Vol. 75/No. 19 May 16, 2011
White House ‘justice’
and workers rights
(lead article / editorial)
Three events over five days—each presented by top U.S. government officials as having to do with “foreign” military and intelligence operations—actually register and reinforce the erosion of the political rights of workers in the United States.
The first is the assassination of an unarmed Osama bin Laden, shot in the head May 2 in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy Seals acting as judge, jury, and executioner.
Fewer than 48 hours earlier, NATO forces in the skies over Tripoli bombed the compound of Libyan head of state Moammar Gadhafi, killing his son and three grandchildren.
And on April 28 President Barack Obama announced a reorganization of the top leadership of the Defense Department and CIA.
Initial attempts by Obama’s aides to prettify the Abbottabad operation unraveled quickly. On May 2 White House “counterterrorism” adviser John Brennan told reporters bin Laden had been armed and “engaged in a firefight” when he was shot, that he used his wife as a shield, and that she had been killed. The next day White House press secretary Jay Carney read, word for word, a Department of Defense statement retracting some of the lies. Bin Laden “was not armed,” the statement said, and did not hide behind his wife (who was not in fact killed) or any other woman.
It was in reference to this brazen White House hit that the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces and former University of Chicago law professor intoned during a late-night, televised speech: “Justice has been done.”
The operation had been planned for more than eight months after the al-Qaeda leader’s whereabouts were discovered. Obama said that shortly after taking office in 2009, “I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda.” There was clearly no intention of “capture.”
The Wall Street Journal hailed the “triumph of intelligence, interrogation and special operations that are by necessity three of the main weapons in what the U.S. military has called this ‘long war.’” The Journal went on to note, “The most striking fact of Mr. Obama’s prosecution of the war on terror is how much it resembles Mr. Bush’s, to the consternation of America’s anti-antiterror left.”
National Review columnist Victor Hanson gloated that, “A Nobel peace laureate is now the Left’s totem and he can send quite deadly Americans on quite deadly missions as he sees fit—and without worry about a New York Times op-ed barrage or an ACLU lawsuit. That gives the U.S. newfound advantages, a veritable blank check, from keeping Guantánamo open indefinitely to using a Cheney ‘assassination’ team and valuable water-boarded intelligence wherever it wishes to.”
Washington’s course was also registered by Obama’s April 28 nomination of Panetta as secretary of defense and of Gen. David Petraeus, currently the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as head of the CIA. Among other things, the appointments reflect the degree to which operations by the U.S. military and CIA have become more and more integrated in U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see accompanying article).
But as all modern history teaches, increased military and intelligence operations by imperialist governments abroad are an extension of the propertied rulers’ efforts to bring to heel working people and our organizations in the class struggle at home.
The germ of the “national security” state Obama is today using and strengthening was planted during the administration of another Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, more than 70 years ago. In 1939 Roosevelt turned the FBI loose to investigate “subversive activities,” by which he meant union-organizing drives and opposition in the labor movement to Washington’s impending entry into World War II. In 1940 the FBI sent thousands of informers and agents provocateurs into factories, mines, and mills to spy on union, Black rights, and other political activities.
In 1941 the Smith “Gag” Act became law, outlawing “criminal seditious activities,” which included speech. The first to be indicted were leaders of the Teamsters union in Minneapolis who were also members and leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. The class-struggle-minded Teamsters organized in the working class to oppose being dragged into the interimperialist slaughter. They pursued a course aimed at transforming the unions into a fighting social and political movement independent of the bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
In the 1950s, with a working-class-based movement developing to oppose Jim Crow segregation in the South, the FBI put its “Counterintelligence Program” into action to disrupt the work of Black organizations, the Communist Party, SWP, and others, through provocateurs, break-ins, wiretaps, and other unconstitutional activities.
The massive spying and harassment by the secret police—not just the “domestic” FBI, but also by the CIA and military intelligence agencies—were brought to light through the landmark lawsuit filed by the SWP against government spying. Among those the socialists filed suit against, in addition to the FBI and top White House officials, were the secretaries of defense and of the army and the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Those interested in finding out more about this case and political campaign can pick up FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party Suit against Government Spying, published by Pathfinder Press, as well as the article “Washington’s Fifty-Year Domestic Contra Operation” in issue no. 6 of the Marxist magazine New International.)
The ability of the U.S. imperialist rulers to carry out such operations against opponents of their policies at home was pushed back by the conquests of the powerful Black rights movement, massive anti-Vietnam War mobilizations, and related struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s. But the Democrats and Republicans have been trying to recuperate ever since, chipping away at the Bill of Rights where they’ve found the chance.
The Democratic administration of William Clinton made inroads in 1996 with its Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and its Economic Espionage Act, which restored some of the instruments the rulers need to curb workers’ political activity.
In 2001, when al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon—a reactionary, anti-working-class deed that handed the imperialists a pretext they grabbed—President George W. Bush and the bipartisan Congress quickly pushed through the USA Patriot Act, which built on Clinton’s laws and gave much wider latitude to federal and other political police to conduct spying and disruption against individuals and organizations, carry out arbitrary searches and seizures, and jail immigrants indefinitely with no charges. A year later the U.S. Army’s Northern Command was established, the first time since the Civil War that dealing with “civil disorder” within U.S. borders was authorized as a military matter for Washington’s troops rather than a police matter for city, state, and federal police agencies.
Since then the Democrats and Republicans have steadily infringed on more rights, from monitoring email and Internet use, to expanding wiretapping, to widening use of informers against organizations, to curbing the rights defendants have in the courtroom.
At every step, these assaults have been rationalized as necessary to the fight against “terrorism.”
The record of the Obama White House is stunning in this regard. Just in the little more than two years since his inauguration, the Democratic administration has stood at the helm during the stripping away of more Miranda and habeas corpus protections of the accused and convicted; FBI raids against antiwar activists; stepped-up militarization of airports; expansion of “fusion centers,” where local cops collaborate with the FBI to go after “suspicious” persons; arbitrary and indefinite detentions; the deportations of thousands of immigrant workers—and now, the bin Laden assassination.
Since early this year, workers and farmers in the United States have begun to react against the increasingly devastating consequences of the world capitalist crisis, which has deepened sharply since 2007. Our unions are weaker than at any time since the beginning of the last ruinous economic and social crisis of the profit system at the opening of the 1930s. But the rulers know that militant and organized class battles are coming, and they are acting now to reduce our political space to organize and act to advance the interests of working people here and around the world.
That’s why working people, above all, must expose and reject the duplicity and hypocrisy when the chief executive officer of the U.S. imperialist government tries to persuade the world that “Justice has been done.”
New U.S. ‘defense’ team reflects CIA-military ties
Vol. 75/No. 19 May 16, 2011
New U.S. ‘defense’ team
reflects CIA-military ties
BY STEVE CLARK
AND BRIAN WILLIAMS
President Barack Obama announced a shift in top military and spying posts in late April. Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, is being appointed director of the CIA. Leon Panetta, who currently holds that position, will take over as defense secretary, with Robert Gates leaving that post in July. With Senate confirmation virtually assured, Petraeus will take charge of the CIA in September.
With regard to both Washington’s nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan and its “war against terrorism,” an April 27 Atlantic magazine column noted, Petraeus and Panetta will act with “an ever-closer joint military and intelligence force that is increasingly secretive and assertive… . This week’s staff change announcement suggests that [the lines between U.S. military and intelligence operations] will only become more difficult to distinguish.”
During the current Democratic administration, the CIA has been escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. The agency deploys its own special forces and maintains secret bases there. Since Obama took office there have been 194 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing about 1,900 people, including many civilians as well as Taliban militants.
Under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s defense secretary through 2006, the Pentagon expanded its own spying operations, substantially reducing the military’s reliance on CIA “intelligence.”
The Pentagon has also been expanding clandestine warfare. In September 2009 General Petraeus, then head of the U.S. Central Command, signed a secret order authorizing U.S. Special Operations troops to conduct reconnaissance missions throughout the Middle East and Central Asia to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat and destroy” militant groups and “prepare the environment” for future military attacks.
In approving that order, wrote the Atlantic, “Obama authorized one of the largest expansions of clandestine warfare since September 11, 2001.”
Some voices among the U.S. capitalist rulers, however, suspect that Petraeus is being “kicked upstairs” by Obama, who was at odds with the general over the Iraq war prior to the 2008 elections and has clashed with him over troop levels in Afghanistan since the new administration took office.
“General Petraeus may be miscast at [CIA headquarters in] Langley,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial April 29. “The leader of the Iraq and Afghan surges has earned a promotion to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military job that comes open in September. But the White House appears to prefer a lower-profile four-star with less of an independent streak, General James Cartwright, the current vice chairman. The CIA post looks like a consolation prize—and perhaps a political shunting aside.”
Cartwright, known in the White House as Obama’s “most favorite general,” is considered a likely replacement for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, when Mullen retires later this year.
Petraeus has also been talked about by some as a possible 2012 Republican presidential or vice-presidential challenger to an Obama second term. By placing him at the CIA, “he could be hidden,” notes Investor’s Business Daily.
Petraeus rose to prominence as a combat officer during U.S. imperialism’s bloody war against Iraq. He was the chief U.S. commander there during the “surge” in 2007, through which the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops turned the tide in Washington’s favor and established a degree of political stability for the U.S. rulers.
When Obama took office in January 2009, the U.S. government faced deteriorating military conditions in Afghanistan. In contrast to all his Democratic and Republican predecessors in the White House, however, Obama—and the social layer of well-paid university professors, foundation staffers, and middle-class professionals (many of them former “campus activists”) from which he emerged—had little experience or interest in military affairs or passion for fighting and winning wars to protect the U.S. capitalist rulers’ far-flung economic and strategic interests worldwide.
What’s more, members of this privileged layer—who live in comfortable urban and suburban neighborhoods and university towns across the United States—rarely have children facing death or maiming in U.S. imperialism’s volunteer armed forces, or even know anyone with sons and daughters in uniform. Today, only 0.5 percent of the U.S. population is on active military duty—with the heaviest concentration from working-class and farm families across the South and Great Plains, or urban neighborhoods with the highest joblessness and lowest incomes. This is a substantial drop from the years of the Vietnam War, when some 1.5 percent of the population was in the military.
Given this situation, writes Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in his recent book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, “More than any other administration in the history of U.S. imperialism, [the Obama administration’s] foreign, military, and ‘domestic security’ policies are stamped by near total deference to the top echelons of the professional officer corps of the U.S. armed forces.”
But the challenges posed for the Democratic administration by unrelenting economic, social, and political disorder throughout the capitalist world have pushed Obama since taking office to look for those in the top brass with a cast of mind closer to his own.
Conflicts in the administration and the Pentagon over Washington’s wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Libya take place in that context.
As the U.S. rulers’ need to stem mounting setbacks in Afghanistan lurched toward crisis in late 2009, Petraeus—then heading the U.S. Central Command, responsible for U.S. military operations in the Mideast and Central Asia—pressed for a course similar to the Iraq surge. But his proposals met resistance in the administration, especially from the new president himself, as well as Vice President Joseph Biden.
Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward, an associate editor of the Washington Post, provides a useful account.
Debate on Afghanistan
A key disputed question was how many additional troops Obama should send to Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. forces there, along with Petraeus, McMullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, favored sending 40,000.
Obama, however, insisted on a smaller buildup, and on a timeline for withdrawal to ensure there would not be large numbers of U.S. troops there “after my presidency.” As an alternative to Petraeus’s course, Biden proposed a smaller number of special operations forces to take more aggressive action against the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and inside the border with Pakistan.
Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, backed Biden and drew up a military plan along these lines. That proposal, dubbed “the hybrid option,” was to send two special forces brigades, totaling 10,000 troops and another 10,000 “trainers” of Afghan forces. “Rather than sitting there protecting people these troops would engage and kill the enemy,” Woodward quotes Cartwright as saying. “We can sort of use [the Taliban’s] tactics against them.”
Fearing he could be blamed for “losing” Afghanistan during his race for a second term, Obama—after a two-month-long review—settled on a compromise figure of 30,000, which brought U.S. forces there up to some 100,000, where they remain today.
“I don’t think you win this war,” Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying privately. “I think you keep fighting… . This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”
“Using the Taliban’s tactics against them” and fighting wars “for the rest of our kid’s lives.” That’s what the imperialist war makers and their career-climbing generals have to offer workers and farmers in the United States and our fellow working people from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Libya—and who knows where else in the years and decades ahead.
White House ‘justice’ and workers rights