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Washington Post Tries to Ram Petraeus Down Our Throats Again

No. In the name of God, Thor, Zeuss, Cthulhu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, no. There are few people who personify the vapid, amoral fetid swamp of Washington politics and defense policy more than David Petraeus. Taking a huge part of the blame for propelling Petraeus from a solely military into an entirely political career is the Washington Post, which gave Petraeus a prime op-ed slot in September 2004, where he spewed wildly optimistic numbers on his accomplishments while training Iraqi troops. Petraeus further told us how victory was just around the corner, implying that if only Americans would re-elect George W. Bush, his plan would achieve full fruition. Active military personnel are not supposed to engage in politics, but Petraeus became political with that op-ed and Washington overlooked it, because that’s what Washington does and that’s what the Washington Post does.

Bush rewarded Petraeus for his role in the election by putting him in charge of US troops in Iraq. Petraeus didn’t impress his immediate superior, Admiral Fallon, who termed Petraeus an “ass-kissing little chickenshit” after their first meeting. Once in charge, Petraeus quickly established death squads. Things didn’t go all that well in Iraq, in part because everything Petraeus does fails miserably while he is busy explaining to us what a good job he is doing. By 2007, the Kagan brain-trust came up with the idea of the surge to “save” Iraq. Washington politics and defense policy prostitute Michael O’Hanlon was brought onto the job of helping to sell the surge. In the fall of 2007, an orchestrated  Washington event, complete with a sideshow purchased in the New York Times for the “General Betrayus” ad, gave us Congressional hearings that resulted in approval for the surge. Completely overlooked at that time was the inconvenient fact that a major part of the Iraq plan moving forward from that point involved a total restart of training Iraqi troops because Petraeus failed spectacularly in his previous attempt at training. But Washington and the Washington Post did not call out Petraeus for that failure, because that’s what Washington and the Washington Post do.

Petraeus was next promoted by Bush in late 2008 to Fallon’s previous position in charge of CentCom.  It was quite clear to Barack Obama once he took office that Petraeus had his sights set on becoming president, so Obama made a very interesting move when he sent Petraeus down in rank to take command in Afghanistan after Petraeus’ protege Stanley McChrystal was fired for insubordination in July of 2010. Because lying about training had worked in advancing his career in Iraq, it appears that fudging the numbers on ANSF capabilities was one of the first things Petraeus did once in charge in Afghanistan. He was caught in this by the GAO, who pointed out that criteria for ANSF readiness were being changed to increase the number of troops qualifying for the most advanced classification, but it appears that only SIGAR and I care about those lies. Washington and the Washington Post ignored those dishonest moves by Petraeus, because that’s what Washington and the Washington Post do.

After Petreaus had been in charge in Afghanistan for six months or so, political handlers stepped into the picture to try to burnish his image for a future run for president. Read more

Pakistan Issues New Warning to US; Mullen Accusations Softened

Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Michael Mullen

There are new developments this morning in the latest war of words between the US and Pakistan.  Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that an official familiar with what transpired claims that the head of Pakistan’s ISI informed CIA chief David Petraeus last week that should the US take unilateral military action against the Haqqani network in Pakistan, then Pakistan “will be forced to retaliate”.  At the same time, anonymous sources are telling the Washington Post that Joint Chiefs Chair Michael Mullen’s remarks last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee were “overstated”.  That is especially significant since the Express Tribune article notes that Mullen’s remarks played a role in the ISI getting to the point of issuing its warning to the CIA.

From the Express Tribune:

The effort to ensure that diplomacy and calmer heads prevail at a time of fragile relations between Pakistan and the United States is on. However, the effort notwithstanding, Islamabad has made it clear to Washington that, if it comes down to it, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate if American forces attempt to launch a unilateral strike on the country’s tribal belt.

The message was personally delivered by Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief General David Petraeus during his recent trip to Washington, said an official familiar with the development.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that Pasha had informed his counterpart that the Pakistani people will not tolerate any US misadventure and in that case the government will be left with no other option but to retaliate.

Senior ISI members, the official said, had felt ‘betrayed’ by the blunt assessment of the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that the spy agency had links with the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network. In a stinging remark, Mullen accused ISI of supporting one of the most feared Afghan insurgent groups to target US forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The article goes on to point out that numerous high level meetings between US and Pakistani officials continue.

Meanwhile, back in the US:

Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in U.S. policy in the region.

The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.

It turns out that the primary evidence linking the US Embassy attack and the Haqqani network is not as clear-cut as some in Washington were claiming. Although Mullen claims to have been unaware of the cell phone evidence when he made his remarks, cell phones found on some of the attackers are widely cited as evidence of close Haqqani network-ISI coordination in the attack:

One official said the phones were used to make repeated calls to numbers associated with the Haqqani network, as well as presumed “ISI operatives.” But the official declined to explain the basis for that conclusion.

The senior Pentagon official treated the assertion with skepticism, saying the term “operatives” covers a wide range of supposed associates of the ISI. “Does it mean the same Haqqani numbers [also found in the phones], or is it actually uniformed officers” of Pakistan’s spy service?

There will undoubtedly be several more twists and turns to this story over the next few weeks, but for now it appears that the US is making a small effort to walk back its most incendiary comments while Pakistan is digging in more firmly on its position.

Cover-up Specialist Mark Martins Chosen as Gitmo Chief Prosecutor

Brigadier General Mark Martins, CEO of Cover-ups R Us.

On Sunday, Carol Rosenberg informed us that there will be a new Chief Prosecutor in charge of military commissions at Guantanamo:

The Obama administration’s handpicked choice to run prosecutions at the Guantánamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, complete with near simultaneous transmissions of the proceedings to victims and reporters on U.S. soil.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a candidate and senator then reformed with Congress as president.

Despite the Weekly Standard’s fawning profile of Martins as some sort of savior to the system who will lend an air of legitimacy to the military commissions, Martins is in reality a hack who is dragged out periodically by the Pentagon to cover up its worst abuses. Martins was chosen by Obama to head the committee that attempted to re-brand indefinite detention as legal, has served as Commander and Deputy Commander of JTF 435, the notorious JSOC group charged with running detention programs in Afghanistan, has served as legal adviser to David Petraeus, and, in the most outrageously named position of all, now commands “the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan”.

Here is how Martins’ recent positions are spun in his official biography from which I took the quote on his current position:

Brigadier General Martins assumed command of the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan on 1 September 2010. During the previous year, he served as the first Commander of Joint Task Force 435 and then as its first Deputy Commander upon Senate Confirmation of Vice Admiral Robert Harward. In these roles, Brigadier General Martins led the effort to reform United States detention operations in Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Brigadier General Martins co-led the interagency Detention Policy Task Force created by the President in January 2009.

Martins’ career, then, consists of using his “West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law” degrees to cover up the blatantly illegal indefinite detention policy of the US, along with justifying torture and improper arrest of civilians in night raids in Afghanistan.

Back in April of 2010, I described how Martins had been chosen first to review detention policy and then to go to Afghanistan to implement the “new” policy he had designed. Here is how that description ended:

I fail to see how the process described above is any kind of improvement in achieving release of prisoners who have been improperly detained. This description of the process also serves to expose as a sham the entire Special Task Force’s charge of improving how the US handles prisoners. And right in the middle of this mess is Obama’s hand-picked (through Gates) architect of the process, who now is dutifully overseeing its implementation.

There is no getting around the fact that it would have been known that Martins would come up with a program designed to continue the efforts to cover up the imprisonment of innocent citizens. As I noted above, his previous assignments overlap with previous significant cover-ups. Also, as just one more example, Martins wrote an article (pdf) in 2004 that lovingly described the legal justification for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. This program was in reality so loosely set up that it has been the subject of significant attention for misuse of funds.

So while there is perhaps an improvement of conditions for reporters such as Rosenberg who will be covering the proceedings of the military commissions with the advent of near real-time broadcasts of the hearings, don’t expect any sudden changes in favor of the rule of law. Mark Martins has built his career around covering up the worst of Pentagon abuses and he now is in charge of covering up what can be considered its most prominent legal quagmire. Martins was chosen for this position precisely because the Pentagon knows it can count of him to promote the status quo while lending a false air of legitimacy.

Once Again, US Ratchets Up Rhetoric Against Pakistan

The pattern by now is all too familiar.  Once again, the US is ratcheting up its rhetoric against Pakistan.  Earlier instances included the “crisis” when the US killed three Pakistani soldiers and Pakistan responded by closing strategic border crossings.  This was followed by the Raymond Davis fiasco. Then came exchanges of bluster over the US unilateral action that took out Osama bin Laden.  Now, the target of US ire is the cozy relationship between the Haqqani network and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.

Reporting for Reuters, Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell tell us this morning that some in the US intelligence community are now assigning a direct role for ISI in the Haqqani network attack on the US embassy in Kabul:

Some U.S. intelligence reporting alleges that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) specifically directed, or urged, the Haqqani network to carry out an attack last week on the U.S. Embassy and a NATO headquarters in Kabul, according to two U.S. officials and a source familiar with recent U.S.-Pakistan official contacts.

The article informs us that the Senate Appropriations Committee has added to the pressure on Pakistan:

The Senate committee approved $1 billion in aid to support counter-insurgency operations by Pakistan’s military, but voted to make this and any economic aid conditional on Islamabad cooperating with Washington against militant groups including the Haqqanis.

A series of high-level meetings between US and Pakistani officials also has taken place over the last week to hammer home these allegations against Pakistan, despite this warning in the Reuters article:

However, U.S. officials cautioned that the information that Pakistan’s spy agency was encouraging the militants was uncorroborated.

A series of articles on the website for Pakistan’s Dawn news agency provides some perspective on the coverage of the issue in Pakistan.  One article provides a forum for Interior Minister Rehman Malik after his meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller yesterday: Read more

Should David Petraeus Be Replaced With a Computer?

Today’s Washington Post brings an update on the work being done by the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence to the point that a drone can be automated in its decision on whether to kill.  The article points out that currently, when the CIA is making kill decisions on drone missions, that decision falls to the director, a position recently taken over by retired General David Petraeus.  In other words, then, the project appears to be an effort to develop a computer that can replace David Petraeus in decision-making.

Of course, this prospect raises many issues:

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

More potential problems:

Some experts also worry that hostile states or terrorist organizations could hack robotic systems and redirect them. Malfunctions also are a problem: In South Africa in 2007, a semiautonomous cannon fatally shot nine friendly soldiers.

The article notes that in response to issues surrounding the development of autonomy for weapons systems, a group calling itself the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has been formed.  On the ICRAC website, we see this mission statement:

Given the rapid pace of development of military robotics and the pressing dangers that these pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war, we call upon the international community to urgently commence a discussion about an arms control regime to reduce the threat posed by these systems.

We propose that this discussion should consider the following:

  • Their potential to lower the threshold of armed conflict;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of armed autonomous unmanned systems; machines should not be allowed to make the decision to kill people;
  • Limitations on the range and weapons carried by “man in the loop” unmanned systems and on their deployment in postures threatening to other states;
  • A ban on arming unmanned systems with nuclear weapons;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of robot space weapons.

 

In the end, the argument comes down to whether one believes that computer technology can be developed to the point at which it can operate in the war theater with autonomy.  The article cites experts on both sides of the issue.  On the positive side is Ronald C. Arkin, whose work is funded by the Army Research Office.  Believing the issues can all be addressed, Arkin is quoted as saying “Lethal autonomy is inevitable.”

 

On the negative side of the argument is Johann Borenstein, head of the Mobile Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan.  Borenstein notes that commercial and university laboratories have been working on the issue for over 20 years, and yet no autonomy is possible yet in the field.  He ascribes this deficiency as due to the inability to put common sense into computers: “Robots don’t have common sense and won’t have common sense in the next 50 years, or however long one might want to guess.”

 

As HAL said in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Dave, I’m scared.”