Sunday, October 9, 2011

Obama/Pentagon Obsessed with Security, vs. Information, Books


Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, WikiLeaked at the State Department
 Reply |TomDispatch via to jbennet
September 27, 2011
Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, WikiLeaked at the State Department
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: The book series I co-founded and co-edit, the American Empire Project, is rolling out its latest volume today, and it’s a news-maker.  Peter Van Buren, a Foreign Service Officer, spent a year at two forward operating bases in Iraq helping to “reconstruct” that country.  With its ironic title, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, his work, a remarkable deconstruction of that effort and more generally of the debacle of American-style armed “nation-building,” will be a classic in the annals of anti-interventionism.  He’s also a natural as a writer.  Think of him as the State Department’s Michael Herr, though in its first rave reviews his book is being compared to Joseph Heller’s classic World War II novel Catch-22.  As it happens (again see below), Van Buren is now paying for the devastating portrait he’s painted of America in action in Iraq quite personally.
Here in any case is the offer: your own signed, personalized copy of a remarkable book in return for a $100 contribution to this site.  I hope it’s an offer you can’t refuse.  The money will be a boon for TomDispatch as we plan for the future.  To find out more, visit our donation page by clicking here. Tom]
It’s hardly a secret at this late date that, while the Obama administration arrived in office promoting “a new standard of openness” in government, in practice it’s cast not sunshine, but a penumbra of gloom over the workings of Washington.  Talk about a closed and punitive crew.  Its Justice Department has notoriously gone after government whistleblowers and leakers, launching significantly more (largely unsuccessful) prosecutions than any of Obama's predecessors.  His people lit out with particular ferocity after WikiLeaks, and specifically Bradley Manning, the young Army private accused of passing enormous caches of Army and State Department documents to that website.  In the process, it developed special forms of pre-punishment to torment him while he was confined, still uncharged, at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.  (It also went to ludicrous lengths to bar government officials, workers, contractors, the military, and  anyone else linked to them from reading the leaked documents to which everyone else on Earth already had access.)
When it came to books by witnesses within the government or the military offering some version of critical openness, darkness has again been the order of the day.  The Pentagon actually bought up and burned more or less the complete stock of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s insider’s account of Pentagon and Defense Information Agency mistakes in the invasion of Afghanistan, Operation Dark Heart (already thoroughly vetted by the Army Reserve), and forced his publisher to put out a highly redacted second edition.
More recently, the CIA took out after The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda, a memoir by Ali H. Soufan, a former FBI agent long involved in the battle against al-Qaeda, demanding “extensive cuts.”  “In fact,” wrote New York Times reporter Scott Shane, “some of the information that the agency argues is classified, according to two people who have seen the correspondence between the F.B.I. and C.I.A., has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11, and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.”
In recent weeks, a third version of this particular “national security” mania hit my radar screen.  The State Department is now hassling one of its own employees whose book is being published by a venture I co-run, the American Empire Project, and who has become a regular at this site.  State has taken out after Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren, calling for redactions of information (all easily Googleable online) in his new book, published today and long ago vetted by the Department, about his year running a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.  There can’t be a more devastating (or, I must admit, enjoyable) account of the particular form of misery we brought to Iraq than his.  Van Buren describes his own distinctly absurd situation in today’s post.  Kafka would have blushed and Orwell would have had a hearty laugh, but evidently at the State Department no one even blinks.
In increasingly post-legal America, Van Buren has, it seems, committed a new crime: the spreading of public knowledge.  Truly, if shame had any meaning, the State Department and the Obama administration should be filled with it. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses what it’s like to be interrogated by the State Department click  here, or download it to your iPod  here.) Tom

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