (D-Mission to Space) got up, not just to do a victory lap that the US would continue to support Saudi war crimes. But he also announced a resolution passed earlier, which funds NASA to send humans to Mars by 2030, with an eye to colonizing the red planet.

It was as if he was saying that proliferating arms and war crimes on this globe won’t matter so much because we can just go colonize another.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Tolstoy On Iraq

One of the great pleasures of travel is long uninterrupted stretches of time for reading. I’m on the road for a long trip, including a visit to Russia, and took a copy of War and Peace with me. It’s really long, and therefore perfect for this kind of travel, and I was able to read it in a month amid the sightseeing and wandering that are the other great things about travel. On a visit to St. Petersburg last year, I saw the Military Gallery at the Hermitage, a long barrel-vaulted room with 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the destruction of his Grande Armée by the Russian people and their army under the leadership of M. I. Kutusov. Wikipedia has a nice entry on this part of the museum, including pictures of several of the people who appear in Tolstoy’s book including one who is kin to the author..

Tolstoy was a drinker, a rake and a gambler as a young man, but that changed about the time he joined the army for a war between Russia and Turkey in 1851 and he began to write. His military experience gives the crackle of reality to the descriptions of the battles in War and Peace, and on the lengthy discussions of strategy and tactics. His explanation of the Russians crushing the French is fascinating, as is his lack of respect for the historians before him whose explanations he rejects abusively. I was particularly taken by the discussion in Chapter 1 of Book 14. This is from the translation of Louise Maude and Alymer Maude published in 1942. There are more recent and arguably better translations, but this one was easier to read in the Kindle edition.

All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.

Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy’s army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation – even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army – a hundredth part of a nation – should oblige that whole nation to submit. A army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.

So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon’s wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.

But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history; to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon’s army, is impossible.

The difference is this. After the defeats of Austria nnd Prussia, the residents of Vienna and Berlin stayed home, surrendered, and more or accepted the rule of Napoleon. This is perfectly natural. What difference does it make in the private lives of the people which monarch rules? For the rich and the prosperous, the French seemed charming and cultivated, and if that charm and culture were somewhat different from that of their prior rulers, it was not a great difference and was one with which they were already familiar. As to the craftsmen and artisans, they continued to live as before, carrying out their trades for the new and old aristocracies, and the poor at least were free from conscription and misery in the army.

But that didn’t happen in Russia. As Napoleon advanced towards Moscow, almost everyone left town. There is a funny scene where Napoleon plans his speech to the expected deputation from the city, at which he will explain his good intentions and his demands. It reads as if he were thinking the people of Moscow would welcome him and his enlightened rule with open arms and shower him with flowers. No deputation arrives, and the French generals argue about which of them is going to have to tell the Emperor the bad news.

As most people left, those who remained, peasants, convicts and lunatics, began looting and squatting in the emptied homes. The loot left town a bit later. When the French moved in, they found a nearly empty city, and they themselves began to loot and camp out in the vacant palaces and nicer homes. Then Moscow caught fire, in Tolstoy’s explanation not by arson, but by carelessness and the lack of a fire department, and vast sections were reduced to rubble. Napoleon practically begged peasants to bring their hay and other provender to the city, offering extraordinary prices (which according to Tolstoy he planned to pay for with counterfeit rubles), but the peasants burned their produce rather than sell it to the invaders. Meanwhile the Russian Army is watching for an opportunity to attack. Suddenly the French Army breaks and runs. The Russians under M. I. Kutusov follow as the French run at a breakneck pace towards the border. Kutusov sends detachments of guerillas to harass the baggage trains and cannon, and to capture stragglers. Few of the French troops get away.

As Tolstoy explains it, the French thought they were in a ritual duel with rapiers between two honorable combatants. Suddenly the Russian side realizes its danger, picks up a cudgel and beats its rival senseless. Tolstoy says that Napoleon complained to the Russian Emperor Alexander I and General Kutusov that the war is carried on “…contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.”

The publisher of my version explains that a new edition was warranted especially by Hitler’s invasion of Russia. We might see it as a good time to understand a lesson ourselves. The US Army and its allies destroyed the Iraqi Army, but the people were not defeated. The US Army won many battles with the army of North Viet Nam and conflicts with guerrillas in Viet Nam, but the people were not defeated. And the debacle in Afghanistan is even harder to understand in light of that country’s history. Tolstoy makes this lesson clear:

The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russion people …,

Or, you know, the Iraqis, the Vietnamese or the Afghans.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

9/11: A Story of Attacks, Horror, Victims, Heroes and Jingoistic Shame

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-2-54-38-amSeptember 11, 2001 is now 15 years in the mirror of life. Like the two Kennedy assassinations, the Moonshot and a few other events in life, it is one of those “yeah I remember where I was when…” moments. Personally, being on west coast time, I was just waking up thinking all I had was a normal morning court calendar. When my wife, who gets up far earlier than I, shouted at me to rub out the cobwebs and watch the TV because something was seriously wrong in New York City. She was right. It was a hell of a day, one of unspeakable tragedy and indescribable heroism. It was truly all there in one compact day, unlike any other, save maybe December 7, 1941.

2,996 people lost their lives, and their families and history were forever altered in the course of hours on an otherwise clear and beautiful day in Manhattan. Most were simply innocent victims, but many were the epitome of heroes who charged into a hellscape to try to salvage any life they could. There were other heroes that altered their lives in response, and either died or were forever changed as a result. One was a friend of mine from South Tempe, Pat Tillman.

No one can speak for Pat Tillman, and, save for his family, those who claim to only prove they never met the man. All I can say is, I wish he were here today. The one thing that is certain is he would not give the prepackaged trite partisan reaches you are likely to hear today. It would be unfiltered truth. Which the US did not get from its leaders after September 11, 2001, and is still missing today.

Instead of rallying and solidifying the oneness of the American citizenry that was extant immediately after September 11, 2001, the Bush/Cheney Administration and GOP told us to go shopping and that we needed to invade Iraq, who had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. It was a fools, if not devil’s, errand and a move that threw away an opportunity for greatness from the country and exploited it in favor of war crimes and raw political power expansion and consolidation.

Instead of gelling the United States to make ourselves better as the “Greatest Generation” did sixty years before, America was wholesale sold a bill of goods by a determined group of unreformed and craven Neo-Con war criminals left over from the Vietnam era, and we were led down the path to a war of aggression that was an unmitigated disaster we have not only not recovered from today, but are still compounding.

The 2000’s will prove to be a decade of American shame when history is written decades from now. Not from the attacks, but from our craven response thereto. So, pardon me if I join Colin Kaepernick and choose not to join, every Sunday, just because the Madison Avenue revenue generating NFL of Roger Goodell cravenly exploits it, the jingoistic bullshit of rote dedication to a racist National Anthem. Also, too, shame on opportunistic and Constitutionally ignorant whiny police unions who scold free speech and threaten to abandon their jobs in the face of it.

powell_un_anthraxBut that is all over now surely. Taking the United States, nee the world, to a forever war on the wings of a craven lie is universally recognized, condemned and scorned, right?

No. The Neo-Cons are unrepentant and still trying to advance themselves on the lie that their once and forever war justifies more than their prosecution and conviction in The Hague. Here is a belligerent and unrepentant Dick Cheney passing the torch of evil to his spawn Liz Cheney in the august pages of the Wall Street Journal:

We are no longer interrogating terrorists in part because we are no longer capturing terrorists. Since taking office, the president has recklessly pursued his objective of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo by releasing current detainees—regardless of the likelihood they will return to the field of battle against us. Until recently, the head of recruitment for ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a former Guantanamo detainee, as is one of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders in the Arabian Peninsula.

As he released terrorists to return to the field of battle, Mr. Obama was simultaneously withdrawing American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. He calls this policy “ending wars.” Most reasonable people recognize this approach as losing wars.

Times may change, but the bottomless pit of Cheney lies and evil do not. As Charlie Savage pointed out on Twitter, the two terrorists the Cheneys refer to were actually released back to the “field of battle” by Bush and Cheney, not Obama. Was Obama involved in the story? Yes, he would be the one who actually tracked them down and killed them.

And then there is the failure to learn the lessons of the failed torture regime Bush and Cheney instituted as the hallmark of the “War on Terror”. Our friend, and former colleague, Spencer Ackerman has a must read three part series over the last three days in The Guardian (Part One, Part Two and Part Three) detailing how the CIA rolled the Obama Administration and prevented any of the necessary exposure, accountability and reform that was desperately needed in the aftermath of the torture regime and war of aggression in Iraq. It will take a while, but read all three parts. It is exasperating and maddening. It is also journalism at its finest.

And so, as we glide through the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, what are we left with from our response to the attacks? A destabilized world, an ingraining of hideous mistakes and a domestic scene more notable for jingoism and faux patriotism than dedication to the founding principles that America should stand for.

That is not what the real heroes, not only of 9/11 but the totality of American history, died to support and protect. In fact, it is an insult to their efforts and lives. If America wants to win the “War on Terror”, we need to get our heads out of our asses, quit listening to the neocons, war mongers, and military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, and act intelligently. This requires a cessation of adherence to jingoistic and inane propaganda and thought, and a focus on the principles we are supposed to stand for.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

In Attempted Hit Piece, NYT Makes Putin Hero of Defeating TPP

In an remarkable hit piece NYT spent over 5,000 words yesterday trying to prove that all of WikiLeaks’ leaks are motivated from a desire to benefit Russia.

That of course took some doing. It required ignoring the evidence of the other potential source of motivation for Julian Assange — such as that Hillary participated in an aggressive, and potentially illegal, prosecution of Assange for being a publisher and Chelsea Manning for being his source — even as it repeatedly presented evidence that that was Assange’s motivation.

Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state,

[snip]

In late November 2010, United States officials announced an investigation of WikiLeaks; Mrs. Clinton, whose State Department was scrambled by what became known as “Cablegate,” vowed to take “aggressive” steps to hold those responsible to account.

[snip]

Another person who collaborated with WikiLeaks in the past added: “He views everything through the prism of how he’s treated. America and Hillary Clinton have caused him trouble, and Russia never has.”

It also required dismissing some of the most interesting counterexamples to the NYT’s thesis.

Sunshine Press, the group’s public relations voice, pointed out that in 2012 WikiLeaks also published an archive it called the Syria files — more than two million emails from and about the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia is supporting in Syria’s civil war.

Yet at the time of the release, Mr. Assange’s associate, Ms. Harrison, characterized the material as “embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.” Since then, Mr. Assange has accused the United States of deliberately destabilizing Syria, but has not publicly criticized human rights abuses by Mr. Assad and Russian forces fighting there.

As I have noted, there is a significant likelihood that the Syria files came via Sabu and Anonymous from the FBI — that is, that it was actually an American spy operation. Even aside from how important a counterexample the Syrian files are (because they went directly contrary to Putin’s interests in protecting Assad, no matter how bad they made Assad’s western trade partners look), the provenance of these files and Assange’s current understanding of them deserve some attention if NYT is going to spend 5,000 words on this story.

But the most remarkable stunt in this 5,000 screed is taking Wikileaks’ efforts to show policies a great many people believe are counterproductive — most importantly, passing trade deals that benefit corporations while hurting real people, but also weakening other strong hands in climate change negotiations — and insinuating they might be a Putinesque plot. This bit requires editorial notes in line:

From November 2013 to May 2016, WikiLeaks published documents describing internal deliberations on two trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade [ed: no, it would protect IP, the opposite of liberalizing trade] between the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Trade in Services Agreement, an accord between the United States, 21 other countries and the European Union.

Russia, which was excluded, has been the most vocal opponent of the pacts [this is presented with no evidence, nor even a standard of evidence. I and all of America’s TPP opponents as well as TPP opponents from around the world must redouble our very loud effort], with Mr. Putin portraying them as an effort to give the United States an unfair leg up in the global economy.

The drafts released by WikiLeaks stirred controversy among environmentalists, advocates of internet freedom and privacy, labor leaders and corporate governance watchdogs, among others. They also stoked populist resentment against free trade that has become an important factor in American and European politics. [Here, rather than admitting that this broad opposition to these trade deals shows that Putin is not the most vocal opponent of these pacts — contrary to their foundational assumption in this section — they instead portray a wide spectrum of well-considered activism as unthinking response to Putinesque manipulation. And note, here, a news outlet is complaining that ordinary citizens get access to critically important news, without even blushing? Also note the NYT makes no mention of the members of Congress who were also begging for this information, which makes it easier to ignore the profoundly anti-democratic nature of these trade agreements.]

The material was released at critical moments, with the apparent aim of thwarting negotiations, American trade officials said. [In a piece obscuring the unpopular and anti-democratic nature of these trade deals, the NYT gives these sources anonymity.]

WikiLeaks highlighted the domestic and international discord on its Twitter accounts.

American negotiators assumed that the leaks had come from a party at the table seeking leverage. [That anonymity again: NYT is protecting some bitter trade negotiators who’ve invented a paranoid conspiracy here. On what grounds?]

Then in July 2015, on the day American and Japanese negotiators were working out the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, came what WikiLeaks dubbed its “Target Tokyo” release.

Relying on top-secret N.S.A. documents, the release highlighted 35 American espionage targets in Japan, including cabinet members and trade negotiators, as well as companies like Mitsubishi. The trade accord was finally agreed on — though it has not been ratified by the United States Senate — but the document release threw a wrench into the talks.

“The lesson for Japan is this: Do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honor or respect,” Mr. Assange said in a news release at the time. “There is only one rule: There are no rules.” [That the US spies on trade negotiations was of course not news by this point. But it is, nevertheless, worthy to point out.]

Because of the files’ provenance, United States intelligence officials assumed that Mr. Assange had gotten his hands on some of the N.S.A. documents copied by Mr. Snowden.

But in an interview, Glenn Greenwald, one of the two journalists entrusted with the full Snowden archive, said that Mr. Snowden had not given his documents to WikiLeaks and that the “Target Tokyo” documents were not even among those Mr. Snowden had taken.

The next paragraph goes on to note that the same NSA documents focused on climate negotiations between Germany and the UN, which seems to suggest the NYT also believes it is in petro-state leader Putin’s interest for the US attempts to dominate climate change negotiations to be thwarted, even as Assange describes US actions as protection petroleum interests, which of course align with Putin’s own.

In other words, as a central piece of evidence, the NYT spent 11 paragraphs repackaging opposition to shitty trade deals — a widely held very American view (not to mention a prominent one is most other countries affected) — into something directed by Russia, as if the only reasons to oppose TPP are to keep Russia on an equal shitty neoliberal trade footing as the rest of us, as if opposing the deals don’t benefit a whole bunch of red-blooded Americans.

That’s not only logically disastrous, especially in something billed as “news,” but it is very dangerous. It makes legitimate opposition to bad (albeit widely accepted as good within beltway and I guess NYT conventional wisdom) policy something disloyal.

NYT’s argument that Putin was behind WikiLeaks’ NSA leaks doesn’t hold together for a lot of reasons (not least that those two topics are probably not what Putin would prioritize, or even close). But it also has the bizarre effect, in a hit piece targeting Assange and Putin, of making Putin the hero of the anti-TPP movement.

And yet, NYT’s three journalists don’t seem to understand how counterproductive to their “journalistic” endeavor that argument is.

Update: Oy. As Trevor Timm notes, NYT worked with WL on the TPP release.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Breaking from Saudi Arabia!!! Two Month Old Misleading News

This Reuters exclusive is getting a lot of careless attention. Here’s what a careless reader learns:

Exclusive: U.S. withdraws staff from Saudi Arabia dedicated to Yemen planning

From that headline, particularly the use of the present tense, you might assume that the US is in the process of withdrawing its Yemen-related staff from Saudi Arabia, perhaps in response to the Saudi war crimes earlier this week.

But here’s what the story actually reports: the staff withdrawal happened in June, and was in no way a response to this week’s war crimes.

The June staff withdrawal, which U.S. officials say followed a lull in air strikes in Yemen earlier this year, reduces [sic] Washington’s day-to-day involvement in advising a campaign that has come under increasing scrutiny for causing civilian casualties.

In spite of the fact that this “exclusive” — which has since been reported by other outlets with similarly misleading headlines — describes two month old news, it nevertheless obscures that fact with its editorial choices, as here where it suggests the move “reduces,” in present tense, staff numbers, or the headline which hides that, in fact, the US already withdrew these staffers.

In fact, the report goes on to admit that this was not a response (which would have required a time machine in any case).

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reduced staffing was not due to the growing international outcry over civilian casualties in the 16-month civil war that has killed more than 6,500 people in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

But the Pentagon, in some of its strongest language yet, also acknowledged concerns about the conflict, which has brought Yemen close to famine and cost more than $14 billion in damage to infrastructure and economic losses.

“Even as we assist the Saudis regarding their territorial integrity, it does not mean that we will refrain from expressing our concern about the war in Yemen and how it has been waged,” Stump said.

I’d also suggest that reports about what non-uniformed US personnel are doing in Yemen’s immediate neighborhood would be a better gauge of the support we’re giving Saudi Arabia beyond refueling their aistrikes, the latter of which has not stopped at all.

It’s not until the last line two paragraphs of the story that we learn what this misleading news is really about:

U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, said he believed such strikes could help galvanize votes for limiting arms transfers to Saudi Arabia.

“When its repeated air strikes that have now killed children, doctors, newlyweds, patients, at some point you just have to say: Either Saudi Arabia is not listening to the United States or they just don’t care,” Lieu said.

Not long ago, the US announced $1.5 billion in new arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Congress has a narrow window to affirmatively veto that sale, and people like Ted Lieu and Rand Paul and Chris Murphy are trying to do just that. The arms sale was announced such that Congress has just one day after they come back in session to reject the transfer. Stories like this — suggesting the US is not as involved in this war as it really is — will make the task all the more difficult.

The reality remains that the US, even the overt uniformed operations, continues to provide key support to Saudi Arabia’s war, and therefore to its war crimes. Selling it more arms in the wake of these most recent war crimes only doubles down on the complicity.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Six Years Later, the US Continues to Facilitate Saudi War Crimes

Over six years ago, according to a State Department cable liberated by Chelsea Manning, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia met with Prince Khalid bin Sultan to complain about all the civilians the Saudis killed in an airstrike on a health clinic. Prince Khalid expressed regret about the dead civilians. But the Saudis “had to hit the Houthis very hard in order to ‘bring them to their knees.'”

USG CONCERNS ABOUT POSSIBLE STRIKES ON CIVILIAN TARGETS
——————————————— ———-

2. (S/NF) Ambassador Smith delivered points in reftel to Prince Khaled on February 6, 2010. The Ambassador highlighted USG concerns about providing Saudi Arabia with satellite imagery of the Yemen border area absent greater certainty that Saudi Arabia was and would remain fully in compliance with the laws of armed conflict during the conduct of military operations, particularly regarding attacks on civilian targets. The Ambassador noted the USG’s specific concern about an apparent Saudi air strike on a building that the U.S. believed to be a Yemeni medical clinic. The Ambassador showed Prince Khaled a satellite image of the bomb-damaged building in question.

IF WE HAD THE PREDATOR, THIS MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED
——————————————— ——-

3. (S/NF) Upon seeing the photograph, Prince Khalid remarked, “This looks familiar,” and added, “if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem.” He noted that Saudi Air Force operations were necessarily being conducted without the desired degree of precision, and recalled that a clinic had been struck, based on information received from Yemen that it was being used as an operational base by the Houthis. Prince Khalid explained the Saudi approach to its fight with the Houthis, emphasizing that the Saudis had to hit the Houthis very hard in order to “bring them to their knees” and compel them to come to terms with the Yemeni government. “However,” he said, “we tried very hard not to hit civilian targets.” The Saudis had 130 deaths and the Yemenis lost as many as one thousand. “Obviously,” Prince Khaled observed, “some civilians died, though we wish that this did not happen.”

If only the Saudis had more accurate targeting, Prince Khalid explained — not just satellite imagery from the Americans, but also Predator drones — such unfortunate accidents might not happen.

Six years later, over a year into Saudi Arabia’s latest war against the Houthis, now backed by US satellite imagery and a drone base on Saudi soil, the Saudis are still having unfortunate “accidents,” attacking at least the third of four MSF facilities attacked in Yemen in the last year (Saudis deny responsibility for one of these strikes).

A hospital supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in northwestern Yemen was hit by an airstrike today, killing at least 11 people and injuring at least 19.

The attack on Abs Hospital, in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate, occurred at 3:45 pm local time and immediately killed nine people, including an MSF staff member. Two more patients died while being transferred to Al Jamhouri hospital. Five patients remain hospitalized. The hospital, supported by MSF since July 2015, was partially destroyed, and all the remaining patients and staff have been evacuated. The GPS coordinates of the hospital were repeatedly shared with all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, and its location was well- known.

“This is the fourth attack against an MSF facility in less than 12 months,” said Teresa Sancristóval, MSF emergency program manager for Yemen. “Once again, today we witness the tragic consequences of the bombing of a hospital. Once again, a fully functional hospital full of patients and MSF national and international staff members was bombed in a war that has shown no respect for medical facilities or patients.”

“Even with a recent United Nations resolution calling for an end to attacks on medical facilities and with the high-level declarations of commitment to International Humanitarian Law, nothing seems to be done to make parties involved in the conflict in Yemen respect medical staff and patients,” Sancristóval continued. “Without action, these public gestures are meaningless for today’s victims. Either intentional or as a result of negligence, this is unacceptable.”

MSF calls on all parties, and particularly the Saudi-led coalition responsible for the attack, guarantee that such attacks do not happen again.

Congress is finally beginning to complain about these serial war crimes, with Rand Paul and Chris Murphy attempting to block the latest $1.5 billion arms sale to the Saudis, and Ted Lieu issuing this scathing statement in support of an effort to do the same on the House side.

I have tried numerous times to work with the Administration to stop the United States from assisting Saudi Arabia in their indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen.  But when Saudi Arabia continues to kill civilians, and in this case children, enough is enough.  Having served on active duty, one of my responsibilities was to teach the Law of War.  I am also a graduate of Air War College.  The indiscriminate civilian killings by Saudi Arabia look like war crimes to me.  In this case, children as young as 8 were killed by Saudi Arabian air strikes. By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen.  The Administration must stop enabling this madness now.

Nevertheless, six years later, we’re still getting this kind of lip service from the State Department.

QUESTION: All right. So just to clarify earlier what you said about Yemen in regards —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: — to the hospital bombing this morning, you are – is it fair to say that you’re not coming out and condemning the attack; you’re saying we’re raising concerns with the coalition?

MS TRUDEAU: No, of course we would condemn any attack that hit civilians. We’re gravely concerned by any reports of civilian casualties. What we’re saying is we’ve seen these reports. Of course we would condemn any strike against a hospital.

QUESTION: Okay. Because, I mean, I’ve been hearing you all say for months now that we’re raising these concerns with the Saudi-led coalition, but this is the fourth attack on an MSF medical facility in Yemen in the past year, let alone countless others on clinics and hospitals. Are you concerned that these sort of stern conversations aren’t having the desired effect?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, what we would say – and we’d point you back to what we talked about earlier – is the Saudi-led coalition themselves have taken a look at these, they have done reports. One of those reports – I think one or two has been turned over to the UN. We’ve also called on them to make those reports public. And so there is more transparency in that accountability. We remain gravely concerned about civilian casualties anywhere in the world where they occur, and Yemen is no exception.

We’ve been (claiming to be) gravely concerned about Saudis bombing hospitals for six years now. Yet the only thing we do is throw more and more weapons at the Saudis to help them kill still more civilians.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.