“Dirty Wars”: An immensely powerful anti-war film, uncovering Obama’s global “war on terror

“Dirty Wars”: An immensely powerful anti-war film, uncovering Obama’s global “war on terror” -

“Dirty Wars”: An immensely powerful anti-war film, uncovering Obama’s global “war on terror” -

Written by Andy Worthington
On May 13, I was privileged to be invited to a London preview of “Dirty Wars,” the new documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley and focusing on the journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into America’s global “war on terrorism” — not historically, but right here, right now under President Obama.
In particular, the film, which opens in the US this weekend, and is accurately described by the New York Times as “pessimistic, grimly outraged and utterly riveting,” follows Scahill, who wrote it with David Riker, and is also the narrator, as he uncovers the existence of the shadowy organization JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, established by 1980, which is at the heart of the “dirty wars” being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
I had seen rushes with representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the London base of the Bertha Foundation, one of the backers of the film, last year, and I remembered the powerful sequences in Afghanistan, where Scahill found out about JSOC after meeting the survivors of a raid in Gardez by US forces in 2010 in which two pregnant women had been killed, and there had then been a cover-up.This involved US soldiers returning to the scene of their crime to remove bullets from the corpses — something difficult to forget once informed about.
The Afghan sequences — although involving JSOC rather than the military or other Special Forces — reminded me of the numerous similar raids based on chronically unreliable information, which have persistently led to the slaughter of civilians throughout the entire Afghan occupation — now nearing 12 years — or have led to the capture of people unrelated to insurgency, who ended up in Bagram, or, in the early years of the occupation, were sent to Guantánamo. Shockingly, Scahill discovers, during the course of his investigations that, in just one week in Afghanistan, there were 1,700 night raids similar to the one noted above.
The trailer for the film is below:
The powerful sequences in Afghanistan that I saw last year remain in the film, and are followed by visits to Yemen, where Scahill delves into the chilling story of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US citizen killed in a drone attack, and his 16-year old son Abdulrahman, killed in another attack — “not for who he was, but for who he might one day become,” as Scahill notes — and spends time with Anwar al-Awlaki’s distraught father.
In Yemen, it is disturbing to note how provocative and counterproductive US actions have been, in a troublingly undeclared war in which, as in Afghanistan, their every action appears to be counter-productive, either involving the slaughter of civilians, through attacks based on woefully inadequate intelligence, or the inflammatory and cold-blooded murder of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son.
Once Scahill reaches Somalia, and the chaos of permanent war and warlords, in which US involvement is even more inexplicable, it becomes horribly apparent, as he says at the conclusion of the film, “The world has become America’s battlefield, and we can go everywhere.”
As the New York Times explained in its review of the film, we learn that JSOC “operates not only in Afghanistan but also in countries on which no war has been declared. Algeria, Indonesia, Jordan and Thailand are mentioned.”
Disturbingly, we also see JSOC emerge from the shadows, as their commander, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, discovered by Scahill involved in paying hush money to the family of the pregnant women who died in Gardez, later is praised as a national hero as JSOC lead the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
I urge you, if you can, to see “Dirty Wars”, which, as I noted above, opens in US cinemas this weekend (and in the UK later this year), and or even to organize a screening yourself.
This is how it is described on the website:
“Dirty Wars” follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater, into the heart of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond.
Part political thriller and part detective story, “Dirty Wars” is a gripping journey into one of the most important and underreported stories of our time.
What begins as a report into a US night raid gone terribly wrong in a remote corner of Afghanistan quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including US citizens.
Drawn into the stories and lives of the people he meets along the way, Scahill is forced to confront the painful consequences of a war spinning out of control, as well as his own role as a journalist.
We encounter two parallel casts of characters. The CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and US-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time. We also see and hear directly from survivors of night raids and drone strikes, including the family of the first American citizen marked for death and being hunted by his own government.
“Dirty Wars” takes viewers to remote corners of the globe to see first-hand wars fought in their name and offers a behind-the-scenes look at a high-stakes investigation. We are left with haunting questions about freedom and democracy, war and justice.
“Haunting questions about freedom and democracy, war and justice” is one way of putting it. Personally, after seeing familiar examples of homicidally inept operations in Afghanistan, and then seeing how America has created an enemy in Yemen, in drone strikes that have killed civilians and have also involved assassinating US citizens, and are engaged in alliances with extremely dubious warlords in Somalia, I reacted with genuine horror when Jeremy explained how, for JSOC, the entire world is now a battlefield, and the inept, unaccountable and counter-productive operations that are now America’s way of waging war are taking place in an unknown number of countries.
At that point, I realized that, to deal with everything that is going on, the film would last for days, and would have to take us to places where, unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, few journalists, if any, have yet uncovered the full extent of what is going on.
Most of all, the horror I felt at this point was a profound opposition to war — not a novel feeling for me, as a lifelong pacifist, but a powerful indictment of how, under President Obama, being opposed to war — modern, dirty wars conducted in a senseless manner below the radar — is imperative for anyone with a modicum of common sense and humanity.
Note: Jeremy Scahill is also the author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail.



Guilty until proven innocent:

how to pre-convict and pre-punish an American Muslim 

Written by Victoria Brittain

Sometimes, when you watch the strange, repetitive political dance that swirls around the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- the president announcing yet again that he plans to “close” it and the Republicans in Congress swearing that they won’t let him -- it’s hard not to wonder what alternative universe we live in.  The initial round of this began on the day Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and circulated an executive order meant to close that prison within a year.  The latest presidential “closing” announcement came just over two weeks ago.  In a major speech at National Defense University, Obama also claimed that he would soon lift restrictions he had imposed in 2009 on sending Guantanamo prisoners long cleared of any criminal activities back to Yemen.  Just last week, Congressional Republicans offered the usual reply.  They proposed to keep the prison open, whatever the president wanted, “by barring the administration from transferring its terror suspects to the United States or a foreign country such as Yemen.”

By now everyone knows that Guantanamo can’t be closed, not by this administration or any other one imaginable.  At present, it is the scene of an extraordinary protest movement, now almost three months old, by 103 prisoners using potential death by starvation to bring attention to the nightmare that has been their lives behind bars in Cuba.

More than 11 years after its founding, Guantanamo looks to Americans ever more like an offshore aberration, the last of the walking dead that just won’t go down.  As it happens, though, that institution is anything but an aberration.  It’s exactly what it was meant to be.  The Bush administration situated it just off the coast of Florida in the first place because it wanted to avoid legality, justice, and the reach of U.S. courts.  It’s true that George W. Bush's top officials made a fetish out of giving illegality -- including global kidnapping operations, torture interrogations, and aglobal string of “black sites” -- a feel-good veneer of legalism.  That was why, for instance, the Department of Justice produced those infamous “torture memos” that, among other remarkable things, managed to put the legal definition of torture in the hands and mind of the torturer.  But the goal of the president, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other key officials -- some of whom reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House -- had everything to do with leaving legality behind.

In 2001, they were eager above all to “take the gloves off.”  They wanted to be able to do anything they cared to do on their self-proclaimed “global battlefield.”  They wanted to lay hands -- not theirs, admittedly, but delegated ones -- as violently as possible on the prisoners swept up there: the worst of the worst, minor footsoldiers of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, people who simply had enemies who betrayed them, and the innocent who wandered into or were trapped in this hell. It didn’t matter.  They weren’t into making distinctions or charging prisoners with crimes or anything so banal.  What they wanted was control, total control, over the bodies of their enemies.  It wasn’t a nice thing.  It wasn’t a pretty thing.  It wasn’t the sort of thing you said in polite company or (most of the time) in the media, which, in one of the small linguistic scandals of the era took to replacing the simple, easy to define word “torture” with the administration’s euphemistic phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” 

They wanted to revel in their power and their glory in the Greater Middle East, but also in the dark corners of those black sites and in that jewel-in-the-crown of offshore injustice, Guantanamo. They were proud of their Cuban prison.  They meant it to be a way of life and now, of course, no one can get rid of it.  It’s not possible.  The Obama method of “closing” it means transferring to a supermax prison on U.S. soil up to 50 prisoners that top American officials believe to be guilty of something, but can’t bring to trial, largely because “confessions” were taken from them by the dirtiest possible methods that won’t hold up in any court of law.  Even this, however, wouldn’t close Guantanamo.  It would simply embed its methodology in the heart of the U.S. prison and judicial system (which is why such a plan has sarcastically been dubbed “Gitmo North”).

In fact, in certain ways, like so many ugly things that wars bring home, aspects of what might be called the Guantanamo Syndrome have already crept deep into our American world, whether Congress approves or not.  As Victoria Brittain, author of Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror, makes clear in her latest TomDispatch post, pre-punishment and pre-conviction, Guantanamo-style, are increasingly everyday by-products of the war on terror at home. Tom

Guilty Until Proven Innocent 
How to Pre-Convict and Pre-Punish an American Muslim 
Victoria Brittain

A four-month hunger strike, mass force-feedings, and widespread media coverage have at last brought Guantanamo, the notorious offshore prison set up by the Bush administration early in 2002, back into American consciousness. Prominent voices are finally calling on President Obama to close it down and send home scores of prisoners who, years ago, were cleared of wrongdoing.

Still unnoticed and out of the news, however, is a comparable situation in the U.S. itself, involving a pattern of controversial terrorism trials that result in devastating prison sentences involving the harshest forms of solitary confinement.  This growing body of prisoners is made up of Muslim men, including some formerly well-known and respected American citizens.


At the heart of these cases is a statute from the time of the Clinton presidency making it a crime to provide “material support” to any foreign organization the government has designated as “terrorist.”  This material support provision was broadened in the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress just after the 9/11 attacks, and has been upheld by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.  Today, almost any kind of support, including humanitarian aid, training, expert advice, “services” of all sorts, or “political advocacy” undertaken in “coordination” with any group on the State Department’s terrorist list, can lead to such a terror trial. The Court has never defined what “coordination” actually means.

In that Supreme Court ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer was joined in dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Breyer proposed a narrower interpretation of material support: individuals should not be subject to prosecution unless they knowingly provided a service they had reason to believe would be used to further violence. At the time, the position of the dissenting judges was backed by key editorials in major newspapers.  In the three years since, however, more material support cases have resulted in long sentences with very little public notice or critical comment.

Pre-Trial Punishment

In the U.S. these days, the very word “terror,” no less the charge of material support for it, invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation.  Nonetheless, a decade of researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the U.S. whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother has given me a different perspective on such cases.

Perhaps most illuminating in them is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures” to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives.  While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm.  Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.

Take the case of Ahmed Abu Ali, a young Palestinian-American who is now serving life in the Administrative Maximum Facility, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and is currently under special administrative measures that restrict his communications with the outside world. A university student in Saudi Arabia, he was arrested in 2003 by the Saudi government and held for 20 months without charges or access to a lawyer. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. government finally asked for his return just as his family filed a lawsuit in Washington.

At the time, it seemed like a victory for the family and the various human rights organizations that had supported them, but on arrival Ahmed was charged with material support for al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. The evidence to convict him came from an anonymous alleged co-conspirator and from taped confessions he made, evidently after being tortured in Saudi Arabia, a common practice there. The evidence of his torture was contestedat his trial.  The case was described by a staff member of Amnesty International USA as “unusual in the annals of U.S. outsourcing of torture.”  An appeal of Ahmed’s 30-year sentence actually resulted in the imposition of an even more severe sentence: life without parole.

In addition, special administrative measures have been applied to him.  These were originally established in 1996 to stop communications from prison inmates who could “pose a substantial risk of death or serious risk of injury.” The targets then were gang leaders.  Each special administrative measure was theoretically to be designed to fit the precise dangers posed by a specific prisoner. Since 9/11, however, numerous virtually identical measures have been applied to Muslim men, often like Ahmed Abu Ali with no history of violence.

A question to Ahmed’s sister about how her brother is doing is answered only with a quick look. She is not allowed to say anything because special measures also prohibit family members from disclosing their communications with prisoners. They similarly prevent defense lawyers from speaking about their clients. It was for a breach of these special measures in relation to her client, the imprisoned blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, that lawyer Lynne Stewart was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Bush years.

Although these measures have been contested in court, few have ever been modified, much less thrown out. Those court challenges and evidence provided to the European Court of Human Rights by American lawyers have, however, provided a window into what one of them described as a regime of “draconian and inhumane treatment.”

Under such special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York City, a prisoner lives with little natural light, no time in communal areas, no radio or TV, and sometimes no books or newspapers either, while mail and phone calls are permitted only with family, and even then are often suspended for minor infractions. Family visits are always no-contact ones conducted through plexiglass.

“The conditions have quite simply wreaked havoc on Mr X’s physical and mental well-being,” one lawyer wrote for the European Court of Human Rights, describing a seven-month period in which a prisoner at the Metropolitan Correction Center was allowed no family phone calls. Another highlighted his client’s lost concentration, which made it impossible to work on his case effectively. “Their world shrinks dramatically,” was the way Joshua Dratel, a lawyer who has represented several men under these measures, described the situation.

In cases where special administrative measures are in place pre-trial, such as the well-documented ordeal of American post-graduate student Syed Fahad Hashmi, lawyers have often been obliged to prepare cases without actually sitting with their clients, or being able to show them all court materials. After three pre-trial years mainly in solitary confinement under special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center, Hashmi accepted a government plea bargain of one count of material support for terrorism and was given a 15-year sentence.

His crime? He allowed an acquaintance to stay at his student apartment in London, use his cell phone, and store a duffel bag there. The bag contained ponchos and waterproof socks that were later supposedly delivered to al-Qaeda, while the phone was used by that acquaintance to make calls to co-conspirators in Britain.

Silencing Palestinian-Americans

Just as the Bush administration found the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and ignored them, so the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” a part of Western civilization since Roman times, has all but disappeared for Muslims who face accusations of “material support” for terrorism.

Such cases have, at times, involved high-profile men and once received significant media attention. Civil rights activist and University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, accused of being a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (a StateDepartment-designated terrorist organization), was, for instance, treated like a man already being punished for his crime even before his trial.  Previously, he had been a respected American-Muslim political leader with contacts in the White House and in Congress.  Now, walking to pre-trial meetings with his lawyers, his arms were shackled behind him, so that, humiliatingly, he had to carry his legal papers on his back.

Amnesty International described Al-Arian's pre-trial detention in Coleman Federal Penitentiary as "gratuitously punitive." It cited his 23-hour lockdown in his cell, the strip searches, the use of chains and shackles, the lack of access to any religious services, and the insistence on denying him a watch or clock in a windowless cell. He was transferred to 14 different prison facilities in 6 states. He ended up spending three and a half years in solitary confinement without being convicted of anything.  At his trial, the government called 80 witnesses, including 21 from Israel, while his counsel called no defense witnesses, only citing the U.S. Constitution. A Florida jury nonetheless acquitted him on half of the counts, and deadlocked on the other half.  (Ten out of 12 jurors wanted to acquit him on all charges.) He later struck a plea deal on one minor charge.

Today, the Palestinian-American professor is still in legal limbo, under house arrest, awaiting a judge’s ruling on whether he has to testify in a separate case. An articulate U.S. Muslim political leader, who helped bring in the Muslim vote for George W. Bush after the candidate came out publicly against the use of secret evidence in trials, when the Gore campaign did not and so contributed to his Florida victory in the 2000 presidential campaign, has been silenced for his openly expressed pro-Palestinian opinions.

Successful and influential Palestinian-American Ghassan Elashi, a founder and the chairman of what was once America’s largest Muslim charity, the Holy Land Foundation, and Shukri Abu Baker, its president, were similarly silenced along with three other foundation officials.  The two of them received prison sentences of 65 years for giving charity to orphanages and community organizations in Gaza (also supported by the European Union and the U.S. Agency for International Development). The Holy Land leaders were accused of giving “material support” to a foreign terrorist organization: Hamas, the elected government in Gaza.  There were no accusations of inciting or being involved in acts of violence. This case, like Professor Al Arian’s, would never have been possible if Justice Breyer’s views had prevailed at the Supreme Court.

Even then, it took a second trial before a jury returned a guilty verdict against the Holy Land leaders. Nancy Hollander, counsel for one of the men, summed up the situation this way: “The thought that somebody gets sixty-five years for providing charity is really shameful, and I believe this case will go down in history, as have others, as a shameful day.” In 2012, the Supreme Court refused to rehear the case, and four of the five convicted men remain confined to the especially restrictive “communications management unit” at the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, where Muslims make up two-thirds of the inmates.

There were also 246 unindicted co-conspirators named in the Holy Land Foundation case, including major Muslim organizations.  The case and the particularly long sentences sent a shot of fear through Muslim communities in the U.S., as was surely intended.

The men’s daughters still speak out on their fathers’ case. Noor Elashi, for example, told me, “His is the poster case for 'material support.'”  In the meantime, 15-minute weekly prison phone calls, monitored in real time from Washington, are the thinnest of threads to hold family relationships together, as are rare visits to distant prisons. Mariam Abu Ali once described to me her annual visit to her older brother Ahmed Abu Ali.  The expense was difficult to absorb: two flights, a rental car, and a motel for a three-day visit of about four hours a day, for a family already shouldering heavy debts for legal fees.

The real ordeal, though, was emotional, not financial. “They bring him in shackled at the waist and legs,” she told me. “We see them take off the handcuffs as he puts his hands out through a gap in the door. It’s emotionally draining… he’s there but so far away behind the glass. Only one of us can hear him at a time as he speaks though a phone… I’ve tried to lip read when it isn’t my turn, but it really doesn’t work. I feel very exhausted and sometimes I fall asleep during the visit. I cry every time, especially when he leaves…  It’s not like a death.  You don’t grieve and then finish, because this is not in the past.  In fact, it is not even in the back of my mind -- it is always there… This is chronic after nine years and it is not going to end.”

In itself, solitary confinement has devastating effects, as Dr. Atul Gawande has vividly pointed out, and is becoming ever more common in U.S. prisons in breach of internationally recognized norms on the humane treatment of prisoners.  It tends to break the will of inmates, sometimes even robbing them of their sanity.  However, in its most extreme use, combining those special administrative measures with the isolation imposed in prison communication management units, it is mainly applied to American Muslims.

The stories of what happens to Muslim men today in U.S. prisons and of the judicial cases that land them there under the harshest of conditions bear a startling resemblance to the cages at Guantanamo Bay and the charade of a legal system that is still in operation there.

Miscarriages of Justice

In addition to the examples of prominent, formerly successful Palestinian-Americans, there are a series of haunting cases of newer Muslim arrivals in the U.S., each of them an evident miscarriage of justice.  These include the Fort Dix Five, originally from Albania, and that of Imam Yassin Aref, an Iraqi Kurd.  Their entrapment cases, typically based on “sting” operations manufactured by FBI informants, sent men respected in their communities into solitary confinement for long years on what were probably trumped-up charges. In such cases, the only “plot” is often manufactured by the government itself.

This, then, is the state of so many cases of “terrorism” in the U.S. today in which disparate Muslim men have been swept up in a system in which guilt is assumed and people’s lives are quickly turned into waking nightmares in what used to be called the “justice system.”  Some great miscarriages of justice do get overturned.Black Panther Robert King spent 31 years in prison, 29 in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. His release in 2001 came about by chance when his persistent letter writing attracted the attention of a young lawyer and the founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, who became his champion alongside a grassroots campaign for his release.  Since then, King has himself campaigned at home and abroad for the release of his two colleagues in “the Angola Three,” who still remain in prison, and against the system that could have broken him as it has so many others.

Thanks to the special administrative measures applied in his case, Ahmed Abu Ali cannot do what Robert King did, or what the lawyer and a friend of WikiLeaks informant Private Bradley Manning did to get his prison conditions widely known, or what Mumia Abu Jamal has done throughout his 30 years in solitary confinement via his books and his talks on prison radio. Ahmed cannot contact the world outside in search of the support he and his family need, nor can his family members.

The painful impact of all this on the families is difficult to imagine. Chilean novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman once wrote that torture “presupposes the… abrogation of our capacity to imagine someone else’s suffering, to dehumanize him or her so much that their pain is not our pain. It demands this of the torturer… but also demands of everyone else the same distancing, the same numbness.”

Perhaps such a state helps explain why people around the world are far more aware than most Americans of what happens to Muslim men in the post-9/11 “justice system.”  The particular cruelty of the punishments they endure even before their unfair trials, will someday, like the abuses at Guantanamo, gain the attention they deserve.

Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013), has just been published.  This is her second piece for TomDispatch.















THE NSA whistleblower's battle against

US surveillance fits into

 a modernist reading of jihad

 as a fight for betterment.


Written by Mark LeVine



Let us assume, for the moment, that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is the person he's portraying himself to be: not merely a patriot, but a humanitarian who's given up all the trappings of a successful life to ensure that "the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant".

The 29-year-old Snowden, who leaked information on secret US government surveillance programmes such as PRISM and "Boundless Informantto the Guardian, is certainly right to focus on the danger posed by the Obama administration's surveillance policies, and the "global war on terror" they serve, not merely to US democracy but to "the world" more broadly as well. The United States has been engaged in a jihad of global proportions not for the past ten years, but for well over a century. As with all empires, Islam's included, the US jihad started small, but spread rapidly once the political and economic conditions in its core and peripheries came into proper alignment.

And as with other empires, the US jihads had their roots in the most offensive of ideologies, which justified its spread as both inevitable and good, while - not surprisingly - viewing any opposition as irrational, bad, and justly subject to suppression by any means necessary. As the 19th century Protestant preacher and arch-imperialist Josiah Strong put it, the emerging American empire was destined by God to rule the earth, everyone else must prepare for a "ready and pliant assimilation" or become "extinct". Islam's great conquerors tended to be a bit more generous, at least rhetorically.

Certainly, leaders in the US have always made sure to declare the best of intentions as they acquired each new territory, entrepot or sphere of influence, even as the colonised's death toll from expanding, maintaining and defending the US empire climbed into the many millions. The lines between offensive and defensive jihad - the United States has, like most every country before it, long defined and defended its wars as defensive, divinely sanctioned and just - has always been conveniently blurred. "Converting non-believers," whether by swords or napalm, is always inseparable from protecting the realm.


 Inside Story Americas - 'Big Brother' Obama?

To make sure people in the US saw their government's foreign adventures in the proper light, it was natural to define the enemy as the opposite of everything their country stood for, and a mortal threat to their way of life and even existence.

Yet it's also true that, as during the great Muslim empires, as during the post-war heyday of American power, life, under its imperial umbrella, often proved better than many of the alternatives - at least for allies and those in the semi-, and thus not fully exploitable, periphery.

The rise of neoliberalism

This dynamic changed, however, with the emergence of neoliberal capitalism as the dominant form of economic, political and even cultural organisation in the 1970s - not just in the so-called "third" world, but in the core countries of the "West" as well. Neoliberalism created a dynamic of neocolonisation within the US and other "mature" countries, as well as in the developing world, as capitalism - once again - became as predatory at home as it was abroad. Both saw increased economic growth at the expensive of concentrated corporate power and rapidly increasing poverty and inequality. The corporate titans who have come to dominate the US economy and celebrity obsessed culture - tech leaders and military-industrial czars - are, not surprisingly, precisely the ones who are most in bed with the programmes Snowden has revealed.

The United States's desire to establish "full spectrum dominance" over world affairs in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc became increasingly militarised after September 11, 2001. The "War on Terror" - the ultimate defensively justified offensive jihad - provided the primary justification for the quest for ever more power, a "panopticonic" as Snowden described it, picking up on Michel Foucault's analysis of the ultimate machine for political control developed by Jeremy Bentham during the late 18th century.

Such seeming dominance, or at least the idea of it, became a core component of the entire US intelligence apparatus, producing a clear majority of the intelligence reports that would feed the daily policy-making process in the years since the projects Snowden revealed.

It's here where the idea of jihad becomes relevant to Snowden's story. As every doctrine of war is abused by its exponents, jihad has been abused by Muslims for as long as the concept has existed. Yet the concept has great relevance to the situation in which people such as Snowden, Bradley Manning and other present-day whistleblowers find themselves. The concept is rooted - grammatically as well as theologically - in the concept of personal and communal striving for betterment.

The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to.

- Edward Snowden

It is true that, in the classical period of Islam, its connotation was largely related directly to war, while Islamic scholars across the ages have tended to dismiss as weak claims that the Prophet Mohammed differentiated between a lesser (violent) and greater (spiritual/personal) jihad. Yet in the modern era the notion of jihad of the "tongue" or "pen", as well as of jihad as a journey of personal and communal betterment, have become increasingly important within many strands of Muslim political discourse. This interpretation has even been used to justify and explain the Arab uprisings as they first - and relatively non-violently - emerged in Tunisia and Egypt.

Snowden's explanation for his actions bespeak someone who has lost all faith in the system to address glaring injustices through normal democratic, legislative means. As he put it in his Guardianinterview, for years he waited for political leaders to check the trend towards a potentially fatal surrender of core constitutional liberties. Eventually, he realised, "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act".

Like Bradley Manning, and perhaps with more sophistication, he realised that the only way to rein in a state bent on depriving its citizens of their civil liberties was, quite literally, to declare jihad on it. I use the word jihad here instead of war, because Snowden clearly did not declare war; he did not seek to use any violence against the US government. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he did completely remove himself from the order and power of the state he was quite literally sworn to serve, put himself outside its laws, and essentially declared a moral, political and ultimately ideological jihad against its most important policies. In this sense, his actions were treasonous - but only against a system which had in itself become treasonous, and which had declared war on the highest ideals for which the United States had stood.

That Snowden has waged his jihad with the pen and tongue rather than the proverbial sword fits quite nicely into the modernist/liberal reading of jihad, and puts him squarely in the camp of the avant-garde of the Arab Spring, who refused to participate in a system they had come to realise was irredeemably broken. As he put it: "The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to."

Of course, the Obama administration would say Snowden has no such right to arrogate this kind of power to himself. That is for the elected leaders of a democratic society. As everyone from the director of national intelligence to the chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are arguing, however much we might dislike these policies, they are the result of legislation passed by the legitimate representatives of the people of the United States.

This might well be true, although as Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the principal author of the Patriot Act (which is the primary legal justification for the surveillance Snowden has revealed) argues, this interpretation is an "abuse of the law", and one made without the consultation of most congressional representatives. But what Snowden and Manning realised was that the system was so dangerously broken that they had to sacrifice themselves, if necessary, to try to stop it. They could not live with themselves any other way.

A few brave men

It is highly instructive that the courage of a few brave men such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have done more damage to the hegemony of the well-entrenched and normally unchallenged US war racket than any number of al-Qaeda-inspired or -directed terrorist plots could have achieved. Indeed, the fact that Snowden didn't become intoxicated by such power, but instead sought to shut it down at the source is an action of revolutionary potential, if others take up his call. It is a true inner and greater jihad.

If a couple of relatively minor intelligence workers such as Manning and Snowden could access information that upends so many of their government's policies, and the lies and half-truths upon which they're based, imagine what 20, or even 200 could do. They might actually get Americans off their couches and into the streets to demand the kind of political reform that the political class has thus far had little incentive to enact.

We don't have to call it jihad, but after a dozen years of a disastrous and bloody "war on terror" with the Muslim world, there are definitely worse ways to define it. However people want to describe it, these individuals have shown their peers in the governmental, intelligence, military and corporate bureaucracies across the world that they too have a choice - that merely continuing as cogs in oppressive machines cannot be considered the legitimate, or even only, choice left to them - even if the alternative comes at a steep price.

Let us hope at least a few are inspired to follow their course.





Mission of Global-Right-Path is to Educate Muslim Ummah in the light of the Quraan and Authentic Hadeeth, to face all the internal and external challenges, as well as to become a Great Revolutionized Leader to work for Global Revolution to serve the humanity in a balanced way to stabilize the Global World.


Guantanamo guard converts to Islam, demands release of detainees

Posted on 04 June 2013 by Amago

Terry Holdbrooks converted to Islam in December 2003 after speaking with the prisoners he was guarding at Guantanamo Bay. Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/gitmo-guard-converts-islam-demands-release-detainees-article-1.1357918#ixzz2VGae2fSk

Terry Holdbrooks converted to Islam in December 2003 after speaking with the prisoners he was guarding at Guantanamo Bay.

(Via DailyNews)

Guantanamo guard converts to Islam, demands release of detainees

Death threats are just another part of life for Terry Holdbrooks Jr.

The ex-U.S. Army employee converted to Islam in 2003, inspired by the faith of the Guantanamo detainees he was charged with watching. Since then, he says he has lost his friends, received violent threats, and been labeled a “race traitor” online.

But he hasn’t gone quietly. The 29-year-old has done his fair share of media and has even signed on for a job as a speaker for the Muslim Legal Fund of America. Now the devout Muslim is racking up frequent flyer miles and touring the country with what he calls the “truth about Gitmo.”

“Gitmo was supposed to be a cushy deployment since we were just going to babysit detainees,” Holdbrooks said. “But it changed me.”

The Phoenix, Ariz., resident spent the year between 2003 and 2004 guarding U.S. military prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was often given the job of escorting detainees to interrogation rooms. He says he witnessed atrocities committed by his fellow American soldiers that he never thought were possible.

Speaking on the phone to the Daily News, Holdbrooks rattled off the grim list.

“I saw people put in stress positions for eight hours until they defecated themselves,” he said. “Then the guards would come in and emasculate them.”

He said he saw prisoners shackled to the ground with the air conditioner set high, then doused with cold water. He said that menstrual blood was smeared on their faces and that they were forced to hear the same music on repeat for hours.


Roughly 100 prisoners at the facility are reportedly on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detentions.

Roughly 100 prisoners at the facility are reportedly on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detentions.

“Gitmo is 100 percent antithetical to the basis of our legal system,” he said. “That’s not the America I signed up to defend.”

While preparing for deployment, Holdbrooks said the Army trained him to think of the prisoners as the “worst of the worst” and “lower than humans.”

“They said these were Al Quaida and Taliban, people who hate America and hate freedom,” Holdbrooks said.

But at least 86 of the 166 men currently held in the detention center have been cleared for release. Some have been held for years without formal charges. They are unable to transfer out because of restrictions in their home countries and laws passed by Congress, according to Human Rights Watch.

Despite the trying situations, Holdbrooks noticed that the men he talked to clung to their faith. He wondered how they could believe that there was a god who cared about them.

“I had all the freedom in the world,” he recalls. “But I was waking up unhappy while these men were in cages, smiling and praying five times a day.”

As a teenager, Holdbrooks had searched for truths in several different religions. He came to Guantanamo convinced that all monotheistic religions were evil.

Holdbrooks (not pictured) said he was often responsible for leading detainees to interrogation rooms.

Holdbrooks (not pictured) said he was often responsible for leading detainees to interrogation rooms.

But over the course of several months, as Holdbrooks started speaking to the detainees and reading the Quran, he began to find some truth in Islam.

“The Quran is the simplest book in the world to read. It doesn’t have magic. It doesn’t contradict itself,” Holdbrooks said. “It’s simply an instruction manual for living.”

The faith lives of the detainees seemed to be proof that the instruction manual could work.

Holdbrooks took the leap in December 2003. In the presence of the prisoners, he read out a statement of faith that confirmed him as a Muslim.

His life changed drastically when he came back to America. He said he spent years trying to drink away memories of Guantanamo. He was honorably discharged from the Army in October 2005 for “generalized personality disorder.”

Then, Holdbrooks decided to renew his commitment to Islam. He stopped drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. He put a stop to promiscuity and profanity. He found discipline in prayer.

And he started speaking out.

“Islam teaches you that if you see an injustice in the world, you should do anything within your power to stop it,” Holdbrooks said.

The Guantanamo Bay detention center is located on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

The Guantanamo Bay detention center is located on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

Wary of misinterpretation, Holdbrooks makes sure to speak to reporters and his lecture audiences with precision. He clarifies everything he says, knowing all the while every public appearance will result in some sort of condemnation. Still, he pores through the hundreds of crude Internet comments to see if someone has heard his message.

“The people who write these negative comments think they’re Islamic scholars,” Holdbrooks said. “But they’re actually making massive generalized statements about something they have no idea about.”

His agenda isn’t to promote religion, he said. Instead, he’s thinking about the human rights of people like Shaker Aamer, a detainees who turned into his mentor. Aamer, the last British resident at Guantanamo, has been detained for 11 years. He has never been charged for a crime and has been cleared for release twice, the BBC reports.

Aamer is now one of the prisoners participating in a massive hunger strike behind bars.

“These things aren’t America,” Holdbrooks said. “It would be wrong if I sat by and let Gitmo continue to exist or let people think that Islam is America’s greatest enemy.”

Terry Holdbrooks wrote about his experiences at Guantanamo Bay in the self-published book “Traitor?“which was released this month.


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