Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today's Tune: The War on Drugs — Come to the City

The Illegal Bergdahl Deal: Sordid Details, Troubling Implications

Guy Benson | Jan 27, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- A video released by the Taliban shows the handover of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from their custody to U.S. Special Forces. 

Multiple news sources are now reporting that the US Army is charging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- the American soldier handed over by terrorist hostage takers in exchange for the release of five high-ranking Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay last spring -- with desertion.  This comes as no surprise for those who followed the Bergdahl controversy closely; as Katie reminded us earlier, Bergdahl's platoon mates unanimously spoke out against his actions.  The evidence of his desertion is overwhelming.  Other facts suggest that he may have crossed a line into active collaboration with the enemy.  Despite the fact that the military had drawn negative conclusions about Bergdahl's conduct as far back as 2010 and declined to list him as POW, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice declared that his service was marked by "honor and distinction" on national television.  This was part and parcel of the Obama administration's public relations strategy surrounding the entire affair: Wave the flag about a captured American returning home to his family, and hope that the good vibes and emotional images of relieved family members and friends would crowd out the more sordid details -- such as the freed terrorists' long trail of blood and destruction, Bergdahl's alleged crimes, and the manner in which Obama bypassed strong objections from top military and intelligence officials to close the deal.  Remember this?
Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and military were opposed to freeing five senior Taliban commanders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when the White House first began exploring the prisoner swap in 2011 and 2012. The U.S. military wanted to bring Bergdahl home, but releasing Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammed Nabi Omari was seen as too dangerous at the time. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans. Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders...Current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House. “This was an example of forcing the consensus,” one U.S. military official said. “The White House knew the answer they wanted and they ended up getting it.”

The administration has insisted that the Bergdahl swap was not an instance of the US government violating its longstanding policy against negotiating with terrorists, assuring the country that it was a routine prisoner exchange.  This assertion is contradicted by the nature of Bergdahl's captors, and the White House's own spin that the plan had to be hatched and executed quickly, without informing Congress (as required by law), because the terrorists had threatened to kill Bergdahl.  That's not how routine prisoner exchanges work.  Another one of their excuses wilted under light scrutiny.  The reality is that the Obama administration has been ideologically hellbent on emptying Gitmo for years, despite Congress' repeated refusals to go along.  This scenario offered the president a chance to "get rid of" five dangerous terrorists and dress it up as a happy homecoming story. So the decision was made to (effectively, if not explicitly) negotiate with terrorists, then deny that any such thing had occurred. Now five influential jihadist captains are living comfortably in this "allied" nation, and a probable deserter/collaborator is set to stand trial here at home.  Does anyone doubt rumors that White House officials tried to stall the investigation and keep the desertion charges under wraps?

According to Shaffer, the Obama official at the center of these political machinations is the now-infamous Ben Rhodes, of course.  News of the desertion charges thrusts the administration's terrorist-releasing policies back into the spotlight, raising fresh questions:

Before he was released from a U.S. maximum-security prison last week,a confessed al Qaeda sleeper agent was offered up in a potential prisoner swap that would have freed two Americans held abroad. The Daily Beast has learned that the proposal was floated in July 2014 to the then-U.S. ambassador in Qatar by an individual acting on behalf of that country’s attorney general. According to two individuals with direct knowledge of the case, the proposition was made shortly after the Obama administration traded five Taliban fighters for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those fighters were also sent to Qatar, where they’re to remain under government watch until later this year. U.S. officials have said they’re at risk of plotting further attacks against the United States. The proposed swap involving the al Qaeda agent, Ali Saleh Al-Marri, raises troubling questions about whether the Bergdahl trade opened a kind of Pandora’s box, signaling to foreign governments that they can pressure the United States to make concessions on terrorism by trading American prisoners abroad for dangerous extremists held in the United States.

The administration denies that Al-Marri's early release from federal prison -- which we wrote about just last week -- was tied to any quid pro quo.  Why should Americans believe that claim?

Obama Keeps Bowing In The Middle East

January 27, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.Demotix/Corbis
At the World Economic Forum last week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that while extremists may cite Islam as a justification for terrorism, the world should refrain from using the term “Islamic radicals.” Extremism, Kerry maintained, is apart from Islam, and the millions who support or engage in violence in its name are driven by “criminal conduct rooted in alienation, poverty, thrill-seeking and other factors.”
This soothing half-baked philosophy is cant in the Obama Administration. So when ISIS takes credit for beheading the Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, it shouldn’t have been surprising that the most important thing Rick Stengel, an undersecretary of state for happy thoughts, could think to tweet to his followers was that the decapitation had, “Nothing religious about it.”
We’ve gone from incessantly offering (appropriate) distinctions between factions of Islam to fantasizing that terrorists are a bunch of shiftless underprivileged adrenaline junkies with no particular philosophy at all. Religion is an organized collection of beliefs that makes sense of existence. Under no definition of “faith” is there a stipulation that it must be devoid of any violence. And whether or not violence used in Islam is a distortion of the faith is for people of that religion to work out for themselves, not for a talking head from Vermont to decree.
If the administration is interested in seeing how this works, we don’t have to look farther than our good allies in Saudi Arabia, where the national flag features an inscription of the Islamic creed – “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God” – which is neatly underlined by a sword. This, I think is fair to say, may insinuate that a coupling of violence and faith is indeed possible in modern religion.
Perhaps Barack Obama can ask new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz when he pays his respects (an honor the victims in Paris did not receive) what the deal is. He could ask how women are thrown into the streets for public beheadings has anything to do with religion and violence. The Saudi government, after all, has defended the recent decapitation of a Burmese woman (caught on video) as compulsory to “implement the rulings of God.” It’s the ninth such execution this year. (All these beheadings sure are a weird coincidence, no?)  Perhaps Saudi monarchs are driven by alienation and poverty when they are induced to flog writers who insult them? And perhaps Kerry has a better grasp of Islamic law than the Wahhabi sect running the religious police force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam? I imagine he thinks he does.
I don’t propose invading the Arabian Peninsula, or anyone else for that matter. But George Bush, another House of Saud coddler, used to claim that U.S.’s fight in the Middle East was about promoting democracy. Obama has talked about how important it is for our diplomacy to mirror our values. In reality, of course, friendly autocrats help us fight stateless Islamic extremism and offer stability. King Abdullah and his successor have also acted as a counterbalance to Iran – a precarious situation we helped establish. (Though, under this president, we do not afford an Egyptian army that scuttled the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of that nation the same courtesy.)
So everyone understands why we ignore the fact that King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest source of funds of Salafist jihadism and the fact that religious state institutions are the leading voices perpetuating that jihadism. Obama will pay his respects to the government in a nation that has no real elections, political parties or dissent. We ignore that, too. And Saudi Arabia also proves that governments run by certain faiths have been more inclined to create alienation, poverty and a whole lot of thrillseekers – even when in the fortuitous position of sitting on a wealth-producing commodity.
But surely there is some kernel of moral duty among American leaders to promote liberal values around the world. Juxtapose how this administration treats allies; how the president admonishes and undermines an elected leader he doesn’t particularly care for and, at the same time, reveres and celebrates the life of a degenerate dictator. King Abdullah had “about” 30 wives, and fathered “about” 35 children, according to sources. Some of them were only young teens when they were forced to wed the then middle-aged King. Some of these women remained prisoners for many decades against their will. Considering the human trafficking and white slavery that is generally overlooked by the monarchs, perhaps he really is a moderate. The freshly deceased King Abdullah, says the president, was “a candid leader who had the courage of his convictions, including his passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East.”
While this administration is having a meltdown over the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking to congress about the threat Iranian nuclear ambitions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is sponsoring an essay competition in the United States to Honor former Saudi King. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, the president of the National Defense University, want to challenge future students “while honoring the late king.” “This scholarly research competition presents NDU students with a unique opportunity to focus their research and writing efforts on relevant issues at the intersection of U.S. security interests and the Arab-Muslim world,” the release said.
It’s fair to say that every administration has gone out of its way to avoid insulting these immoral dictatorships. It’s just that so few have been as consistent and obsequious as this one.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Former Defense Intel Chief Blasts Obama

Gowdy Comes Out Swinging

Posted By Kenneth R. Timmerman On January 28, 2015 @ 12:56 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 6 Comments

House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. demands answers of witnesses  from the State Department and the CIA,  on Capitol...
House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. demands answers of witnesses from the State Department and the CIA, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, as it held its third public hearing to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where a violent mob killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Trey Gowdy came out swinging at Tuesday’s hearing of his Select Committee, laying into Democrats for playing political games and blasting the State Department for refusing to produce documents and for preventing witnesses from testifying before the committee.

As the hearing began, Gowdy had to cut off his microphone to conduct a private conversation with ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who has been carrying the administration’s water consistently.

While the two men remained personally cordial to each other, the “comity” of earlier hearings was gone.

On Monday, Gowdy released a scathing letter to Cummings that set the table for Tuesday’s hearing.

In it, he blasted Cummings and the Democrats for paying lip service to the need of a bipartisan investigation into the Benghazi terrorist attacks, all the while some Democrats, “some as recently as last week, have stated on many occasions they believe this Committee serves no purpose, as everything relating to Benghazi has already been asked and answered.”

By putting up a website called “Asked and Answered” before the Select Committee had even held its first hearing, the Democrats “instantly prejudged facts that are not yet in evidence,” Gowdy wrote.

The State Department recently turned over 15,000 of new documents in addition to the 25,000 produced in response to multiple document requests from other committees over the past two years. “These documents include significantly more traffic from State Department leadership than in previously provided information to Congress,” Gowdy noted in his opening statement.

At the hearing, the State Department’s liaison officer to Congress said that more documents would be produced in the coming days, including emails from Secretary of State Clinton – giving the lie to oft-repeated Democrat claims that everything relating to Benghazi was already on the public record.

Many of the so-called answers the Democrats provide to nagging questions on Benghazi answer nothing at all.

Where was the President and what did he do on the night of the attacks? That is a good question. The Democrats’ answer on their Benghazi Asked and Answered website? Why, he was at the White House, just as we always said he was. Doing what? Mystery.

Or how about the most asked question of them all, did anyone in the administration issue a “stand down” order that prevented a military rescue?

In a classic straw man argument, the Democrats accuse Republicans of claiming that Secretary of State Clinton personally “ordered” Defense Secretary Panetta to “stand down” an ongoing rescue attempt. That obviously didn’t happen; and no credible source has alleged that.

But as I revealed in Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi, two very real stand-down orders were issued that night by Secretary Clinton, apparently in tandem with John Brennan at the White House, which had the effect of slow-rolling the government response to the crisis.

•They refused to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG), the only structured, experienced, interagency reaction team that could have decided which resources of the government were available for deployment immediately.

•They refused to activate the State Department-led Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), an extraordinary operational unit on call 24/7 that included special operations troops and its own airlift, which could have secured the compound and the Annex and prevented the loss of classified data.

In addition, the President himself, by not personally taking charge of rescue efforts, never stood 
up the government’s vast national security apparatus, letting lower level officials treat the attacks as a garden variety crisis in some diplomatic backwater.

The letter exchanges between Gowdy and Cummings, as well as Tuesday’s hearings, should put to rest forever the fiction that this type of investigation can be conducted in some Nirvana-zone of bipartisan comity.

We have learned, for example, that Gowdy and his staff have indeed been interviewing witnesses – contrary to Democrats’ public statements that the committee is covering no new ground – but often has not invited Democrats to these meetings.

Gowdy explained that this was necessary to prevent Democrats from attempts to “characterize their testimony for political gain,” as Cummings has done.

Since many of the witnesses the Select Committee needs to interview still work in the Executive Branch, leaks of this sort have become “a major deterrent for other individuals who may be contemplating speaking voluntarily to the Committee,” Gowdy added.

Tuesday’s fireworks revealed the increasing unease among Democrats as the Benghazi Select Committee gets closer to the real truth of what led up to the attacks, what happened during the attacks, and how the administration sought to cover its tracks afterwards.

“Is this about gun-running?” Rep. Adam Schiff (D, WA) asked at one point.

Yes, Congressman, it is about gun-running, despite all the claims to the contrary from the disgraced former chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers.

We know, for example, that the State Department was engaged in efforts to collect some 15,000 surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS) that had gone missing from Qaddafi’s arsenals. Secretary Clinton herself touted that effort during a visit to Libya before the Benghazi attacks.

The White House sent two National Security staffers to Libya to supervise the MANPADS collection effort, even as several thousand missiles were collected then turned over in Libya to known jihadi leaders.

As I revealed in Dark Forces, at least 400 of those missiles were smuggled into Agadiz, Niger, where they were upgraded with CIA-supplied batteries and new gripstocks, then were shipped to al Qaeda-affiliated groups around the world.

YouTube videos and still photographs of the missiles, with their distinctive colors, showed them in the hands of jihadi groups in Syria and beyond.

Was Ambassador Stevens instructed to establish a communications backchannel to the National Security Staff via the CIA Chief of Station in Tripoli to report on this and other covert intelligence activities in Libya? That’s the suggestion that appears in an overlooked section of the Republican Additional Views to the December 2014 Senate intelligence committee report on CIA interrogations.

The Committee needs to investigate U.S. assistance to the anti-Qaddafi rebels, in particular, the “liaison” relationships between the CIA and foreign intelligence services who were bringing weapons into Libya. Did the CIA withdraw Stinger missiles from Camp Arifjan or other U.S. stockpiles in the Middle East and transfer them to Qatar so they could be brought into Libya, as multiple sources reported to me in Dark Forces?

Even more important, the Committee needs to investigate what the CIA knew about Iran’s intelligence and operational presence on the ground in Benghazi. Sources on Ambassador Steven’s security detail told me they were briefed on the aggressive Iranian presence already in June 2012. Other sources mentioned the existence of 50 to 60 intelligence reports on Iran’s activities in Libya at the time.

If that is the case, then former CIA deputy director Mike Morell knowingly lied in public when specifically asked about this during a speaking engagement in Florida last September. What else is Morell covering up?

These questions just scratch the surface of what hasn’t been asked, or answered.

Thankfully, as Gowdy himself said at the end of the two hour hearing on Tuesday, the southern politeness and the gloves are off. “We’re going to ratchet it up.”

About time, Congressman. Now bring it on.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The United States of ‘American Sniper’

Liberals’ criticism of my SEAL teammate Chris Kyle has had the ironic effect of honoring him.

By Rorke Denver
January 26, 2015
Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2012 in Midlothian, Texas.
Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2012 in Midlothian, Texas. PHOTO: AP

‘American Sniper,” the new movie about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has opened to staggering box-office success and garnered multiple Academy Award nominations. But not all the attention has been positive. The most vocal criticism came in the form of disparaging quotes and tweets from actor-director Seth Rogen and documentary-maker Michael Moore . Both have since attempted to qualify their ugly comments, but similarly nasty observations continue to emanate from the left.
The bulk of Chris Kyle’s remarkable exploits took place in the Al Anbar province of Iraq in the summer of 2006. He and I were teammates at SEAL Team Three. Chris had always been a large figure in the SEAL teams. He became a legend before our eyes in Ramadi.
My fellow special-operations brothers might be shocked, but I think the comments by Messrs. Rogen and Moore have had the ironic effect of honoring Chris Kyle’s memory. They inadvertently paid Chris a tribute that joins the Texas funeral procession and “American Sniper” book sales and box office in testifying to the power of his story. I’ll get to the punch line shortly, but first please let me lay the groundwork.
The very term “sniper” seems to stir passionate reactions on the left. The criticism misses the fundamental value that snipers add to the battlefield. Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope. The intimate connection between the shooter and the target can be hard to overcome for even the most emotionally mature warrior. The value of a sniper in warfare is beyond calculation.
I witnessed the exceptional performance of SEAL, Army and Marine snipers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They struck psychological fear in our enemies and protected countless lives. Chris Kyle and the sniper teams I led made a habit of infiltrating dangerous areas of enemy-controlled ground, established shooting positions and coordinated security for large conventional-unit movement.
More than half the time, the snipers didn’t need to shoot; over-watch and guidance to the ground troops was enough. But when called upon, snipers like Chris Kyle engaged enemy combatants and “cleared the path” for exposed troops to move effectively and safely in their arduous ground missions. These small sniper teams pulled the trigger at their own risk. If their position was discovered, they had little backup or support.
As Navy SEALs, we have the privilege of using the best hardware the military has to offer. We have access to, and train with, the latest elite weapons. We operate with the world’s finest aviators, from multiple services, who transport us to and from targets and protect us from above with devastating firepower. Advanced drone platforms are at our disposal and wreak havoc on our enemies. The full complement of American battlefield ingenuity and capacity is at our disposal. Our enemies the world over know this well. They have experienced this awesome power and respect it.
But every U.S. fighting force possesses a weapon that frightens our enemies today more than any of those above. The Taliban, al Qaeda, Islamic State, jihadists everywhere—all those who oppose us fear and hate this weapon, and are haunted by its power to stop their own twisted plans for the world.
What is this weapon? The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
It was written long ago by leaders of astonishing foresight and courage. It is what men like Chris Kyle fight and die for. It is what I immediately think of when someone burns a flag, shouts some hateful remark during a protest or criticizes the men and women who have volunteered for military service and willingly go into harm’s way.
When Seth Rogen and Michael Moore exercise this right, it is a tribute to those who serve. While I am revolted by their whiny, ill-informed opinions about Chris Kyle and “American Sniper,” I delight in the knowledge that the man they decry was a defender of their liberty to do so.
Mr. Denver, a commander in the U.S. Navy SEALs Reserves, is the author of “Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior” (Hyperion, 2013).

Monday, January 26, 2015

Still one of TV’s best, “The Americans” is more intense than ever

From the January 22, 2015 edition

Throughout its stellar first two seasons, FX’s Cold War spy drama “The Americans” has been incredibly adept at creating tension. Whether using spy-craft action set-pieces or more human conflicts among characters, “The Americans” is often an edge-of-your-seat series. With that said, the early episodes of Season 3 ratchet the tension up another level.
Early in the season premiere, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is in the middle of an undercover operation that she senses has gone awry. Her instincts are correct and she’s quickly pushed into dire circumstances. It’s a fitting opening for the season; as a harbinger of future tragedies during the first four episodes … with more surely coming as the season progresses.
While Season 3 has a couple moments of devastating violence — the disposal of a body immediately comes to mind — and gripping action, the central tension still revolves around Elizabeth and Phillip’s (Matthew Rhys) marriage.
Even though they’ve built a loving relationship, the union of Elizabeth and Phillip — two Russian spies forced into marriage and parenthood as cover — has never been easy for either party. Elizabeth’s devout loyalty to Mother Russia and “The Cause” is only matched by Phillip’s commitment to protecting his family, even if it goes against their directives.
Now that the KGB wants the Jennings’ oldest daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) to begin spy work, the two are more at odds than ever. Phillip refuses to let Paige become a part of a war filled with casualties — many of which he’s witnessed firsthand — while Elizabeth sees serving your country as an honor and obligation.
There are some other interesting storylines developing on the periphery — notably Frank Langella as the Jennings’ latest handler and a new Soviet defector — but “The Americans” is most powerful when focused on Elizabeth and Phillip. And Russell and Rhys are still giving two of the best performances on television, which has the potential to make their inevitable confrontation over whether family or country come first the most intense moment of “The Americans” yet.
Photo courtesy of FX

'The Americans' Remains FX's Best Drama in Season Three

ContributorJanuary 21, 2015
During the early days of its development, there was no reason to believe FX’s The Americans was going to be any good. But, despite those odds, the series audiences ended up getting was one of perfectly executed Hollywood trade craft – delivering some of the most relevant stories of our time despite the show’s Cold War setting. Now, after two seasons of gold, one must wonder if the series can continue the trend it’s been on since 2013. Well, if the first four episodes of season three have anything to say about it, the answer is a resounding yes.
Following the events of the season two finale, The Americans rejoins Elizabeth and Philip Jennings as they struggle with a new ultimatum that’s been laid before them by their commanders: whether or not to read in their daughter, Page, on the truth of her bloodline. The ultimate goal of this being to prep her for the time of one day becoming a “second generation illegal” capable of joining organizations such as the C.I.A. and F.B.I.. At the same time, Agent Beeman’s dealing with personal issues of his own while trying determine if a new variable at his job is whom they claim to be.
The Americans
In a recent interview for the documentary ShowrunnersJoss Whedon stated the ways in which he would push his writer’s room to chase moments instead of moves. Essentially saying his rooms would always push for scenes about characters over plot twists, something that’s proven to be The Americans’ biggest strength heading into its third year. Even though it’d be easy to fall back on the ideals of “the American government is closer than ever to learning the truth,” the show instead chooses to focus its stories on the war brewing within the Jennings family. Is Page becoming too engrossed in the “ideals of America?” Would bringing her into the spy life make Elizabeth and Philip bad parents? Is it possible to still fight for a country you haven’t stepped foot in, in over two decades? These are the questions The Americans is choosing to ask this year, and the show’s better for it.
However, the show isn’t without its drama and stakes. The Jennings are still dealing with high risk missions that could (and do) go bad at a moment’s notice, Beeman’s still always just one step away from figuring everything out and tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union is still at an all time high stateside. That said, though, the show never uses these elements to create a series that moves things too much too fast. Instead, all the stories are taken to their natural conclusion which can sometimes take an act, sometimes an episode and sometimes three. It’s long form story-telling done right.
There’s really no reason The Americans should have become FX’s new hit series and one of the best show’s on television, but it has, and there’s no reason we’re going to complain about it now. Despite all odds, the show has managed to maintain its footing in its new season, and there’s no reason to rock the boat. All we can do now is hope the series continues on the track it’s put itself on in the first third of its new season and deliver on the quality we’ve come to expect.
The Americans premieres Wednesday, January 28th at 10/9c on FX

TV's 'Justified' is wry comedy of manners in Kentucky coal region
January 26, 2015
    •   The showdown is coming for the antihero characters played by Timothy Olyphant, left, and Walter Goggins in the last season of FX's "Justified." PRASHANT GUPTA/FX
      “Justified” returned to FX Tuesday night for a final season in the hamlets and hollers of southeastern Kentucky. It’s a show about guns, for one thing, and it’s a safe bet that this season’s 13 episodes will build toward several OK Corral-style shootouts, and that these will be tense, compact and well-choreographed.
      But it’s also a show about families, how they can be broken up or bound together by hard times and hard places, and how people try to build new ones from the materials at hand – wary lovers, weary colleagues, deceitful friends, honorable enemies. The writers’ main job in Season 6 will be to provide a final reckoning for the show’s hill-country Cain and Abel, the deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens and the rapacious local crime boss Boyd Crowder. Will one slay the other? A particularly nice thing about “Justified” is that you could see it going either way.
      That makes the show sound heavier than it is. Originally derived from the crime fiction of Elmore Leonard, and with Leonard credited as an executive producer until his death in 2013, “Justified” has always been known for the wry humor it brings to its Southern Gothic stories and settings. The humor, snappy pace and droll dialogue, and a wide gallery of comic knaves and miscreants have always provided pleasure, even when the show lays on the Appalachian atmosphere a little too thickly.
      Less brutal and over the top than “Banshee,” another rural thriller, and less formulaic and laconic than “Longmire,” another gun-happy neo-Western, “Justified” has been true to its Elmore Leonard roots – the mysteries and vendettas in each season are complicated and circular, involving multiple clans and criminal syndicates, and they’re really just a framing device for a comedy of morals and manners in a mostly unmannered milieu.
      At the center of it are Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins), the former coal-miner buddies and local (anti) heroes who –with their snake-hipped, runway-model slouches, their artisanally messy hair and their highly tailored wardrobes – are the unlikeliest pair of beatnik fashion plates ever to wrestle for the soul of a poor, crime-ridden county.
      Goggins has the secondary role, but he’s the show’s live wire, giving Boyd the singular intensity — guarded and wide-eyed at the same time – that he brought to the dirty cop Shane Vendrell in “The Shield.” It’s no small task making Boyd credible –he’s a fantasy figure, a cracker savant and magic hillbilly who quotes Jefferson and Keynes – but Goggins continually manages to put across his mock-poetic, Dixie-Elizabethan dialogue.
    • Olyphant is the star, and at first he seemed small and a little uninspiring as Raylan, the shoot-first, anti-authoritarian sex symbol descended from both Gary Cooper and James Dean. But what makes him right for the part is his ability to combine the gun-toting swagger with a sharp, quiet, sad-eyed humor. Much of the fun of the show through the seasons has been in the office humor among Raylan and his surrogate family at the Marshals Service.

      There is a looming confrontation between Raylan and Boyd, and one character at the start of Season 6 notes that one or the other is going to have to die. It’s a dilemma. Raylan is the champion, the defender of law and order, and the wisecracking, disarming good guy, but Boyd is the more compelling character, the one who stayed and tried to build something — in some ways, he’s the show’s real hero.

      You suspect that the producers will find another way out. It’s notable that through five seasons, “Justified” has killed off several casts’ worth of colorful, endearing supporting players but has kept its core intact, not disposing of any central characters to jolt the ratings or provide a cliffhanger. Here’s hoping its aim stays true to the end.

      - See more at: