Karen J. Greenberg – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 21 Oct 2022 02:42:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 The Ukraine Moment: Lessons from the War on Terror https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/ukraine-moment-lessons.html Fri, 21 Oct 2022 04:02:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207695 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Ukraine is obviously a powder keg. With each passing day, in fact, the war there poses new threats to the world order. Only recently, Vladimir Putin’s Russia intensified its attacks on civilian targets in that beleaguered land, while threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons and adding Ukraine’s neighbor Belarus to its side on the battlefield. And don’t forget the Russian president’s decision to draft hundreds of thousands of additional civilians into his military, not to speak of the sham referendums he conducted to annex parts of Ukraine and the suspected cyberattack by a pro-Russian group that disrupted airline websites at hubs across the United States.

President Biden has repeatedly pledged not to enter the war. As he wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times last May (and has continued to signal): “So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces.” Washington has instead carved out a cautious but decidedly engaged response to the war there.

So far, that conflict has not posed a threat to this country and the Biden administration has held fast to the president’s commitment not to engage directly in that fight. But the war does continue to escalate, as do the taunts of an increasingly desperate Vladimir Putin. To date, the U.S. has pledged $15.2 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and its neighbors, an investment that has included arms, munitions, equipment, and training. The Biden administration had also imposed sanctions against more than 800 Russians as of June with additional ones announced in late September, while blocking oil and gas imports from that country.

At such a moment of ever-increasing international tension, however, it seems worthwhile to recall what lessons the United States learned (or at least should have learned) from its own wars of this century that fell under the rubric of the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.

Lessons Learned?

We certainly should have learned a great deal about ourselves over the course of the war on terror, the global conflicts that followed al-Qaeda’s devastating attacks of September 11, 2001.

We should have learned, for instance, that once a war starts, as the war on terror did when the administration of George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan, it can spread in a remarkable fashion — often without, at least initially, even being noticed — to areas far beyond the original battlefield. In the end, the war on terror would, in its own fashion, spread across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, with domestic versions of it lodging in both European countries and the United States in the form of aggressive terrorism prosecutions, anti-Muslim policing efforts, and, during the Trump administration, a “Muslim ban” against those trying to enter the U.S. from many largely Muslim countries.

In the process, we learned, or at least should have learned, that our government was willing to trade rights, liberties, and the law for a grim version of safety and security. The trade-off would, in the end, involve the indefinite detention of individuals (some to this very day) at that offshore prison of injustice, Guantánamo; torturing captives at CIA black sites around the world; launching “signature drone strikes” which regularly made no distinction between civilians and combatants; not to mention the warrentless surveillance that targeted the calls of staggering numbers of Americans. And all of this was done in the name of keeping ourselves safe, even if, in the end, it would help create an America in which ever less, including democracy, seems safe anymore.

Finally, we should have learned that once a major conflict begins, its end can be — to put the matter politely — elusive. In this way, it was no mistake that the war on terror, with us to this day in numerous ways, informally became known as our “forever war,” given the fact that, even today we’re not quite done with it. (U.S. troops are, for instance, still in Iraq and Syria.) According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, that conflict has cost this country at least $8 trillion — with an additional estimated $2.2-$2.5 trillion needed to care for the veterans of the war between now and 2050.

Given all of this, there are, at least, three lessons to be taken from the war on terror, each sending a strong signal about how to reckon with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Beware Mission Creep

The war on terror was in large part defined by mission creep. What started as an incursion into Afghanistan to rout al-Qaeda and the perpetrators of 9/11 grew exponentially into a global set of conflicts, including a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the use (largely) of air power in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries across Africa and the Middle East. This was all deemed possible thanks to a single joint resolution passed by Congress a week after the attacks of September 11th, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which included neither geographical areas nor specific adversaries other than those who conspired to bring about (or supported in some fashion) the 9/11 attacks. It was, in other words, so vague as to allow administration after administration to choose its enemies without again consulting Congress. (A separate 2002 authorization would launch the invasion of Iraq.)

The war in Ukraine similarly continues to widen. The 30 nations in NATO are largely lined up alongside that country against Russia. On October 11th, the Group of Seven, or G7, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, pledged “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic, and legal support… for as long as it takes.” On that same day, the U.N. met to consider responses to Russia’s escalating missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities as well as its claim to have won a referendum supposedly greenlighting its annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine has grown ever more geographically extensive. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained during a visit to Kyiv in September, the American mission encompasses an effort “to bolster the security of Ukraine and 17 of its neighbors; including many of our NATO Allies, as well as other regional security partners potentially at risk of future Russian aggression.” Moreover, the United States has acted on an ever more global scale in its efforts to levy sanctions against Russia’s oligarchs, while warning of retribution (of an undefined sort) against any nation that provides a haven for them, as did China when it allowed a superyacht owned by a Russian oligarch to dock in Hong Kong’s harbor.


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When it comes to Ukraine, the imperative of defining and limiting the scope of American involvement — whether in the areas of funding, weapons supplied, training, or even the deployment of U.S. troops near Ukraine or secret operatives in that country — couldn’t (in the light of GWOT) be more important. So far, Biden has at least kept his promise not to send U.S. troops to Ukraine. (In fact, just before the Russian invasion, he actually removed national guardsmen who had been stationed there in the late fall of 2021.)

It is perhaps a sign of restraint that the Biden administration has so publicly specified just what weaponry it’s providing to that country and which other countries it’s offering assistance to in the name of security concerns over the war. And in making decisions about which munitions and armaments to offer, the administration has insisted on deliberation and process rather than quick, ad-hoc acts. Still, as the GWOT taught us, mission creep is a danger and, as Putin’s Russia continues to expand its war in Ukraine, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on our expanding involvement, too.

Honor the Law

Notably, the war has been defined by Russia’s escalating abuses of international law and human rights. To begin with, that country violated international law with its unprovoked invasion, an act of straightforward aggression. Since then, reports of atrocities have mounted. An Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine issued a report last month to the U.N.’s Commissioner for Human Rights citing the use of explosives in civilian areas; evidence of torture, rape, and brutal executions; and the intentionally cruel treatment of those in custody. The massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Izyum signaled Russia’s intent to continue its gruesome violations of the laws of war despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeal to the U.N. for accountability.

That this is the road to lasting problems and an escalating threat environment is a lesson this country should have learned from its own war on terror in this century. The atrocities carried out by terrorist groups, including 9/11, led top officials in the Bush administration to calculate that, given the threat facing the country, it would be legitimate, even imperative, to ignore both domestic and international legal restraints. The greatest but hardly the only example of this was the willingness of the Central Intelligence Agency to use torture, which it relabeled “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, exposure to extreme cold, sleep deprivation, and painful, prolonged forms of shackling at CIA black sites scattered around the world. That brutal program was finally laid out in 2014 in a nearly 600-page executive summary of a Senate investigation. Other illegal actions taken during the war on terror included setting up Guantánamo offshore of American justice and the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on a lie: that autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

When it comes to Ukraine, the war-on-terror experience should remind us of the importance of restraint and lawfulness, no matter the nature of the Russian threat or the cruel acts Putin has countenanced. “Russian forces were likely responsible for most casualties, but so too Ukrainian troops — albeit to a far lesser extent,” the U.N. commissioner for human rights said in a video message last spring. In August, Amnesty International issued a report which held that “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.”

Plan for an Ending

Despite Vladimir Putin’s predictions that the war would end quickly with a Russian triumph and despite his continuing escalation of it, there has been no dearth of scenarios for such an ending. Early on, observers saw the possibility of a negotiated peace in which Ukraine would agree not to seek future membership in NATO, while Russia withdrew its troops and dropped its claims to Ukrainian territory (Crimea excepted). Soon thereafter, another scenario forecast “a new iron curtain” after Russian gains in eastern and southern Ukraine left “two antagonistic blocs staring each other down over a lengthy militarized border.” Others have predicted endless further escalation, including a possible Russian tactical nuclear strike in that country causing the West to retreat — or counter with its own nuclear gesture.

Only recently, almost eight months into the war, 66 nations at the U.N. General Assembly called for its end, while even retired American Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I think we need to back off [the war] a little bit and do everything we possibly can to try to get to the table to resolve this thing.” Others agree that the conflict should be ended sooner rather than later.

And for good reason! This country’s war on terror should be an apt reminder that planning for an ending is imperative, sooner rather than later. From the beginning, you might say, the forever war had no sense of an ending, since Congress’s authorization for the use of force lacked not only geographical but temporal limits of any sort. There was, in fact, no sense of what an end to hostilities might involve. Not even the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, in 2011 was seen as ending anything, nor was the death of autocrat Saddam Hussein imagined as a conclusion of that American war. To this day, that 2001 authorization for war remains in place and one of the main symbols of the excesses of the war — Guantánamo Bay — remains open.

Right now, despite any calls by former warriors like Mullen or diplomats for an end to the war in Ukraine, it’s proving a distinctly elusive proposition not just for Vladimir Putin but for the U.S. and its NATO allies as well. As a senior administration official told the Washington Post recently, speaking of Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons and his draft of new Russian conscripts, “It’s definitely a sign that he’s doubling down, that we’re not close to the end, and not close to negotiations.”

In a speech delivered at the U.N. in late September, Secretary of State Antony Blinken caught the forever-war mood of the moment on all sides by expressing doubts about diplomacy as a cure-all for such a war. “As President Zelensky has said repeatedly,” Blinken told the Security Council, “diplomacy is the only way to end this war. But diplomacy cannot and must not be used as a cudgel to impose on Ukraine a settlement that cuts against the U.N. Charter, or rewards Russia for violating it.”

Given the lessons of the war on terror, casting doubt on the viability of future negotiations risks setting the stage for never-ending warfare of a distinctly unpredictable sort.

The Stakes

Though the war in Ukraine is taking place in a different context than the war on terror, with a different set of interests at stake and without the non-state actors of that American conflict, the reality is that it should have yielded instructive lessons for both sides. After all, America’s forever war harmed the fabric of our political life in ways almost too numerous to name, many of them related to the ever-expansive, extralegal, never-ending nature of that conflict. So imagine what this war could do to Russia, to Ukraine, and to our world.

The war in Ukraine offers Washington an opportunity to push the international community to choose a new scenario rather than one that will expand into a frighteningly unknown future. It gives the Biden administration a chance to choose law over lawlessness and emphasize a diplomatic resolution to that still-escalating crisis.

This time around, the need to exercise restraint, caution, and a deep respect for the law, while envisioning how the hostilities might actually end, could not be more important. The world of our children lies in the balance.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com .

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Donald Trump’s Document Grab and the Dismantling of Democracy https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/document-dismantling-democracy.html Wed, 21 Sep 2022 04:02:24 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207094 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Thanks to Donald Trump, secrecy is big news these days. However, as political pundits and legal experts race to expose the layers of document-related misdeeds previously buried at his Mar-a-Lago estate, one overlooked reality looms large: despite all the coverage of the thousands of documents Trump took with him when he left the White House, there’s been next to no acknowledgment that such a refusal to share information has been part and parcel of the Washington scene for far longer than the current moment.

The hiding of information by the former president, repeatedly described as “unprecedented” behavior, is actually part of a continuum of withholding that’s been growing at a striking pace for decades. By the time Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, the stage had long been set for removing information from the public record in an alarmingly broad fashion, a pattern that he would take to new levels.

The “Secrecy President”

As recent history’s exhibit number one, this country’s global war on terror, launched soon after the 9/11 attacks, was largely defined and enabled by the withholding of information — including secret memos, hidden authorizations, and the use of covert methods. During President George W. Bush’s first term in office, government lawyers and officials regularly withheld information about their actions and documents related to them from public view, both at home and abroad.

Those officials, for instance, legalized the brutal interrogations of war-on-terror prisoners, while conveniently replacing the word “torture” with the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” and so surreptitiously evading a longstanding legal ban on the practice. The CIA then secretly utilized those medieval techniques at “black sites” around the world where its agents held suspected terrorists. It later destroyed the tapes made of those interrogations, erasing the evidence of what its agents had done. On the home front, in a similarly secretive fashion, unknown to members of Congress as well as the general public, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to set up an elaborate and far-reaching program of warrantless surveillance on Americans and others inside the United States.

Consider that the launching of an era of enhanced secrecy techniques. No wonder Bush earned the moniker of the “secrecy president.” Only weeks after the 9/11 attacks, for instance, he put in place strict guidelines about who could brief Congress on classified matters, while instituting new, lower standards for transparency. He even issued a signing statement rebuking Congress for requiring reports “in written form” on “significant anticipated intelligence activities or significant intelligence failure.” To emphasize his sense of righteousness in defying calls for information, he insisted on the “president’s constitutional authority to… withhold information” in cases of foreign relations and national security. In a parallel fashion, his administration put new regulations in place limiting the release of information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


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President Obama also withheld information when it came to war-on-terror efforts. Notably, his administration shrouded in secrecy the use of armed drones to target and kill suspected terrorists (and civilians) in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Official reports omitted reliable data about who was killed, where the killings had taken place, or the number of civilian casualties. As the American Civil Liberties Union concluded, administration reporting on civilian harm fell “far short of the standards for transparency and accountability needed to ensure that the government’s targeted killing program is lawful under domestic and international law.”

And well beyond the war-on-terror context, the claim to secrecy has become a government default mechanism. Tellingly, the number of classified documents soared to unimaginable heights in those years. As the National Archives reports, in 2012, documents with classified markings — including “top secret,” “secret,” and “confidential” — reached a staggering 95 million. And while the overall numbers had declined by 2017, the extent of government classification then and now remains alarming.

Erasing the Record Before It’s Created

President Trump’s document theft should be understood, then, as just another piece of the secrecy matrix.

Despite his claim — outrageous, but perhaps no more than so many other claims he made — to being the “most transparent” president ever, he turned out to be a stickler for withholding information on numerous fronts. Taking the war-on-terror behavioral patterns of his predecessors to heart, he expanded the information vacuum well beyond the sphere of war and national security to the purely political and personal realms. As a start, he refused to testify in the Mueller investigation into the 2016 presidential election. On a more personal note, he also filed suit to keep his tax records secret from Congress.

In fact, during his time in office, Trump virtually transformed the very exercise of withholding information. In place of secrecy in the form of classification, he developed a strategy of preventing documents and records from even being created in the first place.

Three months into his presidency, Trump announced that the White House would cease to disclose its visitor logs, citing the supposed risk to both national security and presidential privacy. In addition to hiding the names of those with whom he met, specific high-level meetings took place in an unrecorded fashion so that even the members of his cabinet, no less the public, would never know about them.

As former National Security Advisor John Bolton and others have attested, when it came to meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump even prohibited note-taking. In at least five such meetings over the course of his first two years in office, he consistently excluded White House officials and members of the State Department. On at least one occasion, he even confiscated notes his interpreter took to ensure that there would be no record.

Congress, too, was forbidden access to information under Trump. Lawyers in the Department of Justice (DOJ) drafted memos hardening policies against complying with congressional requests for information in what former DOJ lawyer Annie Owens has described as “a policy that approached outright refusal” to share information. In addition, the Trump administration was lax or even dismissive when it came to compliance with the production of required reports on national security matters. Note as well the reversal of policies aimed at transparency, as in the decision to reverse an Obama era policy of making public the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. possessed.

But don’t just blame Donald Trump. Among the most recent examples of erasing evidence, it’s become clear that the Secret Service deleted the text messages of its agents around the president from the day before and the day of the January 6th insurrection. So, too, the phone records of several top Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were wiped clean when they left office in accordance with directives established early in the Trump presidency. Similarly, the phone records of top Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security officials were scrapped. In other words, recent reports on the way Trump regularly shredded documents, flushed them down the White House toilet, and generally withheld presidential papers — even classified documents, as revealed during the Mar-a-Lago search — were of a piece with a larger disdain on the part of both the president and a number of his top officials for sharing information.

Erasing the record in one fashion or another became the Trump administration’s default setting, variations on a theme hammered out by his predecessors and taken to new levels on his watch.

A Perpetual Right to Secrecy?

Admittedly, before Trump arrived on the scene, there were some efforts to reverse this pattern, but in the long run they proved anemic. Barack Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009 acknowledging the harm caused by excessive government secrecy. Emphasizing transparency’s importance for accountability, informed public debate, and establishing trust in government, the new president issued an executive order on his first full day in office emphasizing the importance of “transparency and open government” and pledging to create “an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

Nearly a year later, he followed up with another executive order setting out a series of reforms aimed at widening the parameters for information-sharing. That order tightened guidelines around classification and broadened the possibilities for declassifying information. “Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government,” it read. Six years later, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper produced a report on the “principles of Intelligence transparency for the intelligence community” and a “transparency implementation plan” that again aimed at clarifying the limits, as well as the purposes, of secrecy.

And Obama’s efforts did indeed make some headway. As Steven Aftergood, former director of the Federation of American Scientists, concluded, “The Obama administration broke down longstanding barriers to public access and opened up previously inaccessible records of enormous importance and value.” Among other things, Aftergood reported, Obama “declassified the current size of the U.S. nuclear arms arsenal for the first time ever,” as well as thousands of the president’s daily briefs, and established a National Declassification Center.

Still, in the end, the progress proved disappointing. As Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan put it, the Obama administration’s record on transparency was among “the most secretive” in our history. She also castigated the president’s team for “setting new records for stonewalling or rejecting Freedom of Information Requests.” As an Associated Press analysis of federal data verified, the Obama administration did indeed set records in some years when it came to not granting those FOIA requests.

Executive distaste for sharing information is certainly nothing new and has often been linked, as during the war on terror, to misrepresentations, misdeeds, and outright deceit. After all, half a century ago, the administration of President Richard Nixon (of Watergate fame) defended the right to withhold information from the public as an effective way of covering up the American role in Vietnam. Those withheld materials, eventually released by the New York Times, showed that, over the course of four administrations, the national security state had misled the public about what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, including hiding the secret bombing of neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

Still, let’s recognize what Donald Trump has, in fact, done. Though no longer president, he’s now taken the withholding of government information well beyond the borders of the government itself and deep into his private realm. In doing so, he’s set a dangerous precedent, one that brought the FBI to his doorstep (after months of attempts to access the documents in less intrusive ways). The challenge now is to address not just Trump’s clumsy efforts to unilaterally privatize a government practice, but the systemic overreach officials have relied on for decades to withhold staggering amounts of information from the public.

The Biden administration is alert to this issue. Notably, President Biden reversed several of Trump’s classification decisions, including his policy of not reporting the number of American nuclear weapons. More systematically, the National Security Council recently launched an effort aimed at revising the nation’s unwieldy classification system, while Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has stated her intention to review the excessive classification of government documents.

In a 2022 letter to Congress, Haines pointed to the downside of a government that refuses to share information. “It is my view,” she wrote, “that deficiencies in the current classification system undermine our national security, as well as critical democratic objectives, by impeding our ability to share information in a timely manner, be that sharing with our intelligence partners, our oversight bodies, or, when appropriate, with the general public.”

True to her word, in the three months following that statement of allegiance to transparency, Haines has released a steady flow of material on controversial topics, including unclassified reports on everything from the origins of Covid to climate change to an assessment of the “Saudi government’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Still, despite such efforts, the powers that be are arguably being hoisted on their own petard. After all, Donald Trump followed in the wake of his predecessors in sanctioning expansive secrecy, then made it a be-all and end-all of his presidency, and now claims that it’s part of his rights as a former president and private citizen. As the head of a political movement, now out of office, he’s done the once unthinkable by claiming that the veil of secrecy, the right to decide what should be known and who should know it, is his in perpetuity.

The horror of his claim to untethered secret authority — no wonder some of his MAGA followers refer to him as their “god-emperor” — violates the very idea that a democracy is a pact between individual citizens and elected officials. The valid response to the holding of documents at Mar-a-Lago shouldn’t just be reclaiming them for the public record or even the clear demarcation of the law as it applies to a private citizen as opposed to a president (though both are essential). What’s needed is a full-throated demand that policies of secrecy, allowed to expand exponentially in this century without accountability or transparency, are destructive of democracy and should be ended.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

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The State of Disgrace in Washington https://www.juancole.com/2022/07/state-disgrace-washington.html Mon, 18 Jul 2022 04:02:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205838 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Well before the House select committee’s January 6th investigation began, trust in the classic American system of checks and balances as reliable protection against executive (or, more recently, Supreme Court) abuses of power had already fallen into a state of disgrace. A domestically shackled Biden presidency, a Congress unable to act, and a Supreme Court that seems ever more like an autocratic governing body has left American “democracy” looking grim indeed.

Now, those hearings are offering the country (and the Justice Department) what could be a last chance to begin restoring the kind of governance that once underlay a functioning democracy. There is, however, a deeply worrisome trend lurking just under this moment’s attempt to garner accountability — namely, the way loyalty to institutional Washington (even outside the law) perpetuates a flight from accountability that’s become a crucial part of American political life.

So far, the January 6th hearings have inspired a cascade of takeaways. With each televised session, new evidence about the acts of Donald Trump and crew have come to light, among them that the former president was all too tight with the far right and that he knew the crowd approaching the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was armed and dangerous. So, too, those watching have learned about witness tampering and also the lengths White House lawyers and others went to in trying to restrain the former president’s engagement with the January 6th rioters. Overall, many Americans (though not so many Republicans) have learned that January 6th was part of a far larger Trumpian effort to negate the results of the 2020 presidential election, no matter the facts or the law.

Beyond chronicling what happened and assigning blame, something else in those hearings is worth noting: namely, they are exposing the ever-growing contradiction between Washington institutionalists, whose first loyalty is to the agencies and departments they served or are serving, and the supposed purpose or mission of those very institutions. And all of this will take the U.S. even further from the democracy it still claims to be, if those who have served in them and in the White House can’t be held accountable for their abuses of power and violations of law.

Over the Cliff of False Institutionalism

For a long time now, the mechanisms of our democratic system of government meant to ensure accountability have been at the edge of collapse, if not obliteration. Who could forget how — something I’ve written about over the years at TomDispatch — the government officials who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, led us into the Global War on Terror found myriad ways to evade or defang the checks and balances of the courts and Congress? In the process, they managed to escape all accountability for their crimes. To offer a striking example: the top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush lied about Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, which was their main excuse for their assault on his country in 2003.

According to the invaluable Costs of War Project, a year and a half after invading Afghanistan in 2001, the top officials of the Bush administration took this country into a war in Iraq that would cost the lives of more than 4,500 American service members and nearly as many U.S. military contractors. Almost 200 journalists and aid workers would also die in that conflict, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The Costs of War Project estimates that the overall war on terror those officials launched will, in the end, have a price tag of nearly eight trillion dollars. Add to that the impossible-to-calculate costs of their acts to the rule of law, since they dismantled individual liberties and made a mockery of human rights. After all, the top officials of that administration oversaw the secret rewriting of the law to make torture at CIA “black sites” legal, while imprisoning individuals, including Americans, without access to lawyers, due process, or the courts at a prison they built in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a system distinctly offshore of what until then had been known as American justice.

When Barack Obama took over the White House in 2009, his administration failed either to mount a course correction or punish any of the torturers or jailers and those who gave them the green light to do so. As the president put it then, he chose to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” He refused even to hold an investigation into the misdeeds of Bush administration policymakers and lawyers who had rendered us a nation of torture, while secretly implementing warrantless surveillance policies on a mass scale, keeping Guantánamo open, and failing to bring the disastrous American presences in Afghanistan and Iraq to an end.

Ironically, in explaining his reasons for not shining a light into those CIA black sites or so much else that preceded him, Obama pointed to the importance of honoring institutionalism. It was crucial, he argued, for the Agency to be able to continue to function in ways that an investigation might impede. “And part of my job,” the president explained, “is to make sure that, for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.”

Consider that an early sign of a toxic default to the version of institutionalism that threatens us today.

In the Trump years, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 presidential elections stopped short of indicting the former president. Mueller’s task was to investigate potential Russian interference with that election and possible coordination with Trump in that endeavor. Mueller ultimately backed away from indicting the president for obstruction of justice, despite the evidence he had, citing an obscure 1973 Department of Justice memo from the Watergate era (reaffirmed in 2000). The memo argued that such an act would distract the president from the pressing affairs of his office. “The spectacle of an indicted president still trying to serve as Chief Executive boggles the imagination,” the memo said, and Mueller’s mind was evidently still boggled when it came to Donald Trump and the coming 2020 election.


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And then there was the failure to investigate the institutional problems that accompanied the country’s initial handling of the Covid pandemic. There has never been the slightest accountability for the denialism that greeted its initial stages, nor any attempt to document what went wrong then. In June 2021, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) called for the creation of “an independent 9/11-style commission” to understand how the public had been left so unprotected by the Trump administration in those early pandemic months and to discuss what lessons should be drawn from it for a future pandemic. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored such an approach in the Senate, but nothing ever happened.

Such a narrative of accountability and blame might have exposed “the vulnerabilities of our public health system and issue[d] guidance for how we as a nation can better protect the American people.” But no such luck. The institutionalists prevailed and the bills are still lying dormant in Congress.

In these years, a continual distaste for self-examination and institutional reform has eviscerated notions of accountability, while leaving the nation unprepared and unprotected not only from future pandemics, but from abuses of power aimed directly at our democracy. So far, Donald Trump, in particular, has paid no price for his attacks on democracy, as the January 6th committee has made all too clear.

Institutionalists vs. Accountability

The January 6th hearings have only underscored the reticence of Attorney General Merrick Garland when it came to mounting a case against Donald Trump or any of his top officials. As former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal has written, “[W]e’ve seen no signs of such an investigation. Ordinarily, 17 months after a crime, one would expect to see some signs of an inquiry.” And yet Department of Justice (DOJ) veterans continue to attest to their faith that the institution and Attorney General Garland will rise to the occasion.

Harvard law professor and former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith recently asked readers to sympathize with the difficult decisions the attorney general has to deal with. Garland “arguably faces a conflict of interest,” Goldsmith wrote. He then added that Garland would not only have to be convinced that he had enough evidence to get a conviction in federal court, but would have to ask himself “whether the national interest would be served by prosecuting Mr. Trump.” Goldsmith does recognize that a failure to indict could send a message that the president, even Donald Trump, “is literally above the law.” Yet he still ends his piece with a plea for trust in the AG’s decision-making.

And Goldsmith is anything but alone in putting his faith in the institution above the dire necessity of holding top officials accountable. Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, a 10-year DOJ veteran, has, in the end, weighed in similarly. “I’m an institutionalist,” he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation, signaling his credentials as a trusting servant of that department. “My initial thought was not to indict the former president out of concern [for] how divisive it would be. But given what we have learned, I think that he probably has to be held accountable.” A mere two weeks later he, too, had backtracked, saying “we should have faith” in Garland and the prospect of future indictments of Trump and top members of his administration.

In reality, this embrace of institutionalism, far from being a badge of honor, has become a millstone around the neck of the Department of Justice and the nation as a whole. Throughout the tenure of William Barr as Trump’s attorney general, veterans of that department and career officials there assuaged the fears of those worried that he would contribute to its further politicization. As department veteran Harry Litman reassured Americans on NPR, “That would never be Bill Barr. He’s a[n] institutionalist. He understands the important values of the Department of Justice. He has integrity. He has stature. He’s nobody’s toady.”

As it turned out, until the very end of Trump’s presidency, Barr proved to be an institutionalist bent on twisting the definition to fit his needs. His numerous stints in the White House, going back to the early 1990s, turned his form of institutionalism into an embrace of loyalty to the president over any form of accountability. Before the report of Special Counsel Mueller was even released, Barr provided his own spin, contrary to its findings. As he told NPR:

“After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report… the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”

This, despite the fact that, as Mueller testified, he had concluded otherwise.

Such shout-outs to institutionalism have become an essential part of the post-Trump political scene as well, extending to the very nature of America’s governing principles. For example, institutionalists who oppose expansion of the Supreme Court argue that such a move would constitute “serious violations of norms” and ultimately “undermin[e] the democratic system” and “diminish [the court’s] independence and legitimacy,” or so a report on potential Supreme Court reform, commissioned by Biden in 2021, concluded. And even after the disastrous Supreme Court decisions repealing abortion rights and expanding gun rights, President Biden, the consummate self-declared institutionalist, indicated that expanding the court “is not something that he wants to do,” as if the traditions of our institutions are more important than fairness, the representation of the majority, or even justice itself.

Biden has similarly shown an impassioned reluctance to challenge Congress, refusing, for instance, to lead the way when it comes to ending the filibuster in the Senate. Earlier this year he did finally (and unsucessfully) support a carve-out from the filibuster in order to try to get a voting rights bill passed and more recently in support of passing abortion-rights legislation. But his belated and tepid words were at best mere gestures and utterly without effect.

Could the January 6th Hearings Be a Game-Changer?

The House select committee investigating January 6th has been making its case directly to a remarkably substantial audience (mainly of Democrats and independents) — 20 million viewers for its opening evening session and 13 million for the daytime testimony of former White House aide to chief of staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, who attracted the largest daytime audience yet for the hearings, far exceeding even the most watched cable news shows at that hour. And keep in mind that those viewers are, of course, potential voters this November.

In addition to the public, the Department of Justice has been a target audience for those hearings. As Congresswoman and Vice Chairperson of the committee Liz Cheney has said, “The Justice Department doesn’t have to wait for the committee to make a criminal referral. There could be more than one criminal referral.”

There’s another target audience, too: American history and the possibility that the integrity of our institutions can someday be restored. The hearings themselves project the hope that, despite the disastrous failures of American democracy and institutional Washington in this century, there are still guardrails capable of protecting us and fortifying the mechanisms of accountability.

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the select committee, has summed up the matter this way:

“[F]or four years, the Justice Department took the position that you can’t indict a sitting president. If the Department were now to take the position that you can’t investigate or indict a former president, then, a president becomes above the law. That’s a very dangerous idea that the founders would have never subscribed to.”

Given Washington’s reliance in these years on loyalty to institutions rather than to democracy, it’s little wonder that polls of Americans show a waning trust in those very institutions. A recent Gallup poll typically “marks new lows in confidence for all three branches of the federal government — the Supreme Court (25%), the presidency (23%) and Congress” which ranked at a truly dismal 7%.

The question is: Can a revival of accountability as a cherished element of governance help to rebuild those institutions and trust in them or are we headed for a far grimmer America in the near future?

The January 6th hearings offer a certain hope that accountability might put institutionalism in its place. Restoring it (and so the faith of the American people in our democracy) should be the sine qua non for a post-Trumpist future. Whatever virtues our institutions may have, their true value can only persist if they are accountable to the principles of democracy they were created to uphold.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

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The Empire’s New Clothes: The Veneer of Accountability Is Wearing Thin in Twenty-First-Century America https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/empires-clothes-accountability.html Wed, 11 May 2022 04:02:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204576 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – If you watched TV in the 1960s and 1970s as I did, you would undoubtedly have come away with the idea that this country’s courts, law enforcement agencies, and the laws they aimed to honor added up to a system in which justice was always served.

In those years, for instance, Perry Mason was a much-loved staple from coast to coast. In each episode, Perry, that intrepid, tall, dark, kindly genius of a defense attorney, would face off against Hamilton Burger, a small-boned, pointy faced, sanctimonious prosecutor — and justice would always be served. He had what seemed then to be an all-American knack for uncovering exactly the right evidence of misdeeds that would lead justice directly to the doorstep of the true perpetrator of any crime and bring him or her to account. The takeaway caught the mood of the time: the courts and the legal system were powerful platforms for serving justice, sorting out right from wrong, punishing the criminals, and exonerating the innocent.

A few years later, Colombo would portray a police investigator whose reputation resided in his ability to sift through misleading facts and intentional subterfuge, unearth reliable evidence as well as the true culprits in any crime, and — without fail — bring them to justice.

Those two shows caught the essence of how most Americans then felt about the justice system in this country. We trusted it. Today, it’s not just that you can’t find such shows on TV anymore, it’s that trust in the legal system, fictional or otherwise, is rapidly fading, succumbing to the dangerous poison of this partisan moment and an ever more partisan Supreme Court. As Americans watch from the sidelines, the courts and the legal system continue to visibly fumble in the dark for legitimacy of any sort.

Yes, pundits and experts (like the rest of us) tend to focus on disastrous individual cases that interest them like the one in which those who plotted to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer managed to escape conviction or, say, the acquittal of the youthful Kyle Rittenhouse who used an assault rifle to kill two men at a Black Lives Matter protest. But here’s the truth of our moment: the larger picture of American (in)justice has become far more damning than any case could be. Ultimately, after all, the issue isn’t the outcome of any specific case, but trust (or increasingly, the lack of it) in the system that’s supposed to administer, adjudicate, and legitimate the law in America.

Despite the recent scandal over the Supreme Court’s coming decision to overrule Roe v. Wade, nowhere is this clearer than in the cases surrounding the January 6th Capitol riot.

The January 6th Investigation

It’s hard to describe the Justice Department’s handling of the insurrection on January 6, 2021, as anything other than appalling. Nearly a year and a half later, despite more than 800 indictments of individuals involved in the assault on the Capitol, no charges have yet been filed against either former President Donald Trump or any of his close allies who helped plan, fund, and execute the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Instead, Attorney General Merrick Garland appears to have thrown up his hands in defeat, as if to suggest that the controversy around holding Trump and his associates accountable has simply been more than he can handle.

From law schools, lawyers, and legal theorists have called for the Justice Department to face that threat to democracy and act have only grown louder. In March, for instance, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut urged Garland to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the former president based on evidence already presented in other lawsuits. No such appointment has yet been forthcoming.

To underscore the mounting evidence in the public record against those former officials, Ryan Goodman, Mari Dugas, and Nicholas Tonckens at Just Security played prosecutor (as Garland hasn’t) and laid out their own timeline of dozens of incriminating acts, beginning a year before the riot, that could collectively justify charges against Trump and crew of incitement to violence. In April, according to New York Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Luke Broadwater, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol had “concluded that they have enough evidence” to make a criminal referral about the former president to the Justice Department, though they have yet to vote to do so. Meanwhile, a federal judge in California ruled in a civil suit that Trump “likely attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress” meant to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory, adding that “the illegality of the plan was obvious.”


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Sadly, the Teflon coating on Trump and his associates has been striking. After all, in January, the House Select Committee voted to back contempt charges against former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for refusing to comply with a subpoena for his testimony. To date, however, Attorney General Garland hasn’t followed up. More recently, the House Select Committee voted to hold in contempt former White House advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino for a similar refusal to comply with subpoenas. The results will likely be the same.

Even where there has been some willingness to indict, the courts have been remarkably stymied when it comes to forward momentum on cases involving Trump’s crew. In November, for instance, Steve Bannon, one-time senior aide to the president, was indeed indicted on contempt of Congress charges for his refusal to respond to subpoenas from the House Select Committee. Bannon promptly pushed back, arguing that longstanding Justice Department memos held former presidential advisers immune from such congressional subpoenas. In March, a federal judge finally asked to see those memos. And so it goes — and goes and goes. And as time passes, so, too, does the likelihood that justice will ever be done.

As for the former president’s business affairs involving the Trump Organization, the process has faltered in a remarkably similar fashion. Earlier this year, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg dropped an investigation of the former president. He was reportedly convinced that, in the end, he wouldn’t be able to prove that Trump and his closest employees were motivated by theft when they lied about the value of his businesses. Bragg decided not to pursue charges against Trump despite the aggressive efforts of his predecessor, Cyrus Vance, to uncover just such a record and the opinion of a respected lawyer brought in to shepherd the investigation through who, in an outraged letter of resignation, insisted that Trump had indeed committed “numerous [financial] felony violations.” (It had taken Vance years and a Supreme Court decision just to get the company tax records for his case against Trump.)

In early May, a grand jury that had been convened to consider charges against Trump expired. Now, it seems that New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s efforts to bring charges of fraud could crumble as well.

Of course, even a president who tried to mount a coup to cancel the results of an election should be able to avail himself of the American system’s legal protections and defenses. That said, in failing to hold Trump accountable for more or less anything, a message is being sent about justice in this century: that accountability is just not in the cards for American officials who commit crimes. (Of course, one can still hope that the special investigative Georgia grand jury just seated to look into Trump’s possible attempts to disrupt the 2020 election in that state might prove more effective, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.)

Police Murders

Sadly enough, the incapacity of the courts and the legal system to administer accountability for terrible crimes is a phenomenon that’s hardly reserved for Washington politicians and their aides. Abuses of power throughout the country are regularly being overlooked, notably in the mounting examples of police killings of unarmed Black men and women. Across the U.S., courts have repeatedly proven unable to hold accountable police perpetrators whose racist actions had been videotaped and witnessed. Though there have been rare exceptions as, for instance, in the case of the killing of George Floyd, where police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and three police officers were convicted of “violating his rights,” the impunity of so many policemen accused of killing Blacks has become a theme of American life. The list is long. Prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for instance, decided not even to file charges against the officer who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake in August, 2020; none of the police who stormed into Breonna Taylor’s house in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020 and killed her for doing nothing whatsoever were even charged; and no policemen in Minneapolis earlier this spring were held accountable for shooting and kililng Amir Locke. And that’s just to begin a list that goes on and on.

The War on Terror

And let’s face it, when it comes to the slow erosion of justice and accountability in this country, there’s nothing new or simply Trumpian about that. In fact, there’s been a slow erosion of the viability of the mechanisms of justice and accountability for all too long. For two decades now, the offshore American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has stood as a stunning symbol of American injustice, as well as of the inability to convict anyone for the attacks of 9/11 (as opposed to simply holding them endlessly in prison cells offshore of American justice). Nor has there been the slightest accountability for public officials, from the president on down, who gave the green light to a wholesale torture program at CIA “black sites” around the world. Nor, for that matter, were President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other top officials of their administration ever held accountable for knowingly relying on a lie — the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — as a pretext for invading a distant land.

For Bush, it was a matter of embracing horrifying misdeeds in the name of national security. For Barack Obama, it was a matter of not wanting to spend the political capital required to hold his predecessor accountable. As he famously said in the days leading up to his inauguration, this country needed “to look forward as opposed to looking backward” when it came to the Bush administration’s use of torture and warrantless surveillance in the war on terror. The ability of the CIA to function effectively in the future, he argued, should not be undermined. Merrick Garland’s profound passivity when it comes to January 6th may, in fact, just be an extension of that very philosophy.

So profound has the distaste for pursuing accountability been in these years that administration after administration and Congress after Congress have forfeited any trust in the federal courts even to try those accused of perpetrating the 9/11 attacks, leaving the case instead to the broken and incapacitated military commissions at Guantánamo. What would Perry Mason or Columbo have made of that?

Once Upon a Time

There was a time, not that long ago, when the courts still held accountable those in high office who abused power. A president and an attorney general, for instance, authorized a secret and illicit intelligence unit to spy on the Democratic National Committee, to break into Democratic headquarters, and then to cover-up that very break-in. For this, of course, President Richard Nixon and his top advisers were held accountable in the famous Senate Watergate hearings. Nixon resigned; 40 members of his administration were indeed indicted; many, including top officials, were jailed, among them the president’s chief of staff, his attorney general, his White House legal counsel, and some of his top advisers. Not only were they convicted, but they were found guilty in a timely fashion, the trials and guilty pleas coming within two years of the crime itself.

John Dean, a top Nixon aide convicted of obstruction of justice — he served four months in prison for it — recently made a prediction that underscores the gap between then and now. His testimony at the Watergate hearings had been pivotal in exposing the administration’s cover-up of the break-in. This March, he weighed in on reports that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, had on seven occasions visited the offices of Manhattan prosecutors working on the criminal investigation into Trump’s finances. As Dean tweeted then, “From personal experience as a key witness I assure you that you do not visit a prosecutor’s office 7 times if they are not planning to indict those about whom you have knowledge. It is only a matter of how many days until DA Vance indicts Donald & Co.”

And yet the days went by and nothing happened until the case was dropped. Dean had miscalculated in thinking that the past was relevant to the present.

Still, is there any hope that, in the long run, he might prove correct? After all, New York Attorney General Letitia James has not yet dropped her possible case against Trump and his company. Better yet, recently a New York supreme court justice found the former president in contempt of court for failing to comply with a subpoena to produce documents from his personal files. His initial appeal having failed, he’s being penalized $10,000 a day until the records are turned over.

So, between New York and Georgia,hope, however minimal, remains when it comes to holding Donald Trump accountable for something. Still, there’s so much more at stake than the case of one president, many police officers, or even an ever more partisan and political Supreme Court. Whether most Americans realize it or not, the future legitimacy of the courts themselves are now in play. Without a functioning court system, one that can stand up effectively to illegal political machinations, as well as partisan and ideological attacks, the law belongs solely to those in power.

And it’s not just here at home that the legitimacy of the courts is coming into question. In the international context, too, the potential anemia of criminal courts is being challenged by the war in Ukraine. Calls for bringing war-crimes charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the Russian military have been persistent. Reports of summary executions, the targeting of civilians, and mounting evidence of cruelties and atrocities have led to multiple accusations of violations of the laws of war. The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has already joined with the European Union to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes. But as many experts have pointed out, it’s hard to say how long that investigation might take and whether or not charges will ever be leveled, no less brought effectively to bear. In this regard, Washington’s failure to hold its officials accountable in the past or even to join the ICC should be noted.

And that’s just one more arena where, on a planet increasingly pushed to the brink, the rule of law may prove to be ever more of an aspiration and ever less of a reality.

At the moment, we find ourselves at an all-too-dangerous crossroads. Without our courts and the system of law they represent being truly functional, citizens could be left to settle things for themselves in true Trumpian fashion. In the international context, war defies the courts and the rule of law. In the domestic context, unregulated violence plays a similar role. As it stands now, when it comes to our system of justice, its veneer of effectiveness is wearing ever thinner.

Merrick Garland and other Americans would do well to consider that it’s not just the cases before our courts that are at issue, but the future viability of the institutions of justice themselves. In the world we now find ourselves in, the very idea of a Perry Mason could prove all too once upon a time.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Our Ukraine Wake-Up Call: The Global Age is Upon Us https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/ukraine-wake-global.html Wed, 09 Mar 2022 05:02:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203382 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – In recent days, experts have begun laying out the potential hardships the Russian invasion of Ukraine might inflict here in the United States, thousands and thousands of miles from the battle zone. As former White House national security official Richard Clarke bluntly put it, “Russia will bring the war to our homeland.” He pointed to potential damage in two particular realms, possible Russian cyberattacks and disinformation meant to unsettle our domestic politics. Similarly, economists and financial firms are predicting what an ongoing war in Ukraine could mean in terms of rising prices for wheat, vegetable oil, and oil and gas, among other commodities.

How different this sense of potential damage is than that expressed when, in the wake of 9/11, America went to war globally with its invasion of Afghanistan and its war on terror. As the president of that moment, George W. Bush, insisted so confidently in 2001, Americans should simply “go shopping” and not be distracted by the country’s distant battles. As he later put it, “We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.”

At the heart of those claims was the thought that foreign wars could be fought by a great power without damage at home — or put another way, that the theaters of conflict for the Global War on Terror were somehow eternally separable from the daily lives of Americans. But tell that to the country that elected Donald Trump as president 15 years later and has been coming apart at the seams ever since.

With the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a possible Potemkin superpower, it already seems clear that Bush’s notion no longer holds (if it ever did) when it comes to war on this planet, no matter where it takes place or which power initiates it. Even though the current conflict isn’t directly our war, one thing is guaranteed: its outcome will be of major significance to the well-being of this country and the international order, thanks to an all-too-basic reality — that the global and the local in today’s world are now virtually indistinguishable. This will, in fact, be the key lesson the ongoing war in Ukraine holds for us as a nation.

The Twenty-First Century

From the American perspective, the inseparable and dangerous nature of the relationship between the U.S. and the world has been creeping up on us ever since this century began. The post-9/11 installation of airport screenings, perpetually reminding us of the threat of the global war on terror, was one early sign. Since then, the number of life-threatening dangers has swelled immeasurably.

After all, our children, like those the world over, have been going to school for nearly two years now wearing masks. While the discomfort and distancing those face shields represented may have been burdensome, the underlying reality was the fear of becoming infected with Covid-19, given the six million deaths it has caused worldwide. And among other dangers in our American world, even the wave of shootings at our schools and other public places in these years has had a global dimension, linked as some of them were to white extremist attacks abroad. Notably, in April 2019, the synagogue shooter in California praised an avowed white supremacist who had murdered Muslims in Christ Church, New Zealand, earlier that year (as did the gunman in the 2019 Walmart shootings in El Paso, Texas). And since then, the global ties among white supremacists bent on anti-immigrant violence have only escalated.

Within such a context of war, disease, and fear in which the local and the global continue to merge, there are now some simmering realities the Russian war in Ukraine has exposed in new and powerful ways.

The Nuclear Threat

Like the pandemic, the threat of nuclear warfare has long recognized neither boundaries nor borders. Remember, for instance, that President Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq was premised on the lie manufactured as a pretext for war that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Beyond that the Iran nuclear deal and concern about North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities have been constant themes in the international news in these years.

Ukraine, however, threatens to take the fear of a nuclear disaster to a new level. There was, of course, Vladimir Putin’s ominous announcement that he was putting the Russian nuclear arsenal on “high alert,” as well as the drills the Russians conducted with land-based missiles and nuclear subs. As spokespeople for the Nuclear Threat Initiative pointed out, that was his grim way of trying to “deter outside interference with his invasion of Ukraine.”

Unfortunately, such a threat only increases the risk of catastrophic mistakes. In addition, within 24 hours of the invasion, Russian troops had gained access to the still-dangerous remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant buried in concrete after a meltdown in 1986 that took 47 lives, devastated crops in Ukraine and neighboring countries, and led to an estimated exposure of 530,000 people to nuclear fallout. Later, they seized and burned part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclearplant, which happens to be the largest in Europe.

Imagine that, in our future, the equivalent of the duck-and-cover drills of my childhood may once again become a reality.

Climate Change and Clean Energy

The Ukraine crisis has exposed the inseparability of the local and the global in another way: energy policy and threats from climate change. As much as this conflict may be about the post-Cold War order, NATO, and Putin’s appetite for heightening the stakes, it’s also about oil and gas. The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline Russia has built to Germany was specifically intended to bypass Ukraine and so deny it the profits that might come from transporting Russian fossil fuels to Europe. (Under the auspices of Nord Stream 2, by the way, the profits of the oil and gas industry in the region were expected to double, enriching both Russia and Western oil enterprises.) Opponents have argued that the pipeline “would make Germany and a few other countries slaves to Russian gas.” As Eric Reguly, the Berlin-based European bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, explained, the move to build Nord Stream 2 was seen as “intensifying Europe’s fossil fuel reliance when it should be devoting its might and creativity to renewable energy.”

It’s no mistake that Putin launched this campaign during the cold of winter. He was well aware of Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for its heating in a world in which the threat of climate change has failed to substantially redirect the energy policies of either our country or so many others in significant enough ways. Despite President Biden’s attempts to address climate change — including rejoining the Paris climate accord, empowering the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, and aiming to get the U.S. to “net-zero” by 2050 — his remedies have not been equal to the task. Many of his moves have been thwarted, of course, by Republican opposition in Congress, with even worse possibly to come in the near future from a right-wing Supreme Court.

Democrats have proposed a Climate Civilian Corps to address the climate emergency and our younger generations have indeed displayed an urge to counter the warming of our world. In May of 2021, a Pew Research poll showed that “32% of Gen Zers and 28% of Millennials have taken at least one of four actions (donating money, contacting an elected official, volunteering or attending a rally) to help address climate change in the last year.” Significantly, the poll indicated that, even among Republicans, 49% of Gen Zers and 48% of Millennials “say action to reduce the effects of climate change needs to be prioritized today, even if that means fewer resources to deal with other important problems.”

Yet the move to clean energy in this country is, at best, creeping along at a snail’s pace. And no matter how forward-thinking the green-energy movement itself may be, the megadrought in the Southwest (of a sort not seen in 1,200 years) and California’s raging mega-fires that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands are indications of just how far short this country (and the rest of the world) are falling in terms of responding to climate change.

Whatever else happens, the pressing need for energy independence and non-greenhouse-gas-producing fuels should be one of the key lessons learned from the Ukraine-Russia crisis. With nuclear threats in the air, profits seem to diminish in importance. With the onset of this conflict, in fact, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was halted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The Ukraine-Russia conflict has brought energy policy to the forefront of world affairs not because of fires or flooding or the erosion of beaches or intolerable temperatures or even the recent devastating Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, but because the threat Russia poses to world stability has suddenly clarified the stakes involved in not prioritizing clean energy.

Cyber Threats

A third issue of both local and global importance to which the Ukraine crisis has instantly lent a new level of awareness is the potential damage cyberattacks could cause — in Ukraine, of course, but far beyond as well, including in the United States. As Richard Clarke pointed out recently, Vladimir Putin could bring the global danger of cyberattacks home to each and every one of us. “Russia could attempt to prevent anyone’s online access to key parts” of the global and local financial system, he pointed out. Cyberattacks could similarly target our power grids and so the electricity that runs our homes, businesses, trains, and more.

Beyond fears of running out of cash or losing electricity, there’s yet another danger posed by the weaponizing of cyberspace — information warfare. “Russian trolls, bots, and disinformation experts,” Clarke reminds us, have been used to stoke conflict in American politics for years now. Old videos of bloodshed, published as if they were part of the current Ukraine conflict, have started filling social-media sites as Russia attempts to use disinformation to counter resistance in that country with its own online version of military successes.


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Dealing with such social-media disinformation is a global problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later via laws, international accords, and new regulations. For now, Facebook’s parent company Meta and several other social media giants have actively thwarted with the spread of false information on Ukraine, removing both accounts and websites. But far more will need to be done.

Displaced Persons

Yet another arena where the overlap of the global and local has been highlighted by the Russian war is the world’s ever-expanding population of displaced people, including refugees. In November 2021, there were an estimated 84 million of them worldwide.

The plight of Ukrainian refugees is increasing those numbers exponentially. In just the first days of that conflict, they have already reached an estimated million and a half. Experts are currently predicting that such refugee flows could hit five million as the war plays out. Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Moldova have offered to take in such refugees, largely women and children, for the time being, but their long-term sustenance will undoubtedly pose significant challenges, especially if the situation in Ukraine isn’t settled soon.

The United States, too, has been challenged by a refugee response recently. Dozens of American agencies have become involved in helping the 76,000 Afghans who have arrived here since the U.S. withdrew its troops in August, after defeat in our war there. Across the country, from Philadelphia to Texas to Seattle, help has been offered for their sustenance, shelter, medical care, and even schooling. However, in a country that, in the Trump era, has been increasingly riven by the very idea of refugees and immigrants coming here, tensions may only continue to rise.

Once again, in the context of refugees, the local and the global are merging in worrying ways, underscoring the urgent need for new strategies and policies.

Facing the Future from the Present, Not the Past

In search of explanatory paradigms for the current crisis, experts and pundits keep rummaging through the past — Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland at the beginning of World War II, the Soviet incursions into Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, not to mention the Cold War paradigm that infuses Vladimir Putin’s thinking and increasingly Washington’s as well. In all too many ways, unfortunately, such invocations of the past fail to offer us help. They are distractions rather than guideposts.

The current conflict in Ukraine demands that we look to the present and the future on this increasingly endangered planet of ours. It’s time to recognize that, whether you’re talking about nuclear weapons, cyberattacks, refugees, pandemics, or the fate of a fast-warming planet, that conflict stands in for the most pressing global and local realities of this century, not the previous one.

The war there should be a wake-up call. Its unmistakable directive: accept the realities of the twenty-first-century world. We are so much more interconnected than we care to acknowledge and, with that in mind, we need new norms and protections in place of those that have led us to this point on an all-too-new and dangerous planet.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

via Tomdispatch.com

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Guantánamo’s Forever Elusive Endgame: Will We “Celebrate” Its 30th Anniversary? https://www.juancole.com/2022/01/guantanamos-celebrate-anniversary.html Fri, 21 Jan 2022 05:02:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202527 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – It’s now more than 20 years later and that American offshore symbol of mistreatment and injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is still open. In fact, as 2021 ended, New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has covered that notorious prison complex since its first day, reported on the Pentagon’s plans to build a brand-new prefab courthouse at that naval base. It’s intended to serve as a second, even more secret facility for holding the four remaining trials of war-on-terror detainees and is scheduled to be ready “sometime in 2023.”

Close Guantánamo? Not soon, it seems. The cost of that new construction is a mere $4 million, a relatively minor sum compared to the $6 billion dollars and counting that detention and trial operations had claimed by 2019, according to the estimate of one whistleblower.

Notably, the news about the building of that secret courtroom coincided with the 20-year anniversary of the detention facility and the administration of the second president who’s intending to shut the place down. Its plans are meant to suggest that the proposed structure will actually contribute to that never-ending process of closing the world’s most notorious prison camp. Guantánamo currently has 39 detainees in custody, 12 of whom are held under a military commissions system; 18 of whom, long kept without charges of any sort, have now been officially cleared for release to chosen countries which agree to have them (which doesn’t mean that they’ll actually be released); and nine of whom, also never charged, are merely hoping for such clearance.

With two courtrooms instead of one, trials, at least more than a year away, could theoretically take place at the same time rather than sequentially. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine that the number of courtrooms will have any effect on a speedier outcome. As Scott Roehm, Washington director for the Center for Victims of Torture, recently told the Daily Beast, “There is a consensus that the commissions have failed — but they haven’t failed because of a lack of courtrooms.”

Consider it a record of sorts that, in 20 years, only two trials have ever been completed there, both in 2008. Both led to convictions, one of which was later overturned, one of which is still on appeal. This paltry record is another sign of the forever reality of Guantánamo, where neither small nips and tucks nor major alterations have proved anything more than cosmetic dressing for a situation that has proven intractable over three presidencies and the beginning of a fourth.

Of late, there has been a growing consensus that closing the prison is a must, especially given the final debacle of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote at Lawfare on the 20-year anniversary of that offshore symbol of all-American injustice, “Ending the failed experiment of detention at Guantánamo Bay won’t be easy. But now that the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan is over, it’s time to shut the doors on Guantánamo once and for all.” On the floor of the Senate that same day, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for closure as well, deriding the prison camp as “a symbol of our failure to hold terrorists accountable and our failure to honor the sacrifices of our service members. These failures should not be passed on to another generation — they should end with the Biden Administration.”

But calling for closure is one thing, closing that prison is quite another.

The Challenges of Closure

Commonly, the closing of Guantánamo is envisioned as involving a series of practical steps which I, like so many others, have been suggesting for years now. The most recent proposal comes from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, which has outlined a 13-step process aimed at shutting down that facility for good. This entails resolving the remaining cases in the military commissions (10 still facing trial, two already convicted), while emptying the prison of its remaining 27 prisoners held in indefinite detention without charge.


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Let’s begin with the military commissions. The new courtroom — facing completion sometime in 2023, potentially almost two years away — is meant to “speed up” the trial process. Still, in the last 20 years, there have been just eight convictions, most due to plea deals. Three of them have since been overturned and three more are still on appeal. In other words, we’re talking about a staggering picture of wholesale failure.

True, there have been dozens of pre-trial hearings for the four trials now pending. But pre-trial hearings are one thing, trials another. Most incredibly, the trials of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators have still not begun.

And there’s little hope that those will ever find a way forward to resolution. For starters, the individuals to be tried were first tortured at CIA black sites before being brought to Cuba, and much of the evidence and testimony relevant to their cases is largely derived from such torture practices. Even with resolution, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how such proceedings would ever lead to justice.

How (Not) to Exit Guantánamo

There are at least two suggested ways of finally resolving the military commissions in the relatively near future. Human rights lawyer and military commissions defense attorney Michel Paradis recently laid these out on a Lawfare podcast. One would be for the government to take the death penalty off the table and open the door to plea deals. Numerous experts have supported this way forward. So, too, Colleen Kelly, head of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of the family members of 9/11 victims, has indicated support for this option, as she recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Another option, Paradis pointed out, would be to move the trials to federal courts in the United States. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely prospect indeed, given a congressional ban on Guantánamo detainees being brought to this country that’s been in place for more than a decade.

In 2010, one such detainee was indeed tried in federal court. That was then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s idea — as a prelude, he hoped, to bringing the other trials to federal courts — and it was the right one. The case in question was that of Ahmed Ghailani, accused of involvement in embassy bombings in 1998 that killed 224 individuals. Like others held at Guantánamo, he had been tortured at a CIA black site, evidence that was excluded at trial. He was, in the end, acquitted on 284 of 285 charges. Nonetheless, the case was resolved and, on that final charge, he’s serving a life term at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky.

On the other side of the Guantánamo quagmire are those detainees who will never be charged, the ones Carol Rosenberg originally dubbed the “forever prisoners.” Eighteen of them have now actually been cleared for release by the prison’s Periodic Review Board. For those forever detainees to actually exit the prison, however, depends upon diplomatic arrangements with other countries.

To date, such detainees have gone to at least 60 countries in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. At least 150 of them were sent to nations other than those in which they had been citizens. Those transfers were arranged by the special envoy for the State Department’s Guantánamo closure office, which itself was closed during Donald Trump’s presidency and remains so today. Reopening it is a necessary step towards emptying Guantánamo of its forever detainees.

Unfortunately, it’s most likely that new ways will be discovered to kick the ball of closure endlessly down the road. As attorney Tom Wilner, who has worked as a human rights lawyer on behalf of several of the detainees, said at a panel held to commemorate the prison’s 20th anniversary, “The military commissions aren’t ever going to work.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to those who are not yet charged but have been authorized for transfer, there’s no guarantee that such releases will actually occur any time soon.

The Longer Legacy

In the legal quagmire the U.S. has created, there is, in fact, no easy solution to closing Guantanamo.

It’s worth noting, as well, that even were the Biden administration capable of implementing an immediate, aggressive strategy to shut the prison down, the horrors it unleashed are guaranteed to linger well into the future. “There are some problems of Guantánamo that will never go away,” Daniel Fried, President Barack Obama’s first special envoy for closure, admitted to the Guardian recently.

For one thing, the multi-decade inability of the American legal system to try such prisoners, either on or offshore, has left a stain on the competency of the country’s judicial system, civilian and military, as well as on Congress’s ability to create legitimate workable alternatives to that very system. Not being able, of all things, even to bring the alleged 9/11 attack co-conspirators, already in custody at Guantánamo Bay, to any court sends a message that American justice in the twenty-first century is incapable of handling such incredibly important cases.

And when it comes to the detainees who have been transferred elsewhere in the world, the story is hardly less grim. As the Guardian has reported, those sent to third countries regularly encountered further forms of deprivation, cruelty, imprisonment, or torture. Often unschooled in the language of their host countries, denied travel papers, and stigmatized due to their Guantánamo past, “released” detainees found, as a Washington Post report summed it up, that “life after Guantánamo is its own kind of prison.”

Mansoor Adayfi, a detainee transferred to Serbia rather than his home country of Yemen, has described the dire conditions of post-prison life in his book Don’t Forget Us Here, referring to it as “Guantánamo 2.0.” As he told the Intercept’s Cora Currier recently, “Released, I have been detained, beaten, arrested, and they have my friends harassed, interrogated.” And that, of course, is after, like so many prisoners in that island jail, having been regularly beaten, force-fed, and kept in solitary confinement while there.

In such a context, the plan for an all-new courtroom takes on a new kind of significance.

The Courtroom, Then and Now

From the very beginning of Guantánamo, the courthouse at that U.S. base on the island of Cuba has served as a revealing symbol of the prison’s venality.

In the first days of that war-on-terror detention camp, as I described in my book The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, Captain Bob Buehn, then the naval base commander there, gave himself the mission of finding a proper plot of land on which to build a courtroom to try the detainees arriving by the plane load. He considered it his duty to do so, only to quickly grasp that no one in power considered this the prison’s objective and that no such plans would be forthcoming any time soon.

As Major General Michael Lehnert, the commander of that detention facility at the time of its opening, reminded me recently, the initial mission was about “intelligence collection,” not trials. Accordingly, it wasn’t until two years later that hearings even began for the detainees — and then only for a few of them.

Originally, those proceedings took place in a windowless room constructed to ensure security and secrecy, a room far too small for its purpose. Once a formal version of the military commissions was authorized by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a new facility was built that included a state-of-the-art SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility), a carefully “secured” room meant to be a classified setting. It was an ugly irony, however, that underneath that room was a toxic waste dump, with all the perils to lawyers and others you might imagine. Sometimes all too literally reeking of the environmental misdeeds of the past, the new courtroom has gone forward on a poisoned path of its own, somehow trying to avoid the information extracted by torture that lay at the heart of the cases waiting to be tried.

Now, a new building is going up, even more wed to secrecy as well as to the suppression of the torture the defendants endured at American hands. As Carol Rosenberg reports, it will be wrapped in yet more secrecy, since the “current war court chamber” did at least allow spectators. The new one won’t. “Only people with a secret clearance,” Rosenberg reports, “such as members of the intelligence community and specially cleared guards and lawyers, will be allowed inside the new chamber.” Observers, including the family members of victims, will have to watch by video feed.

Fifteen years ago, when plans for the current courtroom were introduced, the ACLU asked senators to block funds for the building of the courthouse, arguing that “there is no need for an elaborate, permanent courthouse complex at Guantánamo Bay… Even President Bush has expressed his interest in substantially reducing the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and eventually closing it.” It’s remarkable how little progress has been made since then.

What former commander Bob Buehn discovered so long ago as a lack of appetite for trials of any kind has evolved over time into a “trial” system of endless delays that only help perpetuate the worst of Guantánamo, while eternally extending the life of that now globally notorious prison camp.

As Lee Wolosky, who served as President Obama’s special envoy for closure of Guantánamo, wrote on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of that prison: “In large part, the Guantánamo mess is self-inflicted — a result of our own decisions to engage in torture, hold detainees indefinitely without charge, set up dysfunctional military commissions, and attempt to avoid oversight by the federal courts… [I]t is past time,” he concluded, “to retire this relic of the forever wars.”

The country would do well to heed his words once and for all and so avoid a 30th anniversary of an American institution that has so violated the norms of justice, decency, and the rule of law.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

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How to End America’s Forever Wars for Once and for All https://www.juancole.com/2021/12/americas-forever-wars.html Fri, 10 Dec 2021 05:02:18 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=201711 ( Tomdispatch.com) – As August ended, American troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan almost 20 years after they first arrived. On the formal date of withdrawal, however, President Biden insisted that “over-the-horizon capabilities” (airpower and Special Operations forces, for example) would remain available for use anytime. “[W]e can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, very few if needed,” he explained, dispensing immediately with any notion of a true peace. But beyond expectations of continued violence in Afghanistan, there was an even greater obstacle to officially ending the war there: the fact that it was part of a never-ending, far larger conflict originally called the Global War on Terror (in caps), then the plain-old lower-cased war on terror, and finally — as public opinion here soured on it — America’s “forever wars.”

As we face the future, it’s time to finally focus on ending, formally and in every other way, that disastrous larger war. It’s time to acknowledge in the most concrete ways imaginable that the post-9/11 war on terror, of which the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan was the opening salvo, warrants a final sunset.

True, security experts like to point out that the threat of global Islamist terrorism is still of pressing — and in many areas, increasing — concern. ISIS and al-Qaeda are reportedly again on the rise in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Nonetheless, the place where the war on terror truly needs to end is right here in this country. From the beginning, its scope, as defined in Washington, was arguably limitless and the extralegal institutions it helped create, as well as its numerous departures from the rule of law, would prove disastrous for this country. In other words, it’s time for America to withdraw not just from Afghanistan (or Iraq or Syria or Somalia) but, metaphorically speaking at least, from this country, too. It’s time for the war on terror to truly come to an end.

With that goal in mind, three developments could signal that its time has possibly come, even if no formal declaration of such an end is ever made. In all three areas, there have recently been signs of progress (though, sadly, regress as well).

Repeal of the 2001 AUMF

First and foremost, Congress needs to repeal its disastrous 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) passed — with Representative Barbara Lee’s single “no” vote — after the attacks of 9/11. Over the last 20 years, it would prove foundational in allowing the U.S. military to be used globally in essentially any way a president wanted.

That AUMF was written without mention of a specific enemy or geographical specificity of any kind when it came to possible theaters of operation and without the slightest reference to what the end of such hostilities might look like. As a result, it bestowed on the president the power to use force when, where, and however he wanted in fighting the war on terror without the need to further consult Congress. Employed initially to root out al-Qaeda and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, it has been used over the last two decades to fight in at least 19 countries in the Greater Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Its repeal is almost unimaginably overdue.

In fact, in the early months of the Biden presidency, Congress began to make some efforts to do just that. The goal, in the words of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, was to “to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”


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The momentum for repealing and replacing that AUMF was soon stalled, however, by the messy, chaotic and dangerous exit from Afghanistan. Those in Congress and elsewhere in Washington opposed to its repeal began to argue vociferously that the very way America’s Afghan campaign had collapsed and the Biden policy of over-the-horizon strikes mandated its continuance.

At the moment, some efforts towards repeal again seem to be gaining momentum, with the focus now on the more modest goal of simply reducing the blanket authority the authorization still allows a president to make war as he pleases, while ensuring that Congress has a say in any future decisions on using force abroad. As Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), an advocate for rethinking presidential war powers generally, has put the matter, “If you’re taking strikes in Somalia, come to Congress and get an authorization for it. If you want to be involved in hostilities in Somalia for the next five years, come and explain why that’s necessary and come and get an explicit authorization.”

One thing is guaranteed, even two decades after the disastrous war on terror began, it will be an uphill battle in Congress to alter or repeal that initial forever AUMF that has endlessly validated our forever wars. But if the end of the war on terror as we’ve known it is ever to occur, it’s an imperative act.

Closing Gitmo

A second essential act to signal the end of the war on terror would, of course, be the closing of that offshore essence of injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (aka Gitmo) that the Bush administration set up so long ago. That war on terror detention facility on the island of Cuba was opened in January 2002. As it approaches its 20-year anniversary, the approximately 780 detainees it once held, under the grimmest of circumstances, have been whittled down to 39.

Closing Guantánamo would remove a central symbol of America’s war-on-terror policies when it came to detention, interrogation, and torture. Today, that facility holds two main groups of detainees — 12 whose cases belong to the military commissions (2 have been convicted and sentenced, 10 await trial) and 27 who, after all these years, are still being held without charge — the truest “forever prisoners” of the war on terror, so labelled by Miami Herald (now New York Times) reporter Carol Rosenberg nearly a decade ago.

Through diplomacy — by promising safety to the detainees and security to the United States should signs of recidivist behavior appear — the Biden administration could arrange the release of the prisoners in that second group to other countries and radically reduce the forever-prison population. They could be transferred abroad, including even Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner tortured under the CIA’s auspices, a detainee whom the Agency insisted, “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The military commissions responsible for the other group of detainees, including the five charged with the 9/11 attacks, pose a different kind of problem. In the 15 years since the start of those congressionally created commissions, there have been a total of eight convictions, six through guilty pleas, four of them later overturned. Trying such cases, even offshore of the American justice system, has proven remarkably problematic. The prosecutions have been plagued by the fact those defendants were tortured at CIA black sites and that confessions or witness testimony produced under torture is forbidden in the military commissions process.

The inadmissibility of such material, along with numerous examples of the government’s mishandling of evidence, its violations of correct court procedure, and even its spying on the meetings of defense attorneys with their clients, has turned those commissions into a virtual mobius loop of litigation and so a judicial nightmare. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) put it in a recent impassioned plea for Gitmo’s closure, “Military commissions are not the answer… We need to trust our system of justice,” he said. “America’s failures in Guantanamo must not be passed on to another administration or to another Congress.”

As Durbin’s comments and the scheduling of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on closure set for December 7th indicate, some headway has perhaps been made toward that end. Early in his presidency, Joe Biden (mindful certainly of Barack Obama’s unrealized executive order on Day One of his presidency calling for the closure of Gitmo within a year) expressed his intention to shut down that prison by the end of his first term in office. He then commissioned the National Security Council to study just how to do it.

In addition, the Biden administration has more than doubled the number of detainees cleared to be released and transferred to other countries, while the military tribunals for all four pending cases have restarted after a hiatus imposed by Covid-19 restrictions. So, too, the long-delayed sentencing hearing of Pakistani detainee Majid Kahn, who pleaded guilty more than nine years ago, finally took place in October.

So, once again, some progress is being made, but as long as Gitmo remains open, our own homemade version of the war on terror will live on.

Redefining the Threat

Another admittedly grim sign that the post-9/11 war on terror could finally fade away is the pivot of attention in this country to other far more pressing threats on a planet in danger and in the midst of a desperate and devastating pandemic. Notably, on the 20th anniversary of those attacks, even former President George W. Bush, whose administration launched the war on terror and its ills, acknowledged a shift in the country’s threat matrix: “[W]e have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.”

He then made it clear that he wasn’t referring to homegrown jihadists, but to those who, on January 6th, so notoriously busted into the Capitol building, threatening the vice president and other politicians of both parties, as well as other American extremists. “There is,” he asserted, “little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.”

As the former president’s remarks suggested, even as the war on terror straggles on, in this country the application of the word “terrorism” has decidedly turned elsewhere — namely, to violent domestic extremists who espouse a white nationalist ideology. By the end of January 6th, the news media were already beginning to refer to the assault on lawmakers in the Capitol as “terrorism” and the attackers as “terrorists.” In the months since, law enforcement has ramped up its efforts against such white-supremacist terrorists.

As FBI Director Chris Wray testified to Congress in September, “There is no doubt about it, today’s threat is different from what it was 20 years ago… That’s why, over the last year and a half, the FBI has pushed even more resources to our domestic terrorism investigations.” He then added, “Now, 9/11 was 20 years ago. But for us at the FBI, as I know it does for my colleagues here with me, it represents a danger we focus on every day. And make no mistake, the danger is real.” Nonetheless, his remarks suggested that a page was indeed being turned, with global terrorism no longer being the ultimate threat to American national security.

The Director of National Intelligence’s 2021 Annual Threat Analysis noted no less bluntly that other dangers warrant more attention than global terrorism. Her report emphasized the far larger threats posed by climate change, the pandemic, and potential great-power rivalries.

Each of these potential pivots suggest the possible end of a war on terror whose casualties include essential aspects of democracy and on which this country squandered almost inconceivable sums of money while constantly widening the theater for the use of force. It’s time to withdraw the ever-expansive war powers Congress gave the president, end indefinite detention at Gitmo, and acknowledge that a shift in priorities is already occurring right under our noses on an ever more imperiled planet. Perhaps then Americans could turn to short-term and long-term priorities that might truly improve the health and sustainability of this nation.

Copyright 2021 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Failures of 9/11 and the 20-year ‘War on Terror’: Being in the Washington Elite means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/failures-terror-washington.html Fri, 08 Oct 2021 04:02:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200480 ( Tomdispatch.com) – The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was marked by days of remembrances — for the courageous rescue workers of that moment, for the thousands murdered as the Twin Towers collapsed, for those who died in the Pentagon, or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, fighting off the hijackers of the commercial jet they were in, as well as for those who fought in the forever wars that were America’s response to those al-Qaeda attacks.

For some, the memory of that horrific day included headshaking over the mistakes this country made in responding to it, mistakes we live with to this moment.

Among the more prominent heads being shaken over the wrongdoing that followed 9/11, and the failure to correct any of it, was that of Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, who was then in the House of Representatives. She would join all but one member of Congress — fellow California representative Barbara Lee — in voting for the remarkably vague Authorization for the Use of Force, or AUMF, which paved the way for the invasion of Afghanistan and so much else. It would, in fact, put Congress in cold storage from then on, allowing the president to bypass it in deciding for years to come whom to attack and where, as long as he justified whatever he did by alluding to a distinctly imprecise term: terrorism. So, too, Harman would vote for the Patriot Act, which would later be used to put in place massive warrantless surveillance policies, and then, a year later, for the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq (based on the lie that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction).

But on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Harman offered a different message, one that couldn’t have been more appropriate or, generally speaking, rarer in this country — a message laced through and through with regret. “[W]e went beyond the carefully tailored use of military force authorized by Congress,” she wrote remorsefully, referring to that 2001 authorization to use force against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. So, too, Harman railed against the decision, based on “cherry-picked intelligence,” to go to war in Iraq; the eternal use of drone strikes in the forever wars; as well as the creation of an offshore prison of injustice at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and of CIA black sites around the world meant for the torture of prisoners from the war on terror. The upshot, she concluded, was to create “more enemies than we destroyed.”

Such regrets and even apologies, while scarce, have not been utterly unknown in post-9/11-era Washington. In March 2004, for example, Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism chief for the Bush White House, would publicly apologize to the American people for the administration’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. “Your government failed you,” the former official told Congress and then proceeded to criticize the decision to go to war in Iraq as well. Similarly, after years of staunchly defending the Iraq War, Senator John McCain would, in 2018, finally term it “a mistake, a very serious one,” adding, “I have to accept my share of the blame for it.” A year later, a PEW poll would find that a majority of veterans regretted their service in Afghanistan and Iraq, feeling that both wars were “not worth fighting.”

Recently, some more minor players in the post-9/11 era have apologized in unique ways for the roles they played. For instance, Terry Albury, an FBI agent, would be convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking documents to the media, exposing the bureau’s policies of racial and religious profiling, as well as the staggering range of surveillance measures it conducted in the name of the war on terror. Sent to prison for four years, Albury recently completed his sentence. As Janet Reitman reported in the New York Times Magazine, feelings of guilt over the “human cost” of what he was involved in led to his act of revelation. It was, in other words, an apology in action.

As was the similar act of Daniel Hale, a former National Security Agency analyst who had worked at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan helping to identify human targets for drone attacks. He would receive a 45-month sentence under the Espionage Act for his leaks— documents he had obtained on such strikes while working as a private contractor after his government service.

As Hale would explain, he acted out of a feeling of intense remorse. In his sentencing statement, he described watching “through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of Hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts.” His version of an apology-in-action came from his regret that he had continued on at his post even after witnessing the horrors of those endless killings, often of civilians. “Nevertheless, in spite of my better instinct, I continued to follow orders.” Eventually, a drone attack on a woman and her two daughters led him over the brink. “How could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness” was the way he put it and so he leaked his apology and is now serving his time.

“We Were Wrong, Plain and Simple”

Outside of government and the national security state, there have been others who struck a chord of atonement as well. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, for instance, Jameel Jaffer, once Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU and now head of the Knight First Amendment Institute, took “the opportunity to look inward.” With some remorse, he reflected on the choices human-rights organizations had made in campaigning against the abuse and torture of war-on-terror prisoners.

Jaffer argued that their emphasis should have been less on the degradation of American “traditions and values” and more on the costs in terms of human suffering, on the “experience of the individuals harmed.” In taking up the cases of individuals whose civil liberties had often been egregiously violated in the name of the war on terror, the ACLU revealed much about the damage to their clients. Still, the desire to have done even more clearly haunts Jaffer. Concluding that we “substituted a debate about abstractions for a debate about prisoners’ specific experiences,” Jaffer asks, “[I]s it possible” that the chosen course of the NGOs “did something more than just bracket prisoners’ human rights — that it might have, even if only in a small way, contributed to their dehumanization as well?”


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Jonathan Greenblatt, now head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), spoke in a similarly rueful fashion about that organization’s decision to oppose plans for a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero — a plan that became known popularly as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” As the 20th anniversary approached, he said bluntly, “We owe the Muslim community an apology.” The intended center fell apart under intense public pressure that Greenblatt feels the ADL contributed to. “[T]hrough deep reflection and conversation with many friends within the Muslim community,” he adds, “the real lesson is a simple one: we were wrong, plain and simple.” The ADL had recommended that the center be built in a different location. Now, as Greenblatt sees it, an institution that “could have helped to heal our country as we nursed the wounds from the horror of 9/11” never came into being.

The irony here is that while a number of those Americans least responsible for the horrors of the last two decades have directly or indirectly placed a critical lens on their own actions (or lack thereof), the figures truly responsible said not an apologetic word. Instead, there was what Jaffer has called an utter lack of “critical self-reflection” among those who launched, oversaw, commanded, or supported America’s forever wars.

Just ask yourself: When have any of the public officials who ensured the excesses of the war on terror reflected publicly on their mistakes or expressed the least sense of regret about them (no less offering actual apologies for them)? Where are the generals whose reflections could help forestall future failed attempts at “nation-building” in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Somalia? Where are the military contractors whose remorse led them to forsake profits for humanity? Where are any voices of reflection or apology from the military-industrial complex including from the CEOs of the giant weapons makers who raked in fortunes off those two decades of war? Have any of them joined the small chorus of voices reflecting on the wrongs that we’ve done to ourselves as a nation and to others globally? Not on the recent 9/11 anniversary, that’s for sure.

Looking Over Your Shoulder or Into Your Heart?

What we still normally continue to hear instead is little short of a full-throated defense of their actions in overseeing those disastrous wars and other conflicts. To this day, for instance, former Afghan and Iraq War commander David Petraeus speaks of this country’s “enormous accomplishments” in Afghanistan and continues to double down on the notion of nation-building. He still insists that, globally speaking, Washington “generally has to lead” due to its “enormous preponderance of military capabilities,” including its skill in “advising, assisting, and enabling host nations’ forces with the armada of drones we now have, and an unequal[ed] ability to fuse intelligence.”

Similarly, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, national security advisor to Donald Trump, had a virtual melt down on MSNBC days before the anniversary, railing against what he considered President Biden’s mistaken decision to actually withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan. “After we left Iraq,” he complained, “al-Qaeda morphed into ISIS, and we had to return.” But it didn’t seem to cross his mind to question the initial ill-advised and falsely justified decision to invade and occupy that country in the first place.

And none of this is atypical. We have repeatedly seen those who created the disastrous post-9/11 policies defend them no matter what the facts tell us. As a lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo, who wrote the infamous memos authorizing the torture of war-on-terror detainees under interrogation, followed up the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with a call for President Obama to “restart the interrogation program that helped lead us to bin Laden.” As the Senate Torture Report on Interrogation would conclude several years later, the use of such brutal techniques of torture did not in fact lead the U.S. to bin Laden. On the contrary, as NPR has summed it up, “The Senate Intelligence Committee came to the conclusion that those claims are overblown or downright lies.”

Among the unrepentant, of course, is George W. Bush, the man in the White House on 9/11 and the president who oversaw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the securitization of key American institutions and policies. Bush proved defiant on the 20th anniversary. The optics told it all. Speaking to a crowd at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where that hijacked plane with 40 passengers and four terrorists crashed on 9/11, the former president was flanked by former Vice President Dick Cheney. His Machiavellian oversight of the worst excesses of the war on terror had, in fact, led directly to era-defining abrogations of laws and norms. But no apologies were forthcoming.

Instead, in his speech that day, Bush highlighted in a purely positive fashion the very policies his partnership with Cheney had spawned. “The security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability,” he said, giving a quiet nod of approval to policies that, if they were “comforting” in his estimation, also defied the rule of law, constitutional protections, and previously sacrosanct norms limiting presidential power.

Over the course of these 20 years, this country has had to face the hard lesson that accountability for the mistakes, miscalculations, and lawless policies of the war on terror has proven not just elusive, but inconceivable. Typically, for instance, the Senate Torture Report, which documented in 6,000 mostly still-classified pages the brutal treatment of detainees at CIA black sites, did not lead to any officials involved being held accountable. Nor has there been any accountability for going to war based upon that lie about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, for the most part, Washington has decided all these years later to continue in the direction outlined by President Obama during the week leading up to his 2009 inauguration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he said. “On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards… I don’t want [CIA personnel and others to] suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering.”

Looking over their shoulders is one thing, looking into their own hearts quite another.

The recent deaths of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who, among other horrors, supervised the building of Guantanamo and the use of brutal interrogation techniques there and elsewhere and of former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, who accepted the reasoning of Department of Justice lawyers when it came to authorizing torture for his agency, should remind us of one thing: America’s leaders, civilian and military, are unlikely to rethink their actions that were so very wrong in the war on terror. Apologies are seemingly out of the question.

So, we should be thankful for the few figures who courageously breached the divide between self-righteous defensiveness when it came to the erosion of once-hallowed laws and norms and the kind of healing that the passage of time and the opportunity to reflect can yield. Perhaps history, through the stories left behind, will prove more competent when it comes to acknowledging wrongdoing as the best way of looking forward.

Copyright 2021 Karen J. Greenberg

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The Endless Shadow of the War on Terror: Living With It Forever and a Day https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/endless-shadow-forever.html Mon, 23 Aug 2021 04:02:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199645 ( Tomdispatch.com) – It ended in chaos and disaster. Kabul has fallen and Joe Biden is being blamed (by congressional Republicans in particular) for America’s now almost-20-year disaster in Afghanistan. But is the war on terror itself over? Apparently not.

It seems like centuries ago, but do you remember when, in May 2003, President George W. Bush declared “Mission accomplished” as he spoke proudly of his invasion of Iraq? Three months later, Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed, “We are winning the war on terror.” Despite such declarations and the “corners” endlessly turned as America’s military commanders announced impending successes year after year in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror, abroad and on the home front, has been never-ending, as the now-codified term “forever wars” suggests.

By 2011, following the death of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama admitted that the killing of the head of al-Qaeda would not bring that war to a close. In May 2011, he informed the nation that bin Laden’s “death does not mark the end of our effort” as “the cause of securing our country is not complete.” As President Biden signals his intention to bring the war on terror as we know it to an end, the question is: What will remain of it both abroad and at home, no matter what he tries to do?

The Pivot Abroad

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looms, the Biden administration is making it crystal clear that it intends to finally bring the most obvious aspects of that war to a close, no matter the consequences. “It is time,” Biden, the fourth war-on-terror president, said in April, “to end the Forever War.” Although mired in controversy, turmoil, and bloodshed, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan did indeed take place, even if several thousand were then sent back to Kabul Airport to guard the panicky removal of the vast American embassy staff and others from that city. That was, as the administration announced, only a temporary measure as Taliban troops entered the Afghan capital and took over the government there.

Eighteen years after the invasion of Iraq, a shifting definition of the role of the 2,500 or so U.S. troops still stationed there is also underway and should be complete by the end of the year. Instead of more combat missions, the American role will now be logistics and advisory support.


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Putting a fine point on both the Afghan withdrawal and the Iraqi change of direction, many in Congress have acknowledged the need to remove the authorizations passed so long ago for those forever wars. In June, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) in Iraq that paved the way for the invasion of that country. And this month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee followed suit — 18 years after George W. Bush deposed Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and disaster followed.

The removal of that 2002 AUMF remains, of course, painfully overdue. After all, it has been used through these many years to cover this country’s disastrous occupation of and attempts at “nation-building” in Iraq. Eventually, during Donald Trump’s last year in office, it was even cited to authorize the drone assassination of a top Iranian general at Baghdad International Airport. Like so many war-on-terror policies, once put in place, successive administrations showed no urge to let that AUMF go. In that way, what had once been a regime-change directive (based on a set of lies about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) morphed into a long-term nation-building scheme, without any new congressional authorizations at all.

Plans are also now on the table for the repeal of the even more impactful 2001 AUMF, passed by Congress one week after 9/11. Like the Iraq War authorization, its use has been expanded in ways well beyond its original intent — namely, the rooting out of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Under the 2001 AUMF’s auspices, in the last nearly two decades, the United States has conducted military operations in ever more countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa. But in Congress, what’s now being discussed is not just repealing that act, but replacing it altogether.

Traditionally, when a war ends, there’s a resolution, perhaps codified in a treaty or an agreement of some sort acknowledging victory or defeat, and a nod to the peace that will follow. Not so with this war.

However unsuccessful, the war on terror, experts tell us, will instead continue. The only difference: it won’t be called a war anymore. Instead, there will be a variety of militarized counterterrorism efforts around the globe. With or without the moniker of “war,” the U.S. remains at war in numerous places, only recently, for instance, launching airstrikes on Somalia to counter the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

In Africa, Syria, and Indonesia, experts warn, the continued spread of ISIS, the reinvigoration of al-Qaeda, and the persistence of groups like Jemaah Islamiyah demand a continued American military counterterrorism effort. All of this was, in a strange way, foreseeable in the drafting of the 2001 AUMF in which no enemy was actually named, nor were temporal or geographical limits or conditions laid down for the resolution of the conflict to come. As the war on terror’s spread to country after country has demonstrated, once unleashed, such a war paradigm takes on a life of its own.

After 20 years of various kinds of failure in which the goals of the war on terror were never truly attained, the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and the Biden administration are now focused elsewhere. According to the latest government threat assessment issued in April by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), terrorism is far from the most serious threat the nation faces today. As Emily Harding of the Center for Strategic and International Studies sums it up, reflecting on the DNI’s report, the intelligence community’s priorities “are shifting… from a focus on counterterrorism to addressing near-peer competitors.”

“The United States is transitioning,” Harding explains, “from mostly low-tech, low-resourced adversaries (e.g., the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and their subsidiaries) to a focus on great power competition, in particular with China and Russia, both of whom have invested in sophisticated technical tools and are armed with robust conventional and nuclear forces.”

Still, however much the Biden administration may be pivoting to a new cold war with China in particular, just how long such a pivot lasts remains an open question, especially given the recent Afghan disaster. And despite the coming 20th anniversary of 9/11, no matter what Congress does or doesn’t rescind when it comes to those AUMFs, the U.S. forever war with terrorism will persist, even if, for a while, the threat of Islamic terrorism takes a back seat to other potential dangers in official Washington.

The Pivot at Home

On the home front, there’s a similarly disturbing persistence when it comes to the war on terror. Like that set of conflicts abroad, counterterrorism efforts against Islamist terrorists at home have given way to other issues. Mirroring the reduced importance of international terrorism in the report of the director of national intelligence, for instance, Attorney General Merrick Garland recently highlighted a domestic shift away from Islamic terrorism in a memorandum to Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel.

Outlining the “broad scope” of the Department’s responsibilities, his priorities couldn’t have been clearer. His first commitment, he insisted, was to restoring the integrity of the Department, a clear reference to the DOJ’s rejection of independence from the White House during the Trump years. Meanwhile, he explained, the Justice Department will focus on its primary mission — protecting Americans “from environmental degradation and the abuse of market power, from fraud and corruption, from violent crime and cyber-crime, and from drug trafficking and child exploitation.” Only as a seeming afterthought did he add, “And it must do all of this without ever taking its eye off of the risk of another devastating attack by foreign terrorists.”

But his words hid a more subtle reality. Much of the domestic architecture created in the name of the war on terror persists at home as well as abroad. At its height, the counterterrorism movement at home involved an expansive and aggressive use of law enforcement and intelligence tools that readily — often with the assent of Congress and the courts — tossed aside constitutional protections and reinterpreted laws in ways that privileged American security over rights.

Passed in October 2001, the Patriot Act, for example, downgraded Fourth Amendment protections, enabling law enforcement to conduct mass warrantless surveillance on Americans. Muslims as a group — rather than based on individual suspicion — were detained without charge, targeted in stings and terror investigations, and threatened with imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

During President Obama’s term in office, some of these measures were revised for the better in the Freedom Act. Meant to replace the Patriot Act, while leaving many broad authorities in place, it banned the bulk intelligence collection of American telephone records and Internet metadata. For the most part, however, law enforcement’s counterterrorism powers, created to defeat al-Qaeda, have remained robust and are there for use against others.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created in the wake of 9/11, has also turned its attention elsewhere. Almost from its inception, the agency used the powers granted to it in the name of counterterrorism in other ways entirely. It soon turned its attention to dealing with drug crimes, the control of the border, and immigration matters, all outside the realm of post-9/11 terrorist threats.

Under President Trump, in particular, DHS (by then, remarkably enough, the country’s largest law enforcement agency) refocused its resources on matters that had little or nothing to do with counterterrorism. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, for instance, its officials deployed helicopters, drones, and other forms of group surveillance to monitor protests and, in Portland, Oregon, even to quell them with force. In other words, the agency built for counterterrorism had, by then, become whatever a president wanted it to be.

A Call for Review

The future of such powers and policies at home and abroad is now in a strange kind of limbo. Addressing the Trump administration’s misuse of the Department of Justice, for instance, Attorney General Garland did indeed signal his intent to limit any use of it for political purposes. In the process, he issued a clear directive against any possible White House politicization of the department. But not a mention has yet been made of authorizing a much-needed thorough review of the powers the DOJ gained in the forever-war years in the name of counterterrorism.

When it comes to the Department of Homeland Security, the path to reform is even less clear as, in its repurposed mission, counterterrorism aimed at foreign groups may be among the least of its tasks. As a recent report from the Center for American Progress points out “What America needs from DHS today… is different from when it was founded… [W]e need a DHS that prioritizes the rule of law, and one that protects all Americans as well as everyone who comes to live, study, work, travel, and seek safety here.”

In fact, in these years, both at home and abroad, counterterrorism agencies and the military were granted vast new powers. While they may now all be pivoting elsewhere in the name of new threats, they are certainly not focused on limiting those powers in any significant way.

And yet such limits couldn’t be more important. It would, in fact, be wise for this country to pause, review the uses of the post-9/11 powers granted to such domestic institutions, and revise the policies that allowed for their seemingly endless expansion at home and abroad in the name of the war on terror. It would be no less wise to place more confidence in the country’s ability to keep itself safe by embracing its foundational principles. At home, that would mean honoring fairness and restraint in the application of the law, while insisting on limits to the use of force abroad.

If only.

At present, it looks as if those forever wars have created a new form of forever law, forever policy, forever power, and a forever-changed America. And count on one thing: if changes aren’t made, we in this country will find ourselves living forever in the shadow of those forever wars.

Copyright 2021 Karen J. Greenberg

Featured image: iraq by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author of the newly published Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press). Julia Tedesco helped with research for this piece.

Via Tomdispatch.com

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