The Soleimani Assassination: Worse Than a Crime, a Mistake

In March of 1804, French dragoons secretly crossed the Rhine into the German Margraviate of Baden. Acting on orders from Napoleon himself, they kidnapped Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien. After a hastily convened court-martial on charges of bearing arms against France, the duke was shot.

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute,” a French official (supposedly, but probably not, Talleyrand) said of the duke’s execution: “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”

That terse evaluation came immediately to mind when news broke of a January 3 US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.  Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “Quds Force,” and nine others, died in the attack. US president Donald Trump claimed responsibility for ordering the strike and has subsequently defended that decision.

The duke’s execution outraged Europe’s aristocrats, and in particular brought Russia’s Alexander I to the conclusion that Napoleon’s power must be checked. The international reverberations created by Soleimani’s assassination are already shaping up in similar fashion.

Yes, Iran’s government is outraged and vows revenge, but that’s not surprising. It would be hard for US-Iran relations to get much worse short of all-out war.

Five of those killed in the strike were Iraqi military personnel from the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, including their deputy commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq’s outgoing prime minister denounced the strike as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and  of the US/Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. The speaker of the country’s parliament vowed to “put an end to US presence” in Iraq. Powerful Shiite religious and political figure Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia forces bedeviled the US occupation after the 2003 invasion, is re-mobilizing those forces to “defend Iraq.”

NATO, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and several leaders of regimes putatively allied with the United States have likewise responded negatively to Soleimani’s assassination.

Trump’s order wasn’t even remotely legal, according to Hoyle, under US law or the 400-year international order since the Peace of Westphalia.

The attack occurred without congressional approval or even notification, let alone the declaration of war that the ever-deteriorating US Constitution requires. Unfortunately, while Congress perpetually rumbles discontent over such things, it’s likely to continue enabling, rather than punish and rein in, such abuses of presidential power.

The attack occurred on the supposedly sovereign soil of a putative ally, killing that ally’s officials and invited guests. While it’s merely an escalation, not a new phenomenon — the previous president, Barack Obama, also claimed and exercised a “right” to murder on foreign soil at will — it’s a significant escalation by a president with fewer and less loyal friends on the global stage.

Whether Trump is “wagging the dog” in an attempt to distract from impeachment, or playing “6D chess” in an attempt to get the US out of Iraq at the demand of the Iraqis themselves (I’ve heard both claims), he’s turning friends against him and currying renewed European sympathy for Iran.

The prospects for peace on Earth have receded significantly since Christmas Day.

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The Christmas Truce of 1914: Proof that Peace is Possible

As 1914 drew to a close, Europe had been at war for months. On the Western Front, opposing armies faced each other across a stalemated front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss border.  On December 24, 100,000 soldiers from both sides of that line decided to create some peace on Earth.

They decorated their trenches with holiday spirit. They sang carols to each other across “No Man’s Land,” then walked into the space between their trenches, met, smoked and drank together, and exchanged what gifts they could round up. Chaplains conducted Christmas services for all comers. Impromptu football matches were played between shell craters (Germany’s Battalion 371 beat the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 2 to 1).

A similar truce occurred on the Eastern Front between Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops.

The “Christmas truce” didn’t end “the war to end all wars.” It dragged on for nearly four more years,  at a cost of more than 20 million lives.

But for a brief moment peace reigned, proof that the already hardening hearts of opposing armies could at least temporarily melt and that soldiers could treat each other as human beings rather than as mortal enemies.

Not all of them, certainly. A young Austrian soldier is apocryphally said to have sniffed that “such a thing should not happen in wartime.”

The high commands on both sides suppressed press coverage of the “Christmas truce,” and resolved to prevent it from happening again. In 1915, artillery barrages and raids were pre-planned for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to prevent peace breaking out a second time.

More than a century later, does the “Christmas truce” offer any lessons we can take to heart, or hold out the prospect of similar pauses in the wars that have consumed the US, the Middle East, and Central Asia since 1991?

One obvious argument against such prospects is that the current wars tend to pit people of very different religious views against each other. The west has become far less Christian and far more secular over the last century.

On the other hand, Jesus does hold a high place — just not the highest — in Muslim esteem. And Muslim combatants have been known to observe truces for their own high holidays.

As for lessons, the greatest one may be this: Wars may be planned and ordered governments, but they’re fought by PEOPLE. People who mostly, unlike the Austrian soldier mentioned above (his name was Adolf Hitler), prefer song and sport and friendship to mindless mutual killing.

Those people — not just soldiers, all of us — can decide at any time to stop cooperating with the murderous plans of our masters and instead choose peace on earth and good will toward each other.

That choice embodies the spirit of Christmas.

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Offering You The Gift of Liberty

There’s one Christmas gift I’d love to give you: the gift of liberty. The freedom to do everything you have a right to do. It’s a gift bigger than you can imagine.

Alas, it’s not possible to give anyone liberty. In order for you to have liberty, you’ve got to make it for yourself, with your own hands, and put it to daily use.

Plus, even if I could give you liberty, it would most likely be illegal.

The best I can do under the limitations of reality is get you to recognize your own liberty and encourage you to use it every day, everywhere you go, regardless of who tries to scare you out of it.

I will also refuse to violate your liberty in any way; including not seeking legislation to fence you in nor to take your property for my pet projects.

What would you like your box of liberty to contain? As long as it doesn’t violate anyone else’s equal and identical rights, it’s in there. It has to be in there — you made it yourself and placed what you wanted inside. It’s waiting for you to take it out of the box and use it. How great is that?

Recently an online commenter, who was trying to sell me on the wonders of socialism, was saying I’m a crook for having a house while there are homeless people in the world. She scolded me, saying I only care about myself, no matter how many people I hurt. She couldn’t admit that in her ideal world there would be no reason for anyone to build houses. Why struggle and sweat if someone is forced to hand you everything you need?

The gift she was offering had shiny wrapping paper and a sparkly bow, but inside was the stench of harsh reality. A reality she refused to smell as she heaped on the personal insults because I couldn’t tell her who, specifically, had been robbed of the property my house sits on over the past 13,000 years since “Clovis Man” dropped a few stone tools in Blackwater Draw. Actually, she only cared about the last few centuries for some arbitrary reason. I guess those who came before that don’t matter to her.

You are free to take the gift she and her political comrades are offering, or you can take my suggestion and give yourself the gift of liberty. Which one do you think you deserve? I believe you deserve the very best.

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Voltairine de Cleyre III: Inquisitors

Nobody asked but …

I doubt if any other hope has the power to keep the fire alight as I saw it in 1897, when we met the Spanish exiles released from the fortress of Montjuich. Comparatively few persons in America ever knew the story of that torture, though we distributed fifty thousand copies of the letters smuggled from the prison, and some few newspapers did reprint them. They were the letters of men incarcerated on mere suspicion for the crime of an unknown person, and subjected to tortures the bare mention of which makes one shudder. Their nails were torn out, their heads compressed in metal caps, the most sensitive portions of the body twisted between guitar strings, their flesh burned with red hot irons; they had been fed on salt codfish after days of starvation, and refused water; Juan Ollé, a boy nineteen years old, had gone mad; another had confessed to something he had never done and knew nothing of. This is no horrible imagination. I who write have myself shaken some of those scarred hands. Indiscriminately, four hundred people of all sorts of beliefs—Republicans, trade unionists, Socialists, Free Masons, as well as Anarchists—had been cast into dungeons and tortured in the infamous “zero.” Is it a wonder that most of them came out Anarchists? There were twenty-eight in the first lot that we met at Euston Station that August afternoon,—homeless wanderers in the whirlpool of London, released without trial after months of imprisonment, and ordered to leave Spain in forty-eight hours! They had left it, singing their prison songs; and still across their dark and sorrowful eyes one could see the eternal Maytime bloom. They drifted away to South America chiefly, where four or five new Anarchist papers have since arisen, and several colonizing experiments along Anarchist lines are being tried. So tyranny defeats itself, and the exile becomes the seed-sower of the revolution. — Voltairine de Cleyre

— Kilgore Forelle

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A Modest Proposal for Improving Senate Impeachment Trials

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) makes no bones about his position on the likely upcoming impeachment trial of US president Donald Trump. “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind,” he tells CNN International’s Becky Anderson. “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”

Well, okay, then. Graham has publicly disqualified himself as, and should be excused from serving as, a juror.

Republican politicians, including Graham, have spilled quite a bit of verbiage whining — ineffectually and incorrectly — about a lack of  “due process” in the House segment of the impeachment drama.

Their errors on those claims are simple: Impeachment isn’t a criminal prosecution, nor is a House impeachment inquiry a trial.

There won’t be any “nature and cause of the accusation” for Trump to be “informed of” until the House passes articles of impeachment.

If impeachment was a criminal matter,  he would be constitutionally entitled “to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence” at trial. And in fact he will be treated as entitled to those things, even in the Senate’s non-criminal equivalent.

But Graham and friends want to talk about due process, so let’s talk about due process.

In addition to those aforementioned items, the Sixth Amendment also mandates “an impartial jury.”

If you’re accused of armed robbery, your brother won’t be allowed to serve on the jury at your trial. Neither will the bank teller who was ordered to stuff money in a sack at gunpoint, or the police officer who arrested you, or anyone else who’s known to likely be prejudiced either way.

Is there any particular reason why the due process requirements Graham hails as paramount wouldn’t mandate a similar standard for impeachment trials in the US Senate? I can’t think of one.

In Senate trials of impeachment cases, the Chief Justice of the United States (in the current controversy, John Roberts) presides as judge.

Once the House passes articles of impeachment, Roberts should order his clerks to drop everything else and get to work examining the public statements of all 100 members of the US Senate. His first order of business at the trial should be to excuse any and all Senators who have publicly announced their prejudices on Trump’s guilt or innocence from “jury duty.”

Yes, Democrats too. That should come as a relief to several Democratic presidential aspirants who would probably rather spend their time on the 2020 campaign trail than as impeachment jurors.

The Constitution only requires the votes of 2/3 of US Senators PRESENT at the trial to convict, so excusing those members who have announced their prejudice and partiality wouldn’t prevent a valid verdict.

Would “impeachment voir dire” render future impeachments more “fair” and less “partisan?” Probably not. But it would at least spare us some theatrics from the likes of Lindsey Graham by making pretrial silence a condition of participation.

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Operation Fast and Furious: The Forgotten History of the ATF’s Notorious Gunwalking Scandal

The ATF isn’t all bad. In fact, they had a policy of letting illegal gun purchases go between 2006 and 2011. It ended up getting U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry killed on December 14, 2010, and let Mexican criminals get enough guns that they were found at over 150 crime scenes where Mexican citizens were either killed or maimed. And some of the guns were used in the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris at the Bataclan. But other than that, it turned out just fine.

(In case you’re not picking up on it, we’re laying on the sarcasm very thick right now.)

You probably know what was officially called “Project Gunrunner” as “Operation Fast and Furious.” Started under George W. Bush, this ATF policy audaciously grew under President Obama and became indicative of the perceived attack on American gun owners by both policy makers and their friends in the establishment media.

It’s one of many scandals of the Obama Administration that was never given as much press attention as, for example, Russia buying Facebook ads about NoFap and Pizzagate. Given that the guns run by the ATF were allowed to kill hundreds and that subsequent Congressional investigations resulted in Eric Holder, President Obama’s Attorney General, becoming the first sitting cabinet member to be held in criminal contempt of Congress ever, this is shocking. At least for anyone still under the illusion that the establishment media is a fair and impartial source of information.

Sit down and get ready to dig into what is perhaps the most egregious scandal of President Drone’s administration – and there’s a lot to pick from.

What Was Project Gunrunner?

Project Gunrunner was a project of the ATF, designed to intercept weapons bound for Mexican criminal organizations. The ATF (the same people who entrapped peaceful, law-abiding citizen Randy Weaver into selling them a single sawed-off shotgun, then pursued him as if he were mounting an armed insurrection, shooting and killing his wife, son and dog) decided to allow straw purchases (which are technically legal, but often involve the crime of providing false information when purchasing a firearm) to happen in the hopes that these purchases would end up in the hands of Mexican criminal organizations.

Yes, really.

The thinking was that, rather than going after crimes considered to be small potatoes, the ATF could focus on bigger fish – organizational gun running in the Southwest and over the border in Mexico. By letting guns purchased illegally to “walk” (i.e., not be prosecuted), the federal government can keep an eye on them, arresting people for much more serious crimes later. That’s the idea, anyway, but the execution ended up being something much different.

Beginning in 2006, the Phoenix Office of the ATF not only allowed, but also facilitated and encouraged, straw purchases of firearms to known weapons traffickers. They then allowed the weapons to “walk” to Mexico. Gun Owners of America has stated that they believe this was an attempt to boost statistics for the ATF, thus securing more funding – most of the funding for this came from $40 million in competitive grants from the 2009 “stimulus package,” which was largely a giant giveaway to large banks.

(Such self-serving actions by the ATF are not unheard of. During the congressional inquiry following the ATF’s siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Henry Ruth, one of the three independent reviewers from the U.S. Treasury Department, testified that: “The ATF needed good publicity. With its appropriations hearings a week away, a successful raid this size would produce major positive headlines to counter the ATF’s reputation as a rogue agency whose debacles blackened the reputations of other agencies. And it would scare the public enough about fringe groups to create political pressure on Congress to increase its budget.”)

Some legitimate gun dealers objected to being involved in Project Gunrunner, as did some ATF agents, but they were strongarmed into participation by top brass. What’s more, the practices that became associated with Project Gunrunner were in opposition to long-established ATF operating procedures.

Continue reading Operation Fast and Furious: The Forgotten History of the ATF’s Notorious Gunwalking Scandal at Ammo.com.

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