Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

What went on in Turkey would make a terrific science-fiction novel translated to the galactic scale

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The report by Tolga Tanis in The Intercept reminds me of some of the Van Vogt space opera (the Null-A series, for example):

Nearly 20 years ago, while Turkey was in the midst of a military coup, I was asked to interview a member of a secretive religious organization whose membership — and even its aims — was little understood.

I was a young reporter for a television news program, Teke Tek, and Mr. X, as we referred to him, was a member of a group led by Fethullah Gülen, known to his followers as Hocaefendi.

We spent days together, starting in the morning and sometimes talking until midnight. What he said was astonishing. Mr. X, a shy, well-behaved young man, told me about the movement’s clandestine methods to sneak into the military schools.

First, we determine the talented, brilliant, but at the same time loyal 11- to 12-year-old students to prepare them for the military school examinations. Then we separate them from the others. And we start to meet with them secretly. We never talk in public area. We don’t want to be seen with them. Because if the military knows that these students are taught by us, they don’t have a chance to get in. And once they’ve been elected, we keep communicating again carefully. Precaution is essential for us. This is Hocaefendi’s order. And if we suspect that the relationship might be uncovered, we cease to see the student. Sometimes this non-communication takes years. But one day, we remind the student ourselves. And he always responds positively. That is why we pick the most loyal ones. And that is why they obey their hierarchal level. Everyone talks to his own big brother. No one can break the hierarchy.

According to Mr. X, the mostly highly prized of the recruits were the military pilots, and particularly pilots who could fly the American-made F-16 fighters. “Without exception, Hocaefendi wants to see every F-16 pilot by himself to bless him, even though it is very rare to see him if you are not a high-level imam,” Mr. X said (senior leaders in the organization are called “imams”). Mr. X said he was tired of the secrecy and was leaving the movement and wanted people to know about its operations.

At the time, I was shocked by this description of a massive organization. The Gülenists were, according to Mr. X, recruiting in the police, the judicial system, and other government agencies. Gülen’s followers were creating a playbook for religious adherents to survive in a government dominated by a rigid secular ideology promulgated by the Kemalists.

But after the February 28 military coup of 1997 and the resignation of the Islamist prime minister, circumstances changed. Fethullah Gülen left Turkey for the U.S. in 1999. Three years later, AKP, an Islamist political party, came to power in Turkey with the support of Gülenists, and being religious was no longer a reason to be excluded from the government.

I didn’t see Mr. X again. I had finished my interview with him and gave the notes to the anchorman, who was planning to write a book. Nothing was ever published or broadcast, however. Mr. X was never exposed, and he started a new life after leaving the movement.

Much has changed in the intervening years, most notably a break between Gülen and the AKP’s charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president of Turkey. Clashes between the two fronts erupted in 2012, and Erdogan accused the Gülen movement of creating a “parallel structure” within the state. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2016 at 12:56 pm

A Congressman Campaigns to “Stop the Madness” of U.S. Support for Saudi Bombing in Yemen

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Ben Norton reports in The Intercept:

For months, a California congressman has been trying to get Obama administration officials to reconsider U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And for months, he has been given the runaround.

Ted Lieu, a Democrat representing Los Angeles County, served in the Air Force and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. The brutal bombing of civilian areas with U.S.-supplied planes and weapons has led him to act when most of his colleagues have stayed silent.

“I taught the law of war when I was on active duty,” he told The Intercept. “You can’t kill children, newlyweds, doctors and patients — those are exempt targets under the law of war, and the coalition has been repeatedly striking civilians,” he said. “So it is very disturbing to me. It is even worse that the U.S. is aiding this coalition.”

But he and a very few other lawmakers who have tried to take bipartisan action to stop U.S. support for the campaign are a lonely bunch. “Many in Congress have been hesitant to criticize the Saudis’ operational conduct in Yemen,” Lieu said. He didn’t say more about that.

The matter has gotten ever more urgent since August 7, when the Saudi-led coalition relaunched an aggressive campaign of attacks after Houthi rebels in Yemen rejected a one-sided peace deal.

More than 60 Yemeni civilians have been killed in at least five attacks on civilian areas since the new bombing campaign began. On August 13, the coalition bombed a school in Haydan, Yemen, killing at least 10 children and injuring 28 more.

Lieu released a statement two days later, harshly condemning the attack. “The indiscriminate civilian killings by Saudi Arabia look like war crimes to me. In this case, children as young as 8 were killed by Saudi Arabian air strikes,” he wrote.

“By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen,” Lieu added. “The administration must stop enabling this madness now.”

Then, mere minutes after his office sent out the statement about the August 13 attack, another tragedy started making headlines: The . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2016 at 11:04 am

Gawker, Hating the Media, Free Trade, and F-35: Today’s Trips Down Memory Lane

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James Fallows’s column of the same title is well worth reading—and includes links worth following.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2016 at 3:15 pm

Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire

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Nations, like any organization, can make horrible errors and do great wrong, and (like any organization) the most common response is to cover up the misdeeds and attack those who expose them. We see that playing out now, as described by Marc Parry in the Guardian:

Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse.

Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups.

It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies.

By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mauwork.

That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”

She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.”

What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy.


Nothing about Caroline Elkins suggests her as an obvious candidate for the role of Mau Mau avenger. Now 47, she grew up a lower-middle-class kid in New Jersey. Her mother was a schoolteacher; her father, a computer-supplies salesman. In high school, she worked at a pizza shop that was run by what she calls “low-level mob”. You still hear this background when she speaks. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins can sound more Central Jersey than Harvard Yard. She classifies fellow scholars as friends or enemies.

After high school, Princeton University recruited her to play soccer, and she considered a career in the sport. But an African history class put her on a different path. For her senior thesis, Elkins visited archives in London and Nairobi to study the shifting roles of women from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. She stumbled on to files about an all-female Mau Mau detention camp called Kamiti, kindling her curiosity.

The Mau Mau uprising had long fascinated scholars. It was an . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2016 at 9:20 am

Cow Most Sacred: Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable

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Andrew Bacevich wrote a good column five years ago—and it was posted again today by TomDispatch.com, which noted that nothing has changed and the column is as relevant as ever. A good part of the reason is that Congress no longer does its job. Bacevich begins:

In defense circles, “cutting” the Pentagon budget has once again become a topic of conversation.  Americans should not confuse that talk with reality. Any cuts exacted will at most reduce the rate of growth.  The essential facts remain: U.S. military outlays today equal that of every other nation on the planet combined, a situation without precedent in modern history.

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War — this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a “peer competitor.”  Evil Empire?  It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money?  Sadly, not much.  Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive.  The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate “military supremacy” into meaningful victory.

Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them, but is clueless when it comes to ending them.  Iraq, the latest addition to the roster of America’s forgotten wars, stands as exhibit A.  Each bomb that blows up in Baghdad or some other Iraqi city, splattering blood all over the streets, testifies to the manifest absurdity of judging “the surge” as the epic feat of arms celebrated by the Petraeus lobby.

The problems are strategic as well as operational.  Old Cold War-era expectations that projecting U.S. power will enhance American clout and standing no longer apply, especially in the Islamic world.  There, American military activities are instead fostering instability and inciting anti-Americanism.  For Exhibit B, see the deepening morass that Washington refers to as AfPak or the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations.

Add to that the mountain of evidence showing that Pentagon, Inc. is a miserably managed enterprise: hide-bound, bloated, slow-moving, and prone to wasting resources on a prodigious scale — nowhere more so than in weapons procurement and the outsourcing of previously military functions to “contractors.”  When it comes to national security, effectiveness (what works) should rightly take precedence over efficiency (at what cost?) as the overriding measure of merit.  Yet beyond a certain level, inefficiency undermines effectiveness, with the Pentagon stubbornly and habitually exceeding that level.  By comparison, Detroit’s much-maligned Big Three offer models of well-run enterprises.

Impregnable Defenses

All of this takes place against the backdrop of mounting problems at home: stubbornly high unemployment, trillion-dollar federal deficits, massive and mounting debt, and domestic needs like education, infrastructure, and employment crying out for attention.

Yet the defense budget — a misnomer since for Pentagon, Inc. defense per se figures as an afterthought — remains a sacred cow.  Why is that?

The answer lies first in understanding the defenses arrayed around that cow to ensure that it remains untouched and untouchable.  Exemplifying what the military likes to call a “defense in depth,” that protective shield consists of four distinct but mutually supporting layers.

Institutional Self-Interest: Victory in World War II produced not peace, but an atmosphere of permanent national security crisis.  As never before in U.S. history, threats to the nation’s existence seemed omnipresent, an attitude first born in the late 1940s that still persists today.  In Washington, fear — partly genuine, partly contrived — triggered a powerful response.

One result was the emergence of the national security state, an array of institutions that depended on (and therefore strove to perpetuate) this atmosphere of crisis to justify their existence, status, prerogatives, and budgetary claims.  In addition, a permanent arms industry arose, which soon became a major source of jobs and corporate profits.  Politicians of both parties were quick to identify the advantages of aligning with this “military-industrial complex,” as President Eisenhower described it.

Allied with (and feeding off of) this vast apparatus that transformed tax dollars into appropriations, corporate profits, campaign contributions, and votes was an intellectual axis of sorts  — government-supported laboratories, university research institutes, publications, think tanks, and lobbying firms (many staffed by former or would-be senior officials) — devoted to identifying (or conjuring up) ostensible national security challenges and alarms, always assumed to be serious and getting worse, and then devising responses to them.

The upshot: within Washington, the voices carrying weight in any national security “debate” all share a predisposition for sustaining very high levels of military spending for reasons having increasingly little to do with the well-being of the country.

Strategic Inertia: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2016 at 11:19 am

CIA censors Guantánamo trials

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Of course, we don’t know why, but quite often government agencies (including the CIA) classify and hide information simply because the information is embarrassing to the agency and sometimes because it reveals downright illegal activity (as in kidnapping innocent people and torturing them, or torturing imprisoned suspects to death).

I wonder at what point the US ceases to be a free nation. We have (I hope) a long way to go, but we have one presidential candidate who has already promised to ignore Constitutional rights (freedom of the press, the right to a trial, and so on) and the right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizures has long been a dead letter (cf. civil asset forfeiture, stop-and-frisk, SWAT raids (often on the wrong house) to serve warrants, and the like). And we are certainly now a surveillance nation with all our communications actively monitored by the NSA: big data being trolled by pattern-recognition algorithms looking for any deviation of what the NSA considers to be a “good citizen,” with information turned over to the FBI, DEA, TSA, and other agencies (with instructions that the source of the information cannot be revealed, even if it means not prosecuting criminal acts).

Update: In the paragraph above, I mentioned the NSA’s passive information-gathering—lurking and listening, as it were—but the NSA also has an active front in doing cyberwarfare (e.g., Stuxnet to sabotage Iran’s uranium purification centrifuges). Take a look at this article. /update

This is all well documented, but we continue to see new little hallmarks of an authoritarian society waiting to emerge, like shark fins showing above the water.

Mattathias Schwartz reports in The Intercept:

In January 2013, during the military trial of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, a defense lawyer was discussing a motion relating to the CIA’s black-site program, when a mysterious entity cut the audio feed to the gallery. A red light began to glow and spin. Someone had triggered the courtroom’s censorship system.

The system was believed to be under the control of the judge, Col. James Pohl. In this case, it wasn’t.

“The 40-second delay was initiated, not by me,” Pohl said. He was referring to the delayed audio feed, which normally broadcasts to the press and other observers seated in the gallery. The gallery is cut off from the courtroom by three layers of soundproof Plexiglas. “I’m curious as to why … if some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”

Later, Pohl said the censorship was the work of an “OCA,” short for “Original Classification Authority.” In the future, he said, no external body would be permitted to unilaterally censor what was happening in his courtroom.

Many have speculated that Pohl’s “OCA” is in fact the CIA. That speculation is now confirmed with the release of three new documents by The Intercept.The documents show the evolution of secret rules governing what is and is not allowed to be discussed before the military court at Guantánamo.

All three of the declassified documents are marked “Secret,” and were distributed to defense attorneys and Pentagon-employed courtroom-security officers. The documents clearly identify CIA as the OCA for torture-related information at the Guantánamo military commission proceedings.

Dean Boyd, who heads the CIA’s public affairs’ office, referred questions about the January 2013 censorship incident to the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Pentagon spokesperson, declined to comment. “I don’t have anything to offer you beyond what is written in [the court] transcript,” she said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2016 at 12:41 pm

Unfortunately, this cartoon strip mirrors my feelings

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And possibly yours as well.

UPDATE: Man, I’ve got to start following this guy. How’d he end up at the NY Times anyway: this is way edgier than the (infallible) editors have been comfortable with.

UPDATE 2: Jesus. He nails it. The shopping-network-with-campaigning bit is the simple truth with cartoon diagrams added.

UPDATE 3: Has he gotten a Pulitzer yet? If yes, how many? If no, why not?

UPDATE 4: Just one panel:

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 2.14.44 PM

To be honest, this is a good proposal: it is simply being respectful. Hard to object to that without recognizing very frequently common mass shootings occur now in the United States, land of the armed.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2016 at 2:02 pm

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