Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks "Cablegate"

Over the weekend, WikiLeaks released the first installment of an archive of over 250,000 State Department "cables". The Obama Administration is condemning the dangerous and irresponsible action, while security establishment insiders are claiming there is "nothing new" in the cables.

The cable below, a fascinating example of the political treasure trove awaiting discovery at Cablegate, summarizes a January 4, 2010 meeting between General Petraeus and Yemeni President Saleh (see #10SANAA4).

The meeting discusses efforts to conceal American involvement in a Yemeni civil war while also pursuing "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP). For Western media consumption, this war has been packaged as simply the continued rooting out of AQAP.

But since 2009, American aircraft have bombed Shia rebel positions both in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia. In the cable, President Saleh "promises" (with a wink, it appears) to use the advanced American helicopters he has requested (in short supply to our own military) to combat only AQAP and not the local Yemeni rebels.

To Petraeus's proposal to use American aircraft, rather than "inaccurate" cruise missiles, in over-the-horizon attacks within Yemen, Saleh responds:
"We'll continue saying the
bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy
Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by
telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa
were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.
(President Obama also lied when he told the American people these strikes were against AQAP.)

Petraeus informs the President that he has requested "USD 150 million in security assistance for 2010", more than double the 2009 level, and requests that U.S. forces be permitted to operate on the ground in Yemen to help direct attacks, but Saleh dismisses this proposal.

And this rich discussion comes from just a single cable!

From the WikiLeaks website Q&A:
What are your motives for releasing these documents?

As US founding father James Madison famously said: "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." This basic philosophy of the American revolution inspires all our work.

The cables appear to be the single most significant historical archive every released and affects basic and heartfelt issues all over the world; geopolitics and democracy; human rights and the rule of law; national resources and global trade.

S E C R E T SANAA 000004



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2019

REF: 2009 SANAA 1430

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Commander of the U.S. Central Command
General David Petraeus congratulated President Saleh on
recent successful operations against AQAP, and informed him
that U.S. security assistance to the ROYG would increase to
USD 150 million in 2010, including USD 45 million to equip
and train a CT-focused aviation regiment under the Yemeni
Special Operations Forces. Saleh requested that the U.S.
provide 12 armed helicopters and train and equip three new
Republican Guard brigades. Saleh rejected the General's
proposal to have USG personnel armed with direct-feed
intelligence present inside the area of CT operations, but
agreed to a have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside
Yemeni territory ready to engage AQAP targets should
actionable intelligence become available. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (S/NF) CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus,
accompanied by the Ambassador, CENTCOM aides, the Embassy
DATT, and EconOff note taker, congratulated President Saleh
on successful operations against AQAP during a January 2
meeting. The General told Saleh that he had requested USD
150 million in security assistance for 2010, a substantial
increase over the 2009 amount of USD 67 million. Also
present were Minister of Defense MG Muhammed Nasser Ahmad Ali
and Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs
Rashad al-Alimi. Raising a topic that he would manage to
insert into almost every item of discussion during the hour
and half-long meeting, Saleh requested that the U.S. provide
the ROYG with 12 armed helicopters. Possessing such
helicopters would allow the ROYG to take the lead in future
CT operations, "ease" the use of fighter jets and cruise
missiles against terrorist targets, and allow Yemeni Special
Operations Forces to capture terrorist suspects and identify
victims following strikes, according to Saleh. The U.S.
could convince Saudi Arabia and the UAE to supply six
helicopters each if the American "bureaucracy" prevented
quick approval, Saleh suggested. The General responded that
he had already considered the ROYG's request for helicopters
and was in discussions with Saudi Arabia on the matter. "We
won't use the helicopters in Sa'ada, I promise. Only against
al-Qaeda," Saleh told General Petraeus.

¶3. (S/NF) Saleh agreed to General Patraeus' proposal to
dedicate USD 45 million of 2010 security assistance funds to
help establish and train a YSOF aviation regiment, allowing
YSOF to focus on al-Qaeda targets and leaving Sa'ada air
operations to the Yemeni Air Force. Without giving much
detail, Saleh also requested that the U.S. equip and train
three new Republican Guard brigades, totaling 9,000 soldiers.
"Equipping these brigades would reflect upon our true
partnership," Saleh said. The General urged Saleh to focus
first on the YSOF aviation regiment.


¶4. (S/NF) Saleh praised the December 17 and 24 strikes
against AQAP but said that "mistakes were made" in the
killing of civilians in Abyan. The General responded that
the only civilians killed were the wife and two children of
an AQAP operative at the site, prompting Saleh to plunge into
a lengthy and confusing aside with Deputy Prime Minister
Alimi and Minister of Defense Ali regarding the number of
terrorists versus civilians killed in the strike. (Comment:
Saleh's conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he
has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike in
Abyan, a site that the ROYG has been unable to access to
determine with any certainty the level of collateral damage.
End Comment.) AQAP leader Nassr al-Wahishi and extremist
cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may still be alive, Saleh said, but
the December strikes had already caused al-Qaeda operatives
to turn themselves in to authorities and residents in
affected areas to deny refuge to al-Qaeda. Saleh raised the
issue of the Saudi Government and Jawf governorate tribal
sheikh Amin al-Okimi, a subject that is being reported
through other channels.


¶5. (S/NF) President Obama has approved providing U.S.
intelligence in support of ROYG ground operations against
AQAP targets, General Petraeus informed Saleh. Saleh reacted
coolly, however, to the General's proposal to place USG
personnel inside the area of operations armed with real-time,
direct feed intelligence from U.S. ISR platforms overhead.
"You cannot enter the operations area and you must stay in
the joint operations center," Saleh responded. Any U.S.
casualties in strikes against AQAP would harm future efforts,
Saleh asserted. Saleh did not have any objection, however,
to General Petraeus' proposal to move away from the use of
cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed-wing bombers
circle outside Yemeni territory, "out of sight," and engage
AQAP targets when actionable intelligence became available.
Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are "not very
accurate" and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed
precision-guided bombs instead. "We'll continue saying the
bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy
Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by
telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa
were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.


¶6. (S/NF) General Petraeus praised cooperation between the
Embassy and the NSB, YSOF, Yemeni Coast Guard (YCG), and
Counterterrorism Unit (CTU), but singled out relations with
the Yemeni Air Force as problematic. Only four out of 50
planned U.S. Special Operations Forces Command training
missions with the Yemeni Air Force had actually been executed
in the past year, he said. Saleh said he would personally
instruct Minister of Defense to improve the situation. The
General also urged Saleh to stop Yemeni Customs' habit of
holding up Embassy cargo at the airport, including shipments
destined for the ROYG itself, such as equipment for the CTU.
Saleh laughed and made a vague pledge to have the customs
issue "taken care of." Saleh complained that the ROYG had
not yet received the necessary training to operate 17 Iraqi
Light Armored Vehicle (ILAVs) provided by the USG in 2008,
saying that YSOF needed the training in order to use the
ILAVs for CT operations. The General said he would look into
having U.S. Special Operations Forces personnel conduct the

¶7. (S/NF) Pointing to the ROYG's problems in combating
rampant drug and arms smuggling, Saleh told General Petraeus
that U.S. maritime security assistance was insufficient to
cover Yemen's nearly 2,000 km of coastline. "Why not have
Italy, Germany, Holland, Japan, Saudi, and the UAE each
provide two patrol boats?" Saleh suggested. The General told
Saleh that two fully-equipped 87-foot patrol boats destined
for the Yemeni Coast Guard were under construction and would
arrive in Yemen within a year. Saleh singled out smuggling
from Djibouti as particularly troublesome, claiming that the
ROYG had recently intercepted four containers of
Djibouti-origin TNT. "Tell (Djiboutian President) Ismail
Guelleh that I don't care if he smuggles whiskey into Yemen
-- provided it's good whiskey ) but not drugs or weapons,"
Saleh joked. Saleh said that smugglers of all stripes are
bribing both Saudi and Yemeni border officials.


¶8. (S/NF) Saleh told the General that he welcomed PM Gordon
Brown's announcement of the London conference and said that
the cooperation on Yemen between the U.S., EU, Saudi Arabia,
and the UAE would be benefitial. Qatar should not be
involved, however, because "they work with Iran." In this
regard, Saleh also identified Qatar as one of those nations
working "against Yemen," along with Iran, Libya, and Eritrea.

¶9. (U) General Petraeus did not have an opportunity to clear
on this cable.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ralph Nader: Ten Questions for Tea Partiers

Published October 22, 2010 on

Here are ten questions for Tea Partiers that they want or do not want to answer. I say it this way because people who call themselves Tea Partiers do not have the same view of politics, government, Big Business or the Constitution. Their opinions range from pure Libertarian to actively furthering the privileges of plutocracy. Their income and occupational background vary as well, though most seem to be middle-income and up.

My guess is that most Tea Partiers come from the conservative wing of the Republican Party who are fed up with both the corporate Republicans like Bush and Cheney, as well as the Democrats like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

With the above in mind, the following questions can serve to go beyond abstractions and generalizations of indignation and get to some more specific responses.

1. Can you be against Big Government and not press for reductions in the vast military budgets, fraught with bureaucratic and large contractors’ waste, fraud and abuse? Military spending now takes up half of the federal government’s operating budgets. The libertarian Cato Institute believes that to cut deficits, we have to also cut the defense budget.

2. Can you believe in the free market and not condemn hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare-bailouts, subsidies, handouts, and giveaways?

3. Can you want to preserve the legitimate sovereignty of our country and not reject the trade agreements known as NAFTA and GATT (The World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland) that scholars have described as the greatest surrender of local, state and national sovereignty in our history?

4. Can you be for law and order and not support a bigger and faster crackdown on the corporate crime wave, that needs more prosecutors and larger enforcement budgets to stop the stealing of taxpayers and consumer dollars so widely reported in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week? Law enforcement officials estimate that for every dollar for prosecution, seventeen to twenty dollars are returned.

5. Can you be against invasions of privacy by government and business without rejecting the provisions of the Patriot Act that leave you defenseless to constant unlawful snooping, appropriation of personal information and even search of your home without notification until 72 hours later?

6. Can you be against regulation of serious medical malpractice (over 100,000 lives lost a year, according to a study by Harvard physicians), unsafe drugs that have serious side effects or cause the very injury/illness they were sold to prevent, motor vehicles with defective brakes, tires and throttles, contaminated food from China, Mexico and domestic processors?

7. Can you keep calling for Freedom and yet tolerate control of your credit and other economic rights by hidden and arbitrary credit ratings and credit scores? What Freedom do you have when you have to sign industry-wide fine print one-sided “contracts” with your banks, insurance companies, car dealers, and credit card companies? Many of these contracts even block your Constitutional access to the courthouse.

8. Can you be for a new, clean system of politics and elections and still accept the Republican and Democratic Two Party dictatorship that is propped up by complex state laws, frivolous litigation and harassment to exclude from the ballot third parties and independent candidates who want reform, accountability, and stronger voices for the voters?

9. If you want a return to our Constitution—its principles of limited and separation of power and its emphasis on “We the People” in its preamble—can you still support Washington’s wars that have not been declared by Congress (Article I Section 8) or giving corporations equal rights with humans plus special privileges and immunities. The word “corporation” or “company” never appears in the Constitution. How can you support eminent domain powers given by governments to corporations over homeowners, or massive week-end bailouts by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department of businesses, even reckless foreign banks, without receiving the authority and the appropriations from the Congress, as the Constitution requires?

10. You want less taxation and lower deficits. How can you succeed unless you stop big corporations from escaping their fair share of taxes by manipulating foreign jurisdictions against our tax laws, for example, or by letting trillions of dollars of speculation on Wall Street go without any sales tax, while you pay six, seven or eight percent sales tax on the necessities you buy in stores?

Let’s hear from you Tea Partiers. Meanwhile, see the work of video-journalist, Steve Ference, who has interviewed and given voice to those among you in his new paperback “Voices of the Tea Party” published by on July 4, 2010.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bill Moyers: "Welcome to the Plutocracy!"

Published by truthout, Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bill Moyers speech at Boston University on October 29, 2010, as a part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series.

I was honored when you asked me to join in celebrating Howard Zinn’s life and legacy. I was also surprised. I am a journalist, not a historian. The difference between a journalist and an historian is that the historian knows the difference. George Bernard Shaw once complained that journalists are seemingly unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. In fact, some epic history can start out as a minor incident. A young man named Paris ran off with a beautiful woman who was married to someone else, and the civilization of Troy began to unwind. A middle-aged black seamstress, riding in a Montgomery bus, had tired feet, and an ugly social order began to collapse. A night guard at an office complex in Washington D.C. found masking tape on a doorjamb, and the presidency of Richard Nixon began to unwind. What journalist, writing on deadline, could have imagined the walloping kick that Rosa Park’s tired feet would give to Jim Crow? What pundit could have fantasized that a third-rate burglary on a dark night could change the course of politics? The historian’s work is to help us disentangle the wreck of the Schwinn from cataclysm. Howard famously helped us see how big change can start with small acts.

We honor his memory. We honor him, for Howard championed grassroots social change and famously chronicled its story as played out over the course of our nation’s history. More, those stirring sagas have inspired and continue to inspire countless people to go out and make a difference. The last time we met, I told him that the stories in A People’s History of the United States remind me of the fellow who turned the corner just as a big fight broke out down the block. Rushing up to an onlooker he shouted, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?” For Howard, democracy was one big public fight and everyone should plunge into it. That’s the only way, he said, for everyday folks to get justice – by fighting for it.

I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her first published poems that had touched his own life:

It is true
I’ve always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)

That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself.

One month before his death he finished his last book, The Bomb. Once again he was wrestling with his experience as a B-17 bombardier during World War II, especially his last mission in 1945 on a raid to take out German garrisons in the French town of Royan. For the first time the Eighth Air Force used napalm, which burst into liquid fire on the ground, killing hundreds of civilians. He wrote, “I remember distinctly seeing the bombs explode in the town, flaring like matches struck in the fog. I was completely unaware of the human chaos below.” Twenty years later he returned to Royan to study the effects of the raid and concluded there had been no military necessity for the bombing; everyone knew the war was almost over (it ended three weeks later) and this attack did nothing to affect the outcome. His grief over having been a cog in a deadly machine no doubt confirmed his belief in small acts of rebellion, which mean, as Howard writes in the final words of the book, “acting on what we feel and think, here, now, for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and obedience.”