Biden Won’t End the Warfare-Surveillance State

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded and occupied two countries, bombed four others, helped create 21 million refugees and cause over 800,000 deaths, and spent over $6 trillion on combat and anti-terrorism measures. Republican and Democratic presidents and congressional leaders authorized sweeping new initiatives that effectively put all American citizens under surveillance.
Even as the United States has left Afghanistan, ending our longest war, many of the programs and mindsets born out of events 20 years ago are still firmly in place. In Reign of Terror, national security reporter Spencer Ackerman argues that the war on terror also profoundly destabilized American politics and helped to produce the Donald Trump presidency by stoking fears of a racialized Other. “The longer America viewed itself as under siege,” he writes, “the easier it became to see enemies everywhere.””

Military Drone Strike That Killed Afghan Aid Worker, Children Has Hallmarks of Intelligence Failure

“The evidence increasingly indicates that a U.S. drone strike that took place outside Kabul as America withdrew from Afghanistan killed not a terrorist but an aid worker, along with nine other civilians, including several children.

On August 29, the U.S. military launched a strike on what Central Command said was a vehicle transporting explosives on behalf of the Islamic State. According to the Pentagon, the target posed an “imminent” threat to the Kabul Airport. This was just days after suicide bombers killed at least 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, and tensions were high.

A military spokesperson said there were “significant secondary explosions” as a result of the drone hit. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it a “righteous strike” that foiled a potential attack.

In reality, that strike hit a car that had been driven by humanitarian aid worker Zamari Ahmadi. Ahmadi was killed, along with two other adults and seven children. And follow-up media investigations are casting serious doubt on the military’s account.

Credit both The New York Times and The Washington Post for reconstructing what actually happened. The Times has assembled an account of Ahmadi’s final day, with the help of security surveillance footage, to show that what military intelligence may have assumed as suspicious behavior was Ahmadi’s typical work. He worked for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based charity, and the sedan belonged to the organization. He is seen on camera loading the back of his white sedan with not explosives, but containers of water. The president of his group has denied that Ahmadi had any connections with the Islamic State.

Even more damning is what both the Post and the Times heard from experts analyzing the wreckage of the drone strike. Ahmadi’s car was hit by a Hellfire missile with a 20-pound payload. The damage to the car and the courtyard where he was parked matched the amount of destruction associated with the missile, but the evidence that there were explosives in the car is sorely lacking. According to eyewitnesses, the “significant secondary explosions” did not take place.”

“The drone strike seemed to have been carried out with about as much evidence that it would require for a police officer in the United States to get a search warrant.”

“The military was tracking communications it believed were from Islamic State terrorists. And the day after Ahmadi was killed, the Times reports, Islamic State terrorists did launch a rocket attack toward the airport from a neighborhood Ahmadi had traveled through the previous day. The vehicle they launched the attack from was a white Toyota, a sedan that looked a lot like Ahmadi’s. Did they get the cars mixed up during surveillance?”

“We have no idea how frequently these types of seemingly mistaken strikes happen, partly because the military has been deliberately secretive and partly because what information we’ve gotten has not been trustworthy. Outside observers estimate that between 300 and 900 civilians killed by drone strikes in Afghanistan during the two decades Americans were there. There have been dozens, possibly even hundreds, of strikes like this.”

Daniel Hale Revealed America’s Drone Assassinations to the Public. He’s Been Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison.

“A federal judge has sentenced a leaker to prison for helping keep Americans informed about abuses being perpetrated in their name.

Daniel Hale is a former Air Force intelligence analyst who revealed how America’s secret drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia were likely killing untold numbers of innocent people. On Tuesday he was sentenced to 45 months in prison after he previously pleaded guilty to passing along classified documents to a reporter that were subsequently published in 2015.”

“The government insisted that its secret “kill list” of terrorists was carefully vetted, and the drone strikes were only deployed to kill those the government and military believed it was unfeasible to arrest.

The reality, Hale revealed, was the drone strikes regularly resulted in the death of innocents, and the government covered it up by automatically classifying anybody killed as “militants” even when they weren’t the targets of the strikes. This allowed the government to insist that civilian casualties were being kept to a minimum.”

“The feds finally caught up with Hale in 2019 and arrested him, charging him with espionage. After the arrest, Hale pleaded guilty and essentially threw himself at the mercy of the court, acknowledging that he violated the law while refusing to apologize for it. In a lengthy handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, Hale described an incident where a drone strike he helped arrange failed to kill its target (an Afghan man allegedly involved in making car bombs) and instead killed his 5-year-old daughter. He wrote, “Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how I could possibly believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.””

“The documentation matters. The Washington Post notes that Hale’s leaking of documentation showing how the government put people on secret terrorism watchlists helped civil rights lawyers fight for due process for their clients.

Hale is yet another case where the federal government has used espionage laws not to punish spies who reveal classified information to our country’s enemies, but to punish people who reveal the government’s unethical and illegal behavior to our country’s own citizens.”

COVID-19 Was Always Going To Be A Struggle For The CDC. But Trump Sure Didn’t Help.

“And, to be sure, the Trump administration did things that not only were well outside established norms but also undermined the CDC and the entire field of public health. For example, on April 3, 2020, while announcing the agency’s recommendation to wear masks, the president repeatedly emphasized that no one had to wear masks and explicitly said that he personally wasn’t going to wear one.

The administration also pushed for edits to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, long the primary means for communicating scientific data to other researchers and the broader medical community. These edits were political, designed to downplay the growing number of COVID-19 deaths and support decisions the administration had already made about issues like school reopenings. Emails revealed that members of the Trump administration were accusing the CDC of trying to make the administration look bad by releasing data disclosing the dire nature of the pandemic.

Those kinds of actions by a presidential administration were unprecedented. And they contributed to a loss of morale and a sense within the CDC that everyone just needed to keep their heads down and not make waves. But the political issues weren’t just about what the administration did — they were also about what it didn’t do.

By early March 2020, the CDC had all but disappeared from press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. No one in the Trump administration ever explicitly said that the agency wouldn’t be speaking to the public. But, quietly, that’s exactly what happened. By May 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists could graph the disappearance of the CDC. And this was a completely different situation from what had happened in past pandemics, when presidents let the CDC take the lead.

At the same time, the Trump administration did not seem to facilitate communication between the CDC and outside experts — something the scientists I spoke to said had been the norm for past administrations faced with a public health crisis.”

A Record Number of Drug-Related Deaths Illustrates the Lethal Consequences of Prohibition

“Between 2002 and 2019, according to the federal government’s survey data, the number of Americans who had a “substance use disorder” involving heroin roughly doubled. During that same period, according to the CDC’s data, the annual number of heroin-related deaths septupled, while the total number of opioid-related deaths quadrupled. The war on drugs helps account for that disparity, since it has made opioid use more dangerous”

“Nowadays fentanyl is showing up in black-market pills sold as hydrocodone or oxycodone and even in stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Its proliferation is a response to the very supply control measures that were supposed to reduce drug-related deaths. To the extent that the government succeeds in exerting pressure on the supply of illegal intoxicants, it encourages traffickers to distribute more-potent drugs, which are easier to conceal and smuggle.
Since fentanyl is far more potent than heroin, a package weighing less than an ounce can replace one that weighs a couple of pounds. Synthesizing opioids is also a less vulnerable and much cheaper process than production that relies on poppy crops. Researchers at the RAND Corporation estimate that heroin is at least 100 times as expensive to produce as fentanyl, adjusting for potency.

Black-market drugs were already iffy because of prohibition; the prohibition-driven rise of fentanyl has made them even more of a crap shoot. And these are the substitutes nonmedical opioid users resorted to after drug warriors succeeded in driving down prescriptions of analgesics such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. That shift replaced legally produced, reliably dosed pharmaceuticals with illegal drugs of unknown provenance and composition. The result was predictable (and was in fact predicted): As opioid prescriptions fell, opioid-related deaths rose.”

How Florida’s massive Covid-19 spike got so bad

“It’s no mystery what’s happening in Florida right now — or why.

The state is experiencing its worst surge of the pandemic. Last week, it was averaging nearly 25,000 new cases every day. The previous high, in January, was about 18,000. More than 17,000 Floridians are hospitalized with Covid-19, another record; around 230 people are dying every day. Florida leads all states in the number of hospitalizations and deaths per capita.”

“In some ways, what’s happening in Florida right now is a microcosm of the current surge across America: a middling vaccination rate has collided with a more contagious version of the virus. And it’s doing so in a state where political leaders continue to insist people should act as if the pandemic is over — even as more people are dying every day than any point in the past year.”

How the world missed more than half of all Covid-19 deaths

“The United States alone is estimated to have had 905,000 Covid-19 fatalities, vastly more than the 579,000 deaths officially reported, and more than any other country. The calculation is based on modeling of excess mortality that has occurred during the pandemic.

The drastic difference highlights how difficult it is to keep track of even basic metrics like deaths when a deadly disease is raging. The higher toll also means the ripples of the pandemic have spread wider than realized, particularly for health workers on the front lines who have repeatedly faced the onslaught with limited medical resources and personal protection. And the undercounts have important consequences for how countries allocate resources, anticipate future hot spots, and address health inequities.”

Why Black Women Are Often Missing From Conversations About Police Violence

“Women account for less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings, but according to our analysis of the Post’s data, almost 20 percent of the women fatally shot by police are Black, even though Black women make up only around 13 percent of women in the U.S. And since 2015, when the Post first began tracking fatal police shootings, at least 51 Black women have been killed. Half of those women have gotten some national media attention in the 60 days surrounding their death, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of media reports, but in most cases, the coverage is limited — five stories or fewer.”

“Researchers at Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland analyzed nearly 300 phrases used as Twitter hashtags between August 2014 and August 2015, a year after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Though these hashtags are often used to name Black victims of police brutality, not one specifically mentioned a Black woman or girl.

“Mainstream narratives are often still written by men or are tailored toward a male perspective,” said Keisha Blain, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the president of the African American Intellectual History Society. “For these reasons, among others, Black women’s experiences with police violence are too often marginalized.””

The fighting in Gaza is over. The humanitarian crisis isn’t.

“Gaza is no longer an active war zone, but the emergency hasn’t fully abated. Israeli airstrikes have toppled high-rise buildings and turned homes and apartments to rubble. Israel said it was targeting Hamas and its networks, including rocket launchers and tunnels, but those targets are often intertwined with schools, clinics, and residential buildings.”

The Israel-Hamas ceasefire stopped the fighting — but changed nothing

“The ceasefire announced Thursday between Israel and Hamas will hopefully end the worst of the violence that in the course of 11 days killed well over 200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In the narrowest sense, Hamas and Israel have both accomplished their immediate goals. Hamas got to portray itself as the defender of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, where much of the unrest began in recent weeks, and prove its capacity to hit most of Israel with its rockets. Israel, meanwhile, can say it has degraded Hamas’s military capabilities, in particular the underground network of tunnels from which it operates.

Yet the ceasefire does nothing to address the underlying conditions that have fueled the decade-and-a-half standoff between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, nor the issues that sparked this latest round of fighting.”

“Sheikh Jarrah is an East Jerusalem neighborhood located just outside the old city that for weeks has been the site of mass demonstrations by Palestinians protesting the imminent evictions of six Arab families from their homes by Israeli courts, to make way for Jewish activists who claim ownership of the land.

The homes in question were built by the Jordanian government in the 1950s for Palestinian refugees from Israel, after Jewish residents fled the neighborhood during the 1948 war and found refuge in Israel.

Israeli law provides Jewish Israelis the chance to reclaim property lost during that conflict — including in Sheikh Jarrah. But it offers no reciprocal right to Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, who lost their homes. In general, Israeli authorities and right-wing NGOs have been working for years to change the demographic balance of the city in favor of Jewish Israelis.

Aryeh King, a far-right activist who is currently deputy mayor of Jerusalem, told the New York Times last week that installing “layers of Jews” throughout East Jerusalem is specifically aimed at making its division impossible. “If we will not be in big numbers and if we will not be at the right places in strategic areas in East Jerusalem,” he said, then future peace negotiators “will try to divide Jerusalem and to give part of Jerusalem to our enemy.”

Naturally, the Palestinians who have lived there since the 1950s strongly oppose these attempts to evict them. The Sheikh Jarrah case has gone all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, which was originally scheduled to announce its ruling on May 10.

“To avoid further inflaming the situation, the Supreme Court delayed its ruling the day before it was scheduled, but by that point it was too late. Demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah already included violent clashes with police and extreme right-wing Israeli activists had come to provoke the clashes further.”

“Combined with the simmering tensions fueled by the Damascus Gate crackdowns and then images of a violent police raid on al-Aqsa, a central religious and national symbol, Palestinians across the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and Gaza shared a sense of national and religious outrage.
And then Hamas got involved.”

“This is the fourth major conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2006”