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It is understandable that the senseless killing of an ambassador is bigger news than the senseless killing of an unknown, obscure Yemeni or Pakistani child. But it’s anything but understandable to regard the former as more tragic than the latter. Yet there’s no denying that the same people today most vocally condemning the Benghazi killings are quick and eager to find justification when the killing of innocents is done by their government, rather than aimed at it.

It’s as though there are two types of crimes: killing, and then the killing of Americans. The way in which that latter phrase is so often invoked, with such intensity, emotion and scorn, reveals that it is viewed as the supreme crime: this is not just the tragic deaths of individuals, but a blow against the Empire; it therefore sparks particular offense. It is redolent of those in conquered lands being told they will be severely punished because they have raised their hand against a citizen of Rome.

Just compare the way in which the deaths of Americans on 9/11, even more than a decade later, are commemorated with borderline religious solemnity, as opposed to the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of foreign Muslims caused by the US, which are barely ever acknowledged. There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.

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Glenn Greenwald speaks the truth

The National Counterterrorism Center released its annual report on terrorism this week. The findings in a nutshell:

Seventeen U.S. private citizens worldwide were killed by terrorist attacks in 2011. These deaths occurred in Afghanistan (15), Jerusalem (1), and Iraq (1).  Overall, U.S. private citizen deaths constituted only 0.13 percent of the total number of deaths worldwide (12,533) caused by terrorism in 2011.

So to be clear, there were no terrorism-related deaths in the US last year (which has held true for every year since 9/11). And out of the seventeen American deaths worldwide, all of them occured in countries we’re militarily occupying or actively assisting the occupation of.

Meanwhile, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars in the War on Terror, our budget reserves ten times the amount for military spending as it does for education and health services, and our government justifies civil rights violations using the overwhelming threat of “Islamic terrorism.”

When will people realize just how absurdly overblown that threat is? Moreover, when will our government admit responsibility for the cycle of violence that results in the few deaths that DO occur from terrorism? The “threat” is used to justify military occupation, while that occupation itself is in large part the source of the threat.

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That is the imperial mind at work. Its premises are often embraced implicitly rather than knowingly: American lives are inherently more valuable; foreign lives are expendable in pursuit of American interests; the U.S. has the inalienable right to take action in other countries that nobody is allowed to take in the U.S. (just imagine: “An Iranian drone fired two missiles at a bakery in the northwest U.S. Saturday and killed four suspected militants, Iranian officials said, as Iran pushed on with its drone campaign despite American demands to stop. This was the third such strike in the country in less than a week” or “Thirty five women and children were killed by a Yemeni cruise missile armed with cluster bombs which struck an alleged Marine training camp in Texas”).

These self-venerating imperial prerogatives are the premises driving the vast bulk of American foreign policy and military discourse. It is certainly what’s driving the spectacle of so many people pretending that the punishment of Dr. Afridi is some sort of aberrational act which the U.S. and other Decent, Civilized Countries would never do.

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Glenn Greenwald: The Imperial Mind

Glad to see someone point out the hypocricy of the outrage over Dr. Afridi’s sentencing. If you start a fake vaccination camp, thereby exposing hundreds of children to Hep B while they’re under the impression they’re protected (all while essentially committing treason) I’m not sure why you’d expect to be let off without a prison sentence. Unless you’re siding with the US, of course, in which case… just read the article.

Reopening Nato supply: Pakistan's Justification for a $5,000 fee per container

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan and the United States make some headway in bilateral talks, Islamabad’s demand for $5,000 per container for transporting goods to Afghanistan through its territory remains the biggest stumbling block.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has ruled out paying Pakistan this amount, but officials familiar with the talks say Islamabad’s demand is “neither irrational nor out of the blue.”

The supplies made to Isaf and Nato forces stationed in Afghanistan have ruined Pakistan’s road infrastructure over the last nine years of cooperation, they added.

The infrastructure was used for eight years without paying any charges. In the ninth year, the US started paying a nominal handling fee of $220 per container to National Logistic Cell – the army’s logistics arm, officials said. Terming Pakistan’s demand as “extortion,” Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential aspirant, had claimed that the US was paying $250 per container to Pakistan.

The US can’t just continue to not acknowledge the cost its wars have on other countries and expect unconditional support without anything in return.

Roads in Pakistan can withstand ten years of normal traffic, but a single NATO container causes the damage of 1500-2000 cars. This has resulted in $1.6 billion worth of damage to Pakistan’s infrastructure, not to mention the costs incurred from scanning, inspection and examination of the supplies, environmental impact, and port services. Also worth noting: the alternate route would cost double the amount Pakistan is asking.

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I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President uttered a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:

'It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.'

But why it is so hard for Muslims to ‘get’ that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to ‘justice and progress’?

Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is ‘communicate clearly to Muslims’ that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings ‘misery and death’? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for ‘misery and death’?

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Ray McGovern: The Obama Team Just Doesn’t Get It: US Violence and Occupation Spark Terrorism

Fear Itself: Americans Believe Iran Threat on Par With 1980s Soviet Union

A new poll shows that Americans today are more afraid of Iran than they were of the USSR in 1985, a peak of the Cold War. Worth a read.

So why do Americans see Iran today as a threat on par with the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s? In a Foreign Affairs piece arguing that the U.S. is safer than either Americans or U.S. policymakers think, Zenko and Michael Cohen suggest three reasons:

The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties.

Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.

There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget-warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration.

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American foreign policy can get complicated. In the 1980s, the U.S. supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein because he was the greatest enemy of our enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. He’s dead now because the U.S. invaded his country in 2003, a war heavily premised on claims that he was supporting terrorism, namely al-Qaeda. He wasn’t supporting al-Qaeda. But he did support another terrorist group, called Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK. Now many leading American officials want the U.S. to support MEK because they are an enemy of Iran. According to a new New Yorker article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the Bush administration gave MEK money, guns, and even training at a Nevada base starting in 2005.

In other words, if Hersh’s story is true, then the U.S. supported the terrorist ally of its enemy, whom we killed in part because we thought he supported some other terrorists that he actually didn’t, because those terrorists are the enemy of our other enemy. Got it?

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Max Fisher — Blowback: In Aiding Iranian Terrorists, the U.S. Repeats a Dangerous Mistake

New Yorker article reports that U.S. special forces funded and trained a group called MEK, extending a long history of short-sighted, enemy-of-my-enemy foreign policy.

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The fact is, the American and Pakistani publics are entirely ignorant of a drone strike in Pakistan until after it occurs, and then we have little more than rumors. The hundreds of plausible drone attacks in Pakistan are documented by a handful of Pakistani papers or international press agencies in articles that, once stripped of their veneer explaining the political sophistication of the issue, are hardly longer than a Craigslist posting announcing the street corner where you can pick up a used bicycle. […]

Where, exactly, did the attack happen? What, exactly, is meant by terms like “militant compound”? Are the compounds being attacked ever near other compounds, or perhaps near homes? Are they near mosques, or schools? How many people are killed? What names do those bodies, often charred beyond recognition, bear? Were they carrying their Taliban, Haqqani or al-Qaida bomb-proof identity cards? Or maybe there is some tracking device on their bodies that allowed the Hellfire to home in on a signal? Or is there some local informant, no doubt entirely objective and well-versed in international law, who attested to the nature of those being targeted? Did those killed ever take part in armed action against NATO or ISAF forces? Did they ever cross over the border to Afghanistan?

No one in America or elsewhere can answer these questions, at least not publicly.

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Umar Farooq on the ongoing drone operation in Pakistan which has killed between 467 and 815 civilians, 178 of them children, while injuring at least 1100.

US drones come to the the Philippines

Early last month, Tausug villagers on the Southern Philippine island of Jolo heard a buzzing sound not heard before. It is a sound familiar to the people of Waziristan who live along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, where the United States fights the Taliban. It was the dreaded drone, which arrives from distant and unknown destinations to cause death and destruction. Within minutes, 15 people lay dead and a community plunged into despair, fear and mourning.

The US drone strike, targeting accused leaders in the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah organisations, marked the first time the weapon has been used in Southeast Asia. The drone has so far been used against Muslim groups and the Tausug are the latest on the list.

Just as in Pakistan and other theatres of the “war on terror”, the strike has provoked controversy, with a Filipino lawmaker condemning the attack as a violation of national sovereignty. This controversy could increase with the recent American announcement that it plans to boost its drone fleet in the Philippines by 30 per cent. The US already has hundreds of troops stationed on Jolo Island, but until now, the Americans have maintained a non-combat “advisory” role.

The expansion of US’ 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. To understand what is happening in the Philippines and the US’ role in the conflict, we need to look at the Tausug, among the most populous and dominant of the 13 groups of Muslims in the South Philippines known as “Moro”, a pejorative name given by Spanish colonisers centuries ago.

This article is highly recommended, as is the rest of the series which uses in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to “explore how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences.”

Poll Shows Strong Support for Obama’s National Security Policies

A new poll suggests that President Obama’s national security policies—including the use of unmanned drones to target terrorism suspects—have broad support among Americans, including the traditionally dovish left wing of his Democratic base.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll found that the use of armed drones was backed by 83 percent of respondents, and 77 percent of liberal Democrats, a somewhat surprising number given that some human rights advocates have taken issue with the program.

Obama has relied on the drones far more than George W. Bush did, and has expanded their use to include missions outside of defined war zones. However, the support for the drone strikes dropped somewhat when respondents were asked specifically about the issue of targeting an American citizen living abroad, as was the case when Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki was killed last year.

The president also got high marks for his decision to keep Guantanamo Bay open, despite promising during his 2008 campaign that he would shutter the military prison. Seven in 10 Americans said they supported his decision, including slightly more than one half of self-described liberal Democrats.

The poll numbers suggest that Obama won’t have to worry too much about an alienated base, at least on national security issues, as his re-election campaign kicks into full gear. Still, the survey suggests he will have his work cut out for him on other fronts: When asked if Obama deserves a second term, respondents were split, with a narrow majority (53 percent) saying that he did. Full numbers here.

Disappointing.

(Source: Slate)

Israel may strike Iran this spring: reports

(Reuters) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a growing possibility Israel will attack Iran as early as April to stop Tehran from building a nuclear bomb, U.S. media reported on Thursday.

The Washington Post first reported that Panetta was concerned about the increased likelihood Israel would launch an attack over the next few months. CNN said it confirmed the report, citing a senior Obama administration official, who declined to be identified.

"Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb," Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote.

"Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon - and only the United States could then stop them militarily," Ignatius wrote.