Libya and the War Powers Act

President Barack Obama said on December 20, 2007 that “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that doesn’t involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Time magazine, in the June 24, 2011 issue, tried to explain how the Obama administration apparently defines hostilities “as a condition that exists only when U.S. troops are in a position to be fired on.” When asked about what constitutes being at war, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said that if you have fired thousands of cruise missiles and launched hundreds of drone strikes at a country, that should constitute being at war.

President Obama has sent information to Congress on U.S. involvement in Libya but he has adamantly refused to comply with the specific provisions of the War Powers Act. I believe, as does Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), that only Congress can declare war and granting power to the executive branch to initiate war is a clear violation of the Constitution.

When protests broke out in Libya and Col. Muammar Qaddafi vowed to crush the uprising, the issue quickly became one of whether the United States should participate in a no-fly zone being considered by our closest NATO allies. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates opposed the no-fly zone because he considered it an act of war and doubted the capability of available U.S. military forces to sustain the action. The top military commander, General Carter Ham, whose command included Libya, disagreed with his commander-in-chief’s contention that our top objective was to drive Col. Qaddafi from power.

The United Nations’ justification for use of force focused on protecting the population of Benghazi. By ignoring limits set by the United Nations, NATO may have lost future legitimacy in taking on a mission to protect a threatened population. The responsibility to protect became the opportunity to oust.

The final showdown in Libya occurred in Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown. At that time, Qaddafi’s power had been effectively broken and it was no longer necessary to protect any part of the population. Thus, when a convoy of 18 expensive-looking vehicles left Sirte, it was very likely that Qaddafi and maybe members of his family were in the convoy. However, even though the mission was to protect, not to oust, the convoy was attacked from the air, including a U.S. Predator drone.

Muammar Qaddafi was found hiding in a drainage pipe, hauled out, brutally beaten, shot in the head, and his body triumphantly displayed to the gathered crowd. Subsequently, a report surfaced that 53 Qaddafi loyalists were summarily executed, then hundreds similarly treated were mentioned, and then it was reported that thousands of Qaddafi loyalists and/or mercenaries were being held. This was an inauspicious beginning for a movement that was to bring an entirely different type of governance to Libya.

Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist, has pointed out that one of the most troubling aspects of the U.S. involvement in Libya and, generally, in reaction to the uprisings of the Arab Spring,  was the lack of a policy — no Obama Doctrine nor overarching plan. When a revolt broke out in Egypt, the Obama White House voiced cautious support of Hosni Mubarak, hoping he would quell the revolt with limited bloodshed. It was only after the White House saw the strength of the rebellion that demands begin to be made that Mubarak leave.

In regard to Bahrain, a no-fly-zone nor any other intervention by force was not even contemplated, even after the monarchy began to kill its own citizens. Saudi Arabia sent in armed forces out of fear that a successful rebellion in Bahrain would spur rebellion among its own Sunni population. Soon after the rebellion in Bahrain was put down, the U.S. sent $50 million in military equipment to Bahrain.

It is only recently that a no-fly-zone over Syria began to receive serious consideration, despite the continuing bloody suppression of the rebelling Syrians. Syria, it is true, presents a different situation from Libya, as it has a much stronger military force and there is the prospect of a bloody civil war between the minority ruling Alawite sect and the majority Sunni Muslim population. Using military force against the Syrian government brings the prospect of a wider regional war, not in the cards with regard to Libya. Yet, an endangered population in Libya was protected and an endangered population in Syria was not.

It is a good thing that Col. Qaddafi no longer rules in Libya; however, the manner of his death and the absence of an opposition with coherent policies, raise troubling questions. It is very possible that the ouster of Qaddafi will bring about a regime as destructive as was that of Qaddafi.

Tax Cuts and Military Spending Are Bad Job Creation Choices

President Barack Obama’s job creation strategy is now heavily focused on a payroll tax cut. He originally wanted a 3.1 percent payroll tax cut for employees but then later extended the same cut to employers. The employers’ share of the cut was later dropped due to difficulty in reaching agreement in replacement funding. Now the focus is on extending the current two percent cut for employees for two months. Later it is hoped by the Obama White House to either get the two percent cut extended for 12 months or, better yet, get a 3.1 percent cut for 12 months.

The general consensus of economists is that the unemployment rate at the end of 2012 will not have changed significantly from what it is today. Furthermore, the quarterly GDP will not have experienced a robust increase in the next 12 months. Given that Obama and the Democratic legislative leadership is vociferously arguing that this is the wrong time to increase the tax burden of 160 million Americans, the end of 2012 will likely be a bad time to do so. Therefore, when it comes time to make tax extension decisions near the end of 2012, Obama and his supporters will find it difficult to argue against a further extension of the payroll tax cut; also, it will take an act of political jujitsu to extend the Bush tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 and not extend them for the high earners.

The National Priorities Project has charted the impact of $1 billion in spending on potential job creation on select sectors. In direct, indirect and induced categories, $1 billion in military spending creates 11,600 jobs; $1 billion in tax cuts creates 14,800 jobs; spending $1 billion creates 17,100 jobs in clean energy, 19,800 in healthcare and 29,100 in education.

In his 12-year plan, President Obama projects only a $400 billion reduction in military spending — about a five percent cut — and his Secretary of Defense is predicting gloom and doom if there is any further decrease in military spending. Thus, Obama proposes to spend heavily in the least effective job creation category of the federal budget. Much of whose product, by the way, is destroyed in one explosive moment.

The National Priorities Project has prepared both long- and short-term federal budgetary allocations, which show how comparatively little we spend in the discretionary domestic category.

Total Cost Since 9/11 in Congress-Approved Discretionary Funds (FY 2012 dollars)           Combined budgets of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Labor, Transportation and the EPA – $80.3 billion.

Combined spending in: Nuclear Weapons – $230.3 billion; Homeland Security – $472.1 billion; Iraq and Afghanistan – $1.36 trillion; and Pentagon Base Budget – $5.6 trillion. The combined total is $7.66 trillion.

The combined spending total for six domestic departments was about one and a half percent of the combined spending total in what gets labeled as national security. I like to call it “fear” spending.

The National Priorities Project breaks down FY 2011 discretionary spending as follows Environment, Energy and Science – 6 percent; Transportation – 3 percent; Income Security and Labor -2 percent; International Affairs – 4 percent; Health – 5 percent; Housing and Community – 6 percent; Government – 6 – percent; Food – 1 percent; Education – 4 percent; Veterans’ Benefits – 5 percent; and Military – 58 percent.

President Obama’s job creation strategy is based on an unproductive combination of heavy military spending, tax cuts and a freeze on domestic spending.

 

What Nuclear Weapons Teach Us About Ourselves

In the prior post I described how excited David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, was about Barack Obama’s promises to significantly reduce the threat nuclear weapons pose to the world. I then did an update showing that President Obama had fallen short of meeting those promises on which I had sufficient information to comment. On May 24, 2011, Krieger did a piece for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, in which he placed the blame for the complacency about nuclear weapons on “most humans on the planet.” I thought that replicating his short article would be a good companion piece for the last published blog.

“Nuclear weapons are the most fearsome and destructive killing devices yet created by the human species. They have the capacity to destroy cities, countries and civilization. Yet, although these weapons give rise to some concern and worry, most humans on the planet are complacent about the inherent dangers of these weapons. It is worth exploring what our seeming indifference toward these weapons of mass annihilation teaches us about ourselves, and how we might remedy our malaise.

1. We are ill-informed. We appear to go about our daily lives with a self-assured degree of comfort that we will not be affected by the dangers of the weapons. We need more education about the extreme dangers and risks posed by nuclear weapons.

2. We are tribal. We divide ourselves into national tribes and identify with our own tribe while demonizing ‘the other.’ We need to be more global in our thinking. We need to think as members of the human species, not as members of a national tribe.

3. We are self-serving. We see our own nuclear weapons and those of our allies as being positive and useful, while we view the nuclear weapons of our enemies as being negative and harmful. We need to realize that nuclear weapons, as instruments of indiscriminate mass destruction, are illegal, immoral and dangerous in any hands, including our own.

4. We are arrogant. We seem to take perverse pride in our cleverness at having such overwhelmingly powerful weapons. We need to take pride in constructive uses of our science-based technologies, and recognize the inherent dangers and immorality of their destructive uses.

5. We are pathological. We rely for our protection upon these weapons that threaten to kill millions of innocent civilians. We need to realize that true security cannot be based upon the threat of mass murder of innocents.

6. We are deluded. We believe that we will not survive threats from ‘the other’ if we do not rely upon these weapons of mass annihilation for our society. We need to engage ‘the other’ in dialogue until we realize that our common humanity supersedes our differences, and our common future demands our unity.

7. We are reckless. We are willing to bet the human species and the human future that we can keep these weapons under control. We need to stop playing Russian roulette with the human future.

8. We are foolish. We trust our leaders to act responsibly, so as to keep nuclear weapons under control. We need to realize that this is too great a responsibility for any person and that all leaders do not act responsibly at all times.”

 

Nukes Opponent Saw Nuclear Weapons-Free World in Obama Election

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, saw the elimination of nuclear weapons as a real possibility when surveying what president-elect Barack Obama had said and promised about nuclear weapons. In an email sent in December 2008, Krieger said: “The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is a great moment for America and the world — a time of celebration and tears. The American people have chosen hope over fear, unity over division. In doing so, we have repudiated policies of violence, lawlessness and closed-door rule. We have restored hope and made possible the restoration of America’s credibility in the world.”

The Obama statement that Krieger liked best was: “A world without nuclear weapons is profoundly in America’s interest and the world’s interest. It is our responsibility to make the commitment, and to do the hard work to make this vision a reality. That’s what I’ve done as a Senator and a candidate, and that’s what I’ll do as President.”

Obama had also said: “I will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of US nuclear policy.”

David Krieger listed the specific steps that Barack Obama had promised to take in the Presidential campaign. I comment briefly on what Obama has done to carry out the promises.

1) Lead an international effort to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons around the world, With the exception of Iran, no action.

2) Strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. No discernible action.

3) Lock down the loose nuclear weapons that are out there right now. U.S. Senator Obama did some good work on this item; President Obama has provided some funding but has not made it a major priority.

4) Secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. Well behind schedule.

5) Immediately stand down all nuclear forces to be reduced under the Moscow Treaty and urge Russia to do the same. Obama pushed back the warhead dismantlement target date for complying with prior START treaties.

6) Seek Russia’s agreement to extend essential monitoring and verification provisions of the START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) before it expires in December 2009. No information.

7) Work with Russia to take US and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert. No information.

8) Work with other nuclear powers to reduce global nuclear weapons stockpiles dramatically by the end of his presidency. Focus has been almost solely on Iran.

9) Stop the development of new nuclear weapons. Obama renounced the development of any new nuclear weapons. In April 2010, President Obama explicitly committed the United States to not use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

10) Seek dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material. The long-range plan calls for a new class of nuclear submarines, new nuclear-capable bomber and fighter aircraft, and updated nuclear bomb warheads and missiles. The heart of a modernization program is the building of three new nuclear facilities, which will quadruple the capability for construction of “pits,” the triggers for nuclear explosions. The price tag of $185 billion for the modernization program will likely be greatly exceeded.

11) Set a goal to expand the US-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global. No evident progress.

12) Build a bipartisan consensus for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Totally off the table.

13) Cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. Has continued funding at about prior levels.

14) Not weaponize space. The Pentagon has a space command.

Obama Caves on Linking Payroll Tax Cut to Keystone Pipeline

On December 7, President Obama said: “Any effort to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject. So everybody should be on notice.” More recently, the Obama White House warned against the introduction of “ideological issues into what should be a simple debate about cutting taxes for the middle class.” Senior administration officials later told reporters that was a reference to the pipeline.

On Friday night, December 16, Senate leaders announced a tentative agreement to extend for two months Social Security payroll tax cuts, along with a two-month extension of unemployment benefits. Reportedly, Republicans won their fight to block new federal regulations for light bulb energy, coal dust in mines and clean water permits for construction of timber roads. In return, the White House turned back GOP attempts to block limits on greenhouse gases, mountaintop removal mining and hazardous emissions from utility plants, industrial boilers and cement kilns. It seems to me to be unseemly to trade environmental protections or lack of protections for a tax cut, especially one that will have so little impact.

A crucial part of the deal was that Obama must make a decision in 60 days to authorize the pipeline unless he determines it would not be in the national interest. Since he previously delayed a decision until 2013, he already has determined that its authorization would not be in the nation’s “immediate” interest. Not only has Obama broken a promise not to link the tax cut and the Keystone XL pipeline, but he has put himself in a position where he has to explain why its imminent construction would not be in the national interest. If he does approve the construction of the pipeline, he angers all those people who he told that environmental impacts must be more carefully studied.

 

 

King George III Rules Again in the Good Old U.S.A.

The American colonies fought the Revolutionary War to get out from under the tyrannical rule of King George III. Given the powers of assassination and indefinite detention either given by Congress or assumed by President Barack Obama, we seem to have placed our precious liberties under a modern King George III.

I did a previous blog on indefinite detention but the treatment accorded by Glenn Greenwald in the December 16, 2011 issue of Salon is so excellent, I decided to give it whatever additional circulation I can.

Greenwald compares the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) with the indefinite detention provisions found in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). He says that both President Bush and President Obama have argued that the AUMF conferred implicit power to detain indefinitely and the courts have generally accepted this very broad definition of the AUMF. Greenwald says: “That’s how the Obama administration justifies its ongoing bombing of Yemen and Somalia and its killing of people based on the claims that they support groups that did not exist at the time of 9/11.”

Greenwald draws a clear distinction between the AUMF and the NDAA: The AUMF specifically confined the president to use force against those who 1) helped perpetuate the 9/11 attacks; or 2) harbored the perpetrators. In contrast, the NDAA expanded the above power to include anyone who “substantially supports” such groups and/or “associated forces.” In addition, the NDAA codified indefinite detention to, as the New York Times editorially said that the bill contains “terrible new measures that will make indefinite detention and military trials a permanent part of American law.”

Glenn Greenwald examines the question of whether U.S. citizens can be indefinitely detained and he comes to a troubling conclusion. Section 1021 says: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” So on the face of it, this section appears to apply only to U.S. citizens captured anywhere abroad.

Section 1022 says that anyone who is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or associated forces” and “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners” must be held (absent a presidential waiver) “in military custody pending disposition under the law.” Section 1022 thus does not say that the requirement of military detention does not apply to U.S. citizens but it does not exclude U.S. citizens from the authority or the option to hold them in military custody. Thus, Greenwald concludes,  for foreign nationals accused of being members of Al Qaeda, military detention is mandatory; for U.S. citizens it is optional.

President Obama had vowed to veto the NDAA if it contained the indefinite detention provisions written in the Senate Armed Services Committee. He decided to sign it because it had been sufficiently revised to remove his objections. Significantly, no mention was made of what changes were being referred to by Obama. The two major attempts to revise the bill were to strip the indefinite detention language from the bill and Senator Feinstein’s attempt to make crystal clear that the bill did not apply to U.S. citizens were both resoundingly defeated. Therefore, what seems to be crystal clear is that President Obama caved on yet another promise he had made.

Constitution-Trashing by a Constitution Scholar

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) would expand the military’s authority to indefinitely detain accused terrorists arrested within the country, deny the right to a trial and could subject the detainees to indefinite detention. The NDAA applies to those “accused,” not convicted. Thus, the radical expansion of power that has defined U.S. policy since the attacks on 9/11, has been augmented.

President Obama had vowed to veto the NDAA if it included the arrest and detention provisions, not on the basis that it was an affront to the Constitution, but because he felt that it would undermine the way the executive branch was dealing with terrorism. On or about December 15, 2011, Obama withdrew the veto threat, citing changes made in the NDAA.

If anyone opposed to holding people indefinitely without trial sees the Supreme Court as a possible savior, Christopher Anders, executive director of the ACLU, throws cold water on that hope. Anders says that when the legislative and executive branches of government are working together, it gets a lot more deference from the courts; therefore, an Obama veto of this thrashing of the due process provisions in the Constitution would have increased the chances of an overturn in the courts.

Although Section 1032 of the NDAA exempts U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens from the mandate of detention, it still remains an option.

Section 1031 still permits the government to indefinitely detain Americans accused of terrorism in military custody. Hamdi v. Rumsfeld ruled that Yaser Esam Hamdi could not be held indefinitely without habeas release, but it ruled only that detainees could challenge their status as an “enemy combatant,” which itself was a case of the executive branch legislating a new category of criminal. An indication of how sloppily written was Hamdi v. Rumsfeld is that both sides in the indefinite detention debate cited it as supporting their case.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld did not grant access to the courts, instead it said that military tribunals must comport themselves with treaty obligations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Supreme Court could have ruled that military tribunals were not an appropriate venue for trying civilians, thus preventing the Congress from authorizing them after engaging in a little tidying up. A previous blog pointed out that the Military Commission Act of 2006 allows the president to empower the CIA to torture under a national security rationale.

Perhaps the weirdest spectacle on the Senate floor was Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) energetically making the case that it was the Obama administration that was insisting that an exemption for U.S. citizens be taken out of the bill. Apparently, it was Senator Diana Feinstein (D-CA) who was able to get an exemption reinstated, subject to the caveats noted above.

President Barack Obama could have vetoed the NDAA on another ground: it makes it more difficult to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay prison. By signing, Obama was moving farther away his pledge to close Guantanamo.

One further note about NDAA: it permits indefinite detention of Al Qaeda members and “allies.” Defining “allies” gives authorities a broad field of opportunity in which to work.

The Guantanamo Files, released by Wikileaks, include classified documents on more than 700 past and present Guantanamo detainees. An Al Jazeera cameraman was held for six years and then suddenly released. An 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia was held and a 14-year-old boy, the innocent victim of a kidnapping, was also held.

Nearly 100 of the detainees were known to have depressive or psychotic illnesses.

President Obama announced in early 2010 that at least 50 detainees at Gitmo would be held without charging or trying them.

The FBI’s “Good” Muslims

Writing in the September 19, 2011 The Nation, Arun Kundnani says of the FBI’s “good” Muslims: “Local authorities have worked in concert with intelligence agencies to establish widespread networks of informants, to place mosques under surveillance and lto launch “pre-emptive” prosecutions, frequently involving schemes that, critics charge, have been more successful in trapping disaffected individuals than in netting actual terrorists.”

Kundnani quotes Birmingham (Alabama) City Council member Salma Yaqoob as follows: “By promoting and recognizing only those Muslims who toe the line, government policy is serving to strengthen the hands of the genuine extremists, those who say that our engagement in the democratic process is pointless or wrong… .

“Muslim organizations that take a civil rights stand and are then rejected as partners and vilified as conveyors of the ‘extremist’ ideas that supposedly make people into terrorists.”

The campaigning Barack Obama said he would rein in the sprawling intelligence complex: the President Obama should try reining in the FBI in its targeting of Muslims.