Everyone stay calm but NYC is going to possibly maybe blow up I think kind of

So you probably all heard the news that there has been some “credible” but “unconfirmed” reports of the possibility that car bombs will explode in New York City in the next couple of days.  Specifically, the New York Times reported, “A White House official said on Thursday evening that while the government has already stepped up its vigilance in advance of the anniversary, ‘the president directed the counterterrorism community to redouble its efforts in response to this credible but unconfirmed information.’

What does this really mean when you cut through the hyperbole and government talk?  According to Vice President Biden, the threat is “credible,” because there are “specifics”, i.e., “car bombs” were described during what I assume was an intercepted or series of intercepted conversations.  The information in the intercepted conversations was not “confirmed,” according to Biden however, because there is no other evidence — read: not even a scintilla of evidence — that corroborates the intercepted statements that “car bombs” would be used.

In fact, what is telling is that the CIA or the NSA or the DEA or whoever else was doing wiretapping has not even suggested or intimated who they were wiretapping.  I assume the target or targets the three letter acronym agencies were wiretapping weren’t high value or even medium value or even low value. Because, let’s assume this: they were wiretapping a suspected terrorist or it came across an intercepted conversation of an unknown person talking to a suspected terrorist or an associate of a suspected terrorist, then the suggestion could at least be articulated that the intercepted conversations describing the “car bomb” threat are not completely “unconfirmed.”

For all we know, the three letter agencies wiretapped a sheep farmer who said, “Hey, did you hear from Ibrahim that he heard from Muhammed that he believes Al Queda might use car bombs on around Sept 11 in New York City?”

Under the definition and standards given by our government, this would be a “credible” but “unconfirmed” threat.

I think it’s fair to say that I don’t want to get blown up or seen anyone  blown up by a damn car bomb.  But I don’t know what or who the hell these announcements serve, other than to do one or all of the following: raise fear, breed apathy, increase overtime for law enforcement, or provide legitimacy to Homeland Security and other government agencies.  They are not much different than the color threat rating levels.

These announcements provide us with absolutely no information and in my opinion, make us less vigilant, not more.

Benazir Bhutto: Who has the most to gain from her assassination? (Hint: It Wasn’t Pervez Musharraf)

I received an email alert yesterday afternoon from a colleague in Pakistan that Benazir Bhutto had been “injured” during an attack.  I thought to myself . . . “injured”?  In the context of a government officihttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/graphics/2007/05/20/wpak20.jpgal, “injured” is often times a codeword for “assassination attempt.”  It was with greater anger, sadness and frustration that I learned later — as did the rest of the world — that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated.  I hope that Pakistan is committed to bringing those truly responsible to justice fairly and quickly.

Almost immediately after the reports of her assassination, theories ran abound on who had the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  From what I could gather from news reports and my colleagues on the ground in Pakistan, the groups/people who had most to gain were both a) General/President Musharraf and b) the terrorists.  Theories also have run abound on who was responsible for — as President Bush characterized it — the “cowardly act” of assassinating former Prime Minister Bhutto.  Indeed, these two separate questions have become one in the same.

I think a couple things need to be addressed.  The first is the issue of President Bush characterizing Bhutto’s assassination as a “cowardly act.”  By defining and framing her assassination as a cowardly act, it suggests that her brazen murder was some aberrant, isolated action by an extremist individual as opposed to a systematic, institutionalized course and interplay of conduct between the U.S. and Pakistani government, and between the Pakistani government and extremist groups. 

Surely, more questions need to be addressed on how the Pakistani government — by both action and omission — allowed such an environment to foster in which this type of assassination could take place and to what extent the government — both Pakistani and the U.S. — is benefiting from maintaining such an environment.  Part of the answer to that is understanding the interplay between Musharaff’s thirst to maintain power as well as the relationships that have brought Musharraf to where he is now.

But the larger issue I want to discuss is who has most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  I think most people will look to Musharraf and the backdrop of the upcoming presidential “elections” and say without reservation that he is the person who has the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  Perhaps this is so, but the buck should not stop there. 

The most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination is not Musharraf, but the United States.  Do I think the United States was directly involved in her murder?  That’s not for me to opine here.  I’ll save that line of thought for those posts proclaiming a large-scale CIA conspiracy.

That being said, the U.S. has the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination because the U.S. can now continue to count on Musharraf to carry on and go on with its policies, which he receives as a directive in both words and as financial boon in excess of millions of dollars to his personal bank accounts.  Bhutto and her party were geared to make significant changes in government that Musharraf and his military had such control over. 

When it came to a partner in Pakistan for the U.S.’s war on terror, the U.S. had to deal with only one person:  Musharraf.  What happens when you have democratic reform?  What happens when you have transparency?  What happens when you have true power sharing?  To the hawks and “yes men” of the current administration, you have inefficiency.  How dare you question our policies.  Do what we say.  With Bhutto, there will be a lot more “no” than “yes.”  That’s what happens when you have a democracy.

Bhutto was a threat to the U.S.’s war on terror.  Bhutto was not a threat because she would be “soft” on terrorism and that national security would be a low priority.  Those were undoubtedly top priorities for her and her country, even if she wasn’t a General like Musharraf. 

Rather, Bhutto was a threat because the “same old same old” would not fly with Bhutto, who demanded democratic reforms and government transparency and not such an open door, welcoming arms policy with the U.S. that Musharraf displayed.  Apart from the so-called “democracy lovers” of the United States, Bhutto would have been a thorn in the U.S.’s misguided foreign policy, which can be summed up in three words:  war on terror.

Bhutto would have questioned.  Bhutto would have demanded the basis of information from the U.S., not simply monthly checks amounting to millions of dollars a month to turn a blind eye.  Bhutto was for democracy, reforming the current government, and establishing a true separation of powers, not for maintaining a dictatorship.  All this is bad news for a war on terror based on unquestioning and unwavering support at all costs. 

Think about how much the U.S. has invested in Pakistan under Musharraf.  We are not talking about millions of dollars.  We are talking about billions and billions of dollars of monetary, infrastructural and human investment by the U.S.  A large percentage of that was at serious risk with an impending change in power, particularly to a power that the U.S. could not control.

In that regard, any argument that stresses how Musharraf had the most to gain from Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, must also look with scrutiny at Musharraf’s closest and most powerful ally:  the United States. 

Waterboarding (Or: What the hell are we doing?)

Waterboarding is a technique used to simulate drowning. A prisoner is put on a board, with his/her head sloping down. The interrogator pours water over the prisoner’s face, which causes water to be inhaled into the lungs. Since humans, as far as I know, can’t breath water or liquid (except maybe in the movie The Abyss), the prisoner will gag and the prisoner will think he/she is dying because he/she can’t breathe.

Needless to say, it can cause some serious psychological damage, as well as physical damage . . . damage that often lasts longer than the actual event. As John McCain has commented, imagine having a gun held to your head and firing a blank. Nothing I want to be put through.

According to the CIA, it appears that if there is no blood (or at least not a lot of blood) then there’s no foul. But one thing is for certain. If police did this to citizens charged with crimes, their confessions would be thrown out of court and the police would be subject to a 1983 civil rights violation. Then why was the CIA allowed to conduct waterboarding on terrorist suspects or those that it considers to be enemy combatants or some new legal class of persons that one of the White House lawyers made up after a long night sniffing glue?

Well, with the CIA’s track record of extraordinary rendition and the government’s mess with Guantanamo, what’s another candle in the proverbial cake of “government abuse of power”? And, even though waterboarding has technically been outlawed, do you really think the CIA is following that mandate? I can only imagine some whack job CIA attorney writing some memo entitled, “Waterboarding is not torture if we use orange juice.” In the same vein, I can only imagine some whack job White House attorney writing some memo entitled, “Waterboarding is not torture if we kidnap the suspect and send him to Egypt to get waterboarded.”

What other torture methods are the CIA using that are beyond the scope of checks by either congress or the justice system (we all know that the current executive branch is useless when it comes to “checks”)? What gets me is how the Republicans thought Clinton split hairs over language (it depends on what the definition of “is” is). Yeah, Clinton ejaculated on Monica’s dress. But you know what? He didn’t ejaculate on the constitution day in and day out.

But the other interesting line of questioning is when is waterboarding or other forms of torture justifiable by the U.S. government? In this neverending “war on terror,” it appears that the ends justify the means. If it can prevent a terrorist attack, then dammit, we need to waterboard and, hell, we need to burn them on a stake if necessary! We’re fighting terrorists, not boy scouts! Give me a break.

That’s essentially what the U.S. government is saying. And that’s extremely disturbing, because that’s exactly what the framers of the constitution tried to protect the people from. Our constitution prevents that very argument. The ends never justify the means when due process and the equal protection of the laws are violated. Although ex-CIA agent Mike Kiriakou believed that he thought waterboarding is something “Americans should not do,” he still felt the technique worked. Did it though and at what expense? And let me ask you this, Mr. Golden Child Mike Kirakou. How many of these suspects did you waterboard that were completely innocent? I know “completely innocent” is not a word in the CIA’s vocabulary. You were just following orders, heh?

The American government should treat any suspect — whether a citizen or not a citizen or a pseudo-something a la enemy combatant — the same: with dignity and under procedures that respect the constitution. It is very difficult to trust a government that purports to treat its citizens fairly and those who are not unfairly. When the government is straining to make such distinctions, you have to ask yourself whether there is even one to begin with. Further, when you fight for the rights of non-citizens and the pseudo classifications of people like an enemy combatant, you are essentially fighting for your rights. If the American government can torture and violate the rights of individuals that utterly shock the conscience without impunity or consequence, then do you really think they won’t do the same to you? Wake up and smell the facism.

Now don’t get me wrong because I’m citing “technicalities” such as constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. Don’t call me some “soft on terror liberal cocksucker.” Law enforcement has a lot of leeway when it comes to interrogating suspects. They should do it zealously and relentlessly. But, I would have thought after World War II, there would be a damn clear bright line when it came to torture. That’s off limits for the American government. And it’s off limits for any government, and in particular, any government that our C – I – friggin A sends a suspect to.

9/11 did not change the constitution. It certainly changed our perspective. But 9/11 did not change the rules of the game. I was there in Manhattan on 9/11. I saw the planes hit. I saw the buildings collapse. I have the dust on my clothes. I have friends who died. I’m pissed, too, at the terrorists who did such a thing. But I’m also pissed at our government who has used 9/11 as a casus belli to do whatever the fuck it wants. Time to take it back.

Torture is never justifiable under any circumstances. Period. No exceptions.