Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Rising" to Empire, Falling from Grace

The following article is adapted from my contribution to a forthcoming collection of essays addressing America's descent into imperialism.

“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

This panegyric to what is commonly called “American Exceptionalism” could have been composed by any of a number of GOP-aligned media figures, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, or their legions of local imitators. Those words were actually spoken by Madeleine Albright in 1998, when she was the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State. She was defending the U.S. role in enforcing an embargo on Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991.

Albright had memorably addressed that issue in a different fashion three years earlier during an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes. 

“We have heard that a half million children have died,” observed interviewer Leslie Stahl. “I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Without challenging the statistics, or displaying even a tremor of remorse, Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.”

By reconciling Albright’s statements we learn that when “we have to” impose policies that result in the avoidable death, through starvation and disease, of hundreds of thousands of children, “it is because we are America.... We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

For some reason, the self-styled seers and visionaries who defended the Iraqi embargo didn’t foresee how that policy, coupled with decades of U.S. meddling in the Middle East, would cultivate and nurture the seeds that bore murderous fruit on September 11, 2001. 

To ordinary people not blessed with Albright’s oracular insight, it seemed obvious that some variety of murderous blowback would be the inevitable product of a foreign policy that featured deliberate mass starvation punctuated with bombing raids. However, the custodians of permissible opinion have decreed that history began on the morning of 9/11 – that nothing the U.S. government did prior to that date has any organic connection to the motives and actions of those who carried out the attack (at least as that attack is described in the officially sanctioned narrative). To suggest that Washington’s policies had some relationship to anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is to commit a grave blasphemy against American Exceptionalism – the official creed of the ruling Establishment, irrespective of party.

What makes America exceptional, from this perspective, is not the blessings we have been allotted by Providence, or the individual liberties promised by our country’s founding documents. America is exceptional because of the power of the government that rules us, as manifest in its ability to kill people in distant lands. 

Death-dealing herald of empire: A Global Hawk drone.
That view, once again, is not limited to bellicose left-wing internationalists like Albright. On several occasions, Rush Limbaugh – who, like fellow late-blooming militarist Dick Cheney, had “other priorities” when he was of draft age during Vietnam – has related an anecdote about witnessing a military fly-over during a Super Bowl in the 1980. Aroused by the spectacle to the point of rapture, Limbaugh (by his own account) was moved to exclaim, “How can you see something like that, and be a liberal who hates your country?”

Offensive as it would be to both Limbaugh and Albright, a compelling case can be made that their reflexive militarism is a repudiation of our country’s founding principles. The Framers of the Constitution, painfully familiar with the uses to which large military establishments could be put, never intended for the united States of America (in Congress assembled) to have a standing, centralized army. While they did have the lamentable intention of creating a consolidated central government -- and pretty clear ambitions for territorial expansion to the West -- they did not entertain grandiose ambitions of policing the world. 

The most admirable members of the Founding Generation understood that love of country was not measured by one’s enthusiasm for government-inflicted bloodshed. That’s why Washington’s Farewell Address emphasized both adequate provision for defense and the compelling necessity to avoid entanglement in the affairs of other countries. 
Imperialism by joystick: A drone operator carries out an attack.

“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be,” observed John QuincyAdams in his 1821 Independence Day Address. “But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” (Emphasis added.) 

Unlike the supposedly far-seeing Madeleine Albright – who couldn’t foretell how her arrogant endorsement of genocide in 1995 would help catalyze the enmity that led to the devastating 9/11 assault six years later – Adams displayed uncanny foresight in describing the degenerate state of American “patriotism” today, 190 years after he delivered his warning against interventionism: “Patriots” today celebrate force, not liberty.

Today, what Adams and his generation called “Independence Day” is simply called the Fourth of July. Rather than being a celebration of individual liberty, the “Fourth” has become an annual orgy of militarism, often involving saturation-level barrages of propaganda in the form of televised war “movie marathons” and military parades that wouldn’t be out of place in Pyongyang. 

Lest it be forgotten, Independence Day originally commemorated an act of insurrection against the “legitimate” government – an incomparably powerful globe-spanning empire on which the sun never set. The men who committed that act of rebellion would probably consider it perverse that they are “honored” by public rituals extolling the imperial power of a government that is more corrupt and oppressive – by several orders of magnitude – than that of George III.

America was unique because of its origins in principled rebellion against lawless rule, and because of a set of founding political instruments that, while imperfect, did provide individuals some protection against government aggression. Those traits that are typically celebrated as tokens of “American Exceptionalism” – an interventionist foreign policy; a Chief Executive with unqualified power to kill, imprison, and torture people at whim; a badly overgrown military establishment – are, in a specific sense, un-American. 

A commercial republic in which both citizens and their elected representatives are governed by law, and individual liberty is regarded as the highest political good, would be truly exceptional. A sprawling empire ruled by a corrupt oligarchy that plunders both the national treasury and the resources of distant lands is actually quite commonplace. 

 To catch a glimpse of the America that could have been, it's useful to pay a brief visit to the period between the end of the War for Independence and the mercantilist counter-revolution in Philadelphia that abolished the Articles of Confederation and created a more centralized constitutional Union.

 In 1782, a year after the British surrender at Yorktown and one year before the Treaty of Paris finalized American independence, a former French Lieutenant named J. Hector Saint John de Crevecoeur composed a series of essays entitled Letters from an AmericanFarmer. Six decades before Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, Crevecoeur devoted his considerable literary gifts to an examination of the question: “What, then, is the American, this new man?” 

Unlike Europe, a continent plagued by entrenched elites, there were “no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one” in America, he wrote. The inhabitants of this new-born confederacy of constitutional republics were “a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory … united by the silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable.” (Emphasis added.) 

At its best, the "mild" government to which Crevecoeur referred was self-government; it was the spontaneous cooperation of productive people, rather than the imposed order of a parasitical elite. This state of affairs was hardly uniform throughout the confederation, of course, but that it existed at all was something truly inspiring.

On "Evacuation Day," November 25, 1783, British troops ended their occupation of New York. In comments recorded by the New York Packet newspaper, a departing British officer expressed a bemused admiration for the Americans, who distinguished themselves by their unwillingness to be ruled:

“Here, in this city, we have had an army for more than seven years, and yet we could not keep the peace of it. Scarcely a day or night passed without tumults. Now we are [leaving] everything is in quietness and safety. These Americans are a curious, original people; they know how to govern themselves, but nobody else can govern them.”

The promise of the War for Independence was the establishment of a system of individual liberty protected by law – and, at least at that early stage, that promise was being kept. That genuinely exceptional America earned the admiration of the world – not because its government possessed the power to murder people by remote control, or annihilate entire continents in a nuclear paroxysm, but rather because its people were free and independent, and its society -- although displaying all of the imperfections to which fallen man is heir – aspired to be governed by the Golden Rule. 

Tragically, "our" government’s rise to global power has meant our country’s fall from grace. 

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steven Pinker's Statist Gospel

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, who has said that he never “outgrew my conversion to atheism at thirteen,” has written a theodicy – a tract intended to validate the redemptive power of the Leviathan State. In his new book The Better Angelsof Our Nature, Pinker insists that humanity has “evolved to become less violent” through the ministry of elites who employ the State to evangelize on behalf of what he calls “enlightenment humanism.” 

According to Pinker, since the emergence of the modern secular state in the 18th century there has been a dramatic decline in primitive expressions of aggressive violence. People who live in contemporary developed societies “no longer have to worry about abduction into sexual slavery; divinely commanded genocide; lethal circuses and tournaments; punishment on the cross, rack, wheel, stake, or strappado for holding unpopular beliefs; decapitation for not bearing a son; disembowelment for having dated a royal; pistol duels to defend their honor … or the prospect of a nuclear world war that would put an end to civilization or to human life itself,” Pinker asserts. 

The precipitous decline in private violence, which Pinker heralds as “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history,” is a triumph of the “social contract,” an arrangement in which political government asserts a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of force. By over-awing those inclined toward individual acts of violence, the State supposedly suppresses “demonic” impulses – such as greed and sadism – while emancipating the “better angels of our nature” – empathy, self-discipline, and peaceful cooperation.

"Oh Divine State, protect us from the unenlightened...."
 As is the case with most religious doctrines, Pinker’s theology of the divine State is built on a paradox – in this case the idea that the human tendency toward violence can be eradicated through the scientific application of the same by enlightened people who have supposedly transcended such primitive impulses. 

Given that Pinker is one of the leading exponents of the “box with wires” view of the human brain, there is also a rich vein of irony in Pinker’s unabashed use of the terms “demons” and “angels” in describing a conflict over competing visions of morality. 

In an interview given more than a decade ago, Pinker described human beings as “nothing more than a collection of ricocheting molecules in the head.” Like others who subscribe to that view, Pinker has yet to submit a schematic explaining how morality is produced through molecular reactions. And like theologians from other traditions, Pinker is content to leave such matters undisturbed in the unfathomable depths of mystery. This would be a perfectly acceptable arrangement – were it not for the fact that Pinker, like fundamentalists from other traditions, embraces the use of sanctified coercion as a means of purifying those less enlightened than he.

As a child, Pinker, says, he thought as a child, embracing anarchism at about the same time he converted to atheism. But as an adult, he has put away childish things: “I was a Rousseauan then; now I’m a Hobbesian.” What this means in practice is that he merely abandoned one sect of totalitarian statism for another.

Rousseau, it should be remembered, was  was the author of what he called "The Civil Religion" — a doctrine that would enable the masses, in Rousseau's phrase, to "bear with docility the yoke of the public good." 

The most important article of Rousseau's Civil Religion was the absolute divinity of the State; the gravest transgression was "intolerance," which was regarded as evil not because it injured the rights of individuals, but because it challenged the State's authority.

According to Rousseau, the ideal social arrangement would be a "form of theocracy, in which there can be no pontiff save the prince, and no priests save the magistrates.... [W]hoever dares to say, 'Outside the church is no salvation,' ought to be driven from the State, unless the State is the Church, and the prince the pontiff."

The State would make belief in its dogmas compulsory, even as it denied it was doing so: "While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the state anyone who does not believe them…..” Apostasy would be a capital offense: "If any one, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death -- he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law."

Rousseau believed that man --until corrupted by traditional institutions -- was intrinsically good. Thomas Hobbes – not to put too fine a point on the matter – didn’t share that opinion. He did agree that the State, as the embodiment of what could be called the “general will,” should combine the civil and ecclesial functions and exercise unlimited power to regiment the lives of its subjects. The objective wouldn’t be to save people’s souls, or elevate their morals, but merely to impose order.

Pinker claims to be “eclectically, non-dogmatically libertarian” in his political outlook. Given his unbuttoned embrace of Hobbesian absolutism, that’s a bit like claiming to be an “eclectic, non-dogmatic vegan” while subsisting on a diet of steak tartare.  

Although Pinker began his academic career in a Montreal counter-cultural milieu “dominated by hippies ... and US draft dodgers,” he has endorsed the exercise in State-inflicted violence called the “War on Drugs” in terms that would earn Hobbes’s approval:  “A regime that trawls for drug users or other petty delinquents will get a certain number of violent people as a by-catch, further thinning the ranks of the violent people who remain on the streets.”  

This process involves filling the streets with State-licensed “violent people” in military attire, and granting them a plenary indulgence to loot and terrorize the public. The “by-catch” gathered by thegovernment’s trawling net includes perfectly innocent people. But it is not our place to question the inscrutable wisdom of the divine State, which causes the pain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Leviathan's "by-catch": A 71-year-old victim of a wrong-door drug raid.
 There is also the matter of quo warranto: By what authority does the State assault and imprison people who peacefully ingest mind-altering substances? 

This is where Pinker’s Rousseauist background comes into play: It’s not necessary for subjects to understand the logic of the State’s decrees; they simply must have faith in its bottomless competence and unalloyed goodness – or suffer the penalty for their apostasy. 

All religious belief requires the acceptance “of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Pinker’s dogma requires that we ignore the evidence of things that are clearly visible in order to embrace his vision of something yet to materialize. The most compelling argument against Pinker’s claim that humanity has evolved beyond violence is the systematic slaughter during the 20th Century of at least 170 million people by governments claiming and enforcing a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of force

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker – to his credit – does recognize R.J. Rummel’s pioneering research into the phenomenon of "democide." Given the body count compiled through war and politicized mass murder during the 20th century, and the persistent bloodshed in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, the idea that humanity has progressed beyond violence “seems illogical and obscene,” Pinker admits. This is something else we simply have to take on faith as well, it appears. 

The rampages carried out by totalitarian states were a tragic prelude to the “Long Peace” that has prevailed since WWII, Pinker insists. We’ve reached a point at which mass violence only among those sub-populations that have resisted signing on to a “social contract that [gives] government a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.” That heathen population, he points out, includes Americans who reside in the southern and western states, where people “retain the right to bear arms [and] believe it is their responsibility, not the government’s, to deter harm-doers.” This means that “private citizens, flush with self-serving biases, [can act] as judge, jury, and executioner….”

Of all the impious nerve! Such power can only be exercised by those duly anointed as emissaries of the divine State – beginning with the Exalted One in the Oval Office, who commands the power to imprison, torture, or execute anybody  on the face of the planet. 

In a 2007 TED lecture, Dr. Pinker urged Leviathan’s subjects to count their blessings: A mere century ago, he pointed out, some of them may have been “burned at the stake for criticizing the king, after a trial that maybe lasted ten minutes.” Today, by way of contrast, a U.S. citizen who condemns Washington’s imperial aggression can be summarily executed by way of a drone-fired missile without the benefit of a trial. The latter approach is acceptable to at least some people of Pinker’s persuasion because the State’s priestly caste possesses the mystical power to transubstantiate violence into “policy.” 

Although he followed a different vector, Steven Pinker, a proudly irreligious cultural Jew, has arrived at the same destination as the reactionary 18th Century Catholic writer Joseph de Maistre, who insisted that "all greatness, all power, all social order depends on the executioner; he is the terror of human society and tie that holds it together. Take away this incontrovertible force from the world, and at that very moment order is superseded by chaos, thrones fall, society disappears." While Dr. Pinker criticizes the death penalty, his view of social order ultimately rests on the supposed authority of State functionaries to kill those who refuse to submit to them.

The modern material and ethical progress Pinker properly celebrates are not the product of State coercion. They are the result of private, mutually beneficial action based on reciprocal respect for individual rights -- in other words, the application of the Golden Rule, which Pinker acknowledges in passing while pointedly ignoring uncomfortable questions about its provenance and most notable Exponent

To use Pinker's categories: The impulses unleashed by the State are demonic, not angelic. 

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Framing Steele: A Case Study of Sovietized American "Justice"

Edgar Steele (r.) confers with political activist Paul Venable.

Yes, I'd give the Devil the benefit of the law -- for my own safety's sake. 

-- Sir Thomas Moore, as depicted in A Man for All Seasons

When Edgar Steele was told on the morning of June 11, 2010, that his wife Cyndi had been killed when her SUV was run off the road in Oregon, his first reaction, understandably, was shock. That reaction mutated into panic minutes later when FBI Agent Michael Sotka told Steele that his mother-in-law had also been shot and killed.

“He wanted to contact family members and find out if they were okay,” testified State Trooper Jess Spike, who was at Steele’s home in Sagle, Idaho when the dire tidings were delivered. Asked by Agent Sotka who might have perpetrated those crimes and “who his enemies were,” Steele named “a number of organizations that may have been against him,” Spike continued. “There was like the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty – there were one or two others. I don’t recall the acronyms or names of them.” 

Trooper Spike was referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which bankrupted the northern Idaho-based Aryan Nation white supremacist group in a 2000 lawsuit. Steele, a controversial lawyer who described himself as the "Attorney for the Damned," had represented the Aryan Nation in court, thereby earning the abiding enmity of the SPLC and its allies, including the Anti-Defamation League -- both of which are quasi-private affiliates of the Homeland Security apparatus. 

In addition to his legal work, Steele was a polemicist on behalf of worldview that can fairly be characterized as white supremacist. The author of a book entitled Defensive Racism, Steele disavowed aggressive violence. This wasn't true of at least some of his detractors: Prior to June 11, 2010, Edgar Steele had received death threats that the FBI had traced back to the the so-called Jewish Defense League, which has been implicated in more than adozen domestic terrorist incidents in the United States

In the months leading up to June 11, Steele had endured a near-fatal heart attack. On the morning he received the news, he was still recuperating from a second health crisis, a nasal aneurysm that had left him hospitalized just a few weeks earlier. So he was in pretty fragile condition as horrible news accumulated suggesting that his enemies were laying siege to his family. But that wasn't the final shock he was to endure on that crowded morning: Agent Sotka suddenly announced, "Your wife is not dead ... you're under arrest."

As Sotka hauled the stunned and shaken Steele from his home, the FBI Agent encountered Dr. Allen Banks, a local biochemist family friend who had arrived that morning to help Steele haul a load of lumber from the Home Depot in nearby Coeur d’Alene. 

Brandishing a recorder, Sotka triumphantly told Banks: “We’ve got everything we need right here.” A few hours after being led to believe that his wife and mother-in-law had been murdered, Steele was charged with hiring a local handyman named Larry Fairfax to kill them. 

Trooper Spike would later admit in court that there was nothing in the June 11 conversation that indicated Steele’s guilt. The elaborate fiction created by Sotka was a “ruse” intended to get Steele to incriminate himself. Rather than reacting to a confession or a critical disclosure by Steele, Sotka arrested him when it became clear that he “wasn’t going to crack,” Trooper Spike recounted on the witness stand. 

As it happens, within four days of arresting Steele, the FBI had a confession from a suspect who admitted to placing a pipe bomb on the automobile Cyndi Steele drove to Oregon City to visit her cancer-stricken mother: Larry Fairfax himself, who had reportedly carried out the plot with unnamed "accomplices." The bomb was accidentally discovered when Mrs. Steele took the van to a Jiffy Lube. Fairfax, who we're told approached the FBI on June 9 to report that Steele had hired him to murder his wife and mother-in-law, hadn't disclosed the existence of the pipe bomb.

It wouldn't have gone off -- but the jury wasn't told.
Fairfax, who had done some remodeling work on the Steele home, was supposedly asked to carry out the double murder for $25,000 that would come from an insurance pay-off. (Fairfax wasn’t aware that Steele had cancelled his wife’s insurance policy two years earlier.) This arrangement was supposedly made on May 27, just a few weeks after Steele had been hospitalized for his second life-threatening aneurysm. 

Prior to Steele's arrest, Fairfax had cashed in roughly $10,000 in silver. Edgar and Cyndi claimed that Fairfax -- who knew where the family had cached precious metals on their property -- had stolen the silver. Fairfax insists it was part of the pay-off for his role in the murder plot. All that is known for certain is that the silver had belonged to the Steeles before Fairfax cashed it in. 

It is likewise known for sure that Fairfax -- with the help of his still-unknown accomplices -- built the pipe bomb and placed it on the undercarriage of Cyndi Steele’s vehicle. Edgar Steele’s only connection to the pipe bomb was a recorded June 10 conversation with Fairfax in which the phrase “car bomb” was spoken. Fairfax and the FBI insisted that the conversation made reference to an earlier, unrecorded agreement between the two of them that Fairfax would kill Cyndi Steele and her ailing mother. 

During his testimony in Edgar Steele's trial, Agent Sotka admitted that the FBI had given Fairfax and James Maher $500 and that "we decided to send Mr. Fairfax over to Portland in case Mr. Steele asked for a phone call from him." That call, according to Agent Sotka, was intended to be Steele’s alibi, proving that he was nowhere near the scene of the crime when it occurred. 

A stronger case can be made that this call was designed to be the finishing touch on the frame the Feds had constructed to entrap Steele. By calling from Oregon, Fairfax would create an interstate “nexus” that supposedly justified federal charges against Steele. It's important to note that this element of the case against Steele involves something he didn't do -- namely, contacting Fairfax in Portland -- while Sotka admitted under oath that it was the FBI that sent Fairfax to Portland. 

Last May, following a trial that lasted less than a week, a federal jury convicted Steele on four counts, including conspiracy to commit murder. He faces a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison – which, owing to his age and fragile health, is a life sentence. The prosecution case that resulted in that sentence is miraculously untainted by reliable evidence. 

The alleged victim, Cyndi Steele, has been her husband’s most consistent and vocal defender, despite what she has described as intimidation by Agent Sotka. The so-called pipe bomb was little more than a stage prop incapable of exploding – a fact withheld by the Feds until the day after Steele’s trial ended, when it was introduced, without Government objections, during Larry Fairfax’s sentencing hearing

Fairfax, who manufactured a supposedly "lethal" weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to murder two innocent people, was charged with possession of an "unregistered firearm" and given a sentence of 27 months in prison (with credit for time served), followed by three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay Cyndi Steele -- his victim -- a total of $900 in compensation. That detail eloquently testifies of the contemptuous hostility the Feds have for the uncooperative "victim." 

As with so many other prosecutions of this kind, this case shouldn’t have been in federal court in the first place. 

Edgar Steele “did not `cause’ anyone to travel in interstate commerce,” points out his attorney Wesley Hoyt in a motion for a new trial. “Government informants Larry Fairfax and James Maher were dispatched from Idaho on June 11, 2010 by the Government, not the defendant. They were paid $500 by the FBI to travel to Oregon … so that FBI Agent Sotka could have Fairfax call Mr. Steele from an Oregon prefix” – thereby creating a supposed “jurisdictional link” to justify a federal prosecution.

This is a familiar FBI tactic: Where there is no clear federal “nexus,” create one through a letter or an interstate telephone call. In the 1991 case U.S. v. Coats, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an FBI-instigated interstate phone call that “was contrived by the Government for that reason alone” did not provide the desired “jurisdictional link.”

The FBI’s claim that Steele had actually hired Fairfax to kill his wife depends on two dubious pieces of evidence, neither of which is sufficient alone but that supposedly validate each other: The ambiguous and disputed recording of a conversation between Fairfax and Steele on June10, 2010, and Fairfax’s testimony. 

Judge Winmill (l.) with Russian Judge Vladimir Soloyev in 2002.
During the trial in Boise, the defense repeatedly objected to the introduction of the recording, and the Government-provided transcript, on the basis that they were offered without “foundation.” 

Addressing that objection, Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that “if he [Fairfax] testifies that he has listened to it and it accurately sets forth what was said at the time, then that is the foundation.” In its closing arguments, the prosecution heavily emphasized the claim that the recordings likewise “corroborated” Fairfax’s account. The problem here is that both of those pieces of “evidence” are terminally flawed – and since each of them is thoroughly impeachable, they can’t be used to validate each other. 

The chain of custody necessary to authenticate the recordings breaks down at the very first link. Fairfax’s demonstrated dishonesty (the Feds were forced to admit that he was "not completely forthcoming" about the pipe bomb) makes him unsuitable as a corroborative witness regarding their reliability. “In order to authenticate the records, the Government presented the testimony of an admitted liar … who during trial stated that on June 9, 2010 he lied to the FBI when he did not tell them about the existence of a bomb on Mrs. Steele’s car,” notes the motion for a new trial. 

FBI Agent Sotka claimed that Fairfax and Steele were under constant surveillance on the Steele family’s property while the recorded conversations took place. However, the  discussion took place in a barn, while the two of them were concealed from view. Since the device concealed on Fairfax was a recorder rather than a “wire,” nobody heard the conversations as they actually occurred. 

On the witness stand Agent Sotka described how he downloaded the digital audio file from the recording device onto an FBI computer in Coeur d’Alene with a special proprietary software program. From there, the file was reportedly uploaded to a database at an FBI lab in Virginia. Sotka did this without listening to the recorded conversation. He then copied the file onto a compact disc, from which the file was re-copied onto a second disc. At that point, according to Sotka, he purged the original digital file from the recording device, since “part of the procedure is to delete the conversation and have the recorder clear for the next time you need to use it.” 

Sotka appears to be selectively fastidious about following FBI procedures, since he did all of this by himself, without having a second Agent present, as dictated by Bureau policy. What this means is that the recordings heard by the court – and that had been played to Cyndi Steele by Agent Sotka prior to the trial – were, at the very best, a third-generation copy of the original digital file, which was destroyed by Sotka without being heard by himself or anybody else.

When the version of the recording was played for Cyndi Steele, the alleged victim and target of the purported murder-for-hire plot was not convinced that what she heard was an actual conversation involving her husband. Furthermore, the version of the recording played in court contained an odd repetitive clicking noise, which the prosecution insisted was the sound of “Tic-Tacs” rattling in Fairfax’s pocket. That noise, which wasn’t present on the pre-trial version, is the kind of audio artifact that can result when a recording is digitally assembled from several different sources.

Dr. George Papcun, a forensic scientist who has served as an expert witness and law enforcement consultant for several decades, detected numerous “transients” and other anomalies – by one count, roughly 300 of them -- in the pre-trial version of the FBI recordings. Dr. Papcun concluded that there was “a reasonable degree of scientific probability that [the recordings] do not represent a true and valid representation of reality and they are unreliable.” That assessment provides ample, if not unassailable, grounds for reasonable doubt, especially in light of Dr. Papcun’s credentials. 

After finishing his undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Arizona, Papcun went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Formal Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Linguistics (with a specialization in Acoustic Phonetics) from UCLA. As a graduate student, Papcun was awarded Ford Foundation and National Defense education fellowships; his professional work earned an award from Johns Hopkins University and a place on the R&D-100 list of top achievers in “Technological Innovation.” He has been an advisor to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, and an expert forensic witness in numerous high-profile cases.

Not surprisingly, the prosecution attempted to exclude both Dr. Papcun’s report and his testimony from the trial. On May 2, Judge Winmill held a hearing to determine whether the defense would be permitted to present Papcun’s testimony. At the time, Papcun was vacationing in Bora Bora, and Winmill initially ruled that he could testify via video conference on the following day. However, the prosecution complained that this arrangement would be unacceptable, since it wouldn’t permit them to “confront” the witness – a right that is guaranteed to the defendant, not the prosecution, by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

On May 3, Judge Winmill, exhibiting his habitual, undisguised bias in favor of the prosecution, dutifully reversed his ruling and issued an entirely whimsical demand that Dr. Papcun be physically present in Boise, Idaho no later than 8:30 a.m. the following morning – Wednesday, May 4 – in order to testify at the trial. 

Since neither teleportation nor sub-orbital commercial flight is presently available, the earliest Papcun could be available was Thursday, May 5. Papcun was willing to interrupt his vacation, and the defense was willing to pay the expense. However, Judge Winmill – who was consistently flexible in meeting the prosecution’s demands – maintained that there wasn’t sufficient wiggle room in his schedule to permit Papcun to testify on Thursday. None of this would have been necessary, of course, if Winmill had simply stuck to his initial ruling and permitted Dr. Papcun to offer fully interactive testimony by way of a video conference held at the nearest U.S. consulate.

Judge Winmill’s earnest concern for the supposed right of the prosecution to “confront” Dr. Papcun stands in stark contrast to his indifference to Edgar Steele’s constitutionally protected right to confront a key prosecution witness, Ukrainian resident Tatyana Loginova – whom Steele had contacted as part of what he and his wife Cyndi both described as his research into the Russian “mail-0rder bride” scam.
Steele's daughter Kesley testified under oath that both she and her mother were aware of that research, and often joked about it. That account was confirmed from the witness stand by family friend Allan Banks, who said that Steele had told him about contacting several women from the former Soviet Union as "part of a legal case."

 The question of motive was probably the biggest of the numerous weaknesses in the prosecution’s case: Why would a man who had just recovered from a near-fatal aortic aneurysm seek to murder the wife whose personal care had been indispensable to his recovery? 

The prosecution confected a story in which Steele – a senior citizen in fragile health – was secretly trolling the Web in search of a nubile young girlfriend, and had developed a schoolboy crush on Miss Loginova. 

Loginova’s testimony was critical to the prosecution’s case, and the “right to confront” protected by the Sixth Amendment required that Steele and his counsel be given an opportunity to cross-examine her. However, Winmill permitted the prosecution to enter into evidence a videotaped deposition conducted via video conference with the aid of a Russian language translator. Loginova’s story included a claim that Steele had promised to visit her in Ukraine in August 2010. 

While the Edgar Steele jury was permitted to hear Loginova’s videotaped testimony, it was not permitted to hear the testimony of Dr. Robert Stoll, who had spent several hours in Steele’s company on June 10 – the day he supposedly planned to murder his wife. Dr. Stoll, a local veterinarian, has filed an affidavit recounting how he had discussed Steele’s health problems and how he was impressed by “the manner of Edgar’s tender affection for his wife and family. I believe that this man’s intent … when I visited him was not to kill anyone, especially his wife.” 

Cyndi Steele and attorney Wesley Hoyt.
To understand the deeply prejudicial nature of Winmill's rulings in this regard it’s necessary to take into account the composition of the jury: In a case involving an alleged plot by a husband to murder his middle-aged wife, the jury consisted of eleven women and one man. 

The panel that emerged from voir dire was ideal for the prosecution’s theory of the case, which could have been the plot from any of several dozen made-for-TV movies of the kind broadcast incessantly on the “Lifetime” cable network: The scheming, unfaithful husband, driven by ego and what remains of his mid-life libido, plots to murder his long-suffering wife in order to take up with a pneumatic trophy bimbo. 

Edgar Steele is a widely despised figure. His legal practice was devoted to defending the rights of similarly marginalized and disreputable people out of the conviction that "it is the ... politically incorrect whose rights are first infringed and then eliminated," as he pointed out in a speech he delivered in Jekyll Island, Georgia almost exactly two years before his Stalinist show trial in Boise

Actually, the comparison to the Soviet-era Russian legal system is unfair, given that a defendant hauled before a Soviet criminal tribunal actually enjoyed a small but measurable chance of acquittal.

After the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the jury system -- which had been established under Alexander II in 1864 -- was abolished and replaced with"People's Courts" composed of a judge and a panel of two to six Party-appointed "assessors" who heard all of the evidence and decided all questions of both fact and law. The assessors "became known as `nodders' for simply nodding in agreement with the judge," wrote federal Judge John C. Coughenour in an article published by the Seattle University Law Review. "People's assessors virtually always agreed with judges; acquittals were virtually nonexistent.... [U]nlike our adversarial system, the Soviet inquisitorial criminal justice system neither prioritized nor emphasized the rights of individual defendants, but instead paid homage to the interests of the state."

What Judge Coughenour describes as a contrast between the Soviet and American legal systems is actually one of the strongest points of similarity. Lew Rockwell recently pointed out that in the pseudo-legal proceedings referred to as "trials" by the federal Leviathan, the defendant "wins once every 212 times" -- a respectable approximation of "never." During the late Stalin era, Soviet procurators were ordered to achieve a 100 percent conviction rate; their counterparts in contemporary U.S. federal courts have essentially accomplished that feat. This is because the federal system, like its Soviet predecessor, is designed to serve the interests of the State -- and federal juries are typically purged of anyone unwilling to play the role of "nodder" in a show trial. 

During jury selection in the Edgar Steele "trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, who presided over the prosecution, carefully scrutinized potential jurors for what she called "hidden biases" against "the United States Government." Neither Whelan nor Judge Winmill was willing to abide the presence of any juror who understood that the jury's role is to force the government to overcome the constitutionally prescribed "bias" in favor of the defendant. They needn't have worried.
In Idaho, the most "anti-government" state in the Soyuz, the Feds were able to win a murder conspiracy conviction in a case without a victim, a murder weapon, or a motive, using only a doctored audio recording and the self-exculpating testimony of an admitted liar who confessed to manufacturing and planting the non-functional bomb. Andrei Vyshinsky would be suitably impressed.

(Note: In the original version of this essay, I mistakenly reported that Dr. George Papcun had offered to fly to Boise for the "pre-trial hearing"; in fact, he had attended a pre-trial hearing, but was prevented by Judge Winmill from testifying at the trial. My thanks to Violet Harris, who attended the trial and took comprehensive notes, for that very important correction. I likewise erred in referring to Dr. Allen Banks as a veterinarian, rather than a research scientist who specializes in chemistry and biochemistry; my thanks as well to Robert Magnuson for correcting that mistake.)

 Thank you so much for helping to keep Pro Libertate on-line. Your donations are vital and very much appreciated. God bless!

 Dum spiro, pugno!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Awlaki Sanction: Who's Next on the List?

The links connecting Anwar al-Awlaki to anti-American terrorism were entirely suppositious, forged through unsubstantiated official assertion. He was, at most, a clerical propagandist who never exercised command authority. For that matter, no evidence has been presented that he ever had an operational role in a military force of any kind. 

Awlaki -- an American-born cleric who was once courted by the Pentagon -- was accused of expressing support for armed attacks against U.S. military personnel and government interests. It is not terrorism to employ lethal violence against an invading and occupying army, nor is it a crime to express support for armed self-defense -- including armed interposition against the aggressive designs of the U.S. government.  

The administration asserted – without providing evidence – that Awlaki had an “operational” role in planning terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens. If evidence supporting that charge existed, the administration had the unconditional constitutional duty to indict Awlaki and put him on trial. 

Intelligence officials knew Awlaki’s location. The government of Yemen, which is headed by a pliant thug named Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington and would have eagerly cooperated in an effort to track down and extradite Awlaki. But this would not have validated the claim – made by the Bush administration, and embraced by its successor – that the President of the United States isn’t bound by the Constitution, but rather is the Living Constitution. 

As a guarantee of individual liberty, a political constitution is about as intrinsically valuable as a paper currency. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are irredeemable unless they are backed by a noble metal – lead, in the form of privately owned ammunition. Nonetheless, and for the record, this must be said: 

There is nothing in the Constitution or laws of the United States of America that permits a president to order the summary execution of any human being. Only Congress can declare war. Only a jury can find someone guilty of a crime. Only a judge can impose a death sentence. Or such would be the case, were we still living in a constitutional republic, rather than the militarist empire into which that republic inevitably degenerated. 

The vertically integrated murder apparatus that killed Awlaki and fellow U.S. citizen Samir Khan is entirely autonomous – and increasingly automated. Awlaki was added to a “kill list,” and his execution “sanctioned” by a secret legal memorandum, on the basis of things he had said in public. Within a few years, the machinery of mass murder will be refined to the point where people – including U.S. citizens – may find themselves targeted for execution on the basis of behavior “patterns” that suggest unexpressed by impermissible thoughts. 

 As Thomas Englehardt points out:

“In 2007, [then-] CIA director Michael Hayden began lobbying the White House for `permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a “pattern of life” associated with al-Qaeda or other groups.’ And next thing you knew, they were moving from a few attempted targeted assassinations toward a larger air war of annihilation against types and `behaviors.’”

Unmanned, automated drones are an ideal instrument for this variety ofall-encompassing warfare against dissent. “They are capable of roaming the world,” Englehardt continues. “Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of `hive minds.’”

According to retired General Wesley Clark, the murder – or, to use his term, “takedown” -- of Anwar al-Awlaki heralds a “transformation” of the Regime’s strategy in waging open-ended warfare. Awlaki’s death “makes his final legacy a proof of the effectiveness of America’s active defense against terrorists,” enthuses Clark. 

He goes on to emit one of the purest specimens of totalitarian agitprop ever recorded:

“For the United States, the journey continues: Awlaki’s death … moves us closer to the time when we must transition, psychologically and practically, from being a nation under threat to a nation that once again champions its openness and welcome to the whole world.”

Mere acceptance of the presidential power to execute anybody on a whim isn’t sufficient. It must be celebrated openly – nay, it must be extolled as a selling point to the rest of the world: Come visit this uniquely blessed land of killer drones and murder by executive decree! 

Inspired by Clark’s exhortation, and eager to display my patriotic zeal to eradicate those who have aided and supported terrorism, I would like to submit two nominees for the next drone-inflicted counter-terrorist “takedown”: Retired Generals Wesley Clark and Michael Hayden. 

Clark (l.) with KLA chieftain Hashim Thaci (r).
As noted above, there is no evidence that Anwar al-Awlaki ever actively collaborated in armed violence by Jihadists. Wesley Clark, however, was the commanding general during the NATO’s 78-day terror bombing of Serbia. 

Hundreds of civilians were murdered in that act of international terrorism, which resulted in the installation of a criminal syndicate called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as the government of that Serbian province. 

The KLA has a remarkable pedigree: It is descended on one side from the notorious WWII-era Skanderbeg militia organized by the Nazi SS; the other half of its heritage is Stalinist. It received material and technical assistance from the CIA , and financial aid from Osama bin Laden -- who were partners in supporting jihadist elements during the wars of Balkan secession.

As CIA director under George W. Bush, Michael Hayden was deeply involved in recruiting, arming, and supporting a large number of unreconstructed jihadist, among them an enchanting Somali warlord named Indha Adde, who now refers to himself as Gen. Yusuf Mohammad Siad.

In an on-the-scene account, Jeremy Scahill of The Nation observes that Siad has “pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda” and “openly admits to having sheltered some of the most notorious Al Qaeda figures—including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania….”

Stipulating that the term “al-Qaeda” is, in effect, shorthand for “any group of Muslims Washington has not succeeded in bribing yet,” the critical point here is that Siad openly admits doing the kinds of things Awlaki was accused of doing. Hayden and Clark, on the other hand, have committed crimes well beyond Awlaki’s capacity: As heads of military and intelligence bureaucracies, they offered material aid and support to terrorists. In fact, they – and a number of other veterans of the military-intelligence establishment – continue to do so in retirement.

Retired Generals Clark and Hayden are among the War Partyluminaries who are on the payroll of the Iranian Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), orthe so-called “People’s Mujahadeen,” which is listed as a terrorist group bythe State Department. Clark and Hayden, along with former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton and Peter Pace, former NATO commander James L. Jones, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former 9-11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton, Rudolph Giuliani, Michele Bachmann, andseveral other luminaries have been hired by the MEK to lobby the StateDepartment to remove the group from its list of Foreign TerroristOrganizations. 

MEK Flag.
The MEK was created in 1965 as part of a Soviet-sponsored international terrorist network that waged wars of "national liberation" throughout the developing world. Human Rights Watch, which describes the MEK as an "urban guerrilla group," points out that the group's ideology is a Muslim variation on "liberation theology." 

In his July 7 testimony before the House Committee on ForeignAffairs, Ray Takeyh, who is (of all things) a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that the MEK “sought to … amalgamate Islam and Marxism. Islam was supposed to provide the values while Marxism offered a pathway for organizing the society and defeating the forces of capitalism, imperialism, and feudalism…. [F]rom Lenin they embraced the importance of a vanguard party committed to mass mobilization, and from Third World revolutionaries they took the primacy of guerilla warfare as indispensable agents of political change.” 

In 1970, 13 members of the MEK received training (most likely under Soviet supervision) at PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Upon their return, the PLO-trained MEK cadres shared their newly acquired skills with their comrades, and the group embarked on a wave of attacks and bombings intended to bring down the Shah. During one rampage, MEK terrorists killed several U.S. military personnel – including Colonel Lewis Hawkins, the Deputy Chief of Military Mission in Tehran. 

Although the group suffered some attrition in its conflict with the SAVAK, the Shah’s hideous secret police, it survived long enough to participate in Khomeini revolution. MEK cadres were involved in the seizure of American hostages in October 1979. But the MEK’s ambitions and ideology made it a poor fit for Khomeini regime, so the group was purged from the ruling coalition in 1981 and much of its leadership was driven into exile in Iraq. There it was, in Takeyh’s words, used “as Saddam’s Praetorian Guard.”

Following Saddam’s U.S. supported invasion of Iran, the MEK began a hit-and-run guerrilla war against the Iranian regime in the hope of triggering a popular uprising. When that proved unsuccessful, the group set up a political front group called the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) in Paris. In 1985, notes Human Rights Watch, the MEK's "leadership was transformed when Masoud Rajavi announced his marriage to Maryam Uzdanlu.... The husband and wife team became co-leaders" of the MEK and announced an "ideological revolution." 

Everyday life in Camp Ashraf.
All of the group's members were required to undertake an individual "ideological revolution" by engaging in Maoist-style "self-criticism" sessions. Adherents were expected to listen raptly "to radio messages and explanations provided by [their] commanders" in order to "gain a deep insight into the greatness of our new leadership, meaning the leadership of Masoud and Maryam.... To believe in them as well as to show ideological and revolutionary obedience to them." 

By 1987, the MEK had acquired "all the main attributes of a cult," writes Iranian scholar Ervand Abrahamian, with Masoud Rajavi claiming the titles Rahbar (leader) and Imam-i hal (the Present Imam), and the forerunner to the impending second advent of the Mahdi. In 1994, the House Foreign Relations Committee described the group as a violent, Marxist-influenced cult. The Committee Chairman at the time was Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), who is now on the group’s payroll.

“Friendships and all emotional relationships are forbidden” to those recruited into the MEK, writes Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times magazine, who has spent time at the group’s headquarters at Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north of Baghdad. “From the time they are toddlers, boys and girls are not allowed to speak to each other. Each day at Camp Ashraf you had to report your dreams and thoughts.” Maoist “struggle sessions” and severe punishment for “deviationism” are commonplace. 

Expelled from France in 1986, Masoud Rajavi was welcomed in Baghdad, where he and his followers built a "National Liberation Army" that joined the Iran-Iraq war on Saddam's side. The MEK's plan was to recruit a huge army of suicide commandos whose sacrifice would inspire the “liberation” of Iran.

“We will not be fighting alone; we will have the people on our side,” proclaimed Rajavi. “They are tired of this regime, and ... they have every incentive to get rid of it forever. We will only have to act as their shields, protecting them from being easy targets for the [revolutionary] guards. Wherever we go there will be masses of citizens joining us, and the prisoners we liberate from jails will help us lead them towards victory. It will be like an avalanche, growing as it progresses.”

When the war ended in 1988 without victory for Iraq or the "National Liberation Army," the MEK leadership imposed yet another "ideological revolution" on its followers, this one including compelled mass divorces and widespread torture of those suspected of espionage or ideological deviation. Following the first Gulf War, the MEK collaborated in Saddam's crackdown on Shi'ites and Kurds.

In its campaign to build support for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration mentioned MEK camps in Iraq as evidence of Saddam’s support for international terrorism. Following the invasion, U.S. forces disarmed MEK fighters who operated several camps within 60 miles of the Iranian border. Rather than treating them as terrorists, the Bush administration designated the MEK fighters as "protected" persons under the
Geneva Convention

In fact, the Bush administration was so intent on sheltering the MEK – which, recall had killed Americans and taken part in the seizure of American hostages – that it rebuffed an offer from Iran to exchange MEK leaders for al-Qaeda suspects being held in Tehran. In exchange for protection, the MEK began to produce a series of lurid – and entirely fabricated – “intelligence” reports regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

The MEK has no support among reform-minded Iranians; in fact, the group is immensely useful to the incumbent regime as a way of discrediting its opposition, which in official propaganda is depicted as allies of the bizarre Islamo-Leninist cult. The current Iranian government is awful; if it were to seize power, the MEK -- which is the Persian equivalent of the Khmer Rouge -- would be dramatically worse. 

As the redoubtable Glenn Greenwald has observed, the retired U.S. officials who have become paid propagandists for the MEK are providing material support for an international terrorist organization. Staten Island resident Javed Iqbal, who operated a cable TV company, was recently convicted of that charge and sentenced to 69 months in federal prison for the supposed offense of carrying programs produced by a television network owned by Hezbollah. And of course, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were summarily executed without trial for allegedly rendering the same service to al-Qaeda. 

Clark, Hayden, and the MEK's other American courtesans are members of the American nomenklatura, which means that they are on the "who" side of Lenin's "who does what to whom" formula. The murder of Anwar al-Awlaki was intended as an object lesson to those of us on the other side of that dichotomy, demonstrating what can and will be done to anyone who is identified by the Regime as what the Soviets used to call a "socially dangerous person." 

An Update, and an Urgent Appeal 

"For the second time this year, Americans can celebrate the elimination of another enemy of the state," proclaims columnist Mark Paredes in Utah's Deseret News. No, seriously -- he really wrote those words. See the blog at for my reaction to that Stalinoid screed.

During the past couple of months, I've been doing some editorial work and writing for Republic magazine (and some related properties); this explains why my output here at Pro Libertate has declined during that period. This is very much a full-time job -- but, in all candor, it pays next to nothing, which is pretty typical of activist-oriented publications. It is the first regular paying work I've had since getting thrown under the bus by TNA five years ago today, and I'm certainly grateful for it -- but it's not enough to support a family of eight. 

I recognize that there is nothing unique about our predicament, and that many of you are in similar straits. I would be deeply and abidingly grateful for any help you can provide. 

Thanks so much for your help in keeping Pro Libertate on-line! God bless. 

Dum spiro, pugno!