Tag Archives: terrorism

Kalashnikov’s Remorse

The creator of the AK-47 assault rifle seeks mercy; regrets its use

66 years later, the Avtomat Kalashikova remains the world’s most ubiquitously used weapon, estimated in contributing – even in relatively “quiet” years – to the deaths of a quarter of a million of the world’s population per annum. Developed in the Soviet Union in 1947, used by its forces in 1949, the AK-47 assault rifle will undoubtedly endure for many decades more – a solemn fact that certainly contributed to its creator seeking mercy and forgiveness for his contribution to its existence. Mikhail Kalashnikov died late last month, two days before Christmas, at the age of 94. He lived to see and feel and weigh the horrors his invention was used to inflict; he lived with the astonishing fact that Kalashnikovs make up more than one in ten of all firearms, and are the weapon of choice for armies made up of drugged, deluded and manipulated child soldiers. In 2010, the then 91 year old Kalashnikov wrote the Russia Orthodox Church to ask a question I think he regrettably knew the answer to: was the blood shed by the weapon over the more than half a century since he created it, on his hands? “My spiritual pain is unbearable,” he wrote. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”

The church told him not to dwell on the matter too heavily in his twilight years. Its press secretary, Cyril Alexander Volkov, wrote in a reply to Kalashnikov that, “The Church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” The press secretary was later quoted as saying, “He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia.”

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The church’s position is, I think, correct. It’s difficult to impart much guilt on Kalashnikov for his creation, meant for the safeguarding of his country against the better-equipped Nazi invaders, especially since he could not have foreseen the abominable future misuse of it, and feels obvious regret and remorse for that misuse. It’s noteworthy to remind ourselves that Kalashnikov is not the first – nor will he be the last – weapon inventor who has expressed regret and remorse for their contributions. The namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel, expressed similar remorse when his creation of dynamite – meant to be used as an instrument of peace – was used to wreak untold havoc throughout the breadth of the First World War. The nuclear scientists that developed the nuclear bomb(s) dropped on Japan during the Second World War pleaded with President Truman to not use the weapon to such effect. Even Albert Einstein, who famously consulted with President Roosevelt to urge his continued research on developing the bomb, expressed remorse: “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.”

Still, as RT.com notes, “AK-47s have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes and rocket attacks combined.” It’s easy then to understand why the man responsible for that creation feels such pangs about the millions who have lost their lives because of something he invented. In 2007, Kalashnikov was posed a question of the state of his conscience, and confidently replied, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians, who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” It seems obvious that Kalashnikov is in some ways morally responsible for the weapon he created, but it’s perhaps unfair of us to depart on him much blame for the horrors perpetuated by the Avtomat Kalashikova. It was a weapon created for the defence of a people; it was meant for bringing about the end of a terrible war against a terrible foe. But wars were waged long before 1947, and will be waged for the entirety of our species’ time on this planet. We are all culpable for the millions who have given way to our frightful waging of war, not just Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Photo Credit: (Above) AK-47 assault rifle courtesy of Flickr user Brian nairB; (Below) Ethiopian National Defense Force 1st Lieutenant Ayella Gissa takes aim with an AK-47 assault rifle on a simulated enemy during a practical exercise as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s train the trainer course in Hurso, Ethiopia, December 27, 2006, courtesy of wikicommons.

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Your Terrifying Quote For The Day

Tea Party tax day protest 2010

“President Obama waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition. Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda. … This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. … Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand.”

Michele Bachmann

…an active member of Congress.

Hallelujah.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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Boston Bomber Makes The Cover Of Rolling Stone

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Rolling Stone magazine must be doing fantastically well with subscriptions, because they are set to lose a hell of a lot of them with this latest announcement:

In the new issue of Rolling Stone, contributing editor Janet Reitman delivers a deeply reported account of the life and times of Boston bomber Jahar Tsarnaev. Reitman spent the last two months interviewing dozens of sources – childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents, many of whom spoke for the first time about the case – to deliver a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster.

Considering the vehement backlash on social media sites, maybe the magazine should have emphasized the ‘monster’ angle a little more, rather than plastering a selfie of the Islamist terrorist that makes him look like Jim Morrison reborn. Obviously, Rolling Stone means to put out a detailed, fine article about the troubled history of Tsarnaev, and one can be sure that they in no way mean to apologize for his actions. But none of that is going to matter to the general public, who justifiably associate the cover of the magazine to Rock n’ Roll greats like the Beatles, Doors, etc,.

Terrible decision.

Here are some reactions from the twitterverse:

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Fox News Pundit Calls For A Ban On U.S. Mosques Until All Muslims Are Cleared Of Terrorism

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Fox News commentator and supposed “liberal” Bob Beckel said during the daytime program “The Five” that there should be a moratorium on mosques built in the United States until the government can clear every single Muslim in the country of terror activity.

His comments were provoked by a heavy conversation of the murder of dozens of children and their teacher in north eastern Nigeria by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram:

BECKEL: They are a bunch of thugs, murderers and they go after the Christian schools, they have done this, they burn them down. We don’t do that here, if we burned your mosque here, you would really be upset.

The fact of the matter is, these guys are murderers, they’re terrorists and if this is what the prophet told you to do, then the prophet was wrong. Now, I’ve already gotten enough mail from you all, you don’t like what I say about not letting your students come here.

If it were up to me, I would not have another mosque built in this country until we got it worked out who was not a terrorist.

There’s a fine line between an Islamophobic rant, and a rant against islamist extremism, and Beckel crossed it. To compare American muslims to one of the most vile terror organizations in the world today is like juxtaposing RIRA militants with every-day American catholics. The shoe doesn’t fit just because both groups believe in the same Prophet.

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Comprehending Evil

Deutschland : KZ Konzentrationslager Buchenwald : Gitter 2 1937

James Dawes, a trauma studies scholar and Macalester College professor, explains the difficulty of the work he does by recalling a recent interview he had with members of the Chukiren, a group of war criminals:

I recently wrote a piece for CNN about a Syrian rebel who carved out a man’s heart and began to eat it. The editor had asked me to explain what could make a man do such a thing. I tried to explain, and many people were outraged by what I wrote. In one way or another, they were all saying: You think when you try to understand why men do evil things, you are going to learn something that might help prevent atrocities in the future. But really you are just excusing the perpetrators, justifying unjustifiable actions. The only thing you need to understand about evil is how to punish it.

Many of the Chukiren have died since I last spoke with them. The others are failing rapidly. I’m not sure I ever really came to understand them. But that is not because what they did is beyond understanding, not because evil is some kind of mystery. In some ways, it is all quite simple. If I had been a 19-year-old when my country entered into a genocidal war, I would have done the same thing everybody else did. That’s true for most of us. Making monsters is a straightforward process, and ­nation-states are expert at it.

Why the war criminals did what they did—in the end, that is not what I find hard to understand. What I find hard to understand is what must it be like to be the person who did those things. When we imagine getting perpetrators into our hands, the first thing we think about is punishment, what we as a society are going to do to them. But I think the real and final punishment is having to be the person you are.

I don’t think we’ve ever truly developed a way to understand evil or inhumanity. Once we see evil perpetuated, punishment becomes the only recourse left to us; if by punishment we mean incarceration, or worse. Maybe the circumstances make the villain, or maybe evil is imbedded in some and cannot be eradicated. I think it’s impossible to understand what goes on in the mind and the soul of a person who commits atrocities, but I imagine he suffers quite a lot of darkness, confusion, anger and insecurity. Understanding evil may relieve society from its natural state of punishing, but I don’t think it would necessarily rid us of the evil.

(photo by flickr user vincent desjardins)

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The Horrors Of Force Feeding Guantánamo Inmates

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Yasiin Bey (aka, Mos Def) volunteers to be force-fed under Guantanamo Bay prison standards, in solidarity with the hunger-strike inmates:

I could hardly make it through the whole video because of the grotesqueness.

Conor Friedersdorf watched the video, and was immediately reminded of the late Christopher Hitchens:

I don’t know whether or not forced feeding crosses the line of torture, the exercise reminded me of the late Christopher Hitchens volunteering to be waterboarded.

The Obama Administration is force-feeding numerous Gitmo prisoners twice daily as a response to a hunger strike inmates launched to protest being held indefinitely without charges or trial.

The standard procedures used include “strapping detainees to a chair, forcing a tube down their throats, feeding them large quantities of liquid nutrients and water, and leaving them in the chair for as long as two hours to keep them from purging the food,” The Washington Post has reported. Detainees say the procedures are abusive, verge on torture, and have “caused them to urinate and defecate on themselves and that the insertion and removal of the feeding tube was painful.”

It may not be torture in the sense that the prisoners are theoretically being kept alive by the practice, but it’s definitely inhumane and barbaric to put unjustly held human beings who have absolutely no hope of recourse for the rest of their lives through a gruesome procedure meant to keep them alive when they want nothing more than to die, which many of them undoubtedly see as the last form of self-respect and determination left to them.

And meanwhile, an indifferent United States, a cowardly Congress, and a do-nothing President watch on with folded arms.

(Photo: screenshot from youtube video)

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CIA Refutes Senate Torture Report, Calls The Practice “Effective”

www.reprieve.org.uk

In December of last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a 6,000 page report that processed more than 6 million pages of documents about CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation tactics — basically, torture. After the reviewing the documents, Reuters reported that torture tactics rarely, if ever, actually yielded intelligence of any sort. Senator Feinstein — chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee — had this to say at the time of the vote:

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight. I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”

In response, the Central Intelligence Agency took it upon itself to conduct a review of the review, and according to the Washington Post, summarily rejected the Senate’s findings. CIA director John Brennan is set to present his agency’s findings to Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), during a closed meeting today. The core disagreement being whether the torture techniques used by the agency post 9/11 were effective or not:
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Snowden: “(Leakers) Should Be Shot In The Balls!”

Edward Snowden, painted portrait IMG_8815

It’s been quite the ideological journey for Edward Snowden. He’s admitted publicly that he took a contractor’s position with Booz Allen Hamilton for the sole purpose of gathering secret intelligence information on the NSA, and ever since his video interview with the Guardian, he’s justified his actions by decrying government secrecy and surveillance as a threat to democracy.

But just four years ago, Snowden felt very, very differently:
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A “Wake-Up Call” For The American Left

Mass demonstration for Bradley Manning at Fort Meade. June 1, 2013.

More than anything, I’ve been surprised and confounded at the disagreement and disappointment emanating from my brothers and sisters on the Left for my position regarding the rather overblown NSA leaks and the implications of them for our American society.

The hypocrisy of the Left is sometimes astounding, and certainly lamentable. In a long polemic that everyone should dedicate some time to read, David Simon responds to an argument forwarded from this liberal/leftist position in regards to the NSA leaks, and veritably exposes that hypocrisy:

Thus far, the sum of of liberal argument against the NSA program amounts to a veritable Maginot Line of legal ignorance, borrowed libertarian selfishness and jaw-dropping obliviousness to the notion that those who fear a civil liberties apocalypse and wish to fight against such are decades late to the fields where battles actually rage. Shit, they’re still not in the right place.

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Meet The 46 Guantánamo Detainees Never To Be Tried Or Released

Guantanamo jog

One of the more elusive questions about the fate of Gitmo prisoners is how many of them are actually dangerous, and thus considered too dangerous to release or prosecute in a court of law under any circumstances? Thanks to a bold move by The Miami Herald, with the help of Yale Law School students, in their joint suit of the Defense Department under the Freedom Of Information Act, we now know how many prisoners are likely going to die in Guantánamo, never having a trial, or hope for release:
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Edward Snowden: Neither Hero Nor Whistle-Blower

By now, anyone with even a remote interest in current affairs is well aware of the story of Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton employee and ex-CIA analyst behind Glenn Greenwald’s series of leaks about NSA surveillance programs, both foreign and domestic. Some laud him as a hero, others as the greatest whistle-blower of the age.

Jeffrey Toobin echoes my own feelings when he calls Snowden nothing more than a grandiose narcissist, and proceeds to put his actions into context:
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The World We Live In

9/11 WTC Photo

An unfortunate reality of dedicating the brunt of one’s time to voraciously following daily news cycles, studies, reports and opinions, is that the doer begins to be jaded by the pervasive stupidity of most politicians, the ambivalence of his/her peers and neighbors, and genuinely pessimistic about politics in general. I’ve only been blogging for three months now, but it seems like a lot longer than that. For three months, I’ve spent the majority of my days scouring the web for information. It’s changed the way I think about the world, the way I formulate arguments and present them to my readers.

That’s why it is in equal measure upsetting and unsurprising that there is an entire cohort of journalists and bloggers that are so totally convinced that every single thing their government tells them is a lie. To be sure, governments regularly lie to their people – I’m not arguing that they don’t. But just as we decry and lament that the far-right members of the “conservative” party in America are extreme in their war-mongering, their protestations of government conspiracies and their wielding of American power when they have control of the White House, so too should we lament and decry the far left coalition that yells and screams for utopian conceptions of civil liberties that have never realistically existed in the history of the world.
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President Obama: “No One Is Listening To Your Phone Calls.”

Obama visits Pentagon

Finding it necessary to quickly address what’s becoming a huge civil rights issue, President Obama staunchly defended the government’s surveillance program(s) today, calling them both necessary to safeguard American lives and striking the right balance between privacy and security:

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about,” Obama told reporters on a visit to California’s Silicon Valley.
(…)
Obama stressed that the programs are overseen by federal judges and by Congress, where senators and representatives are regularly updated on their use, and he said his administration has also instituted audits to make sure safeguards are observed.
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Obama said he came into office with a “healthy skepticism” about the surveillance programs, but came to believe the “modest encroachments on privacy” are warranted.

“They make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity,” he said.

The government’s Internet monitoring program does not apply to U.S. citizens or residents, he said.

“In the abstract, you can complain about ‘Big Brother’ and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance,” he said.

The part that I highlighted was something I previously didn’t know — that American citizens and residents are not the ones having their internet activities monitored. That changes things quite a bit from a civil rights perspective. I’m inclined to agree with Obama that modest encroachments on privacy are necessary evils in order to keep the country safe. Maybe that makes me naive, but I’d like to think it makes me a realist.

Nice to see Obama get out in front of this.

(Photo by The US Army)

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New Report Finds That The NSA Has Your Emails

Email with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Greenwald and MacAskill drop the second, more important bomb:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

The Program as a whole gives so much indiscriminate authority to the agency that it’s hard to believe this document is real:

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing data collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

We still don’t know much about the program or the total reach of the American security apparatus, but what we do know is that the PRISM report shows a surveillance program that is massive and seemingly unaccountable and controls everything from phone records to personal emails. It’s also hard to stomach that the officials in charge of this have had their powers granted in special courts that are legally allowed to withhold their decisions and legal justifications – hence accountability.

Here’s what we don’t know and why I feel I’m in a smaller and smaller minority going forward: we don’t know how the NSA analyzes the data they get, or what information they’ve been able to glean from this data mining. We have no idea – nor should we, I would argue – what terrorist attacks were abated because this security apparatus exists, if any. We don’t even know the extent of congressional involvement, but it seems that despite a few members of the GOP decrying Obama for this, they’ve known for years.

But still, It’s foolish to conclude with anything else but saying that President Obama has not only stuck with the Bush era national security apparatus, but advanced it. James Baker writes in the New York Times that, “Rather than dismantling Mr. Bush’s approach to national security, Mr. Obama has to some extent validated it and put it on a more sustainable footing.”

And why are we getting all this information in the first place? Well, turns out a government whistleblower had a crisis of faith:

Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.

The Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, released this statement in defense of the actions of the government along with some real-talk about what leaking like this does to the security of the country:

Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.

I’m sure we’ll learn more information as the days roll along, but I don’t know how much of a good thing that is.

Previous thoughts on this issue can be read here, and here.

(Photo by flickr user Robert Scoble)

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