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Various matters: cyberwar, last gasps, and hate speech

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Cross-posted from The Guardian

An Obama official seems to justify an Iranian attack on the US; Panetta channels Cheney; Tom Friedman writes from expertise  

Leon Panetta in Kabul
Leon Panetta in Kabul, where he called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on militants. Photograph: S Sabawoon/EPA

There are several brief matters worth noting today:

1) It seems that a leading Obama official just endorsed the right of Iran to attack the US and Israel:

The Washington Post, today ("US official says cyberattacks can trigger self-defense rule"):

"Cyberattacks can amount to armed attacks triggering the right of self-defense and are subject to international laws of war, the State Department's top lawyer said Tuesday.

"Spelling out the US government's position on the rules governing cyberwarfare, Harold Koh, the department's legal adviser, said a cyber-operation that results in death, injury or significant destruction would probably be seen as a use of force in violation of international law.

"In the United States' view, any illegal use of force potentially triggers the right of national self-defense, Koh said ...

"In our view, there is no threshold for a use of deadly force to qualify as an 'armed attack' that may warrant a forcible response,' he said ... Koh also said that in responding to an attack, an action need not be taken in cyberspace, but it must be a necessary action and one that is proportionate, avoiding harm to civilians."

New York Times, 1 June 2012 ("Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran"):

"From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America's first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

"Mr Obama decided to accelerate the attacks -- begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games -- even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran's Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet ...

"It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country's infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives.

"Mr Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade."

Of course, Koh's argument would only constitute a defense of Iran's right to attack the US if the rights claimed by the US applied to other countries, so there's nothing to worry about.

2) Nothing is more consistent than war propaganda, especially the propaganda aimed at the citizenry of a nation at war by its leaders. It simply never changes, no matter the war or the leaders:

Associated Press, Tuesday:

"US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday that while he is very concerned about rogue Afghan troops and police turning their guns on US and allied forces, he sees the insider attacks as the 'last gasp' of a Taliban insurgency that has not been able to regain lost ground."

CNN, 20 June 2005:

"The insurgency in Iraq is 'in the last throes,' Vice-president Dick Cheney says ... 'The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.'"

The year after Cheney's "last throes" pronouncement, violence in Iraq had become so pervasive that NBC News defied the White House to brand it a "civil war." Does anyone believe Panetta's "last gasp" assurance will fare any better?

3) New York Times columnist Tom Friedman used his column today to yet again deliver a stern lecture to the world's Muslims. This time, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner sermonized that the Muslim world must stop spewing so much hate speech.

Although Friedman's expertise is often called into question, it is hard to deny that he is an expert in hate speech, given that he produced the last decade's most obscene episode of hate speech when justifying the attack on Iraq on the Charlie Rose Show in 2003 (warning: this should not be viewed during or shortly after a large meal):

4) Here's a fantastic story: public high school students in Kentucky were repeatedly censored by school administrators from writing articles in their high school newspaper about controversial issues, including the bullying faced by gay students and the various difficulties for atheists. In response, the budding high school journalists raised their own funds and began their own independent newspaper, The Red Pen, and then proceeded to write about whatever they wanted, including stories they knew would never be allowed by their administrators. Here is their mission statement:

"Whereas, in the interest of democracy and honest expression, responsible students ought to have a voice unrestricted by external control,

"Whereas this voice must be protected, expanded and well-communicated,

"Whereas systems of prior review and administrative regulation of student press do unjustifiably restrict this voice,

"Whereas we, students of Kentucky, wish to create an organization which supports all true journalistic endeavors,

"Whereas good journalism can and will lead to a more just and open society,

"We hereby establish, as an extension of Kentucky's free student press,

"The Red Pen."

(Here is one example of the type of journalism they then produced: a profile and interview with a high school sophomore transitioning from female to male identity).

It was announced Tuesday that these students -- along with their high school adviser who was reassigned after he defended their rights to publish -- were named as the recipients of the 2012 Courage in Student Journalism Award. That award is given each year for journalistic courage by the Student Press Law Center, the National Scholastic Press Association, and the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, which underwrites a $500 cash prize plus travel expenses for the winners to travel to the ceremony to accept their award.

As it happens, three of those students drove several hours to a speech I gave in Indiana last year in order to interview me about censorship and to get quotes from me that were critical of their school administrators (which I happily provided; I wrote about that encounter here). I don't think they knew at the time of their plans to start their own paper, but it was obvious then that they were an incredibly resolute and principled group, and the intrepid independence they ended up displaying is truly inspiring.

If only our adult establishment press corps displayed the same attributes. That was the same thought I had when I recently read that the editors at the Harvard Crimson had ended the long-standing practice at their college newspaper of allowing college administrators the power of quote approval before including their quotes in articles. Denouncing the practice as "anti-journalistic," the student editors explained that stories published pursuant to these quote-approval arrangements "are ceasing to fulfill their purpose -- to capture and channel the forthright, honest words of Harvard's decision-makers to all those who might be affected by the decisions."

Meanwhile, heralded establishment journalists from the New York Times to Michael Lewis continue to use this same "anti-journalistic" practice. It is a sorry state of affairs when high school and college students seem to have a much greater appreciation for the purpose of journalism, and far greater courage and integrity to practice it.

5) Writing in Salon, Matt Stoller examines the post-presidential conduct and advocacy of Bill Clinton in order to demonstrate how bizarre it is that Democrats now view him with such affection, even reverence. Citing stories such as this one from Bloomberg, which documents that the rich-poor gap in the US is the largest since 1967, Stoller elsewhere argues that America's GOP oligarchs care little about a GOP victory given how much they are thriving under an Obama presidency; and he identifies 10 effective arguments they could be making against Obama but are not. One need not embrace all of his conclusions to derive substantial value from considering his claims.

 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 

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Koh's comments on violent retaliation to cyber-att... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 1:06:28 AM