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The Illegal War on Latin American (!) Terrorism

I linked to this Jeremy Scahill post already, but I wanted to point out a few things about Scahill’s elaboration on the WaPo’s covert ops story of the other day.

First, Scahill provides a list of locations where Obama’s expanded special operations war has deployed:

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

I’m not sure about you, but I, for one, have never heard of “Al Qaeda in Ecuador” or “Al Qaeda in Belgium.” While some of these deployments likely do have ties to fighters just one step removed from al Qaeda (later in the article, Scahill describes JSOC partnering with Georgia to pursue Chechens), others might be more likely to have ties to terrorist financing (Belgium) or illicit trade (including drugs) that might fund terrorism. Or hell, maybe just oil and gas, since they’re pretty criminal and we’re addicted, so it’s practically the same thing.

Which brings me back to the UN report on targeted killings. When describing the target of these covert ops, the WaPo story said the ops are directed “against al Qaeda and other radical organizations.” As I highlighted from the WaPo story, John Bellinger believes many of those targeted have nothing to do with 9/11.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

Which is a concern the UN report expresses: that the US has declared itself to be in a non-international armed conflict that is sufficiently vaguely defined as to include many people whose targeting would be illegal under international humanitarian law.

53. Taken cumulatively, these factors make it problematic for the US to show that – outside the context of the armed conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq – it is in a transnational non-international armed conflict against “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated forces”107 without further explanation of how those entities constitute a “party” under the IHL of non-international armed conflict, and whether and how any violence by any such group rises to the level necessary for an armed conflict to exist.

[snip]

55. With respect to the existence of a non-state group as a “party”, al-Qaeda and other alleged “associated” groups are often only loosely linked, if at all. Sometimes they appear to be not even groups, but a few individuals who take “inspiration” from al Qaeda. The idea that, instead, they are part of continuing hostilities that spread to new territories as new alliances form or are claimed may be superficially appealing but such “associates’ cannot constitute a “party” as required by IHL – although they can be criminals, if their conduct violates US law, or the law of the State in which they are located.

56. To ignore these minimum requirements, as well as the object and purpose of IHL, would be to undermine IHL safeguards against the use of violence against groups that are not the equivalent of an organized armed group capable of being a party to a conflict – whether because it lacks organization, the ability to engage in armed attacks, or because it does not have a connection or belligerent nexus to actual hostilities. It is also salutary to recognize that whatever rules the US seeks to invoke or apply to al Qaeda and any “affiliates” could be invoked by other States to apply to other non-state armed groups. To expand the notion of non-international armed conflict to groups that are essentially drug cartels, criminal gangs or other groups that should be dealt with under the law enforcement framework would be to do deep damage to the IHL and human rights frameworks. [my emphasis]

The UN reports that the US has admitted to using drones to take out Afghan drug lords; Scahill notes we’ve used these covert teams to target drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. And the inclusion of so many Latin American countries on Scahill’s list suggests further possible drug ties (while the presence of Georgia and Ukraine on Scahill’s list suggest the possibility of organized crime targets).

In other words, precisely the concern the UN report lays out may be reflected in Scahill’s list.

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Petraeus’ Challenge to Obama

As I noted in this post, the front page NYT story putting Petraeus in charge of the paramilitary groups I will call “JUnc-WTF,” which are deployed in allied countries, reminded me of Eric Massa’s allegations that Dick Cheney and Petraeus were plotting a coup (though, as Massa describes it, it sounds more like an “election challenge”).

• Earlier in the year, long before the allegations had been made public, Massa had called me with a potentially huge story: Four retired generals — three four-stars and one three-star — had informed him, he said, that General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, had met twice in secret with former vice president Dick Cheney. In those meetings, the generals said, Cheney had attempted to recruit Petraeus to run for president as a Republican in 2012.

• The generals had told him, and Massa had agreed, that if someone didn’t act immediately to reveal this plot, American constitutional democracy itself was at risk. Massa and I had had several conversation on the topic, each more urgent than the last. He had gone to the Pentagon, he told me, demanding answers. He knew the powerful forces that he was dealing with, he told me. They’d stop at nothing to prevent the truth from coming out, he said, including destroying him. “I told the official, ‘If I have to get up at a committee hearing and go public with this, it will cause the mother of all shitstorms and your life will be hell. So I need a meeting. Now.'”

The Esquire has a follow-up noting it would only be a problem if Petraeus starting running while still on active duty and Politico has a denial from Petraeus’ people.

Then there’s Jonathan Alter’s report of the tensions last year between Obama and Joe Biden on one side, and Bob Gates, Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, and Stanley McChrystal on the other. Alter describes the span of this confrontation as starting on September 13, two weeks before Petraus signed the directive for JUnc-WTF, until November 11. The confrontation arose when the Generals kept publicizing their demands for a bigger, indefinite surge in Afghanistan.

Mullen dug himself in especially deep at his reconfirmation hearings for chairman of the Joint Chiefs when he made an aggressive case for a long-term commitment in Afghanistan. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was enraged at Mullen’s public testimony and let the Pentagon know it. When Petraeus gave an interview to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on Sept.4 calling for a “fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign,” the chief of staff was even angrier.

From the start, the potential of a Petraeus presidential run was in the background.

Some aides worried at least briefly that Petraeus was politically ambitious and was making an implied threat: decide Afghanistan my way or I just might resign my command and run for president in 2012. It wasn’t a crazy thought. Rep. Peter King and various blogs were promoting him for high office.

Ultimately, presented with the choice of deferring to the Generals or undercutting them, Obama chose a third option: surging in Afghanistan, but sternly scolding them to make sure they would back a withdrawal in 18 months.

Obama was perfectly aware of the box he was now in. He could defer entirely to his generals, as President Bush had done, which he considered an abdication of responsibility. Or he could overrule them, which would weaken their effectiveness, with negative consequences for soldiers in the field, relations with allies, and the president’s own political position. There had to be a third way, he figured.

In the meantime it was important to remind the brass who was in charge. Inside the National Security Council, advisers considered what happened next historic, a presidential dressing-down unlike any in the United States in more than half a century. Read more

The Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order (AKA the JUnc WTF?)

On September 30, 2009–according to a big new story from Mark Mazzetti–David Petraeus signed a directive approving the deployment of small special operations teams to go into friendly (Saudi Arabia and Yemen) and unfriendly (Iran and Somalia) countries to collect intelligence.

Interestingly, Mazzetti makes it clear that he’s not covering this because CIA’s pissed about it (which sometimes appears to be the case for his reporting).

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

In fact, it appears DOD issued the directive because CIA wouldn’t do whatever JSOC is now doing: the directive…

calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

One would hope that Congress gets pissed about this, though. Mazzetti quotes the document using the code–“prepare the environment”–that Cheney used for JSOC activities that he claimed did not need to be briefed to the Intelligence Committees, which (Mazzetti lays out implicitly) is being claimed here, too.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.

Read the whole thing.

In probably unrelated news, Esquire is previewing a story that Eric Massa claims Dick Cheney and Petraeus have met several times about the latter running for President–what Massa rather ludicrously (at least given the details thus far) calls “treason” or a “coup.”

But frankly, I believe Obama would embrace that “preparing the environment” all by himself if it meant further consolidation of power in the White House.

And in other probably unrelated news, Ray McGovern says one big reason Dennis Blair got fired is because he wasn’t amenable to a getting tough on Iran (Iran does feature prominently in Mazzetti’s story).

The Surge’s Virgin Birth

Man, Jack Keane is working overtime to spin the history of the surge, isn’t he? Last week we saw Keane’s attempt to force Obama to adopt the insubordinate position of Generals Odierno and Petraeus. And today we see the product of a two-year plan to mythologize the origin of the surge: Thomas Ricks’ story describing Ray Odierno as the "dissident General" who birthed the surge.

Using the language of paternity, Ricks assigns ownership of this to Petraeus and–above all–Odierno.

The most prominent advocates of maintaining that commitment are the two generals who implemented the surge and changed the direction of the war: Odierno and David H. Petraeus, who replaced Casey in 2007 as the top U.S. commander in Iraq and became the figure most identified with the new strategy. But if Petraeus, now the head of U.S. Central Command, was the public face of the troop buildup, he was only its adoptive parent. It was Odierno, since September the U.S. commander in Iraq, who was the surge’s true father.

But there are problems with Ricks’ story. First of all, at least in this excerpt from his larger book, he mentions neither the Iraq Study Group nor the AEI-Kagan plan for the surge. Silence about the former leaves out the entire context of the decision to push a surge–not least Saudi pressure not to adopt the ISG’s recommendations. And silence about the latter leaves out a critical force in the generation of the plan; plus, Ricks describes the decision as happening shortly after December 19, after the AEI-Kagan plan was already released.

Ricks also offers no explanation for the critical motivating factor needed to claim Odierno was the father of the surge: how he came to reject his former strategic approach and adopt a radically different one.

Retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a veteran intelligence officer, concluded that the approach that many U.S. commanders used in the early days of the Iraq war effectively made them recruiters for the insurgency, and he was especially bothered by the actions of Odierno’s division. "Some divisions are conducting operations with rigorous detention criteria, while some — the 4th ID is the negative example — are sweeping up large numbers of people and dumping them at the door of Abu Ghraib," Herrington wrote in a 2003 report to Brig. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq.

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Is Cheney Behind the Attack on Obama’s Plans to Withdraw from Iraq?

picture-80.thumbnail.pngA number of people have pointed to this important Gareth Porter article describing an insubordinate attack on Obama’s plan to withdraw from Iraq in 16 months.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilizing public opinion against Obama’s decision.

[snip]

The source says the network, which includes senior active-duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama’s withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without US troops. 

One aspect of the article has been underplayed in coverage of this insubordination: the centrality in this plot of Jack Keane.

The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama’s withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the January 21 meeting when retired army General Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop-surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Petraeus, appeared on the "Lehrer News Hour" to comment on Obama’s pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal. 

[snip]

Keane, the army vice chief of staff from 1999-03, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star army generals, and since Obama’s January 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama’s troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow the US withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network’s plans. 

But what really hasn’t gotten enough attention, IMO, are the ties between Keane and Dick Cheney.

Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many US troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, General George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge. 

Now, as Porter suggests,  Keane’s role in the surge and his relationship with Cheney is best chronicled in Woodward’s most recent book. Read more

Is Cheney Behind the Attack on Obama's Plans to Withdraw from Iraq?

picture-80.thumbnail.pngA number of people have pointed to this important Gareth Porter article describing an insubordinate attack on Obama’s plan to withdraw from Iraq in 16 months.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilizing public opinion against Obama’s decision.

[snip]

The source says the network, which includes senior active-duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama’s withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without US troops. 

One aspect of the article has been underplayed in coverage of this insubordination: the centrality in this plot of Jack Keane.

The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama’s withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the January 21 meeting when retired army General Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop-surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Petraeus, appeared on the "Lehrer News Hour" to comment on Obama’s pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal. 

[snip]

Keane, the army vice chief of staff from 1999-03, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star army generals, and since Obama’s January 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama’s troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow the US withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network’s plans. 

But what really hasn’t gotten enough attention, IMO, are the ties between Keane and Dick Cheney.

Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many US troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, General George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge. 

Now, as Porter suggests,  Keane’s role in the surge and his relationship with Cheney is best chronicled in Woodward’s most recent book. Read more

Dog N Pony

The nice thing about having two full days of Dog N Pony show is that you can keep it on in the background, like Muzak, and still feel like you participated. I’ve seen some–but not all–of today’s testimony.

The weird thing about the Dog N Pony is the way the upcoming elections really challenge the message discipline of the Republicans. Susan Collins sounded almost sane. John Cornyn sounded like he’s gonna get beat by Rick Noriega. And Joe Lieberman–safe from any upcoming challenge–sounded like the biggest Republican. John McCain even sounded stern and concerned and managed to avoid mentioning his 100 year plan. Republicans and Democrats alike rightly asked why, with $105/barrel oil, we’re still funding Iraq’s redevlopment–a question Petraeus and Crocker were unable to answer satisfactorily.

Kudos to Hillary for promoting herself to honorary co-Chair in order to give (as Thomas Ricks dubs it) the third opening statement of the hearing; presumably Obama will do the same this afternoon.

The other thing about these hearings (and the Iraq war generally) is you never know who will really shine. I liked Claire McCaskill’s line of questioning (she was incredulous when Petraeus declared Maliki the victor in his recent debacle in Basra), but I would have liked to see her press Petraeus some more. My prize for the best questioner–at least for the morning–is a tie going to Evan Bayh (whom I saw) and Jim Webb (whom I missed, but whose questioning Spencer Ackerman captured nicely). Both pointed out that Petraeus’ take on the overall value of staying in Iraq really didn’t account for our commitments elsewhere, most importantly on the border of Paksitan, where the guys who hit us on 9/11 still run free. Here’s Spencer’s description of Webb’s question:

Webb’s concerned about overstretch and the strain of the war’s required deployments on military readiness. He was incredulous: there’ll be 10,000 more troops in Iraq after the surge than there were there before? Quickly he moved to the wages of decreased readiness, noting that Al Qaeda continues to rebuild itself in Pakistan, implying that we won’t be able to meet needed challenges there. "The concern I have with keeping that level force in iraq, looking at these other situations, particularly Afghanistan… I’m curious at the level of agreement in [your] plan [comes from] the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?"

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GAO to White House: We Hate to Say We Told You So, But We Told You So

The NYT had a story yesterday reporting that the Iraqis just can’t seem to spend its reconstruction money as quickly as it’s supposed to be spending it.

Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.

As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress within Iraq’s often dysfunctional government.

But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.

What the NYT doesn’t say, though, is that the GAO itself also reported on how much money Iraq had spent, in its report issued just before Petraeus’ dog and pony show. In fact, the benchmark of whether Iraq was spending its money as quickly it was supposed to was one of the ones on which the GAO and the Administration disagreed. Whereas the GAO declared that Iraq had "partially met" its goal to spend $10 billion on reconstruction, the Administration declared Iraq’s progress "satisfactory." So the GAO’s report is really the GAO providing evidence that its more pessimistic measures were correct.

It’s in that context–the knowledge that the Administration was trying to claim full credit for something the GAO had rather generously awarded a gentleman’s C–that you should read the rest of the article, describing how the Administration managed to invent rosy numbers to as declare the Iraq government was making progress.

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Back to War Against Eastasia…

It seems like just ten days ago that I was reporting that we weren’t at war with Eastasia the Pentagon had announced that Iran had stopped providing Iraq with EFPs (though click through to read the Shachtman update). But ten days is a long time when you’re already two weeks into "Legacy Year," and so it’s time to announce that we are, once again, at war with Eastasia.

Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq with bombs believed linked to Iran — known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) — have risen sharply in January after several months of decline, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Iraqi and U.S. officials indicated just a month ago that Iran was using its influence to improve security in Iraq by restraining cross-border weapons flow and militia activity. The U.S. military had said in recent months that the number of EFP attacks had gone down.

Gen. David Petraeus disclosed the reversal to reporters after a meeting with President Bush who was visiting troops in Kuwait.

"In this year, EFPs have gone up, actually, over the last 10 days by a factor of two or three, and frankly we’re trying to determine why that might be," Petraeus said. [my emphasis]

Two things to note in this story. First, General Petraeus can count as well as I can: ten days. I wonder if Petraeus is at all embarrassed by his sudden reversal?  Particularly when you look at the timing: General Petraeus makes this announcement directly after meeting with George Bush, just after Bush has visited Israel, and not before. You think maybe Bush ordered Petraeus to ratchet up the propaganda?

Because, after all, there’s no other sign they’re ratcheting up the propaganda. Hammered copper ashtrays and Filipino Monkey, that’s what this great country has  stooped to.