Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What was the CIA thinking?

 From the Senate Intelligence Committee report executive summary:
To address these issues, the cable stated that if Abu Zubaydah were to die during the interrogation, he would be cremated.The interrogation team closed the cable by stating:
"regardless which [disposition] option we follow however, and especially in light of the planned psychological pressure techniques to be implemented, we need to get reasonable assurances that [Abu Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,"
Officers from the CIA's ALEC Station responded to the interrogation team's comments several days later. Their cable noted that the interrogation teamwas correct in its "understanding that the interrogation process takes precedence over preventative medical procedures."ALEC Station further observed:
"There is a fairly unanimous sentiment witiiin HQS that [Abu Zubaydah] will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released. While it is difficult to discuss specifics at this point, all major players are in concurrence that [Abu Zubaydah] should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life. This may preclude [Abu Zubaydah] from being turned over to another country, but a final decision regarding his future incarceration condition has yet to be made." (PDF pg 34-35)
A few points (admittedly speculative):

  • The CIA knew what they were planning to do would be deemed immoral or illegal by many within the US government, the American people as well as abroad; 
  • One transgression leads to another. Why/how did they think it would be possible to keep Abu Zubaydah incommunicado for the rest of his life? Would this mindset itself endanger Abu Zubaydah's life?
  • So much of what appears to have occurred, has the appearance of an administrative failure; the failure to train and vet interrogators; to pursue inter-agency cooperation, especially with Justice; to rigorously evaluate the efficacy of methods; 
  • The administrative failure was by design. The program worked the way its leaders wanted it to. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

British moral clarity in post liberation Greece


The North American (perhaps Anglo-Saxon is more correct) version of WWII is rife with omissions.  There were across Europe ( focus on Europe for simplicity's sake) multiple wars: The wars between the great powers and their minor power allies; the wars between the minor powers; the wars between occupation regimes and indigenous insurgents; and the wars between different groups of insurgents. In Greece, among others, all these wars took place. Britain adjusted its policy as required:
Britain’s logic was brutal and perfidious: Prime minister Winston Churchill considered the influence of the Communist Party within the resistance movement he had backed throughout the war – the National Liberation Front, EAM – to have grown stronger than he had calculated, sufficient to jeopardise his plan to return the Greek king to power and keep Communism at bay. So he switched allegiances to back the supporters of Hitler against his own erstwhile allies.
Further proof that cultural relativism is not a recent leftist innovation:
PatrĂ­kios was among the relatively fortunate; thousands of others were executed, usually in public, their severed heads or hanging bodies routinely displayed in public squares. His Majesty’s embassy in Athens commented by saying the exhibition of severed heads “is a regular custom in this country which cannot be judged by western European standards”.

Wahhabism and IS

 Karen Armstrong explains in the New Statesman:
A whole generation of Muslims, therefore, has grown up with a maverick form of Islam that has given them a negative view of other faiths and an intolerantly sectarian understanding of their own. While not extremist per se, this is an outlook in which radicalism can develop. In the past, the learned exegesis of the ulema, which Wahhabis rejected, had held extremist interpretations of scripture in check; but now unqualified freelancers such as Osama Bin Laden were free to develop highly unorthodox readings of the Quran. To prevent the spread of radicalism, the Saudis tried to deflect their young from the internal problems of the kingdom during the 1980s by encouraging a pan-Islamist sentiment of which the Wahhabi ulema did not approve.
Where Islamists in such countries as Egypt fought tyranny and corruption at home, Saudi Islamists focused on the humiliation and oppression of Muslims worldwide. Television brought images of Muslim suffering in Palestine or Lebanon into comfortable Saudi homes. The gov­ernment also encouraged young men to join the steady stream of recruits from the Arab world who were joining the Afghans’ jihad against the Soviet Union. The response of these militants may throw light on the motivation of those joining the jihad in Syria and Iraq today.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Firestone's soul sold for $15.6 million per year

According to a Frontline and ProPublica investigation, Charles Taylor's march to power in Liberia was aided and abetted by Firestone through cash payments, transfers of equipment (trucks) and foodstuffs. In return Firestone received the security required to operate its decades old rubber plantation. 

What could have Firestone done under the circumstances it faced in Liberia:
"The best and safest course was to await a resolution of the Liberian civil crisis and the establishment of a lawful government recognized and accepted not only throughout Liberia, but among the nations of the world," he said.Schremp acknowledged that the company had signed the memorandum of agreement with Taylor. It had paid taxes to Taylor's government. It had abided by Taylor's edicts. But, he said, the company never attempted to take sides in Liberia's conflict. It simply had no other "practical alternative."
What was Firestone's motivation?
On Bridgestone's balance sheet, Firestone's Liberian plantation wasn't a large item, generating about $104 million in revenue and $15.6 million in profits in 1989, the year before the civil war. But the 15 percent profit margin the plantation achieved that year was a bright spot on a corporate ledger drowning in red ink.Top managers "were under a lot of pressure from Akron to get the plantation going," said Ken Gerhart, the Firestone manager who ran the company's soda bottling plant in Monrovia. The plantation "was very, very profitable. It was very efficient." (Bold not in original)
The role of the U.S. Embassy under Ambassador DeVos:
De Vos, dressed in a rumpled suit and bow tie, and large, square glasses, was sweating profusely. He greeted Taylor. Then, he introduced Ensminger, tan, fit and mustachioed."This is Mr. Ensminger, the director general of Firestone," De Vos said.Taylor looked puzzled. "Oh, he works for the embassy now?""No, America works for him," De Vos replied.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Myths of bipartisanship


Legislators by definition legislate. According the mainstream Washington press corps, if only Obama would build a personal relationship with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, then things would get done in Washington. Apparently there’s a lack of trust or the necessary personal warmth required for compromise. Comprise, of course, equals bipartisanship. We are to believe that a bipartisan compromise begins in the middle where the cooler headed moderates and experienced hands of the older generation meet and come to an agreement that no one will like. Universal dissatisfaction with legislation is taken to be proof of its wisdom. 

The reality is that this is not how politics works. 

Legislators do not necessarily want to legislate

The legislative process is a multiparty negotiation.  As in any negotiation the parties have to choose between any prospective agreement and their best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Legislators can prefer inaction out of principled disagreement or just to keep the issue alive for the next general election – political opportunism is shocking, I know.  President Obama, for his part, can prefer executive action or a veto to the kind of compromise necessary for legislation to be enacted. 

Bipartisanship is not centrist

Party affiliation is not akin to the playground distinction between shirts and skins. The Republicans and Democrats have genuine and stark ideological differences. The congressional leadership of both parties will, in general, want to win the support of a majority of their respective party caucuses for any bill they are going to support. 

If Mitch McConnell is looking for 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster, he’ll be sure to target 6 to 8 votes among the Democrats and try to keep his entire caucus united. If a handful of Democrats in the senate defect from their party on any given vote, a united Republican party can deliver conservative legislation for the president’s signature.  As noted above, they may be happy to see a veto. 

In any case McConnell is unlikely to personally support legislation that does not have more Republican than Democratic votes. On balance it’s hard to argue that this doesn't shift the policy agenda in a Republican direction in terms of both priorities and policy content. The president thus can help advance a more pragmatic Republican agenda at the expense of his own party's priorities. The Washington press corps will praise him for bipartisanship. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Seeking authorization to violate international and foreign law

Recently tabled legislation in Canada enables CSIS to seek warrants authorizing the service to engage in the surveillance of Canadians abroad. Craig Forcese explains the legislation
......would permit CSIS to seek and obtain a warrant from the Federal Court for overseas investigations.  And "[w]ithout regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state, a judge may, in a warrant issued under subsection (3), authorize activities outside Canada to enable the Service to investigate a threat to the security of Canada."
This reverses the other aspect of Blanchard J's decision: his refusal to authorize a warrant where to do so might violate international law (namely, the sovereignty of another country).  After all, what we are really talking about with covert surveillance, some of which may be so covert the territorial state is unaware of it. And that may violate that foreign state's law, and by extension is sovereignty. The latter would violate international law.
Forcese adds that Parliament is allowed to legislate violations of international law.  

Meanwhile in the U.S. the FBI is seeking new powers related to how search warrants on granted and executed:
 ......would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” (emphasis added) in cases in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means”. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.
Apparently the FBI accepts applying the 4th amendment standard to requests for warrants even if the searches would be conducted on computers located abroad. Ahmed Ghapour tells the Guardian that:
“for the first time the courts will be asked to issue warrants allowing searches outside the country”.
He warned that the diplomatic consequences could be serious, with short-term FBI investigations undermining the long-term international relationship building of the US state department. “In the age of cyber attacks, this sort of thing can scale up pretty quickly.”

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why we have an Arms Trade Treaty

Supposedly to prevent things like this:
An advanced surface-to-air missile thought to have been supplied to Syrian rebels by Qatar against American wishes has been filmed in the hands of ISIS jihadists.
A militant was shown firing a Chinese-made FN6 shoulder-mounted missile, with a later image suggesting it had brought down an Iraqi army helicopter. The attack was said to have happened during the battle for Baiji, a town that houses Iraq’s biggest oil refinery.
For the record, Qatar is not party to the treaty. The U.S. has signed but not ratified (not unusual given the obstacle that the Senate poses) while Canada has yet to sign.