The Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig debated the atheist philosopher Dr. Daniel Dennett some time ago about whether God exists, and by most accounts Dr. Craig won the debate. When all was said and done, Dennett’s conclusion was something like ‘Well, I suppose when you have premises that appear at first to be more plausible than their negations and that logically imply a conclusion that you find to be implausible, you just have to go back and deny one of the premises’. As you can imagine, Dennett took heat for this. On one hand, duh. If you want to deny a validly inferred conclusion the only possible thing you can do is to deny one or more premises. Stating as much at the end of a debate in which you were allegedly going to rebut or undercut your opponent’s position doesn’t really pack a punch. It also seems like it might indicate non-rational motivations on your part. Is it only after you see what your own commitments imply that you are willing to be critical of them? Do you so badly desire that God not exist that you are willing to go back and rework your cosmology and metaphysics to make sure that they cannot be appealed to in a theistic argument? Can somebody say “ad hoc”?
On the other hand, I sympathize with Dennett in a way I didn’t before. One weakness of deductive reasoning is that it does not account for the degree of certainty with which an individual holds the premises of an argument or the intrinsic plausibility one assigns the conclusion of an argument. Perhaps I could agree to two premises because I find them just slightly more plausible than their negations, only to discover that together they imply a conclusion that I find simply unbelievable. It serves as evidence against the probability of both premises being true.
So let’s say you assign the following probabilities:
51% – Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
51% – The universe began to exist.
95% – The universe does not have a cause of its existence.
In a certain context, if you think about it, you find the causal principle to be reasonable. Probably more likely to be true than not. And similarly with the past-finitude of the universe; it’s more likely the case that the universe had an absolute beginning a finite time ago than that it has existed from eternity. And when you are not holding those things in mind, in some other context, you are very confident that the universe does not have a cause of its existence. (Let’s just say for now that you have your reasons.) What do you do when someone points out that if both of those first items are true, then the last item is false? If everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence and the universe began to exist, then the universe has a cause of its existence. But you’re pretty sure that the universe does not have a cause! And you were only barely agreeing to the other propositions. Now you feel cornered.
It is this concern that used to motivate another Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, to argue against the utility of theistic proofs. He called it the problem of “dwindling probabilities”. Think of it this way: What are the odds of the result of a coin toss being heads? 50%? But what are the odds of the results of two coin tosses both being heads? To find the answer you have to multiply the probabilities that each of the tosses will be heads. So that would be .5 (for 50%) x .5, which equals .25, or 25%. As one builds a theistic proof, one tries to provide supporting arguments and evidences of each premise. However a reader or listener will not be convinced with 100% certainty of the truth of each premise. Now the likelihood of all the premises being true dwindles just like the likelihood of all of the coin tosses resulting in heads dwindles. While there are some things to say in reply to this, and while I believe Plantinga has abandoned this line of reasoning, the concerns here are important. Logical deduction cannot account for degrees of certainty or the intrinsic plausibility of a conclusion.
One alternative to using the logical structure that Dr. Craig uses when formulating what he calls the “Kalam Cosmological Argument” for God’s existence, which is called “modus ponens”, is to formulate the argument using a logical structure that has a way to account for probabilities. And one guy has attempted to do exactly that.
We interact with the world through various organs. We use our hands and eyes and ears and voices and other faculties to experience and contribute to the world. And that includes our relationships. I look into my wife’s beautiful blue eyes and she looks into mine and this act facilitates intimacy. Our hands touch one another’s, not merely as an act symbolizing mutual possession, but also as a means of enjoying and cultivating it. Holding hands is part of the relationship. It mediates and enhances intimacy.
A critical climax of a marital union is only achievable by means of our physical bodies. In intercourse the organs of one person coordinate with the organs of another for a biological purpose for which an individual human body is insufficient. Unlike the intrapersonal organic cooperation that occurs during systemic nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory processes, human reproduction requires that two human beings with different organ sets become a united whole. Only by this kind of union is this new whole, this new function, possible.
To work on discovering and describing the empirical facts about sex is a beneficial project. But to then argue that there isn’t some profound purpose driving it or that the intimacy shared by those who unite in sexual intercourse isn’t real is a mistake. Our bodies mediate our interaction with the world. Our bodies mediate our intimacy with one another. Organic union is the highest act of intimacy.
Now when I drive my body to the building that my community assembles in on Sunday morning and place my body in proximity to theirs and open my mouth and begin singing, there is another kind of union that takes place and facilitates another kind of intimacy. My voice cooperates with the voices of other humans in order to achieve a musical purpose for which an individual human voice is insufficient: harmony. To this is added the music generated by the humans playing various instruments. This mixture constitutes a new sound that is not possible for me to produce on my own and therefore in corporate worship we do not merely symbolize our unity, we embody it. The act of musical union mediates and enhances our intimacy with one another.
But it goes further than this, because musical union in worship has an object. We come together, not merely to sing, but specifically to sing to our Creator. Our music has the property of being about something—or rather, of being directed to Somebody. Our union in corporate worship then not only facilitates our intimacy with one another, but also our relationship to God.
As I mature throughout my life I become more deeply emotionally moved during worship. It is not all that rare that I will tear up. I do not pretend that there are not physical facts about my relationship to God. Discovering and describing these facts might very well be a fruitful enterprise. However to argue on the basis of the existence of these physical facts to atheism is ridiculous. To say that because thus and such occur in my brain when I sing or when I pray, therefore the object of my song or my prayer is not real is just as big of a mistake as saying that because thus and such occur in my brain when I see or hold hands with or unite with my wife, she is therefore not real.
The “correspondence theory of truth” is something like that a sentence is true if and only if it corresponds to the features of reality that it purports to describe. In other words, if you utter a sentence like “it is raining outside,” and it really is raining outside, then your sentence is true. Aristotle put it this way in his Metaphysics:
To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.
So on the other side then, if it really is raining outside and you were to say “it is not raining outside,” then your sentence would be false, according to this theory.
Intuitive, right? The problem is that sentences are strings of symbols that are read or heard and their meanings interpreted, while reality is apprehended in some other way. In our case I can relate to rain drops by putting my body beneath them and getting wet by them. How can a state of affairs that includes things like rain drops correspond in any way to a string of symbols to which someone assigned a meaning?
The only way there can be a correspondence between a sentence and a state of affairs is if, like the sentence, the state of affairs is also meaningful. And the only way a state of affairs can be meaningful is if it is imbued with meaning the same way that a sentence is.
I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.
A federal operation dubbed Fast and Furious allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers so the arms could be traced to the higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, has lost track of hundreds of firearms, many of which have been linked to crimes, including the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.
They never had any plans to actually track these guns…
–Katie Pavlich, author of “Fast and Furious:
Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Coverup”, who explains what she thinks motivated the administration to do this in the video linked.
Obama’s Attorney General was held in contempt of court for trying to withhold official documents related to Fast and Furious:
The House Oversight Committee filed a civil contempt lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday seeking the release of documents linked to a controversial weapons crackdown.
The lawsuit asks a federal court judge to rule that President Barack Obama overstepped his authority in claiming executive privilege over documents sought by the committee in its investigation of the Fast and Furious weapons tracking program. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring Holder to turn the documents over to House investigators.
–CNN Consider that Obama uses drug violence to justify drone warfare in Mexico (cf. the section on Mexico under “Obama’s Wars“).
al Qaeda in Syria
…al Qaeda [leader Ayman al-] Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria.
…we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.
-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
Address to the Senate Armed Services Committee
The United Nations gave a grim new count Wednesday of the human cost of Syria’s civil war, saying the death toll has exceeded 60,000 in 21 months – far higher than recent estimates by anti-regime activists…
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with protests calling for political change but has evolved into a full-scale civil war.
As the rebels have grown more organized and effective, seizing territory in the north and establishing footholds around Damascus, the government has stepped up its use of airpower, launching daily airstrikes…
“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.
She criticized the [Syrian] government for inflaming the conflict by cracking down on peaceful protests and said rebel groups, too, have killed unjustifiably. Acts by both sides could be considered war crimes, she said.
She also faulted world powers for not finding a way to stop the violence.
“The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting shames us all,” Pillay said. “Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”
If President Obama is serious about tackling the ever-elusive goal of achieving peace in the Middle East, he should start his efforts not by focusing on Israel or the Palestinians, but rather a little closer to home: Foggy Bottom.
Either through deliberate neglect or simple ineptitude, the State Department has made U.S. taxpayers complicit in perpetuating the single greatest impediment to Middle East peace: an increasingly radical Palestinian society that despises Israel and embraces terrorism…
Despite multiple government audits and several changes enacted in the law over the past few years, the State Department still cannot ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not subsidizing terrorists or underwriting terrorist propaganda in schools across the West Bank and Gaza. According to a critical report issued late last month by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, State has fallen short overseeing aid to Palestinians through both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which administers Palestinian refugee camps.
What this means in practical terms is that many of the Palestinians who are consuming a steady diet of Islamist indoctrination and glorification of violence are receiving this brainwashing courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. It doesn’t require high-level deductions to predict how badly this wounds—if not outright kills—any hope for Palestinian society to embrace peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state of Israel.
Given the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers have steered to the Palestinians—almost $600 million just last year—the United States has as much leverage as anyone to put a stop to this nonsense.
On October 20, 2010, the U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The package represents a considerable improvement in the offensive capability of the Saudi armed forces.
Less than three months after including Bahrain on a list of human rights offenders requiring the United Nations’ attention, the Obama administration seems to have changed its mind. The US now believes Bahrain is “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” according to a statement from the Defense Department, which intends to sell $53 million worth of military equipment and support to the Gulf state, including bunker buster missiles and armored vehicles.
–Mother Jones (emphasis mine) You can see why Bahrain was on the list to begin with here.
Iraqi Prime Minister
Today, I’m proud to welcome Prime Minister Maliki — the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq. We’re here to mark the end of this war; to honor the sacrifices of all those who made this day possible; and to turn the page — begin a new chapter in the history between our countries — a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect…
And so today, the Prime Minister and I are reaffirming our common vision of a long-term partnership between our nations. This is in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations. Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership.
-Barack Obama, Whitehouse.gov (Note this is the man Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, wants ousted. Look for an upcoming post on the Iraqi Prime Minister.)
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
…next month the Obama administration will begin to send Morsi’s government at least 20 F-16 jet fighters, filling an order placed by the Mubarak government two years ago…
Circumventing Congress in an Attempt to Gain Control of Internet
On process, this is a basically complete abdication of the principals of transparency, accountability, and public-participation in government. The cybersecurity legislation did not stall in Congress simply because of dysfunction or disregard. Rather, it was the target of a massive grassroots effort that drove tens of thousands of calls to Congress and dozens of in-person meetings urging lawmakers to either add privacy safeguards to the bill, or vote it down. That action, which coincided with an industry-led attack on regulations in the bill, is what caused its demise. The executive order is a way for the Obama Administration to enact a bill that the public has clearly demonstrated they do not want. What’s worse, the it is being drafted in secret by unaccountable government bureaucrats, and, unless leaked, it will not be available for public review before it goes into effect. The Administration is essentially taking all the worst qualities of how the legislative branch operates these days, turning them up to an extreme level, and using them to enact legislation that’s so unpopular even our corrupt and out-of-touch Congress can’t pass it.
Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.
Given the counterterrorism provisions in the fairly recent National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), we currently live in a country where the government can pick up American citizens and detain them indefinitely without access to a lawyer or even a criminal trial. That means locked up forever without even the basic protections we afford to rapists and murderers.
…the NDAA will persist under a Romney administration as well.
Circumventing Congress in Presidential Appointments, and Infrastructure, Economic, Immigration, & Welfare Policy Changes
By a vote of 261-116, the House of Representatives passed a bill rewriting Article II of the Constitution and divesting the Senate of the power to accept or reject the appointment of many presidential nominees…
Dozens of key management positions in the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security (including the treasurer of the United States, the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, the director of the Office for Domestic Preparedness, and the assistant administrator of FEMA) will now be filled by presidential edict, without the need of the “advice and consent” of the Senate, a phrase specifically removed from the process in the text of the bill.
Although the House vote occurred on Tuesday, the Senate voted to surrender its constitutional check on the executive over a year ago on June 29, 2011.
Obama is employing his executive powers now more than ever before during his presidency.
Obama has been sidestepping Congress through his “We Can’t Wait” initiative, a series of executive actions that he claims benefit the middle class through infrastructure projects and economic policy changes.
He also skirted Senate approval in January when he appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appointments were unprecedented because he made them when the Senate was technically not in recess, prompting legal challenges from conservative groups.
In June, the president halted deportations of illegal immigrants who entered the United States when they were children and met certain requirements, such as the lack of a criminal record. The change mirrored provisions of the DREAM Act — failed legislation that Obama supported and Senate Republicans blocked in 2010.
And in July, Obama changed welfare policy to allow states to modify work requirements if they test new approaches to increasing employment. Obama did not submit the policy change to Congress for review, which the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded he should have done.
Acting with minutes to spare, President Obama approved a four-year extension of expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, after Congress overcame mounting opposition from both parties to narrowly avoid a lapse in the terrorist surveillance law.
Obama, attending an international summit in France, awoke early Friday to review and approve the bill, directing that it be signed in Washington by automatic pen before the provisions expired at midnight Thursday Eastern time.
The combat mission in Iraq ended in August 2010, at which point troop levels were brought down to 50,000. In October 2011, over a year later, there were still about 45,000 troops left in Iraq. Furthermore, these supposedly non-combat troops would engage in combat missions and were described as having a “combat capacity” by administration officials, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in which they engage in “targeted counterterrorism operations” and work and fight alongside Iraqi security forces. In light of this, “support” seems to be nothing more than a euphemism for extended combat.
President Obama has essentially followed President Bush’s policy towards Iran.
–Nicholas Burns (Foreign Service officer and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during the George W. Bush administration)
In September 2012, it waswidelyreported that Obama’s “troop surge” in Afghanistan was over, leaving 68,000 troops in the country. But when President Obama took office, there were only roughly 34,000 US troops in Afghanistan. In two “surges”, Obama added to this figure over 66,000 additional troops. By reducing the US troop presence by 33,000, his drawdown plan has removed only half the number of troops that he sent to Afghanistan, not all.
…the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which was struck between the United States and Afghanistan in June 2012, provides for a US military presence after 2014…
…the Pentagon is trying to strike a deal with the Afghan government to leave 25,000 US troops in Afghanistan until at least 2024.
…there were only 34,000 troops there when Obama took office. If 25,000 troops are kept in Afghanistan after 2014, that means that the net withdrawal would be a mere 9,000 troops. Furthermore, before 2008, troop levels were at roughly 25,000 or less. So leaving 25,000 troops in Afghanistan would be to merely return to 2007 troop levels.
In addition to killing and maiming, the presence of drones exacts a high toll on civilian life in northwest Pakistan…
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones…
…there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.
The expansion of U.S.’ drone war has the potential to further enflame a volatile conflict involving the southern Muslim areas and Manila, which has killed around 120,000 people over the past four decades… his controversy could increase with the recent American announcement that it plans to boost its drone fleet in the Philippines by 30 per cent. The U.S. already has hundreds of troops stationed on Jolo Island
A US cruise missile armed with cluster ammunition was used in an attack in Yemen in December which resulted in the deaths of 52 people, more than half of them women and children, according to a human rights watchdog.
…the Obama administration has begun sending drones deep into Mexican territory
Before the outbreak of drug violence in Mexico that has left more than 34,000 dead in the past four years, such an agreement would have been all but unthinkable, they said.
“It wasn’t that long ago when there was no way the D.E.A. could conduct the kinds of activities they are doing now,” said Mike Vigil, a retired chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “And the only way they’re going to be able to keep doing them is by allowing Mexico to have plausible deniability.”
In addition to wariness by Mr. Calderón’s government about how the American intervention might be perceived at home, the Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign military and law enforcement agents from operating in Mexico except under extremely limited conditions, Mexican officials said, so the legal foundation for such activity may be shaky. In the United States, lawmakers have expressed doubts that Mexico, whose security agencies are rife with corruption, is a reliable partner.
After quietly testing Predator drones over the Bahamas for more than 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security plans to expand the unmanned surveillance flights into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to fight drug smuggling, according to U.S. officials.
The move would dramatically increase U.S. drone flights in the Western Hemisphere, more than doubling the number of square miles now covered by the department’s fleet of nine surveillance drones, which are used primarily on the northern and southwestern U.S. borders.
…a new control station will arrive this month in Corpus Christi, Texas, allowing Predators based there to cover more of the Gulf of Mexico.
“We need help fighting this battle along the Caribbean border to protect U.S. citizens there being buffeted by violence,” Puerto Rico’s Gov. Luis Fortuno told a congressional panel this week.
…Customs and Border Protection has requested $5.8 million to push its drone operations farther into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
…The Predator B is best known as the drone used by the CIA to find and kill Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen.
…For the recent counter-narcotics flights over the Bahamas, border agents deployed a maritime variant of the Predator B called a Guardian with a SeaVue radar system that can scan large sections of open ocean.
Guatemala & Honduras
“A team of 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala’s western coast this week in an unprecedented operation… This is the first Marine deployment that directly supports countering transnational crime in this area, and it’s certainly the largest footprint we’ve had in that area in quite some time,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes at the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.”
A similar US mission is being carried out by commando-style DEA agents and hundreds of US soldiers in neighboring Honduras. In that case, it has brought about several incidents of killings of Hondurans by American forces and a massive uptick in support and training for a corrupt league of Honduran security forces with a long list of human rights abuses.
As Honduran scholars from diverse fields of study, men and women of science and art, with the solidarity of other Latin American scholars and scholars of Latin America from countries around the world, including of course the U.S.A., we call upon you to immediately suspend all military and police aid to Honduras until such time as those public institutions, plagued with corruption, have been cleaned up. We urge you to respect our sovereignty and declare our wish to submit to an open referendum the question of whether or not to permit the ongoing presence of U.S. military bases—one of which was used in the perpetration of the June 2009 coup d’état, a turning point in the worsening of so many of our troubles. And we demand that you respect the national and regional processes for confronting our current institutional breakdown. Let’s not kid ourselves. The current disaster in Honduras has an immediate explanation and roots in history, but it is most directly the result of your politics of “pragmatism” following the coup.
Since at least 1997 the abhorrent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered at least 2,400, kidnapped at least 3,400, and displaced at least 300,000… [and the United States did not intervene, until…]
Earlier this year, at least 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil were discovered along Uganda’s border… [and then…]
…President Obama announced that, without consulting congress, he has authorized the deployment of some 100 “combat-equipped U.S. forces” to the country in order to fight and hopefully kill or capture the vicious militant who has an international warrant for crimes against humanity.
…president Barack Obama’s Defense Department will bring new missiles even closer than JFK’s Turkey base. The U.S. will set up new Raytheon (RTN) SM-3 missile defense systems in Poland, roughly 50 miles from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. A Russian spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry said his government was not pleased to hear about the U.S. military decision for a permanent missile defense base so close to home. Kaliningrad is a unique piece of Russian real estate. It is not connected to mainland Russia. Neverthless, the Russians consider it part of the Federation and at least the Foreign Ministry is acting surprised by the missile base deal signed between Poland and the U.S..
The SM-3s system will be located at the Redzikowo military base in Poland, close to the Baltic Sea and Lithuania.
“Regarding the U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses elements and air force units in Poland, we are certainly concerned and agitated,” Alexander Lukashevich told reporters on Thursday.
…The real focus of the missile base is Iran, not Russia. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said last year that the missile defense program was aimed at deterring threats from Iran.
The move to send 250 Marines to bases here for six-month tours starting next summer, eventually rotating 2,500 troops through the country, is the first step toward the administration’s larger goal of repositioning the United States as a leader on economics and security in the fast-developing Asia-Pacific region.
A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the United States a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge…
Already the U.S. military has plans for nearly 100 different exercises, training programs and other activities across the widely diverse continent. But the new program faces significant cultural and language challenges..
The Pentagon’s effort in Africa, including the creation of U.S. Africa Command in 2007, has been carefully calibrated, largely due to broad misgivings across the continent that it could spawn American bases or create the perception of an undue U.S. military influence there.
Nobel Peace Prize officials were facing a formal inquiry over accusations they have drifted away from the prize’s original selection criteria by choosing such winners as President Barack Obama, as the nomination deadline for the 2012 awards closed Wednesday.
…If the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which supervises foundations in Sweden’s capital, finds that prize founder Alfred Nobel’s will is not being honored, it has the authority to suspend award decisions going back three years
…For example, in 2007 the prize went to climate activist Al Gore and the U.N.’s panel on climate change, and in 2009 the committee cited Obama for “extraordinary efforts” to boost international diplomacy.
“Do you see Obama as a promoter of abolishing the military as a tool of international affairs?” Heffermehl asked rhetorically.
Assassination of American Citizens on Secret Kill List
Outside the U.S. government, President Obama’s order to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without due process has proved controversial, with experts in law and war reaching different conclusions. Inside the Obama Administration, however, disagreement was apparently absent, or so say anonymous sources quoted by the Washington Post.
…Obama hasn’t just set a new precedent about killing Americans without due process. He has done so in a way that deliberately shields from public view the precise nature of the important precedent he has set. It’s time for the president who promised to create “a White House that’s more transparent and accountable than anything we’ve seen before” to release the DOJ memo.
When it comes to national security, Michael V. Haydenis no shrinking violet. As CIA [and NSA] director, he ran the Bush administration’s program of warrantless wiretaps against suspected terrorists.
But the retired [four star] air force general admits to being a little squeamish about the Obama administration’s expanding use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists around the world — including, occasionally, U.S. citizens.
“Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel,” Hayden told me recently.
As an example of the problem, he cites the example of Anwar Awlaki, the New Mexico-born member of Al Qaeda who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen last September. “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him,” Hayden notes, “but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?”
Hayden isn’t the only one who has qualms about the “targeted killing” program. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has been pressing the administration to explain its rules for months.
Whether or not al-Awlaki was affiliated with al Qaeda or committed any crime deserving of the death penalty does not matter. What matters is that we’ll never know whether he was guilty without a trial. Instead of a trial, charges that were never ruled upon were used as justification for assassinating him. What just might be worse is that Obama also independently killed this man’s teenage son:
The Atlantic… has posted a video of an exchange from a few days ago involving former Obama press secretary (and current Obama campaign adviser) Robert Gibbs, who was asked about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year old son of the late radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Like his father, the younger al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children,” Gibbs said, suggesting the son somehow deserved his death because of the sins of the father…
the al-Awlakis were not killed together—Abdulrahman was killed weeks later in a subsequent drone strike, and as Esquire’s Tom Junod wrote, he hadn’t seen his father in two years. That Gibbs appears to believe they were killed together changes the meaning a little bit, since it suggests he wasn’t aware that he was justifying Abdulrahman’s death weeks after the fact.
…the US government has never provided any evidence that the younger al-Awlaki was a terrorist or played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and it’s an elementary moral precept that children are not responsible for the sins of their parents. It’s one thing to argue that killing Anwar al-Awlaki was justified because of evidence he was part of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, (although one does not simply lose the constitutional right to due process as a US citizen by being abroad); it’s another to justify the killing of a teenager based on decisions made by his father.
It’s worth contrasting Gibbs’ response with that of an anonymous administration official quoted in the Washington Post’s recently published profile of White House counterterrorism adviser… According to the Post, the official called the younger al-Awlaki’s death “an outrageous mistake…”
Perhaps it’s too much to expect an admission of error from a political spokesperson. But no one forced Gibbs to justify Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s death in such glib and callous terms.
If you don’t think Obama is personally responsible, consider:
This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years…
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
The U.S. Government on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit over the killing of three American citizens in drone strikes in Yemen earlier this year: alleged Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar Al-Awlaki, his son Abdulrahman, and alleged AQAP magazine editor Samir Khan.
The administration also threatened to invoke the State Secrets Privilege if the suit is not dismissed on other grounds. The privilege, which 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama regularly blasted the Bush administration for invoking, allows the government to seek dismissal of a suit if it could expose national security secrets.
Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best , America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy.
Since then, under both Bush and Obama, the US has carried out targeted killings (or extrajudicial executions according to UN experts) using conventional aircraft and helicopter strikes; cruise missiles; and even naval bombardments.
Yet the drone remains the US’s preferred method of killing. The Bureau has identified a minimum of 2,800 (and as many as 4,100) killed in covert US drone strikes over the past ten years. What began as an occasional tactic has, over time, morphed into an industrialised killing process.
Every confirmed US drone strike in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia recorded 2002-2012.
There was no inevitability to this when the strikes began. Time magazine opined in 2002 that covert drone attacks were ‘unlikely to become a norm.’ And in the early years of the programme this was true. The next covert drone strike took place in Pakistan in June 2004, followed by a further strike 11 months later.
Yet slowly, surely, the United States has come to depend on its drone killing programme. By Obama’s presidency drone use against alleged militants was sometimes daily. Six times more covert strikes have hit Pakistan under Barack Obama than under George W Bush. And as the Bureau’s work shows, when known strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan are added together, they reveal a growing dependence upon covert drone killings.
For the past three years, Noor Behram has hurried to the site of drone strikes in his native Waziristan. His purpose: to photograph and document the impact of missiles controlled by a joystick thousands of miles away, on US air force bases in Nevada and elsewhere…
Sometimes arriving on the scene just minutes after the explosion, he first has to put his camera aside and start digging through the debris to see if there are any survivors. It’s dangerous, unpleasant work. The drones frequently hit the same place again, a few minutes after the first strike, so looking for the injured is risky. There are other dangers too: militants and locals are suspicious of anyone with a camera. After all, it is a local network of spies working for the CIA that are directing the drone strikes.
But Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit. The world’s media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike. But reporters don’t go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan. And he’s in no doubt.
“For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he said. “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed.”…
According to Noor Behram, the strikes not only kill the innocent but injure untold numbers and radicalise the population. “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.
“The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.”
Even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast is such that neighbours’ houses, often made of baked mud, are also demolished, crushing those inside, said Noor Behram. One of the photographs shows a tangle of debris he said were the remains of five houses blitzed together.
The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy’s body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother’s last loving touch.
There are photos of burned and battered Qur’ans – but no pictures of women: the conservative culture in Waziristan will not allow Noor Behram to photograph the women, even dead and dismembered. So he makes do with documenting shredded pieces of women’s clothing.
The jagged terrain, the often isolated location of strikes, curfews and the presence of Taliban, all mean that it is a major challenge to get to the site of a drone strike. Noor Behram has managed to reach 60, in both North and South Waziristan, in which he estimates more than 600 people were killed. An exhibition of his work, at London’s Beaconsfield gallery opening on Tuesday, features pictures from 27 different drone strikes. Clive Stafford Smith, head of Reprieve, the campaigning group, has launched a lawsuit along with a Pakistani lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, seeking to bring to justice those responsible for civilian deaths from drones. “I think these pictures are deeply important evidence,” said Stafford Smith. “They put a human face [on the drone strike campaign] that is in marked contrast to what the US is suggesting its operators in Nevada and elsewhere are doing. “They show the reality of ordinary people being killed and losing their homes, not senior al-Qaida members.“…
Sadaullah, a 15-year-old, lost one eye and both legs in a drone strike on 7 September 2009, during the month of Ramadan, near Mir Ali town in North Waziristan. Three family members died, including an uncle who used a wheelchair. It was reported at the time that three Taliban commanders – rather than his three relatives – were killed in the strike….
Sadaullah is one of the victims on whose behalf British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith is to launch a lawsuit against the CIA’s former legal chief, John Rizzo, who approved dozens of drone strikes on Pakistan’s tribal region.
British and Pakistani journalists said Sunday that the C.I.A.’s drone strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.
The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals. The findings were published on the bureau’s Web site and in The Sunday Times of London…
The bureau counted 260 strikes by Predator and Reaper drones since President Obama took office, and it said that 282 to 535 civilians had been “credibly reported” killed in those attacks, including more than 60 children. American officials said that the number was much too high, though they acknowledged that at least several dozen civilians had been killed inadvertently in strikes aimed at militant suspects…
Getting a full picture of the drone campaign is difficult. It is classified as top secret, and Obama administration officials have refused to make public even the much-disputed legal opinions underpinning it…
American officials familiar with the rules governing the strikes and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that many missiles had been fired at groups of suspected militants who are not on any list.
The drone program is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where the national parliament voted in April to end any authorization for it. This, however, was “a vote that the United States government has simply ignored,” according to Bergen…
The London-based rights organization Reprieve, which with the help of a partner organization in Pakistan facilitated access to some of the people interviewed for the Stanford/NYU study, backed its finding that the drone program causes wider damage than is acknowledged by the U.S. government.
“This shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies,” said Reprieve’s director, Clive Stafford Smith.
“Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.”
In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, “a huge push by […] the defense sector” to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won’t necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (pdf) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy. (The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)
The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant – and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained – which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases…
What happens to those images, that audio? “Distribution of domestic imagery” can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities. The authorized “collected information may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent”. Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CBS..
This document accompanies a major federal push for drone deployment this year in the United States, accompanied by federal policies to encourage law enforcement agencies to obtain and use them locally, as well as by federal support for their commercial deployment. That is to say: now HSBC, Chase, Halliburton etc can have their very own fleets of domestic surveillance drones. The FAA recently established a more efficient process for local police departments to get permits for their own squadrons of drones.
Given the Department of Homeland Security militarization of police departments, once the circle is completed with San Francisco or New York or Chicago local cops having their own drone fleet – and with Chase, HSBC and other banks having hired local police, as I reported here last week – the meshing of military, domestic law enforcement, and commercial interests is absolute.
–Naomi Wolf (emphasis mine)
The article is worth reading in its entirety.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court Wednesday to force the Obama administration to release legal and intelligence records related to the killing of three U.S. citizens in drone attacks in Yemen last year.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charged the Justice and Defense departments and the CIA with illegally failing to respond to requests made in October under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It cited public comments made by President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other officials in arguing that the government cannot credibly claim a secrecy defense.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens…
In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.
The previous month, a Spanish human rights group called the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had requested that Spain’s National Court indict six former Bush officials for, as the cable describes it, “creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. The human rights group contended that Spain had a duty to open an investigation under the nation’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits its legal system to prosecute overseas human rights crimes involving Spanish citizens and residents. Five Guantanamo detainees, the group maintained, fit that criteria.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged “a top to bottom review of the threats we face and our abilities to confront them.” He promised a sweeping overhaul of the Bush administration’s war on terror, which he criticized for compromising American values.
But FRONTLINE has learned from a former high-ranking CIA official that even before he took office, Obama’s team “signaled” they had no intention of rolling back secret programs begun under the Bush administration.
Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.
-Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU via ABC News (emphasis mine)
…the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The State Department on Monday reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him, according to an internal personnel announcement. Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be “assumed” by the office of the department’s legal adviser, the notice said.
The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.
Mr. Fried will become the department’s coordinator for sanctions policy and will work on issues including Iran and Syria.
The announcement came as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other Guantánamo Bay detainees facing death penalty charges before a military tribunal over the Sept. 11 attacks made their first public appearance since October on Monday, sitting quietly in a high-security courtroom at the naval base in Cuba as pretrial hearings resumed. A closed-circuit feed of the proceedings was shown at Fort Meade.
Despite promises to close Guantanamo Bay, Washington is now preparing to invest tens of millions into renovating the controversial facility’s infrastructure.
The Pentagon is planning to install a $40-million fiber optic cable at Guantanamo, and the base’s commanders say such a long term investment in infrastructure makes sense only if the US intends to continue operating the base.
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
For the NSA, overflowing with tens of billions of dollars in post-9/11 budget awards, the cryptanalysis breakthrough came at a time of explosive growth, in size as well as in power.
For several decades, the US government – in annual “human rights” reports issued by the State Department (reports mandated by the US Congress) – has formally condemned nations around the globe for the practice of indefinite detention: imprisoning people without charges or any fixed sentence. These reports, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her preface to last year’s document, are grounded in the principle that “respect for human rights is not a western construct or a uniquely American ideal; it is the foundation for peace and stability everywhere.” That 2011 report condemned numerous nations for indefinite detention, including Libya (“abuse and lack of review in detention”), Uzbekistan (“arbitrary arrest and detention”), Syria (“arbitrary arrest and detention”), and Iran (“Authorities held detainees, at times incommunicado, often for weeks or months without charge or trial”).
In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government is engaged in a fierce and protracted battle over the fundamental right to be free of indefinite detention. Specifically, the US is demanding that the governments of those two nations cease extending this right to their citizens. As a Washington Post article this morning details…
Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.
While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.
The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.
In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.
Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.
These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.
Meanwhile, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, now houses 169 prisoners. About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security.” Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.
-President Jimmy Carter via NY Times (emphasis mine) (Keep in mind that this is the democrat whose administration, according to Hilary Clinton, founded al Qaeda to stave off the Soviets. See “Obama’s Support of Terrorism“.)