Less Than a Week in Office, Trump May Erase Obama’s Real “Progress” in War on Terror

Today, New York Times journalist Charlie Savage published a three-page draft of an executive order that President Trump is preparing to sign. In short, the draft order would undo many of the actual reforms to the war on terror implemented by the Obama administration. (I say “actual” because many national security observers give Obama too much credit and ignore the fact that he, as a former constitutional law professor and Democrat, institutionalized the global war on terror, making the US’s perpetual war footing much more difficult to end.)

Trump’s draft order, if signed, would:

  • revoke Executive Order 13491 (January 22, 2009), which ended the Bush’s administration’s practice of torture, subjected interrogation methods to the rules outlined in the Army Field Manual, ordered the closure of the CIA’s notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights, and granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees;
  • revoke Executive Order 13492 (January 22, 2009), which ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay (and served as the Obama administration’s source for not sending any new detainees to the facility in Cuba) and ordered a status review of all Guantanamo detainees;
  • consider the conditions at Guantanamo Bay to be “legal, safe, and humane” and “consistent with international conventions regarding the laws of war”;
  • declare that Guantanamo Bay is “in the interests of the United States… as a critical tool in the fight against international jihadist terrorist radical Islamic groups”;
  • affirm the Bush-Obama doctrine that the United States is engaged in a borderless war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, “associated forces,” and “those who fight on behalf of or provide substantial support [an Obama term; emphasis mine] to or harbor such groups”;
  • embrace the “enemy combatant” term created by Bush’s lawyers (and abandoned by Obama’s) to justify indefinite detention;
  • allow the US government to send “newly captured alien enemy combatants” to Guantanamo;
  • suspend any existing efforts to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo until the Trump administration conducts its own review to determine if the transfers are “in the national security interests of the United States”;
  • review the interrogation procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual and authorize Secretary of Defense James Mattis to modify and add to these stipulations;
  • allow CIA to reopen its notorious “black sites” where countless individuals were tortured and deprived of basic rights;
  • resurrect Executive Order 13440 (July 20, 2007), which allowed CIA to resume some of its torture methods not specifically listed as legitimate war crimes after a 2006 Supreme Court case made CIA torturers eligible for war crime prosecutions and thus temporarily put the program on hiatus;
  • consider preferring the use of military commissions to civilian courts in terrorism cases; and
  • make the Trump administration’s chosen term for the global war on terror the “fight against radical Islamism.”

Whether or not all of these policy pledges will turn into actual policy is to be determined. But what’s significant in the draft order – what the draft order reveals – is Trump’s more-than-rhetorical willingness to resurrect some of the most egregious policies of the Bush administration, only some of which Obama did away with, to his credit. 

Senator Chris Murphy is not the ‘Elizabeth Warren of foreign policy’


Reposted at The Huffington Post.

On Thursday afternoon the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law hosted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) for a discussion about U.S. foreign policy.

During the Q&A, I asked (broadcasted on Periscope) Murphy – who self-describes as a progressive on foreign policy and whom Buzzfeed called the “Elizabeth Warren of foreign policy” – why he voted in May 2014 to confirm David Barron to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals. Barron, as acting head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote the legal memo that justified the extrajudicial drone killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman) in Yemen in 2011.

“I don’t hold any judge to one decision,” Murphy said. “That’s a judge that had a long history of other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement.”

Aside from the fact that Barron was not a judge who issued rulings as a judge before Murphy voted to confirm him to do such a thing, since Barron joined the First Circuit the panel has not made any major decisions on issues of national security or the war on terror that he has voted in.

The one questionable move by Barron – the subject of my question to the Senator – that doesn’t disqualify him from the likes of Sen. Murphy is quite a significant one: enshrining in law the presidential power to authorize the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen without trial. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, called this legal memo “disturbing … ultimately an argument that the president can order targeted killings of Americans without ever having to account to anyone outside the executive branch.”

If, by “other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement,” Murphy meant legal positions Barron had taken prior to joining the Obama administration, Murphy isn’t particularly wrong. In a 2008 Harvard Law Review article, Barron urged executive branch lawyers to push back against the executive’s increasingly monopolistic power as commander-in-chief:

[E]xecutive branch actors, particularly those attorneys helping to assure that the President takes care the law is faithfully executed, should not abandon two hundred years of historical practice too hastily. At the very least, they should resist the urge to continue to press the new and troubling claim that the President is entitled to unfettered discretion in the conduct of war.

But by 2010, just two years later as a lawyer in the Obama administration, by drafting a legal memo that further legitimated the president’s sweeping powers, Barron had acted in direct contradiction to what he advocated lawyers do in his article. So for the sake of Barron’s credibility in the mind of Sen. Murphy, Barron’s poor actions in 2010 invalidated his noble stance in 2008. It’s a classic case of a government official’s actions not matching their words. What Murphy considers to be Barron’s “other decisions that were a pretty good advertisement” thus remains unclear.

In his answer to my question, Sen. Murphy continued, “I also will probably have an unsatisfactory position to you and to some others when it comes to some of the new tools at the president’s disposal to keep this country safe.

“I would argue that we should put in place a much more comprehensive and meaningful review process when it comes to our drone strikes. I think Congress has to get in the game here. Congress has to be involved in that oversight process, or we could consider setting up some judicial oversight process to authorize drone strikes. But what we’re doing now is unsatisfactory,” he said, stopping short of explicitly opposing presidential power to authorize the assassination of U.S. citizens or detailing what exactly about drone program he finds “unsatisfactory.”

He also told me, “I also am somebody who ultimately did vote for the renewed version of the Patriot Act. I think that there are ways that we made it exponentially better, but I don’t deny that it is important to give the administration some new tools with which to try to track terrorists down.”

Murphy didn’t specify what “new tools” the president should and shouldn’t have to “track terrorists down.” Was he referring to the government’s “death by metadata” program (officially known as Geo Cell) in which the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card associated with a suspected terrorist, enabling the CIA or military to launch a strike on the individual in possession of the device? If so, that doesn’t seem like a very “progressive” position. According to The Intercept:

One problem, [a former drone operator] explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

Was Murphy referring to the government’s dubious Terrorist Screening Database, nearly half of whose 680,000 people are not affiliated with any terrorist group? Or was he referring to the no-fly list, whose length Obama has increased ten-fold since taking office?

Murphy’s support for the renewed version of the Patriot Act, known as the USA Freedom Act, doesn’t put him in the progressive camp, either. He had a chance to join fellow senators, led by libertarian Rand Paul, who opposed the act on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough in restricting the NSA. That faction simply wanted Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section that gives the government broad surveillance power – to sunset as scheduled.

Although Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer, called the USA Freedom Act a “milestone,” he also said, “The bill leaves many of the government’s most intrusive and overbroad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements.”

To his credit, in September Murphy spearheaded a bill (that failed to pass the Senate) to block a huge U.S. arms deal to Saudi Arabia in light of the Kingdom’s brutal war against Yemen. That’s what a progressive foreign policy position looks like.

While Sen. Murphy often lands to the left of the majority of Congress on foreign policy, it’s otherwise clear that if he wants the “progressive on foreign policy” label, he needs to reconsider his positions on several aspects of the war on terror.

Disclosure: This writer provides research assistance to the Center on National Security on a weekly basis.

Photo: Melanie Stengel/New Haven Register

At Company’s New York Office, Activists Protest Facebook’s Collaboration with Israel on Political Repression

Outside of Facebook’s office at 770 Broadway in New York on Friday afternoon, activists protested Facebook’s recent partnernership with the Israeli government to crack down on “incitements to violence.”

Despite the constant heavy rain, nearly two dozen protesters showed up to the event, organized by the Samidoun Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Network and NYC Students for Justice in Palestine.

“We’re here today in solidarity with Palestinians who have been protesting Israel’s new agreement with Facebook, as well as its deletion of Palestinian content, which has been an ongoing problem for years,” Joe Catron, one of the event’s organizers, told me.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Facebook and the Israeli government have teamed up to “tackle incitement” online “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.”

As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has been aggressively monitoring the content of Facebook posts by Palestinians. Human rights groups have documented that as many as 400 Palestinians have been arrested in the past year for the content of their social media posts. “This is a brutally effective form of censorship in the Middle East, where online communication is a popular organizing tool that’s generally seen as independent of government interference,” a Huffington Post reporter wrote.

The AP report prompted journalist Glenn Greenwald to ask, “Do you trust Facebook — or the Israeli government — to assess when a Palestinian’s post against Israeli occupation and aggression passes over into censorship-worthy ‘hate speech’ or ‘incitement’?” He also pointed out that “it’s actually very common for Israelis to use Facebook to urge violence against Palestinians“:

In 2014, thousands of Israelis used Facebook to post messages “calling for the murder of Palestinians.” When an IDF occupying soldier was arrested for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian point blank in the head last year, IDF soldiers used Facebook to praise the killing and justify that violence, with online Israeli mobs gathering in support.

According to Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked – who, ironically enough in a now-deleted genocidal Facebook post, called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes” a day before six Israelis kidnapped and burned alive Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudai – Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months.

More than a week after the AP report, the Electronic Intifada reported that Facebook, undoubtedly a hugely influential force in journalism, had deleted the accounts of editors at two prominent Palestinian publications. “We believe this is the result of the agreement between Israel and Facebook. It is very strange that Facebook would take part in such an agreement, given that it is supposed to be a platform for free expression and journalism,” one of the newspapers said. The next day, Facebook admitted the editors’ accounts were deleted in error.

“Facebook is a private company, with a legal obligation to maximize profit, and so it will interpret very slippery concepts such as ‘hate speech’ and ‘inciting violence’ to please those who wield the greatest power,” Greenwald wrote.

The protest outside Facebook’s office lasted from 4 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m.

See my coverage of the protest on Periscope here


What type of investigation did the FBI conduct into Ahmad Khan Rahami?

As news breaks that Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami’s father contacted the FBI two years ago to report that he feared his son was a “terrorist” (as did the father of the “underwear bomber” to the CIA), a slight discrepancy has surfaced between reports published by The New York Times and The Guardian. While the Times reports that the FBI conducted an “assessment” of Rahami after his father’s warning, The Guardian uses the phrase “preliminary investigation.”

Although The Guardian quotes the FBI as stating, “In August 2014, the FBI initiated an assessment of Ahmad Rahami” (emphasis added), the paper uses the term “preliminary investigation.”

The FBI conducted a preliminary investigation into Rahami after his father contacted them following a 2014 stabbing to express concerns that his son was a terrorist.

…The FBI did not clarify if it interviewed Rahami, who was captured in a shootout with police yesterday, in 2014, but confirmed it conducted a preliminary investigation.

The Times, however, consistently uses the word “assessment” throughout its story:

The information was passed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force led by F.B.I. in Newark. Officers opened what is known as an assessment, the most basic of F.B.I. investigations, and interviewed the father multiple times.

…The assessment of Mr. Rahami illustrates the challenges the F.B.I. faces as it solicits information from the public about people who might pose a threat and then must sort through what is credible, while balancing the need to protect the country without overstepping its authority.

…Like Mr. Rahami, one of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the subject of an assessment in 2011.

…While the federal assessment of Mr. Rahami was closed weeks after it began…

While this discrepancy between The New York Times and The Guardian may appear to the average reader as simply a difference in word choice, there’s actually a legal or operational difference between an FBI “assessment” and a “preliminary investigation.” According to the Times:

Depending on the intensity and urgency of an inquiry, there are three types of investigations the F.B.I. can undertake with varying levels of intrusive techniques.

The first is an assessment, in which agents use basic techniques like conducting interviews, talking to confidential informers, using physical surveillance and checking databases and public records.

Next come preliminary and full investigations, which can be initiated if agents believe a federal crime has been committed or there is a threat to national security. Those investigations can involve polygraphs, undercover agents and mail searches.

Both assessments and preliminary inquiries have time limits.

A full investigation has no such time limits, but does eventually require review and employs powerful electronic surveillance tools, requiring the approval of a court warrant. Among other things, it allows for the secret interception of international communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a law and policy institute that closely monitors the FBI’s tactics, adds a fourth category:


According to the FBI’s own Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), assessments and preliminary investigations are indeed separate entities. The DIOG defines yet another category, “enterprise investigation,” which “may only be opened and operated as a Full Investigation and is subject to the same requirements that apply to a Full Investigation… although there are addition approval requirements that affect Enterprise Investigations.” An enterprise investigation can only be used on “the most serious criminal or national security threats.” Its purpose is to “examine the structure, scope, and nature of the group or organization.”

Unless The Guardian knows something I don’t, it’s likely that it simply didn’t consider the real differences between “assessment” and “preliminary investigation.” The distinction seems rather harmless, but nonetheless important to point out.


At RNC, Media Put a Happy Face on Suppression of Speech


Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

News media could either be our ally or our enemy—we wanted them as an ally,” Laurie Pritchett said in a 1985 interview about his strategy as police chief in Albany, Georgia, during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s desegregation efforts in 1962.

Pritchett famously ordered his officers to enforce the city’s segregation laws nonviolently and arrest as few protesters as possible. He knew that if he had acted as other police departments had—like Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses in Birmingham (1963) and Jim Clark’s Bloody Sunday in Selma (1965)—news media would show the country how brutally oppressive police were, inspiring greater public support for King’s cause. In short, he beat nonviolent protesters at their own game by exploiting the media.

At the Republican National Convention this past week, none of the fears about a violent disaster bore fruit. Journalists and private citizens who worried about Ohio’s open-carry gun policy and the recent increase in public tension between cops and protesters were relieved that the week passed without a single gunshot fired or tear gas canister thrown. Like Pritchett’s officers in Albany, police in Cleveland—whose department was found to have practiced a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations in a Justice Department investigation—exercised restraint compared to how police have handled protests in Ferguson (military trucks, sound canons, tear gas, rubber bullets) and Baton Rouge (hundreds of arrests).

Just as Pritchett expected in 1962, media jumped to praise law enforcement. “Credit where it’s due: The police nailed it,” Vox staffer German Lopez (7/22/16) wrote. In a list that reads like a police officer’s handbook, he offered three detailed explanations for why the police “nailed it”:

Read the rest here.

Police Keep Blocking Access to Cleveland’s Public Square Using “T-Formation”

(See my Perisocope video of the police action here.)

For the past hour and a half, police have gradually pushed demonstrators and other members of the public out of the center of Public Square in Cleveland, the site of 2016’s Republican National Convention.

A local ABC reporter told (about 4:30 in the Periscope video) her TV audience that police used a “T-Formation,” though it was difficult to make out the T-shape from any side of the park.

Earlier, several different groups were demonstrating, including the Industrial Workers of the World, young people chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and a few Jesus proselytizers.

At the beginning of the police action, an officer informed me as I was leaving the square that I wouldn’t be be able to return. By the time I began heading back to the center, police had cleared the area.

One officer explained to me (about 8:30 in the Periscope video) the reason for the spatial restriction: “We had some issues before. Just, uh, keep everybody safe.”

Minutes later, police began to loosen their formation, letting people back into the center again.

As I began drafting this post, a line of bicycle officers rushed back into the center to reclose the square. There were at least three officers at the center with riot gear: plastic face mask, helmet and military-style backpack.

As of publication (about 6:05 p.m.), several of the bicycle officers rushed out heading east on Superior Avenue. A line of white-uniformed officers have entered the center of the square.

Several passersby have said, “good luck, guys” to the line of officers.

I will update this post as necessary.

Prophets of Rage Take Over Streets of Cleveland on Day One of Republican National Convention

Day one of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, began with an eerie hush. The streets were empty for much of the morning as a few drivers and walkers (including Wolf Blitzer) alike tried to figure their way around the 10-foot tall fence – plastered with “No Drone Zone” signs courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration – that surrounded the Quicken Loans Arena (“The Q”) and its neighboring buildings, dividing the city in half. The cloudy sky threatened rain.

By noon on the day whose theme was “Make America Safe Again,” crowds gathered for pro- and anti-Trump rallies, vendors set up shop to sell Trump t-shirts and hats, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a small press conference.

While corporate media reported from inside The Q and focused on demonstrations in downtown Cleveland, a little-covered rally hit the streets of Cleveland’s east side. Organize! Ohio’s End Poverty Now rally at a vacant lot on East 45th Street between St. Claire and Superior Avenues featured activists and performers from Cleveland and across the country. New York’s notorious Revolutionary Community Party flooded the crowd.

Breaking with the morning’s eerie hush and the clouds’ abandoned threat, Prophets of Rage – a supergroup featuring Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine (who hijacked the 2000 Democratic National Convention), Chuck D of Public Enemy, and B-Real of Cypress Hill – roared onstage. “Thank you for coming out today with your joy and your militancy. As soon as this next song is over, we Prophets of Rage, and you, are going to march for the End Poverty Now march, on that street right over there… We’re going to let those motherfuckers at the RNC know that we’ve had enough of their bullshit,” Morello told the sizeable crowd.

Prophets ended their set with “Killing in the Name,” one of RATM’s most famous songs, which, as Morello reminded everyone, has been used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “This is our revenge. We’re now going to use this song to torture those sons of bitches at the RNC with your help,” he yelled.

Moments later many of the audience members joined Organize! Ohio on the march toward downtown. After heading south on E. 45th, it turned westbound onto Payne Avenue until E. 22nd where police blocked passage. The march ultimately reached downtown via Chester Avenue. As promised, Prophets of Rage marched with the crowd. A massive bicycle army of cops dressed up like Christian Bale’s Batman followed closely behind. (See my coverage of the march on Periscope here.)


The rally and march were intentionally planned for the 50th anniversary of the Hough riots in which four black Cleveland residents were shot and killed by police and another 275 were arrested. “We insisted that we this not [sic] along the formal route, but on the East Side – to make that connection and show how little things have actually gotten worse,” one of the march’s organizers told cleveland.com. Cleveland’s east side has for decades suffered from police brutality, most famously for the 22-minute car chase in 2012 in which 13 officers fired 137 shots, killing both Malissa Williams and Timothy Russel. The decision to march in this part of town demonstrated how little corporate media cares about how the policies of the people it usually reports on actually afflict people on the ground.

As the march dissolved downtown, Prophets of Rage regrouped to play an impromptu “concert” at Public Square. While DJ Lord played the studio versions of a few RATM, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill songs, Chuck D and B-Real sang through megaphones and Tom Morello air-guitared.


“Inside the RNC, a thinly veiled racism, sexism and imperialism is being put forward as their platform. Out here, human rights, respect for the planet and resistance to oppression is what we sing about,” Morello said.

All photos and videos taken by me.