#BentBritain: #UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications!

UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications ~ and , The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2015.

Intelligence agencies have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for past five years, government admits

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al Saadi
The admission comes ahead of a legal challenge brought on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, over allegations that security services unlawfully intercepted their communications with lawyers.  Photograph: PA & AFP

The regime under which UK intelligence agencies, including MI5 and MI6, have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years is unlawful, the British government has admitted.

The admission that the activities of the security services have failed to comply fully with human rights laws in a second major area – this time highly sensitive legally privileged communications – is a severe embarrassment for the government.

It follows hard on the heels of the British court ruling on 6 February declaring that the regime surrounding the sharing of mass personal intelligence data between America’s national security agency and Britain’s GCHQ was unlawful for seven years.

The admission that the regime surrounding state snooping on legally privileged communications has also failed to comply with the European convention on human rights comes in advance of a legal challenge, to be heard early next month, in which the security services are alleged to have unlawfully intercepted conversations between lawyers and their clients to provide the government with an advantage in court.

The case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It is being brought by lawyers on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

A government spokesman said: “The concession the government has made today relates to the agencies’ policies and procedures governing the handling of legally privileged communications and whether they are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

“In view of recent IPT judgments, we acknowledge that the policies adopted since [January] 2010 have not fully met the requirements of the ECHR, specifically article 8 (right to privacy). This includes a requirement that safeguards are made sufficiently public.

“It does not mean that there was any deliberate wrongdoing on their part of the security and intelligence agencies, which have always taken their obligations to protect legally privileged material extremely seriously. Nor does it mean that any of the agencies’ activities have prejudiced or in any way resulted in an abuse of process in any civil or criminal proceedings.”

He said that the intelligence agencies would now work with the interception of communications commissioner to ensure their policies satisfy all of the UK’s human rights obligations.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the Belhaj family’s lawyers said: “By allowing the intelligence agencies free reign to spy on communications between lawyers and their clients, the government has endangered the fundamental British right to a fair trial.

“Reprieve has been warning for months that the security services’ policies on lawyer-client snooping have been shot through with loopholes big enough to drive a bus through.

“For too long, the security services have been allowed to snoop on those bringing cases against them when they speak to their lawyers. In doing so, they have violated a right that is centuries old in British common law. Today they have finally admitted they have been acting unlawfully for years.

“Worryingly, it looks very much like they have collected the private lawyer-client communications of two victims of rendition and torture, and possibly misused them. While the government says there was no ‘deliberate’ collection of material, it’s abundantly clear that private material was collected and may well have been passed on to lawyers or ministers involved in the civil case brought by Abdel hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who were ‘rendered’ to Libya in 2004 by British intelligence.

“Only time will tell how badly their case was tainted. But right now, the government needs urgently to investigate how things went wrong and come clean about what it is doing to repair the damage.”

Government sources, in line with all such cases, refuse to confirm or deny whether the two Libyans were the subject of an interception operation. They insist the concession does not concern the allegation that actual interception took place and say it will be for the investigatory powers tribunal hearing to determine the issue.

An updated draft interception code of practice spelling out the the rules for the first time was quietly published at the same time as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruling against GCHQ earlier this month in the case brought by Privacy International and Liberty.

The government spokesman said the draft code set out enhanced safeguards and provided more detail than previously on the protections that had to be applied in the security agencies handling of legally privileged communications.

The draft code makes clear that warrants for snooping on legally privileged conversations, emails and other communications between suspects and their lawyers can be granted if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances. They have to however ensure that they are not available to lawyers or policy officials who are conducting legal cases against those suspects.

Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under UK law. Following exposure of widespread monitoring by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, Belhaj’s lawyers feared that their exchanges with their clients could have been compromised by GCHQ’s interception of phone conversations and emails.

To demonstrate that its policies satisfy legal safeguards, MI6 were required in advance of Wednesday’s concession to disclose internal guidance on how intelligence staff should deal with material protected by legal professional privilege.

The MI6 papers noted: “Undertaking interception in such circumstances would be extremely rare and would require strong justification and robust safeguards. It is essential that such intercepted material is not acquired or used for the purpose of conferring an unfair or improper advantage on SIS or HMG [Her Majesty’s government] in any such litigation, legal proceedings or criminal investigation.”

The internal documents also refer to a visit by the interception commissioner, Sir Anthony May, last summer to examine interception warrants, where it was discovered that regulations were not being observed. “In relation to one of the warrants,” the document explained, “the commissioner identified a number of concerns with regard to the handling of [legal professional privilege] material”.

Amnesty UK’s legal programme director, Rachel Logan, said: “We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law – that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so – this could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”

#Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the #West’s modern crimes!

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes ~ Ben White, The Nation, February 14, 2015.

Like many children, 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman suffered from nightmares. In his dreams, he would see flying “death machines” that turned family and friends into burning charcoal. No one could stop them, and they struck any place, at any time.

Unlike most children, Mohammed’s nightmares killed him.

Three weeks ago, a CIA drone operating over Yemen fired a missile at a car carrying the teenager, and two others. They were all incinerated. Nor was Mohammed the first in his family to be targeted: drones had already killed his father and brother.

Since president Barack Obama took office in 2009, the US has killed at least 2,464 people through drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones. The figure is courtesy of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which says that at least 314 of the dead, one in seven, were civilians.

Recall that for Obama, as The New York Times reported in May 2012, “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted “as combatants” – unless “there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

The week after Mohammed’s death, on February 5, Mr Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, and discussed the violence of ISIL.

“Lest we get on our high horses”, said the commander-in-chief, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

These comments prompted a (brief) media storm, with Mr Obama accused of insulting Christians, pandering to the terrorist enemy, or just bad history.

In fact, the president was simply repeating a point often made by liberals since September 11, namely, that all religions have blots on their copy book through the deeds of their followers.

One of the consequences, however, of this invocation of the Crusades – unintended, and all the more significant for it – is to seal away the West’s “sins”, particularly vis-à-vis its relationship to the Middle East, in events that took place a thousand years ago.

The Crusades were, in one sense, a demonstration of raw military power, and a collective trauma for the peoples of the regions they marched through and invaded.

In the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, a witness described how the Europeans ordered “all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses”.

He added: “No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids.”

Or take the Third Crusade, when, on August 20, 1191, England’s King Richard I oversaw the beheading of 3,000 Muslim prisoners at Acre in full view of Saladin’s army.

Just “ancient history”? In 1920, when the French had besieged and captured Damascus, their commander Henri Gourard reportedly went to the grave of Saladin, kicked it, and uttered: “Awake Saladin, we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.”

But the US president need not cite the Crusades or even the colonial rule of the early 20th century: more relevant reference points would be Bagram and Fallujah.

Bagram base in Afghanistan is where US soldiers tortured prisoners to death – like 22-year-old taxi driver and farmer Dilawar. Before he was killed in custody, Dilawar was beaten by soldiers just to make him scream “Allah!”

Five months after September 11, The Guardian reported that US missiles had killed anywhere between 1,300 and 8,000 in Afghanistan. Months later, the paper suggested that “as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the US intervention”.

When it was Iraq’s turn, the people of Fallujah discovered that US forces gave them funerals, not democracy. On April 28, 2003, US soldiers massacred civilian protesters, shooting to death 17 during a demonstration.

When that city revolted against the occupation, the residents paid a price. As Marines tried to quell resistance in the city, wrote The New York Times on April 14, 2004, they had “orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not”.Months later, as the Marines launched their November assault on the city, CNN reported that “the sky…seems to explode”.

In their bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US and UK armed forces rained fiery death down on men, women and children. Prisoners were tortured and sexually abused. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. No one was held to account.

It is one thing to apologise for the brutality of western Crusaders a thousand years ago. It is quite another to look at the corpses of the victims of the imperialist present, or hear the screams of the bereaved.

In his excellent book The Muslims Are Coming, Arun Kundnani analysed the “politics of anti-extremism”, and describes the two approaches developed by policymakers and analysts during the “war on terror”.

The first approach, which he refers to as “culturalism”, emphasises “what adherents regard as inherent features of Islamic culture”. The second approach, “reformism”, is when “extremism is viewed as a perversion of Islam’s message”, rather than “a clash of civilisations between the West’s modern values and Islam’s fanaticism”.

Thus the American Right was angry with Mr Obama, because for them, it is about religion – or specifically, Islam. Liberals, meanwhile, want to locate the problem in terms of culture.

Both want to avoid a discussion about imperialism, massacres, coups, brutalities, disappearances, dictatorships – in other words, politics.

As Kundnani writes: when “the concept of ideology” is made central, whether understood as “Islam itself or as Islamist extremism”, then “the role of western states in co-producing the terror war is obscured”.

The problem with Mr Obama’s comments on the Crusades was not, as hysterical conservatives claimed, that he was making offensive and inaccurate analogies with ISIL; rather, that in the comfort of condemning the past, he could mask the violence of his own government in the present.

The echoes of collective trauma remain for a long time, and especially when new wounds are still being inflicted. Think it is farfetched that Muslims would still care about a 1,000-year-old European invasion? Then try asking them about Guantanamo and Camp Bucca instead.

Ben White is a journalist and author of Israeli Apartheid

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes
Pep Montserrat for The National

| Unashamedly racist: Israel’s other silent war!

Israel’s other silent war ~

, Al Jazeera.

State-sponsored racism and discrimination against African migrants continue amid international media silence.

African immigrants face harassment and deportation in Israel [Getty Images]
A recent Jerusalem Post op-ed on “South Africa’s obsession with Israel” resurrects complaints regarding the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which during its 2011 session in Cape Town concludedthat “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.”

The op-ed author reasons that, “[i]f… supporters of the tribunal were honestly concerned with the lives of Palestinians, why then was there not a single word mentioned about the abuse of Palestinians by Arab regimes such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, who keep them stateless, refuse them access to higher education and do not allow them the vote?”

This critique conveniently ignores the fact that Palestinian statelessness is a direct result of the establishment of Israel, whose initial crime of ethnic cleansing granted Arab regimes the opportunity to engage in such abuses.

Furthermore, none of these regimes is portrayed by the US political class and media as a highly ethical democracy meriting multibillion-dollar annual donations.

As it turns out, South Africa’s alleged “obsession” with Israel extends beyond the treatment of Palestinians. In 2012, a resolution was passed “abhor[ring] the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans”.

One could argue that, because Africans are also treated like excrement in other places around the globe, Israel is being unfairly singled out for criticism.

However, this debate is generally averted thanks to the relative silence surrounding the plight of Africans in Israel.

Battling the ‘cancer’

Among the diminutive ranks of the vocal minority is Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen, who reports relentlessly on the hazards to African existence in the Jewish state.

These range from verbal and physical abuse – including, for example, the pelting of African women and children with bottles, cassette players, and other impromptu projectiles and the firebombing of homes and daycares – to long-term incarceration in inhumane conditions without trial, to the mass secret forcible repatriation of Sudanese asylum seekers in violation of the UN convention on the status of refugees.

When Israel rounds up and deports African refugees, it makes a mockery of the millions of Jews who died during World War II because no one would grant them shelter.

– David Sheen, Israeli-Canadian journalist

In a May blog post for +972 Magazine, Sheen marked the one-year anniversary of the “anti-African pogrom” in Tel Aviv, when “a thousand Jewish Israelis ran rampant through the streets… smashing and looting African-operated businesses and physically assaulting any dark-skinned person they came across.”

The rioters were encouraged by the likes of lawmaker Miri Regev, who announced that African migrants are “a cancer in the body” of the nation – terminology generally reserved for Palestinians.

As Sheen notes, Regev “apologised after the violence, not to African asylum seekers, but to Israeli cancer victims, for comparing them to Africans – [and] was appointed by [PM Benjamin] Netanyahu to head the Knesset Interior Committee, the very body that decides the fate of those asylum seekers”.

Sheen’s fundraising campaign to write a book on the plight of African refugees in Israel has been met with widespread vitriol, including from Amir Mizroch, editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom English.

In an email, Sheen shared his response to Mizroch’s allegation that writing a book about racism against Africans in Israel without also discussing racism against Africans in Arab countries constitutes racism against Israelis: “When I mocked his logic, asking him if it was necessary, in order to put the reports in their proper context, for me to also be locked up in an underground jail and tortured – sadly, the fate of many of these African refugees before they arrive in Israel – Mizroch tweeted: “now THAT I’d pay to see ;)”.

It’s worth reiterating that the mistreatment of Africans in non-Israeli locales often occurs in the countries from which they have fled and to which Israel has no qualms about illegally deporting them. Netanyahu haspledged to rid the country of its “tens of thousands of infiltrators” from Africa.

Monochrome Judaism

The deployment of the term “infiltrators” to denote Africans in general, who are caricaturised as animalistic criminals responsible for many of Israel’s ills, is disturbingly reminiscent of other historical periods involving the scapegoating of ethnic minorities.

Sheen remarks: “When Israel rounds up and deports African refugees, it makes a mockery of the millions of Jews who died during World War II because no one would grant them shelter.”

Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon’s suggestion that the presence of Africans in Israel constitutes the establishment of “an enemy state of infiltrators” fails to account for the fact that the award for setting up adversarial countries on other people’s land goes to Israel itself.

Although the fundamental reason for restricting African access to Israel is to prevent a tipping of the demographic balance in favour of non-Jews, the circumstances facing Ethiopian Jewish immigrants indicate that religion only gets you so far. Lest the target national colour scheme be irreparably disrupted as well, Israel has been known to forcibly inject Ethiopian females with contraceptives.

Other partial exceptions to the goal of monochrome Judaism do, however, exist. Sheen noted in May: “Since Israel took over responsibility for reviewing refugee status requests from UNHCR, out of the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in Israel, Israel has approved only one single solitary application. And that one African woman that the State of Israel… has deigned to bequeath refugee status upon – is an albino“.

You want to convert this state into a state for all its citizens, and you will not succeed. We will stop you.

– David Rotem, Israel MP

As for the hyper-paranoid ruckus concerning the allegedly inherent criminality of Africans, such allegations don’t jibe with the statistics. As Sheen has documented, criminal behaviour is more prevalent among “veteran Israelis” than asylum seekers, but, while instances in whichAfricans accused of raping Jews produce calls for the indiscriminate deportation of refugees, no such hysteria is generated when the rapist is Jewish.

The hypocrisy is rendered even more acute by Israel’s institutionalised rape culture, of which Sheen provides a few contemporary examples:

“The Jerusalem chief of police was indicted for sex crimes involving nine female officers. An Israeli mayor charged with ‘repeatedly raping a female subordinate over a lengthy period of time was given no jail time, and [was]instead invited to attend an event organised by the municipality marking ‘International Women’s Day’.”

new video produced by Sheen and bestselling author Max Blumenthal features footage of Israeli defenders of African rights being serenaded by other members of the public with shouts like “May you be raped!”

‘Landscape of denial’

Originally solicited and then rejected by the New York Times, the video also includes an interview with former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari, who declares: “We are waging a war against the phenomenon of assimilation.”

Given such candidness with regards to politically incorrect designs, the international media’s complicity in censoring reality is no doubt partly to thank for the upkeep of Israel’s image.

So, obviously, is Israel’s PR machine, which as Sheen points out is “[w]ell-oiled from decades of distributing disinformation about Palestinians”, and thus in a position to magically convert the horrendous treatment of Africans into a narrative of incomparable magnanimity.

The perpetuation of this narrative entails the attempted silencing of persons like Sheen, subject not only to verbal intimidation but also physical harassment.

The fabrications upon which the state of Israel teeters are meanwhile explored in a new documentary by Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, On the Side of the Road, which tells the story “of those who fought to erase Palestine and created an Israeli landscape of denial”.

Parliamentarian David Rotem appears in Knesset footage in the film informing his detractors: “You want to convert this state into a state for all its citizens, and you will not succeed. We will stop you.”

So much for democracy.

Cast as existential threats to the Jewish state, Palestinians and Africans have served as targets for Israel’sPrevention of Infiltration Law, devised to thwart Palestinian homecoming, and updated in 2012 to provide for the instantaneous imprisonment without trial of Africans.

It seems, however, that a neurotic nation that depends upon the forgery of ubiquitous enemies to justify the wanton trampling of rights and dehumanising subjugation of the “Other” might indeed be its own worst adversary.

After all, as Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has warned: “A history which is no longer credible serves neither to legitimate the State nor to inspire… its citizenry.”

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.


| Where Have All the Geniuses Gone?

Where Have All the Geniuses Gone? ~ Darrin M. McMahon, The Chronicle Review.

Speaking at the Bibliothèque Nationale in 2003, the year before his death, Jacques Derrida invoked an “untenable word, that no one these days would still admit holding to.” “This noun ‘genius’ … makes us squirm,” he said, adding that “in according the least legitimacy to the word ‘genius,’ one is considered to sign one’s resignation from all fields of knowledge.”


Illustrations by Ron Coddington

Clockwise from top: Isaac Newton, iStock; Albert Einstein, Getty Images; Gertrude Stein, The Granger Collection; Steve Jobs, Getty Images; Serena Williams, Getty Images; Infant, iStock 

Consider Derrida what you will—charlatan, great philosopher—he was an astute analyst of the language of homo academicus. And about the current academic fortunes of genius, Derrida had a point. Genius does make us squirm. When we consider it at all, we’re inclined to deny it, deconstruct it, or explain it away as an “ideology of genius.” Geniuses of the past seem to have been perched on their pedestals so that we might drag them down. “People love to come up with reasons for saying Shakespeare was not a genius,” Ann Donnelly, a former curator at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust museum, has pointed out. Far from lavishing praise on genius, scholars are more inclined to scoff.

Something of this same reflexive dismissal and discomfort can be heard in department halls when the MacArthur foundation announces, as it did several weeks ago, its annual “genius” fellows. Although the foundation avoids the term, the news media flaunt it, with predictable results. University administrators gloat about the “geniuses” in their midst, trade publishers fawn, salaries (and egos) swell. Meanwhile, colleagues, more than a little jealous, speak of the new “geniuses” with scare quotes, mocking with their fingers a word that can be used only ironically, if at all.

The democratization of genius represents a victory for human equality. But if everyone can be a genius, then what does it mean?

It wasn’t always so. Indeed for much of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, scholars across a range of fields in the natural and human sciences made the study (and celebration) of genius and geniuses their business. By taking a look at their labors, we can better understand why that research was abandoned, and gain insight into a paradox of our democratic age: The genius as a figure of startling exception is dead, yet nominal geniuses multiply in popular culture. As football coaches, rock stars, and fashion designers are hailed as geniuses, scholars remain suspicious of heroes of the mind. Will we come to regret killing off genius? Will we grow tired of what seems to have taken its place, the celebrity intellect who, like Derrida, is better known for being known than for anything he or she has said or done?

A culture that prostrates before idols makes itself small. But those who cannot take the measure of true stature diminish themselves. In an age as suspicious of greatness as our own, perhaps it is time to recognize that for all the perversion of the cult of genius in the past, it did preserve a sense of wonder in the face of human possibility, an exhilarating sense of awe at being—and being transcendent—in the world. We relinquish that wonder at a cost.

Geniuses, in the modern sense of the word, have been spoken about since only the Age of Enlightenment. Newton was an early exemplar, along with Benjamin Franklin, Goethe, and Napoleon. Also in this period, Shakespeare and Homer were “discovered” as geniuses and celebrated as such, hailed as paragons of creativity, originality, imagination, and brilliance.

Just why the genius emerged in the 18th century as a model of the highest human type is an interesting question. Scholars have suggested a number of explanations, ranging from the advent of capitalism to new notions of aesthetics to new understandings of the author and the self. I would add religious change—the “withdrawal of God,” to quote the philosopher Marcel Gauchet—and a decline in the belief in supernatural beings like angels and saints, which had long served to mediate between the human and the divine.

A related, and somewhat surprising, context was a growing belief in human equality, which provided a foil to the allegedly natural differences that distinguished human beings. In societies increasingly reluctant to treat noble birth and privilege as a legitimate basis for establishing social hierarchies, intelligence and creativity served as new criteria to justify human distinction, with the genius singled out as a member of what contemporaries (including Thomas Jefferson) called a “natural aristocracy.”

What, precisely, were the traits that distinguished these exceptional men? (Genius was treated as exclusively male at the start.) That question was at the heart of the first investigations of genius, and it continued to drive research on the topic into the 20th century.

The first to take it up were men of letters. As early as 1711, the British critic Joseph Addison asked in the pages of his magazine, the London Spectator, “What is properly a great genius?” Throughout the 18th century, commentators across Europe endeavored to supply an answer, producing a voluminous literature that debated the characteristics of genius on aesthetic and philosophical grounds. The rise of Romanticism, in the early 19th century, intensified the speculation, while laying bare, as Isaac D’Israeli (father of the British prime minister) put it, the Literary Character of Men of Genius (1828), highlighting the eccentricities, habits, and traits that set these special beings apart.

This literary and philosophical discussion begged insight from science. For if genius was not the consequence of a divine infusion—the inspiring breath of an angel, muse, or God—it must be resident in the body or soul. Was genius contingent upon good blood and a favorable climate, as some believed? Or was it a “certain conformation of the head and the viscera,” as Diderot surmised?

Such possibilities were pursued well into the 20th century. Physiognomists tried to detect genius in the folds of the face; phrenologists looked for it in bumps on the head; craniometrists tried to grasp it with calipers; and in places like Göttingen and Paris, researchers amassed weighty collections of brains and skulls, prompting one French skeptic to note that if size alone determined intelligence, the whale would be lord of us all.

As craniometry waned, other fields flourished. Psychologists and physicians pursued an etiological explanation for the oft-asserted relationship between genius and madness. In extensive “pathographies,” or case histories of celebrated minds, scholars probed the links among genius, mental illness, and crime. At the same time, brain scientists searched for the cerebral pathways of genius from institutional strongholds like the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Brain Research, in Berlin, and the Brain Research Institute, in Moscow, which was founded shortly after Lenin’s death, in 1924, as part of an effort to demonstrate what one Soviet official called the “material substrate” of the revolutionary’s genius.

Meanwhile, eugenicists and psychologists built on the foundation laid by Francis Galton in his monumental 1869 study, Hereditary Genius, and attempted to create instruments to identify genius among the races. Particularly in the wake of the development of the intelligence quotient (IQ), in the early 20th century, and the British psychologist Charles Spearman’s theory about an underlying (and inborn) general factor of intelligence (the so-called “g-factor”), hereditarians dreamed of screening for genius on a mass scale while weeding out the unfit. The matter was deemed crucial to human welfare. As Lewis Terman, an American psychologist and acolyte of Galton who was instrumental in adapting the IQ exam for widespread use, emphasized in the introduction to his multivolume Genetic Studies of Genius, in 1925: “It should go without saying that a nation’s resources of intellectual talent are among the most precious it will ever have. The origin of genius, the natural laws of its development, and the environmental influences by which it may be affected for good or ill, are scientific problems of almost unequaled importance for human welfare.”

Historians and sociologists, too, were moved to study genius’s origin. In a great many cases, their work was little more than hero worship. But a few dissenting voices detected a troubling development—what the Austrian historian Edgar Zilsel called in a seminal 1918 book of the same name, “the religion of genius.” Zilsel argued that the worship of genius had taken the place of more traditional varieties of religious devotion, imputing higher powers to nature’s chosen and fostering a kind of “salvation addiction” among people who yearned for the redemptive leadership of extraordinary men. There was something distinctly menacing about this modern faith. In a prescient analysis published in Berlin in 1931, the legal theorist Hermann Heller wrote, “the political genius religion must necessarily be a religion of violence.”

Whatever the reservations of critics like Zilsel and Heller, they were in the minority. The psychiatrist and pathographer Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum summed up the situation in a short book also published in 1931, The Problem of Genius. “Among modern civilized beings,” he noted, “a reverence for genius has become a substitute for the lost dogmatic religions of the past.” Lange-Eichbaum found the situation troubling, adding that “the notion … that genius has a peculiar sanctity is widely diffused throughout the modern world.”

Though historians have tended to overlook the fact, this reverence and imputed sanctity were undoubtedly a factor in the rise of Hitler, who skillfully and self-consciously presented himself as a genius—a trope that figures in Nazi propaganda from early on. Joseph Goebbels claimed to have known from his first encounter with Hitler that he was a “genius,” “a natural, creative instrument of divine fate,” who would shape the GermanVolk into a political-artistic masterpiece. “The people are for the statesman what stone is for the sculptor,” Goebbels observed in his novel Michael, first published in the 1920s. “Geniuses use up people. That is just the way it is.”

Associations with the Nazis and eugenics cast aspersions on the academic study of genius, but there were other forces that helped to strip genius of scholarly legitimacy. Perhaps most important was the increasingly widespread recognition of the social underpinnings of labor, which undermined the idea of the lone, heroic creator. It was Marx, scoffing at what he called the practice of “bowing to nature’s noble and wise,” who first offered this insight. It was later developed in academic circles, where Marxist scholars critiqued the cult of the genius as a bourgeois ideology.

Ironically, many capitalists were coming to a similar conclusion. As the manager of the consulting firm Arthur D. Little put it, “organized research does not depend upon individual genius; it is a group activity. … Supermen are not required.” That perspective gained widespread adherence with the expansion of industrial research and development. Modern marvels like the “idea factory” at Bell Laboratories, which at its height employed close to 1,200 Ph.D.’s, underscored the point with a succession of stunning innovations and Nobel Prizes. It seemed clear: Many heads were better than one.

Scientists registered the development, playing down the myth of individual genius. Some still made an exception for Einstein—the genius of geniuses and arguably the last of the titans—but among practicing scientists, the word “genius” fell out of favor after World War II, its use treated as a professional and social faux pas.

That has largely proved true in the humanities and social sciences as well. In the 1980s, feminist scholars like Julia Kristeva focused attention on the gender bias that had been a stubborn feature of so much attention to (male) genius and the cult of great men. Historians of science, taking a cue from Stephen Jay Gould’s landmark The Mismeasure of Man (1981), revealed how research on intelligence had been shaped by assumptions about the inherent superiority of white males of European descent. At a moment when dead white males of all persuasions were drawing scholarly suspicion, geniuses appeared deader and whiter than most. And while reputable psychologists like Dean Keith Simonton, of the University of California at Davis, continue to study “genius” described as such, scholars more often focus on creativity, giftedness, or intelligence.

So the situation identified by Derrida—that to invoke genius is to relinquish intellectual credibility—took hold in academe. Genius lost its luster. But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. As scholars delivered last rites to a higher being they had brought down to earth, the genius was reborn in the popular imagination as a man—and woman—of the people.

When and how this happened is a story in its own right. Europeans and especially Americans had long spoken of genius not only as a rarefied power, but also as an individual talent or bent. Everyone, it followed, had a particular capacity or genius, some attribute that helped define that person. That belief sat better with notions of democracy and equality than an understanding of genius as nature’s exception, and in the 20th century it began to show up in surprising places. Even the arch-hereditarian and theorist of the all-governing “g-factor,” Charles Spearman, observed that “every normal man, woman, and child is … a genius at something.”

A 1993 cover story in Newsweek observed that “judging by the hundreds to the thousands of newspaper references to ‘geniuses’ every month, we’re overrun with them.” We are “living in an age of genius,” Esquire declared in its end of the millennium “Genius Issue.” Among those enjoying their 15 minutes of genius: the fashion designer Tom Ford, the Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, the Broadway singer Audra McDonald, the basketball star Allen Iverson, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

More recently, the German newspaper Die Zeit devoted a special issue to “geniuses who have changed our life,” profiling such modern incarnations as the Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook; Miuccia Prada, the Italian designer; Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea; and, of course, Steve Jobs, widely hailed at the time of his death, in 2011, as a genius.

Closer to home, genius has found its way into the playroom, with Baby Einstein and Baby Mozart, and onto the nightstand with self-help books like How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Dayand Ignite the Genius Within that promise genius to one and all. Once the exception, genius is now the rule.

The expansion and democratization of genius—what Harvard’s Marjorie Garber has described as our “genius problem”—represents, in part, the confluence of genius and celebrity (yet another 18th-century notion). But it also represents a belated victory for human equality, long genius’s dialectical foil, which has done more to yank the genius from lofty eminence than any academic tract. A recent collection of essays put out byTime magazine, titled Secrets of Genius: Discovering the Nature of Brilliance features on its cover not only Shakespeare and Einstein, but also Serena Williams, the African-American tennis star. The collection includes articles about Asian whiz kids, female geneticists, and prodigies who represent humanity in all its glorious diversity. At least in popular culture, genius is now conceived in different shapes, shades, and sizes. And while academics, too, have made attempts to democratize and pluralize the category, their efforts, however sincere, have never been pursued as wholeheartedly or successfully as the attempt to deconstruct genius altogether.

It isn’t the first time, of course, that academe and the world have missed each other, and maybe the popularity of genius in a media-driven and celebrity-obsessed culture feeds a further, and somewhat stuffy, intellectual disdain for a category rendered all but meaningless by its widespread application and abuse. If everyone can be a genius, then what does genius even mean?

Yet the fact that genius has largely vanished as a topic of academic research while exploding as a pop-culture trope points to an underlying connection. For not only does research emphasizing the social underpinnings of creativity track with the broader democratization of genius since World War II, but it also, paradoxically, renders the myth of the lone creator more appealing. In a complex and interconnected world that tends by its very nature to thwart individual agency, an emphasis on the achievements of individuals is reassuring, if also a bit quaint. And so geniuses multiply in the media, while dying an ignominious death in academe.

Those with a historical bent will point out that it is only when a subject is dead and gone that it becomes interesting to think about. In that spirit, consider Harold Bloom’s argument in his self-consciously contrarianGenius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (Warner, 2002) that genius is an idea we can’t live without. “We need genius, however envious or uncomfortable it makes many among us,” he writes. “Our desire for the transcendental and extraordinary seems part of our common heritage, and abandons us slowly and never completely.”

His use of the first-person plural refers to Bloom and the “public”—not primarily to scholars, who, he notes, have become “cultural levelers,” immune to awe. Even so, Bloom’s point is intriguing, especially because Derrida, in his 2003 talk at the Bibliothèque Nationale, seemed to agree, going so far as to apply the proscribed g-word to the French writer Hélène Cixous, whose work his talk honored on the occasion of the gift of her papers to the French national library. Genius itself is a gift, Derrida observed, one that might live to give again, but it would first need to extricate itself from its past (not least from its strongly gendered associations). In posing the question “What is going to happen with genius?,” Derrida envisioned that it might still claim a space to “upset the order of things,” to inspire awe.

When critics as otherwise opposed as Bloom and Derrida converge on a point, it is worth listening. Do we in fact need some form of genius? Kristeva has described genius as a “therapeutic invention that keeps us from dying of equality in a world without a hereafter.”

Not all have renounced a belief in an afterlife, and far fewer in the academy dread the fatal consequences of too much equality. Still, most scholars refuse to believe that there is genius in everyone. Might that prompt us to consider whether the long and long-necessary suspicion of intellectual “elites,” of “greatness”—in a word, of “genius”—has served its purpose and run its course? For is not such a suspicion, in the end, at odds with who we are and what we do in this most elite institution, the modern American university? Shouldn’t we be willing to bow our heads from time to time in gratitude before genius’s wondrous gifts?

Instead we are left with what we have today, the sanctimonious praise of “excellence” (how that word has been abused) and a form of intellectual celebrity that, in practice, is not far removed from the genius of popular culture. A constellation of stars, a world of fashions, an ebb and flow of trends, a new group of MacArthur fellows. No one doubts their merits, but surely not so many geniuses are created in a year, and surely not so many of them reside in the United States. In a world without a genuine appreciation of genius, this is what we get—excellence by committee and blind peer review. And with it, a nagging sense of nostalgia for a world that could stand to wonder and marvel a little more.

Darrin M. McMahon is a professor of history at Florida State University and the author, most recently, of Divine Fury: A History of Genius, published this month by Basic Books.



| Perverting Justice: Egypt’s Morsi charged with inciting murder of protesters!

Egypt’s Morsi charged with inciting murder of protesters ~ Al Jazeera America.

Deposed president referred to stand trial on counts of committing and inciting violence, state news agency says!

Morsi has been held at a secret location since his ouster.
Getty Images

Egypt’s public prosecutor referred deposed President Mohamed Morsi to trial on Sunday on charges of committing and inciting violence, the state news agency reported.

In an apparent escalation of the military-backed government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, it was announced that Morsi along with 14 other members of the Islamist group that backed him would stand trial on counts of “committing acts of violence, and inciting killing and thuggery.”

Also on Sunday, authorities named a 50-member constituent assembly containing just two Islamists, and gave it 60 days to review amendments that would erase Islamic articles brought in last year by the Brotherhood and more hardline Islamic parties.

The charges against Morsi relate to the death of protesters outside the presidential palace in December last year, while he was still in power. The demonstrations were set off in part by anger over expanded powers that the then-president had awarded himself. No date has been set for the trial of Morsi, who has been kept at a secret location since his ouster earlier this year.

The Brotherhood-backed former president also faces an investigation over an alleged conspiracy with foreign groups to break out of prison during the chaos of the country’s 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi was removed from power in a military coup on July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding he step down. Protesters clashed with rival demonstrators organized in support of Morsi, resulting in a military crackdown that killed hundreds of protesters.

More than 1,000 people have died in violence across Egypt since Morsi’s fall, making it the bloodiest civil unrest in the republic’s 60-year history.

Charges over the death of protesters have now been lodged against two recent former presidents. Egypt’s former strongman, Hosni Mubarak, is also scheduled to face trial over his government’s handling of mass protests. The 85-year-old is charged with complicity in the killing of Egyptians during demonstrations that eventually led to his ouster as part of the Arab Spring protests of 2011.

During a brief court session last week, his trial was adjourned until Sept. 14.

Mubarak, who is currently under house arrest, was initially convicted in June, 2012, and sentenced to life in prison. But he appealed and a retrial was ordered in January. Alongside the charges relating to the death of protesters, he faces a number of counts of corruption, despite being cleared of some on Aug. 25.

Meanwhile, the trial of Mohamed Badie, spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, and two of his deputies, Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumy, was also adjourned just minutes after opening on Aug. 25. None of the men appeared in court for security reasons and hearings are set to resume Oct. 29.

The three Brotherhood defendants in that case are accused of authorizing the murders of nine protesters outside the organization’s headquarters on the night of June 30.

Egyptian authorities have issued arrest warrants and detention orders for hundreds of Brotherhood members and detained several senior leaders of the group in recent weeks. According to security sources, at least 2,000 have been arrested since Aug. 14.

As more Brotherhood members are arrested, some Mubarak-era figures have walked free: former prime minister Ahmed Nazif was released earlier this year because of a limit on pre-trial detention. Former Housing Minister Ibrahim Soliman, sentenced to eight years in jail on corruption charges after the 2011 uprising, was released on Sunday pending his appeal, judicial sources said.

Justice ‘turned upside down’

Mohamed Gharib, one of the lawyers defending the three Brotherhood leaders, said the trial was less an effort to try the suspects on the facts of the case than an attempt by the military to “get rid of its political foes.”

Gharib said Badie had been beaten during his arrest, losing his false teeth and glasses in the process, though pictures issued soon after his arrest did not show serious injuries.

“Justice has been turned upside down. The real victims are being hauled to jails and accused of inciting killing,” he said.

On Saturday it was reported that Badie had suffered a heart attack. But the Egyptian Interior Ministry later said he was “enjoying good health.”

The trials of Brotherhood leaders is a sign that Egypt’s new army-backed rulers are determined to crush an organization they have portrayed as violent and intent on destroying the state.

The Brotherhood, an organization that was marginalized for decades in Egyptian politics before Mubarak’s fall, says it is a peaceful movement unjustly targeted by the generals who ousted Morsi — Egypt’s first freely-elected and democratic leader.

But the military contends it was responding to the people’s will, citing vast demonstrations at the time against the rule of a man criticized for accumulating excessive power, pushing a partisan Islamist agenda and mismanaging the economy.

In an apparent bid to further marginalize opponents to the current government, Egyptian authorities named on Sunday a constituent assembly containing few Islamists.

It tasked the body with reviewing amendments to the constitution that would see the removal of Islamic-influenced articles, including one that gave Muslim scholars a say over some affairs of state, and also lift a ban on some Mubarak-era officials assuming public office.

Drawn up by a 10-member “committee of experts” appointed by decree, the draft preserves the privileged status of the military, which it effectively shields from civilian oversight.

Although Islamists won five popular votes held since 2011, the constituent assembly will have only two Islamists among its members — one from the hardline Salafi Nour party, the other a former Brotherhood leader now harshly critical of the group he left last year.

“It’s a very establishment list,” said Nathan Brown, an expert on Egypt based at George Washington University in the U.S.

The Brotherhood has said it wants nothing to do with the army’s plans for Egypt. The Nour party complained of a “disregard and exclusion of the Islamist current” in the make-up of the review panel.

Nour, which was founded after Mubarak’s fall, noted that the committee left out members of the youth movements that ignited the uprising of Jan. 25, 2011, “raising doubts about the panel’s position towards the revolution.”

The Brotherhood and the Nour Party secured a major say over the last constitution-drafting process by winning some 70 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections held after Mubarak’s downfall.

Critics said the Islamist parties then sidelined other groups in a process that failed to reflect Egypt’s diversity.

Al Jazeera and wire services




| Turkey shows Egypt how the ballot beats the bullet!

Turkey’s Hidden Revolution ~ , Slate.

How Prime Minister Erdoğan accidentally fostered a generation of Turkish liberals.

Peaceful protesters in Ankara, Turkey, June 4, 2013.

Young Turks, like those protesting in Ankara on June 4, don’t fit into the country’s old ideological categories.
Photo by Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

On Aug. 5 a court in western Turkey handed down life sentences to a score of retired military officers, including the former chief of the general staff, as well as politicians and media figures, for plotting attacks that would have hurled the country into chaos in preparation for a military coup. The trial was widely regarded as flawed, but the verdicts did not provoke big protests in a nation that until a few years ago held the Army in higher esteem than any other institution. A few days later, at the end of Ramadan, the cities emptied as usual and the resorts were packed. Amid the festivities, the decapitation of the country’s former ruling establishment was largely forgotten.

To an outsider it might seem as though the Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has achieved what his former counterpart in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, failed to do: boot the generals into irrelevance and impress on his opponents the fullness of their defeat. But that impression is incomplete. Over the past decade, emboldened by impressive mandates from the electorate, Erdoğan has indeed done much to subordinate the Army to the civilian authorities, but he has had help from an unlikely quarter: a generation of Turks who, although secular and deeply opposed to political Islam, no longer want the generals to fight their battles for them. These Turks are young (or youngish), and what they know of modern countries tells them that it’s not a good idea to have the Army running things behind the scenes. Nor has the military always contented itself with remaining behind the scenes; since 1960 the generals have staged three coups (four if you include the “soft” coup of 1997), befriended gangsters and neofascists, and sabotaged efforts to end a decades-old war against Kurdish insurgents. So, the silence of these younger, secular Turks after Aug. 5 was meaningful. It was a silence of disassociation.

Who are they, and what do they stand for? For the answer, look at the protests that swept Turkey this June, starting around some threatened sycamores in central Istanbul, spreading to no fewer than 60 of the country’s 81 provinces, and ending with five dead and many thousands injured. Amid the chaos and tear gas, new elements in society were discernible; these elements will be prominent in the political and cultural struggles of the future.

The old Turkey—the Turkey I came to know after moving to the country in 1996—was dominated by big, obvious blocs: left, right, and Islamist, each with its own culture, leaders, “look,” and foundation myths. Each bloc was subject to an internal tyranny, with leaders-for-life and the common foot soldier shielded from truths he wouldn’t understand. The media, academe, and the huge public sector bought into this system. It was hard to get on without being a client of one bloc or another. Everyone knew where he stood.

This summer’s agitation was suggestive of a different Turkey, variegated, harder to classify. The old blocs are gone. There is now a concatenation of groups, interests, forums, and individuals—different shades of identity and belief. Over the past decade, the country has gained the most sophisticated green, feminist, and gay rights movements in the Muslim world. A large, overwhelmingly secular minority, the proto-Shia Alevis, have emerged from semi-hiding, while the Kurds, long reviled and detested, enjoy greater prominence and freedom than at any time since the Ottoman era.

All of these groups were represented on the streets in June—rallied not by tub-thumping leaders or powerful editors, but by fellow protesters using Twitter and Facebook. Not forgetting the housewives banging pots at their windows, the students, private-sector workers, and football fans who joined the protests, and the celebrities who were photographed cleaning up the mess. Turkey has a new bloc, betrothed to none of the established political parties, loyal readers of no single newspaper: a liberal bloc.

The irony is that the person who did the most to bring liberal Turkey into existence is now its adversary: Erdoğan himself. It seems outlandish to recall, but he is the man who authored some of the most comprehensive pro-democracy reforms the country has known. Erdoğan’s measures were designed above all to benefit his own, Islamist supporters who had been persecuted by the old secularist elite. But Alevis and gays and the others also came up for air. A forgotten group, the Armenians—a group that almost symbolises Turkey’s troubled historical conscience—shot back into prominence. When the Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink was murdered by a Turkish nationalist in 2007, hundreds of thousands of Turks marched in protest. “We are all Hrant!”

All the while, Erdoğan presided over an unprecedented expansion in material prosperity, lifting millions into the middle class, where they enjoyed greater mobility, educational opportunities, and freedom of choice. The result was a more diverse, complicated, and irreverent culture than Turkey had seen for many decades.

Erdoğan does not seem to like this Turkey, or the liberals who inhabit it. He has criticized their drinking habits and their abortions; opponents in the media have been silenced through a combination of behind-the-scenes pressure and the courts. The prime minister supports radical changes to Istanbul’s already much-abused skyline—a mammoth hilltop mosque, the world’s biggest airport, a new bridge across the Bosporus, and endless shopping malls, all approved with little oversight. The sycamores were the last straw.

Erdoğan’s reaction to the June protests was neither thoughtful nor generous. He called the demonstrators “looters” and social media a “plague” spread by “social delinquents.” He congratulated the police, whose brutality had been deplored by human rights campaigners around the world, on writing “an epic of heroism.” Now he is lashing out, suing critics and complaining of an international conspiracy led by a sinister “interest rate lobby.” False modesty is not among the prime minister’s faults; he speaks of himself in the third person, when not using the royal “we.” He hopes to end 2014 as the occupant of a much-empowered Turkish presidency.

Erdoğan still has the numbers—pious, commercially minded Turks who constitute the country’s new establishment, and who share his conservative views. But his opponents are also a formidable force. There should be a way for liberals and conservatives to coexist—it’s the norm in many countries. Can Erdoğan be the leader of all Turks, even those who disagree with him? The auguries are not hopeful.



| The rush to judgment on Syria is a catastrophic and deadly error!

The rush to judgment on Syria is a catastrophic and deadly error ~ , The Telegraph.

Britain and America show contempt for the lessons of the past in pressing for action!

Hard sell: to gain the support of a sceptical nation, David Cameron needs to make the speech of his life

Hard sell: to gain the support of a sceptical nation, David Cameron needs to make the speech of his life Photo: Getty Images

It is more than 10 years since Parliament last voted on whether or not to go to war. This was on March 18 2003, when a stirring speech by Tony Blair convinced many sceptical MPs of the case for military action against Iraq.

But Mr Blair’s claim that Britain possessed “extensive, detailed and authoritative” evidence concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction turned out to be nonsense, and we invaded the country on the back of a false prospectus. The consequences were terrible: countless Iraqis were killed in the civil war that followed, along with 179 British soldiers.

The similarities with today’s Commons vote are haunting. The Prime Minister is contemplating an attack on Iraq’s near neighbour Syria, also ruled by a Baathist regime. At the heart of the issue are allegations about weapons of mass destruction. Once again, Britain finds herself in alliance with the United States, and without the authority of the United Nations.

Many of the same voices are cheering us on. Most zealous of all is Tony Blair, while Alastair Campbell, the New Labour propagandist who spread the stories about WMD in Iraq, said yesterday that it would be “irresponsible and incredibly dangerous” not to intervene in Syria.

And many of the same voices are opposed. Hans Blix, the UN chief arms inspector whose investigations were cut short 10 years ago at the insistence of George W Bush, this week warned against rushing to judgment. Dr Blix might just as well have been speaking about Mr Blair when he criticised Mr Cameron on the grounds that he does not seem “to care much about international legality”.

Meanwhile, the governments of America and Britain have made up their minds. They have accepted without question that the Assad regime must be punished for what the Prime Minister called “the massive use of chemical weapons”. They are not interested in examining any contrary evidence.

As in 2003, only Parliament, in today’s vote and the one that will follow the report of the UN inspectors, stands between Britain and military action, the latest of a long series of attacks by the West on Muslim countries.

With Labour seeming likely, despite some prevarication, to support a strike, and Nick Clegg rather surprisingly on board, Mr Cameron may not have to make the speech of his life (as Mr Blair did in 2003) to win either vote. To gain the support of a sceptical nation, however, he needs to do exactly that.

He will not achieve this with the long-winded and contradictory motion he has submitted to the Commons for debate today. His problem is that the British and American foreign policy, intelligence and military establishments have made a series of dreadful mistakes over the past 15 years. It can be stated with complete fairness that the Stop the War Coalition (a miscellaneous collection of mainly far-Left political organisations, by no means all of them reputable, which marches through London this Saturday in protest) has consistently shown far more mature judgment on these great issues of war and peace than Downing Street, the White House or the CIA.

More surprising still, the Stop the War Coalition has often proved better informed than these centres of Western power, coolly warning against the diet of propaganda masquerading as bona fide intelligence.

So Mr Cameron first of all needs to show us that we have solid evidence, capable of standing up in a court of law, that proves his claim that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a large scale against its own people. On the face of things, it looks highly unlikely that Assad would have carried out such an action – let alone within three days of international inspectors arriving in Syria.

Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them. It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a UN commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.

The rush to judgment by Britain and the US looks premature, especially in view of the record of our intelligence agencies in providing misleading and fabricated evidence as a justification for war before 2003. (This time it is said that they have been convinced by intercept evidence, but this too can prove seriously misleading.)

The second question that Mr Cameron must answer is: why now? There have been numerous other atrocities, many far worse, carried out across the Middle East in the past few years. For example, there is no doubt at all that the Egyptian military junta has shot dead more than 1,000 protesters, the vast majority unarmed civilians, since seizing power. Yet there has been no outraged condemnation. Indeed, the West, by continuing to supply arms to the Egyptian army, is quietly condoning this policy of mass murder.

The moral authority of Britain and America in the Middle East is shaky, as an article published in Foreign Policy magazine last week reminds us. It provides documentary evidence that the US helped Saddam Hussein’s Iraq launch a series of chemical weapons attacks upon Iran in the late 1980s, an offensive that killed approximately 20,000 Iranian troops – which dwarfs the number of victims of the Syrian attack. Iran, of course, is Assad’s closest ally. Our moral indignation over chemical weapons looks selective.

This raises questions about Western objectives. Are we merely intending to teach Assad a lesson? Or does an unspoken strategy to “rebalance” the war away from him and back towards the rebels lurk behind this intervention?

It must be said that something terrible happened in Damascus last week, and interventions of the sort that Mr Cameron will argue for today are not always wrong. The Prime Minister and President Obama are decent men, acting for honourable reasons out of horror at the atrocity that took place.

This means that there are some important differences between the circumstances of today’s debate and the one in March 2003. I do not believe that Mr Cameron and Mr Obama are part of a conspiracy to mislead the public and twist the truth, as Bush and Blair were. Significantly, France is part of the coalition, not against it, as was the case 10 years ago. The action contemplated is limited, and unlikely to lead to the dreadful consequences of Iraq.

Nevertheless, on the basis of what I know at the time of writing, I could not vote for war. As Talleyrand said of the Bourbon monarchs, London and Washington have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing since the invasion of Iraq.

They are showing the same contempt for evidence, for international institutions and for the lessons of history.



| Here are the top 10 American corporations profiting from Egypt’s military!

Here are the top 10 American corporations profiting from Egypt’s military ~ GlobalPost.

The US government gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year. Egypt then uses that money to buy weapons from US corporations.

The irony is thick: Obama calls on Egypt’s interim government to stop its bloody crackdown on protesters, but continues to give it $1.3 billion a year in military aid.

For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of US foreign military aid, receiving everything from F-16s to teargas grenades.

So who are the companies reaping the benefits?

The list below were the 10 biggest US Defense contracts involving direct military aid to Egypt from 2009 to 2011, according to The Institute for Southern Studies.

See the table at the bottom of the page for full details of the contracts.

1. Lockheed Martin

Amount: $259 million

USAF F-16C. Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, Lockheed Martin provided Egypt with 20 F-16s as well as night vision sensor systems for Apache helicopters. Lockheed Martin is the biggest beneficiary of US government defense contracts — receiving a record $36 billion in 2008.

Globally, Lockheed Martin is one of the largest defense contractors. Seventy-four percent of its revenues come from military sales.

2. DRS Technologies

Amount: $65.7 million

Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr Creative Commons.

The US Army contracted this US-operated, Italian-owned military services company to provide vehicles, surveillance hardware and other resources to Egypt in December 2010.

3. L-3 Communication Ocean Systems

Amount: $31.3 million

Courtesy: L3 Communications

L3 Communications provided the Egyptian government with a $24.7 million sonar system and military imaging equipment.

4. Deloitte Consulting

Amount: $28.1 million

Tim Boyle/Getty Images/span>

Deloitte, the world’s second largest professional services firm, won a $28.1 million Navy contract to provide planning and support for Egyptian aircraft programs.

5. Boeing

Amount: $22.8 million

An Egyptian army Apache helicopter flies over a crowd of pro-military demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 26, 2013. (Ed Giles/AFP/Getty Images)

While most people know Boeing for it’s commercial flights, it is also the second largest defense contractor in the world.

Boeing won a $22.5 million Army contract in 2010 to provide Egypt with 10 Apache helicopters. The Aerospace also received a contract to provide logistics support to Egypt.

6. Raytheon

Amount: $31.6 million

In 2010, Raytheon gave the Egyptian military 264 moths of Hawk missile systems training. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

The world’s largest guided missiles provider gave Egypt and Turkey 178 STINGER missiles, missile launch systems and 264 months of technical support for the Hawk missile system.

7. AgustaWestland

Amount: $17.3 million

An Apache helicopter flies over a crowd of protesters in Cairo on July 26, 2013. (Ed Giles/Getty Image)

AgustaWestland — also owned by the same Italian company that operates DRS Technologies — secured a contract to provide helicopter maintenance for the Egyptian government.

8. US Motor Works

Amount: $14.5 million

An Armored Personnel Carrier stationed on a street in Cairo on July 4, 2013. (Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)

US Motor Works landed a $14.5 million contract in 2009 to provide engines and spare parts for the Egyptian Armament Authority.

9. Goodrich Corp.

Amount: $10.8 million

(Koen Verheijden/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Air Force and Goodrich brokered a $10.8 million contract to obtain and distribute reconnaissance systems for the F-16 jets the Egyptian Air Force uses.

10. Columbia Group

Amount: $10.6 million

A Knox class frigate, with the flag of Egyptian Navy. Wikimedia Commons

Columbia Group provides $10.6 million-worth of unmanned vehicle systems, along with technical training, to the Egyptian Navy.



| Taliban offers to swap American POW for 5 Gitmo detainees!

Taliban offers to swap American POW for five Gitmo detainees ~ Matthew DeLuca, Staff Writer, NBC News.

A senior spokesman for the Afghan Taliban said the group is ready to hand over the only known American prisoner of war from the conflict in Afghanistan in exchange for five senior operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 27, from Hailey, Idaho, has been held captive since 2009 after going missing from his base in Afghanistan. His whereabouts are not known, but it is believed he is being held in Pakistan.

NBC News has not independently confirmed the report.

Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail told the AP that Bergdahl “is, as far as I know, in good condition,” in a phone interview on Thursday.

IntelCenter / AFP – Getty Images

US soldier Bowe Bergdahl has been held hostage by the Taliban since his disappearance from his unit on June 30, 2009.

Speaking from his office in Doha, Suhail told the AP that the release of the five Taliban operatives from Guantanamo would have to come before peace talks could be opened.

“First has to be the release of detainees,” he told the news service. “Yes. It would be an exchange. Then, step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward.”

Berghdal’s father said last year that he felt like his son’s captivity at the hands of the Taliban “is not being addressed,” according to Reuters.

“I feel that I have to do my job as his father,” Bob Bergdahl said at the time. “I’m working toward a diplomatic and humanitarian solution.”

The Bergdahl family is “encouraged by the recent news,” Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard, a spokesman for the family, told NBC News in an email on Thursday.

The family released a statement on June 6 saying they had received a letter through the Red Cross that they were “confident” had been written to them by their son.

“Our family is greatly relieved and encouraged by this letter, which gives us hope that Bowe is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” the family said in the statement. “We hope Bowe’s captors will again consider his parents’ plea to release him, but in the meantime, we ask that you please continue to keep him in good health and allow him to keep corresponding with us.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that he would suspend his government’s involvement in talks between the US and the Taliban on Wednesday, barely 24 hours after Obama administration officials announced that they would hold talks in the Qatari capital of Doha.

The Taliban announced that it would open an office in Doha for what an administration official called “milestone” talks, but a senior official for the insurgent group said “formal” discussions would not begin without the release of Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo. The five commanders have not been identified.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Karzai twice in 24 hours after the Afghan president accused the US of a “contradiction” in agreeing to talks with the Taliban, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

The Taliban office in Doha “must not be treated as or represent itself as an embassy or other office representing the Afghan Taliban, as an emirate government or sovereign,” Psaki said.

Kerry is expected to travel to Doha this weekend to meet with Qatari officials in advance of talks on the deteriorating situation in Syria.

The Taliban spokesman told the AP that the group is committed to having their initial talks with the United States.

“First we talk to the Americans about those issues concerning the Americans and us and for those issues implementation is only in the hands of the Americans,” Suhail said, according to the AP.

“We want foreign troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan,” he said. “If there are troops in Afghanistan then there will be a continuation of the war.”




| On Prism, partisanship and propaganda!

On Prism, partisanship and propaganda ~

Addressing many of the issues arising from last week’s NSA stories.James Clapper NSA

James Clapper, on Saturday decried the release of the information and said media reports about it have been inaccurate Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

I haven’t been able to write this week here because I’ve been participating in the debate over the fallout from last week’s NSA stories, and because we are very busy working on and writing the next series of stories that will begin appearing very shortly. I did, though, want to note a few points, and particularly highlight what Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez said after Congress on Wednesday was given a classified briefing by NSA officials on the agency’s previously secret surveillance activities:

“What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today. . . . I can’t speak to what we learned in there, and I don’t know if there are other leaks, if there’s more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it’s the tip of the iceberg . . . . I think it’s just broader than most people even realize, and I think that’s, in one way, what astounded most of us, too.”

The Congresswoman is absolutely right: what we have reported thus far is merely “the tip of the iceberg” of what the NSA is doing in spying on Americans and the world. She’s also right that when it comes to NSA spying, “there is significantly more than what is out in the media today”, and that’s exactly what we’re working to rectify.

But just consider what she’s saying: as a member of Congress, she had no idea how invasive and vast the NSA’s surveillance activities are. Sen. Jon Tester, who is a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said the same thing, telling MSNBC about the disclosures that “I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever” and adding: “quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.”

How can anyone think that it’s remotely healthy in a democracy to have the NSA building a massive spying apparatus about which even members of Congress, including Senators on the Homeland Security Committee, are totally ignorant and find “astounding” when they learn of them? How can anyone claim with a straight face that there is robust oversight when even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are so constrained in their ability to act that they are reduced to issuing vague, impotent warnings to the public about what they call radical “secret law” enabling domestic spying that would “stun” Americans to learn about it, but are barred to disclose what it is they’re so alarmed by? Put another way, how can anyone contest the value and justifiability of the stories that we were able to publish as a result of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing: stories that informed the American public – including even the US Congress – about these incredibly consequential programs? What kind of person would think that it would be preferable to remain in the dark – totally ignorant – about them?

I have a column in the Guardian’s newspaper edition tomorrow examining the fallout from these stories. That will be posted here and I won’t repeat that now. I will, though, note the following brief items:

(1) Much of US politics, and most of the pundit reaction to the NSA stories, are summarized by this one single visual from Pew:

pewThe most vocal media critics of our NSA reporting, and the most vehement defenders of NSA surveillance, have been, by far, Democratic (especially Obama-loyal) pundits. As I’ve written many times, one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy has been the transformation of Democrats from pretend-opponents of the Bush War on Terror and National Security State into their biggest proponents: exactly what the CIA presciently and excitedly predicted in 2008 would happen with Obama’s election.

Some Democrats have tried to distinguish 2006 from 2013 by claiming that the former involved illegal spying while the latter does not. But the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme: the Obama DOJ hasrepeatedly thwarted efforts by the ACLU, EFF and others to obtain judicial rulings on their legality and constitutionality by invoking procedural claims of secrecy, immunity and standing. If Democrats are so sure these spying programs are legal, why has the Obama DOJ been so eager to block courts from adjudicating that question?

More to the point, Democratic critiques of Bush’s spying were about more than just legality. I know that because I actively participated in the campaign to amplify those critiques. Indeed, by 2006, most of Bush’s spying programs – definitely his bulk collection of phone records – were already being conducted under the supervision and with the blessing of the FISA court. Moreover, leading members of Congress – including Nancy Pelosi – were repeatedly briefed on all aspects of Bush’s NSA spying program. So the distinctions Democrats are seeking to draw are mostly illusory.

To see how that this is so, just listen to then-Senator Joe Biden in 2006 attack the NSA for collecting phone records: he does criticize the program for lacking FISA court supervision (which wasn’t actually true), but also claims to be alarmed by just how invasive and privacy-destroying that sort of bulk record collection is. He says he “doesn’t think” that the program passes the Fourth Amendment test: how can Bush’s bulk record collection program be unconstitutional while Obama’s program is constitutional? But Biden also rejected Bush’s defense (exactly the argument Obama is making now) – that “we’re not listening to the phone calls, we’re just looking for patterns” – by saying this:

I don’t have to listen to your phone calls to know what you’re doing. If I know every single phone call you made, I’m able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. . . . If it’s true that 200 million Americans’ phone calls were monitored – in terms of not listening to what they said, but to whom they spoke and who spoke to them – I don’t know, the Congress should investigative this.”

Is collecting everyone’s phone records not “very intrusive” when Democrats are doing it? Just listen to that short segment to see how every defense Obama defenders are making now were the ones Bush defenders made back then. Again, leading members of Congress and the FISA court were both briefed on and participants in the Bush telephone record collection program as well, yet Joe Biden and most Democrats found those programs very alarming and “very intrusive” back then.

(2) Notwithstanding the partisan-driven Democratic support for these programs, and notwithstanding the sustained demonization campaign aimed at Edward Snowden from official Washington, polling data, though mixed, has thus far been surprisingly encouraging.

A Time Magazine poll found that 54% of Americans believe Snowden did “a good thing”, while only 30% disagreed. That approval rating is higher than the one enjoyed by both Congress and President Obama. While a majority think he should be nonetheless prosecuted, a plurality of young Americans, who overwhelmingly view Snowden favorably, do not even want to see him charged. Reuters found that more Americans see Snowden as a “patriot” than a “traitor”. A Gallup poll this week found that more Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the two NSA spying programs revealed last week by the Guardian.

(3) Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Obama DOJ, writes in the Guardian that as a long-time NSA official, he saw all of the same things at the NSA that Edward Snowden is now warning Americans about. Drake calls Snowden’s acts “an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience.” William Binney, the mathematician who resigned after a 30-year career as a senior NSA official in protest of post-9/11 domestic surveillance, said on Democracy Now this weekthat Snowden’s claims about the NSA are absolutely true.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ellsberg, writing in the Guardian, wrote that “there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago.” He added: “Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity.”

Listen to actual experts and patriots – people who have spent their careers inside the NSA and/or who risked their liberty for the good of the country – and the truth of Snowden’s claims and the justifiability of his acts become manifest.

(4) As we were about to begin publishing these NSA stories, a veteran journalist friend warned me that the tactic used by Democratic partisans would be to cling to and then endlessly harp on any alleged inaccuracy in any one of the stories we publish as a means of distracting attention away from the revelations and discrediting the entire project. That proved quite prescient, as that is exactly what they are attempting to do.

Thus far we have revealed four independent programs: the bulk collection of telephone records, the Prism program, Obama’s implementation of an aggressive foreign and domestic cyber-operations policy, and false claims by NSA officials to Congress. Every one of those articles was vetted by multiple Guardian editors and journalists – not just me. Democratic partisans have raised questions about only one of the stories – the only one that happened to be also published by the Washington Post (and presumably vetted by multiple Post editors and journalists) – in order to claim that an alleged inaccuracy in it means our journalism in general is discredited.

They are wrong. Our story was not inaccurate. The Washington Post revised parts of its article, but its reporter, Bart Gellman, stands by its core claims(“From their workstations anywhere in the world, government employees cleared for Prism access may ‘task’ the system and receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company’s staff”).

The Guardian has not revised any of our articles and, to my knowledge, has no intention to do so. That’s because we did not claim that the NSA document alleging direct collection from the servers was true; we reported – accurately – that the NSA document claims that the program allows direct collection from the companies’ servers. Before publishing, we went to the internet companies named in the documents and asked about these claims. When they denied it, we purposely presented the story as one of a major discrepancy between what the NSA document claims and what the internet companies claim, as the headline itself makes indisputably clear:

prismThe NSA document says exactly what we reported. Just read it and judge for yourself (Prism is “collection directly from the servers of these US service providers”). It’s endearingly naive how some people seem to think that because government officials or corporate executives issue carefully crafted denials, this resolves the matter. Read the ACLU’s tech expert, Chris Soghoian, explain why the tech companies’ denials are far less significant and far more semantic than many are claiming.

Nor do these denials make any sense. If all the tech companies are doing under Prism is providing what they’ve always provided to the NSA, but simply doing it by a different technological means, then why would a new program be necessary at all? How can NSA officials claim that a program that does nothing more than change the means for how this data is delivered is vital in stopping terrorist threats? Why does the NSA document hail the program as one that enables new forms of collection? Why would it be “top secret” if all this was were just some new way of transmitting court-ordered data? How is Prism any different in any meaningful way from how the relationship between the companies and the NSA has always functioned?

As a follow-up to our article, the New York Times reported on extensive secret negotiations between Silicon Valley executives and NSA officials over government access to the companies’ data. It’s precisely because these arrangements are secret and murky yet incredibly significant that we published our story about these conflicting claims. They ought to be resolved in public, not in secret. The public should know exactly what access the NSA is trying to obtain to the data of these companies, and should know exactly what access these companies are providing. Self-serving, unchecked, lawyer-vetted denials by these companies don’t remotely resolve these questions.

In a Nation post yesterday, Rick Perlstein falsely accuses me of not having addressed the questions about the Prism story. I’ve done at least half-a-dozen television shows in the last week where I was asked about exactly those questions and answered fully with exactly what I’ve written here (see this appearance with Chris Hayes as just the latest example); the fact that Perlstein couldn’t be bothered to use Google doesn’t entitle him to falsely claim I haven’t addressed these questions. I have done so repeatedly, and do so here again.

I know that many Democrats want to cling to the belief that, in Perlstein’s words, “the powers that be will find it very easy to seize on this one error to discredit [my] NSA revelation, even the ones he nailed dead to rights”. Perlstein cleverly writes that “such distraction campaigns are how power does its dirtiest work” as he promotes exactly that campaign.

But that won’t happen. The documents and revelations are too powerful. The story isn’t me, or Edward Snowden, or the eagerness of Democratic partisans to defend the NSA as a means of defending President Obama, and try as they might, Democrats won’t succeed in making the story be any of those things. The story is the worldwide surveillance apparatus the NSA is constructing in the dark and the way that has grown under Obama, and that’s where my focus is going to remain.

(5) NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen examines complaints that my having strong, candidly acknowledged opinions on surveillance policies somehow means that the journalism I do on those issues is suspect. It is very worth reading what he has to say on this topic as it gets to the heart about several core myths about what journalism is.

(6) Last week, prior to the revelation of our source’s identity, I wrote that “ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message” and “that attempt will undoubtedly be made here.”

The predictable personality assaults on Snowden have begun in full force from official Washington and their media spokespeople. They are only going to intensify. There is nobody who political officials and their supine media class hate more than those who meaningfully dissent from their institutional orthodoxies and shine light on what they do. The hatred for such individuals is boundless.

There are two great columns on this dynamic. This one by Reuters’ Jack Shafer explores how elite Washington reveres powerful leakers that glorify political officials, but only hate marginalized and powerless leakers who discredit Washington and its institutions. And perhaps the best column yet on Snowden comes this morning from the Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers: just please take the time to read it all, as it really conveys the political and psychological rot that is driving the attacks on him and on his very carefully vetted disclosures.


The New York Times reports today that Yahoo went to court in order to vehemently resist the NSA’s directive that they join the Prism program, and joined only when the court compelled it to do so. The company specifically “argued that the order violated its users’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

If, as NSA (and Silicon Valley) defenders claim, Prism is nothing more than a harmless little drop-box mechanism for delivering to the government what these companies were already providing, why would Yahoo possibly be in court so vigorously resisting it and arguing that it violates their users’ Fourth Amendment rights? Similarly, how could it possibly be said – as US government officials have – that Prism has been instrumental in stopping terrorist plots if it did not enhance the NSA’s collection capabilities? The denials from the internet companies make little sense when compared to what we know about the program. At the very least, there is ample reason to demand more disclosure and transparency about exactly what this is and what data-access arrangements they have agreed to.


My column that is appearing in the Guardian newspaper, on the fallout from the NSA stories, is now posted here.


Underscoring all of these points, please take two minutes to watch this amazing video, courtesy of EFF, in which the 2006 version of Joe Biden aggressively debates the 2013 version of Barack Obama on whether the US government should be engaged in the bulk collection of American’s phone records:

That’s the kind of debate we need more of.


Propaganda Dummies1