On October 7th, Bloomberg reported that ISIS is spreading to Kobani, a crucial Syrian city bordering Turkey. Kobani’s fall to ISIS would means that the terrorist group has secured over 100 kilometers of land connecting Syria and Turkey. US officials are downplaying the significance of the current battle, but the militaristic importance is clear: ISIS is spreading, and there’s little the United States can do to stop it.

It’s been said time and again that the ongoing crisis with ISIS is similar to the United States’ conflict with al Qaeda. Like last time, we’re faced with a stateless, fundamentalist terrorist group that has grappled the media’s attention because of the needless killings they have committed. Amazingly, while polls suggest that Americans are uncomfortable with boots on the ground in affected countries, they are still overwhelmingly rallying around policies that have been demonstrably ineffective over the past thirteen years. Unfortunately, the media is right. The problems with ISIS directly mirror Iraq and Afghanistan, but policy makers should have learned from our undefined goals, intelligence gaffes, and misuse of the military before confronting another non-state actor.

Ultimately, the United States is treating ISIS like a country instead of an idea taking hold of people across territories around the globe. This disconnect between the US’s strategy and the reality of the battle its fighting will lead, and has led, to the ultimate failure of America’s military objectives in the Middle East.


Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept delivered this talk at the TEDGlobal 2014 conference in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday.

There’s more of a mystery to how three Guantanamo detainees died on June 10, 2006, than I realized when I described their deaths as suicides in a
recent article
about force-feeding methods at the notorious U.S. prison. Some very experienced investigators who have examined the evidence suspect the three were victims of homicides amid the torture regime employed by President George W. Bush’s underlings.

Scott Horton, whose upcoming book Lords of Secrecy contains new insights into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Tenet go-ahead on torture and other abuses, has supplied me with additional detail highly suggestive of foul play by CIA interrogators.

Horton noted that the three prisoners were scheduled to be released and repatriated and that key details about the U.S. government’s suicide claims have been disproved. For instance, the first reports said the inmates had hanged themselves with linens in their jail cells, but medical records, which the government sought to suppress, indicate otherwise.

The records “reveal that the three died not from strangulation (as would be the case in a hanging) but from asphyxiation resulting from having cloth stuffed down their throats – precisely the same kind of cloth, it turns out, that was used by a similar interrogation team around the same time at the Charleston Brig, and which has been labeled by a University of California study as ‘dryboarding,’” Horton wrote in an email.


Inspire is an English language online magazine published since 2010 by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I just read the latest issue so you won’t get arrested doing so.

Aimed primarily at radicalizing youth audiences in the U.S. and Britain, the mag appears semi-regularly (twelve issues so far) online only, as a PDF, and is entirely in English. Graphically well-done, the editorial parts of the magazine shift among sometimes bad-English reporting, religious and jihadi-inspirational pieces, and bomb making instructions.

Yeah, bomb making instructions. That’s the part that sort of is controversial, the clear, step-by-step photo-illustrated instructions for making your own explosives using common materials, plus the encouragement to use them in crowded places.

Inspire and al-Awlaki

The magazine was once thought to be the work of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who once preached at a Northern Virginia mosque and lunched at the Pentagon, gone-bad.


vietnam my-lai-page-a1---half-page-15ec9996b53962ae

Some folks responded to my recent article on Sheridan’s 1864 atrocities in the Shenandoah Valley by denying that there was any systemic effort to downplay or bury U.S. military atrocities.  The New York Times reports today that the Pentagon’s effort to whitewash the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary events are sparking controversy:

The website’s “interactive timeline” omits the Fulbright hearings in the Senate, where in 1971 a disaffected young Vietnam veteran named John Kerry — now President Obama’s secretary of state — asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” In one early iteration, the website referred to the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, as the My Lai Incident.

The glossy view of history has now prompted more than 500 scholars, veterans and activists — including the civil rights leader Julian Bond; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers; Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan; … in demanding the ability to correct the Pentagon’s version of history and a place for the old antiwar activists in the anniversary events.

This week, in a move that has drawn the battle lines all over again, the group sent a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, the retired Vietnam veteran who is overseeing the commemoration, to ask that the effort not be a “one-sided” look at a war that tore a generation apart.

The Times noted that “the presidential historian Robert Dallek said he would like to see the anniversary effort include discussion of “what a torturous experience” Vietnam was for presidents.”  Ya – Lyndon Johnson claims he lost some sleep over sending tens of thousands of Americans to pointless deaths.   He might have even had a few moments where he thought about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese killed  by the U.S. intervention.  And Nixon – who promised to end the war and then dragged it out until after his re-election….  Not exactly sympathetic figures.

David Hackworth, a retired colonel and the most decorated officer in the Army, commented in 2003: ”Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go…. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.” American soldiers faced more legal perils for reporting than for committing atrocities. Rank-and-file whistleblowers would be threatened with criminal charges if they tried to inform higher-ups about a massacre or other abuses.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote on the Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir Secrets, which discussed the deception that permeated U.S. policy on Vietnam from the beginning.

Last year, public pressure played a big role in stopping US missile strikes on Syria. The biggest difference between then and now was that televisions weren’t telling people that ISIS might be coming to their neighborhood to behead them. There were other, smaller differences as well: Britain’s opposition, Russia’s opposition, and the difficulty of explaining to Americans that it now made sense to join a war on the same side as al Qaeda.

But there’s another big difference between last year and this year. Last year was not a Congressional election year. With elections coming this November, Congress declared an early vacation in September and fled town in order to avoid voting a new war up or down. It did this while fully aware that the President would proceed with the war illegally. Most Congress members, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid, believe that by allowing a war to happen without explicitly voting for or against it they can best win our votes for re-election without offending their funders.