Saturday, April 20, 2013

On U.S. Torture Apologetics, Media Humiliation, Boston Chechens, and Who Sent Townsend (Reporting Why Terrorism Sells)

At this point we still don’t know how much time Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers suspected of committing the Boston Marathon bombing, spent in Chechnya.

. . . To find out more about the history of Chechnya and how its troubles may or may not have migrated to our shores, I spoke with Robert W. Schaefer, a U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret with many years experience planning and executing counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in the Caucasus region. He is the author of the highly-regarded 2011 book “The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad.”

I can’t claim much knowledge of Chechnya, but still I was surprised when it was announced that the bombing suspects were Chechen. As I understood it, while the insurgency there is Islamist, it’s first and foremost a nationalist movement seeking independence from Russia. Russia, not the U.S., is their enemy.

You’re right it’s not in the best interests of the Caucasus Emirate [a self-proclaimed alternative state in the region, regarded as a terrorist organization by both Russia and the U.S.] and Chechen insurgents to have any attack against the United States. It doesn’t make good sense from their point of view. In fact, Dokka Umarov [leader of the Caucasus Emirate] said recently and very publicly that Chechens fighting in Syria should not be there, but should be home fighting for Chechnya.

But he wouldn’t be saying that in the first place if there wasn’t some push within the insurgency to pursue an international Islamist agenda.

Yeah, that’s correct. There were Chechens doing that, or people who said they were Chechens.

Why would they say they were Chechens if they weren’t?

Look, I’m in Special Forces. I’m a Green Beret. I’m constantly amazed at how many people who don’t know that about me will tell me that they do special operations stuff in their job. When I ask them a couple of pointed questions about what they do, I find that they’re, well, perpetrating a fraud.

. . . it’s very hard to see what the point of an attack like the Boston Marathon bombings would be for the Chechen insurgency.

I agree with you. I think those boys were probably used by somebody. They were probably told they were supporting one cause, and who knows if the people who were using them had anything to do with that cause?

Another thought is that they weren’t really taking directions from anyone. You can see how the older brother, Tamerlan, might have felt like a failure, disappointing his father by dropping out of college, with a boxing career that never materialized. People who knew them say the younger brother was under his sway. Probably someone like that, who felt so powerless, would be very attracted to the powerful super-warrior image of Chechens. That along with the fiery certainty of Islamist rhetoric might be pretty tempting to a young man who felt weak and lost.

That doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility, but I haven’t had the chance to read up on these guys. When you take a look, though, at the totality of things that have happened in the North Caucasus, this attack doesn’t make sense as something connected to that conflict. If you really know what’s going on, it doesn’t make sense.

The latest from the homefront? Still trying to tell the Chechens from the Caucasonnes? Coleen Rowley has been an expert on the ground for decades.

almost choked on my coffee listening to neoconservative Rudy Giuliani pompously claim on national TV that he was surprised about any Chechens being responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings because he's never seen any indication that Chechen extremists harbored animosity toward the U.S.; Guiliani thought they were only focused on Russia.
Giuliani knows full well how the Chechen "terrorists" proved useful to the U.S. in keeping pressure on the Russians, much as the Afghan mujahedeen were used in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989. In fact, many neocons signed up as Chechnya's "friends," including former CIA Director James Woolsey.
For instance, see this 2004 article in the UK Guardian, entitled, "The Chechens' American friends: The Washington neocons' commitment to the war on terror evaporates in Chechnya, whose cause they have made their own."
Author John Laughland wrote: "the leading group which pleads the Chechen cause is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC). The list of the self-styled 'distinguished Americans' who are its members is a roll call of the most prominent neoconservatives who so enthusiastically support the 'war on terror.'
"They include Richard Perle, the notorious Pentagon adviser; Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame; Kenneth Adelman, the former US ambassador to the UN who egged on the invasion of Iraq by predicting it would be 'a cakewalk'; Midge Decter, biographer of Donald Rumsfeld and a director of the rightwing Heritage Foundation; Frank Gaffney of the militarist Centre for Security Policy; Bruce Jackson, former US military intelligence officer and one-time vice-president of Lockheed Martin, now president of the US Committee on Nato; Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former admirer of Italian fascism and now a leading proponent of regime change in Iran; and R. James Woolsey, the former CIA director who is one of the leading cheerleaders behind George Bush's plans to re-model the Muslim world along pro-US lines."
The ACPC later sanitized "Chechnya" to "Caucasus" so it's rebranded itself as the "American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus."
Of course, Giuliani also just happens to be one of several neocons and corrupt politicians who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from MEK sources when that Iranian group was listed by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The money paid for these American politicians to lobby (illegally under the Patriot Act) U.S. officials to get MEK off the FTO list.
. . . officials can get confused when their former covert "assets" turn into enemies themselves. That's what has happened with al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in Libya and Syria, fighters who the U.S. government favored in their efforts to topple the Qaddafi and Assad regimes, respectively. These extremists are prone to turn against their American arms suppliers and handlers once the common enemy is defeated.
The same MO exists with the U.S. and Israel currently collaborating with the Iranian MEK terrorists who have committed assassinations inside Iran. The U.S. government has recently shifted the MEK terrorists from the ranks of "bad" to "good" terrorists as part of a broader campaign to undermine the Iranian government. For details, see "Our (New) Terrorists, the MEK: Have We Seen This Movie Before?"
Giuliani and his ilk engage, behind the scenes, in all these insidious operations but then blithely turn to the cameras to spew their hypocritical propaganda fueling the counterproductive "war on terror" for public consumption, when that serves their interests. Maybe this explains Giuliani's amazement (or feigned ignorance) on Friday morning after the discovery that the family of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers was from Chechnya.
My observations are not meant to be a direct comment about the motivations of the two Boston bombing suspects whose thinking remains unclear. It's still very premature and counterproductive to speculate on their motives.
But the lies and disinformation that go into the confusing and ever-morphing notion of "terrorism" result from the U.S. Military Industrial Complex (and its little brother, the "National Security Surveillance Complex") and their need to control the mainstream media's framing of the story.
So, a simplistic narrative/myth is put forth to sustain U.S. wars. From time to time, those details need to be reworked and some of the facts "forgotten" to maintain the storyline about bad terrorists "who hate the U.S." when, in reality, the U.S. Government may have nurtured the same forces as "freedom fighters" against various "enemies."
The bottom line is to never forget that "a poor man's war is terrorism while a rich man's terrorism is war" - and sometimes those lines cross for the purposes of big-power politics. War and terrorism seem to work in sync that way.

And even more background on those young Chechens comes from a commenter on Rowley's essay:

tonywicher 2013-04-20 08:29
Here is my current best guess as to how this was done. If you listen to the CNN interview of Piers Morgan talking to the mother of the bombers, she is saying that the FBI had been “counselling” him for 5 years, ever since he became involved with “religious politics”. So this went down just like the 7/7 London bombings. The older brother was targeted to begin with because of his Chechen origen. He was recruited by the FBI as an informant, and sent to Chechnya to be “sheep dipped”, that is to establish his connection with “terrorists” in Chechnya. At this point he was ready to be used as a patsy. He was told that he would be able to help by assisting in a counter-terrori st “drill” that was going to be held during the Boston marathon. The drill was being carried out by Craft International. Craft has a hat with a skull on it and the motto “No matter what your mother told you, violence does solve problems”. Look up Craft International on the Net. Several of these Craft operatives may be seen standing around in many videos of the event. They all wore the same khaki pants and dark jackets and carried backpacks. The patsy was given an identical backpack containing what he thought was a fake pressure cooker bomb and told to place it somewhere as part of the drill. He must have been the most surprised person there when it actually went off.

. . . On the Chechnya connection, I also recommend reading everything Sibel Edmonds has to say on Boiling Frogs Post, information she has first hand from her time as an FBI translator.

Russ Baker frames the issue very well, and Glenn Greenwald addresses almost everything else. We need to stay close to our trusted sources at this time, always seeking the best reporting available.

Friday, April 19, 2013
In light of this week's awful bombing at the Boston marathon, WhoWhatWhy would like to present our latest analysis of the news media in the wake of such a tragedy. This isn't your typical hand-wringing at CNN's inability to produce a solid scoop a la The Daily Show.
Our editor, Russ Baker, takes on the typical conventions expounded by the media during tragedies - and just how they're designed to make us think and act in very certain ways. Dismantling such tropes won't win us any friends or sympathizers. But then again, you didn't sign up for our newsletter to hear clichéd analyses anyway...
The Marathon Bombing: What The Media Didn't Warn You About

By Russ Baker

With the media's constant "coverage" of the Boston tragedy, it's easy to think you are well-informed. But are you? Here is some perspective you probably didn't get from your favorite mainstream outlet. (Keep reading here).

Our "curiosity-killed-the-cat" roving reporter, Glenn Greenwald, moved his home address to The Guardian recently in order to provide even more accurate reporting on U.S. events (and a lot more). (Just kidding about that killed descriptive. In the fear-inspiring climate of today, we're lucky to still have a few really curious reporters.),

1) It's hardly news that the US instituted and for years maintained a systematic torture regime, but the success of the Obama administration in blocking all judicial proceedings has meant there has been no official decree that this is so. A comprehensive report just issued by a truly bipartisan group of former high-level Washington officials (including military officials) is as close as we are likely to get to such an official proclamation.
The Report explains that the impetus behind it was that "the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to 'look backwards' rather than forward."

It concludes - in unblinking and definitive fashion - that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture"; this finding is "offered without reservation"; it is "not based on any impressionistic approach" but rather "grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal"; and "the nation's highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture."

It also debunks the popular claim that torture was confined to three cases of waterboarding, documenting that more than three people were subjected to that tactic and that the torture includes far more than just waterboarding.
This is not only a historical disgrace for the US and the responsible officials, but, as the New York Times article on this report inadvertently suggests, also shames two other institutions:

(1) the New York Times itself, which steadfastly refused to use the word "torture" to describe what was being done (unless it was done by other countries) and continues to justify that refusal through its then-Executive Editor Bill Keller (Andrew Sullivan ably demolishes Keller's reasoning, while the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote this week that this choice merits "some institutional soul-searching"); and,
(2) President Obama, who barred all criminal prosecutions for Bush officials and other torturers and thus brazenly violated at least the spirit and probably the letter of the Convention Against Torture. That treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 (exactly 25 years ago to the day: Happy Anniversary!), compels all signatories who discover credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution" (Art. 7(1)).

It also specifically states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture" (Art. 2 (2-3)).
The disgrace of the American torture regime falls on Bush officials and secondarily the media and political institutions that acquiesced to it, but the full-scale protection of those war crimes (and the denial of justice to their victims) falls squarely on the Obama administration.
Dan Froomkin has more on the significance of this report here. In sum, if you're the NYT or Obama, how do you reconcile your conduct with this establishment finding that it is "indisputable" that the US government, at its highest levels, instituted a worldwide regime of torture?
(2) One of the most commonly voiced objections to my Monday column about the Boston bombing was that, contrary to my claim, there were no real media attempts to suggest that the perpetrators were Muslim.

That objection was voiced despite the multiple examples I cited where precisely that was done by the most mainstream news sources. It was voiced despite the grotesque media attempt to convert a Saudi victim of the bombing into "the suspect", as brilliantly analyzed by the New Yorker's Amy Davidson. And now we have yet another example: probably the worst of the bunch.
On Tuesday afternoon, CNN humiliated itself as badly as it ever has (which is saying quite a bit). The network's anchor John King, and its "terrorism expert", former Bush homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, both "reported" - as part of a "Breaking News" scoop that CNN loudly and excitedly trumpeted - that an arrest had been made in the Boston case and that the person was, as King put it, "a dark-skinned individual" (more or less simultaneously, Fox also reported the arrest).

An hour later, it became clear that this was totally false. Raw Story details what happened here, and BuzzFeed (which one might at this point reasonably say is a level or so above CNN in the news reliability department) has the very amusing and appropriate mockery here.
But the best commentary on this debacle came from Chris Hayes' top-of-the-show seven-minute scathing monologue on MSNBC last night, where he not only crystallized why this was so journalistically reckless but, more importantly, explains exactly why CNN repeatedly said that the arrested person was "dark-skinned":

Townsend has built up quite a history at this point. It was she who visited Abu Ghraib in 2003 and put pressure on the prison officials there to extract more information. She then served as one of the paid shills for the then-designated terrorist group Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MeK), even as she used her perch at CNN to cheer for broad interpretations of the "material support for terrorism" statute that sent American Muslims to prison for decades for far less involvement with such groups than she had with the MeK. And now she's at the center of this reporting disaster. Good job, CNN: nobody could have guessed that a Bush terrorism official would produce outcomes like this.
(3) A different report from a bipartisan cast of official Washington was issued today, this one on the Obama administration's Iran policy. Although it affirms the DC convention that Iran is some sort of serious threat to the US - a prerequisite for being viewed as Serious among its target audience - it surprisingly, and quite cogently, calls into serious question the wisdom of the sanctions regime imposed by the US. As this good New York Times summary of the report notes, the report explains that sanctions have "contributed to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran" and "may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States".
The most important conclusion is that Obama must rely far less on bluster, threats and sanctions - none of which is likely to achieve anything - and instead do far more to engage the Iranians and find a negotiated settlement to the multiple issues between the two countries. That is the same conclusion publicly advocated by Obama's own former Iran adviser Vali Nasr, who has harshly criticized the president for failing to engage in real diplomacy with Tehran, as well as former national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. That these same warnings now issue from such an establishment group as the one that produced this report is a compelling sign of just how misguided Obama policy has been. That does not, of course, mean, that he can or will change it. That's because, as Foreign Policy Community maven Les Gelb recently explained in the Daily Beast, what drives Iran policy more than anything else is this:
"Administration officials would never admit it, but the main reason for their being tougher on Iran than North Korea seems tied to American domestic politics as much as or more than anything else, specifically the standing of Israel and oil versus Korea and Japan. On strictly foreign-policy and national-security grounds, Democratic and Republican officials surely regard Seoul and Tokyo as important as the Mideast, certainly now with the growing importance of Asia. In American politics, however, Israel and oil count for much, much more. It's notable that President Obama made his strongest pronouncements about employing force to stop Iranian nukes at the annual meeting of AIPAC, the very potent group of American-Jewish backers of Israel."
Still, the more light shined on the fact that US belligerence toward Iran helps only Israel and hurts the US, the better.
(4) Also related to Monday's column on the Boston bombing: the Associated Press apparently woke up this morning and realized that the term "terrorism" has no real, fixed, or consistently applied meaning. This has long been clear, but it's nice to see this truth recognized in such a mainstream outlet:
"In times of tension and uncertainty, words can become malleable vessels - for cultural fears, for political agendas, for ways to make sense of the momentous and the unknown. In 2013 America, the word 'terrorism' exists at this ambiguous crossroads. And the opinions you'll find about it - this week in particular - often transcend mere linguistics."
Precisely. But what's most amazing about it is that the term, though essentially impoverished of fixed meaning, is incomparably significant when it comes to legal, political and cultural assumptions. It's a word that means nothing, yet justifies everything those in power do.
(5) The issue of the composition of the Guardian's readership often is raised in the comment section here and elsewhere.
Yesterday, the paper's editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, sat for an interview with Mathew Ingram and revealed, among other things, that 1/3 of the Guardian's readership is British, 1/3 is American, and 1/3 is from the rest of the world. He also discussed the Guardian's expansion into the US, the impressive increases in US readership it has seen, and the Guardian's journalistic and financial strategies. Those interested in such matters matters may find the interview worthwhile.
(Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. He is the author of How Would a Patriot Act? (May 2006), a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power; A Tragic Legacy (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy; and With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful)
How's that for some real reporting? And I think there may be some real candidates who'd like to serve if we could get our political house in order.


TONY said...

Congratulations to the US securocrats on finding another group of bogeymen. The Chechens are coming.

Suzan said...

I hardly think it was the Securocrats.

More like the Republibambots and the whoopsocrats.

Seems there's no price too high to pay for maintaining this Scaredocracy.

Fiction writers can't compete here.

How many people were injured? Which justified shutting down the No. 1 Freedom City in this oh so fair land?

Who won that war again? (Or wars?)

Oh for a Paul Revere.

Warning US.