The Drone Wars

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—that is, pilot-less drones—shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report—and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program—reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese—became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war—that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it.

It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture and coeditor of History Wars, the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past.

12-7

Flying Imams’ Ship Comes In

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Walsh and James Walsh

imams_20090219111022747_320_240
Imams in Minneapolis airport.

A settlement has been reached in the “Flying Imams” federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

According to federal court records, the settlement was reached Monday and filed with the court today.

A New York attorney for the imams, Omar Mohammedi, this afternoon called the settlement “satisfactory to the plaintiffs.” Mohammedi added that money is involved, but he declined to elaborate.

Another attorney for the imams, Frederick Goetz of Minneapolis, said a few details remained to be resolved before the settlement is finalized.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn’t divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly. “It’s fine for all parties. It’s been solved. … There is no need for a trial,” Sadeddin said.

Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and is a defendant in the suit, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the settlement.

“Law enforcement officials did what they believed was appropriate to ensure the safety of travelers based on the information available at the time,” said the MAC’s general counsel, Tom Anderson. “We will continue to be vigilant in maintaining the security of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the safety of travelers who use it.”

According to the statement by the MAC, “the commission’s liability insurance policy limits potential financial exposure in such cases to $50,000. The insurer has the right to assume control of the defense or settlement of claims and exercised that right in this case.”

Arizona-based U.S. Airways also is a defendant in the suit. The airline has yet to comment today.

CAIR, the Washington-based civil rights organization that took up the imams’ cause soon after they were removed from the plane, hailed the settlement.

“[This] is a clear victory for justice and civil rights over fear and the phenomenon of ‘flying while Muslim’ in the post-9/11 era,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

The case sparked ongoing debate about the power of law enforcement to override personal rights in the name of security.

The imams were arrested in November 2006 while returning from the North American Conference of Imams on a jet bound for Phoenix. A passenger had passed a note to a flight attendant noting what he considered suspicious activity.

FBI Special Agent Michael Cannizzaro and airport police officers had argued that the arrest and removal of the imams was valid because there were reasons to be suspicious of a crime.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ruled that the suit could move forward.

“The right not to be arrested in the absence of probable cause is clearly established and, based on the allegations … no reasonable officer could have believed that the arrest of the Plaintiffs was proper,” Montgomery ruled then.

11-44

As U.S. Health Row Rages, Many Seek Care in Mexico

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tim Gaynor, Reuters

NACO, Mexico–Retired police officer Bob Ritz has health insurance that covers his medical and dental care in the US.

But every few months he drives from his home in Tombstone, Arizona, to this small town in northern Mexico to avoid the healthcare costs that aren’t paid by insurance.

“I pay $400 a month for my health insurance, and it’s still cheaper to come to Mexico,” says Ritz, 60, as he stood outside a sun-bleached pharmacy in Naco, a few hours drive southeast of Phoenix.

President Obama is locked in a bitter fight to overhaul U.S. healthcare, as he seeks to increase the number of Americans getting coverage and drive down costs of around $2.5 trillion a year.

Republican critics charge that Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress are seeking a government takeover of healthcare that will drive up the budget deficit.

With Washington bickering over how to reform the system and contain its spiraling costs, many Americans like Ritz simply head to Mexico to get care they can afford.

The total number making the trip is unclear. But a recent study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimated that nearly 1 million people from California alone seek medical, dental or prescription services in Mexico each year.

Some making the trek have little or no medical coverage. Others like Ritz are on fixed incomes and want to avoid so-called co-pays and deductibles charged by U.S. insurers on top of policies that routinely cost from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand each month.

“The very wealthy can afford whatever they want, the very poor get it through aid, but the working and the middle-class have to struggle to pay insurance,” said Ritz, who worked as a police officer in Chicago for 28 years.

“I’m very lucky to live near enough to Mexico to get good healthcare at a reasonable price,” he added.

Healthcare reform is the flagship domestic policy drive of Obama’s first year in office.

He wants coverage for around 46 million uninsured Americans and to rein in rising medical costs, and regulate insurers that already provide care to millions more.
Republican opponents say Obama’s plan amounts to socialism by stealth and argue that its trillion-dollar price tag will hurt the economy as the United States remains mired in the worst recession in decades.

While the bitter row continues to rage at town hall meetings across the United States, signs of the U.S. system’s failings are visible in Mexican border cities, where cut-price pharmacies, dental clinics and doctors’ surgeries vie for business from Americans who can’t afford treatment at home.

In Tijuana, where medical tourism from neighboring San Diego is big business, clinics offer operations ranging from cut-rate cosmetic procedures to hysterectomies and bariatric surgery to curb obesity.

“I waste up to four hours coming to an appointment, but it’s worth it as we’ll save thousands of dollars,” said Beatriz Iturriaga, a 26-year-old mother of two from Eastlake, south of San Diego, who paid $6,500 for bariatric surgery at a Tijuana clinic that would cost up to $40,000 stateside.

At the other end of the cost spectrum in Naco, Mexican physician Sixto de la Pena Cortes charges the 15 or so Americans that trek to his clinic-cum-pharmacy each week $20 for a check-up — the cost of an average co-pay in the United States.

“Most common (ailments) are bronchitis, pneumonia and stomach problems,” said de la Pena Cortes, 62, who said he has also set broken bones and arranged for an appendix to be removed at a hospital in nearby Agua Prieta at a cost of around $2,000.

11-35

Muslim Health Advocates

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neveen Abdelghani

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) A delegation from American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP) visited Washington, DC on June 25-26 to advocate for health reform.  The group met with a number of congressional offices and partner organizations, including Faithful for Health Reform, which held a rally at Freedom Plaza representing a coalition of faith community leaders passionate about health access and equity.   

With domestic health care reform high on the President’s agenda, AMHP felt the time was right to move forward with more direct and reaching advocacy efforts. “Both the Senate and the House were all on the right track regarding eliminating certain health care costs,” explained Dr. Yasir Shareef, neurologist from Phoenix who had the opportunity to meet with congressional staffers. “Currently, there are over 120 million people either uninsured or underinsured, and this motivates us to work harder before the problem continues to get worse.”

Members of AMHP felt a trip to Washington was critical in order to voice their concerns during this short window of opportunity for comprehensive reform.  AMHP has been deeply engaged in issues of health reform.  Last year, AMHP Policy Analyst, Rabia Akram, drafted a health policy brief comparing the McCain and Obama plans for healthcare overhaul.  Since then, AMHP has led a grassroots effort to articulate a vision for change.  AMHP organized a number of health reform seminars across the country in March of this year.  “These seminars attracted experts in the field that were able to educate and empower our communities to understand the nature of this crisis and take action”, said Dr.Faisal Qazi, President of AMHP and architect of its policy program.

“From both an Islamic and an American background, it is our duty to support these grassroots efforts in order to get things going,” said Dr. Shareef, a member AMHP’s Task Force on Health Affordability.  Members of this team have been constantly evaluating the data and following the language and committee hearings closely.

The AMHP Washington, DC delegation was an extension of this process.  Dr. Imran Khan, a member of the Task Force said, “It was a tremendous learning opportunity and we realized that these laws, even if 800 pages long, are written by people like you and me, most of whom appreciate some help writing them.”
Khizer Husain, the lead Washington-based coordinator for this recent lobby day said, “Muslim Americans need to build relationships with legislators.  We can be a conduit to our communities and folks on the Hill appreciate this.”

Besides this commitment to political engagement and health reform, AMHP enjoys the unique position of having a comprehensive public health view and has become an organization focused on education, prevention, access, delivery and policy in the realm of healthcare. The organization’s work places an emphasis on public service to all members of the community.

11-29

AL-AWDA Convention

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Palestinians comprise the largest refugee population in the world today. The Israelis drove out approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. The legal basis for their right of return cannot be disputed. In their treatment of Palestinian refugees, the Israelis not only forced Palestinians to leave ancestral lands, but, through their treatment of them from 1948 until today, they have destroyed a culture.

In the 61st year of the Nakba (the catastrophe), AL-AWDA once again has brought national and international attention to this situation.

The seventh annual convention of AL-AWDA, the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition, was held in Garden Grove, Ca. this past weekend. This well attended, exciting and educational event, titled “Freedom for Palestine”, began Friday evening with a meet and greet session enhanced by outstanding Arabic food.

After the convention opening and welcome, activists from solidarity organizations addressed the audience. These activists included, but were not limited to: John Parker, the West Coast Coordinator of the International Action Center; Richard Becker, a founder and current leader of the ANSWER Coalition, and Cindy Sheehan, a prominent anti-war activist and campaigner for human rights.

A showing of “Salt of the Sea” closed the evening’s activities. This motion picture tells the story of a young Palestinian woman, born in the United States to Palestinian refugees. When she becomes aware that at the time of the Nakba the Israelis froze her grandfather’s bank account in Jaffa, she travels to Palestine to reclaim what she believes is her due. As she sees the conditions of Palestinian existence and meets a young Palestinian man, she comes to realize that what needs to be reclaimed is far more than a bank account.

On Saturday forums were held throughout the day dealing with such timely issues as: “Palestinian Refugees – Background and Current Status”  with Dr. Jesse Ghannam. Dr. Ghannam has established mental health clinics in Gaza and travels there frequently. The clinics and his participation in them are under the auspices of the Gaza Community Mental Health program. In the United States, Dr. Ghannam is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California San Francisco.

“Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” was conducted by Lubna Hamad of Adalah (The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East) New York of which she is co founder. Ms Hamad was a legal consultant for UNICEF in Jerusalem with a specialty of child protection.

George Galloway, British MP and international human rights advocate, conducted a forum on “Viva Palestina”.

MP Galloway also addressed an evening session on “Growing our Global Movement – Freedom for Palestine” which session included fundraising.

Keynote addresses on Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli attack and the situation in Jerusalem highlighted the luncheon session.

A parallel youth program was held.

The final session of the Convention, held on Sunday, dealt with reports, challenges and future plans.

The Sacramento chapter, which had at one time been part of the San Francisco chapter, reported growth and successful participation in anti war events, BDS and educational series. The Phoenix chapter also reported growth and public engagement.

A suggestion was made to encourage tourism to Palestine,specifically Jerusalem, as the Israeli government is trying to cripple East Jerusalem economically. Tourists should stay at Palestinian run hotels; eat at Palestinian run restaurants, and purchase from Palestinian run shops.

Further, a suggestion was made to coordinate AL-AWDA activity here with AL-AWDA groups in Europe where the movement is extremely active.

Still another suggestion, unanimously and enthusiastically accepted, was to send a small delegation to the Egyptian Consulate to express our dismay at Egypt’s cooperation in making crossing into Gaza through Rafah difficult and erratic.

Booths on display at the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Online Store; A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; International Action Center; Free Gaza Movement, and Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California in San Diego.

Host committee organizations of the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Aid Society; Muslim Students Association at UCSD, Palomar College, and Mira Costa and the Muslim Students Union at UCR; Free Palestine Alliance, and Palestinian American Women Association.

AL-AWDA may be accessed at: www.al-awda.org.

11-23

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims Among Highest-Achieving American Women
Courtesy Donna Gehrke-White, Miami Herald
April 17, 2006
She should be one of those red-white-and-blue success stories: An immigrant, she worked her way through med school and now directs the laboratories of two Florida hospitals. She passed her career drive on to her daughters: One just graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing; the other is an investigator for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
This feminist vision of a successful family, though, has a flaw: Shahida Shakir and her daughters, Sadia and Sofia, are Muslim.
They’re supposed to be downtrodden. Or so that’s what most Americans think.
In a Washington Post/ABC poll last month, nearly half of Americans admitted that they have a negative view of Islam. In a poll conducted for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, most people also said that they would feel better about the religion if they thought Islam treated women better.
The evidence is in our own back yard: While researching my book, “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America,” I found Muslims are among the most achieving women in the United States. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, social workers and artists.
Indeed, we should be exporting the success story to the rest of the world.
I found Muslim women achieving from coast to coast. They are leading worldwide humanitarian groups in Washington, presiding over juvenile court in Baltimore, delivering babies in Los Angeles, teaching in Miami and helping the homeless in Las Vegas.
Just like other American women, the Muslimah — or Muslim women—have made startling progress in the workplace in the last 30 years. In fact, except for the recent refugees, Muslim women are among the most educated in the United States. Most of the 50 women profiled in the book have at least college degrees. And they are far from the stereotype of the secluded Muslim woman. One ran for county office in northern Virginia while a University of Louisville professor crusades against “honor killings” of Third World women suspected of adultery or premarital sex.
Another risked her life to help women under the thumb of Afghanistan’s oppressive Taliban.
These women should reassure many Americans in these anxious times. They are intensely achieving — as well as patriotic. After all, they have as much to lose as any other Americans if our economic and political systems come under attack.
Since 1990, the United States has welcomed more than 300,000 Muslim refugees fleeing war and persecution. They have come from 77 nations.
Unlike the poor North Africans who went to Europe for a better life, our Muslim poor have been given more opportunities to better themselves, and have become part of the American fabric. The Arizona Community Refugee Center in a Phoenix suburb, for example, teaches many women to read and write for the first time. The center also provides programs for their children.
The great majority of these new refugees insist that their children study hard. Batool Shamil is an Iraqi Shiite single mom working two jobs in Phoenix. She demands A-studded report cards from her teenage son and daughter.
“I am working so hard,” she told me. “My dream is for my children to go to college.”
In Erie, Pa., Senada Alihodzic, a refugee from the Bosnian violence, is just as determined that her two sons and daughter will go to college.
“They can have a better life here,” she said.
Meanwhile, more American mosques are making an effort to ensure women are treated equally. In northern Virginia, Cathy Drake, an
American-born, home-schooling mom, told me that she would not have converted to Islam had she not felt comfortable.
Does more work need to be done? Yes, judging from several Muslim women who have come up to me while on a recent book tour to complain about their own mosque’s inadequacies. But Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, promises that change is coming.
“I believe,” she said, “the struggle is now out in the open and that it will get better soon.” –
Donna Gehrke-White is a features writer for the Miami Heral and the author of “The Face Behind the Veil: The Extraordinary Lives of Muslim Women in America” (Citadel). Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or oped@freepress.com.