Yesterday the shameful dinosaurs of the Senate — hopelessly out of touch with reality, for the most part, and haunted by specters of their own making — approved, by 93 votes to 7, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), which contains a number of astonishingly alarming provisions — Sections 1031 and 1032, designed to make mandatory the indefinite military detention of terror suspects until the end of hostilities in a “war on terror” that seems to have no end (if they are identified as a member of al-Qaeda or an alleged affiliate, or have planned or carried out an attack on the United States), ending a long and entirely appropriate tradition of trying terror suspects in federal court for their alleged crimes, Continue reading
As was revealed in summer, when Tea Party Republicans were prepared to see America’s credit rating downgraded from AAA for the first time in its history rather than reaching a budget agreement with the administration (an act that ought to have counted as economic treason), the possibility of a bipartisan group reaching an agreement to reduce America’ s deficit has to be regarded as something close to impossible.
Last week, the exorbitant expense of maintaining the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo was revealed in the Miami Herald, where Carol Rosenberg explained that Congress provided $139 million to operate the prison last year, which, with 171 prisoners still held, works out at $812,865 per prisoner, nearly 30 times as much as it costs to keep a prisoner in a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility, where the cost per prisoner is $28,284 a year.
“Some issues,” the New York Times declared in an editorial on June 25, “require an unwavering stand. Preserving the role of law enforcement agencies in stopping and punishing terrorists is one of them. This country is not and should never be a place where the military dispenses justice, other than to its own.”
Updated: Jan. 4, 2015
When I was a child, I read the Guinness Book of Records, and marvelled at the stories of the people who, in ancient times, removed themselves from everyday reality, like Saint Simeon Stylites, a Christian ascetic who lived on a tiny platform on top of a pillar in Aleppo, Syria for 37 years in the 5th century AD.
In May 2008, in a submission to the 48th Session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (PDF), the Pentagon claimed that it had only held eight juveniles — those under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes took place — during the life of the Guantánamo Bay prison. This, however, was a lie, as its own documents providing the names and dates of birth of prisoners, released in May 2006 (PDF), showed that the true total was much higher.
With the reported assassination of Osama bin Laden, one of the most alarming responses has been a kind of casual and widespread acceptance that the death of America’s number one bogeyman would not have been achieved without the use of torture, and without the existence of Guantánamo.
Well, the cat is now out of the bag, and Guantánamo will, hopefully, be closer to closure — and the lies that powerful Americans tell about it will, hopefully, be closer to silence — as a result. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working as a media partner with WikiLeaks, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, El Pais, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso, navigating thousands of previously unseen documents about Guantánamo that were made available to the whistleblowing website last year, allegedly by Pfc Bradley Manning, who has been imprisoned for nearly a year by the US government, awaiting a trial.
The gulf between what’s happening on the ground in the Middle East and the way it is perceived by the US intelligence services — as well as the gulf between how critics perceive America’s counterterrorism policies in the Middle East, and how those policies are perceived by US intelligence — were recently exposed in an article in the Wall Street Journal by Julian E. Barnes and Adam Entous, entitled, “Upheaval in Mideast Sets Back Terror War.”
Alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been in US custody since last May, after he reportedly told a former hacker that he had passed thousands of classified US military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, had 22 new charges filed against him on Tuesday by the US Army, including a capital offense — “aiding the enemy” — for which the government has said it will not seek the death penalty, although, as Wired explained, “under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the presiding judge ultimately decides what charges to refer to court-martial and whether to impose the death penalty.”
As citizens of Western countries are inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East — and in particular, I think, by witnessing the unquechable determination of so many people to throw off the shackles of tyranny, no matter the cost — the first battleground to open up in the United States is Madison, Wisconsin, where governor Scott Walker, described in the Guardian by US author and screenwriter Clancy Segal (the child of union organizers) as “a dim bulb but ultra-reactionary and with obvious political ambitions,” is heading “a sustained, coordinated campaign by recently elected and highly pugnacious Republican governors to cripple what’s left of the American labor movement” by stripping public sector unions of most of their collective bargaining rights, as well as imposing steep reductions on workers’ pension and health care benefits.
Ten years ago, in July 2001, 200,000 protestors converged on Genova, Italy, to disrupt the 27th G8 Summit, at which the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US — plus the President of the European Commission — were meeting to discuss issues of global significance, including the debt burden of poor countries, world health issues, the environment and food security.
The 1990s in the West: The rise of the anti-globalization movement
Regular readers will know that I have long been concerned by the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist whose story is one of the murkiest in the whole of the “War on Terror.” Dr. Siddiqui disappeared with her three children in Karachi in March 2003, and for five years neither the US nor the Pakistani authorities acknowledged holding her, even though she was reportedly seen in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. In July 2008, she mysteriously reappeared in Ghazni, Afghanistan, where she was arrested for behaving strangely, and then reportedly tried to shoot at a number of US soldiers, but only ended up being shot herself. She was then rendered to the US, where she was put on trial in New York for the alleged incident in Ghazni, and not for any of the al-Qaeda allegations that had been put forward during her lost years, and where, last September, she received an 86-year sentence.
Compared to the Egyptian revolution’s extraordinary toppling of the dictator Mubarak, the people’s occupation of the country’s public spaces, the workers’ strikes and the array of emotions pouring forth (everything from anger to exhilaration), Britain appears to be in a state of denial, despite the fact that revolutionary impulses may well be the only valid response to the coalition government’s unprecedented assault on almost every aspect of British society — hard-pressed middle class and working class people, students, schoolchildren, the working poor, the unemployed and the disabled; everyone, in fact, except the rich and the super-rich.
For the United States and other Western countries, the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (which threaten to spread to other countries, including Yemen and Algeria) are something of a nightmare. Just as the authorities in these countries are struggling — and failing — to cope with popular uprisings, so too the United States and other Western countries are rudderless when faced with an undefined enemy — and make no mistake about it, the people of foreign countries are the enemy when their revolts against dictatorship threaten Western interests.