Category Archives: Privacy

In the U.S. State Department’s De-listing of MEK as a Terrorist Group, the “War on Terror” Loses All Meaning*

“In this world, there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn. Yet, there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences.” -President George W. Bush speech to the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 2001

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”- a refrain we have heard from many American presidents and American politicians over the years. But anyone who has taken even a cursory look at history knows that this is a lie. Not only does our government negotiate with terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism, the uncomfortable truth is that the U.S. itself is a state sponsor of terrorist groups when the group in question uses its tactics against enemies of the U.S. or her allies.

The latest example is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. MEK) will be de-listed as a “foreign terrorist organization.” MEK has been on the list since 1997. For those who are not familiar with MEK, this organization was once aligned with Saddam Hussein** and allegedly responsible for killing at least six Americans in the 1970’s along with a failed kidnapping attempt of U.S. Ambassador to Iran Douglas MacArthur II in 1971 and a failed assassination attempt of USAF Brig Gen Harold Price in 1972.

Lest there be any partisans on the Right trying to accuse the Obama administration giving in to terrorism, its worth pointing out that the campaign to de-list MEK has been a bipartisan effort. Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Fran Townsend, Michael Mukasey, Andrew Card of the Right have joined MEK advocates of the Left such as Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Ed Rendell. Many of these advocates have been paid to speak out on MEK’s behalf; a crime of “material support” of terrorism under normal circumstances but apparently A-OK if done by prominent politicians.

So what exactly has MEK done to ingratiate itself to the State Department to be de-listed as a foreign terrorist organization? Has MEK ceased its terrorist activities or paid restitution (to the extent it could be paid) to its victims? According to Glenn Greenwald, its quite the opposite:

What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported, citing US officials, that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK]” as it is “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. NBC also cited “unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran”.

In April, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil (in other words, the US government provided exactly the “material support” for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes). Hersh cited numerous officials for the claim that “some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today.” The MEK’s prime goal is the removal of Iran’s government.

Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran – or, more accurately: likely because of them – it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. This event is completely unsurprising. In May, I noted the emergence of reports that the State Department would do so imminently.

Greenwald goes on to point out five lessons we should learn from MEK’s de-listing: 1. There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans, 2. the US government is not opposed to terrorism when its beneficial, 3.“terrorism” is a meaningless (and often manipulated) term, 4. legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC, and 5. there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran. It’s quite a scathing indictment of what the U.S. government’s stated policy is regarding terrorism and what its actual policy is.

Over at Popehat, Ken writes his thoughts about MEK’s de-listing. Ken recalls how as a young lawyer, he was on a prosecution team responsible for prosecuting someone who had ties with MEK. By Ken’s account, there was “no doubt” that this person was guilty of running an immigration fraud ring as the evidence against him was “overwhelming.” Ken points out that this occurred before 9/11 and “Bob’s” sentence wasn’t any worse because of his involvement with MEK, though the prosecution team worked very hard was very proud of connecting “Bob” to the terrorist organization.

Needless to say, Ken isn’t very pleased with MEK’s de-listing either and for some very good reasons:

The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won’t get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn’t changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK’s political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

[…]

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans’ communications, and increasingly intrusive security measures are all required by the War on Terror.

But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror -the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

Glenn Greenwald and Ken are both right on what the de-listing of MEK should tell us about the so-called war on terror. Our government is not serious about fighting terrorism, it condones it even as we surrender our liberties at home. This is especially true if the target of the terrorism is Iran or another “state sponsor of terrorism” we are all supposed to be afraid of and eventually be at war with.

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Anti-Choice* Extremism in Conservative Movement Lends Credence to the Left’s “War on Women” Mantra

One of the ways the Obama campaign and Democrats in general have been deflecting attention away from the poor performance of the economy has been to change the subject to social issues. Democrats know that independent women are reluctant to support Republicans because of this perception that Republicans do not care about the concerns of women. Democrats are doing all they can to reinforce this perception asserting that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” Among their talking points are that Republicans are opposed to “equal pay for equal work” laws, contraception coverage mandates for health insurance, and abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother (I have already debunked the alleged gender pay gap here and explained why there is no “right” to free contraception here). Republicans tend to lend credence to being anti-woman when they say things like the following:

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

That was Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s response to a question concerning whether or not a woman should have the legal right to terminate a pregnancy that was a result of a rape. How might a pregnant woman who was raped conclude from this statement? Was Mr. Akin implying that she wasn’t “legitimately raped” otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant? Why, every woman in America who has become pregnant who thought she was raped must not have actually been raped! No, these women must have enjoyed the experience, or at the very least consented according to fertility expert Todd Akin.

One would hope that some of the Republican men, especially those who are running for office, would have moved on past the misogynistic attitudes revealed in comments like these. Unfortunately, it seems that some continue to hold on to a similar attitude as Clayton Williams who once joked about bad weather and rape “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

Beyond idiotic statements like these, anti-choice activists have been pushing so-called “personhood” laws in various states to give every fertilized egg full legal rights that all people have. Personhood goes beyond the abortion issue and has some very bad unintended consequences. The Dominican Republic has such laws already on the books; just a few days ago, a teenager died most likely because doctors were afraid of running afoul of the law.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — A pregnant leukemia patient who became a flashpoint in the abortion debate in the Dominican Republic died Friday morning, a hospital official told CNN.
The 16-year-old, who had been undergoing chemotherapy, died from complications of the disease, said Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for the hospital.

Her case stirred debate in her country, as her life was potentially at risk because of anti-abortion laws in the Dominican Republic.

Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally began receiving treatment.

The patient, whose identity has not been released because she’s a minor and because of the hospital’s privacy policy, was 13 weeks pregnant.

Oh, well that’s the Dominican Republic. That would never happen here in the U.S., right? Don’t be so sure. Back in April, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would make every woman who has a miscarriage a murder suspect. The Georgia legislature considered a similar bill that would have required women to prove that their miscarriages “occurred naturally.” Having a miscarriage, a very common occurrence, is traumatic enough without being interrogated by some asshole detective downtown!

While some of these “war on women” attacks on Republicans are unfair in my judgment, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by some of their more extreme anti-choice proposals and comments. Good people can disagree about abortion but those who are opposed to abortion need to do a better job of making their case without making women second-class citizens with fewer rights than “the unborn” whenever they happen to be pregnant.

***UPDATE***
The Republicans have added a “human life” plank to the draft of their party platform.

CNN reports:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Sigh.

My Republican friends: if you lose to Obama in November, don’t blame Libertarians. If you focus on these divisive social issues instead of the economy (and it IS the economy, stupid) you will lose and you will only have yourselves to blame.

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Random Acts of Violence Can Be Mitigated But Not Prevented

In the aftermath of the senseless killing that occurred last Friday in Aurora, CO at the premier of the latest Batman movie, the question on most people’s mind is how this kind of violence can be prevented. What is the appropriate public policy that will prevent something like this horrible event from ever happening again?

Unsurprisingly, those who favor stricter gun control laws and those who favor less have come to very different conclusions. If the shooter had to jump through additional legal hoops to acquire the guns, the ammunition, the body armor, didn’t have the ability to purchase high capacity clips (because they were outlawed), etc., would this have certainly prevented this tragedy? If the movie theater didn’t have the “gun free zone” policy and one or more of the movie patrons with a CCW and a hand gun to return fire, would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

In a word the answer is no to either approach.

Others blame the “coarsening of our culture” due in part to violent movies, video games, music, etc. The pervasiveness of pretend violence inspires real life violence, some might argue. If the entertainment industry toned down or eliminated violence in their respective art forms (whether voluntarily or by government censorship), would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

Again, the answer is no.

There is no public policy nor security approach that will certainly prevent another random act of violence such as this. When you think about it, the question is quite absurd. The question should not be whether these acts of violence can always be prevented but whether they can be mitigated or reduced.

Is it possible that with additional gun control laws, this individual wouldn’t have been able to perpetrate this evil? While I oppose additional gun control laws, I have to concede that it is possible that if obtaining these weapons were more difficult, that this wouldn’t have happened. By regulating the type of firearms and ammunition the average person can purchase, certain criminals would be otherwise prevented from using a firearm in an unprovoked, violent fashion. But as the NRA likes to point out, criminals by definition don’t care about the law (the Aurora shooter didn’t change his mind when he walked by the “gun free zone” sign that would have notified him about the theater’s policy). Those who are determined to commit crimes with guns will acquire them through the black market. Would the killer in this instance gone through the trouble to seek out these weapons on the black market? Probably, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

While I agree with John Lott Jr.’s arguments he outlines in his book More Guns, Less Crime* and can be found making his case at various media outlets, I think it’s a bridge too far for some of my fellow travelers who support the right to bear arms to say that a single person with a gun in the theater would have prevented 12 people from being murdered and dozens more from being injured. The truth is, we cannot know for sure because there are too many variables. It’s entirely possible that a CCW holder who was properly trained might have reduced the body count and the injuries. I certainly think the odds are that more people would have survived, but given the circumstances of this event, I doubt seriously that the whole tragedy would have been averted.

So if random acts of violence cannot be prevented regardless of the security measures or public policy reforms, the question necessarily becomes: just how much risk of being a victim of a random violent act are we willing to tolerate and at what cost**?

With all the murders and scary things reported in the news, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our culture is more violent than ever. The thing is though, it’s just not true. With the news of a mass shooting occurring on school campuses, at the grocery store in Tucson, and the latest shooting at the theater in Aurora, it might seem that there is a lunatic with a gun around every corner ready to do carnage. You may be surprised to learn then, that every school campus is due to be the place of an on campus murder…once every 12,000 years.

You may be even further surprised to learn that our world as a whole is a much less violent place than any time in the history of humanity. According to research by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, the 20th century was less violent than the previous centuries even considering all the death and destruction from the world wars, the cold war, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China.

You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been on a steady decline for centuries now. That’s the arresting claim made by Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Just a couple of centuries ago, violence was pervasive. Slavery was widespread; wife and child beating an acceptable practice; heretics and witches burned at the stake; pogroms and race riots common, and warfare nearly constant. Public hangings, bear-baiting, and even cat burning were popular forms of entertainment. By examining collections of ancient skeletons and scrutinizing current day tribal societies, anthropologists have found that people were nine times more likely to be killed in tribal warfare than to die of war and genocide in even the war-torn 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was 30 times higher than today.

So despite the “lax gun laws” and despite the “coarsening of our culture,” somehow we are less likely to be a victim of a violent act than at any time in history if we are to believe Steven Pinker. Of course, I realize that this probably isn’t much comfort to those who have been victims of these violent acts. We must remember, however; that if we succumb to fear that follows these horrific acts, we risk surrendering our privacy and our liberty*** for very little net benefit. We must recognize that there will always be those who want to harm his fellow man. Be alert, be vigilant, but under no circumstances allow yourself to live in fear.

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Quote of the Day: Obscene Edition

The sweater vested theocrat Rick Santorum has struck again, this time promising to “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws. Tom Knighton at United Liberty thinks that there are higher priorities facing the next president than lax enforcement of pornography statutes writing:

Take a look around for a moment. We have a nation that is falling apart. The constitution is practically on life support, and Congress is doing it’s best to pull the plug on it. American citizens can be detained indefinitely thanks to the NDAA. There are constant assaults on the internet through laws like SOPA. Now, the Secret Service can declare anywhere it wants as being off limits to free speech, and speaking your mind can constitute a felony. And where does Rick Santorum’s line in the sand fall? Apparently, on yet another action that involves consenting adults.

[…]

He’s talking about preventing me and my wife from watching something that was created by consenting adults, for consenting adults, sold to a willing customer who was also a consenting adult. That’s where this man’s priorities are?

I couldn’t agree more! Santorum’s priorities may be in line with some of the evangelicals in the GOP but I’m quite certain that most voters in the general election have very different priorities. This is yet another example of why if Santorum wins the nomination, Barack Obama will serve a second term as president.

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