Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein have released a letter today calling for President Obama to release the 86 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay that have been cleared for transfer.
“No statute or other legal limitation blocks you from this enlightened course of action, which you have commended as who we are as a people. We are supposed to be willing to take risks that other countries shun because we find imprisoning, killing, or otherwise punishing the innocent to be morally reprehensible,” the letter reads.
On Tuesday, Obama promised to reopen discussions with Congress over closing the installation, which he has promised to do since campaigning for president the first time.
The letter arrives in the midst of a hunger strike by Guantanamo detainees, which has led to cases of force-feeding. It comes under the imprimatur of the National Commission on Intelligence Misuse to Justify War, a relatively unknown entity about a year and a half old, registered to the same address as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Tony Shaffer sits on its board.
Earlier this year, Nader and Fein also released letters calling for a pardon of whistleblower John Kiriakou and for the Harvard Law Review to take the president’s constitutional abuses more seriously.
Here’s the rest of it:
Amazing for its viciousness and rank dishonesty is the campaign waged against UN special rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestine Richard Falk for making some pretty straightforward “blowback” points in the aftermath of the Boston terrorist attack. Falk’s piece is here; written before the perpetrators were discovered, it notes chiefly the relative calm compared to 9/11, and the greater reflectiveness of many of the callers to PBS and other venues, who noted (as have several other commentators) that many innocents are also victims of American violence. Falk also laments what he perceives as Obama’s apparent obeisance to Israel and fears a war with Iran. Falk is a lucid and often deep thinker, but this was not an unusual piece.
Yet the old and venerable Falk (he was a prominent international law professor when I was in college, a very long time ago) had enemies lying in wait. Within a few days a well-funded neocon group called UN Watch and its various media allies had ginned up an intense public relations campaign, based on falsifying the meaning of his piece, using ellipses to distort its sentences, to claim that Falk had said that the Boston victims somehow deserved their fate. Phan Nguyen at Mondoweiss records in meticulous detail the contours of the misrepresentation campaign here. UN Watch’s rendering of Falk got assistance from the New York Post and someone from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and they obviously sent out a lot of messages to politicians, diplomats, and UN functionaries claiming (falsely) that Falk had blamed Israel and America for the terror attack, while asking them to respond. Many politicians responded as you would think they would, with US UN ambassador Susan Rice calling for Falk to be stripped of his post. (One shudders to imagine this spineless creature as Secretary of State.)
The question is why. I don’t believe that Professor Falk has any particular power or influence as the UN rapporteur for Palestine, and I’m not sure if his reports have saved a single Palestinian olive tree or water cistern from Israeli destruction. I’d like to be mistaken. If the reason is simply ideological, it’s difficult to believe that Israel lobby is all that concerned about people who say that if the United States persists in fighting what appears to Muslims as a war against Islam, with drones and whatnot, some Muslims are going to become radicalized and do evil in return. A young Yemeni made precisely that point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee early this week, and he was treated respectfully—despite much senatorial grandstanding. Americans are ready to at least entertain the notion that a violent foreign policy (even one that uses drones autopiloted from the sanitary airconditioned confines of Nevada) can produce blowback. Glenn Greenwald argued the point here.
The smear campaign was probably started not because what Falk wrote was ridiculous but because it was reasonable. He commited the additional offense of mentioning Israel’s obvious efforts to ignite an American war with Iran. My guess is that UN Watch and its allies thought Boston provided an opportunity, that there would be enough righteous anger at the perpetrators of the terrorist attack to open a window where a smear campaign might work. If Falk could be forced out, it would illustrate their power to punish dissent and control the American discourse. Lo and behold, they got Susan Rice to endorse them.
In an important column, Justin Raimondo explores further the Chechen connection, which is not only the path to the older Tsarnaev brother’s radicalization but a Cold War leftover inside the Beltway and a cause dear to many neoconservatives. Because the Chechens are anti-Russian, they have many friends in Washington. Enough perhaps to influence the FBI to take Russian warnings of Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s terrorist connections with a grain of salt.
The problem is that the Chechen “freedom fighters” are US allies, along with their ideological compatriots in Libya and Syria. When the Chechen rebel “foreign minister,” Ilyas Akmadov,” applied for political asylum in the US, the Department of Homeland Security nixed the idea – but were overruled by a bipartisan coalition of political heavyweights, including Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain. In a letter of endorsement, Albright gushed that Akhmadov is “devoted to peace, not terrorism.” McCain wrote: “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”
Although support for the Chechen independence movement is bipartisan, that troublesome little sect known as the neoconservatives has actively backed the Chechen cause from the get-go: an impressive list of prominent neocons, including Bill Kristol, sits on the board of the Chechens’ principal US propaganda outfit, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya). According to Glen Howard, head of the Jamestown Foundation, a neocon outfit focused on Central Asia, the Chechens aren’t Islamist terrorists, they’re just cuddly “nationalists” rebelling against a Russia that has gone “fascist.” “The Russians are trying to treat Chechen separatism through the prism of 9/11 and terror rather than as a nationalist movement that has been defying Kremlin rule for 200 years,” says Howard. This analytical premise, however, doesn’t seem to apply to, say, Afghanistan.
This may explain why the FBI didn’t put Tamarlan Tsarnaev under surveillance after Russian intelligence informed them that he held six(!) meetings with a Chechen Salafist militant during his trip to Dagestan. There may well be a lot of opportunities for self-radicalization via the Internet for alienated young Sunni Muslims, but in this case there is also a real trail to leading to established foreign groups with a record of terrorism. The trouble seems to be that the FBI ignored it, despite specific warnings. Why?
Regardless of what we find about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s stay in Dagestan, the Boston Marathon case illustrates that we will not soon be done with terrorism inspired by Sunni Salafist doctrines. The Tsarnaevs had no understandable grievances, were not avenging the deaths of relatives, were fighting for no territory. They were apparently young men having trouble finding a place of psychic belonging in the world, and they had access to the internet and found the doctrine of Salafist jihad. Under such circumstances, there may always be some takers. Police work will help, and so will limiting immigration. But unlike that large portion of terrorism connected to concrete and plausible political goals, from the Stern Gang to the IRA, the FLN to the Tamil Tigers to the Kurds to various Palestinian groups, this phenomenon seems truly mindless.
Andrew Sullivan wrote last week about the Tsarnaevs:
A little lost in modernity; finding meaning in the most extreme forms of religion; in many ways assimilated by the West but finding new ways to feel deeply, internally alienated by it: this is a classic profile of an Internet Jihadist. And there is nothing traditional about this religion. It’s hyper-modern, spread online and combustible with any other personal dramas.
We will probably have no choice but to live with it, just as the United States seems prepared to live with homegrown mentally ill loner gunman having access to automatic weapons.
The same week the Tsarnaevs took over the news cycle, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the so-called “back door to war” resolution, described by Paul Pillar as “an open invitation to Israel to start a war with Iran and to drag the United States into that war.” Read More…
“Whatever they thought they could ultimately achieve, they’ve already failed,” says President Obama of the Boston Marathon bombers.
“They failed because the people of Boston refused to be intimidated. They failed because as Americans we refuse to be terrorized.”
Bostonians did react splendidly. From first responders to folks who gave blood, from hospital staffs to the FBI, ATF and state troopers, from the Boston and Watertown cops to the hostage rescue team that talked Dzhokhar Tsarnaev out of that boat.
But did the Brothers Tsarnaev really fail—as terrorists?
On Sunday’s talk shows, a sub-theme was that this had been the “most successful terrorist attack since 9/11.”
For consider what these brothers accomplished. Read More…
An incredible manhunt is underway. Police have surrounded a 20-block area in
Watertown, as the entire city of Boston remains shut down. One suspect is now dead, while the other is the subject of an unprecedented search effort. From the bombs going off on Monday to the current pursuit, new tools of public information conveyance merged with the old in a frenzied rush of identification, misidentification, and false certainty.
It’s still early w unconfirmed scanner reports but if Redit was right with the Sunil Tripathi theory, it’s changed the game 4ever
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) April 19, 2013
For instance, in the middle of a wild Thursday night, before the Tsarnayev brothers were officially identified, several reports erroneously suggested that one of the suspects was in fact a missing Brown student previously fingered by users on Reddit. Ryan Chittum has more:
And then there were the keyboard crimefighters at Reddit. At one point a police dispatcher, apparently incorrectly, said that the suspects’ names were Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who disappeared last month, and Mike Mulugeta. Reddit, still smarting from the backlash to their amateur sleuthing, took a very premature victory lap.
Earlier this week Alexis Madrigal warned against the giddy overzealous vigilantism on Reddit:
Boston’s WCVB has more astonishing raw footage from the early hours gunfight in Watertown, Mass., where police closed in on the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, who answered with (according to several reports) machine-gun fire and thrown explosives. Science journalist Seth Mnookin, who teaches at MIT, was on the scene—and tweeted it. The night’s developments began with the murder of a police officer at MIT, followed by the Watertown gunfight, and a manhunt for one of the suspects. The other suspect apparently died after the firefight.
Much of this information comes from Twitter, in particular from relayed reports from police scanners in the area. Needless to say, news of this sort is subject to revision. But the Boston Globe is among the more established sources that confirms the outlines of what happened overnight. At first it was unclear whether the MIT incident was related to the marathon bombings—but the subsequent exchange of heavy fire between police and the suspects, who seemed to have explosive devices in their possession, tended to dismiss most doubts.
Update – This post has been corrected to include new information. We now know the two suspects are apparently brothers from in or near Chechnya. The elder died in a firefight and the younger is still at large.
In the midst of the ongoing manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber (the latest from the Boston Globe is that the authorities have clear images of the suspects), some have expressed hope that the perpetrator is of a certain race or political ideology. But not all domestic terrorists fit into convenient categories.
Yesterday parts of two Senate office buildings were shut down after letters laced with ricin were sent to the president and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, two ideologically-opposed politicians. The letters were signed “I am KC, and I approve this message,” and a man named Kevin Curtis of Tupelo has been arrested. The Blaze reported last night that the identical phrase appeared on the suspect’s Facebook page:
A few hours before federal officials announced the arrest, TheBlaze was contacted by bloggers at Lady Liberty 1885 who had noticed some key similarities between a “Kevin Curtis” from Tupelo, Miss. and the person suspected of sending the ricin letters. Among several other similarities, Kevin Curtis used the phrase “This is KC and I approve this message” in a previous Facebook post — the same exact phrase included in the ricin-laced letters.
Curtis is an Elvis impersonator, and an impersonator of other entertainers, who signs many of his promotional videos with almost identical phrases. Here he is singing Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” to a roomful of high school kids:
At 2:50 this afternoon two explosions rocked Copley Square near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The Boston Police Department is reporting two dead and 23 injured.
The AP reports:
About two hours after the winners crossed the line, there was a loud explosion on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the photo bridge that marks the finish line. Another explosion could be heard a few seconds later.
The Boston Marathon said that bombs caused the two explosions and that organizers were working with authorities to determine what happened. The Boston Police Department said two people were killed and 23 others injured.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said the two other explosive devices found nearby were being dismantled.
New York and Washington are both in a heightened state of alert, and Pennsylvania Ave. has been cleared. The president has been notified.
Today is Boston’s Patriots’ Day, a civic holiday celebrating the battles of Lexington and Concord. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, NBC’s Luke Russert, Charlie Pierce and others have speculated that there may be a connection, but so far that remains unknown.
The Daily Caller spoke to George Scoville, a DC-based strategist who was across the street when the explosion took place:
“Cop cars just started pouring in and firetrucks and everything. You could see a little bit of smoke and I tried to take some pictures and put them up on Instagram of like the storefronts there right by the finish line.”
Scoville uploaded about six shots of the scene to his Instagram account. The photos quickly made their way around the web alongside the hundreds of other pictures eyewitnesses began sharing.
“The glass was blown out and there were just people everywhere who had been right down there, and people crying everywhere.”
Check back in this space for updates. If you’re in the Boston area and would like to donate blood, check the Red Cross’s website for locations. Google also has a person finder online, and the race’s tracker was functioning a short time ago.
Here’s the Reddit thread.
Multiple reports are suggesting there were more deaths than the BPD has suggested, the title of this post has been updated to reflect that. A Boston Globe reporter puts the total count of injured at this point at 94, according to hospitals.
In this New Yorker chronicle of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s role in the various budget crises in Washington over the last two years, Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, makes an interesting observation:
This is a very different Republican Party than the one I got elected into. It’s much more domestically focused, much more fiscally responsible, much less concerned about America’s position in the world or about defending the country. It almost takes for granted the security that we have now. It’s not a group shaped by 9/11. Their 9/11 is the fiscal crisis, the long-term deficit [emphasis mine].
There are two senses in which Cole’s observation is apt (neither of them in the way he intended, exactly).
The first is that of hysterical overreaction.
After the September 11 attacks, carried out by 19 men with box-cutters, and supported by an occult international financial network, Americans were warned of an existential threat to our way of life and our very physical persons. To meet this threat, America commenced two land invasions, followed by a war of record-breaking length in Afghanistan and a calamitous occupation of Iraq; established a ghastly new domestic cabinet agency; and defenestrated longstanding prohibitions on torture. These wars cost the lives of 7,000 American servicemen and -women, plus many tens of thousands more Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani civilians.
The overreaction to the “fiscal crisis,” as Rep. Cole calls it, stems from this notion of singularity—one big Fiscal Crisis, rather than a cluster of fiscal problems. The $1 trillion-plus annual deficits that the federal government ran during Obama’s first term were the direct consequence of the financial crisis of 2008 and of the recession that began in December 2007. If Sen. John McCain had been elected in ’08, he would have dealt with the same $1.3 trillion budget deficit that Obama did. These slowly shrinking deficits are linked, in the crisismonger’s mind, to the entitlement-driven debt projected in “extended fiscal alternative scenarios” gamed out by budget wonks. Taken together, short-term deficits and long-term debt, and the multifarious causes of each, add up to one simple fable of moral incontinence.
Cole’s analogy works for the cynic as well as the moralist.
The September 11 attacks furnished neoconservatives with what they saw as justification for a final reckoning with Saddam Hussein, which they’d been itching for throughout the Clinton years. The Fiscal Crisis, in the same way, does the heavy lifting for policies that dramatically alter the nature of federally financed social insurance—in the case of Medicare premium support, by partially privatizing it; in the case of Medicaid, by elevating the role of state governments. These are reform ideas that, like those long-gestating plans for dealing with Iraq, antedate the Fiscal Crisis.
Don’t get me wrong. I think these are arguments worth having. I’m more committed to the preservation of the welfare state more than the average conservative might be, but I’m not wed to any particular composition of that welfare state.
What I’d like to see is any proponent of the Ryan budget—let’s not pick on the Tea Party alone—pretend that it’s, say, the late 1990s, when the idea of a Medicare voucher, or “premium support, was first proposed—when there were annual surpluses “as far as the eye could see.” If the idea had merit then, conservatives needn’t resort to an all-encompassing Fiscal Crisis to sell it today.
What we’re getting, instead, is the folly of the Balanced Budget Amendment and predictions of Greek-like fiscal collapse.
We’re getting the fiscal policy equivalent of the “existential threat” of terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.