Growing Civil Unrest Raises Troubling Questions in US
2014 has seen a growing number of confrontations between Americans and law enforcement. The first major event was the standoff between ranchers and federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch in April. Further confrontations occurred in the spring and summer as Americans confronted Border Patrol officials who were moving illegal immigrants.
However, these events have been overshadowed by recent police violence against Black Americans. Rioting broke out for several days in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer. The subsequent riots brought police out in military gear and armored vehicles. It took over a week for the violence to subside.
However, America has been the scene of nearly constant rioting since November 22, when the Ferguson police officer was cleared by a grand jury. And, it has been further fueled by a New York grand jury that refused to indict a white police officer who was videoed by bystanders chocking an unarmed black man. Since then, riots and demonstrations have occurred in about two dozen major cities. And, while some have been relatively peaceful, there has been escalating violence in many of them.
In the city of Berkeley, California, the protest began peacefully Sunday night at the University of California, but grew violent and spilled into nearby Oakland. Police said they fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters after some threw rocks and bottles at them, while others set trash cans on fire, smashed store windows and looted businesses.
Tear Gas Grenades Smother Berkeley
The violence grew on Monday. More than 1,000 protesters marched through Berkeley on Monday night, confronting police outside their headquarters before heading west and blocking Interstate 80 off and on throughout the evening before being herded off by police. They also blocked a passenger train.
The demonstrations aren’t over. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has announced plans for a demonstration in Washington Saturday called the National March Against Police Violence to protest the killings of Garner, Brown and others. Several prominent Black athletes have taken to the field wearing jerseys protesting the police violence.
Now the issue is going international. The U.N. special representative on minority issues, Rita Izsak, has called for a review of policing in the United States. Izsak said the two grand jury decisions “leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”
Why the Growing Unrest?
The growing confrontation between the police and Americans in the last nine months isn’t a coincidence. As we noted last April when we documented the Bundy Ranch standoff, there is a growing unrest across America. And, it isn’t racial alone as the Bundy Ranch and Murrieta, CA confrontations were with predominantly White protestors.
For Black Americans, there is disappointment with Obama and his failure to help out the plight of Blacks. There is also the distrust of the police, who are seen frequently as the enemy. A Gallup poll released this week shows only 1 in 4 urban Blacks have confidence in the police – nearly half the percentage of confidence expressed by Whites or Hispanics.
For younger whites, who were out in mass at many of the demonstrations, the disappointment is with Obama and the failing economy. Another Gallup poll released this week showed Obama’s job approval rating in 2014 among white 18- to 29-year-olds is 34%, three points higher than among whites aged 30 and older. Obama’s approval rating was 58% among younger whites in 2009. This data underscores the gradual erosion of the disproportionately strong support Obama received from young white voters and explains why many are joining blacks in the demonstrations.
Combined with polling that shows 2 out of every 3 American voters thinking America is headed in the wrong direction, and 7 in 10 American voters thinking the economy is in poor or not good shape, there is considerable reason to think that the current violence could grow worse in the near future.
It is a concern that is being voiced more frequently. Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, appeared on CNN this week to warn there are more protests coming if “demands” are not met. “And America has not seen protests like those that are coming if justice doesn’t start to come down,” warned Simmons.
Although the issue of police brutality has proven a flashpoint for civil unrest in recent weeks, other experts have pointed to a possible economic collapse like those seen in Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries as the most likely trigger for a more widespread revolt.
The US government is prepared for such an eventuality. A report produced in 2008 by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Institute warned that the United States may experience massive civil unrest in the wake of a series of crises which it termed “strategic shock.”
“Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security,” stated the report, authored by [Ret.] Lt. Col. Nathan Freir, adding that the military may be needed to quell “purposeful domestic resistance”.
The Militant Fringe
While many Americans want peaceful protests, there are several militant groups that are carrying out violent actions in hopes of precipitating some sort of revolution.
One group that is active in the civil unrest is Anonymous, a computer savvy group of computer hackers, who frequently target law enforcement, government and corporate websites. They have no definite political philosophy, but tend to be anarchist in nature. On Sunday night, they took down the Oakland Police website in a denial of service attack.
Other groups engage in property destruction. A recent fire in Los Angeles, a city that has seen considerable anti-police activity, is suspected of being set, possibly in conjunction with the civil unrest. More than 250 firefighters were battling the blaze near downtown Los Angles Monday. Fire officials also said that two other buildings nearby suffered damage. One building suffered “radiant heat damage” on three floors, while the second suffered fire damage on three floors and water damage on the remaining 14 floors. Major highways in the area were closed for hours. Officials are inclined to believe it may have been intentionally set due to the rapid spread of the flames.
There are also several radical revolutionary groups that may be working in conjunction with the unrest. The New York Daily News said that New York law enforcement has claimed that members of the “Black Guerilla Family” are threatening to shoot on-duty police officers in New York. The group is known as an “ideological African-American Marxist revolutionary organization composed of prisoners” set up in the sixties, with inspiration from black leaders including Marcus Garvey.
Another radical group inspired by the 1960s is the New Black Panther Party. Two members of that party were arrested for plotting to bomb the St. Louis Arch and assassinate the Ferguson Police Chief and the St. Louis public prosecutor.
In Portland, Oregon, CBS reported, “As with Occupy, the vast majority of protesters preached peace, but a fringe group of people — some covering their faces with black bandannas — advocated violence and confrontations with police. And like Occupy, the original protest drew a disparate group of people together, not all of whom agreed with one another. “Military Veterans Called for Peace,” a communist group called for the overthrow of capitalism, and a group calling for a Palestinian state all held court during a series of speeches on the steps of the state Justice Center in Portland.”
There are also reports that ISIS is showing interest in trying to recruit members from the protestors.
A group called the Revolutionary Communist Party has been sighted at Ferguson. Two weeks ago Paul Hampel, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said on Twitter that Communist Party members led Friday night’s protest while disseminating literature for their cause. “The only solution is a Communist revolution,” protesters are heard chanting. Pictures posted at Twitchy also show protesters holding signs saying “racist cops” must be “smashed” with a Communist revolution.
The press also reported, “a top Occupy Wall Street organizer has been training Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos”… In a development that may portend extended disruptions, veteran street organizer Lisa Fithian, previously dubbed “Professor Occupy,” recently trained Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos.” Fithian is a legendary organizer who once announced she seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible.”
It isn’t just the left wing that sees this unrest as an opportunity. Right wing militia units have picked up their activity this year. Their success at forcing federal agents to back down at the Bundy Ranch has energized the movement and many have called the event the “Battle of Bunkerville,” referring to the nearby village of Bunkerville. It’s a clear reference to the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought during the Revolutionary War. Clearly many in the militia movement see the current unrest as an opportunity.
Although not engaged in the protests, some militia members are in the area providing protection to businesses. Oathkeepers, an organization associated with many militias and active at the Bundy Ranch provided several armed people to protect some businesses in Ferguson.
Clearly many radicals on both ends of the political spectrum are hoping for a spark –a revolutionary situation – that will change civil unrest into revolution. However, they may want to recall the words of Vladimir Lenin first, “A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.”
Report on Torture Released By Senate
A highly political report on torture by the CIA was released on Tuesday. The political nature was obvious. It only covered actions taken by the Bush Administration – implying that nothing happened under Obama over the last six years. It was also released in the final days of Senator Feinstein’s chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee; before the committee is taken over by the Republicans.
The report provides a graphic accounting of CIA torture and imprisonment, and goes into detail about how the CIA continued its global operations outside of Congressional and Bush Administration oversight. The information was disturbing as it told of interrogations that lasted for days on end. Some detainees were forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. There was even a prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death.
The report details how the CIA treated detainees in its custody, suggests that the practice known as “waterboarding” was far more widespread than previously believed, and notes that while the CIA routinely justified its tactics as necessary to save lives and prevent acts of terrorism, the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” it practiced did not provide as much information as they initially claimed.
The report also provides political cover for many of the people now decrying the CIA’s methods, including Feinstein and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who once admonished the same agency for not doing enough to control terrorism worldwide. They may not have had all of the information at their disposal – it certainly seems, from the report, that the CIA made concealing at least some of its methods from scrutiny a top priority – but as CIA veteran (and interrogation program head) John Rodriguez notes in the Washington Post, Congress and the Administration were pushing them to act.
For example, On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”
However, many of those complaining new were actually aware of what was happening. In Feb. 2010 via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Judicial Watch received a report created by the CIA during the Bush presidency (in 2007) detailing which members of Congress were briefed and what were they briefed on. The report shows that the CIA briefed at least 68 members of Congress on the CIA interrogation program, including “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It details the dates of all congressional briefings and in most cases, the members of Congress in attendance and the specific subjects discussed. Keep in mind though, that the topic for each one of these meetings was interrogation of prisoners.
Although not all meeting records released show attendees, it is known that Senator Feinstein was at a top secret meeting on CIA torture on March 15, 2006. And, that access would surely have continued as she was to become the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 9 months.
The report may have also been a way to punish the CIA, who was spying on Senator Feinstein’s committee. On March 12, 2014, she accused the CIA of secretly removing classified documents from her staff’s computers in the middle of an oversight investigation. Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers in 2013 because they believed the panel’s investigators might have gained access to materials on an internal review they were not authorized to see.
“The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it,” Feinstein said in blistering remarks on the Senate floor. “Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computer.”
In many ways this report is much like the reports produced by the Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D, ID) around 1975. The reports listed CIA efforts as assassination, spying on Americans without a warrant, and other covert actions.
The irony, as in this case, was that Senator Church, like Senator Feinstein was privy to much of what was going due to top secret briefings. The reports, however, helped provide political cover for them.
As with the Church Committee reports, the publicity will blow over and the intelligence agencies will do what they want, with the tacit approval of the Congress and the Administration. For example, the Church Committee condemned American intelligence for tracking the mailing information on the outside of letters. However, since 2001, the Postal Service has been doing the same thing with all American postal mail as part of the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.
Israeli Fingerprints on Torture Program
Interestingly enough, the CIA used Israeli legal precedent to use torture. In a draft memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Office of General Counsel, the “Israeli example” was cited as a possible justification that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.
The “Israeli example” refers to the conclusions of the Landoi Commission in 1987 and subsequent Israeli Supreme Court rulings that forbid Israel’s security services from using torture in interrogation of terror suspects, but allows the use of “moderate physical pressure” in cases which are classified as a “ticking bomb,” when there is an urgent need to obtain information which could prevent an imminent terror attack.
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA attorney preparing the campaign “described the ‘striking’ similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment (a congressional act passed in December 2005 regulating interrogation methods) and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had ‘ruled that several… techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,’ and that the Israeli government ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”
The CIA attorney also referred to the Israeli Supreme Court’s “ticking time bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be preapproved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted.”
Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy
By Christopher A. Preble
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Reason
In domestic policy, libertarians tend to believe in a minimal state endowed with enumerated powers, dedicated to protecting the security and liberty of its citizens but otherwise inclined to leave them alone. The same principles should apply when we turn our attention abroad. Citizens should be free to buy and sell goods and services, study and travel, and otherwise interact with peoples from other lands and places, unencumbered by the intrusions of government. But peaceful, non-coercive foreign engagement should not be confused with its violent cousin: war. American libertarians have traditionally opposed wars and warfare, even those ostensibly focused on achieving liberal ends. And for good reason. All wars involve killing people and destroying property. Most entail massive encroachments on civil liberties, from warrantless surveillance to conscription. They all impede the free movement of goods, capital, and labor essential to economic prosperity. And all wars contribute to the growth of the state.
Ignoring risks to national security
By John Yoo
American Enterprise Institute
December 10, 2014
Yesterday’s release of a critical, one-sided report on the Bush-era interrogations of terrorist leaders will assume a place in the annals of congressional recklessness. Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein and conducted only by Democrats, the partisan investigation in the short term could provoke retaliation against Americans. In the longer term, it could reveal secrets to our terrorist enemies and dry up sources of cooperation with other countries. But these effects will pale in comparison with the harm that Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues will do to our intelligence agencies. Their faithlessness will only discourage intelligence officers now, and in the future, to press the envelope to identify and stop future terrorist threats to the nation.
The Islamic State—and Iran—and the U.S. Strategy Deficit
By Mackubin Thomas Owens
Foreign Policy Research Insstitute
The emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has threatened to destabilize the Levant and Iraq, in many respects obscuring the challenges still posed by Iran. The Obama Administration originally dismissed the IS as a “JV” offshoot of al Qaeda, but its seizure of large swaths of territory belies that characterization. Its successes in the region now serve as a magnet for foreign fighters. We can belabor the administration’s role in enabling the rise of the IS—its failure to achieve an agreement to retain a U.S. military presence in Iraq and its fitful steps and missteps in Syria—but the real question is: what can the United States do now to blunt the IS? In August of this year, Kori Schake, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute and a member of the Orbis editorial board, wrote an insightful piece for the online “Shadow Government” feature of Foreign Policy. In her article, “An Administration with its Head Cut Off,” Dr. Schake criticized the Obama White House for its propensity to ricochet from one crisis to another without any attempt to apply a coherent strategic framework to its actions. As she remarked, this approach is driven by the administration’s apparent belief that if the United States takes a step back in the world, others will step forward. But in fact, the only actors to step forward have been our adversaries.
In Search of an Anchor for Rights and Liberties: The Return of Secular and Center-Left Voters to Turkey’s EU Vocation?
By Özgehan Şenyuva
German Marshall Fund
December 3, 2014
More Turks are now saying they support their country being part of the EU than at any time since 2006. Center-left voters who are discouraged by the ruling party’s policies make up a large percentage of these supporters. They view a closer connection to Europe as a possible source of protection for the liberties they see their government as encroaching upon. The questions are will these center-left voters be content with the revival of the membership negotiations and related gains only, and not actual membership, and will opposition parties shift their platforms to try to attract these voters.
Will the Next Israeli Election Be About Regional Challenges or Netanyahu’s Leadership?
By David Makovsky
December 10, 2014
On December 3, the Israeli Knesset voted to hold early elections on March 17, only two years since the last election. The move followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he was disbanding his governing coalition because his political partners — led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua — were colluding with ultraorthodox factions behind the scenes to replace him. Both ministers have denied even the plausibility of this claim and criticized the move to early elections as superfluous. These and other competing narratives could shape not only the upcoming campaign, but also the direction of Israeli politics once the election is decided.
American Public Attitudes Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By Shibley Telhami
December 5, 2014
After the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations earlier this year and the devastating violence of this summer’s Gaza war, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are on the rise. Voices on both sides of the conflict question the United States’ traditional role as shepherd of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and Americans seem increasingly skeptical about their government’s engagements in the Middle East. Nonresident Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami conducted a survey on American public attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; below are several key findings and a download to the survey’s full results.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
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