Army’s Fingerprint and Iris Databases Head for the Cloud #Biometrics #UID #Aadhaar


 

A soldier scans an Afghan’s eye for placement in the U.S. military’s large wartime biometrics databases, March 2012.Photo: U.S. Army

 

The next time U.S. soldiers snap a picture of your eye or scan your face, they’re likely to store all that personal, physical data in the cloud.

The Army’s Intelligence command recently awarded a sole-source contract to bring the classified Defense Cross-Domain Analytical Capability, a database storing various kinds of security-relevant information the Army collects, onto the proverbial “cloud” of distributed servers and networks. Among the focuses of the project: “integrating Biometrics into the cloud,” according to a description of the contract.

The effort “involves the Entity management and tracking system for Biometrics/Human Terrain Facial recognition capability (photos, video) and edge-to-Cloud Enterprise Messaging (Corps/Division Node to/from Handheld,” says the Army Intelligence and Security Command. “Human Terrain” refers to an Army program in Iraq and Afghanistan that sought to map unfamiliar tribal networks and other social structures. Integrating that into an intelligence database is a major shift, but more on that in a second.

Currently, at least some biometric data is stored locally in the warzone of Afghanistan, in or around where soldiers and marines on patrol take it from locals and insurgents. That limits troops’ ability to exploit it, particularly when they’re mobile: troops who detain a suspicious person in, say, Djibouti won’t necessarily know if he’s already been nabbed in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. And supporting mobile operations is key to the whole cloud-storage project. “Mobile support in Cloud Corps Nodes includes provisioning the handhelds as data receivers and summarization of query results for handheld,” the Army command envisions.

 

But there are drawbacks to migrating the biometric data to the cloud. Among them, familiar to anyone who tries to get at their important GoogleDoc over an overtaxed wi-fi connection at Starbucks, is bandwidth. If it’s bad for you there, it’s much worse for soldiers in the middle of a warzone. “It’s an excellent opportunity when operating in environments like the NYPD can with their mobile biometric devices in all of 3G’s glory,” says a biometrics specialist who worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan, “but Tora Bora is another story. (Then there’s the expense of supporting and accessing the cloud-based database in a rugged warzone, the specialist adds: “Personally, I think bandwidth is going to cost more than humans.”)

Still, the military is into biometrics in a big way. It’s created and maintained biometrics databases containing literally millions of iris and fingerprint scans from Iraqis and Afghans. The Iraq database has outlasted the Iraq war: it resides permanently at U.S. Central Command in Tampa.

Evidently unsatisfied with the clunky ViewFinder-esque mobile tools for collecting biometric data in the field, in February the Pentagon inked a $3 million research deal with California’s AOptix to check out its smartphone-based biometric identifier, built on an iPhone and iOS. Then there’s all the Pentagon’s additional research into identifying people by the unique pungencies of their body odor and the ways they walk.

It’s worth noting that the architects of the Army’s star-crossed “human terrain” mapping, a much-criticized attempt at warzone anthropology, swore up and down that their interviews with tribal leaders had nothing to do with gathering intelligence. That distinction had much to do with the distaste many anthropologists had with working alongside the military, but architects Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro said they weren’t spying because they weren’t part of the military’s “targeting cycle.”

“[G]iven the vast collection and reporting effort that supports lethal targeting, using HTS [the Human Terrain System] to fulfill this function would be redundant and duplicative,” they wrote in 2012. (.PDF) “Whereas [human intelligence] requires highly specific information about individuals in order to capture or kill, social science, as practiced in HTS, seeks broad contextual information for nonlethal purposes.”

Whatever McFate and Fondacaro’s intentions, folding biometric data from the Human Terrain System into an intelligence database collapses their distinction. Once that information enters the database, nothing stops analysts from marshaling it for potentially lethal military operations. That will have implications if the Army ever again tries to get into the social science business.

The obvious worry for any effort like this, aside from bandwidth, is going to be data security. Military cloud storage is still in its infancy — in 2009, the colonel in charge of the Defense Cross-domain Analytical Capability cautioned, “To a certain degree it’s cloud technology, but we are applying something that’s less bleeding-edge” — and many in uniform fear that they can’t adequately secure a cloud-based infrastructure. It’s a real concern in an age when Chinese cyber-espionage of U.S. military secrets runs deep. The unique physical characteristics of millions of people isn’t something you want to leave vulnerable.

Still, if the military can figure out how to lock down its cloud, the Army looks likely to start storing some of its most sensitive and difficult-to-replicate physical data onto it. The 12-month project kicks off in late August — giving the Army plenty of time to collect more facial, eye and fingerprint information before upload.

Noah Shachtman contributed reporting.

 

Source- http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/

Abdullah Ocalan: A Living Argument Against The #DeathPenalty


By N. Jayaram

26 April, 2013
Countercurrents.org

It is not important that Time magazine featured Abdullah Ocalan in its latest annual list of “100 most influential people in the world”. Such lists are open to question. A list drawn up by a publication based in the United States is bound to reflect a heavy US bias. In fact, it contains names many people in other parts of the world might never have heard of.

What is important is that the 200-word profile of Ocalan in Time is by Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein, a party historically linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Adams establishes the relevance of that fact at the outset: “The Irish peace accord known as the Good Friday Agreement is 15 years old this month. For almost all that time, Abdullah Ocalan, a founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has been in prison in Turkey.”(1)

The Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998 was a historic development that ushered in peace (albeit with inevitable hiccups) after decades of “troubles” in Northern Ireland. It signalled the Provisional IRA’s move away from the use of violence for attaining its goal, that of severing Northern Ireland from Britain and incorporating it in a socialist Irish republic.

That agreement came to be held up as a model of sorts for ending other conflicts such as between Basque nationalists and Spain and, of course, between the Kurdish pro-independence groups and Turkey.

Ankara regards the left-leaning Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist outfit, a stand endorsed by Washington and some other allies. (Turkey is a key member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.) Its leader Ocalan was arrested in Nairobi in 1999 and taken to Turkey where he was sentenced to death. But the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey applied to join the European Union, all of whose members are abolitionist.

Happily, Ocalan underwent a change of heart during his long years in prison. There have been sporadic peace talks between him and the Turkish authorities. “Persuading enemies that there are alternative ways to resolve long-standing differences takes patience and a willingness to engage in dialogue, but most important, it requires leadership,” Adams notes in his brief profile of the Kurdish leader.

“Ocalan has demonstrated that leadership. Despite incarceration, he has forged a road map to peace that commits the Kurdish people to democracy and freedom and tolerance.”

In a stirring call for this year’s Newroz or Navroz (New Year) issued on 21 March, Ocalan addressed “all the peoples of Middle East and Central Asia” and said the whole region “is currently seeking a contemporary modernity and democratic order that would address its historical context. The search for a new model where everyone could live freely and in fraternity has become one of basic human needs – like bread and water. It is inevitable that Anatolian and Mesopotamian geography and the cultural momentum in there will build this model.” (2)

Kurdistan is one of several “unrepresented nations” of the world, its people spread across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Time magazine also picked Indian human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover for inclusion in its list of 100. (3)

“Justice, she believes, must reach everyone — not just privileged Indians on the top rungs but those in insurgency-torn areas, those unjustly tortured, jailed or executed, those who slip through the many cracks in the system,” notes writer Nilanjana Roy in her introduction.

Of course, the same list has two more Indians, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and film actor Aamir Khan, testifying to essentially unimaginative nature of such lists.

But the fact that Ocalan and Grover are on it has an encouraging message for human rights activists, especially those calling for universal abolition of the death penalty: Ocalan is alive today because Turkey scrapped it. And Grover’s is a loud voice pointing to the futility and counterproductive nature of the death penalty in dealing with crimes, including gender crimes. Tough punitive provisions will only make it harder to get a conviction.

Ocalan personifies that old saw, “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. He is a hero for tens of millions of Kurdish people and is no terrorist in the eyes of many others sympathetic to the Kurdish cause. But even staying with the Turkish characterisation, the fact that he is alive today, affords both sides an opportunity to engage in peaceful dialogue.

Such logic seems to have escaped Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya of the Indian Supreme Court, who recently rejected a plea that delay in considering the mercy petition of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar constituted grounds for commutation. (4) They were throwing away a wealth of jurisprudence within India and worldwide that has held such delays ought automatically to lead to commutation. Thirty years ago, in the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, Supreme Court Justices O. Chinnappa Reddy and R.B Misra had so held. One can only conclude that the judges who handled the Bhullar appeal were swayed by the pro-hanging trend that seems to have India in its grip.

Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim (about 98% of the population) and has officially given up the death penalty, not having executed anyone since 1984. Some other Muslim countries too have abolished it – from Albania to Uzbekistan – and some are abolitionist in practice, meaning they have not carried out an execution for at least 10 years – from Algeria to Tajikistan.

Other Muslim countries as well as Hindu dominated India can follow suit. But that would require judges to get their precedents right, open their eyes to the global trends in jurisprudence and apply their minds without being swayed by the blood lust whipped up by Hindutva and other antediluvian forces.

It would also help if India’s Home Ministry and the Rashtrapati Bhavan too could shed their current penchant for pandering to mobs baying for blood – mostly Muslim blood.

Notes

1. http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/abdullah-ocalan/#ixzz2RNdqaJI5

2. http://www.euronews.com/2013/03/22/web-full-transcript-of-abdullah-ocalans-ceasefire-call-kurdish-pkk/

3. http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/vrinda-grover/

4. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/succumbing-to-the-bogey-of-fear/article4654464.ece

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/

 

 

“Hubris”: New Documentary Reexamines the Iraq War “Hoax”


The Curse of Saddam Hussein

 

 

 

An MSNBC film, hosted by Rachel Maddow and based on Michael Isikoff and David Corn‘s book, finds new evidence that Bush scammed the nation into war.

 

By David Corn, bloomberg

 

February 16, 2013 

 

 

A decade ago, on March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq that would lead to a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 service members wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. The tab for the war topped $3 trillion. Bush did succeed in removing Saddam Hussein, but it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true. Three years after the war began, Michael Isikoff, then an investigative reporter for Newsweek (he’s since moved to NBC News), and I published Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, a behind-the-scenes account of how Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants deployed false claims, iffy intelligence, and unsupported hyperbole to win popular backing for the invasion.

 

Our book—hailed by the New York Times as “the most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations”—was the first cut at an important topic: how a president had swindled the nation into war with a deliberate effort to hype the threat. The book is now the basis for an MSNBC documentary of the same name that marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Hosted by Rachel Maddow, the film premieres Monday night in her usual time slot (9PM ET/PT). But the documentary goes beyond what Isikoff and I covered in Hubris, presenting new scoops and showing that the complete story of the selling of that war has yet to be told.

 

One chilling moment in the film comes in an interview with retired General Anthony Zinni, a former commander in chief of US Central Command. In August 2002, the Bush-Cheney administration opened its propaganda campaign for war with a Cheney speech at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. The veep made a stark declaration: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” No doubt, he proclaimed, Saddam was arming himself with WMD in preparation for attacking the United States.

 

Zinni was sitting on the stage during the speech, and in the documentary he recalls his reaction:

 

It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program. And that’s when I began to believe they’re getting serious about this. They wanna go into Iraq.

 

That Zinni quote should almost end the debate on whether the Bush-Cheney administration purposefully guided the nation into war with misinformation and disinformation.

 

But there’s more. So much more. The film highlights a Pentagon document declassified two years ago. This memo notes that in November 2001—shortly after the 9/11 attacks—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks to review plans for the “decapitation” of the Iraqi government. The two men reviewed how a war against Saddam could be triggered; that list included a “dispute over WMD inspections.” It’s evidence that the administration was seeking a pretense for war.

 

The yellowcake uranium supposedly bought by Saddam in Niger, the aluminum tubes supposedly used to process uranium into weapons-grade material, the supposed connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden—the documentary features intelligence analysts and experts who at the time were saying and warning that the intelligence on these topics was wrong or uncertain. Yet administration officials kept using lousy and inconclusive intelligence to push the case for war.

 

Through the months-long run-up to the invasion, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, would become the administration’s No. 1 pitchman for the war with a high-profile speech at the UN, which contained numerous false statements about Iraq and WMD. But, the documentary notes, he was hiding from the public his deep skepticism. In the film, Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff at the time, recalls the day Congress passed a resolution authorizing Bush to attack Iraq:

 

Powell walked into my office and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, “I wonder what’ll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?” And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I—I wrote that down on my calendar—as close for—to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

 

Wilkerson also notes that Powell had no idea about the veracity of the intelligence he cited during that UN speech: “Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied, we did participate in a hoax.”

 

A hoax. That’s what it was. Yet Bush and Cheney went on to win reelection, and many of their accomplices in this swindle never were fully held accountable. In the years after the WMD scam became apparent, there certainly was a rise in public skepticism and media scrutiny of government claims. Still, could something like this happen again? Maddow remarks, “If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation—if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it—then history says we are doomed to repeat it.”

 

David Corn is Mother Jones‘ Washington bureau chief.

 

Revealed: US and Britain Launched 1,200 Drone Strikes in Recent Wars


Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

by Chris Woods and Alice K Ross
An MQ-9 Reaper returns to Kandahar from an Afghan mission. (USAF/Tech Sgt Chad Chisholm)Recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have seen almost 1,200 drone strikes over the past five years, according to new data released to the Bureau.

The information, much of it classified until now, shows that US Air Force drones carried out most of the 1,168 attacks. However British crews are also responsible for a significant portion of the strikes in Afghanistan.

The Bureau has obtained data from the US armed forces, Nato and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. It reveals, for example, that more than a quarter of all armed Coalition air sorties in Afghanistan are now carried out by drones.

While only a fraction of those missions result in strikes, drone strikes in Afghanistan are now taking place on average five times each week.

NB: Libya figures are to September 2 2011; conflict ended on October 31. Yemen figures are confirmed drone strikes only; dozens of further strikes are reported but unconfirmed. Click the graph to see the data.

Afghanistan – the US’s most intense conflict
The US’s secret drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere is now in its eleventh year and is attracting increasing scrutiny, including academic studiescourt casesand, soon, a UN investigation. Ironically, less is known about the use of drones in conventional theatres of war.

The US military and its allies have carried out almost 1,200 drone strikes since 2008 in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. When the Bureau first approached the US military in August seeking drone data for recent conflicts, we were told the information was classified. Central Command (Centcom) later relented after the Bureau argued there was a strong public interest in releasing the information.

Centcom now says it is committed to publishing statistics on the number of missiles fired by drones in Afghanistan, as part of its monthly reports.

The newly declassified figures provided to the Bureau show armed drones flown by the Coalition have carried out 1,015 drone strikes in Afghanistan since 2008. This is three times more than the 338 attacks the CIA has carried out in neighbouring Pakistan over the same period.

Of more than 7,600 armed drone missions flown by Coalition forces between January and October 2012, ‘kinetic events’ – drone strikes – occurred 245 times, a ratio of about one strike for every 30 missions flown. In Iraq, however, only one in every 130 armed drone missions in 2008 resulted in a strike.

For context, there were an additional 1,145 attacks by conventional aircraft in Afghanistan during that period, official figures show. The proportion of airstrikes carried out by drones has risen steeply to 18%, up from 11% in 2009.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD has revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.While Coalition drones fly thousands of armed sorties in Afghanistan, drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm’, a Centcom spokeswoman told the Bureau.

The number of strikes has increased steadily year-on-year – but there is ambiguity over who is carrying them out. The majority are by the US Air Force, with the remainder by the British military and – possibly – US Special Forces. Here there is some confusion.

A senior US Army spokesman said: ‘Of the thousands of UAS [unmanned aerial systems] we have, only a very small number (well less than 100) are armed.’

But another senior US military official, speaking on background terms, said: ‘The Army doesn’t have UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] in service that carry munitions… Any UAVs that can carry munitions are/were under the charge of the Air Force in Afghanistan and Iraq.’

Military officials were unable to explain the discrepancy between the two statements. The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has its own classified fleet of Reaper drones, however, which may account for the apparently contradictory statements.

Britain’s small, active fleet
‘In Afghanistan drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm:’ US Central Command spokeswomanThe UK’s drone fleet in Afghanistan is small compared with that of the US – Britain will shortly double its number of Reapers from five to ten aircraft.

Yet British-piloted aircraft launched a high proportion of the total missiles fired from drones.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released new data on the number of missiles fired in each of the past five years. In 2011, almost four missiles of every ten fired by drones in Afghanistan were the work of UK forces, the new figures indicate. In 2010 and 2012 the proportion was over a quarter. An MoD spokesman pointed out that the rate of missiles released in comparison to total hours flown had fallen significantly from its peak in 2008.

The MoD refused to reveal the number of strikes it had carried out, and indicated it would be inaccurate for the Bureau to infer a number of attacks by comparing British data with Centcom’s more complete numbers, ‘because of differing rules of engagement’.

Click the image to see an interactive and download the data

The missing numbers
‘Protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission. The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’ US Air Force spokeswomanThe US has so far refused to release casualty data for its drone campaigns, although an Air Force spokeswoman insisted that ‘protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission’. She added: ‘The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’

Only Britain has issued estimates of the non-combatants it has killed. According to officials at the Ministry of Defence, four civilians have died in UK-piloted drone strikes in Afghanistan – although campaigners such as Drone Wars UK have questioned this figure.

David Cameron visits troops in Afghanistan, December 2010 (Corporal Mark Webster/MoD)A ministry spokesman said: ‘Every effort, which includes in some circumstances deciding not to release weapons, is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage, including civilian casualties, is minimised.’

Although Britain has not officially estimated the number of militants killed, prime minister David Cameron told reporters in December 2010 that by that point UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. More than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones since that date.

Libya: a short, bloody campaign
In contrast to the long-running Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, figures supplied by Nato and the Pentagon on last year’s Libyan air campaign give an insight into the brutal intensity of that short conflict.

Nato provided the Bureau with figures for the operation, first published in a letter to the head of the UN’s investigation into Libya in January 2012. Differences in how data is recorded makes it difficult to draw a comparison  between Libya and other recent campaigns. What is clear is that armed drones played a small yet significant role.

Prime minister David Cameron in December 2010 said UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. Since then more than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones.In April 2011, the US announced it was sending Reaper and Predator drones to Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector. ‘They are uniquely suited for urban areas,’ Marine General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a press conference at the time.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD later revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.

Nato aircraft – piloted by the US, France and UK – flew around 18,000 armed sorties during the brief campaign, firing 7,600 missiles.

A tiny proportion of these armed missions – 250 in total – were flown by drones. US Predators flew 145 strike sorties, according to a Department of Defense briefingpublished in October 2011. A Nato spokesman explained ‘strike sorties’ is the term used for ‘identifying and engaging targets’, while armed sorties could also be for surveillance, and carrying weapons for self-defence.

The Pentagon confirmed to the Bureau that US-piloted drones carried out 105 strikes between the start of April and September 2, 2011. This figure does not reflect the full campaign, which continued until October 31. However, it does indicate a very high ratio of strikes to armed sorties – more than one in three total armed missions led to a strike – reflecting the intensity of the Libyan conflict compared to the more drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where drones often fly armed missions without firing weapons.

Following the end of the campaign, in November 2011 Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed: ‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’

But the following month, a New York Times investigation reported 40-70 civilians died in Nato bombings. The findings were supported by an Amnesty Internationalinvestigation published in March 2012, which named 55 civilians including 16 children and 14 women – all killed in strikes on urban areas, including in Tripoli, Zlitan, Majer and Sirte.

‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’ Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen But it is not clear how many – if any – of these deaths were caused by drones.

Iraq: a rapid wind-down
The Bureau has also obtained previously classified details of US drone strikes in Iraq for the final years of the conflict.

These demonstrate how swiftly the US Air Force scaled down its drone strikes as withdrawal approached.

The number of armed drone sorties dropped steadily between 2008 and December 2011, when US forces finally withdrew.

Actual drone strikes – or ‘kinetic events’ – collapsed by more than 90% between 2008 and 2009, Obama’s first year in office, from 43 strikes to four. In comparison, the CIA carried out 55 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009.

There were no US Air Force drone strikes in Iraq in 2010, and just one in 2011. All US military drone sorties in the country have now ceased.

 

Check out the American War- Music video #mustwatch


A 4-minute music video directed by KP Sasi and based on Kamaan Singh Dhami’s anti-war song “American War Paar Da! (Check Out the American War!).” It is a satirical and is a severe indictment of America’s role in escalating world conflict.

Originally written following the post-9/11 bombing of Afghanistan by the USA, and developed to address the occupation of Iraq, the song comments on various aspects of the American empire – its stockpile of nuclear bombs, its cozy relation with fanatical and dictatorial regimes, and in fact, the very notion of American peace and liberty. Copy left right & Center!

When war passes for foreign policy #Psainath


October 25, 2012

P. Sainath

25THWar
25THWar

In the last Obama-Romney debate, there was absolutely no mention of the financial costs, casualties and lessons from America’s military outings

“Take the profit out of war,” said Kevin Zeese, one of the more important activists of the Occupy Movement in the United States, “and you take out war.” His audience was made up mainly of U.S. war veterans gathered in New York to observe — and protest — the 11th anniversary of the conflict in Afghanistan. That is the longest war the United States has ever waged. The veterans ranged from those who had seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan to many who had fought in Vietnam. There was also one 88-year-old World War II veteran.

That link between profit and war sticks out in a recent Center for Public Integrity (CPI) investigation. The U.S. Congress could be spending $3 billion on tanks the army does not want. That includes repairing many M1 Abrams tanks the army won’t use. As Aaron Mehta, one of the authors of the CPI report puts it: the army “has decided it wants to save as much as $3 billion by freezing refurbishment of the M1 from 2014 to 2017, so it can redesign the hulking, clanking vehicle from top to bottom.” Congress disagreed.

Of course, the lawmakers batting for the tanks spoke about jobs. Their concern, in theory, is for the workers involved. If their factories shut down, the workers making the tanks could lose their jobs. But it seems the lawmakers’ own jobs were the real cause of their worry. The tank’s manufacturer, say the report’s authors “has pumped millions of dollars into congressional elections over the last decade.” A sound move, it seems. The CPI studied spending and lobbying records that showed donations targeting “the lawmakers who sit on four key committees that will decide the tank’s fate.” It also found that: “Those lawmakers have received $5.3 million since 2001 from employees of the tank’s manufacturer, General Dynamics, and its political action committee.”

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost anywhere between $2.5-$4 trillion. In a nation with a $16 trillion debt, that should count for something. In the “third and final” Obama-Romney debate (on foreign policy), it didn’t. Those numbers didn’t merit the slightest mention by either man. Obama claimed to be holding the line on military spending. Romney promised to raise it. As early as 2008, economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz co-authored a book with Linda J. Bilmes (an expert on U.S. budgeting, at Harvard) titled The Three Trillion Dollar War. That prophecy is pretty much on track. It could even prove an underestimate. As Bilmes pointed out in The Boston Globe, “Half of all U.S. veterans from this (Afghan) war are claiming disability benefits, racking up trillions of dollars in long-term support costs.”

The link with the economy, apart from with foreign policy, point out Stiglitz and Bilmes, is huge. “Spending on the wars and on added security at home has accounted for more than one-quarter of the total increase in U.S. government debt since 2001.” And this war was pursued without raising taxes. Indeed, with tax cuts for the rich thrown in at the same time, in both wars, during the Bush years.

Human costs

About 6,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s twice the number of victims in the dreadful attacks of 9/11. Besides, suicides among soldiers on active duty now average one every 24 hours. The death count does not include hundreds of others working for private military “contractors.” Elsewhere in the world, they’d be called mercenaries. Many dirty chores were outsourced to such forces as the U.S. tried to wind down its presence.

Obama said in the debate that he had come with a promise to “get us out of Iraq” and “we did that.” He had, therefore kept his promise of 2008. He failed to mention that in that year, he also ran with the line that Afghanistan was a worthy war. As President, his “surge” — adding 30,000 troops there for a while — has failed. The real task is how to get out without disgrace.

The debate had not a word on the numbers of casualties and deaths. Not a word on the financial costs of the wars and their link to the economy. Not a whisper on the lessons to be drawn for U.S. foreign policy. That, in a debate on foreign policy.

The human costs to others have been awful, too. No one knows for sure how many civilians have died as a result of the two wars. The estimates range from one hundred thousand to several times that number. As reported in these columns in 2008, a little over three years after the war in Iraq began in 2003, over 6,50,000 Iraqis were estimated to have lost their lives. A survey by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad had put it bluntly: “As many as 6,54,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions. The deaths from all causes — violent and non-violent — are over and above the estimated 1,43,000 deaths per year that occurred from all causes prior to the March 2003 invasion.” The survey has been attacked, but few deny the death count has been massive. Iraq’s overall mortality rate more than doubled from 5.5 deaths per 1,000 persons before the war began to 13.3 per 1,000 persons by late 2006. Also, many more civilians have died since the time of that study.

By late 2006, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had come up with other kinds of numbers. Close to 1.8 million Iraqis had fled their country since the war began. Another 1.6 million made up the internally displaced.

“What an incredible waste of human life these wars inflict,” Paul Appel, a Vietnam war veteran, told us at the October 7 meeting in New York. “Looking back, I was having to face that before I even left for Vietnam. I was given the job of letting parents know their sons had died in the war. I had to go along with the army priest. Once, I was left to do it on my own.” Appel is a farmer from Illinois. With him was Dud Hendricks, a former sports coach from Maine. And many others from modest backgrounds. A few hours after we met, they were all arrested and led away in cuffs. The vets wouldn’t leave the Vietnam War Memorial where they had gathered, by 10 p.m. A highly embarrassed police squad took them away.

None of the four candidates for president or vice-president has ever served in the military. At the debate that night, Romney declared his firm support for using Drones in the way they are now employed in Pakistan. Obama smirked. It was a policy he had driven big time. That these have caused very high civilian casualties did not matter. The drones are now over Libya as well. His trump card, of course, was the killing of Osama bin Laden. His huge foreign policy achievement. Yet several groups associated with Bin Laden were not overwrought by his death. Their disconnected leader had become an embarrassment.

The debaters revelled in clichés. Obama: “America is the one indispensable nation in the world.” (So there are many that are dispensable?) “I’ve got a different vision for America.” Romney: “America must be strong.” “I’m optimistic about the future.”

So where does it go from here? It goes to a zillion more television ads adding even more to this insanely expensive contest. The pundits are already working out in which states the campaigns will cut back on spending in order to push more money into some swing states.

It is not easy to beat an incumbent American President. In the last 112 years, only four elected presidents seeking re-election have been defeated. (Gerald Ford who lost in 1976 does not figure in that list. He was not elected but became President when Richard Nixon quit in disgrace. In 80 years since 1932, only Jimmy Carter (1980) and George H.W. Bush (1992) have been beaten.

Yet, Obama, while having that great edge, does not have it all sewn up. It’s easy to forget that in 2008, just before Wall Street hit the fan, John McCain was slightly ahead of Obama in the polls. The meltdown that year transformed the scene. The state of the economy hardly gives Obama a great boost this time around.

Meanwhile, the pundits are back to guessing whose body lingo was better in the final debate. Who looked “more presidential.” A more cutting response to that process, though, comes from Andrew Levine in CounterPunch.org. “What does being a better debater have to do with anything? Presidents don’t debate. The candidates might as well compete by jousting or pole-vaulting.”

sainath.p@thehindu.co.in

 

Iraq: End harassment of oil union activists


Iraqi government agencies frequently interfere with internal union affairs, punishing union activists by imposing forced transfers, demotions, fines, travel restrictions, and other penalties allowed by Iraq‘s labor law, which dates from the Saddam Hussein regime, as well as the law governing state employees. The suppression of worker rights has been most severe in the oil sector, where the Oil Ministry has worked hand in hand with the oil companies to enforce these punishments.

This harsh approach is evident in the April 17, 2011, arrests of 26 workers at the Maysan Oil Company in southern Iraq who were peacefully demonstrating against corporate corruption. Even though they had received advance permission to hold their demonstration, a Ministry of Oil investigation led to the reprimand of eight workers and a warning to 18 others. All 26 were instructed that further actions would lead to greater penalties being applied against them. Individual letters sent by the company on December 13, 2011, essentially stated that the workers’ livelihoods would be jeopardized if they continued to engage in such activity.

Additionally, Abdul Kareem Abdul Sada, vice president of the General Federation of Trade Unions and Workers’ Councils of Iraq (GFTUWCI)–Basra Branch, received a reprimand and six-month suspension of his salary bonus, in accordance with recommendations made by investigative committee No. 1129 on January 11, 2012. Hassan Juma’a Awwad, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), received a three-year grade demotion; Adel Abood, a board member of the southern oil union of the IFOU and member of the IFOU assembly board, received multiple written reprimands; and Abdul Khaliq Naser, a member of the GFTUWCI Oil union, received a warning letter, based on the recommendations of the same investigative committee. All were accused of “inciting unrest.”

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I Had to Tell the Truth About Iraq–Even Though it Cost Me My Career



Given what we left behind in Iraq, it remains beyond anyone, even the nasty men who started the war in 2003, to claim victory or accomplishment or achievement there.

By Peter Van Buren, Alternet
April 8, 2012 |

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People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, often via a long digression, but my answer is always the same: no regrets.

In some 24 years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid the mistakes and flaws of those anonymous functionaries.

What I saw while serving the State Department at a forward operating base in Iraq was, however, different. There, the space between what we were doing (the eye-watering waste and mismanagement), and what we were saying (the endless claims of success and progress), was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not scaredy-cat bureaucrats.

That was too much for even a well-seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore and so I wrote a book about it, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis. Originally, I imagined that my book’s subtitle would be “Lessons for Afghanistan,” since I was hoping the same mistakes would not be endlessly repeated there. Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing.

By the time I arrived in Iraq in 2009, I hardly expected to be welcomed as a liberator or greeted — as the officials who launched the invasion of that country expected back in 2003 — with a parade and flowers. But I never imagined Iraq for quite the American disaster it was either. Nor did I expect to be welcomed back by my employer, the State Department, as a hero in return for my book of loony stories and poignant moments that summed up how the United States wasted more than $44 billion in the reconstruction/deconstruction of Iraq. But I never imagined that State would retaliate against me.

In return for my book, a truthful account of my year in Iraq, my security clearance was taken away, I was sent home to sit on my hands for months, then temporarily allowed to return only as a disenfranchised teleworker and, as I write this, am drifting through the final steps toward termination.

What We Left Behind in Iraq

Sadly enough, in the almost two years since I left Iraq, little has happened that challenges my belief that we failed in the reconstruction and, through that failure, lost the war.

The Iraq of today is an extension of the Iraq I saw and described. The recent Arab League summit in Baghdad, hailed by some as a watershed event, was little more than a stage-managed wrinkle in that timeline, a lot like all those purple-fingered elections the U.S. sponsored in Iraq throughout the Occupation. If you deploy enough police and soldiers — for the summit, Baghdad was shut down for a week, the cell phone network turned off, and a “public holiday” proclaimed to keep the streets free of humanity — you can temporarily tame any place, at least within camera view. More than $500 million was spent, in part planting flowers along the route dignitaries took in and out of the heavily fortified International Zone at the heart of the capital (known in my day as the Green Zone). Somebody in Iraq must have googled “Potemkin Village.”

Beyond the temporary showmanship, the Iraq we created via our war is a mean place, unsafe and unstable. Of course, life goes on there (with the usual lack of electricity and potable water), but as the news shows, to an angry symphony of suicide bombers and targeted killings. While the American public may have changed the channel to more exciting shows in Libya, now Syria, or maybe just to American Idol, the Iraqi people are trapped in amber, replaying the scenes I saw in 2009-2010, living reminders of all the good we failed to do.

Read full article here

 

 

IRAQ: New research highlights link between FGM/C and mental disorders


Estimates of the prevalence of FGM/C in Iraqi Kurdistan vary greatly

Estimates of the prevalence of FGM/C in Iraqi Kurdistan vary greatly

DUBAI,  January 2012 (IRIN) – New data out of Iraq shows what many psychologists suspected though little research has confirmed: Girls who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) are more prone to mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Results of Research – conducted by Jan Ilhan Kizilhan of the University of Freiburg, an expert in psychotraumatology (psychotherapy for people who have suffered extreme trauma) – were published in the April-June 2011 edition of the European Journal of Psychiatry.

Kizilhan found “alarmingly high rates” of PTSD (44 percent), depression (34 percent), anxiety (46 percent) and somatic disturbances (mental disorders whose symptoms are unexplainable physical illnesses – 37 percent) among a group of 79 circumcised girls in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, aged 8-14, who did not otherwise suffer any traumatic events.

These rates were up to seven times higher than among non-circumcised girls from the same region and were comparable to rates among people who suffered early childhood abuse.

Last year, shortly after receiving the results of the research, Kizilhan said, the Kurdish parliament in northern Iraq banned FGM/C.

He told IRIN he hopes the results will also lead to more and better treatment of PTSD among girls who have undergone FGM/C, using special techniques which include the family in the process as much as possible.

The existence of FGM/C in the Middle East is less known than in Africa. Estimates of the prevalence of FGM/C in Iraqi Kurdistan vary wildly depending on the province, but surveys have indicated the overall figure could be around 40 percent. The region is home to five million people, but has just 13 psychologists and only one with expertise in psychotherapy, Kizilhan said