All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture

USMC LAV-25s and HMMWVs are offloaded from a U...
USMC LAV-25s and HMMWVs are offloaded from a USN LCAC craft at Samesan RTMB, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amnesty International’s mission is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.” Unsurprisingly, the organization’s latest report collects “first-hand testimony of survivors, court documents, medical records and various other forms of evidence relating to 74 cases of torture” in Thailand and urges that country’s legislature and military government to follow through on their claimed commitments to bring an end to the practice.

After Amnesty staff flew into Bangkok for the report’s official release, the regime threatened them with arrest for “visa violations” if the ceremony took place. Apparently the junta, which has ruled the country since a 2014 coup, is unfamiliar with the “Streisand Effect.” Their threats ensured that Amnesty’s report received more global attention on the morning of its release than it would likely otherwise have received altogether.

Among those who should take notice are American taxpayers, who fork over billions of dollars in direct and indirect military aid to the junta forces — weapons, cash, the positive cash flow associated with large US-sponsored military exercises like Cobra Gold, and the putative shade of a US “security umbrella.”

American law is clear on the subject of such aid. Per 22 US Code § 2378d, (“Limitation on assistance to security forces,” better known as the Leahy Law), “No assistance shall be furnished under this chapter or the Arms Export Control Act … to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

Surely 74 cases of torture constitute such a gross violation — as does threatening human rights activists with arrest for talking about those cases of torture. Yet US military aid has continued to flow to the junta, albeit at a reduced rate for a short time.

As a libertarian, I oppose all US foreign aid for military purposes or any others. The only way the US government can give away that money is to first steal it from Americans (or borrow at interest on the promise to steal it later). Individuals who want to support the Thai junta should write those checks themselves instead of mugging the rest of us.

But failing that, it seems to me that the US government can AT LEAST stop throwing cash at torturers. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Crony Capitalism and Political Privilege: Earthshaking. Literally.

English: Recent earthquakes from w.United Stat...
Earthquakes around the world, unknown 30-day period, United States Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1962, US Army Corps of Engineers personnel pumped 165 million gallons of waste fluid into rock 12,000 feet below the surface of the earth at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal and noticed that the pumping was accompanied by a number of small earthquakes. Six years later,  the US Geological Survey monitored seismic activity as the Corps pumped some of that water back out, observing a noticeable increase in seismic activity after the pumping.

Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking,  causes earthquakes.  Or, rather, deep-injection disposal of the wastewater from fracking causes earthquakes.

Some people — namely, public relations flacks and lobbyists for the petroleum and natural gas industries, and their political allies — would have you believe that’s a disputable, even controversial, claim. It isn’t. It’s something we’ve known for half a century.

In a study published the September 23 issue of Science, researchers from Stanford University establish a firm link between fracking wastewater injection and a series of earthquakes in east Texas, including the largest quake ever recorded in that region.

Fracking. Causes. Earthquakes. Period.

Question: What’s the difference between a drunk driver who totals your car with his reckless, intoxicated driving, and an oil company that damages your house’s foundation with its reckless, earthquake-inducing fracking?

Answer: The oil company can afford to buy off politicians and regulators to let it injure you without legal consequence or liability, and to run slick public relations campaigns aimed at convincing you to not believe your own lying eyes. The drunk driver counts himself lucky if he has enough cash on hand to buy the next six-pack.

Some self-styled advocates of “capitalism” and “free markets” have prostituted themselves out to the fracking industry, attempting to justify that kind of privilege and favoritism in the name of cheap energy and economic growth, all the while decrying “crony capitalism” as it relates to industries which haven’t written generous checks to fund what the so-called think tanks euphemistically refer to as “research.”

There’s a difference between a free market and a free-for-all. In a free market, you have to pay for what you take. That includes restitution for damages caused by your reckless, negligent, or even criminally intentional, activities.

Fracking causes earthquakes. Earthquakes damage stuff. It’s time for frackers to start picking up the check for that damage or to knock off the fracking. They don’t have to like it. That’s how it needs to be whether they like it or not.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Twenty Years, Three Minutes: Time to Ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


The "Baker" explosion, part of Opera...
The “Baker” explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on july 25th 1946. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 16, 1945, the United States conducted its first test detonation, dubbed “Trinity,” of an atomic weapon. The following month the US became the first (and, to this day, the only) nation to use atomic or nuclear weapons in war. All in all, the US detonated more than 1,100 nukes in the 47 years between Trinity and Julin, its final nuclear test series, in 1992. The technology, it seems, has been thoroughly explored and then some.

Four years after the Julin tests, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. US president Bill Clinton welcomed and signed the pact, but 20 years later the US Senate has yet to ratify it.

Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

The US has a half-century testing head start on any future would-be nuclear powers. Why wouldn’t foreign policy hawks in the Senate want to stop the clock with that advantage on the scoreboard and with a UN mandate for keeping it stopped? These are the same politicians who in the past have gleefully turned to alleged violations of such pacts as the excuse for sanctions and war.

On the dove side, such as it is, the charms of a test ban treaty are even more obvious. The world is awash in nuclear weapons — between the  world’s eight or nine nuclear powers (Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and almost certainly Israel), more than 15,000 of them. Ending development of new weapons seems like a good first step toward getting rid of the existing ones.

As the Cold War wound down, those of us who grew up in the shadow of potential nuclear holocaust began to breathe easier. The hands on the “Doomsday Clock” maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were rolled back: Seventeen whole minutes to midnight! No more “duck and cover,” no more “missile gap” propaganda, no more Cuba crises. Peace seemed to be just over the horizon.

Today the Doomsday Clock shows three minutes to midnight. Russia and the US still have thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at each other and available for immediate launch. We’re still one unforeseen incident and one itchy trigger finger away from possible extinction or something close to it.

On September 23, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution renewing the call for all UN member states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I second the motion.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.