Archive for category covert drone war

How an Inventive, Imperialist (Evil) System Uses Drones

Thanks to Medea Benjamin, Code Pink, Reprieve, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the attention and energy of 400 who gathered this past Saturday at Georgetown Law School, we were able to consider Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation & Resistance.  It was a very worthwhile weekend which will impact how people act on and respond to U.S. use of drones.

Most movingly, we heard from three people who traveled from Yemen to speak of U.S. drone strikes. Kevin Gosztola on Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s calm, deliberate description of the attack that killed his brother and nephew, just after his own son’s wedding:

Five men were gathering behind a local mosque in their village of Khashamir in southeast Yemen when a US drone launched Hellfire missiles at them. Four of the men were instantly killed, their bodies blown into pieces. The fifth man was killed as he tried to crawl away.

The attack took place on August 29, 2012. Yemen’s Defense Ministry initially claimed that three members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had been killed. Two of the individuals killed, according to a Human Rights Watch report, turned out to be Salim bin Ali Jaber, “a cleric and father of seven,” who “had long preached against AQAP’s violent methods.” Another man killed was Walid bin Ali Jaber, “one of the village’s few police officers.” They had been participating in a meeting because “three alleged AQAP members” wanted to meet with him about a recent “strong denunciation of AQAP at the local mosque.”

Marjorie Cohn, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, presented on the claim that the U.S. drone programs violate international law.  She recounts in Voices from the Drone Summit:

Baraa Shaiban, a human rights activist who works with REPRIEVE, revealed that 2012 was a year that saw “drones like never before” in Yemen. He described the death of a mother and daughter from a drone strike. “The daughter was holding the mother so tight, they could not be separated. They had to be buried together.”

Two members of Al Qaeda were in Entesar al Qadhi’s village, one of the most oil rich areas of Yemen. Villagers were negotiating with the two men. A drone killed the chief negotiator, scuttling the negotiations and leaving the village vulnerable to Al Qaeda. “The drones are for Al Qaeda, not against Al Qaeda,” al Qadhi said.

Former military intelligence Analyst Daniel Hale told us that he was 14 on 9/11/01.  When he reported to work in 2012, he passed constant photos of 9/11, aimed at directing his “mission” to kill terrorists.  He related an incident in 2012 where the military’s qualification for a drone strike was whether the target was “of military age.”  “This struck me as ridiculous” he said, that children were considered targets.  My tweeted note: “Hale had thought he was defending US interests, told terrorists were cowards, but began to think US military shooting drones are cowards.”

Pardiss Kebriaei and Mary Ellen O’Connell joined Cohn in speaking about the legal challenge to drone strikes, exposing the Obama/Bush administration’s legal justification as very basically counter to the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter (which themselves are effectively U.S. law).

Very interesting to me was a presentation by Dalit Baum (@dalitbaum) on the use of autonomous weapons by Israel.  Baum described unmanned bulldozers knocking down homes.  Why? The Israeli military needed to remove human operators because 1) they might talk afterward, and 2) they might lose their nerve.  Baum also showed a chilling video clip of a drone killing of several Bedouin youth near the Wall in Gaza by Israeli drones.  We learned that the major drone producing countries are the U.S., the U.K., and Israel, with Israel producing 41% of the world’s drones.

There’s more.  We worked hard on Sunday on how to spread opposition to drones way beyond the existing too tiny movement.  Monday night, The Illuminator and Granny Peace Brigade lit up midtown:

November 18, 2013: Midtown message against US drone war: Did You Make a Killing Tonight?  Drones Kill

November 18, 2013: Midtown message against US drone war: Did You Make a Killing Tonight? Drones Kill

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The Dirtiness of U.S. Drone War

Almost 5 years after the spike in U.S. use of targeted killing of people via drone by the Obama administration (thousands have been killed), the United Nations, or rather its special rapporteur Ben Emmerson, has released a report saying these drone strikes by the United States have killed civilians by the hundreds, or more, and should be carried out in accordance with international law.

Anyone wanting a ringing condemnation of how utterly wrong it is for the United States to use killer robots flown from 8,000 miles away, attacking people on the basis of suspected patterns of behavior (a “signature” drone strike) and on the President’s order will read this and be outraged.  The personal stories of family members obliterated in seconds, with only parts to be buried, shock the conscience, as war crimes do.  But let’s speak the truth and call them war crimes, not just cry for “accountability.”

Joining the United Nations in criticizing U.S. drone strikes – to a point – are Amnesty International “Will I Be Next?” and Human Rights Watch, “Between a Drone and al Qaeda“  each of whom issued their own reports this week.  These reports come out just ahead of a debate at the U.N. Friday October 25 on the use of drones, and of the visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif, who told Obama today to end the drone strikes in Pakistan, while no doubt also appealing to him for more military aid.

Kevin Gosztola describes the Amnesty report in Drone Victims Recount Horror of Follow-Up Strikes Launched Against People Rescuing Wounded.  Actual reporting and documentary footage  are beginning to show us the victims.  See Madiha Tahir’s Woulds of Waziristan and Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films Living Under Drones.

I agree with David Swanson, who wrote today in A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized:

Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal.  The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself.  Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.

There is more compelling evidence of the dirtiness of drone war from Brandon Bryant, the former U.S. Air Force drone pilot who quit in 2011 after almost six years on teams carrying out targeted killing and surveillance in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly from drone control consoles at U.S. bases.  He was told that during his 6,000 hours of flight time, 1,626 targets were killed, which made him “sick to his stomach.”  In an interviewed published today in GQ magazine by Matthew Power, Confessions of a Drone Warrior:

In the early months Bryant had found himself swept up by the Big Game excitement when someone in his squadron made “mind-blowingly awesome shots, situations where these guys were bad guys and needed to be taken out.” But a deep ambivalence about his work crept in. Often he’d think about what life must be like in those towns and villages his Predators glided over, like buzzards riding updrafts. How would he feel, living beneath the shadow of robotic surveillance? “Horrible,” he says now.

CNN reports that:

Bryant says that during his time monitoring drones’ cameras and aiming its laser targeting system, he became numb and carried out the job in “zombie mode.”  When he left the Air Force in the spring of 2011 — after nearly six years — he says he turned down a $109,000 bonus to continue operating the drones.

Some children wounded by drone strikes will be in Congress Tuesday October 29 telling their stories, although Shazad Akbar, their attorney, has not been given a visa to come.  We shall see what happens with that testimony, which I hope reaches the people living here, as it will be lost on those in this Congress, Democrat and Republican, who revel in their dirty wars.

I heard David Swanson speak Wednesday in NYC, where he said

The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people.  And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do — such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people.  When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.

Murder carried out by a murderous system.

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Obama Adopting Targeted Killing AND Interrogation on U.S. Naval Ships?

What’s coming out of the Obama administration on its intentions re targeted killing v indefinite detention of suspects is getting more complicated.  Obama, in a stirring defense of empire disguised as something else, told the world two weeks ago at the United Nations

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

Obama’s May 23 speech, the one he was forced to delay because of the Guantanamo prison hunger strike, Obama set out broader parameters for those who could be targeted — as he argued, legally — for killing.  Obama defended broad executive authority to kill targets, perhaps even more widely than he has previously. His speech amounted to an argument for, and announcement of a permanent infrastructure for assassination. As the McClatchy newspaper put it,

“In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.

“But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from ‘those who want to kill us’ and ‘terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat’ to ‘all potential terrorist targets.’”

Saturday U.S. forces grabbed one of the FBI’s most-wanted suspects in Libya, abu Anas al-Libi.  The Libyan government, which the U.S. installed through its 2011 “humanitarian intervention” may or may not have been involved, but is now raising protests that the rights of tge prisoner are not being respected, because he’s being interrogated on a U.S. ship away from the reach of Libyan, or international, law.

The Associated Press asks, Did Obama swap ‘black’ detention sites for ships? saying, “Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end.”  Further

“It appears to be an attempt to use assertion of law of war powers to avoid constraint and safeguards in the criminal justice system,” said Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of the civil rights organization’s national security project. “I am very troubled if this is the pattern that the administration is setting for itself.”

John Bellinger in Lawfare notes

Because Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war “may be interned only in premises located on land,” Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.

Whatever the mix of targeted killing, indefinite detention, or rendition-like interrogations in international waters, the course set by the Obama administration of using “all elements of our power” remains one running counter to international law and due judicial process.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the New York Public Defender’s Office is demanded that, after 3 days, al-Libi, who has already been indicted on charges, get counsel and be brought immediately before a judge, as the law provides.  But,

The first round of interrogations, expected to last several weeks according to US newspapers, will be to extract intelligence. Only after that will he be offered a lawyer and questioned in connection with the case for which he has already been charged.

The process here, of targeted killing, indefinite detention, now mixed with a variant of rendition where the subject is hidden from the legal system while the FBI has a go — is no better, but perhaps more sophisticated, than what the Bush regime practiced.

Note: on October 14, BBC reports that al-Libi is in New York City, to be formally charged in federal court.

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The United Nations… of Drones?

This week World Can’t Wait joins kNOwdrones.com and Granny Peace Brigade in ambitious outreach across Manhattan to protest U.S. drones for warfare & surveillance.  We have 3 replica drones and volunteers of all ages.  We talk about how drones are used in targeted killing.  Each lunch hour we’re in key parts of the city, talking to people about why secret, dirty, wars employing horrific technology should be opposed.  The campaign, which is being launched while the U.N. General Assembly meets here in NYC, includes a demand for a world ban on weaponized and surveillance drones.

Protesting drone war at the UN

Protesting drone war and surveillance at the U.N. this week

The outrageous use of drones by the U.S. is in news this week, as the U.N. meets:

Baraa Shiban, an investigator for Reprieve who was returning from Yemen to the U.K. was detained at the airport under the infamous British Anti-Terrorism Act, questioned by an un-named suited interrogator.  He recounts in The Guardian

“So,” he asked, “does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?”

I replied, “My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country.”

“Exactly!” He said. “Why doesn’t your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?”

What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country – waged by the US, apparently with covert support from the UK and others. The drone war in my homeland has claimed innocent lives and terrorised civilians. It operates wholly outside the law, and serves only to fuel anti-western sentiment.

These are considered views. I formed them in conversations with dozens of witnesses, victims, and officials across Yemen. I was not about to apologise for them to this interrogator.

Glenn Greenwald tied this to NSA documents UK detention of Reprieve activist consistent with NSA’s view of drone opponents as ‘threats’ and ‘adversaries’

Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.

Excerpts of those documents, straight from the horses’ mouths, are published by The Guardian.  My friend John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter, nailed the role of ruling-class media in fostering the actual government propaganda campaign against drone critics by the un-named government sources in Why is the New York Times enabling a U.S. government smear campaign against reporters exposing the drone wars?

There is great concern that U.S. pressure will affect the report coming on October 25 from Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism.  Substantial evidence has been presented to Emmerson that this secret program is extensive and dangerous to Yemenis. From Alkarama, the Swiss human rights organization: “Drones War in Yemen”: Report presented to UN experts:

From the first air strike in November 2002 until the month of May 2013, there have been between 134 and 226 U.S. military operations in Yemen, including strikes by aircraft, drone missiles, or attacks launched from warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden. The number of deaths due to these targeted killings is estimated at 1150.

…not only is the definition of ‘terrorist’ or ‘combatant’ problematic but these high-profile targets in fact only represent 2% of the individuals who have died because of these ‘targeted’ air strikes.

In more repression of those working to expose the drones, Shazad Akbar, a Pakistani attorney who works with Reprieve to expose the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, and seeks reparations for its victims, has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. to testify at a hearing convened by U.S. Representative Alan Grayson about drone killings.  In Obama administration blocks drone victims’ lawyer from testifying in congress, Akbar says:

Failing to grant me a visa silences the 156 civilian drone strike victims and families that I represent. These families, who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice. They have powerful stories to tell in their own voices, but will not travel without me, their legal representative.”

Robert Greenwald just produced a short film which focuses on one of the families Akbar represents, and who would come along to the U.S. to testify in Congress if the visa is granted to him.

Greenwald says you can help get Mr. Akbar into the country (as our protests did in 2012):

  1. Call the State dept. directly at 202-647-4000
  2. Follow up with an email demanding the State Dept. issue a visa for Shahzad

Importantly, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has a huge new project: “Naming the Dead” — those killed by CIA drones in Pakistan. The project (thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead) will list the known names of those reported killed by drones together with as much biographical information as can be gathered.

No one who pays any attention to world news can say they don’t know, now, about the US secret drone war of targeted killing.  Our mission is to ignite outrage among people in whose name this illegitimate, unjust, immoral enterprise is conducted.

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For immediate release

21 August 2013

worldcantwait.net

Contact: Debra Sweet 718 809 3803

 Support Rallies in Response to 35 year Sentence for Whistle-Blower Bradley Manning

World Can’t Wait said today:

“On behalf of the millions affected by the illegitimate, unjust, immoral wars and torture carried by the Bush regime, and continued by the Obama administration, we are outraged at the 35 year prison sentence just put on Bradley Manning. In light of the complete refusal of the Obama administration to investigate or prosecute those responsible for torture, rendition and secret “dirty” wars, Manning’s sentence is an indication that people who expose such crimes must fear losing their lives, while those who conceive, legally justify and carry them out them receive immunity. We remain committed to supporting whistle-blowers Manning, Edward Snowden, and the work of Wikileaks and other journalists who courageously expose war crimes and injustice.”

For comments from Bradley Manning’s supporters on the 35 year sentence just announced in his court martial at Ft. Meade, see this list of events. Facebook event

Fort Meade: Press Conference with Manning attorney David Coombs 1:30 pm Location TBA see bradleymanning.org

Boston: 5pm MBTA Park Street Station Facebook Boston

Chicago: 6pm “The Bean” in Millennium Park Facebook Chicago

Crescent City, OK (Bradley’s home town) 8pm Central at Town Hall, 205 North Grand Facebook Event

Denver 7pm P&L Press 2727 West 27th Facebook Denver

Ft. Lauderdale: 7:30pm 299 E Broward Blvd. Facebook Event

Las Vegas: 5pm Federal Building 300 Las Vegas Blvd Event

Los Angeles: 5pm Downtown LA US District Court: 312 N Spring Facebook LA

Minneapolis: 4:30pm Federal Courthouse 300 S 4th St Facebook Minneapolis

Milwaukee: 6pm Milwaukee City Hall 200 E Wells Street Facebook Milwaukee

New York City: 5pm (47th & Broadway) Red Steps at Times Square, south of the TKTS Booth Facebook NYC

San Francisco: 5pm Bradley Manning Plaza (aka Ferry Plaza), at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. Facebook SF

Seattle: 5pm Westlake Plaza 4th & Pine Facebook Seattle

Tallahassee 5pm United States Courthouse Facebook Tallahassee

Washington, DC: Rally 7:30pm White House Facebook DC March at 8:30 pm

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Droning from the Highest Office

Stop the Drones

National Days of Action to Stop Drone War in April. Click for more info.

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to send the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director to the full Senate, as we knew they would.  After sparring with the Obama administration over how much information the Committee would be given on the U.S. drone program, they got some, though the public did not.

What the public got was a statement by Attorney General Holder, in response to an inquiry from Senator Paul of Kentucky which says that in an “entirely hypothetical” situation, the president could authorize the military to use lethal force within the U.S., presumably by drone.  The Huffington Post reported that:

The Obama administration, Holder said, rejected the use of military force where “well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.” But in theory, it’d be legal for the president to order such an attack under certain circumstances, Holder said.

Brennan answered Paul’s inquiry with a statement that the CIA, unequivocally, “does not conduct lethal operations within the United States, nor does it have any authority to do so.”  Adam Serwer, in Mother Jones, reported:

Holder’s answer was more detailed, however, stating that under certain circumstances, the president would have the authority to order lethal attacks on American citizens. The two possible examples of such “extraordinary” circumstances were the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Which leaves the U.S. military, which specifically is now authorized to operate in the United States via the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012.

See Kevin Gostzola: Attorney General Eric Holder: US Government Has Authority to Target & Kill US Citizens on US Soil.

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Suddenly Targeted Killing by Drones is Controversial

Sunday evening I was part of a conversation with participants from many groups (including but not limited to Code Pink, KnowDrones.com, National Coalition of Nonviolent Resistance, NoDronesNetwork, UNAC, Upstate Coalition to End Wars & Ground the Drones, Veterans for Peace, World Can’t Wait) and individuals working on opposing drones from around the country.

The inspiration for the call was the increased attention – and protest against – the U.S. drone war and targeted killing, brought on by the release of the White Paper just before the Brennan hearings, and the successful protest by Code Pink at the hearings, causing it to be closed to the public.  Broadcasts on PBS Nova and Bill Moyers, a cover story in TIME, and thousands of news stories about the Obama administrations’ justification of targeted killing, expansion of executive power, and secrecy on the program have brought the question to light.

Tom Tomorrow: Constitutional Law 101 with Professor Droney.

One of the best cartoons was by Tom Tomorrow: Constitutional Law 101 with Professor Droney.

Editorial cartoons in the LA Times and New York Times lampooned Obama as a drone warrior, NPR featured a debate, Forbes ran a piece by James Zogby, and the NY Times ran front page analysis on how Obama is treading a similar path to Bush, including this: “By emphasizing drone strikes, Mr. Obama need not bother with the tricky issues of detention and interrogation because terrorists tracked down on his watch are generally incinerated from the sky, not captured and questioned.”

On the call, much appreciation was expressed for the eight people who disrupted the Brennan hearing February 7, including Ann Wright.  They were arrested and have a court appearance in March for disrupting Congress.  Code Pink is following up with lobbying efforts, after visiting the offices of Senators Feinstein and Chambliss from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which continues secret hearings this week on Brennan.

David Swanson reported that after the resolution against drones passed by Charlottesville VA City Council, he’s hearing from other cities preparing resolutions against drones.  Nick Mottern of KnowDrones.com reported that more than a dozen locations have replica drones, and more on order, prompting him to raise funds to buy a mold so that they can be produced more easily and quickly.  Joe Scarry reported on a series of regional conference calls planning actions at NoDronesNetwork.  Seattle is sending its two surveillance drones back to the manufacturer, an action which may have prompted Portland, OR, to cancel plans to acquire drones.

Actions in April as part of the month of coordinated protest at manufacturers, research institutions, and bases are being planned in Chicago, New York City, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston, the Pacific Northwest, San Diego, Wisconsin, and monthly protests at the CIA may extend to week-days.  Find more here and get involved.

Please communicate with Nick Mottern via nickmottern@earthlink.net with follow up comments.

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NY Times Public Editor on its Drone Coverage

Even handed as the public editor almost always is, this piece by the new Public Editor at The Times comes down on the side of more rigorous investigation of the drone war, while also tending to question its legitimacy.  She, and several of the comments, raise the point that if there were a Republican president leading this, there might be more press scrutiny.

The protests we all have been raising now for years are a part of creating this potential crisis of legitimacy in what the government is doing, no matter who wins the election.  We need to step it up, and contribute to a creating a situation where it can’t be continued without greater consequences in losing public support.

Worth reading the comments!

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Protesters Out In Full At U.N. General Assembly

Listen to the story

Protesters Out In Full At U.N. General Assembly (on NPR September 25, 2012):

The annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City is also an annual meeting for protestors. The “protest pens” were full on Tuesday, and the protestors brought a long list of grievances…

ALCORN: These two anti-Chinese government protests have the largest presence here, something in the low hundreds, but there are others. A coalition of anti-war groups have brought a replica of a drone, complete with hellfire missiles the size of baseball bats. It’s on a stand about 50 feet behind Deborah Sweet, by order of the police.

DEBORAH SWEET: This president has the kill list and sends drones to kill actual people, but we can’t bring a paper and fiberglass replica across from the U.N. to protest the use of drones.

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The New York Times & More Weapons of Mass Destruction

Dear Reader of The New York Times,

If you’re been worrying, even slightly, about how people at the receiving end of the U.S. drone war — wait, excuse me, the “remotely piloted vehicle” war — it seems yesterday The Times must have made you feel better.

As we are told in Elizabeth Bumiller’s front page article, A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away, we really should be concerned more about its effect on the pilots of the drones such as a colonel who acknowledges the “peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.”

More chaplains and shrinks are being ordered up to bases where the pilots operate.  A recent study revealed increased stress on the pilots.  An Air Force doctor explains that watching targets for weeks at a time in domestic situations can mean it feels strange to shoot up a home.  “At some point, some of the stuff might remind you of stuff you did yourself. You might gain a level of familiarity that makes it a little difficult to pull the trigger.”

Bumiller’s point, or shall we just say, the point of The New York Times, is directed right at you, and your humanitarian objections to targeted killing and murder from a distance: “Stop worrying about the people at the other end of the war.”

And don’t worry about the U.S. military pilots either.  Despite a job doing 12 hours shifts 18″ from a screen where they watch families going about daily life one moment, and obliterated the next, they’re OK.  Bumiller quotes the colonel:

“I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

Peter Hart, on FAIR’s blog today reminds us that Elisabeth Bumiller is:

“perhaps best known for a testy C-SPAN appearance where she explained that New York Times reporters ‘can’t just say the president is lying.’”

It was only two weeks ago that The New York Times published  The Moral Case for Drones by Scott Shane, who has done some accurate and critical reporting of the U.S. global “war on terror.”  But that was then, in the Bush years.  Now he quoted only one academic political scientist who raised objections to killing targets instead of capturing them.  His drone cheerleader sources were a former C.I.A. official, and a military professor.

And the voices of the people targeted are so not there, almost ever, in the main newspaper of record in the richest country ever, with the biggest military in history.

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