Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Crime of Colonial Occupation & the Crisis in the Muslim World

The Crime of Colonial Occupation
& the Crisis in the Muslim World
Dr Firoz Mahboob Kamal
The unending crisis
The Muslim world is now in the grip of an overwhelming crisis. Not only in politics, it has engulfed religious beliefs, ideology, spirituality, culture, education, defence – in fact, all arenas of Muslims' life. Day by day, the crisis is deepening and getting a catastrophic dimension. It shows no exit way. Rather it looks the Muslims have totally lost the direction. Every disease has a distinctive cause, the disease process and the pathology. The same is with the crisis. The current crisis of the Muslims largely owes to the huge deviation from the Islamic roadmap revealed in the holy Qur'an. The long occupation by the colonialist kuffars has done a great harm by aggravating the deviation. To destroy any potential of the recovery, the coalition of the same Western colonialists has also imposed a long decimating war. In the ongoing US-led war, more than 99% deaths and destruction are taking place in Muslim countries. Hence, there remains little doubt that the ongoing war of the global coalition is not against any person or party but on Islam. It is exactly designed to inflict maximum damage to the Muslims' traditional power base and stem any chance of Islam's resurgence.
Every war is fought on two fronts: one in war fields and another in the field of ideology. In that context, the on-going war is not different either. Hence the enemy of Islam are not only killing millions of Muslim men and women and dismantling the defence and economic infrastructure, but also destroying Muslims' core belief, culture and geopolitical understanding. The genesis of the current war traces back to the enemies' war strategies of the long colonial occupation of the Muslim lands. It indeed feeds on colonial legacy; and now breeds catastrophic fallouts for the future. Instead of Islam, the colonialists nurtured racism, nationalism, secularism, tribalism, fascism, autocracy and other de-Islamising ideologies in Muslim lands. Such colonial legacy thus works as the perfect recipe for generating toxic incompatibilities among Muslims of different ethnicities, tribes and sects; and on little prompting gives birth to blood-letting civil wars. Hence, the European disease of civil war came to the Muslim lands. As a result, those who never went outside the own city or country in their life time now take the risks of crossing sea on boat to beg shelter in non-Muslim lands. What else can be the worst disgrace for the Muslims?
The imperialists' war on Islam is now spreading like wild fire. It has caused a huge humanitarian crisis in the Muslim World –especially in the Middle East. It has killed more than one million people only in Iraq and about 300 thousands in Syria. And the killing continues. It has forced millions of people to leave their homes -more than 4 million only from Syria. Millions of people are on the move from Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries. Few decades ago, millions of people were driven out of Palestine. The cause is the same: it is the brutal war of occupation by the external or internal enemies of Islam. The Muslim World never experienced such disastrous diaspora in its 14 hundred years' history; it had internal migration but never such external migration. Thousands of them are now entering Europe every day. Migration to Europe was not their choice; they preferred to take shelter in the neighbouring Muslim countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Since these countries stand fully saturated, they possess no other option but to cross the sea by boat to reach Europe. In such desperate move, hundreds of them are already drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Europeans have populated vast parts of the world by genocidal cleansing of the original people –as committed in America, Australia and New Zealand. Little space is left for the others. Moreover, an artificial state of Israel has been implanted in the heart of Muslim land with forceful eviction of its original people. Migration of Jews to Israel from all over the world is encouraged, but the return back of the original people to their ancestral home is made illegal! The Muslims' houses still get continuously demolished to make settlement of the foreign Jews. The leaders of the Western countries are not only silent on such grotesque crime against the innocent Palestinians, but also complicit in it. Israel gets money from the West to build houses for the Jewish migrant on the land of evicted Palestinians. Now the same Westerners firmly stand against the life-saving move of the refugees towards Europe. The refugees are being brutally beaten on the borders. Walls are raised, water cannons are used and tear gas shells are fired to prevent their entry into Europe. According to the UN Charter, the refugees don't need any legality to seek any shelter in a country. But the Western media and the governments are not ready to call the refugees as refugees. To justify their brutality, they call them illegal migrant. Doesn't it tell a lot about the moral problem of Europe? In Europe –the birth place of colonialism, imperialism, fascism and Nazism, deep seated hatred against Islam and the Muslims runs very high. Four million Lebanese could welcome more than 1 million refugees. Europe has a population of 500 million. Economically Europe is not like Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. But Islamophobia runs so high that even an idea of few thousands of Muslims entering into the continent cause violent hysteric spells. They call it Islamisation of Europe.
The Western hypocrisy
The hypocrisy of the Western imperialists runs much deeper. They didn't say what they truly believe. Such visible dishonesty runs since the early days of colonialism. When they occupied the Muslim land and killed its people and exploited its resources, even then they didn't tell the truth that they are against Islam and the Muslims. While they carried out the genocidal massacre cum ethnic cleansing against the native Red Indian in America, even then they didn't disclose their real motive either. On the contrary, they portrayed the occupation of weaker countries of Asia, Africa and America as the part of their civilising mission for the uncivilised –as if it was delegated to them by God.
The former US President George W. Bush told the same lie when he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.  However he told the truth when used the narrative of crusade to describe his Iraq invasion. The word "crusade" has a special historical connotation. It means knee-deep bloodbath in Muslim blood by the Christians –as occurred in the holy city of Jerusalem by the old crusaders. After committing horrendous massacres in Afghanistan and Iraq he returned back to the same lie to cover up his crimes.  He went on telling the world that the USA is not at war on Islam or Muslims! They were invading Iraq only to remove Saddam Hussain and his weapons of mass-destruction. They also told that they would promote democracy and human rights in Iraq.
When the British colonised India, they told the same lie. They tried to hide their brutal colonisation project by a false claim that they occupied India to promote human rights and development! But the truth is very painful. They killed more people in India than in other parts of the world: many fold higher than the Red Indians killed in the ethnic cleansing project. They committed massive deaths by extreme exploitation. They caused two devastating famines in Bengal by mindless exploitation: one in 1769-70 (Great Bengal Famine) and another in 1943-44. The famine of 1769-70 killed about 10 millions -one-third of the total population of Bengal at that time. The second one killed 1.5 million. (Source: The Cambridge economic history of India, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1983). The fertile land of Bengal never saw such famine in her whole history. In Bengal -which had a population several times larger than the UK, they built only two universities in their 190 years' occupation.  
The clash of civilisation
The old colonialism of the West has formally died; but the imperialism didn't. In fact, the appetite for further occupation, exploitation and controlling the fate of weaker countries still thrive in the former colonial nations. Hence the West's imperial war of occupation –as happened in recent years in Afghanistan and Iraq hasn't ended. Neither shows any sign that it will end sooner. In Afghanistan, thousands of the US army personnel still stand ready for war there. In recent years, President Obama has redeployed thousands of fresh soldiers in Iraq. The US air raids, missile attacks and dropping of bombs in countries like Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan still go unabated. The warfare of targeted killing by drones has now turned more brutal, more global, more unending and borderless.
War has now turned the most important part of the imperialists' economy. Fear of Soviet Union helped the USA economy grow faster. After its collapse, the Western imperialists have invented new bogey enemy; and that is Islam. They consider followers of Islam as the sole and formidable challenger against their worldview and civilisation. The US Professor Huntington conceptualised the image of the new enemy in his controversial book "the Clash of Civilisations." Such a frightening image of the Muslims has dipped down instantly in the West's psyche. In fact their old colonial mind-set was ever ready to swallow that. So the imperialists get an ideological bulwark for its war efforts against Islam. Hence wherever the Muslims rise up with the Islam's flag of La Ilaha IllAllah (there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah) with an intention of returning back to the prophetic days of sharia, khelafa, shura, jihad and Muslim unity, the imperialists consider such an attempt as a threat to their civilisation. Such an extreme paranoia is heavily working in the Western psyche to make them very savage and very revengeful to kill even the unarmed Muslim children, men and women even in their bedrooms and in the wedding or funeral ceremonies –as happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. "In a six-year period to 2011 an estimated 3,000 innocents were killed in Pakistan alone, including 176 children. Such casual slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled and jailed. Drones are immune". (Source: Simon Jenkins, the Guardian, 18th Sept. 2015).
The crimes of the colonialists
Apart from killing the people and looting the resources, the colonialists committed the greatest crime against the Muslims in the ideological territory. They didn't allow learn real Islam and nor did allow grow-up as full Muslim. They didn't put any bar against salah, fasting, zakat, haj or other religious rituals. But they restricted the practice of Islam as a deen –the code of life. They didn't allow practice of sharia. But how one can be full Muslim without the practice of sharia? They are so inimical to Islam and Muslim that they didn't allow developing an Islamic education system in any part of the occupied area that could help understand the holy Qur'an –the most important segment in Muslims' education. This way they made it very difficult to understand true Islam and grow up as a true Muslim. It is indeed the greatest calamity of the kuffar colonial rule. They added not only deaths and miseries to the worldly life; but also negatively impacted the fate in the hereafter.
Even after the departure of the colonialists, those heinous crimes still survive with the toxic aftermath. The greatest crime of the colonialists is not in the field of economics or material life. It is indeed in the territory of faith, spirituality and the religious practices. To be a full Muslim, one needs a full Islamic nurture through its political, social, cultural and educational milieu –which is totally impossible under the kuffar rule. For that, the Islamic state and sharia rule are indispensable. So the kuffar colonialists caused huge deprivation of Islamic nourishment in every Muslim's life. As a result, the Muslims missed the Islamic up-bringing and grew up with the total detachment from Islam. As a result, the Qur'anic Islam stands stranger even in a Muslim land. Now the same people stand shoulder to shoulder with the old colonial kuffars to obstruct any step of revival of Islam in any Muslim country. Lord Cromer –the British Consul-General in Egypt and a notorious architect of British colonialism dreamed of such a harvest of British education system in their colonial countries that will serve their interest even after the end of their own rule.
The infrastructure of disobedience: the greatest catastrophe
The colonial occupying forces had a long-term plan to crash the political, ideological and military powerbase of the Muslims. To keep the Muslims divided and weak, they developed a geopolitical infrastructure of lasting disunity; and destroyed the pan-Islamic brotherhood. They raised walls of partition on ethnic and tribal line only to suit their imperialist strategy; the Muslims' own interest was given no consideration. The one Arab land was thus divided into more than 20 pieces and handed over to a host of spineless servile clients. To protect such infrastructure of division, they stationed their standing army inside those vassal states. The presence of USA army cum navy in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states and also in the near vicinity in the Persian Gulf and in the Mediterranean Sea is a testimony to that. To add sustenance to their brutal colonial presence, they also implanted a racist state of Israel in Muslim land.
Can a true Muslim reconcile with such a division of the Muslim land? Is it compatible with the Islamic faith? Can a civilised mind accommodate such a legacy of colonialism? The non-Muslim occupiers not only altered the geopolitical configuration of the Muslim land, but also its ideological identity. Sharia-law-based judiciary was functioning in all Muslim countries before the colonial occupation. But they dismantled that only to be replaced by their own laws. Can a Muslim accept such kuffar laws? Acceptance of such man-made laws makes one out-rightly kafir (nonbeliever), zalem (oppressor) and fasiq (sinner) -as warned in the holy Al-Quran in Sura Al-Maida in verses 44, 45 & 47.
But the Muslims were forced by the colonialists to succumb to the kuffar laws at the cost of their fate in the hereafter! In the name of law and judiciary, it was indeed the Satanic infrastructure of rebellion against Allah Sub'hana wa Ta'la. The colonialists have left; but the Satanic infrastructure they built still survives. It is in fact the greatest catastrophe of non-Muslims' cum anti-Islamists' occupation of any Muslim land. Under such occupation, the journey towards paradise becomes extremely difficult; but turns very easy to move towards the hellfire. Who does better understand those difficulties of a believer living in any non-Muslims' occupation than Allah Sub'hana wa Ta'la? So in Islam, the greatest religious act is not to offer 5 times prayers, keep fasting in Ramadan, give zakat or performing haj, but to defend the Islamic border and fight for ending the anti-Islamists' occupation and implement the rule of sharia. Such a fight is indeed a religious obligation on every believer. As per Qur'anic announcement, only those who get killed in such a fight receive instant access to the paradise and get exceptional exemption from waiting till the judgement day. 19/09/2015

Shahzad Afzal


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Real Enemy Is Within

By Chris Hedges

If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left. It is not a side issue. It is the issue. It is why I refuse to give a pass in this presidential election campaign to Bernie Sanders, who refuses to confront the war industry or the crimes of empire, including U.S. support for the slow genocide carried out by Israel against the Palestinians. There will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.

Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls "inverted totalitarianism." Libertarians seem to get this. It is time the left woke up.

"Bourgeois society faces a dilemma," socialist Rosa Luxemburg writes, "either a transition to Socialism, or a return to barbarism ... we face the choice: either the victory of imperialism and the decline of all culture, as in ancient Rome—annihilation, devastation, degeneration, a yawning graveyard; or the victory of Socialism—the victory of the international working class consciously assaulting imperialism and its method: war. This is the dilemma of world history, either-or; the die will be cast by the class-conscious proletariat."

The U.S. military and its array of civilian contractors operate as enforcers and hired killers across the globe for corporations, many of which pay no taxes. Young men and women, many unable to find work, are the cannon fodder. The U.S. military has served as the handmaiden of capitalism since it committed genocide against Native Americans, carried out on behalf of land speculators, mineral companies, timber merchants and the railroads. The military replicated this indiscriminate slaughter at the end of the 19th century in our imperial expansion in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean, in Central America and especially in the Philippines. Military muscle exists to permit global corporations to expand markets and plunder oil, minerals and other natural resources while keeping subjugated populations impoverished by corrupt and brutal puppet regimes. The masters of war are the scum of the earth.


It was the war profiteers and the military, as Seymour Melman has pointed out, that conspired after World War II to keep the country in a state of total war, deforming the economy to continue to produce massive amounts of weapons and armaments in peacetime. The permanent war economy is sustained through fearmongering—about communists during the Cold War and about Islamic jihadists today. Such fearmongering is used not only to justify crippling military expenditures but to crush internal dissent. The corporatists and the military, which have successfully carried out what John Ralston Saulcalls a "coup d'état in slow motion," have used their political and economic clout to dismantle programs and policies put in place under the New Deal. Brian Waddell writes of this process:

The requirements of total war ... revived corporate political leverage, allowing corporate executives inside and outside the state extensive influence over wartime mobilization policies. ... Assertive corporate executives and military officials formed a very effective wartime alliance that not only blocked any augmentation of the New Dealer authority but also organized a powerful alternative to the New Deal. International activism displaced and supplanted New Deal domestic activism. Thus was the stage finally set for a vastly extended and much more powerful informal U.S. empire outside its own hemisphere.

The war machine is not, and almost never has been, a force for liberty or democracy. It does not make us safe. It does not make the world safe. And its immense economic and political power internally, including its management of the security and surveillance state and its huge defense contracts, has turned it into the most dangerous institution in America.

Military expenditures bleed the federal budget—officially—of $598.49 billion a year, or 53.71 percent of all spending. This does not, however, include veterans' benefits at $65.32 billion a year or hidden costs in other budgets that see the military and the war profiteers take as much as $1.6 trillion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers. The working and middle class fund the endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and a host of other countries while suffering crippling "austerity" programs, massive debt peonage, collapsing infrastructures, chronic underemployment and unemployment and mounting internal repression. The war industry, feeding off the carcass of the state, grows fat and powerful with profits. This is not unique. It is how all empires are hollowed out from the inside. As we are impoverished and stripped of our rights, the tools used to maintain control on the outer reaches of empire—drones, militarized police, indiscriminate violence, a loss of civil liberties, and security and surveillance—are used on us. We have devolved, because of the poison of empire, into a Third World nation with nukes. We are ruled by an omnipotent, corporate oligarchy and their Pretorian Guard. The political class, Republican and Democrat, dances to the tune played by these oligarchs and militarists and mouths the words they want it to say.


"The Power Elite" warns of a military machine that not only holds the political and economic life of the nation hostage but also has the ability to form public opinion. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year and has some 27,000 employees who work on recruitment, advertising, psychological operations and public relations, according to a 2009 report by The Associated Press. But millions of dollars more for propaganda are hidden within classified budgets. The Pentagon places its commentators and pundits on the airwaves, produces "news" stories for the press, has ubiquitous advertising, runs junkets for Wall Street capitalists and elected officials and manages how Hollywood and television portray war and the military. Mills writes:

… [I]n all of pluralist America, there is no interest—there is no possible combination of interests—that has anywhere near the time, the money, the manpower, to present a point of view on the issues involved that can effectively compete with the views presented day in and day out by the warlords and by those whom they employ.

This means, for one thing, that there is no free and wider debate of military policy or of policies of military relevance. But that, of course, is in line with the professional soldier's training for command and obedience, and with his ethos, which is certainly not that of a debating society in which decisions are put to a vote. It is also in line with the tendency in a mass society for manipulation to replace explicitly debated authority, as well as the fact of total war in which the distinction between soldier and civilian is obliterated. The military manipulation of civilian opinion and the military invasion of the civilian mind are now important ways in which the power of the warlords is steadily exerted.

The extent of the military publicity, and the absence of opposition to it, also means that it is not merely this proposal or that point of view that is being pushed. In the absence of contrasting views, the very highest form of propaganda warfare can be fought: the propaganda for a definition of reality within which only certain limited viewpoints are possible. What is being promulgated and reinforced is the military metaphysics—the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military. The publicists of the military ascendency need not really work to indoctrinate with this metaphysics those who count: they have already accepted it.

The naked greed and violence that define empire, understood by writers such as Joseph Conrad, Eduardo Galeano and Arundhati Roy, is masked within empire behind the cant of patriotism and nationalism, which sanctify self-exaltation and racism. Imperial war is transformed through the magic of propaganda into glorious spectacle. Galeano once wrote that "each time a new war is disclosed in the name of the fight of the good against evil, those who are killed are all poor. It's always the same story repeating once and again and again." 

The hypermasculinity of the military, celebrated by Hollywood and the media, is seductive to an underclass trapped in menial, dead-end jobs. Empires feed like vultures on these pools of frustrated surplus labor. They manipulate their feelings of powerlessness. This is why capitalists create pools of surplus labor. Those who are desperate to secure a place in society are easy fodder for the military and ready candidates for underpaid jobs without benefits or job security. Our corporate, neofeudal society is by design.

The sons and daughters of the elites rarely serve in the military. The military, even at the service academies such as West Point, attracts those who have been cast aside by neoliberalism. Often, before joining the military, they lack a clearly defined identity or sense of purpose. They are terrified of being pushed permanently into the underclass. They are especially susceptible to indoctrination. The military teaches soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines not to think, not to challenge assumptions and structures, but to obey and to be "tough" and "strong." This hypermasculine culture glorifies the state and state violence. It renders all human beings outside the sacred national circle as objects to control or exploit. It creates a binary world of good and evil. It sanctifies violence, especially male violence. It is why rape is endemic in the military. It is why pornography and violence against women are so pervasive in the culture. Tenderness, nurturing and empathy, along with intellectual inquiry and artistic expression, are banished. The weak and the vulnerable deserve to be cast aside. Our enemies deserve to be killed. It is the culture of death. And we drink deep from this dark elixir.

W.E.B. Du Bois warns that empire was the primary tool used to break the working class in Europe and later in the United States. As workers organized and fought for rights and fair wages, the masters of empire started to shift production to countries more easily controlled, countries inhabited by "darker peoples." This is a shift that is largely complete.

"Here, are no labor unions or votes or questioning onlookers or inconvenient consciences," Du Bois writes. "These men may be used down to the very bone, and shot and maimed in 'punitive' expeditions when they revolt. In these dark lands 'industrial development' may repeat in exaggerated form every horror of the industrial horror of Europe, from slavery and rape to disease and maiming, with one test of success—dividends."

Du Bois also knew that the costs of maintaining empire were offset by the profits. "What do nations care about the cost of war, if by spending a few hundred millions in steel and gunpowder they can gain a thousand millions in diamonds and cocoa?" he asks.

The reality of empire is nearly impossible to see from the heart of empire. Those who speak its truth are banished from the airwaves. They are condemned as traitors or "anti-American." The cries of empire's victims are rarely heard. The crimes that empire commits are rendered invisible. The greed of the war makers, along with the corruption and dishonesty of the political, judicial, academic and media courtiers who serve empire, is blocked from public view. The image of empire is scripted like a Walt Disney movie. This mythical narrative is disseminated in films, on television, by the press, in churches, in universities and by the state. It is a lie. But it is a lie that works. And it works because it is what we want. It appeals to our fantasies about ourselves: that we are a virtuous people, that God has blessed us above others, that we have the highest form of civilization, that we have been anointed to police the world and make it safe, that we are the most powerful and righteous nation on earth, that we are always assured of victory, that we have a right to kill in the name of nationalist values—values determined by our naked self-interest and that we conveniently define as universal. 

Noam Chomsky, more than perhaps any other American intellectual, has laid bare the latent forces of totalitarianism in our midst and warned us against the contagion of empire. He says:

Those with deep totalitarian commitments identify the state with the society, its people, and its culture. Therefore those who criticized the policies of the Kremlin under Stalin were condemned as "anti-Soviet" or "hating Russia." For their counterparts in the West, those who criticize the policies of the U.S. government are "anti-American" and "hate America"; those are the standard terms used by intellectual opinion, including left-liberal segments, so deeply committed to their totalitarian instincts that they cannot even recognize them, let alone understand their disgraceful history, tracing to the origins of recorded history in interesting ways. For the totalitarian, "patriotism" means support for the state and its policies, perhaps with twitters of protest on grounds that they might fail or cost us too much. For those whose instincts are democratic rather than totalitarian, "patriotism" means commitment to the welfare and improvement of the society, its people, its culture. That's a natural sentiment and one that can be quite positive. It's one all serious activists share, I presume; otherwise why take the trouble to do what we do? But the kind of "patriotism" fostered by totalitarian societies and military dictatorships, and internalized as second nature by much of intellectual opinion in more free societies, is one of the worst maladies of human history, and will probably do us all in before too long.

There can be no rational debate about empire with many desperate Americans who have ingested this as their creed. The distortion of neoliberalism has left them little else. Here lies the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy. It is a potent and dangerous force within the body politic. And it is growing. The real enemy is within.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Bionic Lens To Give Permanent Perfect Eye Vision

Bionic Lens To Give Permanent Perfect Vision
by Dave Smith - May 22, 2015
An optometrist from British Columbia believes he's invented the holy grail of corrective lenses: A device that lets you see "three times better than 20/20 vision" without wearing any contacts or glasses at all — for an entire lifetime.
Dr. Garth Webb is the founder and CEO of Ocumetics Technology Corp, a company dedicated to eliminating glasses and contact lenses forever. Webb and his team of visual scientists have invented the "Ocumetics Bionic Lens," which is the product of eight years of research and $3 million in funding, plus a load of internationally filed patents, according to the Canadian Press.
The Ocumetics Bionic Lens looks like a small button, but Webb believes it has the power to revolutionize eye care as we know it.
"Perfect eyesight should be a human right," Webb told CBC News.
According to Ocumetics' website, the Bionic Lens is implanted in your eye during an eight-minute "painless procedure." The operation is reportedly similar to cataract surgery, where the lens inside your eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. It's an outpatient procedure that doesn't require any anesthesia or an overnight stay.
The bionic lens is actually folded like a taco and placed in the eye using a syringe filled with a saline solution. Then, in about 10 seconds, the bionic lens unravels over your eye by itself and your sight is "immediately corrected."
"If you can just barely see the clock at 10 feet, when you get the Bionic Lens, you can see the clock at 30 feet away," Webb said.
Webb says his bionic lenses give you vision that's three times better than 20/20 vision, as measured by the Snellen chart for visual acuity. We've reached out to Webb to learn more about the visual improvements with regards to accuracy and range.
It's still unclear how the technology actually works, but Webb says the Bionic Lens is perfectly safe, and it won't cause any biophysical changes within the eye.
This has other benefits, too. Anyone who gets this bionic lens surgically implanted would never get cataracts, since the eye's natural lenses, which are prone to decay, would have been replaced with these artificial ones. And this is much safer than laser surgery, which involves burning away healthy corneal tissue and also results in other complications, like problems with glare and trouble driving at night. Webb's solution has none of these issues; the quality of your vision will always be perfect, and it will not deteriorate over time.
Webb showed off his bionic lens to 14 top ophthalmologists in mid-April during an annual conference dedicated to cataracts and refractive surgery. He said the surgeons were impressed, and some will assist in future clinical trials.
The bionic lens will first be tested on animals and then blind human eyes before Webb seeks regulatory approval in Canada and other various countries.
The first Ocumetics Bionic Lens could be available as soon as 2017, but it will only be an option for people over the age of 25 since eye structures aren't fully formed until that age.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pakistan Opens Criminal Investigation Into Former CIA Officials Involved in Drone Strike—Then Drops Case

Kareem Khan, who has pursued lawsuit against former CIA officials (Photo from Reprieve)

As ordered by a high court in Pakistan, police in Islamabad launched a criminal investigation into former CIA station chief, Jonathan Bank, for charges of murder and conspiracy to kill in a drone strike in 2009. They also opened a similar investigation into former CIA legal counsel John Rizzo.

Kareem Khan's teenage son, Zahinullah, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, were killed on December 31, 2009, in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan. Khan decided to pursue a case against those responsible for his family's deaths in 2010.

A criminal registration document by Khan written in 2010alleges, "One person, namely Jonathan [Bank], American national who is CIA's Islamabad Station Chief, is responsible for the murder" of Khan's son and brother. It accuses Bank of "running an illegal clandestine spying operation" in Pakistan but, specifically, North Waziristan, where the Pakistan Army has been "carrying out a military operation against militants."

Also alleged is that Bank had a role in the CIA placing a GPS device on the home that was targeted by a drone strike, which killed Iqbal and Zahinullah.

"The launch of this investigation against those responsible for the deaths of my son and brother, and thousands of other civilian victims, supports our position that the CIA is committing acts of murder in Pakistan by killing innocent civilians with impunity," Khan declared.

Shahzad Akbar, who is Khan's attorney and a legal fellow with Reprieve, reacted, "Today's decision marks a key turning point in Kareem Khan's search for justice over the deaths of his brother and son. After four years of government attempts to block his case, Kareem may finally get the answers he deserves and the CIA may finally be held in some way accountable for the murders it has been carrying out on Pakistani soil."

It was viewed as a huge victory for Khan in a struggle that has already spanned five years. But there was not much time for celebration, as Islamabad police indicated they want to have the case transferred to another jurisdiction—the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.

Police officer Mohammad Nawaz told the Associated Press, "We registered this case on orders from the court but on Wednesday night we dropped it because that drone attack did not take place in our jurisdiction in Islamabad." (However, the case was not dropped as AP reported because the police do not have the authority to drop a case. The court has the authority.)

"There is no legal justification for such a transfer," Akbar argued. "The orders to strike Kareem's family were given from the US Embassy in Islamabad and that's where the investigation needs to be focused: on the CIA agents who sit behind embassy walls making life or death decisions as judge, jury and executioner. An investigation centered anywhere else is simply an attempt to subvert justice."

Khan added, "I am disappointed that the Islamabad police seem eager to transfer the case to FATA where there is no police and when the culprits sit here in Islamabad. Nevertheless I will continue my legal struggle against continued injustice and will approach the judiciary again to bring the case back to Islamabad where it should be investigated."

In fact, according to Reprieve, this jurisdictional issue was already settled by the court more than a year ago. The police officer was spreading misinformation. Akbar plans to make a formal accusation that this police officer was acting in bad faith when he spoke to press about the lawsuit being dropped.

Early April, an Islamabad High Court judge directed the police to register a murder and terrorism case against Bank and former CIA legal counsel John Rizzo for their role in the drone strike that killed Khan's family. Authorities had failed to comply with court orders to register a case since June 6, 2014.

Islamabad Police Chief IGP Tahir Alam informed the court that authorities were reluctant to register a case because it could impact relations between Pakistan and the United States. However, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui was not persuaded and ordered a criminal case against CIA officials be submitted to the Office of the Registrar of the High Court.

There has been scant coverage by US establishment press of the alleged role Bank and others may have played in the deaths of Khan's family.

Bank was named in the lawsuit in 2010. When his name was revealed in Pakistani media, the Washington Post followed the CIA's request and did not name Bank in their report.

According to Chris Woods' book, Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars, the CIA alleged that Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, had named him in retaliation for ISI chief, General Pasha, being put on trial in a US district court in Brooklyn for his alleged role in the Mumbai massacre. But President Barack Obama's administration "filed papers with the court opposing on principle the naming of foreign government officials in such cases and Pasha was able to visit Washington unimpeded on at least four occasions throughout 2011."

"In fact, Jonathan Bank had been in Islamabad for over a year under his own name when he was "outed," with his identity known not only to top ranking Pakistani military, intelligence and administration figures but also to senior diplomats of other nations," Woods noted.

Akbar may have obtained the name of Bank from Pakistani military or an intelligence source, but he refuses to share details of how he uncovered Bank' identity.

As described by Woods, this lawsuit by Khan was the idea of Christopher Rogers, who is with the non-governmental organization, CIVIC. The organization produced the "first major field examination of US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas," which covered "more than six years of bombings," in September 2010. Nine drone strikes were analyzed. It inspired Rogers to hire Akbar and find someone who had been a victim of a drone strike, who would be willing to go after the CIA.

"When I filed against the CIA," Khan recalled, "Everyone even in Pakistan labelled us as crazies or mad people. Asking, 'How could you sue the CIA?' Nothing can come of it."

As pointed out by VICE News' Jason Leopold, "Bank is now back at the CIA, and has been named deputy chief for counterintelligence at the Counter Terrorism Center, the division that oversees and conducts drone strikes."

Akbar has championed Khan as an example of someone who has chosen to try and force the legal system to work for him rather than turn to violence and seek revenge for what happened to his family. He believes the US government should be supportive of his effort to win justice for Khan, but, in 2011, the US government tried to prevent Akbar from speaking at Columbia University about drone strikes by denying him a visa.

Khan was mysteriously captured and disappeared in February 2014, just days before he was to go before British parliament and tell his story. He reappeared on February 14 after being "interrogated, beaten and tortured." At least fifteen men, eight in police uniforms, chained him and asked him repeatedly about "investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf."

Like with cases of torture, where the US government has strong-armed governments to protect CIA officials from accountability, the US government has undoubtedly done the same here. Pakistani authorities will continue to face pressure, as they have already, to conjure ways to circumvent or sidestep the legal process so that CIA officials do not have to face criminal charges for their role in drone strikes.

By: Kevin Gosztola


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sex, Drugs, and Dead Soldiers

What U.S. Africa Command Doesn't Want You to Know 

By Nick Turse

"Tom Dispatch" - " Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.

It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali.  For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.

Three of the dead were American commandos.  The driver, a captain nicknamed "Whiskey Dan," was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentionedeven in government publications.  One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas.  Three of the others weren't military personnel at all or even Americans.  They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or "prostitutes."     

The six deaths followed an April 2012 all-night bar crawl through Mali's capital, Bamako, according to a formerly classified report by U.S. Army criminal investigators. From dinner and drinks at a restaurant called Blah-Blah's to more drinks at La Terrasse to yet more at Club XS and nightcaps at Club Plaza, it was a rollicking swim through free-flowing vodka. And vodka and Red Bull. And vodka and orange juice. And vanilla pomegranate vodka. And Chivas Regal.  And Jack Daniels.  And Corona beer. And Castel beer. And don't forget B-52s, a drink generally made with Kahlúa, Grand Marnier, and Bailey's Irish Cream. The bar tab at Club Plaza alone was the equivalent of $350 in U.S. dollars.

At about 5 a.m. on April 20th, the six piled into that Land Cruiser, with Captain Dan Utley behind the wheel, to head for another hotspot: Bamako By Night. About eight minutes later, Utley called a woman on his cell phone to ask if she was angry. He said he'd circle back and pick her up, but she told him not to bother. Utley then handed the phone to Maria Laol, one of the Moroccan women. "Don't be upset.  We'll come back and get you," she said. The woman on the other end of the call then heard screaming before the line went dead.

A Command With Something to Hide

In the years since, U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM, which is responsible for military operations on that continent, has remained remarkably silent about this shadowy incident in a country that had recently seen its democratically elected president deposed in a coup led by an American-trained officer, a country with which the U.S. had suspended military relations a month earlier. It was, to say the least, strange. But it wasn't the first time U.S. military personnel died under murky circumstances in Africa, nor the first (or last) time the specter of untoward behavior led to a criminal investigation. In fact, as American military operations have ramped up across Africa, reaching a record 674 missions in 2014, reports of excessive drinking, sex with prostitutes, drug use, sexual assaults, and other forms of violence by AFRICOM personnel have escalated, even though many of them have been kept under wraps for weeks or months, sometimes even for years. 

"Our military is built on a reputation of enduring core values that are at the heart of our character," Major (then Brigadier) General Wayne Grigsby Jr., the former chief of AFRICOM's subordinate command, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), wrote in an address to troops last year.  "Part of belonging to this elite team is living by our core values and professionalism every day. Incorporating those values into everything we do is called our profession of arms." 

But legal documents, Pentagon reports, and criminal investigation files, many of them obtained byTomDispatch through dozens of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and never before revealed, demonstrate that AFRICOM personnel have all too regularly behaved in ways at odds with those "core values."  The squeaky clean image the command projects through news releases, official testimony before Congress, and mainstream media articles -- often by cherry-pickedjournalists who are granted access to otherwise unavailable personnel and locales -- doesn't hold up to inspection.

"As a citizen and soldier, I appreciate how important it is to have an informed public that helps to provide accountable governance and is also important in the preservation of the trust between a military and a society and nation it serves," AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez saidat a press conference last year.  Checking out these revelations of misdeeds with AFRICOM'S media office to determine just how representative they are, however, has proven impossible. 

I made several hundred attempts to contact the command for comment and clarification while this article was being researched and written, but was consistently rebuffed.  Dozens of phone calls to public affairs personnel went unanswered and scores of email requests were ignored.  At one point, I called AFRICOM media chief Benjamin Benson 32 times on a single business day from a phone that identified me by name.  It rang and rang.  He never picked up.  I then placed a call from a different number so my identity would not be apparent.  He answered on the second ring.  After I identified myself, he claimed the connection was bad and the line went dead.  Follow-up calls from the second number followed the same pattern -- a behavior repeated day after day for weeks on end. 

This strategy, of course, mirrored the command's consistent efforts to keep embarrassing incidents quiet, concealing many of them and acknowledging others only with the sparest of reports.  The command, for example, issued a five-sentence press release regarding those deaths in Bamako.  They provided neither the names of the Americans nor the identities of the "three civilians" who perished with them.  They failed to mention that the men were with the Special Operations forces, noting only that the deceased were "U.S. military members."  For months after the crash, the Pentagon kept secret the name of Master Sergeant Trevor Bast, a communications technician with the Intelligence and Security Command (whose personnel often work closely with JSOC) -- until the information was pried out by the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock. 

"It must be noted that the activities of U.S. military forces in Mali have been very public," Colonel Tom Davis of AFRICOM told TomDispatch in the wake of the deaths, without explaining why the commandos were still in the country a month after the United States had suspended military relations with Mali's government.  In the years since, the command has released no additional information about the episode. 

True to form, AFRICOM's Benjamin Benson failed to respond to requests for comment and clarification, but according to the final report on the incident by Army criminal investigators (obtained by TomDispatch through a FOIA request), the deaths of Utley, Bast, Sergeant First Class Marciano Myrthil, and the three women "were accidental, however [Captain] Utley's actions were negligent resulting in the passengers' deaths."  A final review by a staff judge advocate from Special Operations Command Africa found that there was probable cause to conclude Utley was guilty of negligent homicide.

AFRICOM's Sex Crimes

The criminal investigation of the incident in Mali touched upon relationships between U.S. military personnel and African "females."  Indeed, the U.S. military has many regulations regardingromantic attachments and sexual activity.  AFRICOM personnel have not always adhered to such strictures and, in the course of my reporting, I asked Benson if the command has had a problem with sexual misconduct.  He never responded.  

In recent years, allegations of widespread sex crimes have dogged the U.S. military.  A Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 members of the armed forces were sexually assaulted in 2012, though just one in 10 of those victims reported the assaults.  In 2013, the number of personnel reporting such incidents jumped by 50% to 5,518 and last year reached nearly 6,000.  Given the gross underreporting of sexual assaults, it's impossible to know how many of these crimes involved AFRICOM personnel, but documents examined by TomDispatch suggests a problem does indeed exist.

In August 2011, for example, a Marine with Joint Enabling Capabilities Command assigned to AFRICOM was staying at a hotel in Germany, the site of the command's headquarters.  He began making random room-to-room calls that were eventually traced.  According to court martial documents examined by TomDispatch, the recipient of one of them said the "subject matter of the phone call essentially dealt with a solicitation for a sexual tryst." 

About a week after he began making the calls, the Marine, who had previously been a consultant for the CIA, began chatting up a boy in the hotel lounge.  After learning that the youngster was 14 years old, "the conversation turned to oral sex with men and the appellant asked [the teen] if he had ever been interested in oral sex with men.  He also told [the teen] that if the appellant or any of his male friends were aroused, they would have oral sex with one another," according to legal documents.  The boy attempted to change the subject, but the Marine moved closer to him, began "rubbing his [own] crotch area through his shorts," and continued to talk to him "in graphic detail about sexual matters and techniques" before the youngster left the lounge.  The Marine was later court-martialed for his actions and convicted of making a false official statement, as well as "engaging in indecent liberty with a child" -- that is, engaging in an act meant to arouse or gratify sexual desire while in a child's presence.

That same year, according to a Pentagon report, a noncommissioned officer committed a sexual assault on a female subordinate at an unnamed U.S. base in Djibouti (presumably Camp Lemonnier, the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa).  "Subject grabbed victim's head and forced her to continue having sexual intercourse with him," the report says.  He received a nonjudicial punishment including a reduction in rank, a fine of half-pay for two months, 45 days of restriction, and 45 days of extra duty.  The latter two punishments were later suspended and the perpetrator was, at the time the report was prepared, "being processed for administrative separation." 

At an "unknown location" in Djibouti in 2011, an enlisted woman reported being raped by a fellow service member "while on watch."  According to a synopsis prepared by the Department of Defense, that man "was not charged with any criminal violations in reference to the rape allegation against him. Victim pled guilty to failure to obey a lawful order and false official statement." 

In a third case in Djibouti, an enlisted woman reported opening the door to her quarters only to be attacked.  An unknown assailant "placed his left hand over her mouth and placed his right hand under her shirt and began to slide it up the side of her body."  All leads were later deemed exhausted and no suspect was identified.  According to Air Force documents obtained byTomDispatch, allegations also surfaced concerning an assault with intent to commit rape in Morocco, a forcible sodomy in Ethiopia, and possession of child pornography in Djibouti, all in 2012.

On July 22nd of that year, a group of Americans traveled to a private party in Djibouti attended by U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi and Major General Ralph Baker, the commander of a counterterrorism force in the Horn of Africa.  Baker drank heavily, according to an AFRICOM senior policy adviser who sat with him in the backseat of a sport utility vehicle on the return trip to Camp Lemonnier.  While two military personnel, one of them an agent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), sat just a few feet away, Baker "forced his hand between [the adviser's] legs and attempted to touch her vagina against her will," according to a classified criminal investigation file obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

"I grabbed his hand and held it on the seat to try to prevent him from putting his hand deeper between my legs," she told an investigator. "He responded by smiling at me and saying, 'Cat got your tongue?' I was appalled about what he was doing to me and did not know what to say."  She later reported the offense via the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Hotline.  According to areport in the Washington Post, "Baker was given an administrative punishment at the time of the incident as well as a letter of reprimand -- usually a career-ending punishment."  Demoted in rank to brigadier general, he was allowed to quietly retire in September 2013.

A Pentagon report on sexual assault lists allegations of three incidents in Djibouti in 2013 -- one act of "abusive sexual contact" and two reports of "wrongful sexual contact."  The report also details a case in which a member of the U.S. military reported that she and a group of friends had been out eating and drinking at a local establishment.  Upon returning to her quarters at the base, one of her male companions asked to enter her room and she gave him permission.  He then began to kiss her neck and shoulders.  When she resisted, according to the report, "he grabbed her shorts and began to kiss and lick her vagina."  That man was later charged with rape, abusive sexual contact, and wrongful sexual contact.  He was tried and acquitted.

The Pentagon has yet to issue its 2014 report on sexual assaults and AFRICOM has failed to release any statistics on its own, but given that military personnel fail to report most sexual crimes, whatever numbers may emerge will undoubtedly be drastic undercounts.

Sex, Drugs, and Guns

On the morning of April 10, 2010, a Navy investigator walked through the door of room 3092 at the Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort in Mombasa, Kenya.  Two empty wine bottles sat in the trash can.  Another was on the floor.  There were remnants of feminine hygiene products on the bathroom countertop, Axe body spray in an armoire, unopened condoms on a table, and inside a desk drawer, a tan powder that he took to be "an illicit narcotic," all of this according to an official report by that NCIS agent obtained by TomDispatch through the Freedom of Information Act.    

Three days before, on April 7th, Sergeant Roberto Diaz-Boria of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard had been staying in this room.  On leave from Manda Bay, Kenya -- home of Camp Simba, a hush-hush military outpost in Africa -- he had come to Mombasa to kick back.  That night, along with a brother-in-arms, he ended up at Causerina, a nearby bar that locals said was a hotspot for drugs and prostitution.  Diaz-Boria left Causerina with a "female companion," according to official documents, paid the requisite fee for such guests at the hotel, and took her to his room.  By morning, he was dead.  

A news story released soon after by Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa stated that Diaz-Boria had died while "stationed" in Mombasa.  The cause of death, the article noted, was "under investigation."  CJTF-HOA failed to respond to a request for additional information about the case, but an Army investigation later determined that the sergeant "accidentally died of multiple drug toxicity after drinking alcohol and using cocaine and heroin."  Where he obtained the drugs was never determined, but according to the summary of an interview with an NCIS agent, a close friend in his infantry unit did say that there were "rumors within the battalion about the easy access to very potent illegal narcotics in Manda Bay, Kenya."    

Kenya is hardly an anomaly.  Criminal inquiries regarding illicit drug use also took place in Ethiopia in 2012 and Burkina Faso in 2013, while another investigation into distribution was conducted in Cameroon that same year, according to Air Force records obtained by TomDispatch.  AFRICOM did not respond to questions concerning any of these investigations.

In late 2012, when I asked what U.S. personnel were up to in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, AFRICOM spokesman Eric Elliott replied that troops were "supporting humanitarian activities in the area."  Indeed, official documents and other sources indicate U.S. personnel have been carrying out aidactivities in the region for years.  But that wasn't all they were doing. 

The Lonely Planet guide says that the Samrat Hotel provides the best digs in town, with a "classy lobby" and "a good nightclub and restaurant."  The one drawback: "stiff mattresses."  That apparently didn't affect the activities of at least nine of 19 U.S. military personnel from the 775th Engineer Detachment of the Tennessee Army National Guard.  After an unidentified "local national female" was seen emerging from a "secured communications room" in the hotel, a preliminary investigation was launched and found "military members of the unit allegedly routinely solicited prostitutes in the lobby of the hotel and later brought the prostitutes back to their assigned rooms or to the secured communications room," according to documents obtained via FOIA request.  A later report by Army agents determined that personnel from the 775th Engineer Detachment and the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion "individually engaged in sexual acts in exchange for money" at the hotel between July 1 and July 22, 2013.  In the room of a staff sergeant, investigators also found what appeared to be khat, a popular local narcotic that offers a hyperactive high marked byaggressiveness that ultimately leaves the user in a glassy-eyed daze.

A sworn statement by a medic who served in Dire Dawa that month -- obtained by TomDispatch in a separate FOIA request -- paints a picture of a debauched atmosphere of partying, local "girlfriends," and a variety of sex acts.  "Originally, before we departed to Ethiopia, I grabbed around 70 condoms.  However, I was told that was not going to be enough," said the medic, noting that it was his job to carry medical supplies.  Instead, he brought 200. He confessed to obtaining a prostitute through the bartender at the Samrat Hotel and admitted to engaging in sex acts with another woman who, he said, later revealed herself to be a prostitute.  He paid her the equivalent of $60.  Another service member showed him pictures of a "local national in his bed in his hotel room," the medic told the NCIS agent.  He continued: 

"I know this girl is a prostitute because I pulled her from the club previously.  The name of the club was 'The Pom-Pom'... I had hooked up with this girl before [redacted name] so when he showed me the photo I recognized the girl.  [Redacted name] stated how she had a nice booty and was good in bed... I want to say that [redacted name] told me he paid about 1,000 Birr (roughly $30 US dollars), but I can't recall exactly."

Army investigation documents obtained by TomDispatch also indicate similar extracurricular activities by members of the 607th Air Control Squadron and the 422nd Communications Squadron in neighboring Djibouti.  An inquiry by Army criminal investigators determined that there was probable cause to believe three noncommissioned officers "committed the offense of patronizing a prostitute" at an "off-base residence" in June 2013.

AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for comment on or to provide further information about members of the command engaging in illicit sex.  It was similarly nonresponsive when it came to criminal inquests into allegations of arson in South Africa, larceny in Burkina Faso, graft in Algeria, and drunk and disorderly conduct in Nigeria, among other alleged crimes.  The command has kept quiet about violent incidents as well.

On April 19, 2013, for instance, something went terribly wrong in Manda Bay, Kenya.  A specialist with the Kentucky Army National Guard, deployed at Camp Simba and reportedly upset by a posting he saw on Facebook, got drunk on bourbon whiskey -- more than a fifth of Jim Beam, according to witnesses -- stole a 9mm pistol, and shot a superior officer.  He would also point the pistol at a staff sergeant and a master sergeant and then barricade himself in his barracks room.  A member of the Army's Special Forces serving at the base told an NCIS agent what he saw when the soldier emerged from his quarters:

"He had a gun in his hand and he was waving it around with the barrel level.  He was saying something to the effect of 'Fuck you!' or something like that.  I heard the [redacted] say something like 'put the gun down!' a couple of times and then the [redacted] shot at the subject 2-3 times with his handgun."

The drunken soldier was hit once in the leg and later surrendered.  An investigation determined that the specialist had probably committed a host of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including wrongful appropriation of government property, failure to obey an order, and aggravated assault, although a charge of attempted murder was deemed "unfounded." The incident, detailed in previously classified documents, was never made public.

General Malfeasance

AFRICOM has certainly had its troubles, starting at the top, since it began overseeing the U.S. military pivot to Africa.  Its first chief, General William "Kip" Ward, who led the fledgling command from 2007 until 2011, was demoted after a 2012 investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General's office found he had committed a raft of misdeeds, such as using taxpayer-funded military aircraft for personal travel and spending lavishly on hotels.

During an 11-day trip to Washington, for example, he billed the government $129,000 in expenses for his wife, 13 employees, and himself, but conducted official business on just two of those days.  According to the Inspector General's report, Ward also had AFRICOM personnel ferry his wife around and run errands for the two of them, including shopping for "candy and baby items, picking up flowers and books, delivering snacks, and acquiring tickets to sporting events."  He even accepted "complimentary meals and Broadway show tickets" from a "prohibited source with multiple [Department of Defense] contracts."  

Ward was ordered to repay the government $82,000 and busted down from four stars to three, which will cost him about $30,000 yearly in retirement pay.  He'll now only receive $208,802 annually.  An AFRICOM webpage devoted to the highlights of Ward's career mentions nothing of his transgressions, demotion, or punishment.  The only clue to all of this is his official photo.  In it, he's sporting four stars while his bio states that "Ward retired at the rank of Lieutenant General in November 2012."

Ward's wasteful ways became major news, but the story of his malfeasance has been the exception.  For every SUV that plunged off a bridge or general who was busted down for misbehavior, how many other AFRICOM sexual assaults, shootings, and prostitution scandals remain unknown? 

For years, as U.S. military personnel moved into Africa in ever-increasing numbers, AFRICOM has effectively downplayed, disguised, or covered-up almost every aspect of its operations, from the locations of its troop deployments to those of its expanding string of outposts.  Not surprisingly, it's done the same when it comes to misdeeds by members of the command and continues to ignore questions surrounding crimes and alleged misconduct by its personnel, refusing even to answer emails or phone calls about them.  With taxpayer money covering the salaries of lawbreakers and the men and women who investigate them, with America's sons dying after drink and drug binges and its daughters assaulted and sexually abused while deployed, the American people deserve answers when it comes to the conduct of U.S. forces in Africa.  Personally, I remain eager to hear AFRICOM's side of the story, should Benjamin Benson ever be in the mood to return my calls.     

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  A 2014 Izzy Award and American Book Award winner for his book Kill Anything That Moves, he has reported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa and his pieces have appeared in theNew York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africahas just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse's Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding

The Science and Faith Foundation (STOQ), The Vatican, January 2014

By Noam Chomsky

One of the most profound insights into language and mind, I think, was Descartes's recognition of what we may call "the creative aspect of language use": the ordinary use of language is typically innovative without bounds, appropriate to circumstances but not caused by them – a crucial distinction – and can engender thoughts in others that they recognize they could have expressed themselves. Given the intimate relation of language and thought, these are properties of human thought as well. This insight is the primary basis for Descartes's scientific theory of mind and body. There is no sound reason to question its validity, as far as I am aware. Its implications, if valid, are far-reaching, among them what it suggests about the limits of human understanding, as becomes more clear when we consider the place of these reflections in the development of modern science from the earliest days.

It is important to bear in mind that insofar as it was grounded in these terms, Cartesian dualism was a respectable scientific theory, proven wrong (in ways that are often misunderstood), but that is the common fate of respectable theories.

The background is the so-called "mechanical philosophy" – mechanical science in modern terminology. This doctrine, originating with Galileo and his contemporaries, held that the world is a machine, operating by mechanical principles, much like the remarkable devices that were being constructed by skilled artisans of the day and that stimulated the scientific imagination much as computers do today; devices with gears, levers, and other mechanical components, interacting through direct contact with no mysterious forces relating them. The doctrine held that the entire world is similar: it could in principle be constructed by a skilled artisan, and was in fact created by a super-skilled artisan. The doctrine was intended to replace the resort to "occult properties" on the part of the neoscholastics: their appeal to mysterious sympathies and antipathies, to forms flitting through the air as the means of perception, the idea that rocks fall and steam rises because they are moving to their natural place, and similar notions that were mocked by the new science.

The mechanical philosophy provided the very criterion for intelligibility in the sciences. Galileo insisted that theories are intelligible, in his words, only if we can "duplicate [their posits] by means of appropriate artificial devices." The same conception, which became the reigning orthodoxy, was maintained and developed by the other leading figures of the scientific revolution: Descartes, Leibniz, Huygens, Newton, and others.

Today Descartes is remembered mainly for his philosophical reflections, but he was primarily a working scientist and presumably thought of himself that way, as his contemporaries did. His great achievement, he believed, was to have firmly established the mechanical philosophy, to have shown that the world is indeed a machine, that the phenomena of nature could be accounted for in mechanical terms in the sense of the science of the day. But he discovered phenomena that appeared to escape the reach of mechanical science. Primary among them, for Descartes, was the creative aspect of language use, a capacity unique to humans that cannot be duplicated by machines and does not exist among animals, which in fact were a variety of machines, in his conception.

As a serious and honest scientist, Descartes therefore invoked a new principle to accommodate these non-mechanical phenomena, a kind of creative principle. In the substance philosophy of the day, this was a new substance, res cogitans, which stood alongside of res extensa. This dichotomy constitutes the mind-body theory in its scientific version. Then followed further tasks: to explain how the two substances interact and to devise experimental tests to determine whether some other creature has a mind like ours. These tasks were undertaken by Descartes and his followers, notably Géraud de Cordemoy; and in the domain of language, by the logician-grammarians of Port Royal and the tradition of rational and philosophical grammar that succeeded them, not strictly Cartesian but influenced by Cartesian ideas.

All of this is normal science, and like much normal science, it was soon shown to be incorrect. Newton demonstrated that one of the two substances does not exist: res extensa. The properties of matter, Newton showed, escape the bounds of the mechanical philosophy. To account for them it is necessary to resort to interaction without contact. Not surprisingly, Newton was condemned by the great physicists of the day for invoking the despised occult properties of the neo-scholastics. Newton largely agreed. He regarded action at a distance, in his words, as "so great an Absurdity, that I believe no Man who has in philosophical matters a competent Faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it." Newton however argued that these ideas, though absurd, were not "occult" in the traditional despised sense. Nevertheless, by invoking this absurdity, we concede that we do not understand the phenomena of the material world. To quote one standard scholarly source, "By `understand' Newton still meant what his critics meant: `understand in mechanical terms of contact action'."

It is commonly believed that Newton showed that the world is a machine, following mechanical principles, and that we can therefore dismiss "the ghost in the machine," the mind, with appropriate ridicule. The facts are the opposite: Newton exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact. The mind-body problem in its scientific form did indeed vanish as unformulable, because one of its terms, body, does not exist in any intelligible form. Newton knew this very well, and so did his great contemporaries.

John Locke wrote that we remain in "incurable ignorance of what we desire to know" about matter and its effects, and no "science of bodies [that provides true explanations is] within our reach." Nevertheless, he continued, he was "convinced by the judicious Mr. Newton's incomparable book, that it is too bold a presumption to limit God's power, in this point, by my narrow conceptions." Though gravitation of matter to matter is "inconceivable to me," nevertheless, as Newton demonstrated, we must recognize that it is within God's power "to put into bodies, powers and ways of operations, above what can be derived from our idea of body, or can be explained by what we know of matter." And thanks to Newton's work, we know that God "has done so." The properties of the material world are "inconceivable to us," but real nevertheless. Newton understood the quandary. For the rest of his life, he sought some way to overcome the absurdity, suggesting various possibilities, but not committing himself to any of them because he could not show how they might work and, as he always insisted, he would not "feign hypotheses" beyond what can be experimentally established.

Replacing the theological with a cognitive framework, David Hume agreed with these conclusions. In his history of England, Hume describes Newton as "the greatest and rarest genius that ever arose for the ornament and instruction of the species." His most spectacular achievement was that while he "seemed to draw the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he shewed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored [Nature's] ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain."

As the import of Newton's discoveries was gradually assimilated in the sciences, the "absurdity' recognized by Newton and his great contemporaries became scientific common sense. The properties of the natural world are inconceivable to us, but that does not matter. The goals of scientific inquiry were implicitly restricted: from the kind of conceivability that was a criterion for true understanding in early modern science from Galileo through Newton and beyond, to something much more limited: intelligibility of theories about the world. This seems to me a step of considerable significance in the history of human thought and inquiry, more so than is generally recognized, though it has been understood by historians of science.

Friedrich Lange, in his classic 19th century history of materialism, observed that we have "so accustomed ourselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather to a notion hovering in a mystic obscurity between abstraction and concrete comprehension, that we no longer find any difficulty in making one particle of matter act upon another without immediate contact,…through void space without any material link. From such ideas the great mathematicians and physicists of the seventeenth century were far removed. They were all in so far genuine Materialists in the sense of ancient Materialism that they made immediate contact a condition of influence." This transition over time is "one of the most important turning-points in the whole history of Materialism," he continued, depriving the doctrine of much significance, if any at all. "What Newton held to be so great an absurdity that no philosophic thinker could light upon it, is prized by posterity as Newton's great discovery of the harmony of the universe!"

Similar conclusions are commonplace in the history of science. In the mid-twentieth century, Alexander Koyré observed that Newton demonstrated that "a purely materialistic pattern of nature is utterly impossible (and a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics, such as that of Lucretius or of Descartes, is utterly impossible, too)"; his mathematical physics required the "admission into the body of science of incomprehensible and inexplicable `facts' imposed up on us by empiricism," by what is observed and our conclusions from these observations.

With the disappearance of the scientific concept of body (material, physical, etc.), what happens to the "second substance," res cogitans/mind, which was left untouched by Newton's startling discoveries? A plausible answer was suggested by John Locke, also within the reigning theological framework. He wrote that just as God added to matter such inconceivable properties as gravitational attraction, he might also have "superadded" to matter the capacity of thought. In the years that followed, Locke's "God" was reinterpreted as "nature," a move that opened the topic to inquiry. That path was pursued extensively in the years that followed, leading to the conclusion that mental processes are properties of certain kinds of organized matter. Restating the fairly common understanding of the time, Charles Darwin, in his early notebooks, wrote that there is no need to regard thought, "a secretion of the brain," as "more wonderful than gravity, a property of matter" – all inconceivable to us, but that is not a fact about the external world; rather, about our cognitive limitations.

It is of some interest that all of this has been forgotten, and is now being rediscovered. Nobel laureate Francis Crick, famous for the discovery of DNA, formulated what he called the "astonishing hypothesis" that our mental and emotional states are "in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." In the philosophical literature, this rediscovery has sometimes been regarded as a radical new idea in the study of mind. To cite one prominent source, the radical new idea is "the bold assertion that mental phenomena are entirely natural and caused by the neurophysiological activities of the brain." In fact, the many proposals of this sort reiterate, in virtually the same words, formulations of centuries ago, after the traditional mind-body problem became unformulable with Newton's demolition of the only coherent notion of body (or physical, material, etc.). For example, 18th century chemist/philosopher Joseph Priestley's conclusion that properties "termed mental" reduce to "the organical structure of the brain," stated in different words by Locke, Hume, Darwin, and many others, and almost inescapable, it would seem, after the collapse of the mechanical philosophy that provided the foundations for early modern science, and its criteria of intelligibility.

The last decade of the twentieth century was designated "the Decade of the Brain." In introducing a collection of essays reviewing its results, neuroscientist Vernon Mountcastle formulated the guiding theme of the volume as the thesis of the new biology that "Things mental, indeed minds, are emergent properties of brains, [though] these emergences are…produced by principles that… we do not yet understand" – again reiterating eighteenth century insights in virtually the same words.

The phrase "we do not yet understand," however, should strike a note of caution. We might recall Bertrand Russell's observation in 1927 that chemical laws "cannot at present be reduced to physical laws." That was true, leading eminent scientists, including Nobel laureates, to regard chemistry as no more than a mode of computation that could predict experimental results, but not real science. Soon after Russell wrote, it was discovered that his observation, though correct, was understated. Chemical laws never would be reducible to physical laws, as physics was then understood. After physics underwent radical changes, with the quantum-theoretic revolution, the new physics was unified with a virtually unchanged chemistry, but there was never reduction in the anticipated sense.

There may be some lessons here for neuroscience and philosophy of mind. Contemporary neuroscience is hardly as well-established as physics was a century ago. There are what seem to me to be cogent critiques of its foundational assumptions, notably recent work by cognitive neuroscientists C.R. Gallistel and Adam Philip King. The common slogan that study of mind is neuroscience at an abstract level might turn out to be just as misleading as comparable statements about chemistry and physics ninety years ago. Unification may take place, but that might require radical rethinking of the neurosciences, perhaps guided by computational theories of cognitive processes, as Gallistel and King suggest.

The development of chemistry after Newton also has lessons for neuroscience and cognitive science. The 18th century chemist Joseph Black recommended that "chemical affinity be received as a first principle, which we cannot explain any more than Newton could explain gravitation, and let us defer accounting for the laws of affinity, till we have established such a body of doctrine as he has established concerning the laws of gravitation." The course Black outlined is the one that was actually followed as chemistry proceeded to establish a rich body of doctrine. Historian of chemistry Arnold Thackray observes that the "triumphs" of chemistry were "built on no reductionist foundation but rather achieved in isolation from the newly emerging science of physics." Interestingly, Thackray continues, Newton and his followers did attempt to "pursue the thoroughly Newtonian and reductionist task of uncovering the general mathematical laws which govern all chemical behavior" and to develop a principled science of chemical mechanisms based on physics and its concepts of interactions among "the ultimate permanent particles of matter." But the Newtonian program was undercut by Dalton's "astonishingly successful weight-quantification of chemical units," Thackray continues, shifting "the whole area of philosophical debate among chemists from that of chemical mechanisms (the why? of reaction) to that of chemical units (the what? and how much?)," a theory that "was profoundly antiphysicalist and anti-Newtonian in its rejection of the unity of matter, and its dismissal of short-range forces." Continuing, Thackray writes that "Dalton's ideas were chemically successful. Hence they have enjoyed the homage of history, unlike the philosophically more coherent, if less successful, reductionist schemes of the Newtonians."

Adopting contemporary terminology, we might say that Dalton disregarded the "explanatory gap" between chemistry and physics by ignoring the underlying physics, much as post-Newtonian physicists disregarded the explanatory gap between Newtonian dynamics and the mechanical philosophy by rejecting the latter, and thereby tacitly lowering the goals of science in a highly significant way, as I mentioned.

Contemporary studies of mind are deeply troubled by the "explanatory gap" between the science of mind and neuroscience – in particular, between computational theories of cognition, including language, and neuroscience. I think they would be well-advised to take seriously the history of chemistry. Today's task is to develop a "body of doctrine" to explain what appear to be the critically significant phenomena of language and mind, much as chemists did. It is of course wise to keep the explanatory gap in mind, to seek ultimate unification, and to pursue what seem to be promising steps towards unification, while nevertheless recognizing that as often in the past, unification may not be reduction, but rather revision of what is regarded as the "fundamental discipline," the reduction basis, the brain sciences in this case.

Locke and Hume, and many less-remembered figures of the day, understood that much of the nature of the world is "inconceivable" to us. There were actually two different kinds of reasons for this. For Locke and Hume, the reasons were primarily epistemological. Hume in particular developed the idea that we can only be confident of immediate impressions, of "appearances." Everything else is a mental construction. In particular, and of crucial significance, that is true of identity through time, problems that trace back to the pre-Socratics: the identity of a river or a tree or most importantly a person as they change through time. These are mental constructions; we cannot know whether they are properties of the world, a metaphysical reality. As Hume put the matter, we must maintain "a modest skepticism to a certain degree, and a fair confession of ignorance in subjects, that exceed all human capacity" – which for Hume includes virtually everything beyond appearances. We must "refrain from disquisitions concerning their real nature and operations." It is the imagination that leads us to believe that we experience external continuing objects, including a mind or self. The imagination, furthermore, is "a kind of magical faculty in the soul, which…is inexplicable by the utmost efforts of human understanding," so Hume argued.

A different kind of reason why the nature of the world is inconceivable to us was provided by "the judicious Mr. Newton," who apparently was not interested in the epistemological problems that vexed Locke and Hume. Newton scholar Andrew Janiak concludes that Newton regarded such global skepticism as "irrelevant – he takes the possibility of our knowledge of nature for granted." For Newton, "the primary epistemic questions confronting us are raised by physical theory itself." Locke and Hume, as I mentioned, took quite seriously the new science-based skepticism that resulted from Newton's demolition of the mechanical philosophy, which had provided the very criterion of intelligibility for the scientific revolution. That is why Hume lauded Newton for having "restored [Nature's] ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain."

For these quite different kinds of reasons, the great figures of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment believed that there are phenomena that fall beyond human understanding. Their reasoning seems to me substantial, and not easily dismissed. But contemporary doctrine is quite different. The conclusions are regarded as a dangerous heresy. They are derided as "the new mysterianism," a term coined by philosopher Owen Flanagan, who defined it as "a postmodern position designed to drive a railroad spike through the heart of scientism." Flanagan is referring specifically to explanation of consciousness, but the same concerns hold of mental processes in general.

The "new mysterianism" is compared today with the "old mysterianism," Cartesian dualism, its fate typically misunderstood. To repeat, Cartesian dualism was a perfectly respectable scientific doctrine, disproven by Newton, who exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact, contrary to what is commonly believed.

The "new mysterianism," I believe, is misnamed. It should be called "truism" -- at least, for anyone who accepts the major findings of modern biology, which regards humans as part of the organic world. If so, then they will be like all other organisms in having a genetic endowment that enables them to grow and develop to their mature form. By simple logic, the endowment that makes this possible also excludes other paths of development. The endowment that yields scope also establishes limits. What enables us to grow legs and arms, and a mammalian visual system, prevents us from growing wings and having an insect visual system.

All of this is indeed truism, and for non-mystics, the same should be expected to hold for cognitive capacities. We understand this well for other organisms. Thus we are not surprised to discover that rats are unable to run prime number mazes no matter how much training they receive; they simply lack the relevant concept in their cognitive repertoire. By the same token, we are not surprised that humans are incapable of the remarkable navigational feats of ants and bees; we simply lack the cognitive capacities, though we can sometimes duplicate their feats with sophisticated instruments. The truisms extend to higher mental faculties. For such reasons, we should, I think, be prepared to join the distinguished company of Newton, Locke, Hume and other dedicated mysterians.

For accuracy, we should qualify the concept of "mysteries" by relativizing it to organisms. Thus what is a mystery for rats might not be a mystery for humans, and what is a mystery for humans is instinctive for ants and bees.

Dismissal of mysterianism seems to me one illustration of a widespread form of dualism, a kind of epistemological and methodological dualism, which tacitly adopts the principle that study of mental aspects of the world should proceed in some fundamentally different way from study of what are considered physical aspects of the world, rejecting what are regarded as truisms outside the domain of mental processes. This new dualism seems to me truly pernicious, unlike Cartesian dualism, which was respectable science. The new methodological dualism, in contrast, seems to me to have nothing to recommend it.

Far from bewailing the existence of mysteries-for-humans, we should be extremely grateful for it. With no limits to growth and development, our cognitive capacities would also have no scope. Similarly, if the genetic endowment imposed no constraints on growth and development of an organism it could become only a shapeless amoeboid creature, reflecting accidents of an unanalyzed environment, each quite unlike the next. Classical aesthetic theory recognized the same relation between scope and limits. Without rules, there can be no genuinely creative activity, even when creative work challenges and revises prevailing rules.

Contemporary rejection of mysterianism – that is, truism – is quite widespread. One recent example that has received considerable attention is an interesting and informative book by physicist David Deutsch. He writes that potential progress is "unbounded" as a result of the achievements of the Enlightenment and early modern science, which directed science to the search for best explanations. As philosopher/physicist David Albert expounds his thesis, "with the introduction of that particular habit of concocting and evaluating new hypotheses, there was a sense in which we could do anything. The capacities of a community that has mastered that method to survive, and to learn, and to remake the world according to its inclinations, are (in the long run) literally, mathematically, infinite."

The quest for better explanations may well indeed be infinite, but infinite is of course not the same as limitless. English is infinite, but doesn't include Greek. The integers are an infinite set, but do not include the reals. I cannot discern any argument here that addresses the concerns and conclusions of the great mysterians of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.

We are left with a serious and challenging scientific inquiry: to determine the innate components of our cognitive nature in language, perception, concept formation, reflection, inference, theory construction, artistic creation, and all other domains of life, including the most ordinary ones. By pursuing this task we may hope to determine the scope and limits of human understanding, while recognizing that some differently structured intelligence might regard human mysteries as simple problems and wonder that we cannot find the answers, much as we can observe the inability of rats to run prime number mazes because of the very design of their cognitive nature.

There is no contradiction in supposing that we might be able to probe the limits of human understanding and try to sharpen the boundary between problems that fall within our cognitive range and mysteries that do not. There are possible experimental inquiries. Another approach would be to take seriously the concerns of the great figures of the early scientific revolution and the Enlightenment: to pay attention to what they found "inconceivable," and particularly their reasons. The "mechanical philosophy" itself has a claim to be an approximation to common sense understanding of the world, a suggestion that might be clarified by experimental inquiry. Despite much sophisticated commentary, it is also hard to escape the force of Descartes's conviction that free will is "the noblest thing" we have, that "there is nothing we comprehend more evidently and more perfectly" and that "it would be absurd" to doubt something that "we comprehend intimately, and experience within ourselves" merely because it is "by its nature incomprehensible to us," if indeed we do not "have intelligence enough" to understand the workings of mind, as he speculated. Concepts of determinacy and randomness fall within our intellectual grasp. But it might turn out that "free actions of men" cannot be accommodated in these terms, including the creative aspect of language and thought. If so, that might be a matter of cognitive limitations – which would not preclude an intelligible theory of such actions, far as this is from today's scientific understanding.

Honesty should lead us to concede, I think, that we understand little more today about these matters than the Spanish physician-philosopher Juan Huarte did 500 years ago when he distinguished the kind of intelligence humans shared with animals from the higher grade that humans alone possess and is illustrated in the creative use of language, and proceeding beyond that, from the still higher grade illustrated in true artistic and scientific creativity. Nor do we even know whether these are questions that lie within the scope of human understanding, or whether they fall among what Hume took to be Nature's ultimate secrets, consigned to "that obscurity in which they ever did and ever will remain."