Tag Archives: united nations

Four Hours of Sleep is Enough

The Obama Administration told a UN committee investigating torture by the US and its adherence to the Convention Against Torture (CAT) that it wants to guarantee future US torture victims no more than four hours of sleep.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Captain Phillips” is a Beautiful Lie

“Cinéma Vérité” as Political Propaganda

Paul Greengrass is a gifted director who specializes in historical reenactments, a once marginal genre that in recent years hits the sweet spot, earning critical plaudits as well as bringing in bank (Greengrass’ “United 93,” Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” about Hitler’s final days in his bunker). Greengrass’ latest entry in this field is “Captain Phillips,” a retelling of the 2009 hijacking of a container ship by Somali pirates. Tom Hanks stars in the title role.

Watching this film left me with an uneasy feeling, like I’d digested a delicious meal devoid of nutrition. It was a fun drama. But I didn’t learn anything. Why not?

This is solid Hollywood filmmaking. Tight scripting, sharp editing and unpretentious cinematography deliver a story that keeps you in your seat long after you began having to pee. Hanks delivers one of his finest performances, driving a stake into his rep as an always-playing-himself actor; Barkhad Abdi is a sensational revelation as pirate leader Abduwali Muse.

But what does this film mean? What message does Greengrass convey to his audience?

In random order, here are the takeaways: leadership is tough. Bravery exacts a high cost. In an interconnected world — we watch Phillips email his wife after the pirates’ first attempt to board the Maersk Alabama — it’s nevertheless possible to be alone, isolated and vulnerable. Intermodal transport, an industry in which vast ships carrying thousands of tons of goods are piloted by an unarmed skeleton crew, is surreal. If nothing else, “Capitain Phillips” is worth watching because it opens a window into the lonely lives of the men and women responsible for keeping our store shelves stocked.

Pull out of the multiplex parking lot, however, and you quickly realize the real revelation: “Phillips” is pro-government propaganda.

Greengrass has created the most frightening kind of propaganda — so effective that for most people it will become the definitive historical account of an event. Unlike the hilariously shrill propaganda flicks of the past, from “Triumph of the Will” to Cold War-era artifacts like “Rambo” and “Red Dawn,” the new breed pretends not to editorialize. Affecting a quiet, Zoloft-inflected tone and economical, apparently straightforward scriptwriting, this movie plays it close to the vest, coming off as deadly fair and serious. Which makes it easy to miss what is left out.

This new cinéma non-vérité uses high art to sanitize history in order to elevate the imperialist, militarist geopolitical agenda of the U.S. government in its post-9/11 war on terror.

            Kathryn Bigelow never scratches the surface of Osama bin Laden’s motivations in “Zero Dark Thirty.” He’s just a target, a cipher in a beard, so we don’t care when he dies. Her film is thrilling yet vacuous.

It is far from settled history that United Flight 93 was brought down by the passenger revolt — the 9/11 Commission Report leaves open the possibility that it was shot down. But that would prompt uncomfortable questions. Greengrass’ film, which unquestioningly accepts the “let’s roll” scenario, all but sets it in stone for posterity.

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is devoid of political context, especially the historical basis for the Iranian revolutionaries’ contempt for the United States. Best not to mention the coup, the shah, corruption or torture.

American movies are about choices. Will the protagonist choose right or wrong (and which is which)? In “Captain Phillips,” however, the ethical quandaries rest not on Hanks’ character, who handles his ordeal as courageously and competently as you could expect, but on Abdi’s shoulders. It’s more than a little odd.

“We are just fisherman,” Abdi explains after seizing control of the vessel. Fortunes reverse after crewmen hidden in the engine room capture him and trade him for their captain, who offers them $30,000 in cash and a lifeboat to leave the ship. Disgusted that the Somalis won’t settle for less than “millions” and physically brutalized, Hanks spits “you are not a fisherman!” at Abdi an hour later into the movie.

It’s a puzzling narrative choice. Not only is Abdi’s a supporting role, we don’t see much deliberation. Muse is in it for the big bucks all along. So are his colleagues.

Passing up the obvious chance to use this mother of all culture clashes as a means to discuss race and class, Greengrass has nevertheless succumbed to the hoary colonial instinct to ask, almost out loud, why $30,000 isn’t enough to sate a gang of starvation-thin guys from one of the world’s poorest countries. The closest we get to an answer is a tossed-off aside by Abdi that the fish “left” Somali waters.

The background, mentioned only obliquely in this movie about Somali piracy, is that Somalia’s fishing industry had been decimated. After Somalia collapsed into the sectarian civil conflict in the early 1990s, the absence of a strong central government — coupled with the indifference of the international community — opened a vacuum for opportunists. Foreign trawlers and other vessels dump industrial waste, toxins and even nuclear waste — including uranium — off the Somali coast. Foreign fishing ships use drift nets to steal the fish that survive.

Time magazine reported in 2009 that Somalis turned to piracy after Western ships made it impossible to fish: “A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country’s at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international ‘free for all,’ with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country’s coastline each year.”

Desperate Somali fishermen formed vigilante flotillas to go after foreign fishing vessels. Some robbed the poachers at gunpoint. This turned out to be much more lucrative than fishing. Piracy became a $50 million a year industry.

If Abduwali Muse isn’t really a fisherman, he didn’t have that option to begin with.

Postscript: Somalis who still try to fish are harassed, questioned and detained by American warships assigned to the Horn of Africa to deter pirates. (In “Captain Phillips,” this Navy practice is whitewashed.)

Two or three additional lines of dialogue would have enlightened American movie audiences about the complexity of the piracy issue. Exposing the antagonists’ motivations would have made “Captain Phillips” a smarter movie, a tragedy in which opposing forces, neither side evil, are forced into a clash in which at least one side must die. Greengrass gives us all the moral nuance of cowboy-versus-Injun movie.

“Capitain Phillips” is the triumph of suburban schlubs and high-tech military hardware over hollow-eyed black men in rags, horribly unfamiliar with basic oral hygiene.

By the way, if some of the Maersk Alabama’s crewmen are to be believed, Phillips was a lousy captain who imperiled them by skirting too close to the Somali coast. Deborah Waters, an attorney representing 11 crewmen who are suing Maersk, said: “He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.”

Maybe, maybe not. Only those who were there know for sure.

Making films is also about choice.

When you make a film based on history, it’s impossible to include every detail. Nor should you try.

Still, basic background facts are crucial to understanding the event being depicted. Omitting or spinning issues (why Somalis resorted to piracy) strips them of context. Deploying a matter-of-fact tone makes these cinematic lies (because the Somalis are poor and greedy) credible.

It is unforgivable to promote America’s we’re-the-good-guys party line at the expense of the victims of the system. (Muse, politically voiceless in this film, is serving 33 years in federal prison.) Dressing up a perversion of truth in pretty lighting, and stuffing tainted dialogue into the mouths of great actors, results in an affront to art as well as history.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Breaking Bad

Obama’s Illegal War Against Syria

Barack Obama wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria. As president of the nation whose military possesses the most lethal firepower of any society in history, he obviously has the ability to start this war — his sixth major front, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan — if he wants to. But does he have the legal right?

The answer is no. Not if the basic architecture of the Constitution, the separation of powers, remains in force. Not if the Founding Fathers’ originalist intent, and their understanding of English at the time, means anything. Not if America’s treaty obligations, which after ratification carry the full force of U.S. law, are more than pieces of paper.

Might makes right; the victor writes history. No doubt, in the perhaps-not-so-distant future, if the United States is formally constituted as an empire, with Syria one of its outlying provinces or a vassal state, no one will care how it went down back in 2013. Until then, however, it matters a lot. Attacking Syria without legal basis would have broad implications, and not just for the Syrians who will lose their lives, limbs and sanity.

Back here in what neofascist politicians and media mouthpieces call the Homeland, we Americans are watching our top officials and boldface notables brush off the basic legal underpinnings of the political culture with impunity.

Obama and his allies’ disdain for the law probably won’t spark much street protest, much less an uprising. (These days, you have to be a white Republican to provoke a demonstration against your wars.) Nevertheless, official lawlessness is corroding the system, hastening the coming rebellion just as surely as rust will eventually cause a bridge to collapse. When those at the top don’t follow their own rules — rules that they wrote, rules from which they benefit the most ­— why should anyone else? “They say I got to respect the system,” the Australian punk band the Saints sang, “but there ain’t no respect in that system for me.”

Obama and the other warmongers are counting on ignorance and confusion to make their case, but the rules of war are clear.

Attacking Syria would be illegal.

Obama and his surrogates keep saying that Obama has the “inherent power” to attack Syria (or any other country) in his role as commander-in-chief. He’s only asking Congress for approval, he says, because he’s a nice guy (and the political cover doesn’t hurt if and when the war turns sour, as they usually do).

In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton explained the thinking behind the new Constitution to 18th century newspaper readers. The president’s role as “commander-in-chief” was nothing close to the lofty Caesar-like rights Obama claim. So ceremonial as to be virtually insignificant, the commander-in-chief gig barely rated a mention: “While [the powers] of the British kings extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies,” Hamilton explained, “all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the Legislature [Congress].”

In his book War Powers: How The Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, Peter Irons reminds us that under the U.S. Constitution, the president’s only military role is to repel an invasion — after it has occurred! — pending action by Congress. “The Framers,” writes Irons, “agreed that the president could act without a congressional declaration of war to repel an invasion but that only Congress could authorize the deployment of forces outside the nation’s territory in combat against foreign troops.”

The Founders were split on a number of issues. Slavery, for instance. On separation of powers and making war, they were virtually unanimous. Only a single delegate voted to vest the president with the right to wage war.

Obama has no “inherent right” to attack Syria or any other country.

Under the Constitution, Congress could do it. But the U.S. is also subject to treaty obligations that clearly block it from attacking Syria under present circumstances.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which the U.S. Senate ratified by an 85-1 vote, bans all acts of military aggression. Many of the Nazi leaders executed and imprisoned at Nuremberg were convicted for violating this Pact. It remains in force as international law.

The U.N. Charter mandates that all U.N. member states “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” The Charter does not make exceptions for the three principal arguments Obama makes in favor of attacking Syria: punishment (for using chemical weapons), preemption (it’ll send a message to other possible future chemical weapons users, such as Iran and North Korea) and deterrence (it will deter Assad from attacking Jordan or Israel). To the contrary, the Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws “collective punishment” in which civilians are targeted to suffer for the offenses of their government.

During George W. Bush’s propaganda offensive leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush and his allies (many of the same figures pushing to attack Syria) successfully convinced the public to sign off on their “preemptive war.” But neither Iraq then, nor Syria now, comes close to fitting the bill legally.

“There’s a well-accepted definition for preemptive war in international law,” Joseph Cirincione, Director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment, said in late 2002. “Preemptive war is justified by an imminent threat of attack, a clear and present danger that the country in question is about to attack you. In such a case a preemptive attack is recognized as justifiable.”

That’s a very high bar. Even troops massed on your border don’t automatically qualify as an imminent threat under international law. You have to let the enemy hit you first, or have strong reason to believe they’re about to do so.

Now Obama can argue — and others will — that Geneva, Kellogg-Briand, the U.N. Charter, and even the U.S. Constitution are quaint, outdated relics, written by naïve men whose 20th century attempts to outlaw war are irrelevant today. If that’s what they think, then they should convince us to amend or annul them.

As long as these laws remain in force, and as long as Obama and other members of America’s ruling class continue to ignore them, an ugly day of reckoning draws closer.

P.S. to Mr. Obama: Please, Sire, may we miserable subjects of your Benevolent Self kindly see proof that the Syrian government (and not the rebels) carried out that poison gas attack the other day? How about some evidence?

Anything?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Quagmire Pattern

Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria

The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.

There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).

During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.

The U.S. must get involved!

If not us, who?

Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.

The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.

It works. The regime falls. Yay!

Civil war ensues. Not so yay.

The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.

Then the quagmire begins.

The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.

If they can withdraw.

The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.

Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.

Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.

Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.

However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.

The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)

The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.

The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.

Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.

There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”

“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.

So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?

“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”

In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.

That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

This Amount of Computer Code

The president’s lawyers say he has broad powers to launch preemptive cyberattacks against other nations. The problem, as a White House official says, is selling the American people on the threat from “deadly dangerous computer code.”

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Iran – Because Two Wars Aren’t Enough

Why Doesn’t Anyone Call Out Romney for Warmongering?

Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel’s GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis’ superior “culture.”

As if spewing one of the most overtly racist lines in recent presidential campaign history wasn’t enough, eschewing “containment” (read: “diplomacy”), Romney also endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter’s nuclear program—Israel’s own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK since it’s a U.S. ally—from moving forward.

“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney said, stating that “no option should be excluded.”

He didn’t say how he knew the intentions of Iran’s leaders. Clairvoyance? Bush had it too.

Though Mitt slightly walked back his campaign’s sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States could easily wind up getting dragged into. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that “we have all options on the table. Those include military options.”)

Most criticism focused on Romney’s flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president’s foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama’s approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.

As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan and nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.

Warmongering has gone mainstream. It’s a given.

In a way, Romney’s willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, so do the citizens of the country on whose behalf we’d be killing and dying, Israel. But even Romney’s Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney’s tough-guy act on Iran.

The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it’s nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option, that the military option is always on the table. You’ve heard that line so often that you take it for granted.

But did you know that “keeping the military option on the table” is a serious violation of international law?

The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an “armed attack.” As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of “imminent threat.” In 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote what remains the standard definition of “imminent,” which is that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The enemy’s troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There’s no time for diplomacy.

Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t come close to this definition, even from Israel’s standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! Magazine: “It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That’s a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word ‘imminent’ to the point that it has no meaning.”

By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy.

The Allies’ main brief against the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg was not genocide, but that they had violated international law by waging aggressive war. Yet every American president has deployed troops in aggressive military actions.

Aggressive war hasn’t been good for America’s international image, the environment, our economy or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted. But unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney’s, it will go on forever.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: The US Love Affair with Drones

A War Strategy Built Around Drone Attacks Is Not Only Unethical, But Will Hurt US Interests in the Long Run.

One of the pleasures of traveling through the developing world is that things develop. They change. There’s always something new.

Afghanistan is, depending on one’s point of view, developing, deteriorating, or doing both at once.

Example: Last August found me and two fellow Americans in a hired taxi zooming past bombed-out fuel trucks through Taliban-held Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan near the Tajik border. The sense of menace was palpable, but our driver seemed calm.

Then his face darkened. We were passing into the flatlands east of Mazar-i-Sharif. We saw nothing but dirt, dust and rocks, all the way to the horizon. Yet our driver was nervous. He scanned this bleak landscape. “Motorcycles,” he said. “I am looking for the motorcycles.”

The adaptable neo-Taliban increasingly rely on the classic tactics of guerilla warfare. Rather than hold territory, these postmodern Islamists-cum-gangsters rely on hit-and-run strikes using something I hadn’t seen in 2001: motorcycles. Like a scene from the Kazakh film epic about Genghis Khan updated by Quentin Tarantino, squadrons of bearded bikers are terrorizing Afghanistan’s newly/cheaply paved highways.

I call them the Talibikers.

One of the more intriguing revelations in last year’s WikiLeaks data dump was that the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency has been supplying the Taliban with thousands of Pamir dirtbikes, including a 2007 shipment of 1,000 to the Waziristan-based network led by Mawlawi Jalaludin Haqqani. Talibs ride the Pamirs and their preferred brand, the Honda 125 and its Chinese knock-offs, to assassinations. They launch attacks on highways from bases in villages 10 to 15 kilometers away.

The Talibikers speed across the desert in great clouds of dust, “Mad Max” style, to ambush and bomb fuel trucks. There they set up checkpoints where they shakedown travelers for cash. Sometimes they kidnap motorists and demand ransom payments from their families. By the time the hapless Afghan national police shows up, the resistance fighters are long gone.

An early report on the Talibikers appeared in the Telegraph in 2003. “The motorcycles have played a key role in Taliban hit-and-run operations in the south of the country where the campaign against international troops and aid workers has intensified,” the British newspaper reported in November of that year. “In the latest incident, a Frenchwoman working for the United Nations was shot dead this month by the pillion passenger on a motorcycle in the south-eastern town of Ghazni. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack. In another recent attack, a group of motorcyclists opened fire on an aid convoy near Kandahar, killing four Afghans. In August, two motorcyclists threw a grenade into the Kandahar compound of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, damaging the building but causing no injuries.”

ISI-funded motorbikes continue to play a vital role in the Taliban’s war to drive U.S. and NATO occupation troops out of Afghanistan. “Day and night, Taliban assassins on motorbikes hunt their victims, often taunting them over the telephone before gunning them down in the city’s streets,” Paul Watson wrote in The Star, a newspaper in Canada in February 2011. “They are working their way through lists, meticulously killing off people fingered as collaborators with the Afghan government or its foreign backers…The build-up of Afghan police and soldiers, and foreign troops, in and around Kandahar city over recent months has improved security, but agile and coldly efficient motorbike death squads remain active.”

Mass attacks continue as well. “About 100 Taliban fighters on motorcycles attacked a northern Afghan village that was working to join the government-sponsored local police program against the insurgency, killing one villager, police said Wednesday. An ensuing battle also left 17 militants dead,” the Associated Press reported in May 2011.

There are fewer than 10,000 Talibikers in Afghanistan. They could be eliminated—if the U.S. and NATO stopped focusing on assassination-by-drone and instead used the same technology to increase security.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) date to the maiden flight of the now-familiar Predator drones in 1994. After 9/11 the United States became addicted to the Predator and its successor, the Reaper.

Today the Air Force and CIA have at least 7000 UAVs in service around the world, representing the biggest and most visible presence of the U.S. military in Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. This trend is likely to accelerate. As of March 2011 the U.S. Air Force was training more remote drone “pilots” than those for conventional planes. Next year the Pentagon wants $5 billion just for drones.

Drones are getting smaller and more numerous. “One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill,” according to The New York Times. “There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost.” More on this later.

It’s easy to see why generals and politicians are so enthusiastic. The pilotless planes, guided by operators manning a joystick at military and pseudomilitary agencies such as CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and armed by Xe, the private contractor formerly called Blackwater, are relatively cheap. A Predator costs $4.5 million; an F-22 Raptor fighter jet runs $150 million a unit. Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, cites the “three Ds.” Drones are “dull” because they can patrol empty stretches of barren land 24 hours a day. They’re “dirty” because they can fly in and out of toxic clouds, including radiation. Most appealingly, they are “dangerous” because the absence of a pilot eliminates the risk that a pilot—they cost millions to train–will be killed or captured by enemy forces. UAVs exploit the element of surprise: though relatively unobtrusive, they fire supersonic armor-piercing Hellfire missiles capable of striking a target as far as five miles away.

“People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying,” The New Yorker magazine reported in 2009. “‘You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,’ a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) [Bleeding] human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: ‘squirters.'”

Charming.

According to the Pentagon, drones hit their targets with 95 percent accuracy. The problematic question is: who are their targets?

Thousands of people have been rubbed out by drones since 9/11.

(Press accounts document between 1400 and 2300 extrajudicial killings by allied forces, mostly in the Tribal Areas adjacent to Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. According to media reports cited by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 957 Pakistanis were murdered by American drones in 134 airstrikes during the year 2010 alone. Since the media only learns about a fraction of these “secret” killings, the real number must be many times higher.)

Since the Pakistani government does not officially acknowledge, much less authorize, such attacks, they are illegal acts of war.

Political philosopher Michael Walzer asked in 2009: “Under what code does the CIA operate? I don’t know. There should be a limited, finite group of people who are targets, and that list should be publicly defensible and available. Instead, it’s not being publicly defended. People are being killed, and we generally require some public justification when we go about killing people.”

One would think.

Legal or not, Christine Fair of Georgetown University says the U.S. doesn’t use drone planes indiscriminately: “You have lawyers, you have targeteers, you have intelligence operatives, you actually have pilots who are manning the drones. These are not 14-year-old kids right out of basic training, playing around with a joystick,” she told National Public Radio.

In the real world, it’s often hard to tell the difference. There’s no doubt that drone operators make mistakes. In April 2011, for example, two American marines were killed by a Predator in Afghanistan.

Of course, the majority of victims are local civilians. In Afghanistan and Pakistan drone strikes have killed countless children and wiped out so many wedding parties that it’s become a sick joke. Estimates of the civilian casualty rate range from a third (by the New America Foundation) to 98 percent (terrorism expert Amir Mir). There is no evidence that a single “terrorist” has ever been killed by a drone—only the say-so of U.S. and NATO spokesmen.

Errors are inherent due to the principal feature of the technology: remoteness. Manned aerial warfare is notoriously inaccurate; pilots zooming close to the speed of sound tens of thousands of feet above the ground have little idea who or what they’re shooting at. Drone operators have even less information than old-school pilots. Like a submariner peering out of a periscope, they are supposed to decide whether people live or die based on fuzzy images through layers of glass. They call it the “soda straw.”

Nowadays, staffing is a troubling challenge: it takes 19 analysts to study images and other data from one drone. In the future, a war could eliminate unemployment entirely: it will take approximately 2000 men and women to process information from one drone equipped with “Gorgon stare” optics capable of scanning an entire city at once.

There’s also a huge gap in education, experience and culture. Virtual warriors require simple rules that don’t apply when trying to kill jihadis. At the beginning of the U.S. war against Afghanistan in 2001, for example, it was an article of faith within the Pentagon that men wearing black long-tailed turbans were Talibs. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of noncombatants were killed because of this incorrect assumption. In February 2002 a drone operator blew up a man because he was tall—as was Osama bin Laden. In fact, he and two other men killed were poor villagers gathering scrap metal. Again, this doesn’t address the broader issue of whether it’s OK to murder people simply because they are members of the Taliban.

At least as interesting as the choice of target is whom the U.S. does not try to kill: the Talibikers.

Unlike the wedding parties, houses and tribal councils that have been mistakenly incinerated by the aptly-named Hellfire missiles, Taliban bike gangs are easy to identify from the air. One or two hundred dirtbikes speeding across the desert toward a truck on an Afghan highway are unmistakable. Most Afghans, even those who oppose the U.S. occupation, fear the Talibikers and resent being robbed at impromptu checkpoints. There have been a few scattershot drone strikes, nothing more. Why don’t the CIA whiz kids make these easily identified fighters a primary target?

I posed the question to Afghan government officials. They told me that the same U.S. military that blows $1 billion a week on the war won’t lift a finger to save Afghan lives by providing basic security. “Afghan lives are worth nothing to the Americans,” a provincial governor told me.

Last week the United Nations announced that civilian casualties were up 15 percent during the first six months of 2011. If the same rate continues, this will be the worst year of the ten-year-long American occupation.

A well-placed U.S. military source confirms that Afghan security “isn’t a priority, it isn’t even much of a passing thought.” Contrary to President Obama’s claim that U.S. is in Afghanistan in order to prevent the country from becoming a base for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups and to combat opium cultivation, he says that Afghanistan isn’t about Afghanistan at all. “Afghanistan is a staging area for drone and other aerial strikes in western Pakistan,” he says. “Nothing more, nothing less. Afghanistan is Bagram [airbase].”

Under Obama the death toll has risen, worsening relations between the White House and its puppet president, Hamid Karzai. Beyond the horror of the deaths themselves, it would be impossible to overstate the contempt that ordinary people in nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan feel for the drone program. “Americans are cowards” was one refrain I heard last year. Real soldiers risk their lives. They do not send buzzing machines to kill people half a world away…people they know nothing about.

Back in 2002, former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith worried about blowback. “If [Taliban leaders and soldiers are] dead, they’re not talking to you, and you create more martyrs,” he noted. Ongoing drone attacks “suggest that it’s acceptable behavior to assassinate people…Assassination as a norm of international conduct exposes American leaders and Americans overseas.”

These days, the media gives little to no time or space to such concerns. Americans have moved into postmorality. Right or wrong? Who cares?

Recently international law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell of Notre Dame University said that the new reliance on drones could prompt an already militaristic superpower to fight even more wars of choice. “I think this idea that somehow this technology is allowing us to kill in more places and…aim at more targets is for me the fundamental ethical and legal problem.”

Meanwhile, adds Mary Dudziak of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law: “Drones are a technological step that further isolates the American people from military action, undermining political checks on…endless war.” No casualties? No problem.

Meanwhile, at a “microaviary” inside an air force base north of Dayton, Ohio, “military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds,” approvingly reports The New York Times.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH COLUMN: Obama’s Third War

Yesterday I published my first column for Al Jazeera English. I get more space than my syndicated column (2000 words compared to the usual 800) and it’s an exciting opportunity to run alongside a lot of other writers whose work I respect.

Here it is:

Stalemate in Libya, Made in USA

Republicans in the United States Senate held a hearing to discuss the progress of what has since become the war in Libya. It was one month into the operation. Senator John McCain, the Arizona conservative who lost the 2008 presidential race to Barack Obama, grilled top U.S. generals. “So right now we are facing the prospect of a stalemate?” McCain asked General Carter Ham, chief of America’s Africa Command. “I would agree with that at present on the ground,” Ham replied.

How would the effort to depose Colonel Gaddafi conclude? “I think it does not end militarily,” Ham predicted.

That was over two months ago.

It’s a familiar ritual. Once again a military operation marketed as inexpensive, short-lived and—naturally—altruistic, is dragging on, piling up bills, with no end in sight. The scope of the mission, narrowly defined initially, has radically expanded. The Libyan stalemate is threatening to become, along with Iraq and especially Afghanistan, America’s third quagmire.

Bear in mind, of course, that the American definition of a military quagmire does not square with the one in the dictionary, namely, a conflict from which one or both parties cannot disengage. The U.S. could pull out of Libya. But it won’t. Not yet.

Indeed, President Obama would improve his chances in his upcoming reelection campaign were he to order an immediate withdrawal from all four of America’s “hot wars”: Libya, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Yemen. When the U.S. and NATO warplanes began dropping bombs on Libyan government troops and military targets in March, only 47 percent of Americans approved—relatively low for the start of a military action. With U.S. voters focused on the economy in general and joblessness in particular, this jingoistic nation’s typical predilection for foreign adventurism has given way to irritation to anything that distracts from efforts to reduce unemployment. Now a mere 26 percent support the war—a figure comparable to those for the Vietnam conflict at its nadir.

For Americans “quagmire” became a term of political art after Vietnam. It refers not to a conflict that one cannot quit—indeed, the U.S. has not fought a war where its own survival was at stake since 1815—but one that cannot be won. The longer such a war drags on, with no clear conclusion at hand, the more that American national pride (and corporate profits) are at stake. Like a commuter waiting for a late bus, the more time, dead soldiers and materiel has been squandered, the harder it is to throw up one’s hands and give up. So Obama will not call off his dogs—his NATO allies—regardless of the polls. Like a gambler on a losing streak, he will keep doubling down.

U.S. ground troops in Libya? Not yet. Probably never. But don’t rule them out. Obama hasn’t.

It is shocking, even by the standards of Pentagon warfare, how quickly “mission creep” has imposed itself in Libya. Americans, at war as long as they can remember, recognize the signs: more than half the electorate believes that U.S. forces will be engaged in combat in Libya at least through 2012.

One might rightly point out: this latest American incursion into Libya began recently, in March. Isn’t it premature to worry about a quagmire?

Not necessarily.

“Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word ‘quagmire’ has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad,” R.W. Apple, Jr. reported in The New York Times. He was talking about Afghanistan.

Apple was prescient. He wrote his story on October 31, 2001, three weeks into what has since become the United States’ longest war.

Obama never could have convinced a war-weary public to tolerate a third war in a Muslim country had he not promoted the early bombing campaign as a humanitarian effort to protect Libya’s eastern-based rebels (recast as “civilians”) from imminent Srebrenica-esque massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi—a city nearly the size of Charlotte [North Carolina]—could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” the President said March 28th. “It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.”

Obama promised a “limited” role for the U.S. military, which would be part of “broad coalition” to “protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone.” There would be no attempt to drive Gaddafi out of power. “Of course, there is no question that Libya—and the world—would be better off with Gaddafi out of power,” he said. “I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

“Regime change [in Iraq],” Obama reminded, “took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

The specifics were fuzzy, critics complained. How would Libya retain its territorial integrity—a stated U.S. war aim—while allowing Gaddafi to keep control of the western provinces around Tripoli?

The answer, it turned out, was essentially a replay of Bill Clinton’s bombing campaign against Serbia during the 1990s. U.S. and NATO warplanes targeted Gaddafi’s troops. Bombs degraded Libyan military infrastructure: bases, radar towers, even ships. American policymakers hoped against hope that Gaddafi’s generals would turn against him, either assassinating him in a coup or forcing the Libyan strongman into exile.

If Gaddafi had disappeared, Obama’s goal would have been achieved: easy in, easy out. With a little luck, Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would have little to no influence on the incoming government to be created by the Libyan National Transitional Council. With more good fortune, the NTC could even be counted upon to sign over favorable oil concessions to American and European energy concerns.

But Gaddafi was no Milosevic. The dictator dug in his heels. This was at least in part due to NATO’s unwillingness or inability to offer him the dictator retirement plan of Swiss accounts, gym bags full of bullion, and a swanky home in the French Riviera.

Stalemate was the inevitable result of America’s one foot in, one foot out Libya war policy—an approach that continued after control of the operation was officially turned over to NATO, specifically Britain and France. Allied jets were directed to deter attacks on Benghazi and other NTC-held positions, not to win the revolution for them. NTC forces, untrained and poorly armed, were no match for Gaddafi’s professional army. On the other hand, loyalist forces were met by heavy NATO air strikes whenever they tried to advance into rebel-held territory. Libya was bifurcated. With Gaddafi still alive and in charge, this was the only way Obama Administration policy could have played out.

No one knows whether Gaddafi’s angry bluster—the rants that prompted Western officials to attack—would have materialized in the form of a massacre. It is clear, on the other hand, that Libyans on both sides of the front are paying a high price for the U.S.-created stalemate.

At least one million out of Libya’s population of six million has fled the nation or become internally displaced refugees. There are widespread shortages of basic goods, including food and fuel. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the NTC has pulled children out of schools in areas they administer and put them to work “cleaning streets, working as traffic cops and dishing up army rations to rebel soldiers.”

NATO jets fly one sortie after another; the fact that they’re running out of targets doesn’t stop them from dropping their payloads. Each bomb risks killing more of the civilians they are ostensibly protecting. Libyans will be living in rubble for years after the war ends.

Coalition pilots were given wide leeway in the definition of “command and control centers” that could be targeted; one air strike against the Libyan leader’s home killed 29-year-old Mussa Ibrahim said Saif al-Arab, Gaddafi’s son, along with three of his grandchildren. Gaddafi himself remained in hiding. Officially, however, NATO was not allowed to even think about trying to assassinate him.

Pentagon brass told Obama that more firepower was required to turn the tide in favor of the ragtag army of the Libyan National Transitional Council. But he couldn’t do that. He was faced with a full-scale rebellion by a coalition of liberal antiwar Democrats and Republican constitutionalists in the U.S. House of Representatives. Furious that the President had failed to request formal Congressional approval for the Libyan war within 60 days as required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution, they voted against a military appropriations bill for Libya.

The planes kept flying. But Congress’ reticence now leaves one way to close the deal: kill Gaddafi.

As recently as May 1st,, after the killing of Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren, NATO was still denying that it was trying to dispatch him. “We do not target individuals,” said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of Canada, commanding military operations in Libya.

By June 10th CNN television confirmed that NATO was targeting Libya’s Brother Leader for death. “Asked by CNN whether Gaddafi was being targeted,” the network reported, “[a high-ranking] NATO official declined to give a direct answer. The [UN] resolution applies to Gaddafi because, as head of the military, he is part of the control and command structure and therefore a legitimate target, the official said.”

In other words, a resolution specifically limiting the scope of the war to protecting civilians and eschewing regime change was being used to justify regime change via political assassination.

So what happens next?

First: war comes to Washington. On June 14th House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner sent Obama a rare warning letter complaining of “a refusal to acknowledge and respect the role of Congress” in the U.S. war against Libya and a “lack of clarity” about the mission.

“It would appear that in five days, the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless it asks for and receives authorization from Congress or withdraws all U.S. troops and resources from the mission [in Libya],” Boehner wrote. “Have you…conducted the legal analysis to justify your position?” he asked. “Given the gravity of the constitutional and statutory questions involved, I request your answer by Friday, June 17, 2011.”

Next, the stalemate/quagmire continues. Britain can keep bombing Libya “as long as we choose to,” said General Sir David Richards, the UK Chief of Defense Staff.

One event could change everything overnight: Gaddafi’s death. Until then, NATO and the United States must accept the moral responsibility for dragging out a probable aborted uprising in eastern Libya into a protracted civil war with no military—or, contrary to NATO pronouncements, political—solution in the foreseeable future. Libya is assuming many of the characteristics of a proxy war such as Afghanistan during the 1980s, wherein outside powers armed warring factions to rough parity but not beyond, with the effect of extending the conflict at tremendous cost of life and treasure. This time around, only one side, the NTC rebels, are receiving foreign largess—but not enough to score a decisive victory against Gaddafi by capturing Tripoli.

Libya was Obama’s first true war. He aimed to show how Democrats manage international military efforts differently than neo-cons like Bush. He built an international coalition. He made the case on humanitarian grounds. He declared a short time span.

In three short months, all of Obama’s plans have fallen apart. NATO itself is fracturing. There is talk about dissolving it entirely. The Libya mission is stretching out into 2011 and beyond.

People all over the world are questioning American motives in Libya and criticizing the thin veneer of legality used to justify the bombings. “We strongly believe that the [UN] resolution [on Libya] is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation,” South African President Jacob Zuma said this week, echoing criticism of the invasion of Iraq.

Somewhere in Texas, George W. Bush is smirking.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

(C) 2011 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What If Might Made Right?

Reimagining the Assassination of Bin Laden

President Obama murdered Osama bin Laden. I am surprised that the left has been so supportive—not of the end result, but of the way it was carried out.

Imagine if the killing had gone down the same exact way, but under Bush. Armed commandos invade a foreign country, storm into a suburban neighborhood, blow a hole in a house and blow away an unarmed man in front of his 12-year-old daughter. The guy is a murder suspect. Mass murder. But there’s no attempt to arrest him or bring him to justice. They spirit his bloody corpse out of the country and dump it into the ocean.

Osama bin Laden was suspected ordering of one of the most horrific crimes of the decade. He might have been taken alive. Yet Obama’s commandos killed him. A big part of the puzzle—the key to the truth, who might have led us to other people responsible for 9/11—is gone.

Barack Obama is our Jack Ruby.

Liberals would be appalled if this had happened four years ago. They would have protested Bush’s violations of international law and basic human rights. They would have complained about killing the Al Qaeda leader before questioning him about possible terrorist plots. They would have demanded investigations.

But this happened under Obama. Which means that even liberal lawyers who ought to (and probably do) know better are going along. At a panel discussion at the Justice Institute at Pace Law School, University of Houston law professor Jordan Paust asserted: “You can [legally] use military force without consent in foreign countries.”

“At some point a sovereign state [such as Pakistan] that’s harboring an international fugitive loses the right to assert sovereignty,” added Robert Van Lierop.

Paust and Van Lierop are, respectively, a leading opponent of torture at Guantánamo and a former UN ambassador known for his activism on climate change. Both are “liberal.”

In the U.S., conservatives and “liberals” agree: Might makes right. America’s military-intelligence apparatus is so fearsome that it can deploy its soldiers and agents without fear of retribution.

Might makes right.

In 2007, for example, U.S. Special Forces invaded Iran from U.S.-occupied Iraq in order to kidnap Iranian border guards. It was an outrage. In practical terms, however, there was nothing the Iranians could do about it.

The United States’ 900-pound gorilla act might go over better if we weren’t a nation that constantly prattles on and on about how civilized we are, how important it is that everyone follow the rules. For example:

“We’re a nation of laws!” Obama recently exclaimed. “We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate.”

He wasn’t talking about himself. This was about PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of supplying the big Defense Department data dump to WikiLeaks. Manning has been subjected to torture including sleep deprivation and forced nudity—treatment ordered by Obama.

Truth is, the Constitution, our treaty obligations and our stacks of legal codes are worthless paper. We’re not a nation of laws. We’re a nation of gun-toting, missile-lobbing, drone-flying goons.

U.S. officials do whatever they feel like and then dress up their brazenly illegal acts with perverse Orwellian propaganda. “I authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama claimed, as if blowing away an unarmed man in a foreign country was the moral equivalent of filing an extradition request with the Pakistani government and putting him on trial before 12 unbiased jurors in a court of law.

Justice is a legal process. It is not a military assault.

When considering the legality or morality of an act it helps to consider different scenarios. What, for example, if Pakistan had military power equal to ours? Last week’s lead news might have begun something like this:

“Pakistan has intercepted four U.S. helicopters over its airspace, forced them to land, and taken 79 “heavily-armed commandos” as prisoners. According to Pakistani military officials, the incident took place about 100 miles from the border of U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. ‘They didn’t stray across the border accidentally. This was a deliberate act,’ said a Pakistani general. President Asif Ali Zardari has asked Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure has been placed on high alert as the parliament, the Majlis-e-Shoora, considers whether to issue a declaration of war…”

Or let’s assume a different reimagining. What if the United States really was a nation of laws?

Then the news might look like the following:

“Bipartisan demands for Congressional investigations into the assassination of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden quickly escalated into demands for presidential impeachment after reports that U.S. forces operating under orders from President Obama invaded a sovereign nation without permission to carry out what House Speaker John Boehner called ‘a mob-style hit.’ Standing at Boehner’s side, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi decried Obama’s ‘cowboy antics’ and said she had received numerous phone calls from the relatives of 9/11 victims furious that true justice had been denied. Meanwhile, in New York, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon moved for sanctions against the United States…”

In fact, no one knows whether Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11.

They suspect. They feel.

They don’t know.

For what it’s worth, he denied it:

“Following the latest explosions in the United States, some Americans are pointing the finger at me, but I deny that because I have not done it,” bin Laden said in a statement released on 9/16/01. “The United States has always accused me of these incidents which have been caused by its enemies. Reiterating once again, I say that I have not done it, and the perpetrators have carried this out because of their own interest.”

Why should we believe him? Why not? He admitted his responsibility for the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998.

Interestingly, the FBI never mentioned 9/11 on his “wanted” poster.

There was the famous “confession video”—but it was translated into English by the CIA, hardly an objective source. Arabic language experts say the CIA manipulated bin Laden’s discussion of what he had watched on TV into an admission of guilt. For example, they changed bin Laden’s passive-voice discussion to active: “[the 19 hijackers] were required to go” became, in the CIA version, “we asked each of them to go to America.”

“The American translators who listened to the tapes and transcribed them apparently wrote a lot of things in that they wanted to hear but that cannot be heard on the tape no matter how many times you listen to it,” said Gernot Rotter, professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the Asia-Africa Institute at the University of Hamburg.

Other OBL communiqués appear to take credit for 9/11—but there’s a possibility that he was trying to keep himself relevant for his Islamist audience. Anyway, a confession does not prove guilt. Police receive numerous “confessions” for high-profile crimes. They can’t just shoot everyone who confesses

I’m not angry that Bin Laden is dead. Nor am I happy. I didn’t know the guy or care for his ideology.

I’m angry that, without a trial or a real investigation, we will never know whether he was guilty of 9/11—or, if he was, who else was involved.

Our Jack Ruby, Barack Obama, made sure of that.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL