Is it just me, or have we been here before? Say, back in 2003, during the buildup to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq? And is something amiss when one of the most reliable voices of reason amid the current World War III scenario is Russell Brand? Or when a (possibly former) entertainment icon for early adolescent girls steals the show by doing a faux softcore stage performance on cable television?
After a week-long mounting media storm here in America, and also in Britain, and also in many other countries, here’s what we’re now faced with:
From CNN this morning:
The United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks against its people, President Barack Obama said Wednesday, a claim that comes amid a looming diplomatic showdown over whether to strike against Bashar al-Assad’s military.
From Reuters yesterday:
President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday that the Syrian government would face “international consequences” for last week’s deadly chemical attack, but made clear any military response would be limited to avoid dragging the United States into another war in the Middle East.
From The Washington Post this morning:
As the United States and its allies weigh limited military strikes against Syria, their lawyers have been exploring a range of legal frameworks for any operation, including propositions that members of the international community have the right to use force to protect civilians or to deter a rogue nation from using chemical weapons.
However, the Post also reports that
the Obama administration’s efforts to build a legal case are encountering skepticism from U.N. officials and other experts, including former Republican and Democratic State Department lawyers, who argue that the use of force against the Syrian regime, absent a U.N. Security Council resolution, would be illegal.
On the other hand, the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News) reports that
Britain’s leaders said Thursday it would be legal under humanitarian doctrine to launch a military strike against Syria even without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
Meanwhile, Reuters (via Yahoo! News Canada) reports that
Russia is sending two warships to the east Mediterranean, Interfax news agency said on Thursday, but Moscow denied this meant it was beefing up its naval force there as Western powers prepare for military action against Syria. Read the rest of this entry
Is it just me, or is this profoundly disturbing?
No, it’s not just me.
From the Long Island Press, May 14:
The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefitted from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “War on Drugs.” For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.
The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.
The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:
Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
. . . [T]he relatively few instances that federal troops have been deployed for domestic support have produced a wide range of results. Situations have included responding to natural disasters and protecting demonstrators during the Civil Rights era to, disastrously, the Kent State student massacre and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”
. . . [A] DoD official even referred to the Boston bombing suspects manhunt saying, “Like most major police departments, if you didn’t know they were a police department you would think they were the military.” According to this official there has purposely been a “large transfer of technology so that the military doesn’t have to get involved.” Moreover, he says the military has learned from past events, such as the siege at Waco, where ATF officials mishandled military equipment. “We have transferred the technology so we don’t have to loan it,” he states.
But if the transfer of military training and technology has been so thorough, it boggles the imagination as to what kind of disturbance would be so overwhelming that it would require the suspension of centuries-old law and precedent to grant military complete authority on the ground. The DoD official admits not being able to “envision that happening,” adding, “but I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter.”
. . . As we witnessed during the Boston bombing manhunt, it’s already difficult to discern between military and police. In the future it might be impossible, because there may be no difference.
ADDENDUM (posted one hour after the above):
Be sure to pay attention to the part of the article, which I didn’t quote above, where a U.S. defense official who “declined to be named” said, “The authorization has been around over 100 years; it’s not a new authority. It’s been there but it hasn’t been exercised. This is a carryover of domestic policy.” And indeed, you can poke around and find the same wording going back quite some time in the same regulation. But the current situation represents a rewording with “subtle changes,” as the Long Island Press journalist notes. The effort to make these changes goes back several months, at least to February; see the note about it published last month by the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.
And, you know, one might be inclined to regard it as an overreaction to think/feel that this is really disturbing, and one might be inclined to accept the soothing reassurance of that unnamed defense official, IF it weren’t for the fact that last year’s flap over the revised NDAA and its authorization of the federal government to imprison anybody, including American citizens, indefinitely without trial hadn’t emerged as really and truly a crisis, with a lawsuit over it being brought against the government by a group of journalists led by Chris Hedges, whose fairly legendary reputation precedes him.
We seem to be smack-dab in the middle of an “all bets are off” stage of American history, where fears and concerns formerly framed as the province of fringe-dwellers and conspiracy-nuts are repeatedly shown to be really and truly justified, as in — to name just one prominent example — the flat-out demolition of the U.S. economy while all of the talking heads representing the mainstream financial and economic ideology continued to talk soothing nonsense.
If this development isn’t significant, then I don’t know what is.
Earlier this week [in February], the New York Times’ Scott Shane published a bombshell piece about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17-year Army veteran recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan. According to the Times, the 48-year-old Davis had written an 84-page unclassified report, as well as a classified report, offering his assessment of the decade-long war. That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military’s top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going. “How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?” Davis boldly asks in an article summarizing his views in The Armed Forces Journal.
Davis last month submitted the unclassified report — titled “Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort” — for an internal Army review. Such a report could then be released to the public. However, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the situation, the Pentagon is refusing to do so. Rolling Stone has now obtained a full copy of the 84-page unclassified version, which has been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House. We have decided to publish it in full; it’s well worth reading for yourself. It is, in my estimation, one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past ten years.
Here is the report’s damning opening lines: “Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.”
More at RollingStone.com: “The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read” (February 10, 2012)
The full report itself: “Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort” (pdf, 84 pages)