Freedom & hate speech hypocrisy

Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.

THE crude and disgusting video by some American citizens mocking Prophet Muhammad has caused great anguish to Muslims around the world. Blasphemous provocations by some media mavericks in France are adding insult to injury.

Even before the sacrilege perpetrated by the video Innocence of Muslims, the deeply-wounded Muslim community was living in humiliation and helplessness.

The 65-year-old American-aided genocide in Palestine continues to rage unabated.

In Syria, Western mercenaries are leading the civil war with overt and covert help from the Western alliance. Iran is under daily threat of annihilation. In blatant violation of international law, American drone attacks continue mercilessly to murder innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

There is in most Muslim minds a perception that Islam is under attack; that Muslims are under siege; that behind the beguiling rhetoric of democracy, human rights and the war against terrorism, there is a cunning plan to re-colonise Muslim lands and seize their wealth for the insatiable appetite of Western economies.

It is in this background that the exploding Muslim rage against blasphemy must be understood.

However, understanding something does not mean justifying it. Human life is sacred and no idea and no theory can excuse the murder of innocents.

It is with sadness and shame that I note the violence and deaths resulting from the airing of the obnoxious video. Equally painful is the mindless damage to Buddhist religious places in Bangladesh because of Facebook insults to Islam.

Having said that I must state that we all have a duty to show respect to others and to not denigrate what they hold as sacred.

We have a duty to censor ourselves when we speak to others about what lies close to their hearts and souls.

Blasphemy violates the sacred; it trespasses boundaries that must exist in every civilised society; it causes pain to millions.

God and all His prophets must not be defiled. Blasphemy should be a punishable criminal offence in much the same way sedition and treason are.

Unlike free-speech advocates who place this freedom at the heart of their new abode of the sacred, I think that freedom per se has no value.

It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.

Blasphemy is a form of hate speech. Andrew March admits that “many in the West today use speech about Muhammad and Islam as cover for expressing hatred towards Muslims”.

Geert Wilders and makers of Innocence of Muslims are hate mongers, not human rights pioneers.

Behind hate speech is the ideology of racial or religious superiority. Hate speech amounts to discrimination.

It promotes denigratory stereotypes. It attacks basic premises of the human rights system, premises as deep as equal human dignity, respect for others and equal protection.

It must be asserted that Islamophobia is a new form of racism.

Further, the claims by Western leaders, including President Barrack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that the constitutional principle of free speech permits no state interference is an overstatement.

In the US, the First Amendment of the Constitution has since the beginning been interpreted to mean that “prior restraints” on freedom of expression are not allowed.

But this does not exclude the legal possibility of post-event prosecutions and sanctions. For example, defamation is actionable. Contempt of Court is punishable.

For much of its history the USA has had a Sedition Act. Supreme Court decisions over the decades have vacillated between various criteria for determining the justification for invasion of free speech.

But there has always been the possibility of post-event restrictions to avoid danger to society. There is freedom of speech but sometimes no freedom after speech!

An Espionage Act exists. Whistleblowers are prosecuted. Under the Obama administration, six prosecutions under this Act were all directed against journalists exposing government wrongdoing.

At the Food and Drug Administration, they spy on their own employees’ email. At the Department of Defence any soldier who speaks about government lies in Afghanistan or Iraq is jailed. Twenty-seven laws exist to monitor social media content.

The State Department blocks Wikileaks with its firewall. The founder of Wikileaks is being hounded.

European record is even more reflective of double standards. Public order laws are used regularly in Britain and Germany to criminalise “politically incorrect” expressions or pro-Nazi ideas and to punish any comment, research or analysis that departs from the officially sanctioned version of the holocaust.

In February 2006, Austria jailed British historian David Irving for three years for denying the holocaust.

Overt and covert censorship is very much part of Western societies. Only that it is more refined; it is non-governmental; it is de-centralised. Its perpetrators are publishing houses, financiers, advertisers, interest groups, editors, publishers and other controllers of the means of communication.

Obviously free speech in the USA and Europe is not absolute save when it demonises, dehumanises and denigrates Islam and Muslims. Then it is part of the new abode of the sacred.


Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM


China, Russia sound alarm on world economy at APEC summit

By Timothy Heritage

(Reuters) – China and Russia sounded the alarm about the state of the global economy and urged Asian-Pacific countries at a summit on Saturday to protect themselves by forging deeper regional economic ties.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said Beijing would do all it could to strengthen the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) by rebalancing its economy, Asia’s biggest, to improve the chances of a global economic recovery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said trade barriers must be smashed down as he opened the APEC summit which he is hosting on a small island linked to the Pacific port of Vladivostok by a spectacular new bridge that symbolizes Moscow’s pivotal turn to Asia away from debt-stricken Europe.

“It’s important to build bridges, not walls. We must continue striving for greater integration,” Putin told the APEC leaders, seated at a round table in a room with a view of the $1 billion cable-stayed bridge, the largest of its kind.

“The global economic recovery is faltering. We can overcome the negative trends only by increasing the volume of trade in goods and services and enhancing the flow of capital.”

Hu told business leaders before the summit the world economy was being hampered by “destabilizing factors and uncertainties” and the crisis that hit in 2008-09 was far from over. China would play its role, he said, in strengthening the recovery.

“We will work to maintain the balance between keeping steady and robust growth, adjusting the economic structure and managing inflation expectations. We will boost domestic demand and maintain steady and robust growth as well as basic price stability,” he said.

Hu spelled out plans for China, whose economic growth has slowed as Europe’s debt crisis worsened, to pump $157 billion into infrastructure investment in agriculture, energy, railways and roads.

Hu steps down as China’s leader in the autumn after a Communist Party congress, but he promised continuity and stability for the economy.

Putin, who has just begun a new six-year term as president, said on Friday Russia would be a stable energy supplier and a gateway to Europe for Asian countries, and also pledged to develop his country’s transport network.


The relative strength of China’s economy, by far the largest in Asia and second in the world to the United States, is key to Russia’s decision to look eastwards as it seeks to develop its economy and Europe battles economic problems.

APEC, which includes the United States, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada, groups countries around the Pacific Rim which account for 40 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of trade.

APEC members are broadly showing relatively strong growth, but boosting trade and growth is vital for the group as it tries to remove the trade barriers that hinder investment.

The European Union has been at odds with both China and Russia over trade practices it regards as limiting free competition. Cooperation in APEC is also hindered by territorial and other disputes among some of the members.

Putin, 59, limped slightly as he greeted leaders at the summit. Aides said he had merely pulled a muscle. Underlining Putin’s good health, a spokesman said he had a “very active lifestyle.”

Discussions at the two-day meeting will focus on food security and trade liberalization. An agreement was reached before the summit to slash import duties on technologies that can promote economic growth without endangering the environment.

Breakthroughs are not expected on other trade issues at the meeting, which U.S. President Barack Obama is missing. He has been attending the Democratic Party convention and Washington is being represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials say Clinton’s trip is partly intended to assess Russia’s push to expand engagement in Asia, which parallels Washington’s own turn towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Also missing the summit was Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Putin said she had dropped out because her father had died.

(Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Andrew Quinn, Katya Golubkova, Douglas Busvine, Denis Pinchuk and Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Julian Assange condemns WikiLeaks witch-hunt

Assange calls for an end to the ‘witch-hunt’

Julian Assange emerges from Ecuador’s London embassy to call on the US to end its ‘witch-hunt’ against WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared on the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy to ask US President Barack Obama to make his country “do the right thing” and “renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks”.

“The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation,” he said. “The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute … our staff or our supporters. The US must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.

To my family and to my children, who have been denied their father; forgive me. We will be reunited soon.

“There must be no more foolish talk about prosecution of media organisations, be they WikiLeaks or The New York Times.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London.“End the witch-hunt” … WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London. Photo: Reuters

This was the closest Mr Assange came to asking that the US promise not to seek his extradition should he go to Sweden to face questioning over claims of sexual misconduct. He has not been charged and denies the allegations.

Earlier, one of his spokesmen had said that Mr Assange would consider accepting extradition to Sweden if the US would publicly pledge not to seek his extradition.Mr Assange and WikiLeaks outraged American authorities with the publication of thousands of confidential diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media.WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media. Photo: AP

The WikiLeaks founder has been sheltering in the Ecuadorean embassy since June because he fears that if the UK sends him to Sweden, the Swedes might hand him over to America and he may face a potential death penalty related to espionage allegations.

Wearing a shirt and tie and sporting a new crew-cut, Mr Assange demanded that the US return to its “revolutionary values” before it lurched over a precipice into which it dragged “all of us”: “A dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the threat of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark”.

The US “war on whistleblowers” must end, he said, making a forceful call for the release of Bradley Manning, an American soldier detained over espionage claims for allegedly leaking material to WikiLeaks.

To loud cheers from dozens of supporters – held back by more than 40 police – Mr Assange said the United Nations had found that Mr Manning had endured months of “torturous detention” at Quantico and was about to have his 815th day in jail without trial.

“The regular maximum is 120 days,” Mr Assange said, calling Mr Manning “the world’s foremost political prisoner”.

He issued a series of thank yous, including “to the people of the US, the UK, Sweden and Australia who have supported me even when their governments have not”.

He  thanked all the South American nations that have rallied behind Ecuador in outrage over a letter that has been seen as a threat by the British Foreign Office to use police to storm the Ecuadorean embassy to retrieve Assange: “Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela”.

Mr Assange also thanked supporters who had come out for a vigil in the dark last Wednesday night when police entered the building that houses the embassy.

“Inside this embassy after dark I could hear teams of police swarming up through the building through its internal fire escape”. But he said he knew supporters were watching outside.

He finished with,  “To my family and to my children, who have been denied their father; forgive me. We will be reunited soon”.

South American nations on Sunday backed Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Mr Assange, urging dialogue to end the crisis pitting Quito against London.

Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations, meeting in Ecuador’s biggest city Guayaquil, expressed “solidarity” with Quito and urged the parties “to pursue dialogue in search of a mutually acceptable solution,” according to a joint statement.

Karen Kissane, London with AFP  Newscribe : get free news in real time

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America’s deadly love affair with guns

BARELY a month after the deadly shooting in Colorado which killed 12 people, six more lives were lost to another maniac with a gun, this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Yet, like the earlier shootings, the whole episode is destined to quickly recede into the background.

For all its greatness, America is a nation that is easily distracted by the trivial at the expense of the critical, a nation that can barely hold its collective attention much beyond the 30 second sound bytes of its newscasters.

It is one of the many paradoxes of America.

Consider, for example, that the death of 3,000 people on 9/11 became the jumping-off point for more than a decade of war that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, whereas the 140,000 or so lives lost to gun violence since then has elicited no corresponding outrage or demand for action.

I suppose it’s always much harder to confront the enemy within than the enemy without, easier to go after strange men in far away places than face an ugly truth closer to home.

Besides, the gun culture is so much a part of the American fabric that to confront it is to challenge the way America thinks about itself.

Almost all of America’s great heroes were gunslingers or men who cut their teeth in war.

Guns are so much a part of society that pastors preach about the right to bear arms while banks give them away to good customers.

Even the courts have let stand the so called “Stand Your Ground Law” which basically gives citizens the right to use deadly force when confronted by an assailant even when such force is unnecessary.

Talk about a licence to kill.

Perhaps, there is a certain fatalism as well; a resignation that such senseless killings are the necessary price Americans must pay for their cherished right to bear arms.

What is incomprehensible, though, is the frequently used argument that a well-armed population is the best protection against government encroachment of individual freedom. It might have been an appropriate response in the aftermath of their war of independence 236 years ago, but it makes no sense today.

The gun culture is largely sustained and promoted by the all powerful gun lobby and the arms manufacturers who fund them.

Guns are a US$31bil (RM96bil) industry that brooks no interference.

Their power to destroy anyone who challenges them is legendary. Even simple calls for more stringent background checks on prospective gun buyers are enough to send them on the offensive.

Unsurprisingly, most politicians go out of their way to avoid offending the gun lobby, especially in an election year.

President Obama, for example, has offered communities affected by recent gun violence the sympathy of his heart but not the power of his office.

Even his prospective Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, one of whose signature achievements as governor of Massachusetts was a ban on assault weapons, has been cowered into silence.

And so they talk endlessly about the need for better mental healthcare for troubled young men or promise to begin a “conversation” about guns in America instead of actually taking the bull by the horns.

It is escapism and denial on a staggering scale.

The gun lobby, meanwhile, continues to push the asinine argument that it is not guns but people who kill.

Society has long recognised that cars, for example, can kill and maim if not used properly and have come up with stringent regulations replete with a licencing system to control and regulate its use.

No such rules apply to guns which can be bought legally by just about anyone and carried just about anywhere. And not just handguns but assault rifles and other military-type weapons.

There’s also no limit to how much weaponry a citizen can amass.

It is estimated that there are more than 300 million privately owned guns in the US (population 314 million), making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. Most Americans, however, do not own guns; the numbers are skewered because most gun owners tend to stockpile them.

And perversely, every time there is another mass shooting, gun sales actually explode, as people rush out to buy yet more guns. Indeed, gun sales rose 40% in the aftermath of the recent Colorado shooting.

The other thing about such shootings is that it shines a spotlight on the deep alienation of a rootless and disconnected generation brought up on video games, movies and music that glorify gratuitous violence and anti-social behaviour. When unstable young men, to whom killing is probably just another video game, have unlimited access to the most lethal weapons, can there be any doubt that carnage is inevitable?

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, to see more and more heavily armed gunmen emerge from the shadows of their dark and dreary lives to carry out mass murder as the ultimate thrill, the final expression of their banal existence.

Until Americans are willing to confront the power of the gun lobby and demand that their leaders show some political courage on the issue, America will remain a killing field.



Myanmar warns Suu Kyi to stop calling nation Burma, a British colonialism legacy

YANGON: Myanmar’s authorities have ordered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stop calling the country “Burma”, its colonial-era name widely used to defy the former junta.

 Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visits the Louvre Museum on Friday, June 29, 2012 in Paris. Myanmar authorities sternly urged Suu Kyi to stop calling the country ‘Burma’ and start using the name ‘Myanmar.’ (AFP Photo/Fred Dufour)

The old regime changed the country’s official name two decades ago to  Myanmar, saying the term Burma was a legacy of British colonialism and implied  the ethnically diverse land belonged only to the Burman majority.

Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party vigorously  opposed the change, decrying it as a symbolic step by the generals towards  creating a new country.

Berating her for using the name “Burma” during landmark recent visits to  Thailand and Europe, the Election Commission accused Suu Kyi and party members  of flouting a constitution they have vowed to uphold.

“As it is prescribed in the constitution that ’The state shall be known as  The Republic of the Union of Myanmar’, no one has the right to call (the  country) Burma,” it said in a statement, published in state mouthpiece The New  Light of Myanmar.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called Myanmar ’Burma’ in her speech to the World  Economic Forum in Thailand on 1 June, 2012,” it noted.

“Again, Daw Aung San Suu  Kyi called Myanmar ’Burma’ in her speeches during her Europe tour.”

“Daw” is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Global leaders also face a dilemma of what to call the country, which is  emerging from decades of army rule under the guidance of reform-minded Prime  Minister Thein Sein.

Britain’s David Cameron calls it “Burma” while recent speeches by US  President Barack Obama also referred to its colonial name.

But his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose a more diplomatic path on  a trip to the nation in December, employing the term Burma but saying it  sparingly, generally preferring to dodge controversy by saying “this country.” — AFP NST

Assets grow fast and furious!

East Asia’s wealth continues to spurt, with the hope that it will not also sputter..

BEHIND the faceless economic data of countries and regions is the wealth of individual people. But how does this relate to global conditions, and vice-versa?

One answer comes by way of the High Net Worth Individual (HNWI), as defined jointly by the French consulting firm Capgemini and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

Where net worth is generally taken as total assets minus total debts, the HNWI as conceived by Capgemini, RBC and Merrill Lynch is a person with at least US$1mil (RM3.2mil) in disposable funds to invest.

In their calculation, growth of East Asia’s personal wealth last year bypassed North America’s for the first time. In their latest World Wealth Report 2011 released just four days ago, the number of HNWIs in the “Asia-Pacific” region grew 1.6% to 3.37 million.

 Widening gap: China continues to develop rapidly, chalking up multiple achievements such as lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty within one generation. Yet some 100 million people in China still live in poverty. — EPA

However, the Asia-Pacific mega-region often presents a problem of definition, and does so clearly in this case. Australia is included but not New Zealand, nor is any country in North America which also lies in the “Pacific” portion of the Asia-Pacific.

India is also included even when it is not a Pacific nation, but not any other South Asian country which is similarly located and equally (in)eligible. The Philippines is also excluded along with five of the smallest or newest Asean countries.

Such concepts and their comparisons, particularly when defined by specific corporate interests, tend to be notional at best. Nonetheless, one trend is clear: individual and thus regional wealth in East Asia is growing faster than in North America.

But much of this new wealth also has shallower roots. East Asian economies are seeing fast gainers and almost as rapid losers among HNWIs.

Hong Kong and Singapore respectively lost 17.4% and 7.8% in HNWIs. The volatility is typical of rapidly growing regions: easier come, easier go.

Overall, East Asian wealth accumulation for investment is still behind North America’s – US$10.7tril (RM34tril) to US$11.4tril (RM36.4tril). The gap remains, but it is just as obvious that it is narrowing.

Without East Asian volatility, the gap would be narrower still. And if the number of HNWIs were considered on per capita terms, East Asian development would seem even more impressive.

That leaves a large question mark over China, with the world’s largest population at more than 1.3 billion. It has already produced the fastest and most sustained growth anywhere on the planet, with the prospect of much more to come.

China continues to develop rapidly, chalking up multiple achievements such as lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty within one generation. Yet some 100 million people in China still live in poverty, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao conceded during the week.

In essence, much of China’s economic growth has yet to come. How far it still has to go may be taken as a measure of how much further it can still go.

Owing to its sheer size and the scale on which it operates, China’s progress will determine the fate of both greater China (the mainland, plus Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan) and much of the world.

That was the broad consensus reached during the week at both the Rio+20 summit in Brazil attended by Wen, and the G20 summit in Mexico attended by President Hu Jintao.

And that is where the sums and the conclusions, whether tentative or premature, become mired in obscurities. But if it is any consolation, the obscurities are also the realities.

When comparisons are made between (East) Asian and North American growth, investment or expenditure, the comparisons are essentially between China and the US.

And in economic growth in particular, much of China’s data is derived from trade with and investment from the US. The most important bilateral relationship in the Asia-Pacific, if not also in the world, is also growing steadily on multiple fronts: economic, but also diplomatic and strategic.

How the world’s two largest economies get along has always been important for the world. That becomes much more so when it encompasses other spheres of their relationship as well.

In Hu’s address in Los Cabos on Tuesday to an audience that included his US counterpart Barack Obama, he developed a model of bilateral relations he introduced at a China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue last month in Beijing. This consisted largely of two prongs, each with three main points.

The three key principles are for both countries to maintain strategic communication between them at the highest levels, to manage any differences between them without letting anything get out of control, and to keep any prospective interference from any quarter boxed up.

The three broad areas of interest outlined by Hu in his “hopes” are that the US will act positively in opting for a pragmatic rather than an ideological approach to relations, respect China’s legitimate sovereign interests, and stop the narrower concerns of domestic politics from upsetting ties.

These points may be taken to mean China’s preference for a full, direct relationship that avoids hiccups from occasional sentiments in the US over China’s internal political affairs, currency valuation or a lingering US tendency to protectionism.

There were at least three points of immediate agreement at Los Cabos: that both countries should develop the next phase of their relationship meaningfully, that relations were so far going well, and that more should be done to build mutual trust.

This G20 summit is seen as the second meeting between Hu and Obama this year, and the 12th in three years. It is also timed just right for Hu in reminding Obama that bilateral relations should not be subordinated to domestic pressures in a US election year, as Obama begins his campaign for re-election.

These personal exchanges are crucial, despite the passing nature of the presidencies. Hu is due to be succeeded next year, and even if Obama is re-elected, he has only another four years in office.

But formal relations between major powers are made of more durable stuff. There is scant difference between the Democratic and Republican parties on ties with China, and Beijing itself is known for worldviews that endure.

Beyond these, the summits in both Los Cabos and Rio de Janeiro took due notice of the gravity of the eurozone debt crisis.

The eurozone is after all an important leg of the world economic tripod, and its economic prospects are bound to be of concern to other regions.

At both summits, China and the US tried to shore up global confidence in the eurozone by helping to talk up prospects of recovery, or at least avoided consideration of worst-case scenarios.

The next EU summit in the following days should do more to spell out specific measures that member countries can take to that end.

Europe has the greatest responsibility in putting its collective house in order. North American and East Asian economic entities can do no more than assist in the hard decisions that Europeans have to take themselves.

For East Asia and North America at least, how well China and the US work together will determine prospects for all players in both regions. For East Asia in particular, HNWIs and standards of living generally are determined by the peace and prosperity that only close ties between major powers can offer.

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

Drones, computers new weapons of US waging shadow wars!

AP FILE – This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, burn a representation of a US flag during a rally condemning US drone strikes in tribal areas and the reopening of the NATO supply line to neighboring Afghanistan, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Pervez Masih) — AP

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)FILE – In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, speaks in Washington. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) — AP

WASHINGTON — After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile.FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.

Chart shows the number of air attacks in Pakistan — AP

It’s war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark.

In Pakistan, armed drones, not U.S. ground troops or B-52 bombers, are hunting down al-Qaida terrorists, and a CIA-run raid of Osama bin Laden‘s hide-out was executed by a stealthy team of Navy SEALs.

In Yemen, drones and several dozen U.S. military advisers are trying to help the government tip the balance against an al-Qaida offshoot that harbors hopes of one day attacking the U.S. homeland.

In Somalia, the Horn of Africa country that has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, President Barack Obama secretly has authorized two drone strikes and two commando raids against terrorists.

In Iran, surveillance drones have kept an eye on nuclear activities while a computer attack reportedly has infected its nuclear enrichment facilities with a virus, possibly delaying the day when the U.S. or Israel might feel compelled to drop real bombs on Iran and risk a wider war in the Middle East.

The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead.

But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict. The White House took an incremental step Friday toward greater openness about the basic dimensions of its shadowy wars by telling Congress for the first time that the U.S. military has been launching lethal attacks on terrorist targets in Somalia and Yemen. It did not mention drones, and its admission did not apply to CIA operations.

“Congressional oversight of these operations appears to be cursory and insufficient,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group.

“It is Congress’ responsibility to declare war under the Constitution, but instead it appears to have adopted a largely passive role while the executive takes the initiative in war fighting,” Aftergood said in an interview.

That’s partly because lawmakers relinquished their authority by passing a law just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that essentially granted the White House open-ended authority for armed action against al-Qaida.

Secret wars are not new.

For decades, the CIA has carried out covert operations abroad at the president’s direction and with congressional notice. It armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who fought Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, for example. In recent years the U.S. military’s secretive commando units have operated more widely, even in countries where the U.S. is not at war, and that’s blurred the lines between the intelligence and military spheres.

In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama’s national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances. The White House has denied the accusations.

The leaks exposed details of U.S. computer virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, the foiling of an al-Qaida bomb plot targeting U.S. aircraft, and other secret operations.

Two U.S. attorneys are heading separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information, and Congress is conducting its own probe.

It’s not just the news media that has pressed the administration for information about its shadowy wars.

Some in Congress, particularly those lawmakers most skeptical of the need for U.S. foreign interventions, are objecting to the administration’s drone wars. They are demanding a fuller explanation of how, for example, drone strikes are authorized and executed in cases in which the identity of the targeted terrorist is not confirmed.

“Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and 25 other mostly anti-war members of Congress wrote Obama on Tuesday.

A few dozen lawmakers are briefed on the CIA’s covert action and clandestine military activity, and some may ask to review drone strike video and be granted access to after-action reports on strikes and other clandestine actions. But until two months ago, the administration had not formally confirmed in public its use of armed drones.

In an April speech in Washington, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, acknowledged that despite presidential assurances of a judicious use of force against terrorists, some still question the legality of drone strikes.

“So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law – and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives – the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” he said.

President George W. Bush authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, but Obama has vastly increased the numbers. According to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks U.S. counterterrorism operations, the U.S. under Obama has carried out an estimated 254 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That compares with 47 strikes during the Bush administration.

In at least one case the target was an American. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September.

According to a White House list released late last year, U.S. counterterrorism operations have removed more than 30 terrorist leaders around the globe. They include al-Qaida in East Africa “planner” Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in a helicopter strike in Somalia.

The drone campaign is highly unpopular overseas.

A Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad found that in 17 of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders in such places as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the U.S., 62 percent approved of the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.

The U.S. use of cyberweapons, like viruses that sabotage computer networks or other high-tech tools that can invade computers and steal data, is even more closely shielded by official secrecy and, arguably, less well understood.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a leading critic of the administration’s handling of information about using computers as a tool of war.

“I think that cyberattacks are one of the greatest threats that we face,” McCain said in a recent interview, “and we have a very divided and not very well-informed Congress addressing it.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and national security officials often talk publicly about improving U.S. defenses against cyberattack, not only on U.S. government computer systems but also against defense contractors and other private networks linked, for example, to the U.S. financial system or electrical grid. Left largely unexplained is the U.S. capacity to use computer viruses and other cyberweapons against foreign targets.

In the view of some, the White House has cut Congress out of the loop, even in the realm of overt warfare.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who saw combat in Vietnam as a Marine, introduced legislation last month that would require that the president seek congressional approval before committing U.S. forces in civil conflicts, such as last year’s armed intervention in Libya, in which there is no imminent security threat to the U.S.

“Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed has diminished,” Webb said.


Online: Pew Research Center:  The Associated Press


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