By Jen Soriano
October, 2010

Month in Review, October 2010

By Jen Soriano

Shadow wars assault life, liberty and privacy under a fog of state deception.  Like the shape-shifting U.S. military, they do their dirty work in many ways. 

Take just this month: The FBI raids peace activists' homes and offices. Government agents infiltrate mosques.  CIA drones kill civilians in Pakistan and patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. A torture victim is denied his day in court because truthful testimony would “threaten national security”. 
The pattern is an age-old story. But those of us all too familiar with state repression need to escalate our vigilance and resistance. Today’s shadow wars have reached a new level: they have more funding, technology, coordination, and congressional/judicial permission than ever before. And they are taking place in an era where U.S. unilateral power is slowly but surely eroding. Global relations are shifting, U.S. hegemony is threatened, and the empire is striking back.
Shadow wars smother human rights beneath the empire’s “rights” to spy, torture and kill with impunity. The Orwellian specter of “national security” is the untouchable excuse. But the growing number of us caught in the crossfire can join forces to roll back these assaults, if we shine enough light on what goes on in the shadows. 
For victims of the deadliest U.S. shadow wars, the military's deceptive tactics have long been painfully clear.  Last Friday, the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks released 391,832 reports that confirm what Iraqis themselves already know: U.S. and Iraqi military abuses have been rampant. The documents show that the Pentagon was well aware of widespread military cruelty and imposed formal policies to hide them from the U.S. public’s eye. The military logged 15,000 civilian deaths that they did not report. Hundreds of civilians were gunned down at checkpoints, including 50 families and 30 children. Hundreds of cases of torture, rape and murder by Iraqi security forces were documented but never stopped. Search WikiLeaks' Iraq War Logs Here.
“Every [Iraqi] family has a detainee who was tortured in prison, or they know someone who was killed, either by Iraqi or foreign forces,” a Baghdad resident named Sala told Democracy Now this week. “We don’t need documents to know this. The only thing is that these documents are official confirmation."
For the rest of us, WikiLeaks' Iraq and Afghanistan war logs provide a critical clearing in the smog of U.S. military secrecy. Like Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, WikiLeaks' disclosures could help shorten these bloody wars. Fearful of exactly this, the Pentagon has responded to WikiLeaks with a special sort of surge. Washington has reportedly asked ally governments to open criminal investigations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  A full scale assault on Assange’s “character” takes the place of investigating or even acknowledging war crimes documented by the U.S. military itself.  
Meanwhile blood continues to be shed in Iraq and also Afghanistan. The admitted Afghan civilian death toll is nearing 9,000. The death toll for U.S. troops is nearing 1,400 with thousands more wounded.  An estimated one in six soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the atrocities of these wars. Read about Iraq Veterans Against the War's Operation Recovery Campaign here.  Even if some U.S. troops are withdrawn after the administration’s July 2011 target date -- a move fiercely opposed by politically ambitious General David Petraeus, the military brass and the Neo-con right -- it looks like the killing will continue.  And all for a war that is already lost.
“The signs are everywhere that the American course in [Afghanistan] is doomed,” reporter Robert Scheer declared.  “That those directing this forlorn attempt at occupation of a country that has never tolerated occupation know there is no positive end in sight, and that the locals from President Hamid Karzai to the competing warlords and the Taliban are cutting their own deals on the assumption that our wishes no longer matter.” 
As this turmoil continues to play out in Afghanistan, each day the CIA is ramping up its shadow wars next door. 
Pakistan is a close U.S. ally. Meaning we are not at war with Pakistan. Or, maybe we are, but not really.  At least not overtly, maybe covertly, but in any case the administration won't admit it even if we are, which we're officially not.
Shadiness aside, what we do know is that since August 2008, the CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s North Waziristan region which borders Afghanistan.  Known to be a hotbed of Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked activity, the area is also home to an estimated 400,000 civilians. 
Between 950 and 1,400 individuals have been killed since the CIA initiated strikes on the region. The State Department is quick to say that top Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are among the dead.  While it's undisputed that actual terrorists have been killed, it's also undisputed that their deaths have come at the cost of many civilians' lives.  The New America Foundation estimates that about 30% of those killed were "non-militants".  A 2009 Brookings Institution study estimates civilian casualties at closer to 90%, or a 10-to-1 civilian-to-terrorist kill ratio.
"How many people do you want to kill to get Osama Bin Laden?" said Rahimullah Yusufzai, Pakistan militancy expert, in a recent interview with the BBC.
The escalation of Predator drone attacks on Pakistan is one particularly devastating example of the danger of the U.S.' distorted shadow wars abroad.  Following the kind of technological and geopolitical logic that drove the U.S. to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the CIA is using these multi-million dollar drones - developed with Israeli technology and operated by joystick from Indian Springs, Nevada - to make a political point. Fear us. Don't mess with us. 
But what is the actual political effect? The Pushtun population of Afghanistan and Pakistan have become ever-stronger supporters of the anti-U.S. insurgency. Fury at the U.S. has surged among Pakistanis who see Washington sending their country killer drones instead of aid to flood-devastated regions where millions are homeless and desperate. The Muslim world -- where media outlets report on civilian casualties from U.S. drones even if the U.S. media does not -- grows ever-angrier at U.S. policy (among other things, increasing rather than decreasing the threat of terrorism).
There are parallels here with the Israel-Palestine conflict. To the U.S. government and media it is all about getting “peace process” negotiations back on track. But to Palestinians and most of the world that is a shadow game; the reality is what goes on every day on the ground. Middle East expert Juan Cole explains:
“The phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ conjures up a swift, comprehensive act of expulsion. But in reality, moving a large population off its land is the death of a thousand cuts, a slow, inexorable process of stealing property, harassment, forcing people into a condition of malnutrition…. The world reacts in horror when the Taliban in Afghanistan torch girls’ schools. But Israeli squatters just set fire to the store room of a Palestinian girls’ school, and the whole school would have gone up in flames if that warehouse had not been near a water main. The Israeli illegals left behind graffiti saying ‘regards from the hills.…’
The same types of Predator drones attacking Pakistan are also surveilling the US-Mexico border.  According to Customs and Border Protection, there are three Predators now operating in Arizona and one in Corpus Christi, Texas. This air war is the latest expansion of the shadow wars on civil liberties at home. While these drones spy on border communities from above, intelligence agencies and their private sector buddies are stepping up their sweeps on the ground.
The September 24 raids on antiwar activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Michigan were some of the most blatant incidents of increasing intelligence activity.  Agents seized activists' computers, cell phones and reams of documents. Fourteen people were served subpoenas to appear before a grand jury.  Activists in California, Wisconsin and Durham North Carolina were also harassed. No one was charged with any material crime, it was a fishing expedition based upon their expressed political opinions.
Grassroots organizing and advocacy groups across the country quickly mobilized protests, petitions, international e-mail and call-in actions, and statements in support of support. Defying the government, the subpoenaed activists refused to appear before the Grand Jury. Since then, their orders to appear in court have been dropped. But allegations of “material aid to terrorists” still stand and no immunity was offered. This means that they remain under suspicion pending the FBI’s analysis of seized materials. If served a second round of subpoenas and they again refuse to appear, they may face jail time. Find out about ongoing solidarity actions here.
These raids are a re-activation of the abuses of power seen during the COINTELPRO, McCarthy and Palmer Raid eras. Since 9/11 it is not only peace activists and radicals who have been targeted. The government’s repressive apparatus has extended its dragnets to an ever-widening number of organizations and communities based on ethnicity, religion, and political activity across the spectrum.  Read more about how the FBI structures its dragnets.
“COINTELPRO was very targeted towards the left. Now the FBI is migrating,” Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), told War Times. “The FBI has always been in the business of violating the law at least as much as it is enforcing the law.  Now it is getting even worse. It's now more like the East German Stasi in its suppressing of entire sectors of civil society."
If you are Muslim, of Arab or South Asian descent, if you are a radical or even progressive environmental activist, if you are an immigrant rights activist or a member of an online political action group, if you are an advocate for human rights,  if do any kind of international solidarity work, you are in good company. You are joining an honorable list of political organizers including Puerto Rican Nationalists, Black Liberation leaders and indigenous rights activists who have been brutally targeted by intelligence operations in the past. 
Today we all constitute “communities of interest” to the intelligence shadows that be. It is sobering to realize how far the attack on democratic dissent and free speech has come. It is a wake-up call to build the intense public pressure that is needed to keep the right to dissent alive.  
The enormous wingspan of today's intelligence apparatus is brought to you by fattened budgets and emaciated regulation. Forty years after the official end of COINTELPRO the intelligence industrial complex has 80 times as much money ($6 billion in 1970, an estimated $75 billion for 2011) and a staggering 845,000 people with top-secret clearance on its payrolls. Meanwhile, according to Shahid Buttar, “Congress is out to lunch,” the judiciary is “more permissive” than ever, and the Obama administration seems bent on continuing and even escalating Bush-era tactics on surveillance and covert war.
So the foxes are guarding the hen-house.  In 1976, Attorney General Edward Levi wrote guidelines to prevent a return to the atrocities of COINTELPRO.  According to Mike German, a 16 year veteran of the FBI and now national security counsel for the ACLU, these guidelines were also an attempt to stave off legislation that would have limited the FBI's power. 
Since then, Attorney Generals Ashcroft and Mukasey have gutted the Levi guidelines. Now it is explicitly permissible to use race and ethnicity as a basis for investigation. Additionally, no grounds for suspicion are necessary. Intelligence can survey groups solely on the basis of curiosity or interest.
“In many ways COINTELPRO is already back,” Mike German told War Times.  “The recent Justice Department report shows that groups exercising first amendment rights end up having agents surveilling them.  Then these groups have FBI files opened on them and some get put on a terrorist watch list.”
Many judges are fully cooperating in this battle against constitutional rights.  In June, the Supreme Court ruled that groups providing “services” - including human rights trainings, legal advocacy, and disaster relief - to organizations on the State Department's "Terrorist Watch List" may be charged with “material aid to terrorists.”  According to Anjana Samant from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), this amounts to “guilt by association” for many international solidarity activists.
Last but definitely not least the Executive Branch is abusing something called the “State Secrets privilege.” The Obama administration has invoked this privilege to ensure that U.S. crimes against humanity can occur beyond the rule of law. The state secrets privilege was designed to give the executive branch power to keep certain documents and piece sof testimony out of court for the sake of national security. But in a frightening flashback to the Bush era, the Obama administration has repeatedly invoked this privilege to dismiss entire cases, including the case filed by the ACLU and CCR to challenge an unprecedented executive order to assassinate a U.S. citizen nowhere near an active battlefield. 
In one recent high profile case, the administration invoked state secrets and won.  A September federal appeals court ruling dismissed a case brought by former CIA prisoners against a corporation that allegedly transported them to secret prisons where they were tortured.  The Judge described the case as “a painful conflict between human rights and national security.”  By denying the former prisoners their day in court, human rights clearly lost.
“The US has a very central role in exporting this [anti human- and civil-rights] norm around the world,” Shahid Buttar told War Times. “If access channels here fade this will resonate around the world.”
So where does that leave us, the “communities of interest” targeted by the U.S.'s expanding shadow wars?
It leaves us with a choice. To do nothing, or to do something.  There is a lot at stake. There is also a lot of for us to build from. We have the lessons of history. We have increased cross-sector organizing and alliance-building among affected communities inside the U.S. and across the world.  We have a robust advocacy sector fighting to preserve constitutional, civil and human rights for all. Thanks to groups like WikiLeaks we have access to more online information about U.S. intelligence and military operations.  And thanks to an open internet (which Obama is seeking to wiretap) we have a means of communication that allows us to share information and respond to abuses quicker than ever before. 
Can we leverage these factors well enough to create a broad-based movement capable of exposing and stopping these shadow wars? If so, then this may be one of the big tents we need to achieve a winning movement for peace and justice.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Jen Soriano is a Pinay writer, communications strategist, and musician based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  She is communications coordinator for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, an alliance of mass-based organizations connecting local struggles in the U.S. with international movements for human rights, economic justice, and global well-being.  She is also a co-founder and board chair of the Center for Media Justice.

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