And so Barack Obama finally commits to the creation of a parallel justice system – one in which the threshold of evidence is lower, people can be preventively detained or have no trial at all (indefinitely), and that is run by military commissions. On Cuba, a satellite piece of land outside the US mainland and its ordinary criminal justice system. Even though as a presidential candidate, the darling of civil libertarians, liberals and Democrats, Obama said to vehemently oppose the Bush-Cheney counterterrorism policies that had resulted in the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, the military commissions, and indefinite preventive detention for terrorism suspects.
If Obama taught me one thing, it is that you should never, ever trust politicians. That’s the lesson that I guess is to be learnt from this guy’s election and presidency.
But anyway. Indefinite detention is now a fact. Procedurally, some things have of course been improved since Bush-Cheney. Detainees on trial now have legal rights which come closer to those in the ordinary justice system; detainees who will not be tried will, it is promised, within a year receive status reviews of the level of ‘threat’ they impose. Obama’s executive order lifting his two-year ban on military trials requires compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. Also – importantly – this order only covers those currently held, and does not extent to any possible future detainees.
But otherwise, Gitmo will not be closed, 9/11 plotters will not get a criminal trial (which would have shown the world what a law-honoring, justice-minded country the US would be), and the way is open for any future Republican president to expand upon this parallel justice system. Yes we can.
President Obama on Monday reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures but implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp.
Mr. Obama said in a statement that he remained committed to closing Guantánamo someday and to charging some terrorism suspects in civilian criminal courts. But Congress has blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to the United States for trial, frustrating the administration’s plan to hold civilian trials for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed chief plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, and others accused of terrorism.
Officials declined to say whether Mr. Mohammed would be scheduled for a military commission or would await a trial in federal court if Congress lifts its prohibition.
Separately, for detainees who will not get trials, Mr. Obama set out new rules in an executive order Monday requiring a review of their status within a year and every three years after that to determine whether they remain a threat, should be scheduled for a military trial or should be released. The order also requires compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the international treaty that bans torture and inhumane treatment.
Civil liberties advocates, who have long been critical of Guantánamo, expressed disappointment that the military system remained in place more than two years after Mr. Obama took office.
“This is a step down the road toward institutionalizing a preventive-detention regime,” said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First. “People in the Mideast are looking to establish new rules for their own societies, and this sends a mixed message at best.”
Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com is, as always, indispensable. He especially debunks the idea, also found in the NYT article above, that it is Congress, not Obama, that drives these policies:
It is true that Congress — with the overwhelming support of both parties — has enacted several measures making it much more difficult, indeed impossible, to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the U.S. But long before that ever happened, Obama made clear that he wanted to continue the twin defining pillars of the Bush detention regime: namely, (1) indefinite, charge-free detention and (2) military commissions (for those lucky enough to be charged with something). Obama never had a plan for “closing Guantanamo” in any meaningful sense; the most he sought to do was to move it a few thousand miles north to Illinois, where its defining injustices would endure.
The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress’ ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 — a mere five months after his inauguration — that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of “preventive detention” to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.” It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first — and only — Obama plan for “closing Guantanamo” came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name “Gitmo North.”
None of this was even arguably necessitated by Congressional action. To the contrary, almost all of it took place before Congress did anything. It was Barack Obama’s position — not that of Congress — that detainees could and should be denied trials, that our court system was inadequate and inappropriate to try them, and that he possessed the unilateral, unrestrained power under the “laws of war” to order them imprisoned for years, even indefinitely, without bothering to charge them with a crime and without any review by the judiciary, in some cases without even the right of habeas review(to see why claims of such “law of war” detention power are so baseless, see the points here, especially point 5).
In other words, Obama — for reasons having nothing to do with Congress — worked from the start to preserve the crux of the Bush/Cheney detention regime.
The NYT reports that Bradley Manning (23) - the American soldier who originally passed the Iraq helicopter video, the Iraq and Afghan war logs and the US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks – is being treated in an increasingly inhumane way in the cell in which he is locked up in Quantico, Virginia. He is now permanently stripped of this clothes during the night and the morning inspection, where he stands along the other detainees. This comes in addition to his 23-hour solitary confinement; his one hour of outside-cell time, during which he is shackled and must walk around all time; his deprivation of exercise; and the constant surveillance he is under. Bradley Manning, even though he is not suicidal and has acted like a model detainee (although he’s increasingly showing signs of psychological duress) has been forced to endure this treatment for the past ten months.
Let’s be clear about this: Bradley Manning’s treatment amounts to torture. Forced nudity is a breach of the standards of the Geneva Conventions, and prolonged solitary confinement is torture anyhow. And this is being done under one President Barack Obama. Manning is the person thanks to whom we know that American soldiers in Iraq shot innocent civilians from an Apache helicopter; thanks to whom we know how high the death toll of the Iraq War really was; and thanks to whom we know all those revelations from the WikiLeaks cables, that are still coming out. They even played a role in the Tunisian uprising, leading to the historic events of the past few weeks. In other words, this person is a hero if there ever was one. And yet, even though he has not been convicted of any crime, he is being handled in a manner reserved for the worst criminals in Supermax prisons (or terror suspects in Guantánamo Bay).
Here’s an excerpt from the chat logs between Adrian Lamo (the guy who turned him in) and Manning, revealing the latter’s motivations for revealing information being held secret to the public:
Manning: [B]ecause it’s public data. . . . it belongs in the public domain -information should be free – it belongs in the public domain – because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge – if its out in the open . . . it should be a public good.
Lamo: what’s your endgame plan, then?. . .
Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the [Baghdad Apache attack] video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth . . . regardless of who they are . . . because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
So this is how the American government treats whistleblowers. And it is all happening under the watchful eye of President Obama, who as a candidate in 2007 said the following things:
They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.
That is not who we are.
Yes we can, President Obama. Change we can believe in.
Andrew Sullivan lambasts President Obama on his budget cutting proposals, sent to Congress yesterday. In the United States, like in every Western country, the majority of government spending is on the welfare state (in the American case: on Medicare and Medicaid). But unlike every other country, there is one huge area of spending that is officially being kept from every discussion about spending cuts: the military. Cutting the defence budget is out of the question in the US (it’s not even part of the annual budget).
Since welfare state entitlements in the US are also protected by important lobbies (the Association for the Advancement of Retired People (AARP), is one of the most powerful lobbies in the US and opposed to any Medicare cuts), this means that freezing spending and cutting, which is sorely needed given the absurdly huge deficit (1.1 trillion dollar) and public debt, will have to be done in other government programs. Because raising taxes in America is, like, political suicide (although the Obama administration to a large extent does plan to generate revenue through tax hikes). But these programs, like subsidies, education, farming and infrastructure, taken together under the nomer ‘domestic discretionary spending’ don’t constitute that large a part of the budget, and might be pretty helpful in stimulating the economy…
So, the critique goes, while the elephants in the room, the welfare state and the military, are not taken on, valuable government programs are being cut. That sounds a lot like the Dutch situation, in which the incredibly expensive home mortgage interest deduction (‘hypotheekrente-aftrek’) is being saved, while cuts are being made in education, social security, public transportation, and other programs that everybody benefits from.
The Obama administration, however, is also making investments in education, scientific research, clean energy and infrastructure; something the Dutch cabinet could learn from if they weren’t so terribly short-sighted. So I’m really out of my depth here in judging whether this budget is any good.
A good overview of the budget proposals can be found here (check out the list on the right), and here. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, meanwhile, takes a helicopter view on the American government budget.
Andrew Sullivan argues that Obama, by not considering welfare state or military spending cuts and turning even more into an ordinary Washington politician than he already has, is screwing young voters over:
[The] core challenge of this time is not the cost of discretionary spending. Obama knows this; everyone knows this. The crisis is the cost of future entitlements and defense, about which Obama proposes nothing. Yes, there’s some blather. But Obama will not risk in any way any vulnerability on taxes to his right or entitlement spending to his left. He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash. If I were Alan Simpson or Erskine Bowles, I’d feel duped. And they were duped. All of us who took Obama’s pitch as fiscally responsible were duped.
They have to lead, because this president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.
To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you’re fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama’s cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America’s fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.
The policy of indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects – brought together under the made-up ‘legal’ category of ‘illegal enemy combatants’ – in a satellite area of the United States, the prison camp at Guántanamo Bay, was a hallmark of the Bush-Cheney administration’s ‘war’ on terrorism. It has been kept in place by President Obama.
Now, after 9 years of detention in a cage, a prisoner, Awal Gul, has died of heart malfunction at age 48. He was one of 173 still in detention at Gitmo, and of 50 not considered for a trial or release. The Supreme Court in the 2008 Boumediene v. Bush case confirmed the right of detainees to a habeas corpus hearing in a federal court. Gul filed his habeas petition in March 2010, 11 months ago, but the judge, for some reason, never got to reviewing it. Now the guy’s dead.
While the U.S. claims he was a Taliban commander, Gul has long insisted that he quit the Taliban a year before the 9/11 attack because, as his lawyer put it, “he was disgusted by the Taliban’s growing penchant for corruption and abuse.”
This episode illustrates that the U.S. Government’s detention policy — still — amounts to imposing life sentences on people without bothering to prove they did anything wrong.
This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress. The Obama administration has sought to “close” the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word: by moving its defining injustice — indefinite, due-process-free detention — a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil. But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty — indefinite detention — is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done. Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure. Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime – neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.
Gul had filed a habeas petition and it was fully argued before a federal court back in March — 11 months ago. The federal judge never got around to issuing a ruling.
Gul’s death — and what turned out to be his due-process-free life sentence — is an important reminder of the heinous detention policies of the U.S.: not as a matter of the Bush/Cheney past, but very much the current U.S. posture as well. The only difference is that there is no more partisan gain to be squeezed from the controversy, so it has blissfully disappeared into the harmonious dead zone of bipartisan consensus.
- Update: Nieuwe cable over bezoek Balkenende aan Obama. Waarin o.m. staat dat Verhagen bang was dat opname van Guantánamo-gevangenen in Nederland de populariteit van Wilders zou doen vergroten; dat Nederland harder roept dan handelt over klimaatverandering; en dat Beatrix waarschijnlijk binnen een jaar zou aftreden.
- Update: Absurd eigenlijk hoe veel die kabinetsleden de Amerikanen vertellen. Van Middelkoop noemt de besluitvorming in het kabinet tegen de ambassadeur ”frustrerend”. Classy.
- Update: Belangrijkste nieuws is ongetwijfeld Beatrix die een voorstander blijkt van de Afghanistan-missie (net als het merendeel van de Nederlandse elite, de ‘senior body politic’). Edit: De Volkskrant houdt er een andere interpretatie van de term “finding a way forward” op na.
Verder schijnt Wouter Bos nogal alleen te hebben gestaan in het kabinet én de PvdA-Kamerfractie met zijn verzet. Amerikanen hadden ook enorm de pik op Bos en de PvdA.
Opmerkelijk vind ik (maar daar heb ik verder nog niemand over gehoord) dat Bos wel in vertrouwen tegen de Amerikaanse ambassadeur heeft gezegd dat Nederland na 2010 nog wel in Afghanistan zal blijven, alleen niet in Uruzgan.
Ook aardig is dat de relatie tussen Verhagen en Koenders omschreven wordt als “gespannen, maar niet vijandig”. Van Middelkoop wordt beschreven als ‘het derde wiel aan de wagen’.
Authentieke cables te bekijken hier: codeberichten 1150 (15 juni 2000), 114457 (5 juli 2007), 222211 (25 augustus 2009) en 241007 (21 december 2009)
Codebericht 241007 (21 december 2009), over kabinetsberaad:
1. (S) SUMMARY: Dutch cabinet deliberations on Afghanistan are stalled going into the holiday break, with no clear indication when the impasse will be broken. Dutch post-2010 commitments to Afghanistan are being held hostage to the Labor Party´s (PvdA) uncompromising stance. Ambassador´s engagement with key leaders reveals few new assessments: Dutch will likely stay in Afghanistan focusing on training, enablers and development – outside of Uruzgan. END SUMMARY
4. (S) PvdA – Bos has completely shunned the diplomatic corps, relegating Afghanistan discussions to Koenders who has categorically said the Dutch will not be in Uruzgan after 2010 except for development efforts. The Australian Ambassador met with PvdA Foreign Affairs spokesperson Martijn van Dam who was even more unyielding on the Uruzgan departure. He stated that if Dutch security was needed in Uruzgan for development efforts after 2010, then the Dutch would simply stop those efforts as well. The PvdA defense spokesperson opined that it would not be of any benefit for U.S. leaders to engage either Bos or van Dam as they were not “open-minded” on Afghanistan. The PvdA is a party in disarray; their December 12 party congress was very mixed. Although there was no formal party statement made on Afghanistan, Labor´s position remained clear – it was standing firm on withdrawal of all troops from Uruzgan in 2010. Bos has stated he wants a Cabinet decision around January 8, before the Davids Commission issues it report about the political support the Dutch Government gave the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in 2003. Press commentary after the party congress heavily criticized Labor for failing to recognize: (1) any positive developments in Uruzgan over the past two years; (2) the importance for the Dutch to support the new NATO strategy and mission; and (3) the lives lost Qthe new NATO strategy and mission; and (3) the lives lost needlessly and effort wasted if the Dutch withdrew from Uruzgan
Codebericht 222211 (25 augustus 2009), o.m. over Beatrix:
1. (C) This cable continues reporting on post´s efforts to get the Dutch to “yes” on a post-2010 deployment in Afghanistan (reftels).
2. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Labor Party leader Bos told the Ambassador in confidence (STRICTLY PROTECT) the Dutch will likely stay in Afghanistan post-2010 but not in Uruzgan. The cabinet will probably not take that decision until the end of the year. Post recommends next steps in our engagement (para 7). END SUMMARY.
4. (S/NF) Bos then said the Government, with Labor Party support, will be able to stay in Afghanistan after its current mandate expires, but not in Uruzgan. The Ambassador pressed Bos that it was more logical for the Dutch to remain in Uruzgan where they had developed important contacts with local tribes and leaders as well as funded numerous projects. Bos admitted this was true, but did not know if staying in Uruzgan would fly with his party.
6. (S/NF) COMMENT: Queen Beatrix commented to the Ambassador during her credentialing ceremony on August 19 that finding a way forward on Afghanistan “would be difficult,” but must be done. It appears the senior leadership of the body politic agrees. We had heard from other Cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Verhagen, that Bos and the Labor Party would likely agree to extending the Dutch mission in Afghanistan past 2010. Bos´s statement, however, was the first time any senior Labor Party leader had made that clear. Although appearing to draw a line in the sand about leaving Uruzgan, Qappearing to draw a line in the sand about leaving Uruzgan, Bos did not seem categorical about that issue. In our engagement, we need to continue to stress the Alliance need for the Dutch to remain in Afghanistan and in Uruzgan, in particular; the progress the Dutch have made in Uruzgan and the need to build upon their stability and development efforts there; the increased U.S. contribution in military and civilian personnel and resources in Afghanistan; and the enhanced contributions of NATO and other partners. A word of caution – the Dutch are concerned Jan Mohammed, the former governor and local warlord, might be re-appointed governor of Uruzgan if Pres. Karzai is re-elected. If that were to happen, everyone, including our strongest supporters, says the Dutch will not/not return to Uruzgan under any circumstances. END COMMENT.
Codebericht 114457 (5 juli 2007), over relaties binnen het kabinet:
1. (C) Summary: The GONL sent a letter to the Dutch Parliament on June 30 noting it will decide this summer whether to extend its ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The decision will follow an exhaustive review of all options, including staying in the mission´s current capacity, reducing its contribution or moving to another location, or even withdrawing altogether. Cabinet officials have stressed that “all options are on the table,” while public statements by Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop in favor of remaining in some capacity may have tipped the hand of the GONL and temporarily unsettled the political process. Dutch officials are cautiously optimistic that the conditions are in place to arrive at a positive extension decision, but stress that sequencing is vital: first the review of options, then consultations with Allies, followed by a decision and subsequent debate with Parliament. End summary.
19. (S//NOFORN) Working level contacts describe the relationship between Verhagen and Koenders as “contentious but not outright hostile.” Instead of direct confrontation, the two often wage battles through their staffs at the working level, said MFA Security Affairs Chief Robert de Groot. That said, when the two ministers agree, the resulting decision has added weight and is often “ironclad.” Van Middelkoop is described as “the third wheel,” or the “inexperienced junior partner” by working level contacts. While substantively knowledgeable, his inexperience in the government is obvious, and he often defers to Verhagen and Koenders.
1.(C) SUMMARY: THE DUTCH ARE PLEASED THAT THE 6/13-14 EU GAC ENDORSED MORE FREQUENT UPDATES OF THE EU SERBIA VISA BAN LIST. THEY THINK THEY NOW HAVE A POLITICALLY RESPONSIVE TOOL TO PRESSURE MILOSEVIC AND HIS REGIME. THEY STILL SUPPORT CLOSER EU COORDINATION WITH NON-EU STATES ON FINANCIAL SANCTIONS, BUT SEE LITTLE PROSPECT OF AN EU CONSENSUS ON THIS POINT. THEY SUGGEST MORE AD HOC APPROACHES TO THIS PROBLEM AND WELCOME FURTHER BILATERAL CONSULTATION WITH THE U.S. FINALLY, THE DUTCH SAY THAT THE UK AND THE NETHERLANDS ARE “BRAINSTORMING” ON HOW TO MANAGE ANTICIPATED AUGUST CALLS TO DROP OUTRIGHT THE EU SERBIA FLIGHT BAN. END SUMMARY.
It’s maybe too early to call it a comeback, but still; a few days ago, I had a discussion with someone about who the biggest loser of 2010 would be. I nominated Obama: lost badly in Congressional elections, looked bad with the oil spill, took a hit with the WikiLeaks publications, approval ratings down the drain, increasingly unpopular with his liberal supporters, hasn’t closed Guantánamo yet. This might just be a one-term president.
But suddenly, Obama wins a couple of major legislative victories before the year is closed. These are extra stimulus measures and a continuation of unemployment benefits as a trade-off for extension of the Bush tax cuts (progressives don’t call this a victory, but in the public perception, it is more and more deemed so); the repeal of DADT, allowing gays in the military to come out; and now possibly ratification of the START treaty with Russia, reducing nuclear weapons. This comes in addition, of course, to passage of the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.
I’m personally still largely disappointed with Obama. His record on civil liberties and the rule of law is dismal (worse than Bush’s). His Supreme Court appointees suck. The candidate of 2008 was a fiction. But might these victories signal the start of an upswing, in terms of perceived success for the president, the coming period?
Despite their leaders’ bluster, Senate Republicans do not have the votes to block ratification of the New START treaty. When a vote to end the GOP’s filibuster was called on Wednesday afternoon, 11 Republican senators broke with their party. With a total of 67 senators voting to kill the filibuster, the path now seems clear for the chamber to formally ratify the treaty, which calls for the U.S. and Russia to pare back their nuclear arsenals over the next seven years, on Wednesday.
Needless to say, this represents a significant political victory for Barack Obama — and not his first one this lame duck session. The White House worked intently to win over Republican support, which was more crucial than usual on START because of the two-thirds requirement for treaty ratification, and overcame a series of increasingly creative objections from some GOP senators who were intent on denying Obama a key item on his December wish list.
Think of it this way: If you had said in the immediate wake of the November election — in which Democrats lost more than 60 House seats, nine Senate seats and a boatload of governorships and state legislatures — that by the end of the year, the START treaty would be ratified, DADT would be history, and $300 billion of new stimulus would be authorized by Congress (with Republican support), you probably would have been laughed at. But it will all soon be a reality — and there’s a real chance that passage of the 9/11 healthcare bill will be too.
Na tweeënhalve week wachten is er dan eindelijk een diplomatieke kabel geheel gewijd aan Nederland! En wederom staat er weinig wereldschokkends in, maar is het smakelijk leesvoer. De geheime briefing, gedateerd op 6 juli 2009, is gericht aan Barack Obama, anticiperend op Balkenende’s bezoek aan de V.S., en beschrijft de toenmalige situatie in de Nederlandse politiek.
Aardig is de beschrijving van Balkenende als een “lichtgewicht Harry Potter”, en van Wilders als “goud-bepruikte, opstandige parlementariër”. De Amerikanen analyseren correct de fragiliteit van Balkenende-IV (de PvdA is “in verval”), voorspellen nog correcter de val van het kabinet na de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen, en schieten wederom raak met de verwachting dat de PVV weleens heel groot kon worden. Wilders wordt overigens gezien als een “bedreiging” voor Amerikaanse belangen.
Of de these dat onze verstoting uit de G20 verband houdt met het beeïndigen van de missie in Afghanistan hierdoor bevestigd wordt weet ik niet. We hebben na juli 2009 toch nog deelgenomen aan de G20?
Monday, 06 July 2009, 12:08
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STATE PLEASE PASS TO WHITE HOUSE FOR THE PRESIDENT EO 12958 DECL: 07/06/2019 TAGS PREL, OVIP, ECON, EFIN, PINR, MOPS, NL SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS: OVERVIEW FOR THE PRESIDENT’S JULY 14
MEETING WITH DUTCH PRIME MINISTER BALKENENDE
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Michael F. Gallagher for reasons 1.4 ( b) and (d).
1. (C) Your July 14 meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Pieter Balkenende provides an opportunity for us to urge the Dutch to continue as part of NATO in Afghanistan and to enlist PM Balkenende in solving Guantanamo issues. For his part, Balkenende will seek to continue the Dutch role in the G20 and to find a common ground to work with us on climate change and the Middle East.
2. (C) Balkenende, in office through four coalitions since 2002, is a cunning politician who does not impose his vision on coalition partners, but maneuvers effectively to achieve the intended goal. At first, he was dismissed as a lightweight “Harry Potter” look-alike, but he has consistently and skillfully delivered Cabinet support for U.S. policy objectives while balancing fragile parliamentary majorities. Balkenende,s current center-left coalition government (“Balkenende IV”) is held together more by fear of early elections than any unity of vision. The financial crisis has plunged the Netherlands into a recession likely to last through 2010, and the Cabinet must continually defend its three relatively modest stimulus packages against calls to do more to spur recovery. Balkenende is also under pressure from a skeptical public to withdraw the Netherlands, 1,800 troops from Afghanistan in 2010. His main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is in decline, having fared poorly in the 2006 national election and the 2009 European Parliament election, and believes rejecting a continuing role in Afghanistan will please its base and may win back supporters.
3. (S) The Wilders Factor: Golden-pompadoured, maverick parliamentarian Geert Wilders, anti-Islam, nationalist Freedom Party remains a thorn in the coalition’s side, capitalizing on the social stresses resulting from the failure to fully integrate almost a million Dutch Muslims, mostly of Moroccan or Turkish descent. In existence only since 2006, the Freedom Party, tightly controlled by Wilders, has grown to be the Netherlands second largest, and fastest growing, party. Recent polls suggest it could even replace Balkenende,s Christian Democrats as the top party in 2011 parliamentary elections. Wilders is no friend of the U.S.: he opposes Dutch military involvement in Afghanistan; he believes development assistance is money wasted; he opposes NATO missions outside “allied” territory; he is against most EU initiatives; and, most troubling, he forments fear and hatred of immigrants.
4. (C) As a result of these currents, Balkenende,s coalition finds itself in a precarious position and could fall within a year (most likely after municipal elections in March 2010). The Prime Minister is aware we want him to deliver continued Dutch boots on the ground in Afghanistan after 2010 and help with Guantanamo detainees. He knows there are high risks/expectations involved in his meeting with you, but we understand he is coming to offer as much as he thinks he can deliver at this time.
5. (S) Balkenende, a long-time champion of U.S.-Dutch relations, seeks to establish a strong relationship with you and capitalize on your popularity. The Dutch public overwhelmingly supported your election in November, and you remain hugely popular here as a beacon of change. Balkenende Qremain hugely popular here as a beacon of change. Balkenende will encourage you to view the long arc of the U.S.-Dutch relationship, not just current bumps in the road (e.g. the likely drawdown of Dutch forces in Afghanistan after 2010). He wants you to see the Netherlands as America,s friend and partner, with significant Dutch contributions to our shared foreign policy priorities: Dutch military presence in Afghanistan and support for NATO; support for U.S. intervention in Iraq; active participation in the EU, NATO, and other multilateral institutions; substantial and sustained foreign development assistance; and a long-standing commitment to promoting human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law. And, he will ask you for a seat at the G-20 table in Pittsburgh as well as for a meeting at the White House in September for the Crown Prince.
6. (C) Balkenende will use your private, one-on-one session to highlight your shared personal values and experiences. He believes social organizations are more effective in promoting change than government. His philosophy is that we must treat
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one another with dignity and respect as we live and work together. Your Father,s Day call for fathers to accept more responsibility in the rearing of their children resonated with him. Balkenende will also likely use the one-on-one session to pinpoint the political difficulties of the deliverables we are seeking. Rather than cover a laundry list of topics, the Dutch want the larger meeting to focus on 1) Afghanistan/Pakistan, 2) the future of the global economic system (including the role of the G20 and how to help developing countries), 3) the Middle East Peace Process/Iran, and 4) climate change. The Prime Minister is anticipating other key foreign policy issues (e.g. human rights, Russia, NATO, non-proliferation, energy security, 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson,s voyage to Manhattan – NY400) can be covered by staff or only briefly mentioned to stay focused on the major issues. Two cables will follow which will expand on these topics.
Another victory for executive power, another loss for the Rechtsstaat. According to a US federal judge, there are no legal limits on the President’s power to order the killing of alleged terrorists outside the US, even if these individuals happen to be US citizens. At least, no legal limits that can be enforced in a US courtroom – Judge Bates of the DC District Court ruled that the matter amounts to an unjusticiable “political question”.
WASHINGTON — A federal judge threw out a lawsuit on Tuesday that sought to block the American government from trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen and Muslim cleric accused of playing a significant role in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.
The ruling clears the way for the Obama administration to continue to try to kill Mr. Awlaki and represents a victory in its efforts to shield from judicial review one of its most striking counter-terrorism policies.
The court not only rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that Mr. Awlaki’s father had no standing to file it on behalf of his son, but held that decisions to mount targeted killings overseas are a “political question” for executive officials to make — not judges.
In an 83-page opinion, Judge John Bates of the District of Columbia district court acknowledged that the case raised “stark, and perplexing, questions” — including whether the president could “order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization.”
But even though the “legal and policy questions posed by this case are controversial and of great public interest,” he wrote, they would have to be resolved on another day or outside of the courts, since this case had to be dismissed at the onset.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the ruling. But Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who helped represent Mr. Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, in the matter, called the decision “a profound mistake” that he said would dangerously expand presidential powers.
“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Mr. Jaffer said. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution, or more dangerous to American liberty.”
Judge Bates rejected the notion that his ruling amounting to holding that the executive possesses “unreviewable authority to order the assassination of any American whom he labels an enemy of the state.” His ruling emphasized that it was limited to the circumstances of Mr. Awlaki, whom the intelligence community has said is engaged in specific operational planning of attacks against the United States.
“The court only concludes that it lacks capacity to determine whether a specific individual in hiding overseas, whom the director of national intelligence has stated is an ‘operational member’ ” of Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, Judge Bates said, “presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him.” Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in national security law, said the limits of the theory articulated by Judge Bates would be a matter of hot dispute.
“The slippery slope is obviously the concern here,” Mr. Chesney said. “Judge Bates is at pains not to decide this question for other circumstances. But the question remains, what else besides this fact pattern would enable the government to have the same result — no judicial involvement in a targeted-killing decision?”
The A.C.L.U., along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, brought the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Awlaki’s father last summer. It first had to receive permission to represent Nasser al-Awlaki from the Treasury Department, which has labeled Anwar al-Awlaki a “specially designated global terrorist.”
Granted, Judge Bates was in an unenviable position, having to juggle national security concerns and fundamental human rights. No matter how he would have ruled, he was going to be severely criticized. Nevertheless, that doesn’t delegitimize critique on his ruling – here are three points:
First, Judge Bates denied the father of Mr. al-Awlaki standing to bring the claim, arguing that Mr. al-Awlaki’s incommunicado status is of his own choosing – surely he could easily walk up to the US embassy in Yemen to claim his constitutional rights. It is rather unfortunate that the judge relies on this legal fiction: who really believes that the US government would quietly sit down with one of the most sought-after individuals on its hit list, rather than fire a – Presidentially authorized –missile at him as soon as he discloses his location?
Second, the political question doctrine is a well-known and legitimate tool that prevents judges from having to meddle in political issues, such as foreign affairs and national security. Yet in this case national security concerns directly challenge one of the most fundamental human rights, namely the right not to be killed without due process (presuming that capital punishment is okay in the first place, which it is not). It’s the very raison-d’être of the judiciary to offer a counter-balance against the executive in these situations – Judge Bates effectively undermines the carefully constructed checks and balances of the American constitutional system.
Third, the slippery slope is very real. Judge Bates understandably tries to do away with this case on the basis of exceptional circumstances, arguing that this case of a “specially designated global terrorist” is one-of-a-kind. Yet a similar logic applied to the 775 “unlawful combatants” at Guantánamo Bay, the approximately 3000 extraordinarily renditioned individuals, and the War on Terror as a whole. Repeated exceptions for hard cases dilute the rule of law. As the ACLU stated, this expansion of executive power could prove more dangerous to American liberty than a former imam in Yemen.
P.S.: It would be interesting if this case goes up to the Supreme Court, though I’m not optimistic about the outcome of such a ruling.
The President released the statement below on the DOD report released earlier today on the impact of repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”:
As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law because it weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness and equality by preventing patriotic Americans who are gay from serving openly in our armed forces. At the same time, as Commander in Chief, I am committed to ensuring that we understand the implications of this transition, and maintain good order and discipline within our military ranks. That is why I directed the Department of Defense earlier this year to begin preparing for a transition to a new policy.
Today’s report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families—more than two thirds—are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian. This report also confirms that, by every measure—from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness—we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security. And for the first time since this law was enacted 17 years ago today, both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy.
With our nation at war and so many Americans serving on the front lines, our troops and their families deserve the certainty that can only come when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all. The House of Representatives has already passed the necessary legislation. Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally. Our troops represent the virtues of selfless sacrifice and love of country that have enabled our freedoms. I am absolutely confident that they will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.
I guess I find it peculiar in two ways.
First, and more tangentially, Obama shows that he appreciates that even where the possibility of filibuster exists he does have strategic options like commending congress to do what he urges with his presidential platform and letting them wear it when they don’t. Many of the policies that Obama has been timid on progressing in the system were very popular policies. Past presidents did exactly what he is doing here: lining up his ducks, including public opinion, and then letting the Senate wear it if they want to stand in the way. Too bad he did not embrace this tactic two years ago.
Second, and on point, the statement in my mind reads like 1) someone who is crystal clear that the policy he is looking at repeal violates fundamental rights; but, 2) someone who is only willing to address the violation to the degree that is convenient. I could be convinced otherwise, though not easily.
Why is he going out of his way to assure us that the troops, DoD brass and context all support this move now and hence it is time to roll with the repeal? Put another way had one of these three not pointed in favour of repeal would he be putting it off? For how long?
Look, we are talking about an actively engaged military, so obviously knee-jerk reforms are likely a bad idea. And considering context goes to not making knee jerk reforms. But what are the limits to that consideration. People have being priming the pump for a repeal of DADT for years. It is prioritization of the opinion of the brass and troops that chaff me the most. Had a strong majority of our military men and women and their families or their commanders not been prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian would we Obama be willing to allow this violation to continue? I can only assume so given how much emphasis he places on these points in the statement and that he states them rather like conditions instead of convenient facts, or that he felt it necessary to address these points at all, frankly.
It is all the more peculiar given that he also made clear in the opening of the statement that he recognizes that he is the Commander in Chief and that maintaining “good order and discipline within our military ranks” (read hierarchical control) is important. Why is he (implicitly) suggesting his subordinates opinions dictate military policy?
A website, popular on Facebook, summarizing the legislative achievements of Obama and the Democrats. Good to counterbalance the view that Obama has achieved nothing so far.
But to spoil the fun: in the area of civil rights, Obama has contrary to all his campaign promises achieved nothing so far. Instead, he has perpetuated Bush-Cheney policies or made them worse. Gitmo’s still open, military commissions are running, detainees are being indefinitely held, American citizens suspected of terrorism are targeted for killing abroad, the state secrets doctrine is being invoked, renditions to torture-countries continue, the Patriot Act is extended, and I could go on. Also on the issue of gay rights, Obama’s been really bad.
I have posted earlier about the importance of recent changes to third-party campaign spending regulations in the States, and how large corporations and wealthy individuals can use their resources to influences campaigns unduly. The earlier post examined spending to-date and noted that Republican supporters were spending in more races for both the House and the Senate and largely spending more in the races they were investing in. (And it is an investment).
The NY Times picks up on further bad news for the Democrats:
George Soros, the billionaire financier who was an energetic Democratic donor in the last several election cycles but is sitting this one out, is not feeling optimistic about Democratic prospects.
“I made an exception getting involved in 2004,” Mr. Soros, 80, said in a brief interview Friday at a forum sponsored by the Bretton Woods Committee, which promotes understanding of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
“And since I didn’t succeed in 2004, I remained engaged in 2006 and 2008. But I’m basically not a party man. I’d just been forced into that situation by what I considered the excesses of the Bush administration.”
Beyond the loss of spending the Democrats can’t be thrilled with Soros’ analysis of their prospects in November’s mid-term elections:
Asked if the prospect of Republican control of one or both houses of Congress concerned him, he said: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche.”
But a single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war against us seems to me to be a pretty isolated example. And Obama always said he would fight a war against al Qaeda more ruthlessly than Bush. As he has. I agree that invoking state secrets so comprehensively as to prevent any scrutiny of this is a step way too far. But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of “assassination”. My concern has always been with the power to detain without due process and torture, not the regrettable necessity of killing the enemy in a hot and dangerous war.
This refers to the case of Anwar Aulaqi, a Yemeni-American terrorist suspect who is an official killing target for the U.S. government. By all accounts, he is a prominent member of Al Qaeda, suspected of involvement in the Fort Hood shooting and the Detroit underpants assault. So I don’t really care about him. But he’s also formally still a suspect, and an American citizen at that. Obama, in targeting this guy for assassination, has in terms of ignoring the rule of law pretty much gone beyond whatever Bush and Cheney did. That, I think, makes Obama an incredibly disappointing and untrustworthy politician.
My response to Sullivan:
I’m absolutely dumbfounded with your comment in this post:
And that’s coming from you?
First of, this guy holds an American passport. That makes him a U.S. citizen, with every right and protection that is attached to that. Secondly, you should know that “isolated examples” don’t remain isolated examples. These sort of “exceptions” have a tendency to spread and become normality after a while, just like happened with the Bush counterterrorism measures (and with the torture regime, spreading to Iraq, and with the Patriot Act, and so forth). Thirdly, since when are the life and rights of one individual somehow less worth than those of other individuals?
I know that this guy is probably a terrorist and what not. But this is a matter of principle, and an extremely important one at that. If you don’t care about the unchecked, unbounded killing by a government of one of its own citizens, merely because he is declared a terrorist, nobody can take your stance on “due process” and torture seriously either.
Had to vent that.
For more about this, read Glenn Greenwald (who, I see just now, also passionately attacks Andrew Sullivan on this).
I read about this at Yahoo News a few days ago, and now it’s also featured at the New York Times: Stuxnet, a piece of malware software that is capable of infecting and wreaking havoc upon industrial systems. Some experts call it a new ”cyber weapon”, that for the first time is able to cross the boundary from the digital realm into the physical world.
It’s pretty complex in a number of ways. First of all, Stuxnet doesn’t require an internet connection to spread; a usb stick simply plugged in is enough. Secondly, it infiltrates software used to run industrial plants, like chemical factories and nuclear plants (to be specific, it infiltrates software run in industrial equipment from Siemens). Thirdly, it is able to wait until the right moment is there to become active. On its own.
Now apparently, the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran – part of what international observers see as the Iranian project to acquire nuclear weapons - has been infected with Stuxnet. So that raises the question who “launched” this cyber weapon at the facility. The malware is so complex that it apparently takes a state to develop it, and only a few states at that. The U.S. is one, China and Russia are others, the U.K., Germany, France and Israel also come into the picture.
It is tempting to point to the U.S. here, as it was published about a year ago that the government is secretly investing in new cyberweapons to undermine industrial systems. In fact, this NSA-based research has accelerated since Obama took office. Another example of the way in which Obama fights wars – through secret high-tech weaponry, employed around the world in a clandestine way, much like the unmanned drones the U.S. employs?
Cyber security experts say they have identified the world’s first known cyber super weapon designed specifically to destroy a real-world target – a factory, a refinery, or just maybe a nuclear power plant.
The cyber worm, called Stuxnet, has been the object of intense study since its detection in June. As more has become known about it, alarm about its capabilities and purpose have grown. Some top cyber security experts now say Stuxnet’s arrival heralds something blindingly new: a cyber weapon created to cross from the digital realm to the physical world – to destroy something.
At least one expert who has extensively studied the malicious software, or malware, suggests Stuxnet may have already attacked its target – and that it may have been Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, which much of the world condemns as a nuclear weapons threat.
The appearance of Stuxnet created a ripple of amazement among computer security experts. Too large, too encrypted, too complex to be immediately understood, it employed amazing new tricks, like taking control of a computer system without the user taking any action or clicking any button other than inserting an infected memory stick. Experts say it took a massive expenditure of time, money, and software engineering talent to identify and exploit such vulnerabilities in industrial control software systems.
Unlike most malware, Stuxnet is not intended to help someone make money or steal proprietary data. Industrial control systems experts now have concluded, after nearly four months spent reverse engineering Stuxnet, that the world faces a new breed of malware that could become a template for attackers wishing to launch digital strikes at physical targets worldwide. Internet link not required.
“Until a few days ago, people did not believe a directed attack like this was possible,” Ralph Langner, a German cyber-security researcher, told the Monitor in an interview. He was slated to present his findings at a conference of industrial control system security experts Tuesday in Rockville, Md. “What Stuxnet represents is a future in which people with the funds will be able to buy an attack like this on the black market. This is now a valid concern.”
Stuxnet surfaced in June and, by July, was identified as a hypersophisticated piece of malware probably created by a team working for a nation state, say cyber security experts. Its name is derived from some of the filenames in the malware. It is the first malware known to target and infiltrate industrial supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software used to run chemical plants and factories as well as electric power plants and transmission systems worldwide. That much the experts discovered right away.
By August, researchers had found something more disturbing: Stuxnet appeared to be able to take control of the automated factory control systems it had infected – and do whatever it was programmed to do with them. That was mischievous and dangerous.
But it gets worse. Since reverse engineering chunks of Stuxnet’s massive code, senior US cyber security experts confirm what Mr. Langner, the German researcher, told the Monitor: Stuxnet is essentially a precision, military-grade cyber missile deployed early last year to seek out and destroy one real-world target of high importance – a target still unknown.
The Iranian government agency that runs the country’s nuclear facilities, including those the West suspects are part of a weapons program, has reported that its engineers are trying to protect their facilities from a sophisticated computer worm that has infected industrial plants across Iran.
Stuxnet, which was first publicly identified several months ago, is aimed solely at industrial equipment made by Siemens that controls oil pipelines, electric utilities, nuclear facilities and other large industrial sites. While it is not clear that Iran was the main target — the infection has also been reported in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and elsewhere — a disproportionate number of computers inside Iran appear to have been struck, according to reports by computer security monitors.
Given the sophistication of the worm and its aim at specific industrial systems, many experts believe it is most probably the work of a state, rather than independent hackers. The worm is able to attack computers that are disconnected from the Internet, usually to protect them; in those cases an infected USB drive is plugged into a computer. The worm can then spread itself within a computer network, and possibly to other networks.
[The] Iranians have reason to suspect they are high on the target list: in the past, they have found evidence of sabotage of imported equipment, notably power supplies to run the centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium at Natanz. The New York Times reported in 2009 that President George W. Bush had authorized new efforts, including some that were experimental, to undermine electrical systems, computer systems and other networks that serve Iran’s nuclear program, according to current and former American officials.
The program is among the most secret in the United States government, and it has been accelerated since President Obama took office, according to some American officials.
President Obama has talked extensively about developing better cyberdefenses for the United States, to protect banks, power plants, telecommunications systems and other critical infrastructure. He has said almost nothing about the other side of the cybereffort, billions of dollars spent on offensive capability, much of it based inside the National Security Agency.