Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Congress Should Deny President Obama Authority for Perpetual War

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The Islamic State is evil. But that's no reason for America to go to war again in the Middle East. Or for Congress to approve years more of conflict.
The president requested formal legal authority to war against ISIS -- more than six months after dropping the first bomb on the self-proclaimed caliphate. USA Today headlined an article on the administration request: "Obama Ready to Take the Fight to Islamic State." Just what has Washington been doing for the last half year?
The congressional debate will focus on limits to presidential authority. The administration wants to do most anything without admitting as much to the American people. Some Democrats advocate a more restrictive resolution, while many Republicans endorse untrammeled executive power. All to defend a gaggle of frenemies from a far weaker foe unable to seriously threaten America. Washington has rushed into war in a fit of pique.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State has gone through several incarnations dating back to 1999. The group achieved notoriety during the Iraq war, before fading. ISIL recently revived in Iraq and then became a potent opposition force in Syria.
For a long time the Obama administration ignored the group's gains, recognizing that ISIL was more about insurgency than terrorism, and was targeting Middle Eastern countries, not the U.S. Moreover, Washington could do little to resolve the underlying causes of the group's rise: sectarianism in Iraq and civil war in Syria.
The administration reversed course when the group's advances threatened Kurdistan's capital of Erbil and Iraq's Yazidi community. Ironically, Washington had not responded a decade ago to attacks on Iraq's Christian community or more recently to violence against religious minorities in Syria. Even so, the mission seemed limited, until the beheading of two American hostages transformed administration policy.
Now President Obama claims the Islamic State "poses a threat to the people and stability of Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East and to U.S. national security." Yes to the first two and possibly the third, but these are not reasons for America to go to war. Exactly how is U.S. security at risk? The president argued that ISIS creates "a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland." How can a few thousand insurgents, locked in bitter combat with several Middle Eastern nations, threaten the rest of the world, and especially the globe's superpower? The most serious danger may be Western jihadists cycling back home -- but most of them joined after Washington made the sectarian Islamic war all about America.
The administration created yet another pseudo-coalition of roughly 60 nations and the European Union, with U.S. forces responsible for around 85 percent of the airstrikes. While the American-led campaign has had some defensive successes -- for instance, halting ISIL's attacks on Kurdistan's Erbil and Syria's Kobani -- the radical movement seems no closer to defeat. Despite sizable personnel losses, the Islamic State remains in control of most of the territory it seized before the U.S. offensive. "ISIL is going to lose," declared the president. But you wouldn't know it from results on the ground.
In fact, Washington gave the group a recruiting bonanza. Estimated at around 10,000 mid-summer, the Islamic State's fighting cadre jumped to 20,000 or 30,000 after the U.S. entered the conflict. And now, reported the Associated Press, foreign fighters continue to join "in unprecedented numbers." Moreover, while the Islamic State once was almost entirely isolated, formerly antagonistic groups such the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, since have endorsed ISIL.
In seeking congressional authority the administration is playing on emotions, highlighting ISIL's crimes, including targeting "innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence." Of course, some of America's Middle Eastern allies, such as Saudi Arabia, engage in barbaric practices. And plenty of foreign governments, a number friends of Washington, are little better than ISIL. But never mind.
Moreover, U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller's killing "fueled congressional outrage and renewed calls to defeat" the organization, reported USA Today. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) declared: "Her death will only strengthen our resolve to destroy these depraved barbarians." Yet her tragic fate actually demonstrates ISIL's limited reach. The only U.S. citizens harmed by the Islamic State are those who voluntarily traveled to a war zone.
Of course, the president paints ISIL's threats much more broadly. However, the Islamic State's expansive ambitions are the group's chief weakness. It wants to be a government, but while the organization would be a wealthy terrorist group, it is a poorly-funded nation state, and its performance has suffered accordingly.
The longer the "caliphate" has existed in cities like Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, the less popular ISIL has become. In particular, repression has generated opposition, as previously happened with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
During its first incarnation in Iraq ISIL's brutality cost popular backing and working relationships with other insurgents. Leading jihadi groups and theorists, even some linked to or supportive of al-Qaeda, are denouncing the organization again. Syrians call Islamic State fighters "foreign occupiers." In Mosul, reported USA Today, ISIL fighters "face increasing opposition from residents chafing under the harsh laws being imposed there." Even many who once welcomed the Islamic State now are thought to favor its overthrow. The gruesome execution video of the Jordanian pilot created widespread demands for revenge among that nation's majority Muslim population, most Sunnis like ISIL's fighters.
The group has succeeded so far only because of others' failings. In Syria a civil war destroyed the political order. The so-called moderates are weak and tend to surrender, along with their U.S.-supplied weapons, to the Islamic State. In Iraq the sectarian Shia central government spawned a corresponding Sunni counter-reaction. Despite the desperate need for reconciliation, Shia militias continue to murder Sunnis; in fact, the former were blamed for executing an important moderate Sunni leader in Baghdad a couple weeks ago, sparking a Sunni parliamentary boycott and threat to withdraw from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's unity government.
The Islamic State found the going much tougher once it moved beyond select areas of Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the movement has targeted nations with a million or more men under arms. Protecting ISIL from the full attentions of this formidable collection of enemies is, paradoxically, Washington. Because the U.S. took over other nations' defense duties, Turkey has remained studiously aloof. Morocco and the United Arab Emirates have quit flying missions against Islamic State. The Iraqi government has continued mistreat Sunnis, driving many of them toward ISIL. America's "allies" are enjoying a very cheap ride even though it is their security at risk.
In fact, some of these countries have scaled back their participation to pressure the U.S. to advance their agenda. For instance, Turkey fields an army of 400,000 men, 2500 tanks, 3600 armored personnel carriers, and 7800 artillery pieces, as well as an air force with 350 combat aircraft and 60 helicopters. Instead of using that military abundance, Ankara insists that Washington act in its stead against Syria's Bashar Assad -- and eliminate the strongest bulwark against the Islamic State.
Perhaps the only good news is that ISIL is bound to weaken. Allied action, aided by oil price declines, has cut the group's funding, which already is stretched by its nominal responsibilities as a state. Brutal repression, growing economic hardship, and lack of government services have angered those conquered. The bounty of American weaponry captured in Iraq will diminish without maintenance and spare parts. Military stalemate may slow the flow of volunteers.
Unfortunately, the proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force would further entangle America in sectarian war without addressing the reasons for ISIL's success. Indeed, declared presidential press secretary Josh Earnest, the measure was "intentionally fuzzy" so as to maintain the president's "flexibility," since "we believe it's important that there aren't overly burdensome constraints" on the executive.
The measure would repeal the 2002 AUMF regarding Iraq, but leave in place the 2001 AUMF, directed against al-Qaeda, under which the administration improbably claimed authority to attack the Islamic State, a different group which had nothing to do with 9/11 and which has not attacked America. Despite his criticism of the 2001 AUMF for "keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing," the president would leave it in place for a future administration to similarly misuse.
Moreover, the new measure would be a dangerous expansion of executive power. First, the administration requested authority to wage at least three more years of war. In December Secretary of State John Kerry also urged "provisions for extension" of such a limit. If ISIL really is such a dire threat to the U.S., can't the world's greatest power win more quickly? America spent three and a half years in World War II and less than two years in World War I. Yet the U.S. is incapable of defeating a motley crew of radicals surrounded by enemies, outmanned 30, 40, or 50 to one, massively out-gunned, and busy making enemies among their own people?
Second, there is no geographic limit. Today the U.S. is operating in Iraq and Syria. The new AUMF would authorize combat anywhere. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the Gulf already are on ISIL's target list. The administration could declare most anywhere else to be a battleground as well. Yet if there was good cause to expand U.S. activities, legislators no doubt would respond favorably to a future presidential request.
Third, the measure does not limit war to the Islamic State. Also included are "any closely related successor entity" and "associated persons or forces," meaning ISIL's allies, defined as "fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." That would cover almost any Syrian opposition group, from the al-Nusra Front to so-called moderates, as well as Sunni tribes, former Baathists, and anyone else opposed to the Shia-majority government in Iraq. Washington could attack forces which subsequently broke with the Islamic State, even if they did so because they didn't want to combat America.
Also included could be national groups claiming "loyalty" to ISIL, which already exist in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and are likely to show up in one form or another elsewhere in the Mideast, Africa, and Asia. Such affiliates only need threaten one of three score coalition partners, most in name only; in Libya militants professing their allegiance to the Islamic State just killed 21 Egyptian Copts, triggering a retaliatory attack by Cairo. The potential daisy chain is long: In Foreign Policy Ryan Goodman pointed out how the administration used AUMF 2001 to justify airstrikes on Syria's Khorasan Group which was linked to the al-Nusra Front which was linked to al-Qaeda.
Fourth, the resolution bars only "enduring offensive ground operations," like the lengthy conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, suggested the president. However, the current operation is described as a matter of America's "inherent right of individual and collective self-defense" even though ISIL did not attack America. Moreover, most "offensive ground operations" can be redefined as a means to defend someone somewhere. Government actions which start out temporary have a tendency to become "enduring." The administration already has used bait and switch tactics on the American people -- citing the plight of the Yazidis while organizing a lengthy regional war.
The resolution would ratify the current U.S. presence in Iraq, 2,630 personnel already there for training and advising the Iraqi military, and protecting the U.S. embassy. Another 4000 soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team are being deployed to Kuwait, ready for action elsewhere. The president's transmittal letter exempted a variety of activities from any limit -- rescue operations, actions against ISIL leadership, intelligence work, "missions to enable kinetic strikes," and "other forms of advice and assistance." Americans in these pursuits easily could be drawn into conflict. Islamic State forces recently captured much of the town of al-Baghdadi, only a few miles from Ayn al-Asad Air Base where more than 300 Marine Corps trainers are stationed. That facility has been subject to mortar attacks and small assaults. These could be merely the beginning.
Fifth, instead of turning the war over to threatened Arab states, the new AUMF would assure Washington's "allies" that they need not worry about their own defense for the next three or possibly more years. The resolution even authorizes war against "associated" groups which threaten "coalition partners," irrespective of the military balance. Instead of intervening temporarily to blunt the Islamic State's momentum and give time for surrounding states to act, the administration plans to create a herd of long-term military dependents. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even wishes to authorize war on Syria, which has not threatened America. Indeed, if he and the other neoconservative and hyper-nationalist hawks have their way, there will be no limits to presidential action.
Seeking congressional authority made sense -- six months ago. Doing so now looks like an attempt to prolong U.S. participation in yet another unnecessary Middle Eastern war. Again the administration claims the mantle of peacemaker while extending old conflicts and initiating new ones. About the only benefit of a congressional vote would be to mandate transparency and accountability. But there's little reason to expect the administration to comply and the Congress to force compliance.
The president's proposal is a bad idea. If Congress truly is concerned about legality, it should enforce the 2001 AUMF, which does not permit new misadventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. Any new measure should sharply limit military operations. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Congress "to avoid any undue restraints on the commander-in-chief's choices." But the Constitution gives the basic decision over war and peace to Congress. Legislators should end old wars rather than rationalize new ones.
This post first appeared on Forbes online.

Kenneth Stepp agrees that we should not authorize the President to wage permanent war.   Permanent war was a bad idea in the 1910's and 1920's and it is still a bad idea now.  Ask your Congressman and Senators to vote NO on giving the President the military authority to wage permanent war.  The Constitution--may it be preserved!

Monday, December 15, 2014


Washington Closes Ranks On Torture Report

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Less than a week after the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's wide-ranging report on the CIA's torture program, officials in Washington are closing ranks.
The report outlined several shocking revelations, including instances of waterboarding, forced rectal feedings and in one case a detainee's death. Agency officers themselves were upset by the program, the report suggests, requesting transfers away from the "black sites" where interrogations took place and begging CIA headquarters to let them stop.
“Facts aren’t partisan,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, noting that every major conclusion in the report was backed up by CIA's own documents. “We reviewed 6 million pages of documents. … There are a mountain of contradictions.”
But the damning facts in the executive summary seem unlikely to result in few lasting changes if the response of official Washington is any indication. Republicans are dismissing the document as a biased Democratic product. A few Democrats are calling for Brennan's resignation. Almost no one in office is calling for widespread changes at the CIA -- or for a renewal of the Justice Department investigation into whether to prosecute those who knew about or carried out torture.
The Senate report goes into excruciating details about how the CIA overstepped the boundaries of what even the George W. Bush administration and the Department of Justice had approved. CIA officials from former Counterterrorism Center Chief Jose Rodriguez to current Director John Brennan have admitted to errors. Brennan said some of the abuses were "abhorrent."
On Sunday's talk shows, it was nevertheless torture's defenders who got the most air time -- and they were unrepentant. In a characteristic performance, former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the CIA program without qualification and insisted that he would do it again. Cheney even dismissed the stories of the men who were subjected to "enhanced interrogation" but later found by the CIA itself to be innocent.
"I'm more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent," said Cheney.
Cheney dismissed calls from a UN official for the Justice Department to reopen an investigation into CIA torture. Other CIA defenders on the airwaves on Sunday included Rodriguez, former agency Director Michael Hayden, current Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and former Bush adviser Karl Rove.
The only Republican to speak out against torture was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a torture victim while held in a North Vietnamese prison.
The most prominent Democratic voice against the CIA's actions to appear on air on Sunday was Ron Wyden. He said Brennan needs to oversee changes at the agency or to be replaced. But like much of official Washington, Wyden stopped short of calling for prosecutions.
It's been an outgoing member of Congress -- Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat who lost his election in November -- who's been most critical of the agency. Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, he said the CIA is still lying in its response to the torture report, and he directly criticized the White House for helping the agency "cover up the truth." He called for the replacement of Brennan. The CIA director gave a by turns apologetic and defiant defense of the torture report on Thursday, in which he declined to call waterboarding torture.
Obama's support for Brennan in the position has so far been steadfast. The president said this week that some of the CIA's actions after 9/11 were "contrary to our values." But he showed no sign of backing off what he said just a month after assuming office in February 2009, when he expressed "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."
"At the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe," he said in February 2009. "I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up."





Congress' Job Approval Ratings, Yearly Averages by Party


Saturday, December 13, 2014

We don't fight against terrorists to become more like them.

'We Tortured Some Folks,' But 'That's Not Who We Are'

Absent any criminal prosecutions, the only conclusion we will be left with is that these guys really are "patriots" and torturing people really is "who we are." The morality and ethics of whether or not the CIA can torture people in our name are non-negotiable. There is no argument that can be made to justify this atrocity. The corporate media are treating torture as if it's just another "issue" like immigration reform or the federal budget. It isn't. You cannot justify the unjustifiable. People who attempt to apologize for torture done in their name are embarrassing themselves; raising their heads to be counted as barbarians at the gate. We don't fight against terrorists to become more like them, but to maintain our differences.

 We don't fight against terrorists to become more like them, but to maintain our differences.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture Runs Against the American Soul!

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RAMZI HAIDAR via Getty Images
la times

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
There has been a suggestion in recent days that now is not a good time to release a review prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. But is there ever a good time to admit our country tortured people?
In the wake of 9/11, we were desperate to bring those responsible for the brutal attacks to justice. But even that urgency did not justify torture. The United States must be held to a higher standard than our enemies, yet some of our actions did not clear that bar. It is time to publicly examine how that happened.
The administration has known for months that this document would become public and has been making every effort to safeguard U.S. personnel and interests abroad. But the bottom line is, torture occurred, and we must own up to our actions and move forward.
In the spring of 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 14-1 to begin a review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. The goal was to learn exactly what happened to more than 100 individuals secretly detained overseas after 9/11.
More than five years later, our committee's study is complete, and that is the report we released on Tuesday for public review.
Here, briefly, is what we found: After launching a program to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists using coercive techniques -- tactics that at times amounted to torture -- CIA personnel provided extensive inaccurate information about the program to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the American public.
Contrary to CIA claims at the time, these so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" did not produce intelligence that thwarted terrorist plots or resulted in the capture of terrorists. That intelligence was already available from other sources or from the detainees themselves before they were tortured. In fact, torture often led to false information.
The earliest case involving CIA interrogation after 9/11 was that of Abu Zubaydah, who ran terrorist training camps and was associated with some of Al Qaeda's top leaders before he was captured in March 2002.
Instead of employing tried and true methods to interrogate him -- such as using the military's authority to hold and question terrorism suspects, partnering with allied governments or using the criminal justice system -- the CIA improvised. It hurriedly arranged overseas black sites to detain individuals and attempt to collect intelligence from them.
During Abu Zubaydah's first months of captivity, FBI and CIA interrogators were able to extract important information from him through traditional interrogation methods. But later, the CIA acted on the advice of unqualified contractors and began using coercive interrogation techniques in an effort to obtain information that Abu Zubaydah never had.

"Interrogation of CIA detainees was far more brutal than has been previously described, not just to the public but to Congress, the White House and the Department of Justice."

The CIA adopted these interrogation techniques without informing the congressional oversight committees or key members of the George W. Bush administration. There was essentially no oversight.
After more than two weeks of near-constant coercive interrogations, including painful stress positions and repeated waterboarding, Abu Zubaydah had provided none of the lifesaving information the CIA claimed he possessed.
The interrogations continued, even after on-site interrogators concluded that it was highly unlikely he knew such information.
Abu Zubaydah was just the first of many detainees. In total, at least 119 individuals were held overseas as part of the CIA's detention and interrogation program.
In the end, Intelligence Committee investigators examined more than 6 million pages of CIA records. The 500-page executive summary we released is based on our 6,700-page study, which includes 38,000 footnotes.
The study's 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four key areas, each supported by extensive factual records.
First, the use of coercive interrogation techniques did not lead to intelligence that wasn't available through traditional interrogation or that was necessary to stop terrorist attacks and capture terrorists -- the arguments the CIA used to justify the use of the techniques.
Although the CIA repeatedly claimed that enhanced interrogations enabled it to capture terrorists and thwart terrorist plots, the study concludes that any counterterrorism successes were the result of traditional intelligence and law enforcement efforts, not the CIA torture program.
Second, CIA personnel routinely provided inaccurate information to the CIA inspector general, the White House, the Justice Department and Congress about the interrogation techniques being used and the results they were producing.
These inaccurate claims kept those responsible for evaluating and overseeing the program from doing so. Our system of checks and balances requires policymakers to have accurate information about government actions. Unfortunately, the CIA withheld crucial facts.
Third, despite the unprecedented authority the CIA was granted by the Bush administration to detain terrorist suspects, the agency failed to effectively manage and oversee its own program. This was especially true in the program's early years, when more than half of all CIA detainees were taken into custody.
CIA headquarters failed to provide effective guidance or legal advice on who could be detained and how they had to be treated. Almost a quarter of detainees failed to meet the legal standard for detention provided by the Bush administration.
The manner in which coercive interrogation techniques were implemented often differed sharply from Justice Department guidelines, and in some cases other interrogation techniques were used without any approval at all. The study found that inexperienced personnel were allowed to play key roles at black sites, including some individuals with significant red flags in their backgrounds. Contractors initially developed and operated the program and later ran almost all aspects of it.
And finally, the detention and interrogation of CIA detainees was far more brutal than has been previously described, not just to the public but to Congress, the White House and the Department of Justice.
Interrogation techniques were often used in combination and relentlessly, often for days at a time. One otherwise healthy detainee died in CIA custody, and at least one more came close.
Torture goes against the very soul of our country. We are a democracy, established on the rule of law.
We're not perfect and there are some dark patches in our past, but what makes us special is that we recognize these evils, we come to grips with them and we fix them.
President Obama took important steps by prohibiting secret CIA detention and torture in his first days in office, and he has declassified important details about this program.
This report is the next step toward enacting major reforms to ensure something like this never happens again.
Read more in The LA Times Opinion Editorial
Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Write your Congressman now and tell him you oppose torture, and that you want him to outlaw torture.  Kenneth Stepp.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


This season we give thanks for all that we have. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY!  Kenneth Stepp.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bring back the 50 State Democratic Strategy!

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There’s no point sugarcoating it—this was a Republican wave. The GOP won control of the U.S. Senate, elected new governors in big blue states, and washed out Democratic majorities in state legislatures from New Hampshire to Nevada.

We need to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up. We need a new 50-State Strategy.

After George Bush’s re-election in 2004, Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy led Democrats to enormous wins in 2006 and 2008. The strategy invested heavily in state parties and reached out to engage Democrats no matter where they lived.

Bringing back the 50-State Strategy and rebuilding the Democratic Party should be the DNC’s top priority.

Sign the petition: Bring back the 50-State Strategy.
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We need to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up. Bring back the 50-State Strategy.