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Peter Van Buren
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, a sarcastic, funny, sad, angry book about his work for the Department of State as the leader of two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq, 2009-2010. His blog at continues the story, with daily humor and commentary about Iraq, the Middle East and national security.

Peter's next book, coming April 2014, is called Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. The book looks deeply into America's soul, focusing on the decline of the middle class, the rise of the working poor, the death of industrialization and the loss of community. One person described it as "a good story, with a conscience."

Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq leading two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Following his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), published in 2011, the Department of State began termination proceedings against him, reassigning him to a make-work position and stripping him of his security clearance and diplomatic credentials. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Van Buren will instead retire from the State Department with his full benefits of service in September.

Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, The New York Times, Salon, NPR, al Jazzeera, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael, Le Monde, The Guardian (UK), Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.

Entries by Peter Van Buren

Torture and the Destruction of a Human Being by the United States

(9) Comments | Posted April 15, 2014 | 2:15 PM

Somedays we have fun in this space, commenting on world events with a joke, some satire, a little snark. Today will not be one of those days.

The Bush and Obama administrations have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide America's archipelago of secret prisons and systems of torture. They at...

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Walmart Supports Raising Public Food Benefits -- For Its Own Profit

(32) Comments | Posted April 9, 2014 | 10:43 AM

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. They also say poverty is just another profit opportunity, at least over at Walmart.

Walmart supports an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, i.e., food stamps) benefits, to erase the cuts Congress voted into place last fall. Does Walmart really care more...

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How Many Watch Lists Fit on the Head of a Pin?

(10) Comments | Posted April 7, 2014 | 8:57 AM

Post-Constitutional America, Where Innocence is a Poor Defense

Cross-posted with

Rahinah Ibrahim is a slight Malaysian woman who attended Stanford University on a U.S. student visa, majoring in architecture. She was not a political person. Despite this, as part of a post-9/11 sweep directed...

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Mississippi Cares More About the Politics of Unborn Children, Than Unborn Children

(0) Comments | Posted April 4, 2014 | 3:25 PM

As conservatives attempt to criminalize a broader range of actions in attempts to grant legal personhood to unborn children, and thus create a stronger argument against safe, legal abortion, a case in Mississippi is at center stage.

Prosecutors there charged a 16-year-old unwed mother with the crime...

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Dissecting Obama's Proposed NSA Reforms

(0) Comments | Posted March 28, 2014 | 5:26 PM

After nine months of ignoring the Snowden revelations, downplaying the the Snowden revelations, not always telling the truth about the Snowden revelations, insulting the Snowden revelations, sending members of his administration to lie to Congress about the Snowden revelations and claiming everything the NSA does is legal, righteous and necessary...

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Using Metadata to Catch a Whistleblower

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2014 | 1:07 PM

With Obama recently announcing his plans to amend the electronic surveillance program at the National Security Agency, it is a good time to look more closely at what the NSA has been doing with some of the data it has been collecting on Americans for the last decade or so....

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Snowden Warns Us of the Dark Path Ahead

(14) Comments | Posted March 10, 2014 | 12:10 PM

In written testimony to the European Union (EU), Edward Snowden explained in patient, well-written, detailed prose exactly why what the NSA is doing is so dangerous. Snowden reveals himself an articulate writer, and through that moves from mere whistleblower into an almost philosophical role. His testimony deserves your full read,...

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Silencing Whistleblowers Obama-Style

(24) Comments | Posted March 4, 2014 | 8:29 AM

Supreme Court Edition? 

Cross-posted with

The Obama administration has just opened a new front in its ongoing war on whistleblowers. It’s taking its case against one man, former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Air Marshal Robert MacLean, all the way to the Supreme Court. So hold...

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The Tao of Political Ambassadors

(0) Comments | Posted February 18, 2014 | 3:26 PM

The United States is the only first world nation that allots ambassador jobs as political patronage.

You don't have to know anything, or have any specific background or training, to be the president's personal representative abroad and conduct foreign policy on behalf of the World's Most Powerful Nation. You...

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Drone Killing the Fifth Amendment

(50) Comments | Posted February 17, 2014 | 7:47 AM

How to Build a Post-Constitutional America One Death at a Time

Cross-posted with

Terrorism (ter-ror-ism; see also terror) n. 1. When a foreign organization kills an American for political reasons.

Justice (jus-tice) n. 1. When the United States Government uses a drone to kill...

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Delusions Drive (More) U.S. Aid to Afghanistan

(0) Comments | Posted February 11, 2014 | 10:33 AM

When a person sees things that aren't there, hears voices that tell him to do irrational things and insists on believing things that simply are not supported by fact, most psychologists would label that person delusional and seek to help him regain his toehold on reality. When that person does...

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Book Review: Pomegranate Peace

(0) Comments | Posted January 22, 2014 | 11:31 AM

Pomegranate Peace, a new novel by Rashmee Roshan Lall, is a funny, sad and all-too-true piece of fiction about the failure of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and about the crippling isolation America's diplomats impose on themselves in that misguided war. The novel is also a cookbook, but we'll...

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Obama's NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

(1) Comments | Posted January 21, 2014 | 10:47 AM

The details of Obama's most recent speech about "changes" to the NSA's surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip...

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Book Review: Methland, The Death and Life of a Small American Town

(0) Comments | Posted January 21, 2014 | 8:57 AM

Methland: The Death and Life of a Small American Town by Nick Reding is one scary book. It is the only book I'm aware of that understands at a fundamental level that meth isn't a drug problem, it is a symptom of our current societal and economic problems. The...

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My Doctor Can Disclose My Medical Records to the NSA Without My Authorization (and So Can Yours)

(4) Comments | Posted January 16, 2014 | 11:34 AM

You can learn a lot about a person from their medical records-- what's that STD test all about? Mental health issues? Hiding a health problem from an employer? Terminated pregnancy? Had a medical issue that might expose your sexuality when you don't wish to do so? Work for the military...

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You Can't Opt Out: 10 NSA Myths Debunked

(29) Comments | Posted January 12, 2014 | 8:41 PM

Cross-posted with

The debate Edward Snowden envisioned when he revealed the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Americans has taken a bad turn. Instead of a careful examination of what the NSA does, the legality of its actions, what risks it takes for what gains,...

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Whistleblowing Is About the Message, Not the Messenger

(15) Comments | Posted January 9, 2014 | 4:27 PM

The current media pablum about whether Snowden is "narcissistic" or "spiteful" or the devil himself is nonsense.

This kind of thing has become a set-piece in America to dehumanize and discredit whistleblowers so as to dilute public support for the vital information they make available. In high school debate...

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NSA and Corporate Cooperation Revealed

(2) Comments | Posted December 31, 2013 | 7:51 AM

The latest NSA revelations reveal deeper and more insidious intrusions into our lives, and show deeper collusion between the government and private enterprise. If you really, really think this is OK because you have "nothing to hide," you better be darn sure that's the case.

Back Doors

It is now...

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The Christmas Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past

(0) Comments | Posted December 23, 2013 | 10:13 AM

"Who are you?"

"Why Barack, I'm the Christmas Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past. I visit second-term presidents to help them map out their foreign policy legacy."

"I'm calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!"

"No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I'm here to...

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Woody Guthrie Is a Hero of Mine

(0) Comments | Posted December 11, 2013 | 7:59 AM

Woody Guthrie is a hero of mine. He represents whatever is left inside of me that has a little peek at optimism, despite all the pain and suffering and horrible turns of government I've seen and experienced.

American Radical

Woody lived a hard life. Essentially orphaned young from...

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