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US Presses for War on Syria, Dismisses Al Qaeda Rebels Use of Chemical Weapons

US officials continued to press for war against Syria yesterday, dismissing United Nations investigator Carla del Ponte’s statement that Western-backed opposition forces, not the...

Syrian Government Likely Did Not Use Chemical Weapons: Who Should You Believe … ...

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US shrugs off Syrian opposition’s chemical weapons use, presses for war

  By Thomas Gaist8 May 2013 US officials continued to press for war against Syria yesterday, dismissing United Nations investigator Carla del Ponte’s statement that Western-backed...

Australian military stages “anti-terrorist” exercise in Sydney

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UN says US-backed Opposition, not Syrian Regime, used Poison Gas

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UN says US-backed opposition, not Syrian regime, used poison gas

  By Alex Lantier7 May 2013 In a series of interviews, UN investigator Carla del Ponte said that sarin gas used in Syria was fired by...

Who Are the War Criminals in Syria?

by Patrick J. Buchanan Recently by Patrick J. Buchanan: Their War, Not Ours Last week, several polls came out assessing U.S. public opinion on...

American Presidents Repeatedly Turn A Blind Eye To Genocide

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How the Pentagon’s Military Industrial Complex Corrupted Afghanistan

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All Politics Is Local

(Photo: Dion van Huyssteen / Flickr)Walking is the thing for very pregnant ladies, because very pregnant ladies don't want to be pregnant anymore, and word has it walking is good for bringing about the endgame. The last bit of being pregnant, comprise...

Iran warns AL against ‘dangerous trend’

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has denounced the “improper” move by the Arab League to hand Syria’s seat to the Arab country's foreign-backed opposition, warning the block against pursuing a “dangerous trend” regarding Syria.

Granting Syria’s seat in the Arab League to a group that doesn’t have the nation’s direct vote is an improper measure, Amir-Abdollahian said in a meeting with Chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) Ammar Hakim in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday.

The Arab League has begun a dangerous trend that can also be used against certain members of the bloc in the future, he added.

On Tuesday, Syria’s foreign-backed opposition bloc, known as the National Coalition, took Syria’s seat during the Arab League annual summit held in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The League also authorized its members to send all the means of what it called self-defense, including weapons, to the militants fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Iranian envoy further reaffirmed the country’s stance on the importance of resolving the ongoing crisis in Syria through national dialogue within a Syria-Syria framework.

Many people, including large numbers of soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the violence that broke out in Syria nearly two years ago.

Hakim, for his part, said that the support of certain sides for the extremist groups in Syria would not settle the two-year crisis in the Arab country. He added that the unrest in Syria should be resolved merely through political channels.

SF/HJL

Jailed Kurdish Leader Calls for End to Armed Struggle Against Turkey


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Bio

Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism, which will be published in 2013.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.In the Middle East, momentous developments in the political landscape, all focused on Turkey. On March 21, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdish independence struggle who is still in a Turkish jail, wrote a letter that was read to over 1 million Kurds calling to an end to the three-decades-long armed struggle and the beginning of a peaceful struggle within what he hoped, I guess, will be a new constitution in Turkey and a new political struggle and process.The next day, March 22, with President Obama sitting next to him, Prime Minister Netanyahu phones Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, and apologized for the killing of Turkish citizens on the flotilla that was bound to try to break the siege of Gaza. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan accepted the apology with three conditions. And we'll talk about those conditions in a few minutes.Now joining us to discuss the significance of these events is Baris Karaagac. He's a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. He's also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crisis and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism. And he joins us now from Toronto. Thanks very much for joining us, Baris.BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER, INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT STUDIES: Hello, Paul. My pleasure.JAY: So we're going to talk about both of these events. And I don't know if the timing is coincidental or not, but one day after the other, this must have been big news in Turkey. But let's start off chronologically with the letter from the leader of the Kurdish struggle essentially calling for an end to armed struggle.KARAAGAC: So on Thursday last week, which marks the beginning of the new year for millions of people around the Middle East, but also in different parts of the world, from the Balkans to some parts of Central Asia, about 1.5 million Kurds gathered in the largest predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey.And the importance of this day is that Ocalan had promised or declared that he was going to declare the beginning of a new era, not only for the Kurdish people and the Kurdish struggle, also for Turkey and the Middle East as a whole. So in this speech that was delivered by two members of the Kurdish party that is represented in the Turkish parliament, the BDP, Peace and Democracy Party, he declared the end of an era characterized by armed struggle--of course, not exclusively armed struggle--and the beginning of a new era in which the struggle will be taken to the political, peaceful arenas.And this importance is that this also represents an important change in the AKP governments, as well as the Turkish state's stance, towards the Kurdish movement, because this did not take place without the consent, without the knowledge of the Turkish state in general and the AKP government in particular. The representatives of the Kurdish state had been in touch and negotiating with Ocalan for some time now. This dates back to the actually almost mid--the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. But it did not introduce any positive outcome.This time there seems to be some consensus. And given the recent history of the AKP's stance towards--the AKP policies towards the Kurdish resistance and struggle, which had been quite repressive, this came maybe to some people, especially foreign observers, as a surprise, because now in Turkish jails we have tens of Kurdish journalists and we have thousands of Kurdish politicians who are incarcerated.So the question is that why did the Turkish state decide to change or make such a, you know, seemingly important shift in its policy towards the Kurds? So this is a very, very important question that we need to pose right now.In most analyses, commentators and scholars have focused on Erdogan's bid for presidency in a new presidential system. So they have been arguing that Erdogan needs to make a constitutional change, actually introduce a quite different constitution, replacing the one that was drafted under military rule back in 1982, and he wants to change the regime within Turkey into a presidential one. But this won't be the same as what we see in the U.S. And many people have been critical of this, you know, conception of a presidential system that was introduced by Erdogan, and they argued it actually will be quite undemocratic, with quite, you know, possibly, potentially authoritarian tendencies, with the president controlling both the presidency and the parliament.So, many people have focused on this issue, arguing that Erdogan doesn't have the necessary numbers right now in parliament to take this new constitution to a referendum. He needs 330 members of the parliament. So he used this, you know, rapprochement or, you know, change in Kurdish policy in the negotiations as a negotiation tool.And last month, when the meetings started with Ocalan on the one side and members of the BDP, the Kurdish party, on the other, and also with the participation of a member of the Turkish intelligence, there was a leak of the minutes of one of those meetings. And in those meetings, in those minutes, Ocalan actually clearly says that the Kurdish movement should consider negotiating with Erdogan and maybe agreeing, consenting to his, you know, presidency in a new presidential system in return for a number of cultural and political rights, changing the status of millions of Kurds within Turkey. So this seems to be one important factor that has led to--.JAY: Has the Turkish state actually offering the Kurds anything to prompt any of this? I assume one of the reasons they had an armed struggle in the first place is 'cause the political process wasn't working for them and they weren't winning concessions. This little bit seems [incompr.] unilateral. You know, the Kurds are going to give up their struggle, but what's the Turkish state giving in return? And two, how has this been received by the Kurds, given that their leader is in jail right now? Would he have made the same decision if he wasn't? ... First I asked you, did the Turkish state actually offer anything here in return for giving up the armed struggle? Is there a deal? And two, how's this being received? I mean, there must be some suspicion that this was done while he was in jail, no?KARAAGAC: Well, one thing that characterizes the ongoing process is a number of--so many unknowns. We don't know actually what the Erdogan government promised that it would do.But what is expected by the Kurds and by many people in Turkey is that there will be a number of legal as well as constitutional changes. So if these constitutional and legal changes are made, then the Kurdish movement is planning to retreat.The armed wing of the Kurdish movement, the PKK, is planning to withdraw its troops from--its guerrillas from within Turkish territory. And there are between 1,500 and 2,000 of them in different parts of, you know, central and eastern, particularly in eastern and southeastern Turkey.But as the head of the--you know, the acting leader of the PKK, Karayilan, made it very, very clearly: until these changes will be done, will be achieved, guerrillas will not withdraw. So he's quite optimistic about the potential of establishing, you know, peace, a peaceful process to address the Kurdish issue. He's making it very clear: until these steps are taken by the Turkish government and the state, there won't be an end to armed struggle. At least, they will not stop it. But there is a ceasefire right now. [incompr.]JAY: The Kurds in Iraq, there's bases there. In fact, the Turks have actually intervened in Iraq, attacking Kurdish bases there. Is there any suggestion anything will change about the bases that are in Iraq?KARAAGAC: You know, based on what they've said and based on what we've heard so far, there's nothing. We cannot say anything about it. Maybe in the, you know, weeks and months to come we'll hear something, but we don't know yet.But what the Kurds want right now, you know, is first of all a new definition of citizenship, secondly the recognition of the diversity of the Turkish or the people or the peoples in Turkey, because we--you know, Turkey has historically been a very diverse, heterogeneous, you know, population. For example, in 1913, about 20--more than 20 percent of the population was Christian. Then the Christians were--you know, they had to migrate, left. We know what happened in 1915. This number dropped. But even within the Muslim population we see a huge diversity. We have people from the Caucasus, from the Balkans, from the Middle East, Arabs, Circassians, Kurds, Arabs--sorry, Turks, Laz, etc.JAY: Baris, let me just ask you quickly: so if this deal really goes ahead and there is a deal and there are concessions and all the rest, what's the importance of that to Turkey? And what does that mean for the region?KARAAGAC: Well, the 30-year-old war will come to an end. So, you know, we don't know what--we cannot--we can only speculate about the outcomes. But first of all, Erdogan will be hailed as the great leader who ended this war. And secondly, Turkey will be stopping or preventing the emergence of an independent Kurdistan, you know, new nation state within the region. And this has been a state policy since the beginning of the republic. So this is a huge--you know, this can be seen as an important victory for the Turkish state.JAY: How might it affect Turkey's attitude to what's going on in Syria?KARAAGAC: In Syria? Well, in Syria, in the northern part of Syria, Turks--the Kurds have been--to a great extent they've become autonomous, right? So if--and the party or the movement that controls that part of Syria, the Kurdish regions, is closely linked, organically linked to the PKK. So if Turkey starts, you know, a new process and has better, more cordial relations, amicable relations with the PKK and the overall Kurdish movement within Turkey, as well as in northern Iraq, this will of course increase its influence over northern Syria. That is clear.So, secondly, of course this will also increase its influence and make the relations even closer with the administration in northern Iraq. Turkey is--70 percent of Turkey's trade relations, trade with Iraq, takes place within northern Iraq, right? So these are all the important gains for Turkey. I mean, overall, Turkey will be increasing its influence beyond its borders, right?But I would like to talk about another important reason as to why the Turkish state might have decided to make this move regarding its Kurdish policy, and that is the stalemate when it comes to the war between the Kurdish guerrillas and the Turkish state. So despite this, its 30-year history and 40,000 people dead, neither side is close to victory. The Turkish state knows that it will be impossible, almost impossible to defeat the, you know, Kurdish guerrillas. And the Kurdish guerrillas cannot defeat the Turkish state either.But at the same time, Turkey is a little bit worried now, because before, when it came to the Kurdish insurgency, Turks used to cooperate with different states. They used to cooperate with Iran, they used to cooperate with Syria, and to some extent they used to cooperate with Iraq. Now they cannot cooperate with either Syria or even Iraq or with Iran. So this is again a strategic move on the part of the Turkish state.JAY: Turkey is a member of NATO. So I guess anything that strengthens Turkey's position in the region and essentially an American ally, I guess it gives them another card to play.KARAAGAC: Absolutely. Absolutely.JAY: In the next segment of the interview, we're going to talk about the phone call. Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the prime minister of Turkey, and they make a deal of sorts. So join us for a continuation of our interview on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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President Obama: The Drones Don’t Work, They Just Make It Worse

Less than two weeks after Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster of CIA Chief John Brennan’s confirmation in the US Senate, it seems that the controversy over the legality and transparency of drone attacks has finally provoked a response from the Obama Administration. On March 19, 2013, reports published in the Daily Beast and the Wall Street Journal indicated that the controversial drone program may be shifted from the CIA to the Department of Defense."The drastic escalation in drone strikes in Pakistan during the Obama Administration has caused no decrease in the capacity of drone-targeted groups to carry out terrorist attacks in the region," writes author. (Photo: Reuters)

The reports were based on statements by US officials and a yet unreleased draft document indicating that the Obama White House would like the program to be institutionalised and reformed, moving it into the command structure of the US military instead of within its spy agency. 

It may be true that moving the drone program to the Department of Defense would address some of the critiques regarding transparency and legality. Drone strikes carried out by the military, as they have been in Afghanistan, would be subject to the rules of engagement that govern the use of military force. They would also have a clearer chain of command that would disclose, at least generally, the parameters used to select targets and order strikes, both contentious points on which the CIA-run drone program has been criticised. 

Unlike the CIA, the Department of Defense would not be able to classify all drone operations as “covert” or “clandestine” and would be subject to oversight from other branches of the United States government. Furthermore, while the President did not have to sign off on every strike conducted by the CIA, under a military run program he would have, as Commander-in-chief, clear ultimate authority over the program.  

Under the new formulation, operations would move gradually from the CIA to the Department of Defense, with a lengthy period of transition in which the two agencies would work together. The move would allow the CIA to move out of counter-terrorism and focus again on the collection of human intelligence, a facet of its operation that is said to have suffered.  On March 20,  the Washington Post reported that a panel of White House advisors had expressed grave concerns that the CIA was paying inadequate attention to collecting intelligence on China, the Middle East, and other national security flashpoints, because of its inordinate focus on military operations and drone strikes. A move away from drone strikes, then, would free up the Agency’s resources to do the sort of traditional intelligence gathering with which it is tasked. 

On their own side, White House officials are keen to change the impression that the President Obama is a champion of secret assassinations using armed drones on shaky legal grounds. A major counter terrorism speech is expected soon in which the President will define a new direction in counter-terrorism policy and deflect criticism that his Administration has been operating an illegal killing program. While details of timing are unknown, such a speech can be seen as provoked by the questions raised in Senator Paul’s filibuster regarding the possibility of the President ordering drone strikes on US citizens based on unknown determinations. Although Attorney General Eric Holder denied such a possibility in his response to Senator Paul, questions have continued as to the legal authority of CIA targets and the fact that United States citizens cannot demand any sort of accountability for them.

Not really a change

Moving the drone program from the CIA to the Department of Defense is thus being painted as a victory, even a capitulation, to those critics who have criticised the lack of transparency, accountability, and legal basis of the drone program. However, the details of the move do not suggest a reversal or even a rethinking of the strategic imperatives that the Obama Administration and the CIA have used to justify the drone program. 

First, the gradual process of the transition without any publicly disclosed details of how and when it will be completed are likely to create a situation in which, at least for a time, it would be difficult if not impossible to tell which agency, the Department of Defense or the CIA, would actually be responsible for a strike. Second, according to a government official who spoke to the Washington Post, the CIA program in Pakistan would be phased out even later “because of the complexities there” and because the program, unlike the ones in Yemen and Somalia, was actually begun by the CIA.  Finally, even if the drone program is actually moved to the Department of Defense, it will be incorporated into its most secret portion, the Joint Special Operations Command, whose top-secret operations are also covert and never released to the public.

When these factors are considered, the effort to provide more transparency and an institutional framework for the drone program seem chimerical at best and deceptive at worst. All of them point to a continuation of a national security mindset, within the Obama Administration and the State Department, both believing that drones, cheaply bought and unmanned, are a perfect way to bombard other countries with minimal cost the United States.  With the risk of dead American soldiers reduced to nothing, military officials are also gobbling up the idea of waging remote-control wars all over the world, wherever a possible or even supposed threat can be identified.  

Are Drones effective?

Starkly absent from the debate are any meaningful critiques of the actual effectiveness of drone strikes. Figures obtained from the South Asia Terrorism Portal indicate, for example, that the drastic escalation in drone strikes in Pakistan during the Obama Administration has caused no decrease in the capacity of drone-targeted groups to carry out terrorist attacks in the region. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, President Obama ordered 53 drones strikes in Pakistan in 2009. These strikes were reported to have killed, among others, Tehreek-e-Taliban Commander Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Gul Nazeer. In turn, there were approximately 500 bomb blasts in Pakistan that year, most of which were concentrated in the northwestern tribal areas of Pakistan. 

In 2010, President Obama ordered 128 drone strikes which were again reported to have killed various prominent Taliban figures and various Al-Qaeda commanders. The number of bomb blasts carried out by terrorist groups in Pakistan that year was 473, with most of them again concentrated in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In 2011, President Obama ordered 75 drone strikes which killed, among others, Al-Qaeda Chief financial officer Abu Zaid Al Iraqi and Taliban spokesperson Shakirullah Shakir. However, despite this being the third year of drone strikes, terror groups within Pakistan were still able to carry out 673 bomb blasts. They also expanded the geographic area of the blast operations to include not only the remote and sparsely populated tribal areas, but also the urban centers of Karachi in the south and Quetta in the southwest of Pakistan. Finally, in 2012, President Obama ordered 48 drone strikes which were alleged to have killed between 242 and 400 people. Among the dead was Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, whose death was said to be a big blow to the operative capacities of the organization.

However, even despite this being the fourth year of drone strikes in Pakistan, with so many Al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban leaders allegedly killed in strikes in past years, terrorists were nevertheless able to still carry out 652 attacks killing 1,007 people and injuring 2,687. Not only were they able to kill more, they were also able to expand their ambit of operations into other parts of Pakistan, with terrorist attacks in Karachi and Quetta now almost equivalent in damage to the ones that occurred in the northwest, where the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had once been isolated.  

The move of Tehreek-e-Taliban activity from the tribal areas of Pakistan, where drones operate more effectively, to urban areas like Karachi has also been documented in a recent report issued by the United States Institute for Peace, which stated that Karachi is now the “preferred hideout of the TTP, Afghan Taliban, other extremist, and sectarian outfits" and that Karachi’s urban density and sprawl offer “the best militant hideout,” since U.S drone strikes cannot be enacted in Karachi, which unlike Federally Administered Tribal Area is the country’s economic and financial capital. The report further goes on to say that militants “are relocating to Karachi and are able to plan local and international operations in the city.”  

That those allegedly being targeted by drones do not seem at all weakened by them seems largely absent from the discussion on drones and the preoccupations of whether the program will be snuck from the secret corners of one US agency to another. The problem of an increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, even after their leaders have been hammered for years by drones, can be ignored by American officials whose interest is ostensibly limited only to protecting Americans. However, if it is concerns of transparency and legality that are provoking the responses from the Obama Administration and the purported move to reassign the drone program to the Department of Defense, perhaps the issue of actual effectiveness can also be added to the mix.

© 2013 Al-Jazeera

Rafia Zakaria

Rafia Zakaria is on the board of directors of Amnesty International. She is a lawyer and a Political Science PhD candidate at Indiana University.

Netanyahu Apologizes as Isolated Israel Needs Turkey Deal

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Wilkerson Report with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Po...

‘AL measure sets dangerous precedent’

Qatar's Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (R) attends the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha on March 26, 2013.

Iran has criticized the Arab League (AL) for giving Syria's seat to the foreign-backed opposition, warning that the move will set a “dangerous” precedence in the Arab world.

This hasty decision can turn into a new procedure and be applied to other Arab League member states in the future, Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Tuesday.

“This measure taken by the Arab League will be taken to mean the end of the [Arab] League’s role in the region,” he noted.


The Iranian official also advised Arab leaders to end their silence toward Israel's aggression and crimes and focus their efforts on supporting the Palestinian people.

In November 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership, though Damascus is a founding member of the organization.

It consequently called on the opposition National Coalition on March 6 "to form an executive body to take up Syria's seat" at the AL summit scheduled for Tuesday in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Damascus has censured the decision and condemned the Arab League for giving the country's "stolen seat to bandits and thugs," Syrian government daily al-Thawra said in a report published on Monday.

Iraq and Algeria are the only countries that have expressed reservations about the decision, while Lebanon has opposed the move.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of Syrian army and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.

The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of militants are foreign nationals.

Damascus says the West and its regional allies including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are supporting the militants.

MRS/SS

Amazon Sells Sex Toys as Wellness Products

Amazon Sells Sex Toys as Wellness Products

Posted on Mar 25, 2013

Amazon and other companies have rebranded once taboo sex paraphernalia, thus starting another sexual revolution; public libraries aren’t free, per se, but they’re an absolutely important investment; meanwhile, is the fact that college athletic directors get paid more than $1 million a year justifiable? These discoveries and more below.

On a regular basis, Truthdig brings you the news items and odds and ends that have found their way to Larry Gross, director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication. A specialist in media and culture, art and communication, visual communication and media portrayals of minorities, Gross helped found the field of gay and lesbian studies.

Amazon Sells 60,000 Sex Toys and Related Products? Welcome to Sex 4.0
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Twenty years ago this July, Michelangelo Signorile went to Hawaii to cover the lawsuit that launched the first salvo in the current war over marriage equality, ultimately leading to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Proposition 8 and, this week, arguments before the Supreme Court: Several gay and lesbian couples took the then-extraordinary step of suing the state of Hawaii, claiming gender discrimination because they were denied marriage licenses.

Winning and Whining, or How to Get Your Just Desserts in America
The phrase “American Exceptionalism” has a long, convoluted, and too often tortured track record.

Obama Ignores the Ugly, Brutal Reality of Occupation and Colonization on His Israel Trip
Round after round of tear gas was shot by a group of Israeli soldiers on a hill overlooking a protest of about 100 Palestinians in support of a hunger striking prisoner.

There Are No Free Libraries
Over the past few months, an image has been making its way around social media to underscore the value of libraries.

Religion Without God
The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude.

Why is Science So Obsessed with Beauty?
Scientists have been musing about beauty, order and natural symmetry since Pythagoras.

Science-fiction Turns Real: Genetically Engineering Animals for War
Scientific advances have us on the verge of being able to control and manipulate animals. Should we use that power?

Mistakes, Excuses, and Painful Lessons from the Iraq War
Ezra Klein has admitted he made a mistake in supporting the Iraq War. And he’s sorry.

The ‘Canonical’ Image of a Drone Is a Rendering Dressed Up in Photoshop
The media of the drone war is not like the media of World War II or Vietnam.

Introducing Brics From Above, And Brics-From-Below
In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet on March 26-27 2013 at the International Convention Centre, to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals.

College Athletic Directors—Why is the Pay So High?
We’ve just learned that nine athletic directors of major college-sports programs make more than $1 million annually, with an average salary of about $515,000.

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The Day That TV News Died

TV talk show host Phil Donahue. TV talk show host Phil Donahue. (Photo: Joe Newman / Public Citizen)Truthout needs your support to produce grassroots journalism and disseminate conscientious visions for a brighter future. Contribute now by clicking here.

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves.

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the pressure the network put on him near the end, “It evolved into an absurdity.” He continued: “We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine,” Donahue said. “His mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries. ‘He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.’ He was emaciated. His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying on. He was 24 years old. … I thought, ‘People should see this. This is awful.’ ”

Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”

“I said, ‘Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can’t do it without your permission,’ ” Donahue remembered. “Tomas said, ‘I do too.’ ”

But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were painfully brief.

“I didn’t have the money to run full-page ads,” he said. “Hollywood often spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.”

US Steps up War against Syria after Obama’s “Peace” Trip to Israel

israelus

After US President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel last week the US and its allies are moving ahead with plans to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and install a pro-Western regime. CIA operations and calls to arm the Syrian opposition are escalating, amid a US diplomatic offensive in the Middle East to isolate Assad, and the collapse of a pro-Syrian government in Lebanon.

According to a Wall Street Journal report Saturday, the CIA is expanding its activities to support secular-leaning anti-Assad militias “with training in areas including weapons use, urban combat and countering spying by the regime.” Unnamed US officials said that CIA support to rebel units represents an intensification of US efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition.

On Friday Obama warned at a joint press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan of the rising influence of extreme Islamist forces in Syria and announced a shift in US support to more secular forces.

“I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism because extremists thrive in chaos,” Obama said. “They don’t have much to offer when it comes to actually building things, but they’re very good about exploiting situations that are no longer functioning. They fill that gap.”

He said the US supported efforts to “begin the process of moving it in a better direction, and having a cohesive opposition is critical to that.”

Last year, the Obama administration had turned down a CIA-backed proposal to arm more secular opposition units. So far most of the arms shipments have gone to Islamist militias, who are carrying out the bulk of the fighting against Assad. Washington, which operates a CIA station near the Syrian-Turkish border, has long been involved in arming and strengthening the Islamist forces in close collaboration with its regional allies in Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

The announcement of more support to secular elements in the pro-Western Syrian opposition reflects increased efforts by the US and its allies to bring down Assad and install a pro-Western proxy regime in Syria. While the imperialist powers and their Western allies rely on extremist Islamist militias to bring down the Assad regime, they fear that forces such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, might prove unreliable in a post-Assad government.

Israel, US imperialism’s main ally in the Middle East, is in particular pressing for the strengthening of more secular elements in the opposition, as it fears the rising influence of armed Islamist terrorists in a neighboring country. According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior Israeli official involved in negotiations on Syria during Obama’s visit stated that “Israel would welcome America’s influence in shaping the post-Assad Syria.”

American-Israeli plans for a more directed military intervention in Syria are accompanied by a diplomatic offensive by both countries to forge a regional pro-war alliance to topple Assad and prepare for war against Iran.

In a move welcomed by the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and announced the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with Turkey. He apologized for the death of Turkish activists during an Israeli raid on the so-called Gaza flotilla in 2010. With Israel, Turkey is one of Washington’s main regional allies; it has repeatedly called for direct military intervention in Syria to bring down Assad.

On Sunday US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Iraq to pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to block flights from Iran to Syria. The US claims that Iran is sending weapons and fighters across Iraq to Syria to support Assad. Maliki’s Shiite government has said that inspections have shown that Iranian flights over its territory carry only humanitarian supplies.

As part of its increasingly aggressive offensive to replace Assad with a pro-imperialist stooge regime, the US is restructuring the Islamist-dominated Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main front of the pro-Western opposition cobbled together under the auspices of the US State Department last November. At a meeting last week the SNC nominated Ghassan Hitto, a US citizen and IT business executive, as the “prime minister” of a so-called “interim government.”

Over the weekend the previous leader of the SNC, Moaz al-Khatib, announced his resignation. A former Imam of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Khatib is an outspoken defender of Jabhat al-Nusra. When the US formally designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization, Khatib protested and urged Washington to reconsider the decision.

The promotion of more secular forces in the Syrian opposition goes hand in hand with continued collaboration with the Islamist militias, however. While Washington announces more cooperation directly with secular figures, it continues to tolerate and oversee huge arms shipments to Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist terrorist groups, which are largely supplied by Persian Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday a suicide bombing in a mosque in the Syrian capital, Damascus, killed at least 49 people, including Sunni cleric Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti. Syria’s minster for religious endowments, Mohammad Abdul-Satar al-Sayyed, blamed Western-backed terrorist forces for the attack.

The US-led offensive to bring down Assad is accompanied by renewed calls by France and Britain to directly arm the Syrian opposition. On Friday British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, called for lifting the EU arms embargo against Syria ahead of a EU foreign ministers meeting in Dublin.

While concerns were raised about the Franco-British plans, the European states agree that the Syrian opposition has to be strengthened. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described the situation in Syria and the region as “extraordinarily fragile,” announcing that the EU was continuing to discuss how to increase assistance to the “moderate Syrian opposition.” Some countries, such as Germany, Austria or Sweden, favor easing economic sanctions on areas held by the opposition instead of directly providing them with weapons.

The disagreements among the European powers about the scope of support for the Syrian opposition reflect increasing concerns about growing political instability in the entire region. On Friday, Najib Mikati announced his resignation as Lebanese Prime Minister. On Saturday the government stepped down, and Mikati called for a “national salvation” government to rule the deeply divided country.

The sectarian divisions ignited by the Western powers’ proxy war Syria are spilling over into Lebanon, a country which itself was engulfed in a fifteen-year civil war, from 1975 to 1990.

Mikati’s decision came amidst heavy fighting between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods in Lebanon’s second city, Tripoli, in which at least 12 people were killed. The Sunni-majority Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood supports the Western-backed, largely Sunni opposition in Syria. Jabal Mohsen is dominated by Lebanese Alawites—the Shiite sect from which Syrian president Assad hails—who sympathize with Hezbollah, the Shia political movement and militia in Lebanon allied with the Assad government and Iran.

CIA Boosting Covert Arms Shipments to Syria: NYT Report

Confirming reports that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is aiding Syrian rebels in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad, new evidence has surfaced that several nations, including Turkey, have been working with the CIA over the past year to dramatically increase military aid to Syrian rebels, the New York Times reports Monday.

Free Syrian Army rebels fighting against Assad militias on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Maraat al-Numan, Idlib, Syria (FreedomHouse via Flickr / Creative Commons License) Referring to air traffic data, interviews with anonymous U.S. officials, and rebel commanders, the Times reports that the CIA has been helping coordinate massive arms shipments to groups within the Free Syrian Army, which have included more than than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at the Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.

"A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment," Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told the Times.

Fast paced weapons transfers reportedly began over a year ago, in early 2012.

"The intensity and frequency of these flights," were "suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation," Griffiths added.

In a more overt show of support for Syrian rebels, over the weekend Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional 60 million dollars in direct aid to the rebels, marking the first time Washington will directly supply rebel forces, Inter Press Service reports.

“Who are those good rebels we want to arm?” asked Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The interventionists seem to take for granted that we know them well. The fact is, the interventionists themselves and the U.S. government don’t know squat about Syria and know even less squat about these rebels.”

Gelb continues:

There is one path to sensible strategy and to staying out of trouble. It is for America’s leaders in Congress, the media, and, above all, the administration to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam and get themselves to satisfactorily ask and reasonably answer the tough questions before we selflessly, inadvertently, and foolishly find ourselves in another war.

_____________________

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Drone Warfare is Neither Cheap, Nor Surgical, Nor Decisive: The Ever-Destructive Dreams of Air...

Today’s unmanned aerial vehicles, most famously Predator and Reaper drones, have been celebrated as the culmination of the longtime dreams of airpower enthusiasts, offering the possibility of victory through quick, clean, and selective destruction.  Those drones, so the (very old) story goes, assure the U.S. military of command of the high ground, and so provide the royal road to a speedy and decisive triumph over helpless enemies below.

Fantasies about the certain success of air power in transforming, even ending, war as we know it arose with the plane itself.  But when it comes to killing people from the skies, again and again air power has proven neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive nor in itself triumphant.  Seductive and tenacious as the dreams of air supremacy continue to be, much as they automatically attach themselves to the latest machine to take to the skies, air power has not fundamentally softened the brutal face of war, nor has it made war less dirty or chaotic.

Indeed, by emboldening politicians to seek seemingly low-cost, Olympian solutions to complex human problems -- like Zeus hurling thunderbolts from the sky to skewer puny mortals -- it has fostered fantasies of illimitable power emboldened by contempt for human life.  However, just like Zeus’s obdurate and rebellious subjects, the mortals on the receiving end of death from on high have shown surprising strength in frustrating the designs of the air power gods, whether past or present. Yet the Olympian fantasy persists, a fact that requires explanation.

The Rise of Air Power

It did not take long after the Wright Brothers first put a machine in the air for a few exhilarating moments above the sandy beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December of 1903, for the militaries of industrialized countries to express interest in buying and testing airplanes.  Previously balloons had been used for reconnaissance, as in the Napoleonic wars and the U.S. Civil War, and so initially fledgling air branches focused on surveillance and intelligence-gathering.  As early as 1911, however, Italian aircraft began dropping small bombs from open-air cockpits on the enemy -- we might today call them “insurgents” -- in Libya.

World War I encouraged the development of specialized aircraft, most famously the dancing bi- and tri-winged fighter planes of the dashing “knights of the air,” as well as the more ponderous, but for the future far more important, bombers.   By the close of World War I in 1918, each side had developed multi-engine bombers like the German Gotha, which superseded the more vulnerable zeppelins.  Their mission was to fly over the trenches where the opposing armies were stalemated and take the war to the enemy’s homeland, striking fear in his heart and compelling him to surrender.  Fortunately for civilians a century ago, those bombers were too few in number, and their payloads too limited, to inflict widespread destruction, although German air attacks on England in 1917 did spread confusion and, in a few cases, panic.

Pondering the hecatombs of dead from trench warfare, air power enthusiasts of the 1920s and 1930s not surprisingly argued strongly, and sometimes insubordinately, for the decisive importance of bombing campaigns launched by independent air forces.  A leading enthusiast was Italy’s Giulio Douhet.  In his 1921 work Il dominio dell’aria (Command of the Air), he argued that in future wars strategic bombing attacks by heavily armed “battle-planes” (bombers) would produce rapid and decisive victories.  Driven by a fascist-inspired logic of victory through preemptive attack, Douhet called for all-out air strikes to destroy the enemy’s air force and its bases, followed by hammer blows against industry and civilians using high-explosive, incendiary, and poison-gas bombs.  Such blows, he predicted, would produce psychological uproar and social chaos (“shock and awe,” in modern parlance), fatally weakening the enemy’s will to resist.

As treacherous and immoral as his ideas may sound, Douhet’s intent was to shorten wars and lessen casualties -- at least for his side.  Better to subdue the enemy by pressing hard on select pressure points (even if the “pressing” was via high explosives and poison gas, and the “points” included concentrations of innocent civilians), rather than forcing your own army to bog down in bloody, protracted land wars.

That air power was inherently offensive and uniquely efficacious in winning cheap victories was a conclusion that found a receptive audience in Great Britain and the United States.  In England, Hugh Trenchard, founding father of the Royal Air Force (RAF), embraced strategic bombing as the most direct way to degrade the enemy’s will; he boldly asserted that “the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in a proportion of twenty to one.”

Even bolder was his American counterpart, William “Billy” Mitchell, famously court-martialed and romanticized as a “martyr” to air power.  (In his honor, cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy still eat in Mitchell Hall.)  At the Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s, U.S. airmen refined Mitchell’s tenets, developing a “vital centers” theory of bombing -- the idea that one could compel an enemy to surrender by identifying and destroying his vulnerable economic nodes.  It therefore came as no accident that the U.S. entered World War II with the world’s best heavy bomber, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and a fervid belief that “precision bombing” would be the most direct path to victory.

World War II and After: Dehousing, Scorching, Boiling, and Baking the Enemy

In World War II, “strategic” air forces that focused on winning the war by heavy bombing reached young adulthood, with all the swagger associated with that stage of maturity.  The moral outrage of Western democracies that accompanied the German bombing of civilian populations in Guernica, Spain, in 1937 or Rotterdam in 1940 was quickly forgotten once the Allies sought to open a “second front” against Hitler through the air.  Four-engine strategic bombers like the B-17 and the British Lancaster flew for thousands of miles carrying bomb loads measured in tons.  From 1942 to 1945 they rained two million tons of ordnance on Axis targets in Europe, but accuracy in bombing remained elusive.

While the U.S. attempted and failed at precision daylight bombing against Germany’s “vital centers,” Britain’s RAF Bomber Command began employing what was bloodlessly termed “area bombing” at night in a “dehousing” campaign led by Arthur “Bomber” Harris.  What became an American/British combined bomber offensive killed 600,000 German civilians, including 120,000 children, reducing cities like Cologne (1942), Hamburg (1943), Berlin (1944-45), and Dresden (1945) to rubble.

Yet, contrary to the dreams of air power advocates, Germany’s will to resist remained unbroken.  The vaunted second front of aerial battle became yet another bloody attritional brawl, with hundreds of thousands of civilians joining scores of thousands of aircrews in death.

Similarly mauled but unbroken by bombing was Japan, despite an air campaign of relentless intensity that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians.  Planned and directed by Major General Curtis LeMay, new B-29 bombers loaded with incendiaries struck Tokyo, a city made largely of wood, in March 1945, creating a firestorm that in his words “scorched and boiled and baked [the Japanese] to death.”  As many as 100,000 Japanese died in this attack.

Subsequently, 60 more cities were firebombed until the apotheosis of destruction came that August as atomic bombs incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing another 200,000 people.  It quickly became an article of faith among American air power enthusiasts that these bombs had driven Japan to surrender; together with this, the “decisive” air campaign against Germany became reason enough to justify an independent U.S. Air Force, which was created by the National Security Act of 1947.

In the total war against Nazi and Japanese terror, moral concerns, when expressed, came privately.  General Ira Eaker worried that future generations might condemn the Allied bombing campaign against Germany for its targeting of “the man in the street.”  Even LeMay, not known for introspective doubts, worried in 1945 that he and his team would likely be tried as war criminals if the U.S. failed to defeat Japan.  (So Robert McNamara, then an Army Air Force officer working for LeMay, recalled in the documentary The Fog of War.)

But moral qualms were put aside in the post-war glow of victory and as the fear rose of future battles with communism.  The Korean War (1950-1953) may have ushered in the jet age, as symbolized by the dogfights of American Sabre Jets and Soviet MiGs over the Yalu River, but it also witnessed the devastation by bombing of North Korea, even as the enemy took cover underground and refused to do what air power strategists had always assumed they would: give up.

Still, for the U.S. Air Force, the real action of that era lay largely in the realm of dystopian fantasies as it created the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which coordinated two legs of the nuclear triad, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in silos and nuclear-armed long-range bombers. (The third was nuclear-missile-armed submarines.)  SAC kept some of those bombers carrying thermonuclear weapons in the air 24/7 as a “deterrent” to a Soviet nuclear first strike (and as a constant first strike threat of our own).  “Thinking about the unthinkable” -- that is, nuclear Armageddon -- became all the rage, with “massive retaliation” serving as the byword for air power enthusiasts.  In this way, dreams of clean victories morphed into nightmares of global thermonuclear annihilation, leaving the 1930s air power ideal of “clean” and “surgical” strikes in the dust -- for the time being.

Reaping What We Sow

Despite an unimaginably powerful nuclear deterrent that essentially couldn’t be used, the U.S. Air Force had to relearn the hard way that there remained limits to the efficacy of air power, especially when applied to low-intensity, counterinsurgency wars.  As in Korea in the 1950s, air power in the 1960s and 1970s failed to provide the winning edge in the Vietnam War, even as it spread wanton destruction throughout the Vietnamese countryside.  But it was the arrival of “smart” bombs near that war’s end that marked the revival of the fantasies of air power enthusiasts about “precision bombing” as the path to future victory.

By the 1990s, laser- and GPS-guided bombs (known collectively as PGMs, forprecision guided munitions) were relegating unguided, “dumb” bombs largely to the past.  Yet like their predecessors, PGMs proved no panacea.  In the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, for example, 50 precision “decapitation strikes” targeting dictator Saddam Hussein’s top leadership failed to hit any of their intended targets, while causing “dozens” of civilian deaths.  That same year, air power’s inability to produce decisive results on the ground after Iraq’s descent into chaos, insurrection, and civil war served as a reminder that the vaunted success of the U.S. air campaign in the First Gulf War (1991) was a fluke, not a flowering of air power’s maturity.  (Saddam Hussein made his traditionally organized military, defenseless against air power, occupy static positions after his invasion of Kuwait.)

The recent marriage of PGMs to drones, hailed as the newest “perfect weapon” in the air arsenal, has once again led to the usual fantasies about the arrival -- finally, almost 100 years late -- of clean, precise, and decisive war.  Using drones, a military need not risk even a pilot’s life in its attacks.  Yet the nature of war -- its horrors, its unpredictability, its tendency to outlive its original causes -- remains fundamentally unaltered by “precision” drone strikes.  War’s inherent fog and friction persist.  In the case of drones, that fog is often generated by faulty intelligence, the friction by malfunctioning weaponry orinnocent civilians appearing just as the Hellfire missiles are unleashed.  Rather than clean wars of decision, drone strikes decide nothing.  Instead, they produce their share of “collateral damage” that only spawns new enemies seeking revenge.

The fantasy of air war as a realm of technical decision, as an exercise in decisively finding, fixing, and dispatching the enemy, appeals to a country like the United States that idolizes technology as a way to quick fixes.  As a result, it’s hardly surprising that two administrations in Washington have ever more zealously pursued drone wars and aerial global assassination campaigns, already killing 4,700 “terrorists” and bystanders. And this has been just part of our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president’s campaign of 20,000 air strikes(only 10% of which were drone strikes) in his first term of office.  Yet despite -- or perhaps because of -- these attacks, our global war against al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and other groups like the Taliban appears no closer to ending.

And that is, in part, because the dream of air power remains just that: a fantasy, a capricious and destructive will-o’-the-wisp.  It’s a fantasy because it denies agency to enemies (and others) who invariably find ways to react, adapt, and strike back.  It’s a fantasy because, however much such attacks seem both alluringly low-risk and high-reward to the U.S. military, they become a rallying cause for those on the other end of the bombs and missiles.

A much-quoted line from the movie Apocalypse Now captured the insanity of the American air war in Vietnam.  “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,”says an Air Cav commander played by Robert Duvall.  “Smelled like... victory.”  Updated for drone warfare, this line might read: “I love the sound of drones in the morning.  Sounds like... victory.”  But will we say the same when armed drones are hovering, not only above our enemies’ heads but above ours, too, in fortress America, enforcing security and conformity while smiting citizens judged to be rebellious?

Something tells me this is not the dream that airpower enthusiasts had in mind.

CIA aids huge arms smuggling to Syria — report

Published time: March 25, 2013 13:59
Reuters / Larry Downing

The CIA reportedly has a hand in clandestine supply of arms to Syrian rebels by Gulf States. At least 3,500 tons of have been delivered - some ending up on the black market, with the Turkish government an active player, a media report says.

The flow of arms continues with the help of US agents as Washington criticizes Iran and Russia for delivering weapons to the Syrian regime, the New York Times says. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to close its airspace to Iranian flights just as the latest arms delivery from Qatar for Syrian rebels was landing in Turkey, according to the daily’s report.

The newspaper cites air traffic data, US and foreign officials and rebel commanders in its investigation.

The airlift reportedly began in early 2012 with a Qatari Emir Air Force C-130 transport aircraft flight. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have joined in in November, when it became a major operation. More than 160 military flights have landed in Turkey over the time. Esenboga Airport near Ankara was the prime destination, but others were also involved, the newspaper claims.

“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told the newspaper. He added that it appears as a “well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”

Indeed, CIA agents have a direct input on the deliveries, albeit mostly consultative, NYT says. The spy agency reportedly helps with procurement of weapons in Croatia and vets Syrian rebel groups, which would receive the weapons.

A Syrian rebel sniper takes aim at pro-government forces near the Abu Baker brigade in Albab, 30 kilometres from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Edouard Elias)

The involvement was supposedly motivated by the fact that the Arab states would supply arms to the Syrian militants anyway. The hopes CIA its can steer away the arms from Islamists’ hands and prevent weapons which can potentially be used by terrorist against civilian targets from being delivered, a former US official told the newspaper.

The operation was a limited success apparently, NYT says, citing two Islamist commanders.

“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham told the newspaper.

The former official described the program as “a cataract of weaponry.” He said: “People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge, but they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”

Instrumental to setting up the operation was David H. Petraeus, the CIA director until November, the official said. He had prodded various countries to work together on it.

The scale of the operation increased considerably in November, after the Turkish government agreed to it, the report says. The tipping point may also have been the presidential election in the United States.

Ankara reportedly has oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the arms through Turkish territory and across the border. Some in Turkey say Ankara is de facto at war with Damascus because of its involvement in the conflict.

“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the CHP opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”

A masked Syrian Turkmen rebel takes posision in the Hanano district of the northern city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Jm Lopez)

Still, rebel commanders complain that they do not receive enough weapons and do not get heavier kinds of weapons like anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.

They accuse Washington of blocking such deliveries.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province, told NYT.

The CIA and General Petraeus would not comment when contacted by the newspaper. Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to discuss the arms flights. Croatia and Jordan both denied any role in supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, NYT says. Jordanian aviation officials reportedly went so far as to insist that no cargo flights occurred, and cut communication after presented evidence to the contrary.

The Violent Disorder of Our Public Mind

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Since all human occurrences take place in society, it is obviously a truism that all insanity must, in some sense, be social. On the other hand, if we assert that insanity is due to biological factors then it might seem that insanity can be due to causes that are not in any sense social. However, even the designations that we apply to human activity derive from various social institutions and their forms of mental interpretation, so once again the social penetrates our understanding of insanity.

However, I wish to argue here for a more robust account of social insanity. I wish to argue that not only can individuals be dysfunctional and pathological but that societies can be irrational, self-destructive and given to denial, self-deception and violent self-contamination. Freud knew as much when he asked at the conclusion of Civilization and its Discontents:

… would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization - or epochs of it - possibly even the whole of humanity - have become "neurotic" under the pressure of civilizing trends?

>Nevertheless, it is true that in our time the term "insanity" tends to refer to a private malady. We lack an appropriate term for disorders of the public mind for the fundamental reason that we lack any notion of the "public mind" itself. And the reason for this disappearance is not that the phenomenon itself has ceased to exist but that public consciousness has become so fragmented and atomic that this collective form of consciousness tends to lack self-awareness. But this dissolution is itself the very form of public consciousness that is so important for us to grasp.

To see more articles by Richard Lichtman and other scholars, visit Truthout's Public Intellectual Project.

For fragmentation, like loneliness or isolation, is only possible in society. It is only when we compete with each other for power and domination, when each of us comes to regard others as impediments to our own realization, all of which are of, course, social forms of action, that we experience ourselves as simultaneously individual and social, encountering acutely the very opposition between our individuality and our social nature. Of course, the most terrible forms of individual pathology occur through the most terrible forms of social chaos and despair.

It was not always so. In the 19th century terms like "alienation," "anomie," "disenchantment" and "ideology" referred to pathologies of social life and public mind as well as to individual dysfunctions. For many of the great sociologists, men like Marx and Durkheim, society had a nature that was not reducible to the sum of its individual members. Nor, of course, did it exist independently of them. It is not an easy phenomenon to conceptualize, but we need finally to ask what we can possibly understand by this term.

The "public mind" is not the sum of individual minds, but their source and presupposition. It is not a universal archetype, for it is specific to each distinct social order. It is not a concrete, innate system of any kind, for it cannot exist independently of the various social relations that activate its potentiality.

The public mind is the pattern of meanings and the system of feelings, desires and aspirations established in the codes, rules and symbols embedded in the objective structures of social, economic, historical and political life. Subjectively, it is the set of assumptions, convictions, beliefs and values that ground the shared sense of social existence of the multitudinous groups that constitute a given social order.

We have difficulty grasping the sense of public mind because in our time the collectivity that exists is obscured by the illusion that the individual is the source rather than the consequence of the culture of capitalism. But all we need to convince ourselves of the existence of social reality is to pass through a significant economic crisis in which we cannot find work because the capitalist cannot locate consumers for his production while his plant lies idle and its machines useless; the commodities they might make available cannot find the workers to operate the machines that would produce them or the consumers to purchase them. This is an irrational system, one in which everything that is required depends on other characteristics that themselves cannot function without the contribution of those aspects of the potential structure that remain actually idle. So, one might say, nothing can be what it is unless everything else is what it was intended to be; and yet, the same can be said for every aspect of the idle system that therefore fails to function.

At the core of the failure of capitalism is a systematic contradiction between the two most fundamental organizing tendencies of our contemporary life. On the one hand we live within a system of capitalism while, on the other, we simultaneously conceptualize ourselves in accordance with the ideals of democracy. These two structures are, however, completely opposed to each other; they are in a fateful contradiction.

For capitalism is an economic system based on institutionalized greed, self-interest, accumulation, expansion, domination and disregard of the lives of others. It is a system of power in blatant opposition to democracy, which is an order of values that exalts simultaneously the individual's uniqueness and capacity for cooperative relationships organized on behalf of justice, equality, dignity and universal freedom.

How has The United States been able to integrate two systems so fundamentally at odds with each other, so antagonistic to each other's motive and meaning, so radically in opposition? When all the falsehood and terrible mystification is pierced and suspended, when the truth fights through the veil of manipulated pretense and self-serving hypocrisy, casting aside, if only briefly, the horrible facade of false consciousness and organized dishonesty, one overriding fact looms portentously above the manipulated mystification of the populace.

How has the United States been able to integrate the contradictory tendencies of capitalist exploitation and democratic idealism? The answer is simple, pathetic and unavoidable: The ostensible integration has never taken place. Since its earliest history and with growing force and increasing speed, the United States has embraced the elitist domination of capitalist power and cloaked itself in the illusion of democratic self-righteousness. "Democracy," or its semblance, has been shaped to support the ravages of capitalist exploitation, while providing the illusion of its devotion to restraining and remaking the ills of economic malice.

Of course, this assertion needs to be supported by all the claims and counterclaims that are finally called upon to provide assurance. However, simply cast your gaze at the fraction of the populace that owns and controls the essential means of social domination, not even the 1% but the 1/10th of 1%, whose wealth and consequent power is more than equivalent to that of the struggling remainder of the citizenry. It is an exercise in despair to explore the whole range of actions that are fatefully skewed in the direction of this ghastly minority and its capacity to serve its interests at the expense of the lives of others whose daily existence is not constituted by a choice among irrelevant luxuries but the need to keep from falling into abject despair, anxiety, depression, illness and death.

Is there any wonder that there is disorder in the land; that lives are made hollow, meaningless and filled with an undying rage against one's self for failing, against others for what seems their superior gratification, for life as a whole that has promised so much and delivered so little. One inhales failure with every painful breath, or in keeping with the splitting of life between the power and the purpose to which we previously alluded, one retrenches, contracts, lives more and more into one's self, while the world beyond our private isolation grows ever more massive and monstrous until its slips in through the crevices of our passive surrender and threatens to take even more of us than we had ever realized was vulnerable.

Is it any wonder that terror and violence prowl about the wasteland of so many lives, or that the larger majority succumbs to apathy and paralysis? One could go on listing indefinitely the acts of dehumanized destruction, incomprehensible violence and deranged terror that transpire out of motives that neither its perpetrators, its victims nor observing savants can comprehend.

But stop for a moment and ask yourself: What is the meaning of this hatred and cold extermination? Ultimately, hatred and violence, murder and mayhem are modes of reconstruction in a world that has failed its most vulnerable, even more than its most comfortable.

Why do I link reconstruction with hatred and violence?  To destroy is to remake the universe, to eliminate from it something - not necessarily what confronts one - but what that fragile presence before us symbolizes to its enraged and often deranged adversary. Violence contracts what cannot be embraced or even expanded; it minimizes what cannot be enlarged or shared: one's powers, one's love, one's creative affirmation of the humanity of life in a world that bears the possibility of transcendence in beauty.

In the passage I previously cited from Freud, he spoke of the destructive possibilities of "civilization." That assertion is in keeping with his tendency to universalize the conditions of life in his time. Reification is his constant nemesis. He pays insufficient attention to the diversity of societies and the importance of their differences. It is more misleading than insightful to trace human failures back to civilization as such. For Freud, of course, the conflict between human existence and civilization is ubiquitous and permanent, as is the conflict within human beings between their tendency to love and draw together against their tendency to die and destroy.

Marx functions with a different paradigm:

The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual ... appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole ... Only in the eighteenth century, in "civil society," do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means toward his private purposes, as external necessity.

So society confronts the individual and, rather than being a member of that social whole, Marx notes, the individual appears to himself or herself in "civil society" as an independent individual standing outside of society.

And Marx notes something that the advocates of capitalist society are most often blind to:

        ... private interest is already a socially determined interest, which can be achieved only within the conditions laid down by society ... the reciprocal and all-sided dependence of individuals who are indifferent to one another ...

"Indifferent dependence" cannot be the foundation of communal concern nor the root of empathy toward others. It is much more likely to foment conflict and exploitation, rage and repulsion, self-hatred and unending envy.

From the beginning of American history, human relations were constructed through a series of antagonisms: the European settlers against native Americans and Mexican populations; human beings against nature and those same human beings divided again by privilege and power exercised against each other. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States begins:

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, emerged from their villages into the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log.

They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawk's bells ... They do not bear arms, and do not know them. Their spears are made of cane ... They would make fine servants ...With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

Columbus wrote further:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives    by force in order that they might learn and might give me information ...

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? Following that information, he set out to accumulate slaves. He later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

Zinn writes:

Among the Arawaks mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards.

The story of Columbus the heroic explorer is still the iconic legend told to the greatest majority of school children in the United States. But the myth of Columbus is not merely for the innocents of the country: Even such authorities as Samuel Eliot Morison, the "distinguished" Harvard historian, endorsed the legend of Columbus' greatness. In his book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, Morison describes the enslavement and murder of the native populations and notes: "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide."

But Morrison had set out to ennoble Columbus and so he concludes:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great - his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to land beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty ... and discouragement.  But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most astonishing and essential of all his qualities - his seamanship.

In other words, though he engaged in "complete genocide," and missed his original mark by several thousand miles, he was an admirable sailor and that, in Morison's eyes, counts for everything.

But why do I linger on Columbus since he was not an American but a Spaniard, raised in a foreign creed and of a different culture?

Morison, however, was an American and a distinguished one at that, who in his extravagant praise of Columbus reveals the deep and rotting soil from which he rose to his position of eminence among American historians, who simultaneously were called upon to establish his preeminence. In reading Morison, it is not Columbus that we primarily discover, but the long established American ideal of dominance and power. As Zinn reminds us:

What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English to the Powhatans and Pequots of America.

And it is what we have been doing for more than 500 years through the enslavements, invasions, murders, plunderings, dissolutions, eviscerations and wholesale slaughters of those whose lives and labors and territories and resources we coveted to the point of immolation. From the natives of early Virginia and Massachusetts to the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, transformed into shadows of their once living corporeal selves, to the more than 500,000 Iranian civilians and the still uncounted Afghanis and Pakistanis we are still in the process of saving from themselves, we have witnessed an unending baptism of freedom in blood and rotting flesh.

However, it is not the individual atrocities that are the essence of this history but the pattern of imperialist carnage; the underlying structure of dehumanized self-aggrandizement that is most to be explored, comprehended and expunged. It is the fundamental structure of the capitalist system that produces the atrocities, not the atrocities that produce the system. For the atrocities reveal as their cause a set of interrelationships that require and provide for each other - what is referred to as a dialectical system. No aspect of this system can exist independently of the others and so each reveals something of the remainder when it is explored.

The basic aspects of capitalism are: 1) exploitation, 2) expansion, 3) access to state power, 4) enhanced technology, and 5) control of the conscious and unconscious processes of the mentality of the populace.

"Exploitation" signifies that the labor of workers is owned and controlled by those who possess the means by which their wealth is produced. Given this power over wealth, the dominant class keeps a larger and larger portion for itself and returns to the workers only enough to keep them sufficiently vital and aware, so as to maintain the capacity to provide additional labor. At times, when the working class is politically vigorous, it may win concessions and at other times, such as our time now, its share of the total wealth will decline precipitously. In other words, the level of the workers' wellbeing will fluctuate around a norm established by the underlying capacity of the capitalist to control capital and, through this control, the proportion of value accruing to the workers on the one hand and the capitalists on the other.

"Expansion" involves a structural and a geographical aspect. The capitalist system operates on the basis of continuing accumulation of profit. This follows from the fact that the system is competitive and, whether given capitalists embrace this condition or not, if they refuse to compete for a greater share of this wealth, they will find themselves driven from the marketplace and replaced by a new agent who is perfectly willing to take up the missing opportunity. It is not personal temperament or greed that produces capitalism, but capitalism that produces competitive greed. It must, of course, be the case that capitalism could not have originated absent a character structure that was attracted to personal advantage. But this characteristic was in some part the result of a desire for survival rather than enhancement and could not have persisted unless it was embodied in an expanding structure that encompassed more and more of social life.

Expansion and exploitation feed off each other: one as a dynamic process and the other as a structure that the process tends to establish. And everything that might be said about the domestic nature of a given capitalist country needs also to be repeated on the plane of international affairs. So, the world economic system is continually more subject to the voracious interests of various competing countries and the conflicts and outright warfare among them. All the while, individual capitalist firms give rise to oligopolies and monopolies that carry on the procedures of competitive exploitation on an ever more enormous and dangerous scale.

With continued growth, the economy comes more and more to depend on the resources, agencies and directives of the state, which becomes more and more essential as the economic system becomes more complex and requires a "center" that can coordinate the vast arrangement of activities that define modern capitalism: the defense and redefinition of property, the nature of taxation, the distribution of profit, the continuing support for innovation, the situating of labor, the form and content of immigration and numerous other activities that require a central agent to relate each of these activities to the others. And finally, and perhaps most to the point, the state can maintain an illusion of impartiality that defends the system against what would otherwise be the obvious charge of support of capital against the other dimensions of social life.

We should never forget that the tendencies and pressures that exist within the capitalist system have their counterpart in the forms of culture, human nature and psychological formations that pervade the social life of these societies. For example, the move to expansion has its replica in the lives of various segments of the population that sustain it. To maintain and enhance as much of one's self with as little expenditure as possible is not merely the admonition prescribed by the commercial system but is, simultaneously, the purported insight carried throughout the emotional and motivational structure of personal, psychological and social life.

Take without giving is one of the doctrines defining male culture, in which one's capacity to love or what passes for it is hoarded, and the accumulation of the love of others is an indication of a weakness in them that can be manipulated to one's advantage. Need for the love of others must be disguised by aggrandizement and apparent indifference and, consequently, of success in the economic struggle for love. The prevailing prescription of male culture is self-enhancement and the minimization of the resources, powers and defenses of others: greater wealth, greater access to dominance, greater sexual potency, a greater range of powers used to control others and a greater system of defenses to keep these others who are engaged in reciprocal attack upon one's self from succeeding. However, to accumulate without return soon becomes a wearisome task in which the value being sought and hoarded loses its significance as the other who is manipulated through this unequal exchange soon loses value and becomes, in fact, instrumentally useful but humanly worthless.

It is through the myriad forms of manipulation of others that the self loses its human potentiality. The contradiction between power and ideal with which I began these remarks has the dreadful consequence of placing one forever on the precipice of self-condemnation and social exclusion. The values that form one's ideal self are incapable of realization, and the individual therefore comes to assume responsibility for the persistence of its failure. In his brief account of Western attitudes toward death Philippe Aires notes:

Today the adult experiences sooner or later - and increasingly it is sooner - the feeling that he has failed, that his adult life has failed to achieve any of the promises of adolescence.

Adolescence is, of course, the period of life when idealism prevails, as the difficulties that stand between the individual and his or her fulfillment are not understood to derive from the larger society within which individuals are formed and measured rather than from the unique characteristics of these burgeoning individuals themselves.

Nor is this the conclusion of one's sense of failure; there is a further fact less often noted and commented upon: Individuals participate significantly in their own decline and ultimate demise. How does such self-destruction come about?

When we use terms like "masochism" we usually take for granted that we are speaking of individual pathology. However, consider that every social system is obviously inseparable from the channeled energies of its participants. In fact, each system is the embodiment of these energies, so organized as to form a larger and more persistent whole. So it is that the failure of our society, the harm it imposes on us, is in unavoidable measure the effort and product of our own lives. It is because we act out the forms of personhood required by our society that it is able to accumulate its power to force us into acting against ourselves. So masochism is not an individual occurrence but the basic imposition by which we construct the processes that deconstruct us. Constructing the powers of a destructive society, we deconstruct the ideal possibilities inherent in ourselves.

Of course, we are not self-consciously aware of this fact, but it occurs as it does regardless of our self-conscious ignorance. We make the social world that is our undoing. We produce the institutions and structures that maintain our very subordination. Our energies, which we define in terms of self-aggrandizement and rational self-interest, are beyond our understanding, the very opposite of what they initially claim. Our vaunted self-interest is self-denial, our cherished self-realization, the destruction of what we hold most dear.

It was not only Marx and his conservative counterparts who sensed the turning of liberalism into its opposite. It was in 1776 that Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, in which he argued as a thoughtful economic historian:

Not only would free, competitive markets direct the employment of capital to those industries in which it would be more productive, but they would also result, again through the invisible hand directing selfish profit maximizing into socially beneficial channels ...   

Or as Smith put the matter, speaking of the ordinary participant in the burgeoning capitalist market:

  … he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain,   in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was no part of his intention.

Some 120 years later, Max Weber, a thinker of considerable brilliance and one more sympathetic to capitalism, having separated himself from his usual detached objectivity, noted with uncharacteristic passion and eloquence at the conclusion of The Protest Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism:

The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism ... with irresistible force. In [the Puritan] view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of "the saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment." But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage...

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance.  For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that is has attained a level never before achieved.

So, at the dawn of the capitalist era, Adam Smith could see in the conjunction of individual self-interests the promise of a greater well-being than economic activity directed by a conscious intelligence could provide. But at the turn of the 20th century Smith's optimism had been transformed into an iron cage, of which "it might be truly said: Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved."

So the ostensive rationality of capitalist triumph is transformed into the alienation of the human condition and the expectation of progressive achievement into a morass of violence directed at others and eventually even at one's self. The murders at Newtown cannot be understood when separated from the long declining loss of rationality and its hope that marks the inversion of the liberal ideal. In short, they cannot be separated from our mass murders in Iraq, our droning of innocent families in Afghanistan, our unwillingness to hold the latest murderers of the dream of economic well-being responsible for their onslaught against the once vital fantasy of the bright rewards of diligent labor and financial probity.

As the dream dies, its debris spreads across the wasted land. To fight against the wounded apathy that blights so many more of us, what can be so exciting as the promising transcendence of this miserable world in a flash of apparent liberation delivered through the muzzle of a gun?

Note how many of these mass murders end in suicide, as though the promised moment of god-like power has been achieved, never to be reproduced again. In the life of such murderers this moment is intended to redeem their anguished trivialization. After the destruction of the other, it is vital to escape the mundane forces that have given rise to one's original rage. The world has been remade and one must leave it as such. One has entered the life of the vanished through one's own miraculous power to transform these others and one's self from the living into the dead. In murder, one enters the land of the transformed, lies with them, their life now absent, now void, as is one's own. This "nullity," as Weber referred to our contemporary condition, has realized the fulfillment of his prophecy in the horror of obliteration. When terror becomes the all too common currency of state and family, culture and sport, it should not surprise us that it finally comes to rest in the blind horror of individual life and death.

US Still Paying Billions in Benefits to Deal With Psychological Effects of War

The U.S. government is paying billions to war veterans and their families, including monthly payments to the children of Civil War veterans. More than $40 billion annually is being paid out to soldiers and survivors of the Civil War, the Spanish-Ameri...

Obama Boosts Syria Support as Congress Pushes Military Intervention

WASHINGTON - As the Syrian uprising enters its third year, the United States and its allies are preparing to materially increase their support of the armed opposition in Syria.

In Aleppo, Karm al Jabal. This neighbourhood is next to Al Bab and has been under siege for six months. Mar 4, 2013. (Credit: Basma/cc by 2.0) Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional 60 million dollars in direct aid to the rebels, marking the first time Washington will directly supply rebel forces, but the administration appears as wary as ever to get more directly involved.

The provision of battlefield materiel has been met with some support from hawks who have pushed for greater military intervention, though many policymakers have urged the president to go even further. Exhortations for intervention have increased since rumours began of a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo. Though U.S. officials have largely dismissed the reports, many members of Congress expressed concern about the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

On Monday, Rep. Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation that would authorise funding for “limited lethal assistance” to Syrian opposition groups, assuming that the groups would be carefully vetted in the process.

"It is for America’s leaders in Congress, the media, and, above all, the administration to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam and get themselves to satisfactorily ask and reasonably answer the tough questions before we selflessly, inadvertently, and foolishly find ourselves in another war.” - Leslie Gelb, CFR

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin concluded a Senate hearing on Syria by stating that a no-fly zone would “be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime”.

During the hearing, Senator John McCain reiterated his long-held position that the U.S. should intervene more directly in the uprising. Levin and McCain have signed on to a letter urging President Obama to establish no-fly zones and provide more military aid to rebels.

Both the House legislation and the Senate letter were applauded in a press release Thursday from the Foreign Policy Initiative, the think-tank successor to the neoconservative Project for a New American Century: “This week, key members of Congress stepped into the void of U.S. leadership on the Syria conflict, calling for action to end the Assad regime’s slaughter of the Syrian people and avoid an even greater regional catastrophe.”

But the boldest military endorsement thus far came from Senator Lindsey Graham, who responded to rumours of the chemical attack by stating, “You’ve got to get on the ground. There is no substitute…I don’t care what it takes…I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.”

The Obama administration and senior military officials have pushed back against this type of involvement. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said earlier this week, “I don’t think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome. And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously.”

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, warns that this should not be taken to imply that the appetite for any intervention is low.

“They’re clearly already involved in the armed opposition,” Bennis told IPS. “The CIA is on the ground helping sort out who should get money, and they’re training people in Jordan. The idea is, they don’t want to get involved any further.”

Prominent Republicans from both sides of the aisle have also expressed concern about further militarising the conflict. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Ed Royce concurred with the sentiment that “the U.S. has no good options in Syria,” and Rep. Karen Bass warned that the Syrian opposition leaders are too weak to be credible in Syria.

“Who are those good rebels we want to arm?” asked Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The interventionists seem to take for granted that we know them well. The fact is, the interventionists themselves and the U.S. government don’t know squat about Syria and know even less squat about these rebels.”

The Free Syrian Army, the moniker bestowed on disparate militias and defected military units that have become the primary vehicle of the anti-Assad opposition, still lacks a functional central structure, and many fear that it has grown increasingly beholden to extremist Salafi groups such as Jabhat Al-Nusra.

“The very real risk in the U.S. providing arms even to those we believe to be moderate Sunni rebels is that even if they do better, and Assad’s regime is weakened, who would be the real beneficiary?” writes Gelb. “No one disputes that the extremist jihadis are far better positioned to take advantage of defeating Assad.”

The Central Intelligence Agency, Defence Department, and State Department have been vetting opposition elements in Jordan and Turkey, attempting to identify “friendly” groups and individuals to furnish with U.S. support, but the process has been fraught with unknowns.

Though the presence of U.S. officials in surrounding states has become near-ubiquitous, Washington continues to suffer from a significant deficit of information from inside Syria itself. This not only precludes the ability to identify friendly (or antagonistic) actors that remain within the Syrian borders, but also the knowledge of what happens to U.S. materiel after it crosses into Syria.

Nevertheless, the changing U.S. position is a clear indication of a shift away from President Obama’s expectation that the uprising would topple Bashar Al-Assad without added U.S. support.

“Obama would have preferred not to get involved at all,” said Bennis, “but that’s not an option. Others are eager to get involved, but their rationale is political, not based on strategic interests.”

According to Gelb, “There is one path to sensible strategy and to staying out of trouble. It is for America’s leaders in Congress, the media, and, above all, the administration to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam and get themselves to satisfactorily ask and reasonably answer the tough questions before we selflessly, inadvertently, and foolishly find ourselves in another war.”

But as exhortations to further intervention rise, the tenor in Washington appears to be moving decidedly in the other direction.

© 2013 IPS North America

Ed Miliband Warns Of ‘Lost Decade’

Ed Miliband has claimed Britain could slide into a "lost decade" because of the government's economic policies. The Labour leader warned that public mistrust of politicians will be Labour's biggest challenge at the next general election. Miliband spo...

Miliband Offers Answer To ‘Decade Of Decline’

Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of condemning the UK to a "decade of decline" by sticking to austerity plans. In a speech this afternoon, the Labour leader insisted public anger with the coalition is growing in the wake of a no-change Budget - b...

U.S.-Sponsored Genocides: From Guatemala to Congo

Guatemala has put its U.S.-backed genocidal maniac on trial, but Washington continues to protect its agents of mass murder in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “There is no auditorium big enough to hold the all the living Americans who should justly be charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”

“The genocide would have been impossible without the United States.”

The man who unleashed a genocide against the Maya Indians of Guatemala, former dictator and general Efrain Rios Montt, went on trial for his crimes against humanity in Guatemala City, this week. By all rights, the 86 year-old Montt should be joined in the dock by scores of still-living United States officials, including former President George Bush the First.

Back in 1954, the CIA overthrew the reformist government of President Jacobo Arbenz, whose land reform measures had angered the United Fruit Company. The U.S. termination with extreme prejudice of Guatemalan democracy ultimately led to a 36-year rebellion and civil war, with the Americans backing a succession of dictators. General Montt was the most monstrous. In the 1980s, his regime declared total war on the Mayan people of the country’s highlands. Whole villages were massacred and entire regions laid waste as the military attempted to drain the human sea in which the guerilla movement swam. Army documents show clearly that the native Maya were targeted for extermination because of their ethnicity; that all Maya – a majority of Guatemala’s population – were considered enemies of the state. Rios Montt is the first Latin American former head of state to be charged with genocide in his own country.

However, this crime is not Rios Montt’s, alone. The genocide would have been impossible without the United States, which had run the show in Guatemala since 1954 and had armed the general to the teeth. The U.S. corporate media like to call President Ronald Reagan the “Great Communicator” but, in Guatemala, he was the Great Exterminator, encouraging and financing General Rios Montt’s orgy of mass murder. Reagan described the racist butcher as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment” who was “getting a bum rap.” All told, a quarter million or more Guatemalans died in the 40 years since the CIA robbed them of their democracy and independence.

“The Maya were targeted for extermination because of their ethnicity.”

In 1999, when the civil war was over, President Bill Clinton apologized for the harm done to Guatemala by the United States. But by then, Clinton had already set in motion a far larger genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a U.S.-sponsored holocaust that has so far claimed 6 million lives. In a just world, Slick Willie would join an auditorium full of Obama, Bush and Clinton administration operatives who, over the space of 16 years, made eastern Congo the charnel house of the planet. Susan Rice would have a place of prominence in this vast assemblage of criminals, as among the most culpable for the worst bloodbath since World War Two.

In fact, there is no auditorium big enough to hold the all the living Americans who should justly be charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. There are too many – great crowds of them from each administration, especially in the last ten years, since the invasion of Iraq. Imperialism in its last stages maintains an ever-lengthening Kill List.

Guatemala is coming to grips with its past, in a trial that will probably last a few months. The United States has an infinity of crimes to answer for.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]

US Sponsored Terror: Syria Teeters on Obama’s “Red Line”

Spokesmen of the Assad government recently accused foreign-backed militants of launching scud missiles containing chemical weapons in the city of Aleppo, killing dozens. Witnesses claim to have seen powder emanate from the rocket, causing those who inhaled the substance to suffocate or require immediate medical attention. An unnamed chemical weapons expert cited by Al-Jazeera claimed that the causalities were not consistent with Syria’s reputed stockpile of chemical agents, stating, “If it’s a chemical warfare agent, it’s not working very well.” Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, called on the UN Secretary-General to form an independent technical mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups operating in Syria.

While on his first state visit to Israel, Barack Obama cast doubt and expressed deep scepticism toward the Assad government’s version of events, stating that if the government did indeed use chemical weapons, then it meant a “red line” had been crossed. Obama vowed not to make further announcements until concrete facts were established. What this essentially means is that Obama is now in a position to act on his statements and intervene more boldly and directly than the United States has already been doing since the beginning of the conflict. Additionally, NATO personnel have also indicated that they are prepared to employ a wide range of operations. US-European Command Admiral James Stavridis recently told media that the alliance was “prepared, if called upon, to be engaged as we were in Libya.”

Those who have critically monitored the situation from the beginning are under no illusions. The way in which mainstream media sources have covered the Syrian conflict, perhaps more so than any other topic in recent times, shows unequivocally how certain content providers have moved in step with the foreign policy of the Western and Gulf states who have enabled insurgent groups and provided diplomatic cover for opposition politicians who represent their economic and strategic interests. The Obama administration’s policy toward Libya and Syria eyes the same familiar endgame as what the Bush administration sought in its foreign policy adventures. The fact that many of those on the left who campaigned against Iraq and Afghanistan are now generally silent, or even supportive of Obama’s agenda, is proof that his policies have been packaged far more intelligently for mainstream consumption. The reality is that Syria is “Shock and Awe” by other means.

There are a myriad of reasons why Bashar al-Assad must go in the eyes of policy makers in Washington and Tel Aviv, and the destruction of his tenure could not have been possible without the financial muscle of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s wretchedly opulent Sunni Monarchs. These glittering kingdoms of disaster-capitalism are not only responsible for supplying weapons and cash; a major incentive of theirs is exporting the Wahhabist and Salafist ideologies that many of Syria’s imported jihadists subscribe to, a warped and primal interpretation of Islam that has fueled the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict and deepened social divisions to their most dangerous point – in a country that was once renowned for its tolerance of religious diversity. These Gulf kingdoms, which are more-or-less given a trump card to commit deplorable human rights violations institutionally, are also responsible for propping up the political arm of their militant foot soldiers, and that comes in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria’s opposition coalition, which is itself entirely a creation of foreign powers, has recently elected its own interim prime minister – enter, Ghassan Hitto, a virtually unknown political novice with a US passport and a computer science degree from Purdue University. Hitto is an Islamist Kurd with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has politically dominated the Syrian National Council since its creation, in addition to organizing tactical elements of the insurgency. The backbone of the Brotherhood’s relationship with the medieval monarchies of the Persian Gulf is grounded in a firm opposition to Shi’a Islam, as extolled by clerical leaders in Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah; Assad himself is also an Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam. It should be clear enough by now how enflaming sectarian divisions in the region was a prerequisite for those bank-rolling the insurgency, aimed at demolishing the secular Syrian state.

Several high-profile members of Syria’s opposition coalition boycotted the vote for interim prime minister, citing what they viewed as a foreign-backed campaign to elect Hitto. Kamal Labwani, a veteran opposition campaigner, was reported as saying, “We don’t want what happened in Egypt to happen in Syria. They hijacked the revolution.” Those who abstained from the vote accuse Hitto of being a puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the SNC’s decisions were being dictated from the outside. Walid al-Bunni, another senior figure in the opposition, stated, “The Muslim Brotherhood, with the backing of Qatar, have imposed their prime minister candidate. We will keep away if the coalition does not reconsider its choice.” Let’s just get this straight – Assad, a leader whose presence today is a testament to the fact that he continues to enjoy majority popular support, is considered to have lost his legitimacy. On the other hand, Hitto, a man with no political experience who received 35 votes out of 49 ballots cast during a Syrian National Coalition meeting, is supposed to be legitimate representative of the Syrian people?

These realities can only be interpreted as the boot of the so-called “International Community” squashing the face of the Syrian people, imposing on them a man who does not represent them, but the business interests of multinational corporations who seek to plant their flags in the soil of a post-Assad Syria. Let’s not humor ourselves by thinking John Kerry, William Hague, Laurent Fabius or Qatari Emir Khalifa Al Thani actually care about the people of Syria. However many casualties the Syrian conflict has incurred thus far can be attributable to the influx of foreign funds, foreign arms, and foreign fighters. It would be intellectually dishonest to deny that the tactics of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Arab Army have also caused widespread civilian causalities and suffering. It is an enormous challenge for a state military to quell unconventional insurgencies of the sort carried out by militants in Syria when these battles take place in densely populated residential areas.

One should not cynically credit Syrian government forces with intentionally killing their own people; this does not serve the purposes of the state in anyway. Civilian deaths that have occurred as a result of government forces engaging the insurgency should more accurately be seen as a heinous by-product of a foreign campaign to topple the Syrian government. While the foreign ministries of Western capitals cite politically charged death-toll statistics to justify their campaign against “Assad the Butcher”, it is absolutely unconscionable that Paris and London have called for lifting the Syrian arms embargo, and for vowing to arm militant groups with or without the consent of the EU. Apparently some seventy thousand people have been killed in Syria according to the United Nations, and these cited European states, which allegedly are so concerned about terrorism, want to dump more guns into Syria – this is madness.

Western states want to install proxy leaders who will grovel to their multinationals and swallow IMF medicine, Gulf states seek unfettered hegemony in their own backyards, and they all want to see the Shi’a resistance smashed to pieces. Following the news of chemical weapons being used in Syria, the most immediate conclusion of this observer is that foreign-backed militants, who have used every opportunity to call for more material and support, employed the use of a smuggled chemical weapon of poor quality to bring about direct military intervention in their favor. Right on cue, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are frothing at the mouth, urging President Obama to “take immediate action” and consider deploying troops. Graham was quoted as saying, “If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.” There is no surer sign of a pathological mind than when one credits others with the blood on their own hands.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at [email protected]

Senate Passes $3.7 Trillion Budget, Its First in 4 Years

Washington - After a grueling, all-night debate that ended close to 5 a.m., the Senate on Saturday adopted its first budget in four years, a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that would fast-track passage of tax increases, trim spending gingerly and leave the government still deeply in the debt a decade from now.

The 50-to-49 vote sets up contentious — and potentially fruitless — negotiations with the Republican-dominated House in April to reconcile two vastly different plans for dealing with the nation’s economic and budgetary problems. No Republicans voted for the Senate plan on Saturday, and four Democrats — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana — also opposed it. All four are red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014.

“The Senate has passed a budget,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, declared at 4:56 a.m.

The House plan ostensibly brings the government’s taxes and spending into balance by 2023 with cuts to domestic spending even below the automatic “sequestration” levels now roiling federal programs and it orders significant changes to Medicare and the tax code.

The Senate plan, in contrast, includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy and calls for special fast-track rules to overhaul the tax code and raise $975 billion over 10 years through legislation that could not be filibustered. Even with that tax increase and prescribed spending cuts, the Senate plan would leave the government with a $566 billion deficit in 10 years, and $5.2 trillion in additional debt over that time.

“The first priority of the Senate budget is creating jobs and economic growth from the middle out, not the top down,” Ms. Murray, the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said. “With an unemployment rate than remains stubbornly high, and a middle class that has seen their wages stagnate for far too long, we simply cannot afford any threats to our fragile recovery.”

Republicans were dismissive of the Democrats’ priorities.

“Honest people can disagree on policy, but where there can be no honest disagreement is the need to change our nation’s debt course,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Budget Committee’s ranking Republican. “The singular truth that no one can escape is that the House budget changes our debt course while the Senate budget does not.”

Passage of the competing plans does advance a more orderly process after nearly three years of crises and brinkmanship. If House and Senate negotiators can agree on a framework for overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs like Medicare, their committees could go to work on detailed legislation, possibly under special rules that protect the bills from a Senate filibuster.

If the negotiations prove fruitless, the next budget crisis looms this summer when Congress must again raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the federal debt. House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Thursday revived a rule — breached in January — that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts.

Final passage of the Senate budget was upstaged by the process that got the senators to it, a record-breaking marathon known since 1977 as the budget “vote-a-rama.” More than 500 amendments were filed, and 70 were voted on. They were advisory only, but they put the Senate on record backing a dizzying variety of subjects, from limiting the regulation of sage grouse and preventing the United Nations from infringing on Americans’ right to bear arms, to repealing a tax on medical devices that helps finance the president’s health care law and building the Keystone XL pipeline through the Midwest.

By 4 a.m., the senators were sitting quietly in their seats, plowing through amendments like sleepy schoolchildren, breaking only to give the Senate pages a standing ovation and to grumble when a senator demanded a roll-call vote if a voice vote would suffice. As the senators recorded their final votes, they hastily headed out of the Capitol for a two-week spring recess.

It was the 32nd all-night Senate session since 1915, and the first since an Iraq War debate in 2007 stretched from 10 a.m. to 5:09 the following morning, according to the Senate Historical Office.

But the sleepy bonhomie did not bridge the budgetary divide between the parties. Senate Republicans and Democrats could not even agree on what was in the Senate budget. Ms. Murray said the plan matched its $975 billion in revenue increases with equivalent cuts and interest savings. But Republicans said it did not, since the proposal reversed $1 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, but did not count that against the spending cuts.

Those differences did not lend themselves to much optimism going forward.

“The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out in their budget resolution won’t become law,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Negotiations with the West

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 Canadian radio host and journalist James Corbett believes that the group of six world powers have not ever been sincere and honest in their negotiations with Iran and constantly used the opportunity of talks to put more pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

 “At this point, the players in this drama have all but given up the pretense that this is a negotiation at all. It has become more of a venue for the west to deliver threats and ultimatums to Iran. The goalposts are constantly shifting and have become so hopelessly nebulous that they are about as realistic as it was for Bush and Blair to demand that Saddam Hussein “disarm” the WMDs he never had or face military invasion,” said Corbett in an interview with Fars News Agency.

James Corbett edits, writes and hosts the Corbett Report. James has been living and working in Japan since 2004. He started The Corbett Report website in 2007 as an outlet for independent critical analysis of politics, society, history, and economics. Corbett has interviewed several renowned authors, journalists, academicians and activists for his listener-supported show. He is also a producer for Global Research TV (GRTV).

What follows is the text of Fars News Agency’s interview with James Corbett ahead of the upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1.

Q: Iran and the P5+1 held a meeting in Kazakhstan on February 26 to talk about Iran’s nuclear program. The past meetings between Iran and the six world powers yielded few practical results as the West has persistently called on Iran to abandon its enrichment activities, while knowing that Iran’s nuclear program is purely peaceful. What’s your viewpoint in this regard?

A: In labor law there is a concept of “good faith negotiation” which stipulates that both sides in that negotiation have to recognize each other as bargaining representatives, attend and take part in meetings at reasonable times, respond in good time to proposals from other representatives, and to respond to those proposals with reasoned responses indicating a genuine attempt to consider them. On almost every point, the P5+1 powers have shown themselves to be in violation of these principles in their negotiation with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. The attempt to force concessions and/or impose sanctions as a precondition to negotiations is a clear sign that the P5+1 are not negotiating in good faith.

Take the IAEA’s ‘revelation’ this week that Iran is installing “advanced” centrifuge technology at its Natanz plant. The leak comes conveniently right as these so-called negotiations are set to begin, and provides a convenient excuse for everyone, including, of course, the Obama administration, to deliver more hand-wringing about Iran’s “provocative” actions. The problem with this reading, of course, is that this technology is in no way inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program, and the very same IAEA report also shows no evidence whatsoever that any of Iran’s nuclear materials are being diverted for weapons purposes. All this is conveniently ignored, however, and the entire attempt to replace Iran’s admittedly outdated 1970s centrifuge technology with more stable, modern equipment is portrayed as some type of monstrous breach of international etiquette.

The hypocrisy is self-evident. Iran cannot so much as upgrade its aging equipment without being accused of provocative action. None of its actions are in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the IAEA itself cannot demonstrate any proof that it is diverting any of its nuclear material for an offensive weapons program. Meanwhile, Israel, its avowed enemy who has repeatedly threatened military action against it for even pursuing the idea of peaceful nuclear technology, is the world’s sixth largest nuclear power and yet is not an NPT signatory and has never allowed its nuclear facilities to be inspected by anyone, least of all the IAEA. What clearer indication can there be that the P5+1 are not negotiating in good faith?

Q: Iran has always expressed its willingness for engaging in talks with the six world powers based on mutual respect and provided that its nuclear rights are recognized, but the Western powers have always imposed new sanctions against Iran before the talks and stalled clear and meaningful negotiations. Isn’t this practice a policy of carrot and stick aimed at intimidating Iran and forcing it into making concessions?

A: At this point, the players in this drama have all but given up the pretense that this is a negotiation at all. It has become more of a venue for the west to deliver threats and ultimatums to Iran. The goalposts are constantly shifting and have become so hopelessly nebulous that they are about as realistic as it was for Bush and Blair to demand that Saddam Hussein “disarm” the WMDs he never had or face military invasion. Just this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that “If it [Iran] fails to address the concerns of the international community, it will face more pressure and become increasingly isolated.” What does this blather mean? What are the concerns, and how does Iran go about “addressing” them? It is obvious at this point than nothing short of the government of Iran agreeing to shut down the nuclear program entirely and hand the keys to their country over to America would be enough to meet these vague demands.

A perfect case in point revolves around the sanctions that the US unilaterally imposed this month shutting down the gold-for-gas trade that had developed between Iran and Turkey. The sanctions have already had their effect: the trade is drying up. Now the major powers come along and tell Iran that they might ease up on these sanctions if Tehran scraps their Fordow uranium enrichment plan. This is not a negotiation by any stretch of the imagination, this is one step shy of all-out war. As Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast put it: “They want to take away the rights of a nation in exchange for allowing trade in gold.” No self-respecting state could possibly give in to such demands. This is no carrot here, only stick, and no negotiation, only threats.

Q: 13 American intelligence agencies reported in 2007 that Iran’s nuclear activities haven’t diverted toward producing nuclear weapons and don’t have a military dimension. However, Washington still insists that Iran is after nuclear weapons, obstructing the progress of talks between Iran and the P5+1. Why does the U.S. repeat its claims for which it has no substantial evidence or proof?

A: The claim is entirely political, and explicitly so. One of the key authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that came to the conclusion that Iran’s nuclear program is not offensive in nature, Dr. Tom Fingar, recently received a “Sam Adams Award” from the Oxford Student Union for integrity in intelligence work. The event received virtually no attention from any of the press and Dr. Fingar is still a complete unknown to the American public. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have done their best to cover up the findings and assessments of their own intelligence agencies, exactly as the Bush regime worked to cover up any intelligence pointing to Saddam’s lack of WMDs in the run-up to the war in Iraq. The intelligence was being manipulated then, and it is being manipulated now.

Q: It was in 2004 that a German spy stole a laptop computer from a military unit in Iran. The laptop is said to have included thousands of documents regarding Iran’s alleged underground nuclear activities. The American intelligence agencies confirmed that the data in this laptop are genuine, but so far, nothing of the information saved in the laptop have been presented and offered to the public or the inspectors of the IAEA. Can we say that the laptop issue is an intelligence hoax aimed at blemishing Iran’s reputation and putting more pressure on it?

A: How can the public possibly be asked to put their trust in the pronouncements of politicians and government officials who have been caught lying to demonize their enemies time and again? The laptop should not be assumed to exist until it is presented for inspection by independent experts in a neutral setting, and even then all possible forms of tampering and planting of evidence have to be taken into account. Perhaps the intelligence agencies have learned their lesson since the release of the Niger yellowcake documents, which were easily exposed as crude forgeries. If the evidence is never presented, it can never be exposed as a forgery.

Q: The anti-Iran sanctions have created problems for the ordinary Iranian citizens, but it seems that they cannot persuade the Iranian politicians and the people to retreat from the path of peaceful nuclear program the country has been pursuing and investing on. What’s your viewpoint about the sanctions, their humanitarian impact and the effects they have had on Iran’s nuclear program?

A: The sanctions are lunacy on every level: humanitarian, political and strategic. The effects on the Iranian population are well documented and a perfectly predictable outcome of this form of economic warfare. But this has the exact opposite effect as the one supposedly intended by the west. To whatever extent reformist sentiment exists in Iran, the sanctions only help to make the case that the country is under attack by the west and must refuse to back down from the confrontation. If anything, it only stiffens the resolve of Iranians and makes the American dream of some spontaneous uprising from within that much less likely.

Even more bafflingly, the sanctions are having devastating effects on the P5+1 allies. Europe in general and Turkey in particular are sorely in need of Iranian gas to supplement their energy imports. The sanctions put the squeeze on these countries perhaps even more so than Iran, which will always find willing buyers for its gas in Asian markets that are unfettered by western sanctions.

Of course, this is well-known by America and its allies. The reason for the sanctions is not, ultimately, to make Iran cave to their demands; no one is seriously expecting this to happen. It is instead to exacerbate the situation so that international pressure against Iran increases. Europeans and Turks, for example, now have that much more incentive to pressure Iran on its nuclear program, since it is directly effecting their own bottom line.

Q: What’s your opinion about the upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1? Given that some members of the group have shown no willingness to ease the sanctions as an indication of their goodwill to Iran, can we await the success of the talks after an almost 8-month hiatus?

A” It would be nothing short of a miracle if any sort of agreement is actually struck in Almaty. The P5+1 powers have already made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in any agreement that involves Iran maintaining its nuclear program in any capacity. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, the best possible outcome is also the least likely one: the abolition of nuclear weapons altogether. It is also the one that was suggested by Ayatollah Khamenei last week, in keeping with a long tradition of Iranian proposals for a nuclear free Middle East that have been roundly rejected by the west. Go figure.

CIA trains and spies for Syrian rebels — report

Published time: March 23, 2013 09:33
Free Syrian Army fighters (Reuters/Mohamed Kaddoor/Shaam News Network/Handout)

Some Syrian rebel groups get training and intelligence straight from CIA officers, US officials told media. The helping hand is meant to bolster the secular opposition against both governmental troops and Islamist forces.

The CIA’s increased involvement in Syria is part America’s greater engagement in the war-torn country, according to The Wall Street Journal. The spy agency has selected some small rebel units from the Free Syrian Army to receive combat training and fresh intel they can act upon, the newspaper says, citing unnamed US officials and rebel commanders.

The training is provided by the CIA, working together with British, French and Jordanian intelligence agencies. The rebels are taught to use various kinds of arms, including anti-tank weapons. They are also schooled in urban combat tactics and counterintelligence tactics. 

The experience will supposedly help them stand against the professional Syrian army, which scores victories against the armed opposition thanks to both more advanced weapons and better organization.

The rebels are also receiving fresh intelligence collected by the CIA, which they can act upon at short notice. The extent of the info provided remains in secret, but the US can potentially provide what they gather trough satellite and signal surveillance as well as intelligence coming through exchanges with Israeli and Jordanian agencies.

The CIA is said to keep this part of dealing with the rebels limited, withholding sensitive types of information, like the suspected locations of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles.

Free Syrian Army fighters from Katibat al-Farouk training on the outskirts of Idlib (AFP Photo/Shaam News Network)

The US spy agency was previously working in Turkey vetting rebel groups for receiving arms shipments from Gulf monarchies. The effort aimed at preventing the weapons from being funneled to Islamists had mixed results, the WSJ says. The CIA also works with Iraqi counterterrorism units to counter the flow of Islamist militants across the border to Syria.

The White House has been reluctant to send combat-worthy equipment to Syrian rebels, despite calls inside the US and from Gulf and some European countries to do so. It is concerned that those would end up in the hand of the more powerful Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist force, the Nusra Front. Unlike arms, the intelligence from CIA is operationally useful for a short period of time and would not be traded for years to come, a US official explained.

Washington’s concern over the growing influence of the Nusra Front was reiterated on Friday by President Barack Obama, as he was visiting Jordan as part of his Middle Eastern tour. 

“I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism because extremists thrive in chaos, they thrive in failed states, they thrive in power vacuums,” Obama said after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The Nusra Front is believed to be responsible for the bloodiest bombings in Syria over the past months. The latest such attack was the assassination of Mohammad Buti and influential Sunni preacher and supporter of the Syrian government. Buti was killed on Thursday along with some 50 others when a car bomb was detonated near a Damascus mosque.

The US is reportedly gathering intelligence on Nusra Front commanders and fighters for a possible campaign of targeted drone killing similar to those the CIA wages in Pakistan and Yemen and the Pentagon in Afghanistan.

‘Left, Right & Center’: Israel, Nukes and the GOP

‘Left, Right & Center’: Israel, Nukes and the GOP

Posted on Mar 22, 2013
kcrw.com

Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer and the other “Left, Right & Center” panelists discuss President Obama’s approach to Israel. His well-received speech there was more about process than substance but provided a framework for next steps. Will his second term bring about positive foreign policy moves? Will Israel strike Iran—with or without U.S. support—if nuclear development continues? Would a nuclear ban be enforceable?

Iraq did not turn out the way supporters of the war imagined and was far more costly in dollars and lives. History will judge whether we should have gone for containment and whether we should have quit when we did.

Also, a report shows that the Republican National Committee recognizes real problems within the GOP.

Scheer and host Matt Miller are joined this week by Rich Lowry of National Review and Robin Wright of the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

KCRW:


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“NATO 3” Oral Argument Unfolds on Illinois Terrorism Statute’s Constitutionality

On the ten-year anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War, another tentacle of the ever-burgeoning post-9/11 national security state unfolded in a lively courtroom in Chicago in the form of a domestic terrorism case.

At the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago, People's Law Office attorney Michael Deutsch argued that Illinois' domestic terrorism statute - applied to three activists who were in Chicago to protest the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in May 2012 - is unconstitutional. Ten months since the charges were first doled out by the State of Illinois, Deutsch and his team of attorneys still await evidence from the prosecutors in the discovery phase of the trial.

Judge Thaddeus Wilson presided over the contentious two-hour-long oral duel between state prosecutors and the defense team representing Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase - collectively known as the "NATO 3."  The three came to the Windy City last year from Florida and New Hampshire to join protesters demonstrating in the streets against NATO's wars.

The argument pertained to the preemptive, military-style apartment raid and eventual arrest of three young men - eventually five - on charges of conspiracy to commit acts of domestic terrorism in the days leading up to the NATO Summit.

The prosecution's argument focuses on comments made by the three to undercover Chicago police officers, including a question Church allegedly posed asking if they had ever seen a "cop on fire." The prosecution used this phrase, without offering any context for the conversation, to attempt to show that the three had intent to actually carry out the crime.

"On the tenth anniversary of a war that's killed over 1 million Iraqi civilians, Attorney General Anita Alvarez has the gall to charge these protesters who were organizing against war 'terrorists,'" Joe Iosbaker, a Chicago activist raided by the FBI in 2010, said at a press conference before the hearing. (Alvarez's actual title is Cook County State's Attorney; Illinois' attorney general is Lisa Madigan.)

Defense Argues Illinois Statute Unconstitutional, Awaits Discovery Documents 

The Illinois terrorism statute, one of dozens of state-level terrorism laws passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was brought off the shelf to charge the NATO 3 with plotting to throw Molotov cocktails at strategic targets during the summit.

Merely a day after the court proffer detailing the charges was presented on May 19, it was revealed that two Chicago Police Department officers going by the names "Mo" and "Gloves" or "Nadia" worked in an undercover capacity for two months leading up to the summit to obtain the audio-recorded evidence; Deutsch has alleged the NATO 3 are victims of entrapment.

It was not until June 13 that actual indictments were handed out to the three, weeks after the usually mundane offering of a bail bond was transformed into a major public relations event by Chicago Police Department head Garry McCarthy and State Attorney Alvarez which quickly set off sensational mainstream media coverage.

The NATO 3 lawyers argued at the hearing, as they asserted in a prior motion and memorandum, that the Illinois terrorism statute is so vague it could ensnare the innocent and criminalize First Amendment rights. In the case of the NATO 3, they argue, it did both, leading the defense team to challenge the constitutionality of the Illinois statute on its face.

"This issue does not only concern the defendants, but should concern every citizen in Illinois and beyond, [as it] allows politically motivated mayhem to be prosecuted as terrorism," Deutsch stated at the podium facing Judge Wilson.

Unlike other state statutes, Deutsch argued, the Illinois law does not require that a crime be carried out. Rather, it requires that a "significant portion" of the population feel "coerced" or "intimidated" by the words or actions of the person charged with terrorism.

"[The] statute [is so overbroad that it] criminalizes speech that should be legal," said Deutsch, further arguing that if the case is heard by a jury, members would be unable to interpret the law effectively as currently written.

Prosecution Responds

The prosecution's case centered on the necessity of preemptive action against potential threats at high-level national and international gatherings.

"If done during the NATO Summit, when the eyes of the world are upon you, then you have a different situation," said one of the prosecutors, arguing that the Illinois law was made more broad to cover the nature of US Secret Service Special National Security Events like the Summit, when dignitaries from around the world are gathered together in a confined space.

Prosecutors say that Church asked undercover detectives, "Have you ever seen a cop on fire?" which they argue was threatening to a significant portion of the civilian population even though no action was taken.

The prosecution also argued that the law needed to be written in broad-sweeping fashion to keep citizens safe. The state's legal team utilized the "1 percent doctrine," logic espoused in the Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy, arguing that the terrorism statute "is intended to stop this kind of grave conduct before it starts."

The same argument was employed to justify the launch of the war in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were never found. An identical "world is a battlefield" doctrine has continued under the Obama administration.

Lastly, prosecutors argued that the rare use of the law since 9/11 serves as Exhibit A that it can be utilized with proper discretion. When the defense took issue with the nature of the law itself, prosecutors said they were only prepared to discuss the threat they argue the NATO 3 posed - not a "hypothetical, but an on-the-ground reality and threat."

Defense Still Awaits Delivery of Discovery Documents

Another issue of contention was fulfillment of the bill of particulars, or particular documents the defense asked for from the State of Illinois during the discovery phase.

"There is still things that we asked for that they haven't given us, and they keep saying they need more time," Deutsch told Truthout. "There is also an issue about documents from the federal government, as we think the FBI was certainly involved in some way in the arrest. We think the FBI was involved during the period of time in which these undercover police were involved with our clients and there might be memorandums portraying their involvement."

In short, though Judge Wilson announced plans to hand out the legal ruling by March 27, the defense has still not received all of the factual material it needs to make a legal case on behalf of the NATO 3.

The Scene From the Inside the Courtroom 

Church, with short red hair, and Betterly, with long blonde hair in a ponytail, wore bright yellow protective-custody-level Department of Corrections (DOC) prison garb. Chase, bearing short dark-brown hair, wore beige DOC clothing.

They were ushered into a sun-dappled courtroom with dark wood benches at 2 PM by over half a dozen Cook County Sheriff officers on one side and their six-strong legal team and about a dozen supporters on the other.

The hearing began with a bang when a dispute broke out when defense attorney Thomas Durkin asked Judge Wilson why the larger-than-normal police presence was necessary. The dispute ended when Wilson abruptly shouted, "You have been heard!" multiple times.

All of the NATO 3 appeared relaxed and attentive throughout the hearing. They are being held in Cook County Jail, which was under federal investigation for its conditions in 2008.

The Criminalization of Dissent 

The NATO 3 story shares a common narrative thread with other post-9/11 domestic terrorism prosecutions: politically motivated legal statutes, the role of undercover law enforcement, and defendants with what civil rights lawyers have called a mixture of bravado and foolishness.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, says that demobilizing activism through the threat of jail time or stiff charges isn't anything new.

"At this point, we have committed to describing dissent as terrorism. This goes all the way back to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act even before 9/11," he said.

While the Illinois statute is one of many state-level laws passed after 9/11, Buttar says that it is unique in its ability to criminalize dissent.

"The Illinois one is the only one that criminalizes potentially nonviolent acts and that should disturb anyone," said Buttar. "The fact that an act can be not violent, yet terrorism, should disturb anyone, and that's exactly why we should be concerned, because we see First Amendment speech being labeled as terrorism."

Phil Donahue on His 2003 Firing From MSNBC, When Liberal Network Couldn’t Tolerate Antiwar...

In 2003, the legendary television host Phil Donahue was fired from his prime-time MSNBC talk show during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The problem was not Donahue’s ratings, but rather his views: An internal MSNBC memo warned Donahue was a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war," providing "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity." Donahue joins us to look back on his firing 10 years later. "They were terrified of the antiwar voice," Donahue says.

TRANSCRIPT:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Phil, I’d like to bring in another subject in terms of this whole issue, the—what happened to you, directly, as a host on MSNBC in the midst of the run-up to the war, and the responsibilities of the press in America and its—the mea culpas that have rarely been uttered by the pundits and by the journalists over what the American press did in the run-up to war.

PHIL DONAHUE: Well, I think what happened to me, the biggest lesson, I think, is the—how corporate media shapes our opinions and our coverage. This was a decision—my decision—the decision to release me came from far above. This was not an assistant program director who decided to separate me from MSNBC. They were terrified of the antiwar voice. And that is not an overstatement. Antiwar voices were not popular. And if you’re General Electric, you certainly don’t want an antiwar voice on a cable channel that you own; Donald Rumsfeld is your biggest customer. So, by the way, I had to have two conservatives on for every liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone, but I couldn’t have Dennis Kucinich on alone. I was considered two liberals. It really is funny almost, when you look back on how—how the management was just frozen by the antiwar voice. We were scolds. We weren’t patriotic. American people disagreed with us. And we weren’t good for business.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I had this unusual experience, Phil, in July of 2006. It was the 10th anniversary of MSNBC, and I was invited on Hardball by Chris Matthews to celebrate the 10th anniversary. I think first Brian Williams was on the show, and then the Israeli ambassador, and then I was on the show. And we were standing outside 30 Rock. It was a big deal. All the execs were on the top floor of 30 Rock, and they were all about to have a big party. And we were just coming out of a commercial.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to congratulate you, Chris, on 10 years of MSNBC, but I wish standing with you was Phil Donahue. He shouldn’t have been fired for expressing an antiwar point of view on the eve of the election. His point of view and the people brought on were also important.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I don’t know what the reasons were, but I doubt it was that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have the MS—the NBC memo, that was a secret memo—

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Oh, OK, good.

AMY GOODMAN: —that came out, that said they didn’t want him to be the face of this network, an antiwar face, at a time when the other networks were waving the flag.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Could I answer the question? I’d love to answer that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Donahue is a great patriot.

AMY GOODMAN: I said there, Phil, you were a great patriot. We did have the NBC memo, the secret memo that said they didn’t want their flagship show to be you, when the other networks were waving the American flag.

PHIL DONAHUE: That’s what it said. And, by the way, that memo was written by a Republican focus group, a Republican counseling group that took the focus group and that revealed that most of the people in the focus group didn’t like me. But I saw that, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, you were the most popular show.

PHIL DONAHUE: Well, often we led the night for the—nobody burned the town down on MSNBC, including me. Fox just ran away with the ratings and continues to enjoy that success.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you watching MSNBC that night?

PHIL DONAHUE: I did. I saw it. And I called the kids. I said, "Hey!" I’m not sure I did it soon enough. But I certainly was grateful for—I mean, I needed the pat on the back at the time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Phil, the irony that MSNBC now is supposedly this liberal—

PHIL DONAHUE: It’s amazing, really.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —the liberal network now?

PHIL DONAHUE: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You wonder, though, if another—if another move to war came, how liberal it would remain.

PHIL DONAHUE: Well, you know, the coin of the realm is the size of the audience. It’s important to see this. When a broadcasting executive gets out of bed in the morning, before his foot hits the floor, his thoughts are ratings. "What are my ratings?" Not unlike Wall Street people, who get their—and CEOs, their first thought is the price of their stock. So, you know, what—and I was replaced by Michael Savage. So there was a desperate need to get numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is one of the most conservative, and that’s giving conservatives a bad name.

PHIL DONAHUE: This was the decision of—

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Savage lived up to his last name.

PHIL DONAHUE: And this was a decision by higher-ups at General Electric and NBC.

AMY GOODMAN: Tomas, you wanted to say something here. Let me go to a break, and then we’re going to come back, as we wrap up this broadcast. We’re talking to Phil Donahue and Tomas Young, Iraq War veteran, age 33—says he will end his life in the next few months, dealing with the pain of war—and his wife, Claudia Cuellar. We’ll be back in a minute.

Unbreakable US/Israeli Ties

Longstanding US/Israeli ties remain firm. Obama's visit reinforces them. It does more. It assures continued support. It endorses hardline extremism. It affirms occupation harshness. It lets Israel do what it pleases.

Top ex-general slams US terror drone bid

A former top US military official has blasted the Obama administration’s secret targeted killing bid as a blowback to counter terrorism effort, amid reports of US plans to shift responsibility for assassination drone hits from CIA to the Pentagon.

“We’re seeing that blowback,” said former Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright in a Thursday speech in Chicago. “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

Speaking at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Gen. Cartwright further expressed doubts concerning a reported plan by the Obama administration to transfer some terror drone operations from the CIA spy agency to the American military, explaining that he worried about a “blurring of the line” between soldiers and spies if the Pentagon was tasked with the targeted killing bids in sovereign countries “outside a declared area of hostility,” The New York Times reports on Friday.

He further underlined that if there were problems with the assassination drone program, shifting it from one government agency to another would not essentially resolve the problem.


The development comes as recent news reports have cited US government officials as claiming that the administration plans to transfer its targeted killing operations from the CIA to the Pentagon in a supposed bid to make the terror effort ‘more transparent.’

This is while close observers of the assassination drone program have challenged the widely repeated claim that shifting the entire operation to the Defense Department would make it more open, “particularly if it is to be operated by the Joint Special Command (JSOC), among the least transparent elements of the military,” the report adds.

“We know JSOC is far more secretive than the CIA, and that the Congressional oversight is weaker,” said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School, as quoted in the report.

She further emphasized that while units operating under the JSOC were allegedly involved in gross abuse of Iraqi prisoners captured by US-led forces there, “it never had to face public scrutiny about it in the way the CIA did.”


Shah also expressed concerns that the Obama administration’s reported scheme to remove the CIA from the assassination drone operations amounts to “an effort to deflect criticism of the drone program without directly answering that criticism.”

Meanwhile, another report by the US-based NPR radio station further cites administration officials as saying that “they’ve killed most of the really bad guys they’ve been after,” adding that “they lately have been going after second- or third-tier al-Qaeda operatives.”

The report further emphasized that the reported change from CIA to Pentagon will occur gradually as “a phased approach” in specific countries.

MFB/MFB

The Last Letter: A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From...

bushcriminal

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come.

I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live.

I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Tomas Young Out Loud

Tomas Young Out Loud

Posted on Mar 21, 2013
Democracy Now!

Tomas Young, the 33-year-old veteran and author of “The Last Letter: A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a Dying Veteran,” appeared with his wife on “Democracy Now!” on Thursday to talk about his decision to end his life amid unrelenting pain and suffering from wounds sustained in the Iraq War, and to read his letter aloud.

“The reason I decided to do this now is I am, on one hand, sick and tired of being sick and tired, and on the other hand I don’t want to watch my body waste away,” Young said on the show.

When asked whether anything could persuade him not to end his life in the next few months, Young responded: “Not at this moment. There may come a time in the future when I say, ‘Hey, things are getting better; maybe I should reconsider this.’ But at this moment, nothing in this world has made me change my mind as to what I’m going to do.”

Phil Donahue, a former MSNBC talk show host who was fired from the supposedly liberal network in 2003 for bringing too many anti-war voices on his program, joined the conversation on “Democracy Now!” to discuss the mainstream media’s complicity in taking the nation into the now 10-year-old war.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

‘Democracy Now!’:

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Statutes of Limitations Are Expiring on Some Bush Crimes

Americans have been facing a number of momentous deadlines, including the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the “sequester” of $1 trillion from federal programs. But another critical deadline is fast approaching without attracting much notice. Statutes of limitations applicable to possible crimes committed by former President George W. Bush and his top aides, with respect to wiretapping of Americans without court approval and to fraud in launching and continuing the Iraq War, may expire in early 2014, less than a year from now.Vice President Dick Cheney, center, and senior administration officials, June 4, 2008. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

President Bush has publicly admitted to authorizing wiretaps of Americans on more than thirty separate occasions without a court order, an apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In justification, Bush claimed legal advice exempted him as commander-in-chief from obeying FISA. Normally, a lawyer’s advice is not a defense to prosecution, particularly when the client shapes the advice. Here, the White House worked closely with Justice Department lawyer John Yoo on the legal opinion and blocked standard Justice Department review, even though the opinion was seriously flawed according to Yoo’s successors. The opinion bears the hallmarks of a handy stay-out-of-jail card, instead of a serious independent analysis prepared and relied upon in good faith.

Because secrecy still surrounds the Bush wiretaps, we don’t know the dates on which they may have ended and therefore cannot calculate exactly when the five-year statute of limitations expires. Assuming that the warrantless wiretapping ended when Bush left office on January 20, 2009, the statute would run out on January 20, 2014.

President Bush and his team may have also violated the Conspiracy to Defraud the United States statute, which was used to prosecute top officials in the Watergate and Iran/Contra scandals. Together with others in his administration, he made many misstatements to Congress about the Iraq War. In one noteworthy example, just before the invasion, he notified Congress that the invasion met conditions it had set for an attack, including that it was aimed at persons or nations that “planned” or “aided” the 9/11 attacks. But neither Saddam Hussein nor Iraq planned or aided the attacks of 9/11.

The five-year statute of limitations for defrauding the US started running the day President Bush left office, because the Iraq War was undertaken not just to remove Saddam Hussein and install a new government but also, as the former president explained, to secure “victory” and create a “stable” Iraq, an effort that lasted through the end of Bush’s second term. That means the statue of limitations will expire on January 20, 2014.

Since no prosecutions can be brought after the statutes run out, unless investigations are started soon, any crimes that did occur will go unprosecuted and unpunished, deeply entrenching the principle of impunity for top officials. This would be shameful for our country and strike at the heart of the rule of law

After carefully reviewing the facts and law, a fair-minded prosecutor may decide that no prosecution of President Bush and his team is justified. As a former prosecutor, I know that there is a big difference between an apparent violation of a statute and a prosecutable case. I also know, however, that the failure to investigate apparent violations of law because of the high positions of those involved undermines our democracy. There cannot be two standards of justice in America, one for the powerful and another for the rest of us.

Nothing would corrode Americans’ respect for the rule of law more than enshrining a perception of impunity for top government officials. Nothing would encourage future criminality by presidents more than a belief that they are above the law. That is why it is incumbent upon the attorney general to appoint a well-regarded, independent prosecutor promptly, so that appropriate investigations can be completed in the time remaining.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney may also be criminally culpable for waterboarding and other forms of torture. This should also be investigated now, even though there is no statute of limitations for waterboarding and other life-threatening forms of torture—those responsible may be prosecuted as long as they live. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have publicly admitted their involvement in waterboarding detainees abroad. The federal anti-torture statute makes it an apparent crime to have done so. Attorney General Holder’s previous exoneration of CIA agents relying on the Justice Department memos regarding torture should not apply to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, because of their role in producing the memos.

The attorney general does not need Congressional approval to appoint a special prosecutor. Nor can political opponents prevent it. President Obama, however, has said that he wants to look forward and not back, and, given the enormous hostility of the congressional Republicans to his existing agenda, it is understandable his attorney general might want to avoid the partisan animosity appointing a special prosecutor would generate.

Despite the political consequences, it is hard to justify letting these statutes expire without conducting any investigation. The president’s oath of office requires him to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, arguably leaving him little political discretion on a subject of this weight and importance. Moreover, justice requires an impartial investigation, not a particular outcome, so the appointment of a special prosecutor is not a partisan endeavor. The investigation may not lead to prosecution, and in any case Obama has the power to pardon Bush as Ford pardoned Nixon if he feels prosecution is unjust.

But failing to act at all, not even to investigate the ample indications of possible crimes, sends a toxic message that a president is above the law. Letting the clock run out on investigating Bush administration misdeeds is an omission which could have disastrous consequences for the rule of law and an unpredictable effect on President Obama’s own place in history.

© 2013 The Nation

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman served on the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon's impeachment. She co-authored the 1973 special prosecutor statute, and co-wrote (with Cynthia L. Cooper) the 2006 book, The Impeachment of George W. Bush.

Men Who Kick Down Doors: Tyrants at Home and Abroad

Picture this.  A man, armored in tattoos, bursts into a living room not his own.  He confronts an enemy.  He barks orders.  He throws that enemy into a chair. Then against a wall.  He plants himself in the middle of the room, feet widespread, fists clenched, muscles straining, face contorted in a scream of rage.  The tendons in his neck are taut with the intensity of his terrifying performance.  He chases the enemy to the next room, stopping escape with a quick grab and thrust and body block that pins the enemy, bent back, against a counter. He shouts more orders: his enemy can go with him to the basement for a “private talk,” or be beaten to a pulp right here. Then he wraps his fingers around the neck of his enemy and begins to choke her.

No, that invader isn’t an American soldier leading a night raid on an Afghan village, nor is the enemy an anonymous Afghan householder.  This combat warrior is just a guy in Ohio named Shane. He’s doing what so many men find exhilarating: disciplining his girlfriend with a heavy dose of the violence we render harmless by calling it “domestic.”

It’s easy to figure out from a few basic facts that Shane is a skilled predator.  Why else does a 31-year-old man lavish attention on a pretty 19-year-old with two children (ages four and two, the latter an equally pretty and potentially targeted little female)?  And what more vulnerable girlfriend could he find than this one, named Maggie: a neglected young woman, still a teenager, who for two years had been raising her kids on her own while her husband fought a war in Afghanistan?  That war had broken the family apart, leaving Maggie with no financial support and more alone than ever.

But the way Shane assaulted Maggie, he might just as well have been a night-raiding soldier terrorizing an Afghan civilian family in pursuit of some dangerous Talib, real or imagined.  For all we know, Maggie’s estranged husband/soldier might have acted in the same way in some Afghan living room and not only been paid but also honored for it.  The basic behavior is quite alike: an overwhelming display of superior force. The tactics: shock and awe.  The goal: to control the behavior, the very life, of the designated target.  The mind set: a sense of entitlement when it comes to determining the fate of a subhuman creature.  The dark side: the fear and brutal rage of a scared loser who inflicts his miserable self on others.

As for that designated enemy, just as American exceptionalism asserts the superiority of the United States over all other countries and cultures on Earth, and even over the laws that govern international relations, misogyny -- which seems to inform so much in the United States these days, from military boot camp to the Oscars to full frontal political assaults on a woman’s right to control her own body -- assures even the most pathetic guys like Shane of their innate superiority over some “thing” usually addressed with multiple obscenities.

Since 9/11, the further militarization of our already militarized culture has reached new levels.  Official America, as embodied in our political system and national security state, now seems to be thoroughly masculine, paranoid, quarrelsome, secretive, greedy, aggressive, and violent.  Readers familiar with “domestic violence” will recognize those traits as equally descriptive of the average American wife beater: scared but angry and aggressive, and feeling absolutely entitled to control something, whether it’s just a woman, or a small wretched country like Afghanistan.

Connecting the Dots

It was John Stuart Mill, writing in the nineteenth century, who connected the dots between “domestic” and international violence.  But he didn’t use our absurdly gender-neutral, pale gray term “domestic violence.”  He called it “wife torture” or  “atrocity,” and he recognized that torture and atrocity are much the same, no matter where they take place -- whether today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, or a bedroom or basement in Ohio.  Arguing in 1869 against the subjection of women, Mill wrote that the Englishman’s habit of household tyranny and “wife torture” established the pattern and practice for his foreign policy.  The tyrant at home becomes the tyrant at war.  Home is the training ground for the big games played overseas.

Mill believed that, in early times, strong men had used force to enslave women and the majority of their fellow men.  By the nineteenth century, however, the “law of the strongest” seemed to him to have been “abandoned” -- in England at least -- “as the regulating principle of the world’s affairs.”  Slavery had been renounced.  Only in the household did it continue to be practiced, though wives were no longer openly enslaved but merely “subjected” to their husbands.  This subjection, Mill said, was the last vestige of the archaic “law of the strongest,” and must inevitably fade away as reasonable men recognized its barbarity and injustice.  Of his own time, he wrote that “nobody professes” the law of the strongest, and “as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practice it.”

Well, even a feminist may not be right about everything.  Times often change for the worse, and rarely has the law of the strongest been more popular than it is in the United States today. Routinely now we hear congressmen declare that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world because it is the greatest military power in history, just as presidents now regularly insist that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”  Never mind that it rarely wins a war.  Few here question that primitive standard -- the law of the strongest -- as the measure of this America’s dwindling “civilization.”

The War Against Women

Mill, however, was right about the larger point: that tyranny at home is the model for tyranny abroad.  What he perhaps didn’t see was the perfect reciprocity of the relationship that perpetuates the law of the strongest both in the home and far away.

When tyranny and violence are practiced on a grand scale in foreign lands, the practice also intensifies at home.  As American militarism went into overdrive after 9/11, it validated violence against women here, where Republicans held up reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (first passed in 1994), and celebrities who publicly assaulted their girlfriends faced no consequences other than a deluge of sympathetic girl-fan tweets.

America’s invasions abroad also validated violence within the U.S. military itself.  An estimated 19,000 women soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2011; and an unknown number have been murdered by fellow soldiers who were, in many cases, their husbands or boyfriends.  A great deal of violence against women in the military, from rape to murder, has been documented, only to be casually covered up by the chain of command.

Violence against civilian women here at home, on the other hand, may not be reported or tallied at all, so the full extent of it escapes notice. Men prefer to maintain the historical fiction that violence in the home is a private matter, properly and legally concealed behind a “curtain.” In this way is male impunity and tyranny maintained. 

Women cling to a fiction of our own: that we are much more “equal” than we are.  Instead of confronting male violence, we still prefer to lay the blame for it on individual women and girls who fall victim to it -- as if they had volunteered. But then, how to explain the dissonant fact that at least one of every three female American soldiers is sexually assaulted by a male “superior”? Surely that’s not what American women had in mind when they signed up for the Marines or for Air Force flight training.  In fact, lots of teenage girls volunteer for the military precisely to escape violence and sexual abuse in their childhood homes or streets.

Don’t get me wrong, military men are neither alone nor out of the ordinary in terrorizing women.  The broader American war against women has intensified on many fronts here at home, right along with our wars abroad. Those foreign wars have killed uncounted thousands of civilians, many of them women and children, which could make the private battles of domestic warriors like Shane here in the U.S. seem puny by comparison.  But it would be a mistake to underestimate the firepower of the Shanes of our American world. The statistics tell us that a legal handgun has been the most popular means of dispatching a wife, but when it comes to girlfriends, guys really get off onbeating them to death.

 Some 3,073 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11. Between that day and June 6, 2012, 6,488 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for America’s war on terror at home and abroad to 9,561.  During the same period, 11,766 women were murdered in the United States by their husbands or boyfriends, both military and civilian.  The greater number of women killed here at home is a measure of the scope and the furious intensity of the war against women, a war that threatens to continue long after the misconceived war on terror is history.

Getting the Picture

Think about Shane, standing there in a nondescript living room in Ohio screaming his head off like a little child who wants what he wants when he wants it.  Reportedly, he was trying to be a good guy and make a career as a singer in a Christian rock band.  But like the combat soldier in a foreign war who is modeled after him, he uses violence to hold his life together and accomplish his mission.

We know about Shane only because there happened to be a photographer on the scene.  Sara Naomi Lewkowicz had chosen to document the story of Shane and his girlfriend Maggie out of sympathy for his situation as an ex-con, recently released from prison yet not free of the stigma attached to a man who had done time. Then, one night, there he was in the living room throwing Maggie around, and Lewkowicz did what any good combat photographer would do as a witness to history: she kept shooting. That action alone was a kind of intervention and may have saved Maggie’s life.

In the midst of the violence, Lewkowicz also dared to snatch from Shane’s pocket her own cell phone, which he had borrowed earlier.  It’s unclear whether she passed the phone to someone else or made the 911 call herself. The police arrested Shane, and a smart policewoman told Maggie: “You know, he’s not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you.”

Maggie did the right thing.  She gave the police a statement.  Shane is back in prison.  And Lewkowicz’s remarkable photographs were posted online on February 27th at Time magazine’s website feature Lightbox under the heading  “Photographer As Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence.”

The photos are remarkable because the photographer is very good and the subject of her attention is so rarely caught on camera.  Unlike warfare covered in Iraq and Afghanistan by embedded combat photographers, wife torture takes place mostly behind closed doors, unannounced and unrecorded.  The first photographs of wife torture to appear in the U.S. were Donna Ferrato’s now iconic images of violence against women at home.

Like Lewkowicz, Ferrato came upon wife torture by chance; she was documenting a marriage in 1980 when the happy husband chose to beat up his wife. Yet so reluctant were photo editors to pull aside the curtain of domestic privacy that even after Ferrato became a Life photographer in 1984, pursuing the same subject, nobody, including Life, wanted to publish the shocking images she produced.

In 1986, six years after she witnessed that first assault, some of her photographs of violence against women in the home were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and brought her the 1987 Robert F. Kennedy journalism award “for outstanding coverage of the problems of the disadvantaged.”  In 1991, Aperture, the publisher of distinguished photography books, brought out Ferrato’s eye-opening body of work as Living with the Enemy (for which I wrote an introduction). Since then, the photos have been widely reproduced.Time used a Ferrato image on its cover in 1994, when the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson briefly drew attention to what the magazine called “the epidemic of domestic abuse” and Lightbox featured a small retrospective of her domestic violence work on June 27, 2012.

Ferrato herself started a foundation, offering her work to women’s groups across the country to exhibit at fundraisers for local shelters and services.  Those photo exhibitions also helped raise consciousness across America and certainly contributed to smarter, less misogynistic police procedures of the kind that put Shane back in jail.

Ferrato’s photos were incontrovertible evidence of the violence in our homes, rarely acknowledged and never before so plainly seen.  Yet until February 27th, when with Ferrato’s help, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s photos were posted on Lightbox only two months after they were taken, Ferrato’s photos were all we had.  We needed more.  So there was every reason for Lewkowicz’s work to be greeted with acclaim by photographers and women everywhere.

Instead, in more than 1,700 comments posted at Lightbox, photographer Lewkowicz was mainly castigated for things like not dropping her camera and taking care to get Maggie’s  distraught two-year-old daughter out of the room or singlehandedly stopping the assault.  (Need it be said that stopping combat is not the job of combat photographers?) 

Maggie, the victim of this felonious assault, was also mercilessly denounced: for going out with Shane in the first place, for failing to foresee his violence, for “cheating” on her already estranged husband fighting in Afghanistan, and inexplicably for being a “perpetrator.”  Reviewing the commentary for theColumbia Journalism Review, Jina Moore concluded, “[T]here’s one thing all the critics seem to agree on: The only adult in the house not responsible for the violence is the man committing it.”

They Only Stop When They Kill You

Viewers of these photographs -- photos that accurately reflect the daily violence so many women face -- seem to find it easy to ignore, or even praise, the raging man behind it all.  So, too, do so many find it convenient to ignore the violence that America’s warriors abroad inflict under orders on a mass scale upon women and children in war zones.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had the effect of displacing millions from their homes within the country or driving them into exile in foreign lands. Rates of rape and atrocity were staggering, as I learned firsthand when in 2008-2009 I spent time in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon talking with Iraqi refugees. In addition, those women who remain in Iraq now live under the rule of conservative Islamists, heavily influenced by Iran. Under the former secular regime, Iraqi women were considered the most advanced in the Arab world; today, they say they have been set back a century.

In Afghanistan, too, while Americans take credit for putting women back in the workplace and girls in school, untold thousands of women and children have been displaced internally, many to makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul where 17 children froze to death last January. The U.N. reported 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 civilian injuries as a result of the war in 2012, the majority of them women and children.  In a country without a state capable of counting bodies, these are undoubtedly significant undercounts. A U.N. official said, “It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities.” Thousands of women in Afghan cities have been forced into survival sex, as were Iraqi women who fled as refugees to Beirut and particularly Damascus.

That’s what male violence is meant to do to women.  The enemy.  War itself is a kind of screaming tattooed man, standing in the middle of a room -- or another country -- asserting the law of the strongest. It’s like a reset button on history that almost invariably ensures women will find themselves subjected to men in ever more terrible ways.  It’s one more thing that, to a certain kind of man, makes going to war, like good old-fashioned wife torture, so exciting and so much fun.

Climate Change Is Here; Why Aren’t We Doing Anything About It?

Climate Change Is Here; Why Aren’t We Doing Anything About It?

Posted on Mar 21, 2013
mariopiperni

Regarding the impending climate crisis, Yale scientist Anthony Leiserowitz tells Bill Moyers: “You almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology.” The solution? Part of it involves turning the issue into talking points for conservatives.

How about describing global warming as a threat to Americans’ freedoms? “If you’re a rancher or a farmer in the Great Plains today,” Leiserowitz says, “your freedom is enormously constrained by the fact that you’re in the midst of a two-year severe drought, OK. You don’t get to choose what you’re going to plant. You don’t get to choose what cows you’re going to slaughter. In fact, we’ve just seen in Texas in the past year 2 million head of cow, cattle are no longer in Texas; they had to move them out because they couldn’t provide the food and forage and water for them because of that drought. That’s not freedom, OK. You are literally not able to do the thing that you were raised and that you believe in as part of your culture because the climate has changed.”

Another approach Leiserowitz recommends, however difficult it is to imagine gaining traction among the Republican Party’s entrenched corporate backers, is to cast support for climate change legislation as an opportunity to win more votes from the American public.

Read a transcript of their conversation here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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Men Who Kick Down Doors and the War Against Women

Picture this.  A man, armored in tattoos, bursts into a living room not his own.  He confronts an enemy.  He barks orders.  He throws that enemy into a chair. Then against a wall.  He plants himself in the middle of the room, feet widespread, fists clenched, muscles straining, face contorted in a scream of rage.  The tendons in his neck are taut with the intensity of his terrifying performance.  He chases the enemy to the next room, stopping escape with a quick grab and thrust and body block that pins the enemy, bent back, against a counter. He shouts more orders: his enemy can go with him to the basement for a “private talk,” or be beaten to a pulp right here. Then he wraps his fingers around the neck of his enemy and begins to choke her.A US Marine kicks in a locked door during a search of the village of Khabargho, Afghanistan in this photo from 2004. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

No, that invader isn’t an American soldier leading a night raid on an Afghan village, nor is the enemy an anonymous Afghan householder.  This combat warrior is just a guy in Ohio named Shane. He’s doing what so many men find exhilarating: disciplining his girlfriend with a heavy dose of the violence we render harmless by calling it “domestic.”

It’s easy to figure out from a few basic facts that Shane is a skilled predator.  Why else does a 31-year-old man lavish attention on a pretty 19-year-old with two children (ages four and two, the latter an equally pretty and potentially targeted little female)?  And what more vulnerable girlfriend could he find than this one, named Maggie: a neglected young woman, still a teenager, who for two years had been raising her kids on her own while her husband fought a war in Afghanistan?  That war had broken the family apart, leaving Maggie with no financial support and more alone than ever.

But the way Shane assaulted Maggie, he might just as well have been a night-raiding soldier terrorizing an Afghan civilian family in pursuit of some dangerous Talib, real or imagined.  For all we know, Maggie’s estranged husband/soldier might have acted in the same way in some Afghan living room and not only been paid but also honored for it.  The basic behavior is quite alike: an overwhelming display of superior force. The tactics: shock and awe.  The goal: to control the behavior, the very life, of the designated target.  The mind set: a sense of entitlement when it comes to determining the fate of a subhuman creature.  The dark side: the fear and brutal rage of a scared loser who inflicts his miserable self on others.

As for that designated enemy, just as American exceptionalism asserts the superiority of the United States over all other countries and cultures on Earth, and even over the laws that govern international relations, misogyny -- which seems to inform so much in the United States these days, from military boot camp to the Oscars to full frontal political assaults on a woman’s right to control her own body -- assures even the most pathetic guys like Shane of their innate superiority over some “thing” usually addressed with multiple obscenities.

When tyranny and violence are practiced on a grand scale in foreign lands, the practice also intensifies at home.

Since 9/11, the further militarization of our already militarized culture has reached new levels.  Official America, as embodied in our political system and national security state, now seems to be thoroughly masculine, paranoid, quarrelsome, secretive, greedy, aggressive, and violent.  Readers familiar with “domestic violence” will recognize those traits as equally descriptive of the average American wife beater: scared but angry and aggressive, and feeling absolutely entitled to control something, whether it’s just a woman, or a small wretched country like Afghanistan.

Connecting the Dots

It was John Stuart Mill, writing in the nineteenth century, who connected the dots between “domestic” and international violence.  But he didn’t use our absurdly gender-neutral, pale gray term “domestic violence.”  He called it “wife torture” or  “atrocity,” and he recognized that torture and atrocity are much the same, no matter where they take place -- whether today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, or a bedroom or basement in Ohio.  Arguing in 1869 against the subjection of women, Mill wrote that the Englishman’s habit of household tyranny and “wife torture” established the pattern and practice for his foreign policy.  The tyrant at home becomes the tyrant at war.  Home is the training ground for the big games played overseas.

Mill believed that, in early times, strong men had used force to enslave women and the majority of their fellow men.  By the nineteenth century, however, the “law of the strongest” seemed to him to have been “abandoned” -- in England at least -- “as the regulating principle of the world’s affairs.”  Slavery had been renounced.  Only in the household did it continue to be practiced, though wives were no longer openly enslaved but merely “subjected” to their husbands.  This subjection, Mill said, was the last vestige of the archaic “law of the strongest,” and must inevitably fade away as reasonable men recognized its barbarity and injustice.  Of his own time, he wrote that “nobody professes” the law of the strongest, and “as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practice it.”

Well, even a feminist may not be right about everything.  Times often change for the worse, and rarely has the law of the strongest been more popular than it is in the United States today. Routinely now we hear congressmen declare that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world because it is the greatest military power in history, just as presidents now regularly insist that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”  Never mind that it rarely wins a war.  Few here question that primitive standard -- the law of the strongest -- as the measure of this America’s dwindling “civilization.”

The War Against Women

Mill, however, was right about the larger point: that tyranny at home is the model for tyranny abroad.  What he perhaps didn’t see was the perfect reciprocity of the relationship that perpetuates the law of the strongest both in the home and far away.

When tyranny and violence are practiced on a grand scale in foreign lands, the practice also intensifies at home.  As American militarism went into overdrive after 9/11, it validated violence against women here, where Republicans held up reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (first passed in 1994), and celebrities who publicly assaulted their girlfriends faced no consequences other than a deluge of sympathetic girl-fan tweets.

America’s invasions abroad also validated violence within the U.S. military itself.  An estimated 19,000 women soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2011; and an unknown number have been murdered by fellow soldiers who were, in many cases, their husbands or boyfriends.  A great deal of violence against women in the military, from rape to murder, has been documented, only to be casually covered up by the chain of command.

Violence against civilian women here at home, on the other hand, may not be reported or tallied at all, so the full extent of it escapes notice. Men prefer to maintain the historical fiction that violence in the home is a private matter, properly and legally concealed behind a “curtain.” In this way is male impunity and tyranny maintained. 

Women cling to a fiction of our own: that we are much more “equal” than we are.  Instead of confronting male violence, we still prefer to lay the blame for it on individual women and girls who fall victim to it -- as if they had volunteered. But then, how to explain the dissonant fact that at least one of every three female American soldiers is sexually assaulted by a male “superior”? Surely that’s not what American women had in mind when they signed up for the Marines or for Air Force flight training.  In fact, lots of teenage girls volunteer for the military precisely to escape violence and sexual abuse in their childhood homes or streets.

Don’t get me wrong, military men are neither alone nor out of the ordinary in terrorizing women.  The broader American war against women has intensified on many fronts here at home, right along with our wars abroad. Those foreign wars have killed uncounted thousands of civilians, many of them women and children, which could make the private battles of domestic warriors like Shane here in the U.S. seem puny by comparison.  But it would be a mistake to underestimate the firepower of the Shanes of our American world. The statistics tell us that a legal handgun has been the most popular means of dispatching a wife, but when it comes to girlfriends, guys really get off on beating them to death.

Some 3,073 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11. Between that day and June 6, 2012, 6,488 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for America’s war on terror at home and abroad to 9,561.  During the same period, 11,766 women were murdered in the United States by their husbands or boyfriends, both military and civilian.  The greater number of women killed here at home is a measure of the scope and the furious intensity of the war against women, a war that threatens to continue long after the misconceived war on terror is history.

Getting the Picture

Think about Shane, standing there in a nondescript living room in Ohio screaming his head off like a little child who wants what he wants when he wants it.  Reportedly, he was trying to be a good guy and make a career as a singer in a Christian rock band.  But like the combat soldier in a foreign war who is modeled after him, he uses violence to hold his life together and accomplish his mission.

We know about Shane only because there happened to be a photographer on the scene.  Sara Naomi Lewkowicz had chosen to document the story of Shane and his girlfriend Maggie out of sympathy for his situation as an ex-con, recently released from prison yet not free of the stigma attached to a man who had done time. Then, one night, there he was in the living room throwing Maggie around, and Lewkowicz did what any good combat photographer would do as a witness to history: she kept shooting. That action alone was a kind of intervention and may have saved Maggie’s life.

In the midst of the violence, Lewkowicz also dared to snatch from Shane’s pocket her own cell phone, which he had borrowed earlier.  It’s unclear whether she passed the phone to someone else or made the 911 call herself. The police arrested Shane, and a smart policewoman told Maggie: “You know, he’s not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you.”

Maggie did the right thing.  She gave the police a statement.  Shane is back in prison.  And Lewkowicz’s remarkable photographs were posted online on February 27th at Time magazine’s website feature Lightbox under the heading  “Photographer As Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence.”

The photos are remarkable because the photographer is very good and the subject of her attention is so rarely caught on camera.  Unlike warfare covered in Iraq and Afghanistan by embedded combat photographers, wife torture takes place mostly behind closed doors, unannounced and unrecorded.  The first photographs of wife torture to appear in the U.S. were Donna Ferrato’s now iconic images of violence against women at home.

Like Lewkowicz, Ferrato came upon wife torture by chance; she was documenting a marriage in 1980 when the happy husband chose to beat up his wife. Yet so reluctant were photo editors to pull aside the curtain of domestic privacy that even after Ferrato became a Life photographer in 1984, pursuing the same subject, nobody, including Life, wanted to publish the shocking images she produced.

In 1986, six years after she witnessed that first assault, some of her photographs of violence against women in the home were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and brought her the 1987 Robert F. Kennedy journalism award “for outstanding coverage of the problems of the disadvantaged.”  In 1991, Aperture, the publisher of distinguished photography books, brought out Ferrato’s eye-opening body of work as Living with the Enemy (for which I wrote an introduction). Since then, the photos have been widely reproduced. Time used a Ferrato image on its cover in 1994, when the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson briefly drew attention to what the magazine called “the epidemic of domestic abuse” and Lightbox featured a small retrospective of her domestic violence work on June 27, 2012.

Ferrato herself started a foundation, offering her work to women’s groups across the country to exhibit at fundraisers for local shelters and services.  Those photo exhibitions also helped raise consciousness across America and certainly contributed to smarter, less misogynistic police procedures of the kind that put Shane back in jail.

Ferrato’s photos were incontrovertible evidence of the violence in our homes, rarely acknowledged and never before so plainly seen.  Yet until February 27th, when with Ferrato’s help, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s photos were posted on Lightbox only two months after they were taken, Ferrato’s photos were all we had.  We needed more.  So there was every reason for Lewkowicz’s work to be greeted with acclaim by photographers and women everywhere.

Instead, in more than 1,700 comments posted at Lightbox, photographer Lewkowicz was mainly castigated for things like not dropping her camera and taking care to get Maggie’s  distraught two-year-old daughter out of the room or singlehandedly stopping the assault.  (Need it be said that stopping combat is not the job of combat photographers?) When Maggie refused, Shane began grabbing her by the face and neck, choking her. "You can either get beat up here, or we can go talk alone," he said. "Your choice." (Photo: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz)

Maggie, the victim of this felonious assault, was also mercilessly denounced: for going out with Shane in the first place, for failing to foresee his violence, for “cheating” on her already estranged husband fighting in Afghanistan, and inexplicably for being a “perpetrator.”  Reviewing the commentary for the Columbia Journalism Review, Jina Moore concluded, “[T]here’s one thing all the critics seem to agree on: The only adult in the house not responsible for the violence is the man committing it.”

They Only Stop When They Kill You

Viewers of these photographs -- photos that accurately reflect the daily violence so many women face -- seem to find it easy to ignore, or even praise, the raging man behind it all.  So, too, do so many find it convenient to ignore the violence that America’s warriors abroad inflict under orders on a mass scale upon women and children in war zones.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had the effect of displacing millions from their homes within the country or driving them into exile in foreign lands. Rates of rape and atrocity were staggering, as I learned firsthand when in 2008-2009 I spent time in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon talking with Iraqi refugees. In addition, those women who remain in Iraq now live under the rule of conservative Islamists, heavily influenced by Iran. Under the former secular regime, Iraqi women were considered the most advanced in the Arab world; today, they say they have been set back a century.

In Afghanistan, too, while Americans take credit for putting women back in the workplace and girls in school, untold thousands of women and children have been displaced internally, many to makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul where 17 children froze to death last January. The U.N. reported 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 civilian injuries as a result of the war in 2012, the majority of them women and children.  In a country without a state capable of counting bodies, these are undoubtedly significant undercounts. A U.N. official said, “It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities.” Thousands of women in Afghan cities have been forced into survival sex, as were Iraqi women who fled as refugees to Beirut and particularly Damascus.

That’s what male violence is meant to do to women.  The enemy.  War itself is a kind of screaming tattooed man, standing in the middle of a room -- or another country -- asserting the law of the strongest. It’s like a reset button on history that almost invariably ensures women will find themselves subjected to men in ever more terrible ways.  It’s one more thing that, to a certain kind of man, makes going to war, like good old-fashioned wife torture, so exciting and so much fun.

© 2013 Ann Jones

Ann Jones

Ann Jones, writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Since 2001, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

New York Times Hypocrisy

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Tomas Young and the End of the Body of War

Tomas Young. (Photo by Claudia Cuellar)Tomas Young was in the fifth day of his first deployment to Iraq when he was struck by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad’s Sadr City. The single bullet paralyzed him from the chest down, and changed his life forever. Now, nine years later, at the age of 33, Tomas has decided to end his life. He announced recently that he will soon stop his nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube.

Tomas was the subject of the award-winning documentary “Body of War,” made by legendary TV talk-show host Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro. The 2007 film follows Tomas’ rehabilitation, struggles with his injuries and his political awakening to become one of the most prominent anti-war U.S. veterans of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He was first moved to action by the efforts of Cindy Sheehan to speak with President George W. Bush while he was on vacation at his so-called ranch in Crawford, Texas. Sheehan’s son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad, on the same day that Tomas was shot. She wanted to ask Pres. Bush, “For what noble cause did my son die?”

I asked Tomas if anything would change his mind about his decision to end his life. “No,” he said, adding that if he were not in such intense, constant pain, then he would not be taking this course. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.

"I fought as hard as I could to keep young men and women away from military service. I fought as hard as I could to keep another me from coming back to Iraq. That is what I want to be remembered for."

This week, Tomas released a letter titled “The Last Letter: A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran.”

In it, Tomas wrote, “You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole."

Phil Donahue has stayed in touch with Tomas for years since making “Body of War.” Donahue told me the making of the film was a “spiritual experience ... a chapter of our lives.” He says he understands Tomas’ decision: “Four years after being shot in Sadr City, he sustained a pulmonary embolism. So he struggles now to speak, although you can understand him. He has difficulty grasping silverware, his opposable thumbs are at a serious deficit ... so he has to be fed. When he and his wife, Claudia, have gone out to dinner, she would look for a corner of the restaurant, so when she fed him, they wouldn’t be stared at. He now has pressure sores, with exposed bone. He recently had a colostomy, so he has a bag on the side of his body. He is fed through a tube, and every other commercial he sees on television is about food. It is beyond awful what Tomas has sustained. He now lies immobile, in a dark bedroom in Kansas City, dutifully cared for by his wife, Claudia, who has been with him for five years.”

He added: “Throughout this whole ordeal, I have been with him often enough to know, he wanted to live. That is what makes it extra sad. He wanted to live. He has fought back against every setback, from the inadequate treatment at the Veterans Administration, to his own PTSD. Now the situation is so dire, that no one who is close to him can claim to not understand: He has given up.”

Donahue reflected: “When I look down on this young man, all I can think of is President Bush saying, ‘Bring ‘em on.’ There is almost no remorse. Everybody’s hiding. Richard Perle doesn’t get around much anymore. Cheney is speaking for six-figure fees. I don’t know where Wolfowitz is. Bush is behind a well-secured home.”

Tomas recently appeared via video call from his home in Kansas City, Mo., before a group in Ridgefield, Conn., where Phil Donahue screened “Body of War” and asked Tomas questions. It was at this February event that Tomas publicly announced his intention to die. When asked how he wants to be remembered, Tomas Young replied: “That I fought as hard as I could to keep young men and women away from military service. I fought as hard as I could to keep another me from coming back to Iraq. That is what I want to be remembered for.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2013 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Where Are Progressives in the Fight To Save Public Schools?

This week, here was Paul Krugman’s assessment of the current policy agenda governing the nation’s public schools:(Pics by John Lawhead)

“We have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials.”

Except, Krugman wasn’t writing about education policy, actually. He was writing about the nation’s run up to the Iraq War ten years ago. “Support for the war,” Krugman recalled, ” became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration.”

Krugman compared the type of “groupthink” that preceded the war in Iraq to the current false consensus driving our nation’s flawed economic policy. But he may as well have been writing about the nation’s education policy as well.

For years, federal education policies have been characterized by a “Washington Consensus” that public schools are effectively broken and only a market based reform agenda will fix them.

People calling themselves “progressives” have tended to unite with conservative Republicans in this consensus – even while they chose to fight tooth-and-nail on other issues.

But the Washington Consensus on education was indeed illusionary. And now that the real intentions of the reform agenda are starting to play out on the ground, there are signs that progressives are making the fight for public schools another front in a broader grassroots struggle agains corporate hegemony.

Education Consensus Was A Collusion

In the 2012 elections, veteran education reporter Jay Mathews of The Washington Post. noted that whenever education was the focus, Republican and Democratic candidates “have been happily copying each other.”

The general shared agenda held that schools were in need of broad, top-down “reform” driven by stricter standards, high-stakes testing, and competitive charter schools – in short, a free-market perspective adopted from the business world that would base decisions on “objective data” gathered through testing and competitive ratings to weed out “bad” teachers and schools.

Although this agenda has been mostly driven by the federal government, it has gradually been implemented by most states too, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of test-based school and teacher evaluations and the rapid increase in the numbers of charter schools nationwide.

Like the “groupthink” Krugman noted above, education policy has been a consensus without diversity and without the input of skeptics.

A recent op-ed appearing in Education Week described perfectly how this “illusion of consensus” has been maintained over the years.

Declaring, “greater cooperation across political and ideological lines is badly needed in education,” Capitol Hill insider Jack Jennings described how he “put together an advisory group of people with different opinions” to determine whether the federal school policy known as No Child Left Behind was meeting its goal of increasing student achievement, especially for “historically low-performing groups of students.”

This panel was replete with the usual suspects we see time and again from The Very Serious People in America’s political class: a couple of respectable higher ed folks, an economist, and a preponderance of Beltway belief tank operatives.

There was no one who worked day-to-day in public schools – no district administrators, no school principals, and no classroom teachers in a leadership position. There were no representatives from school boards or parent organizations. No one from the civil rights or social justice community.

But the supposed magic of this panel was that it was “Bipartisan” – that is, if you think having two conservatives, a “nonpartisan,” and a decidedly centrist Democrat (Jennings himself) constituted “political diversity.”

Nevertheless, Jennings declared the panel’s work an unmitigated “success” because it showed that NCLB – a policy now held in such exceptional disrepute, states go to incredible lengths to become exempt from it – had achieved some modest achievement gains.

The panel’s success, of course, was all due to this unbelievable level of “cooperation and compromise.”

If Jennings and other Beltway insiders really wanted more of a consensus view, they should have populated their panel with the kind of diversity that comprised the Commission on Equity & Excellence  which recently concluded that instead of achieving modest gains, federal policies for education have resulted in “schools in high poverty neighborhoods…getting an education that more closely approximates schools in developing nations.”

What Jennings’ tale of reaching “across the aisle” illustrated is that education policy-making among our leadership has been not so much a Washington Consensus as it has been a Washington Collusion.

Writing in Jacobin, Micah Uetricht observed that when the subject is education policy, “Democrats have swallowed the Right’s free market orthodoxy whole.”

Uetricht elaborated:

High-stakes standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, school closures, privatization and union-busting through charter school expansion, blaming teachers and unions for the dismal state of poor urban schools, an unshakable faith in the free market as the Great Liberator of the wretched, over-regulated student masses – all proposals and ideas [are] embraced and promoted by much of the Democratic Party, including President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

But a change is in the wind.

Chicago Teachers Strike:  When Progressives Woke Up?

Uetricht applied his analysis of the Democratic sellout on education to the reform agenda in Chicago, What he found:

Chicago has long been one of the principal testing grounds for neoliberal education reform. Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Democrat from a Democratic political family in that most Democratic of big cities, and Duncan, then CEO of CPS, crafted Renaissance 2010, a program begun in 2004 which pushed closures and ‘turnarounds’ of neighborhood schools and replacing them with nonunion, publicly funded charters, and is largely the basis for the Race to the Top program Duncan currently oversees as Secretary of Education.

Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education – which includes billionaire hotel heiress and Democratic Party power player Penny Pritzker – have continued this push, particularly around school closures. Currently on the table is a proposal to close 100 unionized neighborhood public schools around the city and replace them with 60 nonunion charters – a move that would simultaneously decimate the union’s membership, redirect public money to privately-run charters that lack basic mechanisms for public accountability, slash teachers’ salaries and benefits, and cause massive disruption in the poor black and brown neighborhoods where the majority of closures would take place.

“The shift towards the destruction of public education through the embrace of the free market was well-known among Chicago teachers,” Uetricht noted.

But then something changed. Instead of entrusting the Democratic Party to “sway back” towards supporting a more progressive agenda, the Chicago Teachers Union decided to take a “more confrontational stance.”

That more controversial tone led to a teacher strike. The strike was strongly backed by Chicago voters and parents,  and the teachers eventually won the day by framing their demands on students’ basic education needs rather than obscure market-speak about “effective” schools and “value added” teaching.

The concessions teachers won “included textbooks for all students on the first day of school, 600 new teachers in the arts and physical education, and mandatory recall of laid-off veteran teachers (rather than replacing them with young, inexperienced, cheaper teachers) when positions become available. Teacher evaluation based on standardized testing was negotiated to its legal minimum, 30 percent – contrasting with the Obama administration’s push under Race to the Top to increase the proportion of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests.”

What happened in Chicago – where people on the ground took control of the narrative and made it about fighting the free market assault on the common good – is now spreading to other communities.

Education’s Progressive Pushback Is Spreading

A notable example of resistance to the corporate takeover of public schools is the campaign in Bridgeport, Connecticut to oust Paul Vallas as interim school superintendent.

Vallas is the granddaddy of free-market education reform resulting in more privatization of public schools. After stints in leading school reform campaigns in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, Vallas left in his wake school systems that had been massively “reformed” but still, somehow, are in need of more reform, necessitating more “churn” in school closures and competitive charter schools – a hallmark of market-based reform. How this can be touted as a great success is indeed only possible in “illusionary consensus world.”

What happened in Bridgeport is that progressives got wind of this nonsense and decided it smelled pretty bad. After Vallas was hired as interim superintendent, people on the ground noticed not only was his track record troubling, he also didn’t legally meet the qualifications for the office.

What ensued was a grassroots push-back led in part by the progressive Connecticut Working Families Party. The campaign consisted of an online petition, knocking on doors, a staged sidewalk rally, and a retired teacher flown in from Chicago to testify about Vallas’ past transgressions.

The teacher, Gloria Warner, said, “It just makes me sick to hear that Paul Vallas is trying to do to this city what he did to Chicago. While Paul Vallas was wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, and making hundreds of thousands for himself, I had to spend my hard earned money to buy materials so that I could do my job.”

And parents have spoken up:

JoAnn Kennedy, a parent of two students at Bridgeport’s Bassick High School said, “Every day I sees the mess that is going on. Teachers are afraid to speak up. No teaching is going on. We need leadership that puts students first.”

Another Bridgeport parent, also a board member, Sauda Baraka said, “I expect a Bridgeport superintendent to have the required state certifications . . . with less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on providing school buildings with the necessary support to ensure student success.”

And parent and board member Maria Pereira said “I am not convinced that Paul Vallas is doing the best job for our students. He has a long record of privatizing schools, and turning tax dollars over to corporations, and I am deeply troubled with his decision to repeatedly violate CT State laws by awarding over $13,000,000 in no bid contracts.”

Although Vallas’ illegal contract ended up getting approved, by a consensus-dominated board, there is ample evidence that the community is energized to continue to press the case.

A Movement Grows In Brooklyn

Similar to Bridgeport, citizens in New York City have mobilized against school privatization efforts. According to the local education blog, Gotham News, “The [Mayor] Bloomberg administration has relied heavily on co-location, the practice of allowing one school to open in another school’s building, to open new schools. Its critics say the arrangement breeds unnecessary tension and takes resources away from existing schools.”

As colocations have redirected resources from neighborhood schools to privately operated charter schools – which frequently benefit from donations from foundations endowed with Wall Street money – more neighborhood schools experienced overcrowding and adverse conditions that interrupted students’ learning.

One colocation proposal in particular, at the Brownsville Academy High School in Brooklyn, drew stiff resistance. The colocation – which called for placing a K–5 elementary charter school in the same building as a “last chance” high school, with students “ranging from ages 17 to 21″ – would privatize the public space of a school that was A-rated according to the DOE and was valued by the students for having small class sizes and more personal attention.

When a governing panel hand-picked by the mayor approved the Brownsville colocation, Jason Lewis, for the Village Voice, reported that students from the school “stayed until 11 p.m. pleading with the panel to reconsider. They were trying to figure out why the panel would potentially disrupt one of the city’s rare high-performing transfer high schools to co-locate an elementary school.”

The approval of the Browsnville colocation and others, despite objections from citizens, prompted Lewis to observe, “Anyone who fought against the recent round of co-locations can now rest assured that they never had a say.”

But the Brownsville school community was determined to have a say. According to a report from another NYC education news blog, School Book, “Dozens of Brownsville students fought the co-location with the help of the group New York Communities for Change. Arthur Schwartz, an attorney, filed the suit on the students’ behalf, arguing that co-locating another school in the building would violate the rights of special-needs students who would lose the individualized attention needed in the classroom.

The lawsuit, combined with grassroots activism fomented by the NYCC group, pressured the DOE to rescind the colocation.

But the opposition to colocations isn’t satisfied with one victory. On the contrary, “To actually have them withdraw their proposal for Brownsville Academy, it means a lot,” said Amelia Adams, deputy director New York Communities For Change, in the Village Voice. “It builds momentum. We see this as an opportunity to continue organizing so that colocations aren’t rammed down people’s throats.”

A House Of Cards About To Collapse

The progressive awakening to mistaken education policies driven by the Washington Collusion is not limited to Bridgeport and New York. Nor is it confined to the issues of school leaders and colocations.

Across the country, there is a growing resistance to the emphasis on high-stakes testing that provides the infrastructure supporting market-based education policy, from school closures and ratings to teacher evaluations and merit pay.

FairTest, website for The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, recently reviewed the spreading resistance:

A nationwide protest movement against the stranglehold of high-stakes testing on our schools has escalated to a rolling boil. Boycotts, opt-out campaigns, demonstrations, and community forums are among the tactics being pursued in cities such as Austin, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Denver and Providence. Meanwhile, the number of signers of the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing continues to grow.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has observed that the false consensus driving education policies is essentially a “house of cards” about to “come tumbling down.” When it does, it will be grassroots progressives who push it over.

© 2013 Education Opportunity Network

Jeff Bryant

Jeff Bryant is an associate fellow at Campaign for America's Future and editor of the recently launched Education Opportunity Network, a project of the Institute for America’s Future, in partnership with the Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

CIA and FBI Counter-Terrorism Officials: Cheney Lied About 9/11 Hijacker

Preface: Obama is worse.

Everyone knew that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction (update here).

Dick Cheney admits that he lied about 9/11.

MSNBC recently noted that these two facts are intertwined:

Mark Rossini, was then an FBI counter-terrorism agent detailed to the CIA. He was assigned the task of evaluating a Czech intelligence report that Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the attack on the World Trade Towers.

Cheney repeatedly invoked the report as evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with  a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia  last April,” Cheney said on Meet the Press on Dec. 9, 2001.

But the evidence used to support the claim–a supposed photograph of Atta in Prague the day of the alleged meeting—had already been debunked by Rossini. He analyzed the photo and immediately saw it was bogus: the picture of the Czech “Atta” looked nothing like the real terrorist. It was a conclusion he relayed up the chain, assuming he had put the matter to rest.

Then he heard Cheney endorsing the discredited report on national television. “I remember looking at the TV screen and saying, ‘What did I just hear?’ And I–first time in my life, I actually threw something at the television because I couldn’t believe what I just heard,” Rossini says.

Rossini gave MSNBC an example in an interview for the documentary Hubris:

Mohammed Atta was a sleight guy … barely 5’5 or 5’6, and skinny.  The guy in the photograph was muscular, thick, and had a neck like the size of two of my necks.  And I thought, “that’s not Mohammed Atta in the photograph!”  But I sent it to the lab anyway, knowing that would put it to rest.

McClatchy confirmed in 2009:

Former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration…

For most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document…

When people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder,” he continued.”Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam . . .

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

“While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

“I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq),” [Senator] Levin said in a conference call with reporters. “They made out links where they didn’t exist.”

Levin recalled Cheney’s assertions that a senior Iraqi intelligence officer had met Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, in the Czech Republic capital of Prague just months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The FBI and CIA found that no such meeting occurred.

Postscript:  Indeed the entire torture program was implemented in an attempt to justify the Iraq war.  And the 9/11 Commission was set up with false torture testimony.  More background on the Iraq war.

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US President’s Visit: Obama comes to Bless Israel’s Government of Settlers

netanyauobama

Those who hoped that Barack Obama would be arriving in Israel to bang Israeli and Palestinian heads together, after four years of impasse in the peace process, will be sorely disappointed.

The US president’s trip beginning today may be historic – the first of his presidency to Israel and the Palestinian territories – but he has been doing everything possible beforehand to lower expectations.

At the weekend, Arab-American leaders revealed that Obama had made it clear he would not present a peace plan, because Israel has indicated it is not interested in an agreement with the Palestinians.

Any lingering doubts about Israel’s intentions were removed by the announcement of a new cabinet, hurriedly sworn in before the president’s visit. This government makes Benjamin Netanyahu’s last one, itself widely considered the most hardline in Israel’s history, look almost moderate.

Ynet, Israel’s popular news website, reported that settler leaders hailed this as their “wet dream” cabinet.

Zahava Gal-On, leader of the opposition Meretz party, concurred, observing that it would “do a lot for the settlers and not much at all for the rest of Israeli society”.

The settlers’ dedicated party, Jewish Home, has been awarded three key ministries – trade and industry, Jerusalem, and housing – as well as control of the parliamentary finance committee, that will ensure that the settlements flourish during this government’s term.

There is no chance Jewish Home will agree to a settlement freeze similar to the one Obama insisted on in his first term. Rather, the party will accelerate both house-building and industrial development over the Green Line, to make the settlements even more attractive places to live.

Uzi Landau, of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisraeli Beiteinu party, has the tourism portfolio and can be relied on to direct funds to the West Bank’s many Biblical sites, to encourage Israelis and tourists to visit.

The new defence minister, who oversees the occupation and is the only official in a practical position to obstruct this settler free-for-all, is Likud’s Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief of staff known for his ardent support of the settlements.

True, Yair Lapid’s large centrist party Yesh Atid is represented too. But its influence on diplomacy will be muted, because its five ministers will handle chiefly domestic issues such as welfare, health and science.

The one exception, Shai Piron, the new education minister, is a settler rabbi who can be expected to expand the existing programme of school trips to the settlements, continuing the settlers’ successful efforts to integrate themselves into the mainstream.

Far from preparing to make concessions to the US president, Netanyahu has all but declared his backing for Jewish Home’s plan to annex large parts of the West Bank.

The only minister with any professed interest in diplomatic talks, and that mostly driven by her self-serving efforts to stay popular with the White House, is Tzipi Livni. She is well aware that opportunities for negotiations are extremely limited: the peace process received just one perfunctory mention in the coalition agreement.

Obama, apparently only too aware he is facing an Israeli government even more intransigent than the last one, has chosen to avoid addressing the Knesset. Instead he will direct his speech to a more receptive audience of Israeli students, in what US officials have termed a “charm offensive”.

We can expect grand words, a few meagre promises and total inaction on the occupation.

In a sign of quite how loath the White House is to tackle the settlements issue again, its representatives at the United Nations refused on Monday to take part in a Human Rights Council debate that described the settlements as a form of “creeping annexation” of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Obama’s hands-off approach will satisfy his constituency at home. A poll for ABC-TV showed this week that most Americans support Israel over the Palestinians – 55 per cent to 9 per cent. An even larger majority, 70 per cent, think the US should leave the two sides to settle their future for themselves.

Ordinary Israelis, the US president’s target audience, are none too keen on his getting involved either. Recent survey data show that 53 per cent think Obama will fail to protect Israel’s interests, and 80 per cent believe he will not bring progress with the Palestinians over the next four years. The mood is one of indifference rather than anticipation.

These are all good reasons why neither Obama nor Netanyahu will be much focused on the Palestinian issue over the three-day visit. As analyst Daniel Levy observed: “Obama is coming first and foremost to make a statement about the US-Israel bond, not the illegal occupation.”

That is also how it looks to most Palestinians, who have grown increasingly exasperated by US obstructionism. US officials who went to Bethlehem in preparation for Obama’s visit on Friday found themselves caught up in anti-Obama demonstrations. More are expected today in Ramallah.

Other Palestinians protested his visit by establishing today a new tent community on occupied Palestinian land next to Jerusalem. Several previous such encampments have been hastily demolished by Israeli soldiers.

The organisers hope to highlight US hypocrisy in backing Israel’s occupation: Jewish settlers are allowed to build with official state backing on Palestinian land in violation of international law, while Palestinians are barred from developing their own territory in what is now considered by most of the world as the Palestinian state.

The unspoken message of Obama’s visit is that the Netanyahu government is free to pursue its hardline agenda with little danger of anything more than symbolic protest from Washington.

The new Israeli cabinet lost no time setting out its legislative priorities. The first bill announced is a “basic law” to change the state’s official definition, so that its “Jewish” aspects trump the “democratic” elements, a move the Haaretz newspaper termed “insane”.

Among the main provisions is one to restrict state funding to new Jewish communities only. This points to a cynical solution Netanyahu may adopt to placate the simmering social protest movement in Tel Aviv, which has been demanding above all more affordable housing.

By freeing up even more cheap land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he can expand the settlements, further eat away at Palestinian territory, silence the protests, and wrong-foot the opposition. All he needs is Obama’s blessing.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Through a Looking Glass Darkly

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President Obama Visits Israel, But Expectations are Low

TRNN is a rare source of objective facts, analysis and commentary, not available in mainstream news. - Robert Log in and tell us why you support TRNN Bio Transcript Shir Hever: From March 20th to March 22nd, president Barack Obama w...

Dying vet to Bush: Day of Reckoning near

Tomas Young, an Army veteran took a bullet in Iraq that confined him to a wheelchair and inspired his vocal opposition to the war.

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq.

I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives.

I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries.

I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day.

I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all-the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans-my fellow veterans-whose future you stole.


I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power.

I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans-my fellow veterans-whose future you stole.


Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character.

You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit.

Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens.

I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States.

I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East.

I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion.

I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes.

The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East.


On every level-moral, strategic, military and economic-Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love.

I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned.

You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins?

I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live.

I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Originally posted at Veterans Today

TY/SL

Baghdad attacks linked to al-Qaeda

The al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq network has once again claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed 65 people and injured over 200 others in the capital, Baghdad.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the terrorist group claimed responsibility for at least 20 bomb explosions and multiple shooting attacks carried out in mainly Shia-populated neighborhoods of Baghdad on March 19.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants often target civilians and Iraqi government officials in an attempt to destabilize the country.

On March 17, the terrorist network also claimed responsibility for the March 14 attack on the Iraqi Justice Ministry in the capital that claimed the lives of nearly 20 people and injured some 30 others.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a shadowy group that was once allegedly led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was reportedly killed in June 2006.

According to the US government and military officials, after Zarqawi’s death, the group’s leadership fell to Ayyub al-Masri, who was killed, along with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi -- another leader of the group -- in a joint operation by Iraqi and US troops in Salahuddin Province in April 2010.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in the country since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

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Baghdad Bombs Kill Dozens 10 Years After U.S. Invasion

Baghdad Bombs Kill Dozens 10 Years After U.S. Invasion

Posted on Mar 20, 2013
AP/Hadi Mizban

People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack close to one of the main gates to Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, which houses major government offices and the embassies of several countries, including the United States and Britain.

Nearly 10 years to the day after the start of the Iraq war, some 19 car bombs and a shooting in the country’s capital left 57 people dead, almost 200 wounded and many more wondering if they’ll ever feel safe again.

The Tuesday bombings were just the latest in an ongoing saga of sectarian attacks that, we learned recently, were originally fostered by American invaders.

The legacy of the American military planners who sought to gain the advantage by turning one sect against the other is, as in so many imperial misadventures, never-ending violence.

Where is John McCain to remind us that his surge worked? Where is George W. Bush to declare the mission accomplished? Where is Thomas Friedman to say it was all worth it? Sadly only one of those warmongers has had the decency to go into seclusion.

More below about the bombings from the New York Times:

By midmorning, the familiar sight of black smoke rose above a cityscape of palm fronds, turquoise-tiled mosque domes and squat concrete buildings. By midafternoon, the numbers had stacked up: 57 dead and nearly 190 wounded in separate attacks that included 17 car bombs, 2 adhesive bombs stuck to cars, and a killing with a silenced gun.

Most attacks hit Shiite neighborhoods. Their targets varied: restaurants, a bank, a vegetable market and a parking garage. Others were near a courthouse and a university, and some seemed to have no target other than innocent passers-by. Many Iraqis say they worry about an increase in sectarian tensions. Though there were no immediate claims of responsibility, the attacks were carried out in the fashion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Sunni insurgent group weakened but not vanquished by the American military.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer. Follow him on Twitter: @peesch.

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Crimes Against Humanity: No Amnesty for Guatemala’s Former Dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt

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On March 13th the Center of Legal Action in Human Rights, revealed the Court of Constitutionality (Guatemala’s highest court) ruled in its favour, refusing amnesty to Efraín Ríos Montt.

The country’s Supreme Court previously denied Montt amnesty.

The trial of the ex-dictator on charges of genocide among other crimes against Mayan peoples resumes March 19th after numerous challenges (previous 1 & 2) The Associated Press reports the prosecution holds that Montt failed to stop the crime when he had the power to, while Montt’s defense claims he knew nothing about the crimes. Co-defendants are General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez (ret., former chief of military intelligence), Montt’s defense minister  Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes (reported by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences to be mentally unfit for trial), and Luis Enrique Mendoza – vice-minister of defense (who is still ‘at large’).

An overview of  Guatemala 2013

In 2012 the country elected as President former general Otto Perez Molina, often called the American Embassy’s candidate, a graduate of the School of the Americas, former head of Guatemalan military intelligence, and in 1982-3 during the genocide against Ixil Mayan Indians for which Rios Montt is charged in court – a commander of the region  where genocide occurred. Under his tenure as head of military intelligence, Jennifer Harbury’s  husband was tortured for a year until killed as a rebel.

A Catholic priest who didn’t cooperate with government terror, Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, was assassinated. President Molina was also a member of the SOA trained Guatemalan special forces unit called ” Kaibiles,” known for their tactic of dismembering people and other atrocities; in 2011 four former “Kaibiles” and their commander were sentenced to over 6000 years for the inhumanity of their acts (rightsaction).

Perez’s appointed minister of defense, joint chiefs commander and sub-commander, were all “Kaibiles”. The Guatemalan human rights community and those involved in prosecuting war crimes cases have since 2011 been subjected to spurious war crimes charges laid in great number by supporters of the military. So the trial of Rios Montt occurs within a context which may be reluctant to question the responsibility and sources of genocidal programs from beyond Guatemala’s borders. The bravery of Guatemala’s human rights community, attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz, and the judiciary, reveals a commitment to justice beyond the imagination of North American judiciaries which have witnessed genocide against the people of Iraq, among other national groups, without encouraging charges against the leaders responsible.

Presentation of evidence will take several months. The trial is a victory for the people of Guatemala and an affirmation of the United Nations’ Convention on Genocide. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has asked that authorities “take all necessary measures to ensure that judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other stakeholders to carry out their duties without fear for their life, integrity and security, and that of their families. The protection of all those involved in this crucial case is essential, if the rule of law is to be seen to be respected, and truth and justice are to prevail in Guatemala.” Guatemala adhered to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, April 2, 2012.

Some background. Partial sources online:

“Guatemalan court strikes down amnesty claim by ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt in genocide case,” Associated Press, March 13, 2013,

The Washington Post; “Guatemala court upholds genocide trial for ex-dictator Ríos Montt,” March 13, 2013,

tico times.net; “Ex-Guatemala strongman on trial after 30 years,” Sonia Perez-Diaz, March 18, 2013,

Google News; “The Ríos Montt genocide trial finally begins in Guatemala,” Guadalupe Marengo, March 18, 2013, 

The Independent; “Tribunal adelanta fecha de juicio a Ríos Montt,” Sonia Perez, Feb. 20, 2013,

terra;  “Otto Pérez Molina,” current, Wikipedia; “Today the Cup of Justice in Guatemala is 1% Full: Retired General Arrested on charges of Genocide & Forced Disappearances,”

Grahame Russell, June 1011, Rights Action; “Pillay hails start of genocide trial in Guatemala,”Press release OHCHR, March 18, 2013,

United Nations Human Rights; “Marching towards the past in Guatemala: a new government head by a ‘genocidal’ general; an army trained by former Kaibil elite forces, some of who are implicated in the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico,” Annie Bird, Dec. 27, 2011, Rights Action.

 by John Bart Gerald, March 19, 2013

War Without End

U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing. (Photo: WNV/Iraq Peace Team)U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing. (Photo: WNV/Iraq Peace Team)Ten years ago today, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated “Shock and Awe” attacks that the United States was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn’t want U.S.-led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families there, in open violation of the economic sanctions which directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society — the poor, the elderly and the children.

I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.

“I think I understand,” murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. “It’s a death row for infants.” Nearly all of the children were condemned to death, some after many days of writhing in pain on bloodstained mats, without pain relievers. Some died quickly, wasted by water-borne diseases. As the fluids ran out of their bodies, they appeared like withered, spoiled fruits. They could have lived, certainly should have lived — and laughed and danced, and run and played — but instead they were brutally and lethally punished by economic sanctions supposedly intended to punish a dictatorship over which civilians had no control.

The war ended for those children, but it has never ended for survivors who carry memories of them.

Likewise, the effects of the U.S. bombings continue, immeasurably and indefensibly.

Upon arrival in Baghdad, we would always head to the Al Fanar Hotel which had housed scores of previous delegations.

Often, internationals like us were the hotel’s only clients during the long years when economic sanctions choked Iraq’s economy and erased its infrastructure. But in early March of 2003, rooms were quickly filling at the Al Fanar. The owner invited his family members and some of his neighbors and their children to move in, perhaps hoping that the United States wouldn’t attack a residence known to house internationals.

Parents in Iraq name themselves after their oldest child. Abu Miladah, the father of two small girls, Miladah and Zainab, was the hotel’s night desk clerk. He arranged for his wife, Umm Miladah, to move with their two small daughters into the hotel. Umm Miladah warmly welcomed us to befriend her children. It was a blessed release to laugh and play with the children, and somehow our antics and games seemed at least to distract Umm Miladah from her rising anxiety as we waited for the United States to rain bombs and missiles down on us.

When the attacks began, Umm Miladah could often be seen uncontrollably shuddering from fear. Day and night, explosions would rattle the windows and cause the Al Fanar’s walls to shake. Ear-splitting blasts and sickening thuds would come from all directions, near and far, over the next two weeks. I would often hold Miladah, who was three years old, and Zainab, her 18-month-old baby sister, in my arms. That’s how I realized that they both had begun to grind their teeth, morning, noon and night. Several times, we witnessed eight-year-old Dima, the daughter of another hotel worker, gazing up in forlorn shame at her father from a pool of her own urine, having lost control of her bladder in the first days of “Shock and Awe.”

And after weeks, when the bombing finally ended, when we could exhale a bit, realizing we had all survived, I was eager to take Miladah and Zainab outside. I wanted them to feel the sun’s warmth, but first I headed over to their mother, wanting to know if she felt it was all right for me to step out with her children.

She was seated in the hotel lobby, watching the scene outside. U.S. Marines were uncurling large bales of barbed wire to set up a check point immediately outside our hotel. Beige military jeeps, armored personnel carriers, tanks and Humvees lined the streets in every direction. Tears were streaming down Umm Miladah’s face. “Never before did I think that this would happen to my country,” she said. “And I feel very sad. And this sadness, I think it will never go away.”

She was a tragic prophet.

The war had just ended for those killed during the “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion, and it was to abruptly end for many thousands killed in the ensuing years of military occupation and civil war. But it won’t end for the survivors.

Effects go on immeasurably and indefensibly.

Effects of war continue for the 2.2 million people who’ve been displaced by bombing and chaos, whose livelihoods are irreparably destroyed, and who’ve become refugees in other countries, separated from loved ones and unlikely to ever reclaim the homes and communities from which they had to flee hastily. Within Iraq, an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced people live, according to Refugees International, “in constant fear, with limited access to shelter, food, and basic services.”

The war hasn’t ended for people who are survivors of torture or for those who were following orders by becoming torturers.

Nor has it ended for the multiple generations of U.S. taxpayers who will continue paying for a war which economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have so far priced at $4 trillion.

For Bradley Manning, whose brave empathy exposed criminal actions on the part of U.S. warlords complicit in torture, death squads and executions, the war most certainly isn’t over. He lives as an isolated war hero and whistleblower, facing decades or perhaps life in prison.

The war may never end for veterans who harbor physical and emotional wounds that will last until they die. On March 19, on the 10th anniversary of the Shock and Awe invasion, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights and other activist groups, will gather in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., to launch an initiative claiming their right to heal. Rightfully, they’re calling for health care, accountability and reparations, and just as rightfully, they’re calling for our support.

A civilized country would heed their call. A civilized country would demand heartfelt reparations to the people of Iraq and cease to interfere in their internal affairs, would secure freedom and official praise for whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, and would rapidly begin to liberate itself from subservience to warlords and war profiteers. Gandhi was once asked, “What do you think of western civilization?” And famously, he answered, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Steubenville Rape Trial: Blogger Who Exposed Case Speaks Out After Ohio Teens Found Guilty

Two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party last August. On Sunday, the teenagers, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found delinquent in the sexual assault of the girl who witnesses testified was too drunk to move or speak. The case sparked a national controversy following the emergence of images and social media postings from the night of the assault. We’re joined by Alexandria Goddard, a crime blogger who first exposed crucial evidence in the case by taking screen shots of incriminating social media posts, photographs and videos, before they could be deleted. The hacker group Anonymous picked up on Goddard’s posts and released shocking video from the night of the assault. We also speak to Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer who represented Goddard when she was unsuccessfully sued for defamation. "I’m convinced that if Ms. Goddard hadn’t started blogging about this and Anonymous hadn’t taken up the standard, that this case would have been swept under the rug," Randazza says.

Transcript

Amy Goodman: We begin our show in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players have been found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party last August. On Sunday, the teenagers, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were found delinquent in the sexual assault of the girl who witnesses testified was too drunk to move or speak. Mays, who was a high school quarterback, was also found delinquent on a second charge: taking and distributing a picture of the girl. Both young men had insisted that any sex that occurred between them and the girl was consensual. After the ruling, they broke down into tears, apologized to the victim, and were sent to a juvenile detention facility. They were also required to register as juvenile sex offenders.

Ohio state Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator, said he plans to convene a grand jury to determine if other crimes had been committed.

Attorney General Mike Dewine: As I've indicated, we've been involved in an extensive investigation, trying to determine, trying to learn if any other individuals committed any crimes. While we have interviewed almost 60 individuals, 16 people refused to talk to our investigators. I have reached the conclusion that this investigation must—cannot be completed, this investigation simply cannot be completed, that we cannot bring finality to this matter without the convening of a grand jury.

Amy Goodman: Although the attack occurred in the summer, it only gained national attention after the cyber-activist group Anonymous obtained and published a shocking video from the night of the assault. The now-notorious 12-minute video shows a former classmate of the young men mocking the victim, laughingly referring to her as dead, and continuously joking about sexual assault.

Steubenville Teen 1: Is it really rape? Because you don't know if she wanted to or not. She might have wanted to. That might have been her final wish.

Steubenville Teen 2: No, y'all think she's dead?

Steubenville Teen 1: She's dead.

Amy Goodman: Along with the video, an Instagram photo also went viral. The now-infamous photo shows the two Steubenville high school football players holding their 16-year-old victim over a basement floor, one by her arms, one by her legs. State forensic analysts reportedly sifted through more than 396,000 text messages and 940 video clips recovered from cellphones as part of the investigation.

The Steubenville story has made national and international headlines, largely thanks to a local crime blogger. Before many of the partygoers could delete incriminating social media posts, the blogger, Alexandria Goddard, made copies and publicized them on her website, Prinniefied.com. She was sued for defamation, but the charges have since been dropped. Many Steubenville locals criticized Goddard for bringing negative public attention to the football team; others have praised her for holding sexual perpetrators accountable.

Well, for more, we're joined right now by Alexandria Goddard. And in Las Vegas, Nevada, we're joined by her First Amendment lawyer, Marc Randazza.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, Alexandria, your reaction to Friday—to the verdict that came down yesterday?

Alexandra Goddard: I'm glad that the victim had her day in court and that justice was served and, you know, hope that the grand jury that's going to convene will hold others accountable who might be found accountable.

Amy Goodman: Let's talk about that grand jury. Talk about Attorney General Mike DeWine and what he said yesterday.

Alexandra Goddard: He stated that the investigation can't be completed until they convene a grand jury to determine if other charges can be brought forward.

Amy Goodman: And why has this taken so long? Can you go back to August, Alexandria, and just give us a timeline? Explain what happened and when you came to know and make public what you knew.

Alexandra Goddard: I came to know about it on August 22nd, the date that the two were arrested. The incident occurred on August 11th. And I believe in October, November, sometime, they had the probable cause hearing. And, I mean, it's a juvenile matter. And the trial was yesterday. But I came to know of it on August 22nd.

Amy Goodman: And explain what actually took place. Go back to Steubenville, where you are from, and talk about what happened.

Alexandra Goddard: There were various end-of-the-summer parties, and the victim was alleged to have been at three different locations, and the rape occurred at the last location. All of these kids were tweeting about the state of her sobriety and taking pictures, sending them back and forth. But that's what happened. I mean, there were just several parties, and she was at various parties that evening with the two that were convicted yesterday.

Amy Goodman: I want to ask you about the role of cyber-activists in exposing what happened. In January, we spoke to, well, he called himself "X," a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous, using a pseudonym.

"X": I think it's apparent to anybody who can stomach watching it for the entire 12 minutes. I, myself, here at our location—we've been working night and day on this operation, and I've watched it at least a dozen times, and it makes me sick each time we watch it. I think it speaks for itself.

Amy Goodman: He's talking, of course, about this video. However, special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter claimed the actions of the cyber-activist group Anonymous put more pressure on the rape victim.

Marianne Hemmeter: No matter how you cut this case, she was the center of the storm. And it wasn't just Steubenville or Ohio; it became international. She's a 16-year-old girl. She didn't want to go forward on charges. She knew something bad had happened. But she was piecing it together like everybody else. And here is a girl who's 16 who's going to have to testify to the most intimate details of her life, some of which might be embarrassing. And to have not just a local stage, but an international stage, was unbelievably pressure-filled for her—and other witnesses. You know, we had pretty good working relationships with some of the witnesses that you heard from, but once Anonymous hit, there was a chilling effect.

Amy Goodman: That was special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter standing next to Ohio's attorney general, Mike DeWine. Alexandria, your response?

Alexandra Goddard: You know, those—the kids put it on the Internet, and the Internet is an international audience. You know, I believe that Anonymous did bring attention to the case, and—you know, but it's also empowered others to speak out and demand that justice be meted out.

Amy Goodman: On Sunday, CNN covered the news of the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case in a way that raised some eyebrows. Correspondent Poppy Harlow lamented that the "promising" lives of the rapists had been ruined.

Poppy Harlow: Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened, as these two young men, that had such promising futures—star football players, very good students—literally watched as they believed their life fell apart. One of—one of the young men, Ma'lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to him, "My life is over. No one is going to want me now." Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping this 16-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August.

Amy Goodman: CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow. Alexandria Goddard, your response?

Alexandra Goddard: My father told me when I was a child, if you do the crime, you do the time. We all know the difference between right and wrong and are responsible for our decisions. And, you know, when—again, if you break the law, you get punished for it. We all know that.

Amy Goodman: Can you talk about the role of the football team in Steubenville, where you come from, how important is it, and who these two young men were in the community?

Alexandra Goddard: I don't have knowledge of them personally in the community. I haven't lived in the area for some years. The football team is very revered in the town. I mean, they're very proud of their football team. But it's—you know, it's not just Steubenville that loves their football team. That whole Ohio Valley area, you know, their high school football is important to them.

Amy Goodman: And what happened around the larger issue of other people taking pictures, not intervening, but photographing, videoing, using their cellphones to—you know, to film what was taking place rather than stopping it, going to this issue of the attorney general, Mike DeWine, saying they're going to convene a grand jury?

Alexandra Goddard: Well, you have a number of children who were taking photographs, retweeting them. And rather than stand up and say, "Stop it," they were passing around the information and, you know, humiliating and revictimizing this girl through the use of social media.

Amy Goodman: I want to talk to you about the lawsuit brought against you, Alexandria, which also brings in your lawyer, Marc Randazza, the lawsuit about you making public these images that you got on Facebook. Can you talk about what you found and how—why you were sued?

Alexandra Goddard: There were no images from Facebook. Anything that was posted on my website was for public viewing. All Twitter accounts were open. Nothing was private. The lawsuit itself was not because pictures were posted. It was because anonymous commenters on my blog basically dared to have an opinion about some members—you know, some of the people who were involved in the events of that night. And so, the family of the ex-boyfriend sued me and 25 commenters for defamation of character.

Amy Goodman: And you were named in the suit, though it was later dropped. Marc Randazza, can you talk about this First Amendment issue?

Marc Randazza: Yeah, the lawsuit was filed as a classic SLAPP suit. The point of it was to shut Alexandria up and to shut up the commenters. I think you've touched on the fact that this was a—the people involved in this enjoy a position of privilege in the community, and they are not used to having their misdeeds laid bare. And Alexandria really picked up the ball when the local mainstream media dropped it and stuffed the story, essentially. And in order to keep that story stuffed, that's why I'm convinced that the lawsuit itself was filed, because it wasn't just against her—and, frankly, against her for comments that she made—but they sued her as well for allowing comments by other people, which there's very clear federal law that renders her immune for those—for liability for those comments.

Amy Goodman: Talk about who Cody Saltsman was—is, Marc Randazza.

Marc Randazza: Well, he was the plaintiff in the case. But, you know, he is—he pretty wisely decided to drop the case, after we began to put up some kind of a fight, along with my local counsels, Mr. Nye and Mr. [Haren]. And the fact is that he actually seemed to have some level of contrition for bringing the case. So, you know, I don't want to get too much into him, because he seems to have done the right thing.

Amy Goodman: And, Alexandria Goddard, your reaction to them dropping the case?

Alexandra Goddard: Oh, you know, I was elated. No one wants to be sued. Lawsuits take up very precious time, and I would rather be out doing things I enjoy than battling a defamation suit.

Amy Goodman: And, Marc, the issue of other people now—it's many months later, but the attorney general talking about convening a grand jury to go after others. Many years ago, there was the New Bedford rape case in a bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and the call of the community to not only go after the actual perpetrator, of the men—the people who had raped the woman in the bar, but all those who had been egging them on and who were there and didn't try to stop it or call anyone to stop it.

Marc Randazza: And so, what's your question?

Amy Goodman: The question around the issue of a convening of a grand jury now, many months later, but talking about widening the targets of people who should be prosecuted.

Marc Randazza: Well, look, that's—you know, that's not the case I'm involved in. I'm not the criminal lawyer here; I'm the First Amendment lawyer here. But I think that the grand jury being convened is a direct result of all of the sunlight put on this case. I'm convinced that if Ms. Goddard hadn't started blogging about this and Anonymous hadn't taken up the standard, that this case would have been swept under the rug. And I think that not only were—not only would perhaps justice not have been brought yesterday, but I think we also might have found that the limited amount of justice that was brought would have been brought only upon the heads of the two boys who were sentenced yesterday. If there is wider responsibility, well, then the investigation needs to continue. And I'm glad that it is.

Amy Goodman: In January, we spoke to Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. She said the Steubenville case has forced America to take a hard look at its views on rape.

Monika Johnson Hostler: What we are calling for is not just how this is handled in Steubenville, Ohio, but really asking America to take a hard look at ourselves in how we are—handle sexual violence and rape in our country. I think we've been able to point our fingers and turn our heads to rapes that have happened in other countries and not held ourselves accountable as Americans to say that we absolutely still have a culture of rape, where women and girls are still degraded and dehumanized, and rape is in the fabric of this country. And unfortunately, I would think, centuries later, that we would be further along in terms of our response, but yet we still see Americans blaming victims. So, in terms of our overall response, we're calling for America to take a hard look at itself and really think about the culture that we're raising our kids in and the things that we are allowing to happen by not acknowledging, as a community, as a society, the importance of supporting the rape victim.

Amy Goodman: That was Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Alexandria Goddard, as we wrap up, your response to what she said? And also, given what you went through with the lawsuit, though it was dropped, the kind of chilling effect you think that has for future people like you to get involved in the way that you did as a blogger?

Alexandra Goddard: I think everyone—you know, we have a responsibility to be involved in our community. And, you know, if you see what you perceive to be injustice, you shouldn't sit by and do nothing about it. You should stand up and, you know, protect your right to free speech, but, you know—and what you believe in. That's what our country is founded on.

Amy Goodman: And will you continue to follow this case, Alexandria?

Alexandra Goddard: Yes, I will.

Amy Goodman: Alexandria Goddard, Steubenville-based blogger. Marc Randazza, lawyer who represented Alexandria when she was sued for defamation after documenting the rape case. That suit was ultimately dropped.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, it's the 10th anniversary of the bombing of Iraq. We'll be back in a minute.

MP Wants Journalists Banned From Parliament

His comments came after John Whittingdale, chairman of the committee, called on Lord Leveson to answer questions in Parliament regarding his plans for press regulation.

US thanks Albania for MKO asylum offer

The United States has welcomed an offer from the NATO member Albania to grant asylum to members of the anti-Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO).

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday thanked Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha for his "humanitarian gesture” and called on the MKO to accept Tirana’s "generous” offer immediately.

Berisha announced the decision in a statement on Saturday, saying the Albanian government is ready to accommodate in Tirana 210 members of the MKO group “for humanitarian reasons.”

Political experts, however, warn that Albania’s decision to grant asylum to the MKO members has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns, and will give the terrorists a safe haven where they can work with former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The KLA is notorious as a murderous group of drug runners and terrorists who receive training from NATO and the United States for operations around the world.

The United States removed the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization from its terror list On September 28, 2012, following similar moves by Britain and the European Union in 2008 and 2009.

MKO terrorists fled to Iraq in the 1980s and had the support of Iraq's executed dictator Saddam Hussein, who allowed them to set up a military base called Camp Ashraf in Diyala Province, near the Iranian border.

MKO members currently live at Camp Liberty, a former US military camp near Baghdad Airport, after their relocation from Camp Ashraf under growing pressure from the Iraqi government and people for the terrorist group to leave the country.

MRS/SS

War without End

Ten years ago today, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated “Shock and Awe” attacks that the United States was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn’t want U.S.-led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families there, in open violation of the economic sanctions which directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society — the poor, the elderly and the children.(WNV/Iraq Peace Team)

I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.

“I think I understand,” murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. “It’s a death row for infants.” Nearly all of the children were condemned to death, some after many days of writhing in pain on bloodstained mats, without pain relievers. Some died quickly, wasted by water-borne diseases. As the fluids ran out of their bodies, they appeared like withered, spoiled fruits. They could have lived, certainly should have lived — and laughed and danced, and run and played — but instead they were brutally and lethally punished by economic sanctions supposedly intended to punish a dictatorship over which civilians had no control.

The war ended for those children, but it has never ended for survivors who carry memories of them.

Likewise, the effects of the U.S. bombings continue, immeasurably and indefensibly.

Upon arrival in Baghdad, we would always head to the Al Fanar Hotel which had housed scores of previous delegations.

Often, internationals like us were the hotel’s only clients during the long years when economic sanctions choked Iraq’s economy and erased its infrastructure. But in early March of 2003, rooms were quickly filling at the Al Fanar. The owner invited his family members and some of his neighbors and their children to move in, perhaps hoping that the United States wouldn’t attack a residence known to house internationals.

Parents in Iraq name themselves after their oldest child. Abu Miladah, the father of two small girls, Miladah and Zainab, was the hotel’s night desk clerk. He arranged for his wife, Umm Miladah, to move with their two small daughters into the hotel. Umm Miladah warmly welcomed us to befriend her children. It was a blessed release to laugh and play with the children, and somehow our antics and games seemed at least to distract Umm Miladah from her rising anxiety as we waited for the United States to rain bombs and missiles down on us.

When the attacks began, Umm Miladah could often be seen uncontrollably shuddering from fear. Day and night, explosions would rattle the windows and cause the Al Fanar’s walls to shake. Ear-splitting blasts and sickening thuds would come from all directions, near and far, over the next two weeks. I would often hold Miladah, who was three years old, and Zainab, her 18-month-old baby sister, in my arms. That’s how I realized that they both had begun to grind their teeth, morning, noon and night. Several times, we witnessed eight-year-old Dima, the daughter of another hotel worker, gazing up in forlorn shame at her father from a pool of her own urine, having lost control of her bladder in the first days of “Shock and Awe.”

And after weeks, when the bombing finally ended, when we could exhale a bit, realizing we had all survived, I was eager to take Miladah and Zainab outside. I wanted them to feel the sun’s warmth, but first I headed over to their mother, wanting to know if she felt it was all right for me to step out with her children.

She was seated in the hotel lobby, watching the scene outside. U.S. Marines were uncurling large bales of barbed wire to set up a check point immediately outside our hotel. Beige military jeeps, armored personnel carriers, tanks and Humvees lined the streets in every direction. Tears were streaming down Umm Miladah’s face. “Never before did I think that this would happen to my country,” she said. “And I feel very sad. And this sadness, I think it will never go away.”

She was a tragic prophet.

The war had just ended for those killed during the “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion, and it was to abruptly end for many thousands killed in the ensuing years of military occupation and civil war. But it won’t end for the survivors.

Effects go on immeasurably and indefensibly.

Effects of war continue for the 2.2 million people who’ve been displaced by bombing and chaos, whose livelihoods are irreparably destroyed, and who’ve become refugees in other countries, separated from loved ones and unlikely to ever reclaim the homes and communities from which they had to flee hastily. Within Iraq, an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced people live, according to Refugees International, “in constant fear, with limited access to shelter, food, and basic services.”

The war hasn’t ended for people who are survivors of torture or for those who were following orders by becoming torturers.

Nor has it ended for the multiple generations of U.S. taxpayers who will continue paying for a war which economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have so far priced at $4 trillion.

For Bradley Manning, whose brave empathy exposed criminal actions on the part of U.S. warlords complicit in torture, death squads and executions, the war most certainly isn’t over. He lives as an isolated war hero and whistleblower, facing decades or perhaps life in prison.

The war may never end for veterans who harbor physical and emotional wounds that will last until they die. On March 19, on the 10th anniversary of the Shock and Awe invasion, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights and other activist groups, will gather in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., to launch an initiative claiming their right to heal. Rightfully, they’re calling for health care, accountability and reparations, and just as rightfully, they’re calling for our support.

A civilized country would heed their call. A civilized country would demand heartfelt reparations to the people of Iraq and cease to interfere in their internal affairs, would secure freedom and official praise for whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, and would rapidly begin to liberate itself from subservience to warlords and war profiteers. Gandhi was once asked, “What do you think of western civilization?” And famously, he answered, “I think it would be a good idea.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is presently a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. Kathy Kelly's email is [email protected]

At least 56 killed, 200 wounded in series of explosions in Baghdad (VIDEO)

Published time: March 19, 2013 06:58 Car bombs and roadside blasts have killed at least 23 people and wounded nearly 90 in Shi'ite districts across the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Tuesday, according to police and hospital sources. Security forc...

A Last-Second Appeal for Sanity

March 18, 2003

Memorandum for: The President

From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Subject: Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem

We last wrote you immediately after Secretary of State Powell’s UN speech on February 5, in an attempt to convey our concerns that insufficient attention was being given to wider intelligence-related issues at stake in the conflict with Iraq. Your speech yesterday evening did nothing to allay those concerns. And the acerbic exchanges of the past few weeks have left the United States more isolated than at any time in the history of the republic and the American people more polarized.

Today we write with an increased sense of urgency and responsibility. Responsibility, because you appear to be genuinely puzzled at the widespread opposition to your policy on Iraq and because we have become convinced that those of your advisers who do understand what is happening are reluctant to be up front with you about it.

As vet­erans of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the posture we find ourselves in is as familiar as it is challenging. We feel a continuing responsibility to “tell it like it is” — or at least as we see it — without fear or favor. Better to hear it from extended family than not at all; we hope you will take what follows in that vein.

We cannot escape the conclusion that you have been badly misinformed. It was reported yesterday that your gener­als in the Persian Gulf area have become increasingly concerned over sandstorms. To us this is a metaphor for the shifting sand-type “intelligence” upon which your policy has been built. Worse still, it has become increasingly clear that the sharp drop in US credibility abroad is largely a function of the rather transparent abuse of intelligence re­porting and the dubious conclusions drawn from that reporting — the ones that underpin your decisions on Iraq.

Flashback to Vietnam

Many of us cut our intelligence teeth during the Sixties. We remember the arrogance and flawed thinking that sucked us into the quagmire of Vietnam. The French, it turned out, knew better. And they looked on with won­derment at Washington’s misplaced confidence — its single-minded hubris, as it embarked on a venture the French knew from their own experience could only meet a dead end.

This was hardly a secret. It was widely known that the French general sent off to survey the possibility of regaining Vietnam for France after World War II reported that the operation would take a half-million troops, and even then it could not be successful.

Nevertheless, President Johnson, heeding the ill-informed advice of civilian leaders of the Pentagon with no ex­perience in war, let himself get drawn in past the point of no return. In the process, he played fast and loose with intelligence to get the Tonkin Gulf resolution through Congress so that he could prosecute the war. To that mis­guided war he mortgaged his political future, which was in shambles when he found himself unable to extricate himself from the morass.

Quite apart from what happened to President Johnson, the Vietnam War was the most serious US foreign policy blunder in modern times — until now.

Forgery

In your state-of-the-union address you spoke of Iraq’s pre-1991 focus on how to “enrich uranium for a bomb” and added, “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of ura­nium from Africa.” No doubt you have now been told that this information was based on bogus correspondence between Iraq and Niger.

Answering a question on this last week, Secretary Powell conceded — with neither apology nor apparent embarrassment — that the documents in question, which the US and UK had provided to the UN to show that Iraq is still pursuing nuclear weapons, were forgeries. Powell was short: “If that information is inaccu­rate, fine.”

But it is anything but fine. This kind of episode inflicts serious damage on US credibility abroad—the more so, as it appears neither you nor your advisers and political supporters are in hot pursuit of those responsible. Senate In­telligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has shown little enthusiasm for finding out what went awry.

Com­mittee Vice-Chairman, Jay Rockefeller, suggested that the FBI be enlisted to find the perpetrators of the forgeries, which US officials say contain “laughable and child-like errors,” and to determine why the CIA did not recognize them as forgeries. But Roberts indicated through a committee spokeswoman that he believes it is “inappropri­ate for the FBI to investigate at this point.” Foreign observers do not have to be paranoid to suspect some kind of cover-up.

Who Did It? Who Cares!

Last week Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey cited a recent press report suggesting that a foreign government might be behind the forgeries as part of an effort to build support for military action against Iraq and asked Secre­tary Powell if he could identify that foreign government. Powell said he could not do so “with confidence.” Nor did he appear in the slightest interested.

We think you should be. In the absence of hard evidence one looks for those with motive and capability. The fab­rication of false documentation, particularly what purports to be official correspondence between the agencies of two governments, is a major undertaking requiring advanced technical skills normally available only in a sophis­ticated intelligence service. And yet the forgeries proved to be a sloppy piece of work.

Chalk it up to professional pride by (past) association, but unless the CIA’s capabilities have drastically eroded over recent years, the legendary expertise of CIA technical specialists, combined with the crudeness of the forgeries, leave us persuaded that the CIA did not craft the bogus documents. Britain’s MI-6 is equally adept at such things. Thus, except in the unlikely event that crafting forgery was left to second-stringers, it seems unlikely that the Brit­ish were the original source.

We find ourselves wondering if amateur intelligence operatives in the Pentagon basement and/or at 10 Down­ing Street were involved and need to be called on the carpet. We would urge you strongly to determine the prov­enance. This is not trivial matter.

As our VIPS colleague (and former CIA Chief of Station) Ray Close has noted, “If anyone in Washington deliberately practiced disinformation in this way against another element of our own government or wittingly passed fabricated information to the UN, this could do permanent damage to the com­mitment to competence and integrity on which the whole American foreign policy process depends.”

The lack of any strong reaction from the White House feeds the suspicion that the US was somehow involved in, or at least condones, the forgery. It is important for you to know that, although credibility-destroying stories like this rarely find their way into the largely cowed US media, they do grab headlines abroad among those less dis­posed to give the US the benefit of the doubt.

As you know better than anyone, a year and a half after 9/11 the still traumatized US public remains much more inclined toward unquestioning trust in the presidency. Over time that child-like trust can be expected to erode, if preventive maintenance is not performed — and hyperbole shunned.

Hyperbole

The forgery aside, the administration’s handling of the issue of whether Iraq is continuing to develop nuclear weapons has done particularly severe damage to US credibility. On October 7 your speechwriters had you claim that Iraq might be able to produce a nuclear weapon in less than a year. Formal US intelligence estimates, sanitized versions of which have been made public, hold that Iraq will be unable to produce a nuclear weapon until the end of the decade, if then.

In that same speech you claimed that “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program” — a claim reiterated by Vice President Cheney on “Meet the Press” on March 16. Reporting to the UN Security Council in recent months, UN chief nuclear inspector Mohammed ElBaradei has asserted that the inspectors have found no evidence that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

Some suspect that the US does have such evidence but has not shared it with the UN because Washington has been de­termined to avoid doing anything that could help the inspections process succeed. Others believe the “evidence” to be of a piece with the forgery — in all likelihood crafted by Richard Perle’s Pentagon Plumbers. Either way, the US takes a large black eye in public opinion abroad.

Then there are those controversial aluminum tubes which you have cited in major speeches as evidence of a con­tinuing effort on Iraq’s part to produce nuclear weapons. Aside from one analyst in the CIA and the people report­ing to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, there is virtually unanimous agreement within the intelligence, engineering, and scientific communities with ElBaradei’s finding that “it was highly unlikely” that the tubes could have been used to produce nuclear material.

It is not enough for Vice President Cheney to dismiss ElBaradei’s findings. Those who have followed these issues closely are left wondering why, if the Vice President has evidence to support his own view, he does not share it with the UN.

Intelligence Scant

In your speech yesterday evening you stressed that intelligence “leaves no doubt that the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” And yet even the Washington Post, whose editors have given unswerving support to your policy on Iraq, is awash with reports that congressional leaders, for example, have been given no specific intelligence on the number of banned weapons in Iraq or where they are hidden.

One official, who is regularly briefed by the CIA, commented recently that such evidence as does exist is “only circumstantial.” Another said he questioned whether the administration is shaping intelligence for political purposes. And, in a moment of unusual candor, one senior intelligence analyst suggested that one reason why UN inspectors have had such trouble finding weapons caches is that “there may not be much of a stockpile.”

Having backed off suggestions early last year that Iraq may already have nuclear weapons, your administration continues to assert that Iraq has significant quantities of other weapons of mass destruction. But by all indications, this is belief, not proven fact. This has led the likes of Thomas Powers, a very knowledgeable author on intelli­gence, to conclude that “the plain fact is that the Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t know what Mr. Hussein has, if anything, or even who knows the answers, if anyone.”

This does not inspire confidence. What is needed is candor — candor of the kind you used in one portion of your speech on October 7. Just two paragraphs before you claimed that Iraq is “reconstituting” its nuclear weapons pro­gram, you said, “Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a nuclear weapon. Well, we don’t know exactly, and that’s the problem.”

True, candor can weaken a case that one is trying to build. We are reminded of a remarkable sentence that leapt out of FBI Director Mueller’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 11 — a sentence that does ac­tually parse, but nonetheless leaves one scratching one’s head. Mueller: “The greatest threat is from al-Qaeda cells in the US that we have not yet identified.”

This seems to be the tack that CIA Director Tenet is taking behind closed doors; i.e., the greatest threat from Iraq is the weapons we have not yet identified but believe are there.

It is not possible to end this section on hyperbole without giving Oscars to Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell, who have outdone themselves in their zeal to establish a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. You will recall that Rumsfeld described the evidence — widely recognized to be dubious — as “bulletproof,” and Powell characterized the relationship as a “partnership!”

Your assertion last evening that “the terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed” falls into the same category. We believe it far more likely that our country is in for long periods of red and orange color codes.

Half-Truth

Here we shall limit ourselves to one example, although the number that could be adduced is legion.

You may recall that a Cambridge University analyst recently revealed that a major portion of a British intelligence document on Iraq had been plagiarized from a term paper by a graduate student in California — information de­scribed by Secretary Powell to the UN Security Council as “exquisite” intelligence. That same analyst has now ac­quired from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the transcript of the debriefing of Iraqi Gen. Hussein Kamel, son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, who defected in 1995.

Kamel for ten years ran Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile development programs, and some of the information he provided has been highly touted by senior US policymakers, from the president on down. But the transcript reveals that Kamel also said that in 1991 Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. This part of the debriefing was suppressed until Newsweek ran a story on it on February 24, 2003.

We do not for a minute take all of what Kamel said at face value. Rather we believe the Iraqis retain some chemical and biological warfare capability. What this episode suggests, though, is a preference on the part of US officials to release only that information that supports the case they wish to make against Iraq.

In Sum

What conclusions can be drawn from the above? Simply that forgery, hyperbole, and half-truths provide a sandy foundation from which to launch a major war.

Equally important, there is danger in the temptation to let the conflict with Iraq determine our attitude toward the entire gamut of foreign threats with which you and your principal advisers need to be concerned. Threats to US security interests must be prioritized and judged on their own terms. In our judgment as intelligence professionals, there are two real and present dangers today.

1. The upsurge in terrorism in the US and against American facilities and personnel abroad that we believe would inevitably flow from a US invasion of Iraq. Concern over this is particularly well expressed in the February 26 letter from FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley to Director Mueller, a letter well worth your study.

2. North Korea poses a particular danger, although what form this might take is hard to predict. Pyongyang sees itself as the next target of your policy of preemption and, as its recent actions demonstrate, will take advantage of US pre-occupation with Iraq both to strengthen its defenses and to test US and South Korean responses. Although North Korea is economically weak, its armed forces are huge, well armed, and capable. It is entirely possible that the North will decide to mount a provocation to test the tripwire provided by the presence of US forces in South Korea. Given the closeness of Seoul to the border with the North and the reality that North Korean conventional forces far outnumber those of the South, a North Korean adventure could easily force you to face an abrupt, unwelcome decision regarding the use of nuclear weapons — a choice that your predecessors took great pains to avoid.

We suggest strongly that you order the Intelligence Community to undertake, on an expedited basis, a Special Na­tional Intelligence Estimate on North Korea, and that you defer any military action against Iraq until you have had a chance to give appropriate weight to the implications of the challenge the US might face on the Korean pen­insula.

Richard Beske, San Diego

Kathleen McGrath Christison, Santa Fe

William Christison, Santa Fe

Patrick Eddington, Alexandria

Raymond McGovern, Arlington

Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

WMD Lies – Mainstream Media Must Also Shoulder Responsibility

Even since before the hyped "shock and awe" beginning of the Iraq war, it was obvious to almost every critical-thinking person that a tidal wave of government lies and deceit was about to lead to mass murder.

Parents of British man killed by US drone blame UK government

The parents of a British-born man killed by a US drone strike after being stripped of his UK citizenship have spoken out for the first time – to say they will never forgive the British Government for his death.

Gamal Sakr blames government for son’s death. (Photo: Susannah Ireland/ Independent) Mohamed Sakr was born and brought up in London before he was targeted and killed in February 2012 in Somalia.

Now his Egyptian-born parents Gamal and Eman Sakr, who have lived in Britain for 35 years, have accused ministers of betraying this country’s democratic values.

Speaking to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from their London home, the couple said they believe their son was left vulnerable to the attack after the government stripped him of his British citizenship months before he was killed.

“This is the hardest time we have ever come across in our family life,’ Mr  Sakr said in tears. “I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son. They broke my family’s back.”

The comments follow the revelations by the Bureau and published in the Independent that the Home Secretary Theresa May has ramped up the use of powers allowing her to strip UK citizenship from dual nationals without first proving wrongdoing in the courts.

The investigation revealed the Coalition government has stripped 16 people, including five born in Britain, of their UK passports. Two, including Sakr, were later killed by drone strikes and one was secretly rendered to the United States.

The law states that the government cannot make someone stateless when it removes their citizenship. But Egyptian-born Mr and Mrs Sakr say their son Mohamed never had anything other than a British passport, despite in principle having dual nationality.

In September 2010 the family received notification that the government intended to remove their son’s British citizenship, on the grounds that he was ‘involved in terrorism-related activity’.

It was the first known instance in modern times of a British-born person being stripped of his nationality. His family insist that the action meant Mohamed, who was in Somalia, was left effectively stateless and stranded.

His mother still can’t quite believe it happened. ‘I was shocked. It never crossed my mind that something here in Britain would happen like this, especially as Mohamed had no other passport, no other nationality. He was brought up here, all his life is here.’

Mohamed’s parents were so worried that their other sons might also lose their British citizenship that they renounced the entire family’s dual Egyptian nationalities, shortly after they were told that Mohamed had been deprived of his citizenship.

‘I did this for the protection of the family, because they grew up here, they were all born here. And I felt that for them it was my responsibility to protect them. It was the only way I could protect them against that stupid law,’ says Mr Sakr.

‘No member of my family ever had an Egyptian passport,’ says Mr Sakr. ‘For the kids it never crossed my mind that they would have anything other than their British passports. I know they are British, born British, they are British, and carried their British passports.’

Mr and Mrs Sakr have thrived in Britain, running a successful business. They moved here from Egypt 35 years ago thinking it was a good place to raise a family.

‘It was democratic, and compared to where I was before in Egypt that was a big gap,’ Mr Sakr explains. ’There was no dictator here, no bad laws like there were back home, so we decided to start a new life.’

Mohamed was born in London in 1985 and grew up as a normal, sporty child. ‘He was very popular amongst his friends, yet very quiet at the same time, very polite, he was just a normal child,’ recalls Eman.

As he got older his parents had worried about him getting into trouble.  ‘He loved going out, he loved to dress up, to wear the best clothes, he liked everything to be top range,’ recalls Mr Sakr.

‘I used to tell him, after midnight there’s no good news. So I’d say, “Make sure you are home before 12”. He said “OK, OK I’ll try, you know,”’ said his mother.

In his early twenties he calmed down and in 2007 set up an executive car valeting business. His parents thought their son would follow in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps.

But in the summer of the same year Mohamed travelled to Saudi Arabia on what his parents say was a pilgrimage ‘with a couple of friends and their wives’, before heading to Egypt to join his family on holiday. From there, the Sakrs say, Mohamed and his younger brother also visited the family of a girlfriend in Dubai.

His actions were innocent, the family insists. But Mohamed was questioned for ‘at least three hours’ by immigration officials on his return to the UK. The questions focused on the countries he had visited and his reasons for going there.

‘He told them, “I didn’t plan to visit all these countries ­- it’s just how my summer has happened,”’ his mother recalls.

It’s thought that UK counter-terrorism officials were becoming concerned that a group of radicalised young men was emerging in the capital, influenced by British Islamists who had returned home after fighting in Somalia.

The Sakrs both say that their eldest son became the subject of repeated police ‘harassment’ in which he was stopped on numerous occasions by plain-clothes officers.

After one incident Mohamed told his mother ‘They’re watching me momma, everywhere I go they watch me.’ The family became convinced that their phones were being tapped.

Mohamed was spending a lot of time with a friend he had met when he was 12 – Bilal al­-Berjawi. The two had lived in adjacent flats.

The childhood friends would both lose their British citizenship weeks apart in 2010 – and would die weeks apart too, in covert US airstrikes.

Berjawi’s Lebanese parents had brought him to London as a baby, and like Sakr, Berjawi had drawn the attention of Britain’s counter-terrorism agencies.

The Sakr family insists they were not aware of any wrongdoing on Mohamed’s part, despite frequent trouble with the police.

In February 2009 Berjawi and Sakr visited Kenya for what they told their families was a ‘safari’.

Both were detained in Nairobi, where they were said to have been interrogated by British intelligence officials. The authorities suspected them of terrorism-related activities.

They were released and only deported back to the UK because both, at that time, still had their British citizenship.

While the two were still being detained in Kenya, police arrived at the London family home with a search warrant.

Cards left behind by officers identify them as members of SO15,­ the Met’s counter-terrorism squad. Mr Sakr says he was shocked to be told that the family might have to vacate their home for up to two weeks while officers searched. The indignant family found themselves put up in the nearby Hilton hotel.

Two days later the family was allowed home. And shortly afterwards Mohamed and Bilal were deported back to Britain.

Mr Sakr challenged his son: ‘I was asking questions, why has this happened and Mohamed said “Daddy, it’s finished, it will never happen again. It’s all done and dusted.” So I just put a cap on it and continued with a normal life.’

Mohamed’s mother insisted on accompanying him to a mosque so she could hear the sermons he was listening to.

I wanted to hear what they’re saying, I was always on top of this, always. I wanted to know why the police were after him, why?’ says Mrs Sakr. ‘So he used to take me to different mosques, and the sermons were normal, nothing unusual.’

In October 2009, with ever-growing trouble with the British authorities, Mohamed and Berjawi decided to slip out of the country. Neither told their families that they were leaving, or where they were going.

‘The police came asking “Where is Mohamed?” And I said “I don’t know.” That was the honest answer, I didn’t know where my son was,’ says Mr Sakr.

Months later Mohamed phoned his parents from Somalia. Both he and Berjawi were now living in a country gripped by civil war between radical Islamists and a rump UN-backed government.

While it’s been reported that both men were drawn to terrorist-linked groups, the Sakrs say the pair had innocent connections with the troubled east African nation. Berjawi had married a Somali woman in London, and Sakr at one time had also been engaged to marry a Somali girl.

Although both were killed by the US, most of the allegations against Sakr and Berjawi remain secret.

Some information has emerged, however. In November 2009, the pair were named along with a third British man in a Ugandan manhunt, accused of ‘sneaking into the country’ to plot terrorist activities. Later the men were linked to deadly bombings in that country’s capital.

The letter seen by the Bureau informing Mohamed’s family that he was losing his citizenship states he was ‘involved in terrorism-related activity’ and for having links with ‘Islamist extremists’, including his friend Bilal al-Berjawi.

The Sakrs remain defensive about these claims. ‘Have they done anything? Have they been caught in anything? Have they been caught in any action? Do they have any evidence against them that they have been involved in this or that? I haven’t seen. And they haven’t come up with it,’ says Mr Sakr.

‘It says they took his freedom away because he knew Bilal! Does it mean that because I know a bad person it means I’m bad, or know good people that I’m good? He’d known Bilal since he was 12 years old!,’ says Mohamed’s mother.

At first Mohamed wanted to fight the deprivation order, and his family hired lawyers in the UK. But they were told that in order to mount an effective appeal Mohamed would need to return to Britain.

Letter from the Home Office.

Letter from the Home Office.

His parents say he was too scared to come back.

‘He said, “Daddy, it is impossible for me,”’ says Mr Sakr. “He said, “If I go from here, they’ve already taken my passport from me, maybe they will catch me somewhere, and you will never hear from me again.” He knew something could happen to him.’

In February 2012, news agencies reported that a high-ranking Egyptian al Qaeda official had been killed in a US drone strike in Somalia.

It would be days before the family realised those reports actually referred to their son.

Mr Sakr says: ‘Their hands were washed. And that’s what they claimed when the news first came. They announced that Mohamed was Egyptian [cries]. That’s why they tried to show to the rest of the world, “He’s an Egyptian. He’s not British.”

‘Intelligence killed millions of Iraqis on the basis of wrong information. If we go and kill everyone based on intelligence information, then we are not living in the world of democracy and justice. We are living in the world of “Who has the power and who has the weapons to kill,”’ Mr Sakr rails.

‘If you’re not happy about a dictator or about rules or freedom of speech, and then you come to a country like Britain which we know for hundreds and hundreds of years has talked of democracy and freedom, and laws and justice. And suddenly you find there’s no justice, no freedom of speech, no democracy.’

© 2013 The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Drone strikes in Syria? CIA ‘boosting’ intelligence force to ‘size up’ Syrian extremists

Published time: March 16, 2013 11:47
A Syrian rebel crosses a street while trying to dodge sniper fire in the old city of Aleppo in northern Syria.(AFP Photo / Jm Lopez)

The CIA may be preparing for lethal drone strikes in Syria, as it is extending its intelligence-gathering on Islamic radicals in the country, US media has reported. At the same time, US officials are pressing for the supplying arms to rebels.

“The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes,” according to current and former US officials, reported in the LA Times.

The agency’s counterterrorism center has recently transferred an unspecified number of targeting officers to the area. The center is notorious for its previous drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan.

Targeting officers are responsible for the compilation of large packages of information on specific zones. Those working on Syria are currently based at the organization’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as not many US operatives have been deployed to the area.

The increased focus on identifying threats in Syria carries the implication that the agency is preparing plans for counter-action – both violent and nonviolent – against potential militants, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“If we do this, why don't we start droning people in Hezbollah?” a former CIA officer with experience in Iraq told the Los Angeles Times. “It opens the door for a lot of other things.”


In a trend apparently countering the CIA’s alleged security efforts, a US lawmaker is set to propose a bill on Monday in support of providing arms and training to Syrian opposition forces, as well as economic backing. Should the arms be delivered, they could easily fall into the hands of the same militants they seek to suppress.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to his house colleagues seeking their support for a bill to provide arms and training to Syrian rebels, applying pressure to the Obama’s administration.

"US training and arming of carefully vetted Syrian opposition forces offer many potential benefits, but two stand out above all: Bringing the humanitarian disaster to an end as soon as possible and helping ensure that the US has a constructive relationship with a successor government in Damascus,” said the letter obtained by AP.

The idea is supported by officials from both parties – last month, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio suggested providing the Syrian opposition with ammunition, and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a package of ‘nonlethal assistance.'

European media reported that the US, UK and France are already training rebels in Jordan, while Paris and London are both attempting to bring forward an EU meeting to lift the arms embargo on Syria. Planned for May, the two countries are pressing for it to take place before the end of March.

If the union does not end the embargo, the two nations will still arm the Syrian rebels, France said.

However, this course of action could come with its own problems: “Weapons are in high demand by all rebel factions and there is little means to effectively prevent arms from gravitating toward hardcore Al-Qaeda fighters,” political analyst Nile Bowie told RT.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that any arming of the opposition in Syria would be a violation of international law.

On Friday, Syria witnessed the second anniversary of the uprising from which the conflict sprouted, with many saying they feared for the country’s future.

Soldiers More Likely To Commit Violent Crime

Young British servicemen - past and present - are three times more likely to commit violent crime than their civilian counterparts. Using official criminal records, researchers have found that violent offending is particularly common among men under 3...

Conclave Begins: Meet The Papal Candidates

Today is the day all Robert Langdon fans have been feverishly waiting for: the 115 voting cardinals of the Catholic church begin today their secret conclave to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

As Bloomberg puts it succinctly, "he who enters the conclave a pope exits as a cardinal" and it is notoriously tricky to try to handicap the papal vote. In processional next steps, the Cardinals will gather in the Sistine Chapel, hailing from as far as the Philippines, and may hold a single vote today with as many as four ballots on succeeding days. Politically, this conclave has been presented as a "struggle between cardinals looking to overhaul the Vatican bureaucracy known as the Curia, and those trying to maintain its influence, according to Vatican analysts. Electing a non-European, while a novelty, would not necessarily presage a change of course for the millennia-old institution shaken by the abdication of German-born Benedict. Pope Benedict XVI was chosen on the second day of the last conclave in 2005, while John Paul II was selected on the third day of the 1978 conclave." Realistically, it will be a free for all for the scandal-riven church, and it is very much an open question who the next pope will be.

So while we await the puffs of white smoke, courtesy of Bloomberg here are brief biographies of some of the men who may be in the running, based on betting websites and consulting Vatican watchers.

Francis Arinze (Nigeria)
 

Francis Arinze (Nigeria):

Born: Nov. 1, 1932.

Arinze would be the first black pope and the first African pope for more than 1,500 years -- the last was Gelasius I, who reigned at the end of the fifth century and was from North Africa of Berber origin. A social and theological conservative, Arinze’s views on celibacy, women priests, homosexuality and contraception are considered close to those of Benedict XVI.

Christoph Schonborn (Austria)

Christoph Schonborn (Austria):

Born: Jan 22, 1945.

The cardinal has guided Vienna through church scandals including allegations of priests using pornography and engaging in pedophilia. Considered a brilliant conservative theologian, he speaks French, English, Italian, Spanish and Latin, and has traveled widely on behalf of the Vatican, including trips to Moscow and Istanbul. He studied under Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI, after becoming a priest at the age of 25. He is in favor of dialog between Catholicism and Islam, and was the highest-ranked church official to visit Iran after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Peter Turkson (Ghana)

Peter Turkson (Ghana):

Born: Oct. 11, 1948

Turkson, who studied theology in New York, is younger than Arinze and was called “one of Africa’s most energetic church leaders” by The Tablet, an influential British Catholic magazine, and in 2009 said that “if God would wish to see a black man also as pope, thanks be to God.” He has engaged with contemporary issues, including the global economic crisis by calling for more oversight of financial institutions and he has denounced the “idolatry of the market.”

Marc Ouellet (Canada)

Marc Ouellet (Canada):

Born: June 8, 1944

The cardinal from Quebec is an accomplished theologian whose writings were admired by Benedict, whose concerns about the modernization of the church he shared. “It would seem that, in the name of secularism, the Bible must be relativized, to be dissolved in a religious pluralism and disappear as a normative cultural reference,” Ouellet said in 2011 in his powerful role as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Ouellet became a priest in 1968 in the very church that his father built in La Motte, Quebec. He later taught at a seminary in Bogota, Colombia and served as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, making him well known among Spanish-speaking clergy.

Leonardo Sandri (Argentina)

Leonardo Sandri (Argentina):

Born: Nov. 18, 1943

The man who announced the death of John Paul II to the world in 2005, is a native of Buenos Aires who was born to a family of Italian immigrants. He rose to the heights of the church hierarchy to occupy the third most-important position in the Vatican between 2000 and 2007 as de facto chief of staff to the secretary of state. He now has a lower profile as head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. He has served in Madagascar, Venezuela, Mexico and the U.S. and as the Vatican’s representative to the Organization of American States.

Angelo Scola (Italian)

Angelo Scola (Italy):

Born: Nov. 7, 1941

The Archbishop of Milan is the front-runner among the Italians, who until the 1970s had a virtual lock on the papacy. With Benedict he shared philosophical and theologian interests and his writings on a range of topics from bio-ethics to sexuality have been published in different languages.

Odilo Scherer (Brazil)

Odilo Scherer (Brazil):

Born: Sept. 21, 1949

A Brazilian of German descent, Scherer is Archbishop of Sao Paolo and as such oversees 6 million Catholics in the country’s biggest archdiocese. In the birthplace of liberation theology, he struck a moderate tone by seeing worth in focusing on social injustice and poverty while reserving criticism for the movement’s “Marxism.”

Your rating: None

John Brennan’s Heavy Baggage

John Brennan brings heavy baggage to his new job as CIA Director – legal as well as moral – arguably making it risky for him to travel to more than 150 countries that are party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.New CIA Director John Brennan addresses officials at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Photo credit: CIA)

It must be hard for Brennan to recognize that he cannot land in Europe, for example, without fear of being arrested and arraigned for kidnapping (also known as “extraordinary rendition”) and torture (now antiseptically called “EIT” for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which, by the way, is a direct translation of verschaerfte Vernehmungright out of the Gestapo handbook).

For a freshly confirmed CIA Director it is de rigueur to pay an early call on European counterparts. I remember preparing a briefing book for that purpose just before a new CIA Director named George H. W. Bush took off for the UK, Germany and France in the early spring of 1976. Unfortunately for Brennan, there may be complications to enjoying April in Paris – like a possible knock on the door from a French prosecutor and the gendarmes.

Given Brennan’s role as a senior CIA official during President George W. Bush’s “dark side” days of waterboarding detainees, renditioning suspects to Mideast torture centers and making up intelligence to invade Iraq, Brennan’s advisers are sure to remind him that he may be in as much jeopardy of being arrested as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

After leaving the Pentagon in late 2006, Rumsfeld had his own close call with Lady Justice. In October 2007, Rumsfeld was in an auditorium in Paris preparing to deliver a lecture when he learned that the Paris Prosecutor was mulling over what to do after being served a formal complaint against Rumsfeld for ordering and authorizing torture.

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), ratified by both the United States and France. The complaint was brought in France under the concept of universal jurisdiction.

The criminal complaint stated that because the authorities in the United States and Iraq had failed to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of Rumsfeld and other high-level U.S. officials for torture – despite a documented paper trail and government memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility for torture – it was the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case. The complaint also noted that the U.S. had refused to join the International Criminal Court, which might have had more routine jurisdiction.

In an attempt to avoid a major diplomatic headache, U.S. embassy officers advised: “Run, Rummy, Run,” before the Paris authorities decided what to do. Rumsfeld went out a side door, slipped into the embassy, and then got out of Dodge tout suite.

Rumsfeld’s skedaddle from Paris thus spared him the possible humiliation that befell Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had been head of Chile’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. While on a trip to the United Kingdom in 1998, Pinochet was arrested on a Spanish judicial warrant and was held under house arrest until 2000. The Spanish judge cited the same principle of universal jurisdiction. Pinochet was freed only after the intervention of high-powered friends, including former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

That was only the first of several times when European judges applied that principle, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws. If former heads of state are vulnerable, it seemed to follow that former defense secretaries and other senior subordinates must be as well.

If the Rumsfeld precedent were not enough to make Brennan think twice about travel to Europe, he has surely been told of the criminal complaints lodged in Switzerland (also a CAT signatory) against George W. Bush in early 2011. When the former president learned of it, he decided not to take any chances and abruptly nixed longstanding plans to address a Jewish charity dinner in Geneva on Feb. 12, 2011.

The Goods on Brennan

Brennan’s checkered past has been an open secret. On Dec. 5, 2005, after finishing a stint as acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Brennan told Margaret Warner of the NewsHour that “rendition” (also known as kidnapping) is “an absolutely vital tool … producing intelligence that has saved lives.” (In his Feb. 7, 2013, testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on his nomination to be CIA Director, Brennan backed off the “saved lives” claim, since the committee had just completed its own comprehensive study disproving it.)

On the NewsHour, Brennan described rendition as “the practice or the process of rendering somebody from one place to another place. It is moving them, and the U.S. Government will frequently facilitate that movement from one country to another.”

Brennan’s co-panelist, another former CIA operations officer, objected to turning prisoners over to foreign intelligence services, insisting that, “It would be far better if the United States retained control of that terror suspect and did the interrogation itself.”

This drew a sharp rejoinder from Brennan: “Quite frankly I think it’s rather arrogant to think that we are the best in every case in terms of eliciting information from terror suspects.” Right. In the decades since World War II, many “friendly” intelligence services have acquired a lot more experience with verschaerfte Vernehmungthan the CIA, though it often served as the tutor.

(The term verschaerfte Vernehmung was not only coined by the Nazis, but the techniques were indistinguishable from those used during the presidency of George W. Bush, according to a 2007 article in the Atlantic. The major difference, so far, is that after WWII the torturers were punished as war crimes, with the penalty often death by hanging.)

NewsHour’s Warner asked Brennan if the U.S. employs rendition “because we want another country to do the dirty work?” Brennan replied: “It’s rather arrogant to think that we’re the only country that respects human rights.”

A comprehensive study just published by the Open Society Justice Initiative reveals that, under President George W. Bush, Brennan and his counter-terrorist team suborned the officials of 54 other countries to cooperate in the rendition program, providing help of various kinds, including transiting their land, airports or airspace, or accepting secret prisons in their countries.

It is no secret that the purpose of “rendition” is to move detainees secretly to countries with experience/expertise in “enhanced interrogation techniques” or to the infamous CIA “black sites” abroad where waterboarding and other abuses took place. Such activities violate the Convention Against Torture and, often, national laws.

Some Accountability

What is new is that some governments in both “old” and “new” Europe – a distinction that Donald Rumsfeld would make derisively against France and other parts of “old” Europe – are now showing a common commitment to justice by prosecuting former heads of their own intelligence services.

Italy’s former chief of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, just got ten years in prison for helping the CIA abduct Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr (aka Abu Omar) from the streets of Milan in early 2003 and send him to Egypt for more “enhanced” interrogation.

More than two dozen Americans have been tried and convicted in absentia for this case of truly extraordinary rendition, in which they exhibited notoriously adolescent tradecraft. If any of them travel to Europe, they risk arrest. John Brennan should remember that highly embarrassing flap quite well, since it came on the eve of his appointment to head a newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

And in “new” Europe, in January 2013, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, former head of Poland’s secret service and former minister of internal affairs, was indicted for his role in cooperating with the CIA renditioners and torturers. Siemiatkowski facilitated CIA renditions and the establishment of a CIA “black prison” in Poland, where the U.S. arranged interrogation and torture of terrorist suspects snatched from their home countries.

It is no overstatement that for the first time since World War II, many foreign intelligence chiefs are likely to have very mixed reactions to being seen, even in Washington, with a freshly minted CIA Director with the heavy baggage that Brennan carries.

So where might these intelligence counterparts get together without too many risks. What about the Bahamas?  It has signed CAT but has not yet ratified it. So, with adequate security forces deployed, there may be a measure of safety there. For the time being at least, Bahamas could offer one of the few feasible ways that Brennan would be able to schmooze with key foreign counterparts – perhaps by offering as a bonus a timeshare week there. A short flight for travelers from Washington, DC, Bahamas would have another cost-saving advantage in saving on jet fuel.

Things to Do at Home, Like Iran

Besides worries about arrest, Brennan has other compelling reasons to stay at home for a while. Iran’s nuclear program remains on the front burner as it has since early 2008 when the Director of National Intelligence revealed the National Intelligence Estimate completed in November 2007 concluding, unanimously and “with high confidence,” that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization in 2003 and had not resumed that work – a judgment revalidated every year since by the DNI.

That assessment has not prevented neocons and their favorite media personalities from trying to make Iran’s nuclear program seem more menacing. On “Meet the Press” on Feb. 3, for example, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the subject of attempted mousetrapping by NBC’s Chuck Todd, who clearly was hoping Panetta could be maneuvered into contradicting the NIE.

It was awkward for Panetta, but – to his credit – rather than apologize when Todd pointed his finger accusing him of believing “the Iranians were not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Panetta held firm under the goading. Finally, after conferring with co-panelist Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, with some exasperation:  “I – no, I can’t tell you because – I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we – we – we’re – they’re doing right now. …” (emphasis added)

John Brennan, when appearing before his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Feb. 7, chose to deviate from the 2007 NIE by including the following in his prepared written testimony: “And regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang remain bent on pursuing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile delivery systems.” (emphasis added)

Never mind Brennan’s disingenuousness in conflating Iran with North Korea. The question is how could he diverge so markedly both from what Panetta said just four days before, as well as from the unanimous assessment of the entire U.S. intelligence community that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that work. In no way does that continuing assessment support his claim that Tehran remains “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons” and ICBMs to deliver them.

There are, of course, reasonable grounds to suspect that Iran might be seeking a capability that eventually would allow it to rapidly break out of Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) constraints on building a nuclear weapon. That, of course, is why U.S. intelligence is riveted on monitoring related activity in Iran, as are the UN inspectors in Iran.

But “bent on pursuing” ICBMs? Really? Iran has not flight-tested a ballistic missile with ranges in excess of its 2200-kilometer-range Sajjil MRBM. Nor has it launched a space rocket that might conceivably be a suitable model for an ICBM. Has Brennan found someone – perhaps an analyst left over from the notorious 2002 NIE on WMD in Iraq – to tell him the Iranians are testing ICBMs in their hardened underground sites?

I doubt that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who observed at close hand the concocting of fraudulent “intelligence” on Iraq, will cave in to the likes of Brennan “fixing” the intelligence on Iran. However, there is no word yet this year on when the DNI will present the annual worldwide threat briefing – traditionally given in sworn testimony to Congress in January or February.

So the battle is joined. Assuming Congress, in its wisdom, does not altogether cancel the worldwide threat briefing this year, and assuming I’m right about Clapper, Brennan has his work cut out for him in squaring that circle about how “bent” Iran seems to be on “pursuing nuclear weapons.”

A version of this article also appeared on Consortium News.

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The Threat of the Imperial Presidency

President Obama prepares to board Air Force 1. (AP Photo)Civil libertarians, human rights advocates and peace advocates should insist on a renewed congressional assertion of its power under the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, to take part in declaring war. Among the many reasons for this reassertion is that social movements typically have greater influence over elected congressional representatives than over the more remote and secretive executive branch.

Historically, American presidents have “encroached on Congress’s war making responsibilities, leaving the legislative branch increasingly irrelevent,” according to an analysis by Bennett Ramberg, a former State Department analyst in the first Bush administration.

Recent hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA director John Brennan’s authority and the House Judiciary Committee into drones are at least momentary signs that Congress may be ready to reclaim some of its powers. Statements by President Obama literally asking Congress to write “new legal architecture” to “rein in” his presidency and those of his successors, are clear indications that the growth of an Imperial Presidency may be limited. The bipartisan vote of nearly 300 House members against the administration’s launching of the six-month 2011 Libyan war is the most concrete example of legislative unease.

As Congress considers its options, it is crucial that the public be included in a rightful role. The public sends its sons and daughters to risk their lives in war, pays the taxes that fund those wars and accepts the burden of debt, the paring back of social programs and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of war. The public has a right to know, obtained through public debate and public elections, the rationale, the costs and the predicted outcomes of any military venture. James Madison, cited by Ramberg, gave the reason centuries ago: “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded.”

Section 4(b) of the War Powers Resolution mandates that “the President shall provide such other information as the Congress may request in the fulfillment of its constitutional responsibilities with respect to committing the Nation to war and to the use of United States Armed Forces abroad.” Yet only insistent congressional pressure has forced the Obama administration to disclose some of its internal legal memoranda concerning drones, apparently in exchange for senate approval of Brennan’s nomination. It continues to resist the spirit of Section 4(b).

Hopefully, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) will take up the reform of war-making powers as a major priority. Already, one of the CPC’s co-chairs, Representative Keith Ellison, has expressed the need to reform and reverse the administration’s secret drone war. In the Senate, strong leadership on transparency has come from Senator Ron Wyden. Libertarian Republican senator Rand Paul is demanding to know whether the White House will unleash drone strikes on American citizens. Longtime activist groups like Code Pink suddenly are finding themselves in the center of a national conversation.

Three senators who voted for Brennan’s confirmation—Wyden, Mark Udall and Susan Collins—also issued a call on March 5 “to bring the American people into this debate and for Congress to consider ways to ensure that the president’s sweeping authorities are subject to appropriate limitations, oversight and safeguards.”

By most accounts, this fuss over the Imperial Rresidency wasn’t supposed to be happening. The drone wars were supposed to be cheap for the taxpayer, erase American military casualties and hammer the terrorists into peace negotiations. The assassination of Osama bin Ladin was supposed to be the turning point. But even with the wars being low-intensity and low-visibility, the “secrets” have remained in the public eye, especially the drone war.

From a peace movement perspective, pressure from anywhere for any steps that will complicate and eventually choke off the unfettered use of drones will be an improvement over the status quo.

From a peace movement perspective, pressure from anywhere for any steps that will complicate and eventually choke off the unfettered use of drones will be an improvement over the status quo. For some, like Ramberg, a reform of the 1973 War Powers Act is overdue. That resolution, which passed during an uproar against the Nixon presidency, actually conceded war-making power to the president for a two-month period before requiring congressional authorization. The original 1973 Senate version of the war-powers bill, before it was watered down, required congressional authorization except in the case of armed attack on the US or the necessity of immediate citizen evacuation. No president has ever signed the war powers legislation, on the grounds that it encroaches on the executive branch, although most presidents have voluntarily abided by its requirements.

Ramberg lists the US military actions undertaken after the War Powers Resolution “with minimal or no congressional consultation,” as: Mayaguez (1975), Iran hostage rescue action (1980), El Salvador (1981), Lebanon (1982), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (May 1991, 1993), Somalia (1993) Bosnia (1993-95), Haiti (1993, 2004) and Kosovo (1999), leaving out Sudan (1998) and the dubious authorizations for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The immediate issue ripe for attention is the drone policy, conducted especially in Pakistan by the CIA in utter secrecy, but also spreading through Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Mali.

Drone attacks clearly are acts of war as defined by the War Powers Resolution, although the WPR was written mainly to contain the deployment of American ground forces. The drone war rests more squarely on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the underlying legal rationale for the “global war on terrorism.”

The challenge of reform, as opposed to emergency tinkering, will require prolonged efforts to amend and clarify both the WPR and AUMF. Allowing any president a sixty-day period before seeking congressional authorization, as the WPR does, makes no sense in drone warfare. Instead, the president should be required to seek congressional permission if he wishes to target a clearly definable “enemy,” and be required to issue public guidelines, including necessary disclosure, governing the use of force he contemplates. That means:

First, Congress should establish a special inspector general, like the SIGUR created for Iraq and Afghanistan, to define, monitor and determine civilian casualties (“collateral damage”) from drone strikes. Currently that information is collected by the CIA, which has a conflict of interest, not to mention a curtain of secrecy.

Second, Congress will need to draft guidelines sharply narrowing—or even banning—the use of “signature strikes,” which permit drone attacks against targets profiled according to identity, such as young males of military age (which could be civilians, participants in a wedding or funeral, etc.).

The open window for “reining in” the president’s executive powers could close at any time.

Third, Congress or the courts will have to restore the open-ended concept of “imminent threat” to its traditional meaning, as an immediate operational threat aimed at American citizens, US territory or facilities. Under the elastic formulation employed by Brennan and others, the simple fact of ill-defined jihadists holding meetings anywhere on the planet is an “imminent threat” justifying military action. And according to the CIA interpretation, the threat is a “continuous” one, carrying over from war to war. But if every “potential” threat is defined as “imminent,” and all the threats are continuous, the CIA, Special Forces and American military will be spread thin indeed from the jungles of the Philippines to the ghettos of Britain.

The 2001 AUMF was written to justify the unofficial military doctrine of the “long war,” developed by counterinsurgency advisers to General David Petraeus and the State Department, like David Kilcullen, who project a conflict of fifty- to eighty-years’ duration against ill-defined Muslim fundamentalists. The designated targets of the AUMF are “Al Qaeda” and “associated” terrorist groups. That overly broad definition authorizes a global war in the shadows against forces whose actual links to Al Qaeda are difficult to discern and who may or may not be threats against the United States. If targeted by the United States, however, the likelihood of their becoming threats will only increase.

A recent example in a long list of these targets is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the 40-year-old Algerian who may or may not have been killed last week in Chad. Belmokhtar allegedly carried out the January attack on an Algerian gas plant in which thirty-seven foreign hostages died. He did so in retaliation against France’s military intervention in its former colony of Mali, and against Algeria’s siding with Western counterterrorism policies. Otherwise, Belmokhtar was nicknamed the “Marlboro Man” because of his decades-long involvement in smuggling cigarettes. Ten years ago he led one faction of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, before breaking away to form his own force in the Sahel.

The question is whether the 2001 AUMF was written to cover a regional warlord like the “Marlboro Man” whose history is “smuggling, kidnapping and fighting for decades in the Sahel,” or whether it is being used as a blanket authorization for official kill lists and CIA drone assassins everywhere.

Finally, Congress should commission an independent body to evaluate whether the war on terrorism, including the drone attacks, has made Americans “safer.” The rise of the drones—as well as cyber-warfare—has a lulling effect on public opinion since American group operations are ending and casualties are down. But the 9/11 attacks took place unexpectedly as a result of burning grievances in the Muslim world. The official metrics of safety (e.g., how many jihadist “leaders” have been killed, whether insurgent attacks are up or down) ignore the incendiary hatred and desire for revenge building in Muslim communities suffering from remote drone attacks. A few empirical studies have shown a direct correlation between the rise of suicide bombers and US/Western occupation of Muslim lands, but the mass illusion of safety from terrorism tends to persist. A national conversation, including the forgotten ways in which we are made less safe by the war on terrorism, is sorely needed.

In perspective, the effort to prevent the restoration of an Imperial Presidency is long and politically difficult, something like reversing the mass incarceration policies and police buildups that followed the neoconservatives’ “war on gangs” campaign of the early 1990s, which the Clinton administration adopted. Many liberals in general, and Democrats in particular, cringe at being labeled “soft on crime” (or “soft on terrorism”). Some on the left, on the other hand, seem to think that the threat of terrorism is manufactured. However, if another attack should occur against the United States, the danger that a second Patriot Act will pass is real. Current US policies inadvertently provoke that possibility, with the drone strikes the equivalent of attacking a hornet’s nest. Therefore, the open window for “reining in” the president’s executive powers could close at any time. Hearings to reform of the 2001 AUMF and the 1973 WPR could not be more urgent.

© 2013 The Nation

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of 1960's peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at PitzerCollege in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader.

Frontrunning: March 12

  • Cardinals head to conclave to elect pope for troubled Church (Reuters)
  • Hyperinflation 'Unthinkable' Even With Bold Easing: Abe (Nikkei)
  • Ryan Plan Revives '12 Election Issues (WSJ)
  • Republicans to unveil $4.6tn of cuts (FT) - Obama set to dismiss Ryan plan to balance budget within decade
  • Italy 1-yr debt costs highest since Dec after downgrade (Reuters)
  • CIA Ramps Up Role in Iraq (WSJ)
  • Hollande Hostility Fuels Charm Offensive to Show He’s No Sarkozy (BBG)
  • SEC testing customized punishments (Reuters)
  • Judge Cans Soda Ban  (WSJ)
  • Hungary Lawmakers Rebuff EU, U.S. (WSJ)
  • Even Berlusconi Can’t Slow Bulls Boosting Euro View (BBG) - luckily the consensus is never wrong
  • Funding for Lending ‘put on steroids’ (FT)
  • Investigators Narrow Focus in Dreamliner Probe (WSJ)
  • With new group, Obama team seeks answer to Karl Rove (Reuters)
  • Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs (BBG)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* Illinois settled Securities and Exchange Commission civil-fraud charges that the state misled municipal-bond investors by failing to adequately disclose the risks of its underfunded pension system.

* Lawmakers grilling Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama's nominee for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, on Tuesday will have to weigh two seemingly contradictory versions of the attorney.

* U.S. aviation safety investigators examining Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner increasingly are focusing on manufacturing or design problems with the batteries as possible causes of overheating rather than on other parts of the jet's electrical system, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday.

* Starr International Co, run by the former chief executive of American International Group Inc, won the right to pursue as a class action its case against the U.S. government, alleging that elements of AIG's financial-crisis bailout package were unconstitutional.

* A crisis of confidence in the nuclear-power industry has trickled down to Namibia, where uranium accounts for 12 percent of exports. But uranium prices are down 70 percent over the past six years.

* General Motors Co is in the process of changing advertising agencies of its Cadillac brand. Advertising and marketing work to support Cadillac, valued at about $250 million, will be moved to longtime Michigan advertising agency Campbell Ewald, according to three people briefed on the matter.

* The monopoly powers of Mexico's telephone giant, América Móvil SAB de CV and leading broadcaster Grupo Televisa SAB, are coming under fire with a broad set of new laws that aim to open up the telecommunications and television businesses to competition.

* Many small U.S. banks are feeling a financial pinch from the government's efforts to punish executives and directors of banks that collapsed during the height of the financial crisis.

* KKR & Co LP is considering teaming with other private equity firms to pursue biotech firm Life Technologies Corp, according to people familiar with the matter, in the latest sign that buyout shops are still willing to form "clubs" if they covet a large target.

* VeriFone Systems Inc Chief Executive Douglas Bergeron is stepping down after a dozen years at the helm of the card-payment systems maker. The company said it will hire an executive-search firm to find a successor, with Chairman Richard McGinn serving as CEO on an interim basis.

FT

Dell Inc has agreed to give Carl Icahn a closer look at its books less than a week after the activist investor joined a growing chorus of opposition to founder Michael Dell's plan to take the world's No. 3 personal computer maker private.

Private equity firms are looking to buy the UK property business of Germany's second-biggest lender, Commerzbank AG, in a potential 5 billion pound ($7.45 billion) deal.

UK lender LLoyds Banking Group plans to sell 20 percent of its stake in wealth manager St James's Place

Alibaba Group has chosen Jonathan Lu, its Chief Data Officer who has more than a decade of experience in executive roles, to lead China's largest e-commerce company as it prepares to launch an initial public offering.

Italy's central bank has told some of the country's biggest banks to increase their bad loan provisions by an estimated 21 billion euros ($27.33 billion) amid deepening of a nearly two-year old recession.

Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson is exploring moving to Puerto Rico from New York to lower his tax bill.

Richard Joseph, a former futures trader, was convicted of six counts of insider trading, leaking information from the print room at JPMorgan Cazenove. Joseph placed spread bets with CMC Markets ahead of a series of deals in 2007 and 2008.

Mexico is looking to overhaul its telecom industry by introducing sweeping proposals that will increase competition and limit the control of telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim and broadcasting giant Televisa.

NYT

* For the second time in history, federal regulators have accused an American state of securities fraud, finding that Illinois misled investors about the condition of its public pension system from 2005 to 2009.

* A state court judge invalidated New York City's new restrictions on sweetened beverages on Monday, a day before they were set to take effect, saying the rules were "arbitrary and capricious."

* Britain, unlike other economic powers, is responding to the financial crisis by creating two new agencies, one to oversee institutions and another to watch for market abuses.

* In advance of a summit meeting of European Union leaders on Thursday in Brussels, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, called on the bloc's 17 members to stay the course on austerity.

* Intrade, the online betting site, announced late on Sunday that it had halted trading and frozen customer accounts after the discovery of potential financial irregularities.

* Oppenheimer & Co will pay nearly $3 million to settle accusations by federal and state regulators that it misled investors about the performance of one of its private equity funds, in a case that signals stepped-up scrutiny of the buyout industry and how it values its holdings.

* Dell Inc has agreed to open its books to the activist investor Carl Icahn, signaling a possible truce on one front in the battle over the computer maker's proposed $24.4 billion buyout.

* In prepared testimony for her nomination hearing, Mary Jo White placed a premium on unearthing financial fraud, as she works to deflect concerns from lawmakers who question her ability to regulate banks she recently defended.

* British authorities have opened an investigation into Hewlett-Packard Co's claims that it was duped when it bought the business software maker Autonomy, according to regulatory documents filed on Monday.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Ottawa and the Northwest Territories have reached a deal to hand the territory province-like power over its land, a move aimed at empowering local leaders to unlock more of their resource riches.

* Less than a third of the almost 300,000 members and supporters who signed up to choose the Liberal party's next leader have so far registered to vote, prompting front-runner Justin Trudeau's camp to complain about a host of technical glitches and request a one-week extension on registration.

* The federal government is facing questions over the legitimacy of its centerpiece for aboriginal education reform. Manitoba chiefs rejected the Harper government's vision for aboriginal education on Monday, claiming Ottawa is trying to "bypass" first nations chiefs and shirk its treaty responsibilities.

Reports in the business section:

* Chrysler Canada is jumping back into leasing for the first time since 2008, raising the competitive stakes another notch in an auto market already awash with financing and leasing incentives.

* AT&T Inc will begin selling BlackBerry's new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone next week, marking the smartphone's debut in a crucial U.S. market that has largely shunned the company's devices in recent years.

* Molson Coors Brewing Co's Canadian arm sold far less Miller Genuine Draft beer in the country over the past three years than the targets called for under its agreement with Miller Brewing Co. That under-performance - spelled out in court filings - is at the crux of a dispute that has erupted between the two companies, as Miller tries to cancel its Canadian licensing agreement with Molson.

NATIONAL POST

* The federal government, which has come under fire over tougher employment insurance (EI) rules, is sweetening benefits for parents. It says it will allow individuals receiving parental benefits through EI to qualify for sickness benefits as well, starting March 24.

* The latest annual report on federal ad spending shows Ottawa shelled out C$78.5 million ($76.5 million) in 2011-12 telling Canadians about everything from the switch to digital TV and the War of 1812, to elder abuse and anti-drug messaging. The Harper government spent C$21 million on major advertising campaigns under its Economic Action Plan brand.

* Despite activist claims that the city's homeless are dying due to a lack of shelter space, there is no shelter bed shortage in Toronto, according to an internal report prepared for city council.

FINANCIAL POST

* After years of growth, economists say the real estate boom is over and predict Canadian housing prices to flatline over the next decade. A TD Economics study, Long-Run Rate of Return for Canadian Home Prices, predicts a "string of lackluster performances" over the next few years.

* Alamos Gold Inc is going on the offensive in the takeover battle for Aurizon Mines Ltd, asking a securities regulator to reject both a break fee and poison pill that it believes are highly irregular.

* Travel tour operator Transat AT Inc said it has managed to wrest concessions from its flight attendants as the company continues its campaign to be more cost competitive. The bulk of the expected C$9 million in annual savings will come from Transat lowering the amount of flight attendants on its Airbus A330s to 10 from 11, and the move will also support a potential shift to a fleet of Boeing Co's 737s.

China

SECURITIES TIMES

-- Huatai Securities said on Tuesday its board of directors had sanctioned the issuance of no more than 10 billion yuan of corporate bonds on the Shanghai Stock Exchange to supplement operating funds.

-- The Shanghai securities regulator said five foreign banks, including Standard Chartered, have applied for licences to distribute mutual fund products in China.

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

-- The Shanghai stock exchange is looking to invest more in regional stock exchanges to support smaller firms in China, its director general said on Monday.

CHINA DAILY

-- China's first special envoy for Asian affairs will have a focus on Myanmar, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday. There has been tension between China and its southern neighbour over conflict in Myanmar, close to the Chinese border.

-- Roughly one in ten of the 5,000 proposals submitted to China's top political advisory body since March 3 are related to environmental issues, said Lu Fuhe, a top national political advisor.

SHANGHAI DAILY

-- French firm Carrefour, the world's number two retailer, has implemented a system to allow shoppers to trace the origin of fruit and vegetables in their Chinese stores in Shanghai, a reflection of the recent pressure in China over food safety.

CHINA BUSINESS NEWS

-- The number of dead pigs found in the Huangpu River, one of Shanghai's key water sources, is now estimated to have increased to 2,800.

Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Axiall (AXLL) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Dick's Sporting (DKS) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Dick's Sporting (DKS) upgraded to Conviction Buy from Buy at Goldman
Intercontinental Hotels (IHG) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at UBS
Mosaic (MOS) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Sherwin-Williams (SHW) upgraded to Neutral from Underperform at Credit Suisse
Vantiv (VNTV) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James
Vitamin Shoppe (VSI) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman

Downgrades

CVS Caremark (CVS) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
EverBank Financial (EVER) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee
RadioShack (RSH) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Goldman
Red Hat (RHT) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup

Initiations

Fifth & Pacific (FNP) initiated with a Buy at Brean Capital
Rush Enterprises (RUSHA) initiated with a Market Perform at BMO Capital
TJX (TJX) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays
Wabash (WNC) initiated with an Outperform at BMO Capital
WABCO (WBC) initiated with an Outperform at BMO Capital
Xoom (XOOM) initiated with an Outperform at RW Baird
Xoom (XOOM) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays

HOT STOCKS

SEC charged Illinois for misleading pension disclosures
Treasury Department sold $489.9M of GM (GM) common stock in February
HP (HPQ) disclosed U.K Serious Fraud Office opened investigation related to Autonomy
KKR (KKR) has considered teaming to bid for Life Technologies (LIFE), and Thermo Fisher (TMO) and Danaher (DHR) also weigh bids for Life, valued at $12.5B with debt, DJ reports
Diamond Foods (DMND) sees second half sales down more than first half
Rio Tinto (RIO) slowed Guinea iron ore investment, to cut staff, Reuters reports
Said Guinea iron ore project not frozen, to work with government on funding, Bloomberg reports
Hill International (HIL) sees FY13 consulting fee revenue $500M-$520M
Cadence Design (CDNS) acquired Tensilica for $380M in cash
Pall Corp (PLL) signed 30 year agreement to supply Embraer (ERJ) with KC-390 manifolds
MRC Global (MRC), NAWAH entered into alliance to open distribution facility in Iraq
Lakeland Industries (LAKE) reported $11.5M goodwill impairment charge in Brazil

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Costco (COST), BioScrip (BIOS), Stewart Enterprises (STEI), XenoPort (XNPT), Heckmann (HEK)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Stage Stores (SSI), FuelCell (FCEL), Chiquita Brands (CQB), Hill International (HIL), Casey's General Stores (CASY), Urban Outfitters (URBN)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Douglas Dynamics (PLOW), Flow International (FLOW), Manitex (MNTX)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

  • Multinationals (GE, HPQ, CAT, HON) have been increasing their footprint in Asia for years as they have moved from selling into the region to also investing here. But the transformation is gaining critical mass as Western companies' market-share leads in Asia over cash-flush local competitors narrow, forcing Western firms to invest more, tailor their products and transfer top executives to Asia, the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Rising fuel prices have GM (GM) and Chrysler Group (FIATY) taking another look at selling smaller pickup trucks—vehicles that the Detroit Three automakers (F) abandoned in the U.S. amid weak demand. Both see the vehicles helping them to hit higher fuel-economy targets and to regain market share from Toyota (TM), the current top-selling small hauler., the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Two groups of AIG (AIG) shareholders won class-action status from a federal judge on in a $25B lawsuit by former CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg over alleged losses caused by the U.S. government's bailout of the insurer, Reuters reports
  • As the jobs market showing signs of healing, economists think they know what's next for monetary policy: the Fed will at some point reduce its monthly bond purchases, and soon after, end them altogether. But perhaps they shouldn't be so sure, Reuters reports
  • Shares of companies that own and operate their truck fleets (WERN, KNX, SWFT, HTLD) are outperforming those that act as brokers for trucking services, driven by stronger U.S. freight activity, Bloomberg reports
  • The Treasury Department, exiting its ownership stake in GM (GM), accelerated its sell- down of the automaker in February, saying it received $489.9M in proceeds from the sale of common shares, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE

Emeritus (ESC) announces 7.97M share secondary offering by holders
Government Properties (GOV) 9.95M share Spot Secondary priced at $25.20
HeartWare (HTWR) announces public offering of 1.5M shares of common stock
Lexington Realty (LXP) files to sell 15M shares of common stock
Salesforce.com (CRM) announces proposed $1B offering of convertible senior notes
Sapiens (SPNS) files to sell $40M of common stock, 6M shares for holders
Sun Communities (SUI) announces 4.5M share common stock offering
U.S. Silica (SLCA) announces 8.5M share secondary offering by stockholder
Yandex (YNDX) announces 24.25M Class A ordinary shares offering by holders

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

If Corporations Don’t Pay Taxes, Why Should You?

Go offshore young man and avoid paying taxes. Plunder at will in those foreign lands, and if you get in trouble, Uncle Sam will come rushing to your assistance, diplomatically, financially and militarily, even if you have managed to avoid paying for those government services. Just pretend you’re a multinational corporation.

That’s the honest instruction for business success provided by 60 of the largest U.S. corporations that, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, “parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year” shielding more than 40 percent of their profits from U.S. taxes. They all do it, including Microsoft, GE and pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories. Many, like GE, are so good at it that they have avoided taxes altogether in some recent years. 

But they all still expect Uncle Sam to come to their aid with military firepower in case the natives abroad get restless and nationalize their company’s assets. We still have a blockade against Cuba because Fidel Castro more than a half century ago dared seize an American-owned telephone company. During that same period, we have consistently intervened to maintain the lock of U.S. corporations on the world’s resources, continuing to the present task of making Iraq and Libya safe for our oil companies. 

America’s multinational corporations still need the Navy to protect shipping lanes and the Commerce Department to safeguard U.S. copyrights. They also expect the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to intervene to provide bailouts and cheap money when the corporate financial swindlers get into trouble, like GE, which almost went aground when its GE Capital financial wing got caught in the great banking meltdown. 

They want a huge U.S. government to finance scientific breakthroughs, educate the future workforce, sustain the infrastructure and provide for law and order on the home front, but they just don’t feel they should have to pay for a system of governance, even though it primarily serves their corporate interests. The U.S. government exists primarily to make the world safe for multinational corporations, but those firms feel no obligation to pay for that protection in return.

Think of that perfectly legal and widespread racket when you go to pay your taxes in the next weeks, and consider that you have to make up the gap left by the big boys’ antics. Also, when you contemplate the painful cuts coming because of the sequester that undoubtedly will further destabilize the economy, remember that, as the Wall Street Journal estimated, the tax savings of just 19 of those companies would more than cover the $85 billion in spending reductions triggered by the congressional budget impasse.

The most skilled at this con game are the health care and technology companies, which, as a Senate investigation last year revealed, have become quite expert at shifting marketing rights and patents offshore to low-tax countries. Microsoft boosted its foreign holdings by $16 billion last year, and by the end of the company’s fiscal year on June 30, 2012, had $60.8 billion stashed internationally. Through creative accounting, Microsoft was able to claim that only 7 percent of its pretax profit last year was domestically generated.

Oracle increased its foreign holdings by one-third, including new subsidiaries in low-tax Ireland, and thereby was able to add a cool $272 million to the company’s bottom line by avoiding U.S. taxes. Abbott estimates that it saved $1.6 billion in U.S. taxes through its operations in more than a dozen countries. By moving $8.1 billion of its profits overseas, Abbott was able to claim a pretax loss on its U.S. operations. Johnson & Johnson, another health industry giant, has almost all of its cash—$14.8 billion out of $14.9 billion—abroad, yet still claims to be a U.S. company. 

One of the longtime leaders in offshore tax avoidance has been that once-American-as-apple-pie company GE, which in a more innocent time hired Ronald Reagan to advertise its wares. Now GE has nearly two-thirds of its jobs abroad, avoided U.S. taxes in the previous two years and has $108 billion stashed overseas.

Two years ago, President Obama appointed GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair his Jobs Council, despite the fact that Immelt had cut his company’s U.S. workforce by a fifth. GE’s expertise is no longer in appliance manufacturing, a division Immelt has tried to shed, but rather in financial manipulation. 

GE Capital was a leader in the financial scams that still haunt the U.S. economy, and Immelt has been most effective in lobbying Washington politicians to rig the tax laws to benefit his and other multinational corporations. He has created some jobs, but unfortunately, they are abroad, along with his company’s untaxed profits. 

For all these multinational corporations, the love of profit trumps loyalty to country.

© 2013 TruthDig.com

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Open War Crimes: US and British-Backed Weapons Airlift From Croatia to Terrorists in Syria

It’s well known by now that the NATO and Gulf States' initial plans to overturn the sovereign state of Syria has been running behind schedule since their operation was launched two years ago. They had hoped for the sort of slam dunk which they enjoyed in overturning the country of Libya in late 2011.

This same formula could not be applied again however, so Plan B, a ground war using proxies has meant a longer drawn out conflict, with western backed terrorist groups sustaining heavy losses in their fight to topple the Assad government on behalf of NATO and its Gulf allies.

The main obstacle with Plan B is that the very idea of directly arming terrorists in Syria is not one which can be sold openly in either the US or Britain. Plan C is to draw in the UN by creating a ‘chemical weapons’ crisis in Syria, but thanks to a prominent online leak of documents relating to UK DOD contractor Britamthe British have been caught brokering a deal transferring ex-Gaddafi stocks from Libya to Syria to be blamed on Assad, paid for by Qatar. The WMD threat still remains a hard sell for western voters…

From the NATO Allied corner, something drastic needed to be done.

Whilst politicians in the West, namely those in Washington DC, London and parts of Europe, have been publicly denying that they were helping to organise running arms into Syria and issuing very public pleads for ‘humanitarian aid’ for those they identify as the Syrian Opposition, activity back stage has been furious. The debate in government and the media has been mere window dressing for the real operation being quietly carried out.

NATO Gun-running via Croatia

It can now be revealed that NATO allied nations were busy using proxy states to drive their war in Syria – putting together one of the biggest international black operation transfers of military supplies in recent history. So it’s official: large caches of hardware from the West have been transferred to the Syrian jihadist mercenary collective known as the ‘Free Syrian Army’ , ‘Syrian Rebels’, or ‘Syrian Opposition’ – depending on who you ask, a brash move which may be vehemently opposed by other UN Security Council members – namely Russia and China.

Multiple media sources reveal the details of this massive airlift comprised of 75 airplanes, and an estimated 3,000 tons of military weaponry on board has left Croatia and has already been delivered… to Syria.

It is also confirmed from these reports that Saudi Arabia has financed a large portion of this purchase secretly transported to al Qaeda and other FSA fighters – who are working with the support of the CIA, MI6 and others, along with other financial and material support of Qatar and Saudi, to further destabilise and overthrow the Assad government in Syria.

Croatia’s daily newspaper Jutarnji List reported:

From the start of November last year, till February this year, 75 planes flew out from Zagreb Airport with over 3,000 tons of weapons and ammunition bound for Syrian rebels…

The newspaper, quoting diplomatic sources, says that besides Croatian weapons the planes were full with weapons from other European countries including the UK. The weapons were organised by the United States of America.

Sources say that the first few flights to leave Croatia bound for Syria with weapons were operated by Turkish Cargo, which is owned by Turkish Airlines. After those flights, Jordanian International Air Cargo took over the flights. The deal to provide arms to the rebels was made between American officials and the Croatian Ambassador to the US.

In addition to this huge gun-running operation, Croatia also appears to be guilty of either having advanced knowledge, or possibly coordinating with Syrian terrorists as evidenced by their recently withdraw all of troops from the UN observer mission in Golan Heights, indicating that the recent kidnapping by Free Syrian Army Terrorists of at least 20 UNIFIL peacekeepers in the Golan Heights was known in advance by Croatia.

The kidnapping incident may have been designed to test the UN, but also to pull Syria’s southern neighbor, Israel, even closer to the conflict, a development which would almost surely prompt the UN to declare this as trigger to a regional crisis, followed by an authorised military intervention. Pulling Israel in would also risk involving Hezbollah from Lebanon, who are already engaging in assisting Assad in training a new specialist paramilitary force in Syria to deal with urban warfare.

If it was known by Croatia, then one can only conclude that this was also known by US and British operatives as well. Both the US and Britain will naturally claim deniability as their legal out in this case, by deniability through the use of proxies makes no innocent parties when the prospect of a multi-regional war beckons as a result of the west’s financial, logistical, political, and now material involvement in the overthrow of a sovereign state and internationally recognised government.

Much worse, however, is that by employing proxies like Jordan, Croatia, Turkey,and others, the NATO allies have guaranteed long-term retribution down the road, should Syria prevail in this fight. For Syria, it is now known which countries collaborated with the West to dismantle their country. This fact alone will ensure conflict in the region for a generation.

US officials are on record as admitting to helping arrange the weapons airlift, as cited in this Feb 25, 2012 article in the New York Times:

“An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels.”

Terrorist receive recoilless guns from the former Yugoslavia

Revelations are not limited to the Croatian news report, as we see the US and Europe’s mainstream media wall of silence has begun to crack, including here a recent report from London’s Daily Telegraph sent across Syria’s borders with Jordan and NATO-member Turkey. The article entitled, “US and Europe in ‘major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb’“ goes on to give further details of direct European involvement in illegal weapons running:

The United States has coordinated a massive airlift of arms to Syrian rebels from Croatia with the help of Britain and other European states, despite the continuing European Union arms embargo, it was claimed yesterday…

Decisions by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to provide non-lethal assistance and training, announced in the past week, were preceded by much greater though less direct Western involvement in the rebel cause, according to a Croat newspaper.

The shipments were allegedly paid for by Saudi Arabia at the bidding of the United States, with assistance on supplying the weapons organised through Turkey and Jordan, Syria’s neighbours.

as from Croatia, weapons came “from several other European countries including Britain”, without specifying if they were British-supplied or British-procured arms.

British military advisers however are known to be operating in countries bordering Syria alongside French and Americans, offering training to rebel leaders and former Syrian army officers…

… The weapons, including rocket launchers, recoil-less guns and the M79 anti-tank weapon, have been seen in rebel hands in numerous videos, and were first spotted by an arms expert Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the name Brown Moses. He traced them moving from Dera’a in the south, near the Jordanian border, to Aleppo and Idlib provinces in the north.

Hague: Denies Britain’s involvement in gun-running

It is also no big secret that Britain has deployed a significant contingent of troops and support personnel to Jordan at least as far back as Autumn 2012 as part of its ongoing ‘joint military exercises’ with the Jordan military, but this latest revelation puts into clearer perspective the overwhelming likelihood that high level British military operation have actually been involved in the transfer of arms from Jordan into the hands of the international terrorist confab of mostly foreign fighter running under the west’s media banner of “Syrian Rebels”.

Consequences for Croatia, and Britain

What Britain may be guilty of here, is cynically – and illegally, trying to side-stepping the EU embargo on arms into Syria by using the fledgling EU state of Croatia as their delivery mechanism, because Croatia does not officially join the EU until July 1, and has not implemented any binding EU legislation. This flagrant violation of both EU and international law should mean that Croatia’s entrance into the EU could be appealed by other members states willing to raise an objection, with what are now clear grounds to mount a legal challenge against Croatia.

Regardless of any EU outcomes however, Croatia at least –  is guilty of international war crimes.

International and EU Sanctions Against the US, Britain, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

As expected, Britain’s Foreign Office denies all of the claims connecting it to the Croatian gun-running program, but if Britain is involved – even indirectly, through a proxy like Croatia, or if British military personnel are aiding and abetting these known terrorist fighters in Syria through the transfer of weaponry, then Britain can also be brought into the international legal framework to answer for what it has done behind the public’s back.

The international war crimes which are now in the public view could test the legal framework of the EU, the UN and the ICC in the Hague. The legal door is now open for charges against state actors including US, Britain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – for the crimes of illegally arming a force of foreign fighters and known terrorists in Syria – designed to destroy the country from within. Many UN resolutions, including the recent Resolution 1973 applied in Libya by the UN, have been implemented on much more spurious and shaky grounds than the overwhelming evidence available regarding Syria.

Consequences for NATO and the UN

Despite any denials in Brussels, NATO are involved through their member states Turkey and Croatia, as well as US, UK, and France from behind. Any involvement should question these country’s NATO status, or at least it begs the question what is NATO for, or even the UN, if their member states are conspiring together to subvert international law?

Moreover, Israel’s unwarranted airstrike against a Syrian Military Research facility last month was also ignored by the UN, but this is not surprising as Israel has long been allowed to operate outside of international law and norms.

If the international community does not act in this instance, then it opens the door to more brazen criminality sans borders, which could spawn similar illegal operations against Iran, opening the door to a Third World War.

US uniformed Personnel Training Rebels in Jordan

Der Spiegel also reports this week that, despite denials by Washington DC, Americans are definitely training Syrian rebels in neighboring Jordan. The reports goes on:

It is not clear if the Americans are members of the US armed forces or are part of a private contracting firm, but the trainers wear uniforms, the paper reported.

It added that the training, which also involves Jordanian intelligence officers, had been going on “for some time,” and that the rebels were being taught how to use anti-tank weaponry.

France sends ‘aid’ for Syria to Jordan

France played an integral part in the destruction of Libya in 2011, and they might also have an interest in their former colonial possessions in Syria, but it’s not clear as yet if France’s commitment to overthrowing the Assad government is on par with the US and Britain’s efforts. Back in August 2012, France had also been sending large shipments designated for Syria via Jordan, claiming that these shipment contained ‘aid and medical supplies’ – intended for Syrian refugees. Real Syrian News reported:

An Antonov 124 cargo aircraft landed at the Marka military airport in Amman on Saturday. The cargo is said to include a field hospital and medical supplies for the refugees in the Zaatari camp near the Syrian border. An A310 airliner carrying 85 French military staff and medical equipment arrived in Jordan on Thursday.

After the Croatian airlift, it’s now not a stretch to suspect that other countries could be involved in similar operations under the cover of supplying ‘humanitarian aid’.

Consequences for Jordan

The overwhelming body of evidence proves that Jordan is playing the key role as proxy and facilitator for the West’s wishes and desires to destroy the country of Syria. The consequences for Jordan, should the West’s efforts fail, is that Jordan has now exposed itself as a provocateur and enemy of both Syria, and Lebanon, and indeed Iran also. It is not know how much Jordan has been paid for its services, or what promises have been made to its royal family in exchange for facilitating the Syrian upheaval, but it cannot compensate Jordan for playing the crucial role in possibly fomenting a regional or multi-theatre global war.

Syria Crisis Planned by the US and NATO Allies Before the ‘Arab Spring’

Despite previous denials and avoiding the issue by states persons like Hillary Clinton and William Hague, it is certain that ‘al Qaeda’ terrorists are operating in Syria and receive various kinds of support from the West and their Gulf allies, and that these are many of the same terrorist who are responsible for violence and killing in Iraq. The New York Times confirmed this fact recently:

Iraqi officials said the extremists operating in Syria are in many cases the very same militants striking across their country. “We are 100 percent sure from security coordination with Syrian authorities that the wanted names that we have are the same wanted names that the Syrian authorities have, especially within the last three months,” Izzat al-Shahbandar — a close aide to the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — said in an interview on Tuesday. “Al Qaeda that is operating in Iraq is the same as that which is operating in Syria,” he said.

Bangkok based analyst, Tony Cartalucci, from Land Destroyer blog, adds another important piece of evidence in this mix, pointing out the fact that the US and its NATO operatives have been engineering the crisis in Syria well before the official ‘uprising’ began in 2011:

Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, in his 2007 New Yorker report titled, “The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism?“stated explicitly that: “To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

Cartalucci provides further background to support the west’s own knowledge and involvement is the current crisis:

Is there any doubt that the US has executed this plot in earnest, arming and funding sectarian extremists “sympathetic to Al Qaeda” on both Syria’s northern and southern border? Where else, if not from the West and its regional allies, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, could extremists be getting their weapons, cash, and logistical support from?

And of course, Syria’s borders with Jordan and Turkey have been long-ago identified by the US Army’s own West Point Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) as hotbeds of sectarian extremist/Al Qaeda activity – hotbeds that the West is purposefully funneling thousands of tons of weaponry through, while disingenuously claiming it is attempting to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of extremists.

The CTC’s 2007 report, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” identified Syria’s southeastern region near Dayr Al-Zawr on the Iraqi-Syrian border, the northwestern region of Idlib near the Turkish-Syrian border, and Dar’a in the south near the Jordanian-Syrian border, as having produced the majority of fighters found crossing over into Iraq throughout the duration of the Iraq War.


Image: (Left) West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center’s 2007 report, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq” indicated which areas in Syria Al Qaeda fighters filtering into Iraq came from during the US invasion/occupation. The overwhelming majority of them came from Dayr Al-Zawr in Syria’s southeast, Idlib in the north near the Turkish-Syrian border, and Dar’a in the south near the Jordanian-Syrian border. (Right) A map indicating the epicenters of violence in Syria indicate that the exact same hotbeds for Al Qaeda in 2007, now serve as the epicenters of so-called “pro-democracy fighters.” These areas are now admittedly the epicenters of fighting, and more importantly, despite being historical hotbeds of Al Qaeda activity, precisely where the West is flooding with cash, weapons, and military “advisers.”

Just like in Libya where the West literally handed an entire nation to sectarian extremists, we are watching a verbatim repeat in Syria – where we are told Al Qaeda terrorists are “pro-democracy” “freedom fighters” that deserve US cash, weapons, and support, when it couldn’t be any clearer they aren’t.  

Not only has the US and UK lied to the world about their policy toward Syria and their current level of support for increasingly overt terrorists committing an array of atrocities – their latest act including the taking of over 20 UN peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights - but have revealed once again the manufactured facade that is the “War on Terror…”

Terrorist Groups Currently Active in Syria

Known terrorist groups are operating in Syria and are receiving the full backing of NATO Allies and Gulf states Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They include – but are not limited to, Saudi Intelligence-backed Jabhat al-Nusra or ‘al Nursa Front’, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group,  Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Al Baraa ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, the jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, the PKK (in northeast Syria), Kata’ib Mohadzherin from the Russian Caucus region - to name only a few.

Earlier reports of rogue Russian and Chechen terrorists filtering into Syria appear to be preceded by Salafists killing Sufi leaders in the Russian Federation. The Pakistan Christian Post reports:

Recently in Dagestan the Sufi spiritual leader Said Efendi Chirkeisky was killed by a suicide bomber along with a few followers. This happened in late August and the closeness to the recent attack against Sufi leaders in Tatarstan is a clear reminder that Salafism is a potent force within parts of the Russian Federation. Therefore, not surprisingly the Russian Federation is extremely alarmed by major Western powers once more working in collusion with the FSA, al-Qaeda and a whole array of Salafi terrorist organizations.

It’s worth noting also that like Libya’s new militant governor of Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, terrorist group Kata’ib Mohadzherin’s leader Airat Vakhitov was also imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002 after being captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both were released and filtered back into fighting regions to organise al Qaeda-type Islamist groups – both active in countries which the US and NATO have been actively vying for regime change, in Libya and Syria respectively. You can draw your own conclusions here about what Guantanamo is in reality.

The same New York Times article (above) also mentions terrorists’ theocratic designs of establishing some caliphate in the region:

One Qaeda operative, a 56-year-old known as Abu Thuha who lives in the Hawija district near Kirkuk in Iraq, spoke to an Iraqi reporter for The New York Times on Tuesday. “We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,” he said. “Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims…"

It’s important to understand that such claims by any shadowy ‘al Qaeda’ figures must also be balance with the reality that these militants have been historically, and are still today, directed and funded at the highest levels of both US and Saudi intelligence, and others. When you see terror spokesman like Ayman al-Zawahri, the alleged leader of Al Qaeda, praise the Syrian fighters by referring to them as “the lions of the Levant,” in messages released exclusively via a known CIA media dissemination outlets like SITE, or INTEL CENTER, then readers should be suspicious of why it’s been released and what political effect it is designed to have.

Now that some of the scope of NATO Allies operation in Syria has been exposed to the public, perhaps political representatives, media journalist, and editors will be able to report more accurately on the Syrian crisis, and demand a withdrawl of NATO, Arab League and others country’s support for the growing and highly dangerous paramilitary and other al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups who are currently working to take power by destabilising the country of Syria.

It’s all happening out in the open now.

US Tries to Control Outcome of Syrian War

Transcript PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. Secretary of State John Kerry has been very active on his Syria file. ~~~ JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So today, on behalf of President Obam...

Congressman Tim Griffin Accused of “Voter Caging,” Fronts XL Pipeline for Koch Brothers

Transcript PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Palast Report with Greg Palast, who's an investigative journalist. And he joins us now from New York City. Greg w...

N. Korea rejects UN sanctions as war ghosts are conjured

Published time: March 09, 2013 08:22

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (AFP Photo / Kins)

Amid the growing tension in the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang has formally rejected the new round of UN sanctions aimed at undermining its missile and nuclear programs. The sanctions, while trumpeted as a serious blow to North Korea, may prove futile.

The resolution passed by the UN Security Council on Friday is the fifth of its kind since 2006, when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its first nuclear test. Adopted in response to the third detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea, it aims to tighten financial restrictions and cargo inspections against Pyongyang.

Responding to the move, the North said in a statement by a Foreign Ministry spokesman: "The DPRK, as it did in the past, vehemently denounces and totally rejects the 'resolution on sanctions' against the DPRK, a product of the US hostile policy toward it."

"The world will clearly see what permanent position the DPRK will reinforce as a nuclear weapons state and satellite launcher as a result of the US attitude of prodding the UNSC into cooking up the 'resolution’," Pyongyang said.

The adoption of the new round of sanctions and particularly enlisting the support of China, North Korea’s sole ally, was hailed as a big step forward by some diplomats. UN Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who led the drafting of the document and negotiated with Beijing on the matter, said that "these sanctions will bite and bite hard."

The sanctions are not unlike those imposed by the US and its allies against Iran in early 2012, which some Western officials say were successful. They crippled Tehran’s oil exports and hurt its economy, which suffered from rampaging inflation. But there is some doubt that the restrictions would be effective with North Korea, which has a much more closed economy stemming from its state ideology of self-reliance.

In addition, China’s support of the sanctions on the top level may become mitigated on the level of implementation. For example, while the resolution makes inspections of cargo going to North Korea mandatory, it is up to the inspecting country to judge whether it is related to missile or nuclear development and is subject for detention.

“Really, the sanctions themselves aren’t going to make a huge difference in this conflict, and I think going along with it, whoever knows what gets decided and traded off at the back door of politics,” told RT Eric Sirotkin, co-founder of the National Campaign to End the Korean War.

A day after the UNSC resolution was adopted Beijing indicated that sanctions are not the key to easing the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

"We always believe that sanctions are not the end of Security Council actions, nor are sanctions the fundamental way to resolve the relevant issues," China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Saturday at a media conference.

He added, "The only right way to resolve the issue is to take a holistic approach and resolve the concerns of all parties involved in a comprehensive and balanced manner through dialogue and consultations."

China is far from welcoming a nuclear North Korea at its borders, but it has limited leverage on Pyongyang and cannot make it disarm through diplomatic means. However, cutting trade links and aid may result in the collapse of the regime, which would prove greater problems for China. 

Those may range from thousands of economic refugees rushing into China and stockpiles of arms looted from the North’s military depots spreading across the region all the way up to a new war. Many experts say such considerations will make Beijing reluctant in mounting pressure on its troublemaker neighbor.

The sanctions come amid heightened tension between North Korea and its opponents. The US and South Korea are conducting massive annual military games not far from North’s border, much to Pyongyang’s annoyance. The DPRK’s military command said it suspects the drills to be a cover for preparation of a real attack and threatened to response in full force, warning that North Korea will not share the fate of Balkans, Iraq or Libya.

North Korea also announced Friday that it is withdrawing from the armistice agreement which ended the war in 1953. It is the sixth time since 1994 that Pyongyang has done so, each of the episodes linked to some violent conflict or escalation of tensions between the two Koreas. Seoul never signed the document.

Friday’ pull-out from the non-aggression pact is accompanied with the severing of a hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul. This may have dangerous and absolutely unintended ramifications.

“Even though none of the countries, none of the parties want a full-scale war, any small incident in the Korean Peninsula could lead to both sides stepping on the escalation ladder. That’s how wars start, even when there’s no intention for war,” anti-war activist Brian Becker told RT.

“The need now is to reduce tensions, and the onus for that is not on North Korea, which is not threatening the US. It’s the US that should stop carrying out war games simulating the invasion and bombing of North Korea and lift sanctions,” he said.


UK, Turkish FMs discuss Syria crisis

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu(L), British Foreign Secretary William Hague (R)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has met with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in London, discussing ways to increase support for foreign-backed opposition forces in Syria.

Hague welcomed Davutoglu to his country during a meeting following the so-called Friends of Yemen conference on March 7.

“The UK and Turkey continue to enjoy a deepening bilateral relationship, enhancing cooperation on a number of issues, including foreign policy, trade and EU accession,” Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) reported.

“The Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister Davutoglu discussed increasing support for the Syrian coalition, closer work on security sector reform in Somalia, the search for peace in the Middle East, and renewing efforts for a Cyprus settlement,” the FCO added.

This comes as Britain and its allies have been repeatedly accused of arming and training Syrian terrorists and even exporting mercenaries to the Arab country in an attempt to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government.

In an earlier statement to the House of Commons, Hague announced plans to spend some £13 million in assistance to insurgents in the Arab country, providing them with armoured vehicles, body armour, and other military equipment.

Many British MPs, however, raised concerns over Hague’s plans, saying that they fear being dragged into another Iraq-style military intervention in Syria.

MOS/JR/HE

Chavez: A Personal Tribute – Stephen Lendman

Obama may have ordered him killed. Very likely he did. Believe it. Chavez did. He had good reason to do so. He said it openly. Castro warned him. He explained how imperial Washington works.

National Disgrace: The Lack of Opposition to Obama’s Kill List Policy

Democrats Shamefully Silent on Obama Administration’s Assertion of Right to Assassinate Americans on U.S. Soil

Rand Paul carried out a historic 13-hour filibuster of dronemaster-in-chief John Brennan’s nomination for CIA chief.

Huffington Post slammed Democrats for being missing in action and progressive news host Cenk Uygur called Senator Paul a “constitutional hero”.

One of the top constitutional law experts in the country – Jonathan Turley, a progressive liberal – writes:

What was most striking about this principled stand is the virtual total absence of Democrats in speaking out against Obama. Just this week, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that this policy could include killing citizens on U.S. soil with drones. Yet, the Democrats worked to stop not the kill list policy but Paul’s filibuster. Obama apologists have attacked Rand for some of his other positions to avoid dealing with the fact that Obama is claiming the powers of an Imperial President. I do not agree with Paul on many things, but I commend him for this stand and condemn those who remained silent, again, in the face of this authoritarian policy of Obama.

***

The lack of opposition to Obama’s kill list policy is a national disgrace. It shows the triumph of a cult of personality within the Democratic ranks where both members and voters have chosen Obama over long-standing values of civil liberties that once defined their party.

Senator Paul’s office sent us a series of unofficial transcripts of Paul’s filibuster speech.  Below are our favorite excerpts (constitutional experts like Turley have confirmed that Paul’s statements are accurate).

No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in bowling green, Kentucky, is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.

***

The principle is one that as Americans we have fought long and hard for and to give up on that principle, to give up on the bill of rights, to give up on the Fifth Amendment protection that says that no person shall be held without due process, that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted. This is a precious American tradition and something we should not give up on easily.

***

When I asked the President, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, “no.” The President’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.

The President says, I haven’t killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might. Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that? Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a President to say he might kill Americans? But he will judge the circumstances, he will be the sole arbiter, he will be the sole decider, he will be the executioner in chief if he sees fit. Now, some would say he would never do this. Many people give the President the – you know, they give him consideration, they say he’s a good man. I’m not arguing he’s not. What I’m arguing is that the law is there and set in place for the day when angels don’t rule government. Madison said that the restraint on government was because government will not always be run by angels. This has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with whether the President is a Democrat or a Republican. Were this a Republican President, I’d be here saying exactly the same thing. No one person, no one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country.

This isn’t even new to our country. There’s 800 years of English law that we found our tradition upon. We founded it upon the Magna Carta from 1215. We founded it upon Morgan from Glamorgan and 725 A.D. We founded upon the Greeks and Romans who had juries. It is not enough to charge someone to say that they are guilty.

***

If there’s a gentleman or a woman with a grenade launcher attacking our buildings or our Capitol, we use lethal force. You don’t get due process if you’re involved with actively attacking us, our soldiers or our government. You don’t get due process if you’re overseas in a battle shooting at our soldiers. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The Wall Street Journal reported and said that the bulk of the drone attacks are signature attacks. They don’t even know the name of the person. A line or a caravan is going from a place where we think there are bad people to a place where we think they might commit harm and we kill the caravan, not the person. Is that the standard that we will now use in America? Will we use a standard for killing Americans to be that we thought – killing Americans to be that we thought you were bad, we thought you were coming from a meeting of bad people and you were in a line of traffic and so, therefore, you were fine for the killing? That is the standard we’re using overseas. Is that the standard we’re going to use here?

I will speak today until the President responds and says no, we won’t kill Americans in cafes; no, we won’t kill you at home in your bed at night; no, we won’t drop bombs on restaurants. Is that so hard? It’s amazing that the President will not respond. I’ve been asking this question for a month. It’s like pulling teeth to get the President to respond to anything. And I get no answer.

The President says he hasn’t done it yet and I’m to be comforted, you are to be comforted in your home, you are to be comforted in your restaurant, you are to be comforted on-line communicating in your e-mail that the President hasn’t killed an American yet on the homeland. He says he hasn’t done it yet. He says he has no intention to do so. Hayek said that nothing distinguishes arbitrary government from a government that is run by the whims of the people than the rule of law. The law’s an amazingly important thing, an amazingly important protection. And for us to give up on it so easily really doesn’t speak well of what our founding fathers fought for, what generation after generation of American soldiers have fought for, what soldiers are fighting for today when they go overseas to fight wars for us. It doesn’t speak well of what we’re doing here to protect the freedom at home when our soldiers are abroad fighting for us, that we say that our freedom’s not precious enough for one person to come down and say, enough’s enough, Mr. President. Come clean, come forward and say you will not kill Americans on American soil. The oath of office of the President says that he will, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He raises his hand, his right hand, puts his left hand on the bible, and he says, “i will.” The President doesn’t say, “I intend to if it’s convenient.” “I intend to, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.”

***

If you are sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich., if you happen to be an Arab-American who has a relative in the Middle East and you communicate with them by e-mail and somebody says, oh, your relative is someone we suspect of being associated with terrorism, is that enough to kill you? For goodness sakes, wouldn’t we try to arrest and come to the truth by having a jury and a presentation of the facts on both sides of the issue? See, the real problem here, one of the things we did a long time ago is we separated the police power from the judicial power. This was an incredibly important first step. We also prevented the military from acting in our country because we didn’t want to have a police state.

***

I’m not casting any aspersions on the President. I’m not saying he is a bad person at all, but he is not a judge. He’s a politician. He was elected by a majority, but the majority doesn’t get to decide who we execute. We have a process for deciding this. We have courts for deciding this, to allow one man to accuse you in secret, you never get notified you have been accused. Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone as it flies overhead in the seconds before you’re killed. Is that what we really want from our government? Are we so afraid of terrorism, are we so afraid of terrorists that we’re willing to just throw out our rights and our freedoms, things that have been fought for and that we have gotten over the centuries.

***

Madison wrote in the federalist papers, he said that the Constitution states what history demonstrates, that the executive branch is the branch most prone to war, most likely to go to war, and therefore we – we took that power to declare war and we vested it in the legislature. We broke up the powers. Montesquieu wrote about the checks and balances and the separation of powers. He was somebody who Jefferson looked towards. They separated the powers because there was a chance for abuse of power when power resides in one person. Montesquieu said there can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the legislative. I would say something similar. There can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the judiciary. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re allowing the President to be the accuser in secret and we’re allowing him to be the judge and we’re allowing him to be the jury. No man should have that power. We should fear that power. Not because we have to say oh, we fear the current President. It has nothing to do with who the President is. It has nothing to do with whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. It has to do with whether or not you fear the consolidation of power, were you – whether you fear power being given to one person, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat. This is not necessarily a right-left issue.

***

What’s important here is that we’re talking about a war without geographic limitations, but we’re also talking about a war without temporal limitations. There is no limit, no limit in time to this war. When will this war end? It’s a war that has, I think, an infinite timeline. So if you’re going to suspend your rights, if there is going to be no geographic limits to killing, which really means we’re not at war in Afghanistan, we’re at war everywhere and everybody that pops up is called al-Qaida now, whether they have ever heard of al-Qaida or not, whether they have any communication with some kind of network of al-Qaida, everybody is al-Qaida, but there is a new war or an ongoing war everywhere in the world, there is no limitations.

Glenn Greenwald … says there is a theoretical framework being built that posits that the U.S. Government has unlimited power.

***

To think that we were opposed to them listening to your conversations without a warrant but no one’s going to stand up and say they can kill you without a warrant, a judge’s review or a jury, no one’s going to object to that, where is the cacophony that stood up and said how can you tap my phone without going to a judge first? I ask how can you kill someone without going to a judge or a jury?

***

Civil libertarians once expected more from the President. In fact, it was one of the things that I liked about the President. I’m a Republican. I didn’t vote or support the President either time, but I admired him, particularly in 2007 when he ran. I admired his ability to stand up and say we won’t torture people, that’s not what America does. How does the President’s mind work, though? The President that seemed so honorable, seemed so concerned with our rights, seemed so concerned with the right not to have your phone be tapped now says he’s not concerned with whether you can be killed without a trial. The leap of logic is so fantastic as to boggle the mind. Where is the Barack Obama of 2007? Has the presidency so transformed him that he has forgotten his moorings, forgotten what he stood for? Civilian libertarians once expected more from the President. Ask any civil libertarian whether or not the President should have the right to arbitrarily kill Americans on American soil and the answer is easy. Of course, no President should have the right or that power under the Constitution.

***

The President a year ago lined up – signed a law that says that you can be detained indefinitely, that you can be sent from America to Guantanamo Bay without a trial, and he wants us to be comforted, he wants us to remember and think good of him because he says I don’t intend to do so. It’s not enough. I mean, would you tolerate a Republican who stood up and said well, I like the First Amendment, I’m quite fond of the First Amendment, and I don’t intend to break the First Amendment but I might.

***

So my question is if you’re not a civilian, if you’re in proximity to bad people, is that the standard we’re going to use in the United States? So if we’re going to kill Americans on American soil and the standard is going to be signature strikes that you’re close to bad people or that you’re in the same proximity as bad people, would that be enough? Are we happy with that standard? Are we happy that we have no jury, no trial, no charges, nothing done publicly?

***

Many of the drone strikes overseas are done when you’re walking – I don’t know where you are a walking … To church, you’re walking along the road – they’re done when you’re in a car driving, they’re done when you’re in a house eating. They’re done when you’re at a restaurant eating. They’re done when you’re in a house sleeping. I am saying that they’re not actively involved in something that’s an imminent threat and if they were in America, they would be arrested.

***

The Bureau of Justice put out a bulletin within the last year describing people who you need to be worried about. These are [terrorists]. Who are these terrorists that live among you?

People who might be missing fingers on one hand, people who might have stains on their clothing, people who might have changed the color of their hair, people who like to pay in cash, people who own more than one gun, people who own weatherized ammunition, people who have seven days of food in their house. These are people that you should be afraid of and that you should report to your government. So says your government. Are they going to be on the drone strike list? I think we need to get an answer from the President.

If you’re going to kill people in America, we need rules, and we need to know what your rules are. Because I certainly don’t want to have seven days of food in my house if that’s on the list to terrorism. Interestingly, on government websites there are some government websites that advise you to have it in your house. If you live in a hurricane-prone area you’re supposed to keep some area food around. Who is going to decide when it’s okay to have food in your house and when it’s not?

***

The people on the list from the fusion center in Missouri that you need to be worried about, that policemen should stop, are people that have bumper stick theirs might be pro-life, who have bumper stickers that might be for more border security, people who support third-party candidates ….

You believe in the Constitution so much, you might be a terrorist – you believe in the Constitution so much, you might be a terrorist. We need to be concerned about this. Things are not so black and white. If someone is shooting at us, a canon, a missile, a rocket, a plane, it is pretty easy to know what lethal attacks are. We’re talking about people in their homes, at a restaurant, or a cafe that someone is making an accusation. If the accusation is based on how many fingers you have on your hand, I have got a problem with that standard. If the standard to be used for killing Americans is whether you pay in cash, I’ve got a problem with that. If the standard to be used in America is being close to someone who is bad or the government thinks is bad is enough for you to be killed and not even account you as an accidental kill, to count you as combatant because you were near them [I"ve got a problem with that].

***

But here’s the real problem: When the President’s spokesman was asked about al-Awlaki’s son, you know what his response was? This I find particularly callous and particularly troubling. The President’s response to the killing of al-Awlaki’s son, he said he should have chosen more a responsible father.

***

I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the President say he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking the country.

***

Should we live in a country where you have to be worried about what you say? Should we live in a country where you have to worry about what you write? What kind of country would that be?

***

Officials said the kill list in Pakistan has slipped to fewer than ten al-Qaida targets, down from as many as two dozen, and yet we’re killing hundreds of people in Pakistan.

***

What if you just happen to live in the neighborhood of somebody who is a suspected terrorist. Is it okay because you were close to them? What if you happened to go to dinner with a guy you didn’t know or a woman you didn’t know and the government says they’re a terrorist? Just because you’re having dinner with them and you are a male between the ages of 16 and 50, does that make you a combatant? We also asked the question do you condone the CIA’s practice of counting civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes as militants simply because they were of the same age? Like every other question, no answer. We asked him whether al-Awlaki’s son was a target. No answer. We asked how many people have been targeted. No answer.

***

As this war has dragged on, they take that authorization of use of force to mean pretty much anything. And so they have now said that the war has no geographic limitations, so it’s really not a war in Afghanistan, it’s a war in Yemen, Somalia, Mali. It’s a war in unlimited places.

***

About a year ago, I tried to end the Iraq war. You may say, well, I thought the Iraq war was already over. It is, but we still have an authorization of use of force that says we can go to war in Iraq any time.

And since they think the use of force in Afghanistan means limitless war anywhere, any time in the whole world, for goodness sakes, wouldn’t we try to take back a declaration of war, an authorization of force if the war is over? But here’s the sad part. I actually got a vote on it and I think I got less than 20 votes. You can’t end a war after it’s over up here. And it has repercussions, because these authorizations to use force are used for many other things. So the authorization of force says you can go after al-Qaida or associated terrorists. The problem is, is that when you allow the Executive Branch to sort of determine what is al-Qaida, you’ve got no idea.

***

Alarm bells should go off when people tell you that the battlefield’s in America. Why? Because when the battlefield’s in America, we don’t have due process.

***

One of them, in fact, said if you – if you – if they ask for a lawyer, you tell them to shut up. Well, if that’s the standard we’re going to have in America, I’m – I’m quite concerned that the battlefield would be here and that the Constitution wouldn’t apply. Because, to tell you the truth, if you are shooting at us in Afghanistan, the Constitution doesn’t apply over there. But I certainly want it to apply here. If you’re engaged in combat overseas, you don’t get due process. But when people say, oh, the battlefield’s come to America and the battlefield’s everywhere, the war is limitless in time and scope, be worried, because your rights will not exist if you call America a battlefield for all time. We’ve asked him whether the strikes are exclusively focused on al-Qaida and what is the definition of being part of al-Qaida.

***

Now, the President has said, don’t worry because he’s not going to kill you with a drone unless it’s infeasible to catch you.

***

Maybe he’s not got enough people to go arrest you …. So maybe he’s going to … kill you.

***

It is not because we think our military are bad people. I’m proud of our soldiers, I’m proud of our army, I’m proud of what they do for our country. But they operate under different rules. And it’s a much more dangerous environment they operate under. And it’s different. It’s still dangerous in America, but policemen have a different rules of engagement than your soldiers have. And there’s – there’s more restrictions and restraint on what we do in our country. So that’s why we say the military can’t operate here. So when we asked the President, can you kill Americans on American soil with your drone strikes, which is part of the military, it should be an easy answer.

***

John Yoo was one of the architects of this, basically just saying hey, if I’m going to protect you, I can do whatever the hell I want. Many on the left objected to that. Some of us on the right also objected to this – this usurpation of power by the Republican President. But the thing is, is it – now the shoe’s on the other foot and we’re not seeing any of that.

***

When we separate out police power from judicial power, it’s an important separation. You know, the police can arrest you, they’re allowed to do certain things, but the policeman that comes to your door and puts handcuffs on you doesn’t decide your guilt.

***

I’m not really disputing his motives or not saying he isn’t a good person. But I’m disputing someone who’s naive enough to think that that’s good enough for our republic, that his good intentions are good enough for our republic. It never would have been accepted, it would have been laughed out of the Constitutional Convention. The Founding Fathers would have objected so strenuously that that person probably would never have been elected to office in our country. Someone who doesn’t believe that the rules have to be in place and that we can’t have our rights guaranteed by the intentions of our politicians. Think about it. Congress has about a 10 percent approval rating. Do you think the American people want to base whether they’re going to be killed by a drone on a politician? I certainly don’t. Doesn’t have anything to do with whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat. I would be here today if this were a Republican President.

Because you can’t give that much power to one person.

***

No one is questioning whether the U.S. can repel an attack. No one is questioning whether your local police can repel an attack. Anybody involved in lethal force, the legal doctrine in our country and has been historically, has always been that the government can repel lethal attacks. The problem is, is that the drone strike program is often not about combatants. It is about people who may or may not be conspiring but they’re not in combat.

***

Is objecting to your government or the policies of your government – the policy of your government sympathizing with the enemy?

***

There is, though, a difference between sympathizing and taking up arms. Most people around here who want to justify no rules, America is a battlefield, no limits to war, they really want to blur it all together. Because it’s easier to say, oh, you don’t want to stop anybody who is shooting at Americans.

***

Certain things rise above partisanship. And I think your right to be secure in your person, the right to be secure in your liberty, the right to be tried by a jury of your peers – these are things that are so important and rise to such a level that we shouldn’t give up on them easily.

***

And really, the great irony of this is that President Obama’s position on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion. It basically is a continuation and an expansion of George Bush’s opinion. George Bush was a President who believed in a very expansive power. Virtually, some would say, unlimited. He was accused of running an imperial Presidency. The irony is that this President that we have currently was elected in opposition to that. This President was one elected who when he was in this body was often very vocal at saying that the President’s powers were limited.

***

One of the President’s [i.e. Obama's] writings I found very instructive and I was quite proud of him for having said it, the President said that no President shall unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress unless there is an imminent threat to the country. I guess we should be a little wary of his unless now since we know imminent doesn’t have to be immediate and imminent no longer means what humans once thought imminent meant. But he did say that the President doesn’t go to war by himself. I think it would be fair to say that candidate Obama also felt that the President didn’t have the authority to imprison you indefinitely without a trial. I think it’s also safe to say that Barack Obama of 2007 would be right down here with me arguing against this drone strike program if he were in the Senate.

***

Presidents have been getting more and more powerful for over a hundred years, Republican and Democrat. There was at one point in time in our history a pride among the Senate and a pride among the Congress that said these are our powers and we’re not giving them up. There were people on both sides of the aisle who would stand firm and say this is not a power I’m willing to relinquish. This is not something that is good for the country. And by relinquishing the power of Congress, we relinquish something very fundamental to our Republic, which is the checks and balances that we should have checks and balances to help and try to prevent one body or one part of the three parts of government from obtaining too much power.

***

Guilt or innocence isn’t always apparent, and sometimes an accusation is a false accusation. Sometimes accusations are made because people politically don’t like your point of view. So the question becomes should we have a process where we try to determine innocence or guilt?

***

If inconveniencecy is our standard for going to war without Congress, inconveniency is our standard for killing Americans on American soil with drones – I mean, I think we’ve sunk to a new low. I just can’t imagine as a country that that’s the standard that you want to have.

NATO’s War on Libya and Africa

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NATO’s war in Libya was proclaimed as a humanitarian intervention — bombing in the name of “saving lives.” Attempts at diplomacy were stifled. Peace talks were subverted. Libya was barred from representing itself at the UN, where shadowy NGOs and “human rights” groups held full sway in propagating exaggerations, outright falsehoods, and racial fear mongering that served to sanction atrocities and ethnic cleansing in the name of democracy. The rush to war was far speedier than Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Max Forte has scrutinized the documentary history from before, during, and after the war. He argues that the war on Libya was not about human rights, nor entirely about oil, but about a larger process of militarizing U.S. relations with Africa. The development of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was in fierce competition with Pan-Africanist initiatives such as those spearheaded by Muammar Gaddafi.

Far from the success NATO boasts about or the “high watermark” proclaimed by proponents of the “Responsibility to Protect,” this war has left the once prosperous, independent and defiant Libya in ruin, dependency and prolonged civil strife.

Slouching Towards Sirte:
NATO’s War on Libya and Africa

by Maximilian Forte

AVAILABLE TO ORDER FROM GLOBAL RESEARCH!

ISBN: 978-1-926824-52-9Year: 2012
Pages: 352 with 27 BW photos, 3 maps
Publisher: Baraka Books

Price: $24.95

CLICK TO ORDER FROM GLOBAL RESEARCH

This title is also available in E-Book format. Click here for more information.

About humanitarian imperialism, Max Forte writes:

“Desperate to finally be seen as the liberators of Arabs, rescuing poor victims with the finest of American exports (human rights), some would understandably feel compelled to exploit the suffering of others (residents fleeing Sirte) and turn that into something worthy of celebration. This is an example of the abduction process at the centre of Western, liberal humanitarianism: it can only function by first directly or indirectly creating the suffering of others, and by then seeing every hand as an outstretched hand, pleading or welcoming. We see (or imagine) helpless others, gobbling morsels of food that we hand them, brown mouths chugging down water from our plastic bottles, and we feel accomplished. Our moral might is reaffirmed by the physical plight of others. Clearly, the humanitarian relation is not a relation between equals. We are not our “brothers’ keepers” then, but rather we are more like animal keepers. Bombing for us is really just an animal management technology, and our relationship to the world remains a zoological one.” (Slouching Towards Sirte, p. 97.)

A War for Human Rights
(by Max Forte – in The Political Bouillon)

The war in Libya never happened. At least that is what one might think, considering the dearth of serious analysis and critical reflection in Canada since our participation in NATO’s bombardment campaign ended a year ago. Yet in Libya, in many ways the war is still happening…Read more..

Brendan Stone interviews Max Forte as he discusses his book SLOUCHING TOWARDS SIRTE

Praise, Reviews

Slouching Towards Sirte is a penetrating critique, not only of the NATO intervention in Libya, but of the concept of humanitarian intervention and imperialism in our time. It is the definitive treatment of NATO’s war on Libya. It is difficult to imagine it will be surpassed.”
-Stephen Gowans, What’s Left, Read More

“Forte’s allegations that NATO’s war was manufactured by liberal interventionists and “iPad imperialists” whose agenda to disrupt African independence and execute regime change under the “fig leaf” of saving lives are chilling—and persuasive. So too is the timeline of events between the start of the protests and the propagandist hysteria promulgated online. Even though Forte couches descriptions of Gaddafi in amorphous, guarded language, he isn’t an apologist. In this provocative and unabashedly direct book, Forte speaks truth to power.”
-ForeWord Reviews, January 4, 2013, read full review…

The Public Archive identified Slouching Towards Sirte as one of 10 Books for 2012 on its Black Radical Reading List.

Maximilian C. Forte is a professor of anthropology in Montreal, Canada. He teaches courses in the field of political anthropology dealing with “the new imperialism,” Indigenous resistance movements and philosophies, theories and histories of colonialism, and critiques of the mass media. Max is a founding member of Anthropologists for Justice and Peace.

Slouching Towards Sirte:
NATO’s War on Libya and Africa

by Maximilian Forte

ISBN: 978-1-926824-52-9
Year: 2012
Pages: 352 with 27 BW photos, 3 maps
Publisher: Baraka Books

Price: $24.95

CLICK TO ORDER FROM GLOBAL RESEARCH

Bradley Manning: The Conscience of America

Pfc. Bradley Manning last week explained how and more importantly, why, he leaked military and government documents. As Ratner frames it: 'He saw wrongdoing and he acted.' (Credit: Reuters)

“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information… this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general…” —Pfc. Bradley Manning in his plea statement, February 28th, 2013

This past Thursday, I was among a handful of individuals seated in the small windowless room at the military court facility in Fort Meade, Maryland, where Private First Class Bradley Manning would confess as the source of the largest leak of classified information in history. 

Sitting in his dark blue full military uniform, Private Manning responded thoughtfully each time the judge addressed him, as he prepared to read aloud a 35-page statement that precisely detailed his actions and motivations for each of 10 charges.  But as I witnessed this momentous occurrence, I was struck by a glaring inconsistency: the young soldier I saw in front of me – poised, resolute – bore absolutely no resemblance to his common depictions in the media from the last three years.  
 
For over 1000 days, Private Manning has been held in military detention, in Iraq, Kuwait, Quantico, Virginia and Leavenworth, Kansas.  Reports from these facilities and the media depicted Manning as unstable, depressed, weak, and worse.  While imprisoned, he has endured some of the worst treatment imaginable at the hands of his own government, notably characterized by the UN special rapporteur for torture as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading,” possibly amounting to torture. Worse yet, this abuse comes in response to actions which Manning believed, and continues to believe, were in the service of both his country and international human rights law.  Given all that he has endured, if the characterizations about his mental state were accurate, it would hardly come as a surprise. 

Yet, facing life in prison, possibly execution (which the government says it will not request), and all but sealing his fate for at least a lengthy prison term by his guilty admission to 10 of 22 charges against him, Bradley Manning exhibited calm, collection, great intelligence and, yet again, incredible bravery. In fact, if there was any room for doubt about Manning acting from a powerful moral compass, and representing the best and bravest of our military, the plea into which Manning entered must remove it. 

The last 10 years have brought to light egregious acts committed by U.S. soldiers who, when exposed, cower under the defense of “just following orders,” or claim to have been influenced by institutional culture.  Yet, remarkably, at just 22 years of age, a heroic young man began exposing the worst of this culture not to harm the country, but to better it.  He saw wrongdoing and he acted.

Over the course of nearly two hours, Private Manning detailed with startling clarity his precise motivations for each leak.  On the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Logs, he expressed his shock and dismay at the rampant use of targeted killings as a conflict-resolution tactic.  On the Reykjavik 13 cable: the world should know of the U.S. and U.K.’s bullying tactics against Iceland to accept austerity measures in the wake of the global financial meltdown.  On the Iraqi police’s arrests and disappearances of anti-corruption leafleters: that U.S. should not support those stifling democratic processes in Iraq.  On the Guantanamo detainee files: the Obama administration’s stance is two-faced, claiming on the one hand to want to close the prison, yet on the other, knowingly holding innocent and low-level prisoners.  On the State Department cable leak: the so-called “leader of the free world” engaged in “seemingly criminal activity” via backdoor deals is wrong and hypocritical. And on the most famous of his leaks, the “Collateral Murder” video: the soldiers’ “bloodlust” as they wantonly shot Reuters journalists whom they had mistaken for insurgents from an apache helicopter, along with the ensuing cover-up must be open to public review.

And though the words imply powerful moral and ethical motivations for the actions, Manning did not allow for any ambiguity regarding his ownership of the leaks.  Toward the end of his statement, Manning added, “the decisions that I made to send documents and information to [Wikileaks] were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility…”

One might question why Private Manning would make such a naked admission of guilt.  To this, it should be stated clearly that the plea into which he entered does not function in the same way as those in civilian court: as a deal with a prosecutor to confess to lesser charges for leniency in sentencing.  On the contrary, Manning’s plea, actually designated a “naked plea” in colloquial terms, not only leaves the door open for the U.S. government to pursue the remaining 12 charges against him – charges which, ridiculously, include “aiding the enemy” – but provide them with ammunition in the form of his confession statement, should they decide to do so. The implications of such an action are unsurprising given Private Manning’s record: simply that his commitment to placing the truth into the public record is a priority that exceeds concern for his personal well-being.

Unfortunately for Private Manning, he faces an administration that seems intent on criminalizing every conceivable act of whistleblowing, in effect deleting its vital function from our democratic system.  Not only has the Obama Administration pursued a greater number of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined, but it has recently announced that Private Manning’s plea will have no bearing on its pursuit of the remaining charges.

The sad irony in Private Manning’s case is that while the Obama Administration throws the book at him, even accuses him of aiding the enemy by exposing great wrongs in U.S. foreign policy, he actually serves as one of the most redeeming examples of service our country could ask for.  The last 10 years have brought to light egregious acts committed by U.S. soldiers who, when exposed, cower under the defense of “just following orders,” or claim to have been influenced by institutional culture.  Yet, remarkably, at just 22 years of age, a heroic young man began exposing the worst of this culture not to harm the country, but to better it.  He saw wrongdoing and he acted.

In processing these actions another quote comes to mind:

“I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”

No, these are not the words of Private Manning; they were spoken by Daniel Ellsberg on June 28, 1971 upon his admission to leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press.

The fact that these words ring as true now, in Private Manning’s current circumstance, as when they were spoken, is no coincidence.  Daniel Ellsberg too was maligned by many at the time of his confession.  Now history regards his action as a profound contribution to the public good.  There is little doubt that Bradley Manning’s contributions will be regarded with the same heroism in due time. 

Bradley Manning is being punished for failing to follow authority.  Yet, from a very young age, he realized an unshakable moral and ethical imperative to answer to a higher authority than his superiors: the Constitution, and the rule of law.

Hopefully, Bradley Manning’s statement will someday be read in classrooms all across the country as example of the duty each of us has to act in the face of criminality and evil.  Hopefully, he will be free to add to the discussion, remark on his terrible ordeal and be recognized as the hero he is. But no matter how long he is imprisoned, we all must recognize that to lock him up for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation.

Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and currently serves as attorney for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is co-author with Margaret Ratner Kunstler of “Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century”.

Shadow Lives: How the War on Terror in England Became a War on Women...

Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war.  In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.

In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan, nor did I spend time in besieged cities like Iraq’s Fallujah or Libya’s Misrata.  I stayed in Great Britain.  There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what, whether anyone cared to say it or not, was essentially a war against Islam.  Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.

I hadn’t planned to write about the war on terror, but driven by curiosity about lives most of us never see and a few lucky coincidences, I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham.  Some of them were British, others from Arab and African countries, but their husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.

In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for “security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework.  Other lonely women had husbands or sons who had sometimes spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition.

Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods — but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands, which seemed too intimate, too raw, too frightening, too unknowable to be put into words.

In the early years, it was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. Facebook culture had not come to most of these families. The reticence faded over the years, especially when the children were not there, or in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, a husband’s suicide attempt, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington’s then-expanding global gulag of black sites and, of course, Guantanamo.

In these years, I met some of their husbands and sons as well.  The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Washington’s notorious offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to be released without charges.  When he came home, through his lawyer, he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo.  We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who, unlike him, were still there.

Was My Husband Tortured?

In these homes he visited, there was always one great unspoken question: Was my husband or son tortured? It was the single question no one could bear to ask a survivor of that nightmare, even for reassurance. When working on his book, I deliberately left the chapter on his experiences in American hands in Bagram prison for last, as I sensed how difficult it would be for both of us to speak about the worst of the torture I knew he had experienced.

Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years.  Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.

In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.

I was halfway through working on Moazzam’s book when London was struck by our 9/11, which we call 7/7. The July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, in three parts of the London underground and a bus, killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700. The four bombers were all young British men between 18 and 30, two of them married with children, and one of them a mentor at a primary school. In video statements left behind they described themselves as “soldiers” whose aim was to force the British government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just three weeks later, there were four more coordinated bomb attacks on the London subway system.  (All failed to detonate.) The four men responsible, longterm British residents originally from the Horn of Africa, were captured, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In this way, the whole country was traumatised in 2005, and that particularly includes the various strands of the Muslim community in Great Britain.

The British security services quickly returned to a post-9/11 stance on overdrive. The same MI5 intelligence agents who had interrogated Moazzam while he was in U.S. custody asked to meet him again to get his thoughts on who might be behind the attacks. However, three years in U.S. custody and five months at home occupied with his family and his book had not made him a likely source of information on current strains of thought in the British Muslim community.

At the same time, the dozen foreign Muslim refugees detained in the aftermath of 9/11 and held without trial for two years before being released on the orders of the House of Lords were rearrested. In the summer of 2005, the government prepared to deport them to countries they had originally fled as refugees.

All of them had been made anonymous by court order and in legal documents were referred to as Mr. G, Mr. U, and so on. This was no doubt intended to safeguard their privacy, but in a sense it also condemned them.  It made them faceless, inhuman, and their families experienced it just that way. “They even took my husband’s name away, why?” one wife asked me.

The women I was meeting in these years were mostly from this small group, as well as the relatives of a handful of British residents — Arabs — who were not initially returned from Guantanamo with the nine British citizens that the Americans finally released without charges in 2004 and 2005.

Perhaps no one in the country was, in the end, more terrorised than them, thanks to the various terror plots by British nationals that followed. And they were right to be fearful.  The pressure on them was overwhelming.  Some of them simply gave up and went home voluntarily because they could not bear house arrest, though they risked being sent to prison in their native lands; others went through years of house arrest and court appeals against deportation, all of which continues to this day.

Among the plots that unnerved them were one in 2006 against transatlantic aircraft, for which a total of 12 Britons were jailed for life in 2009, and the 2007 attempt to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow International Airport, in which one bomber died and the second was jailed for 32 years. In the post-9/11 decade, 237 people were convicted of terror-related offences in Britain.

Though all of this was going on, much of it remained remote from the world of the refugee women I came to know who, in the larger world, were mainly preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, with Palestinian developments, filled their TV screens tuned only to Arabic stations.

These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares, but for anyone in their company there was no mistaking them: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another, with several small children, turned back from a prison visit, despite a long journey, because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.

Here was the texture of a hidden war of continual harassment against a largely helpless population.  This was how some of the most vulnerable people in British society — often already traumatised refugees and torture survivors — were made permanent scapegoats for our post-9/11, and then post-7/7 fears.

So powerful is the stigma of “terrorism” today that, in the name of “our security,” whether in Great Britain or the United States, just about anything now goes, and ever fewer people ask questions about what that “anything” might actually be. Here in London, repeated attempts to get influential religious or political figures simply to visit one of these officially locked-down families and see these lives for themselves have failed. In the present political climate, such a personal, fact-finding visit proved to be anything but a priority for such people.

A Legal System of Secret Evidence, House Arrest, and Financial Sanctions

Against this captive population, in such an anything-goes atmosphere, all sorts of experimental perversions of the legal system were tried out.  As a result, the British system of post-9/11 justice contains many features which should frighten us all but are completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom.

Key aspects for the families I have been concerned with include the use of secret evidence in cases involving deportation, bail conditions, and imprisonment without trial. In addition, most of their cases have been heard in a special court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or SIAC, which is housed in an anonymous basement set of rooms in central London.

One of SIAC’s innovative features is the use of “special advocates,” senior barristers who have security clearance to see secret evidence on behalf of their clients, but without being allowed to disclose it or discuss it, even with the client or his or her own lawyer. The resignation on principle of a highly respected barrister, Ian Macdonald, as a special advocate in November 2004 exposed this process to the public for the first time — but almost no one took any interest.

And a sense of the injustice in this arcane system was never sufficiently sparked by such voices, which found little echo in the media. Nor was there a wide audience for reports from a team of top psychiatrists about the devastating psychological impact on the men and their families of indefinite detention without trial, and of a house-arrest system framed by “control orders” that allow the government to place restrictions of almost any sort on the lives of those it designates.

An even less noted aspect of the anti-terror legal system brought into existence after 9/11 was the financial sanctions that could freeze the assets of designated individuals.  First ordered by the United Nations, the financial-sanctions regime was consolidated here through a European Union list of designated people. The few lawyers who specialized in this area were scathing about the draconian measures involved and the utter lack of transparency when it came to which governments had put which names on which list.

The effect on the listed families was draconian.  Marriages collapsed under the strain. The listed men were barred from working and only allowed £10 a week for personal expenses. Their wives — often from conservative cultures where all dealings with the outside world had been left to husbands — suddenly were the families’ faces to the world, responsible for everything from shopping to accounting monthly to the government’s Home Office for every item the family purchased, right down to a bottle of milk or a pencil for a child. It was humiliating for the men, who lost their family role overnight, and exhausting and frustrating for the women, while in some cases the rest of their families shunned them because of the taint of alleged terrorism. Almost no one except specialist lawyers even knew that such financial sanctions existed in Britain.

In the country’s High Court, the first judicial challenge to the financial-sanctions regime was brought in 2008 by five British Muslim men known only as G, K, A, M, and Q. In response, Justice Andrew Collins said he found it “totally unacceptable” that, to take an especially absurd example, a man should have to get a license for legal advice about the sanctions from the very body that was imposing them. The man in question had waited three months for a “basic expense” license permitting funds for food and rent, and six months for a license to obtain legal advice about the situation he found himself in.

In a related case before the judicial committee of the House of Lords, Justice Leonard Hoffman expressed incredulity at the “meanness and squalor” of a regime that “monitored who had what for lunch.” More recently, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court endorsed the comments of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley who described those subject to the regime as being akin to “prisoners of the state.”

Among senior lawyers concerned about this hidden world of punishment was Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. He devoted one of his official U.N. reports to the financial sanctions issue. His recommendations included significantly more transparency from governments who put people on such a list, the explicit exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, and the obligation of governments to give reasons when they refuse to remove individuals from the list.  Of course, no one who mattered was paying the slightest attention.

Against ideological governments obsessed by terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic and a culture numbed by violent anti-terrorist tales like “24” and Zero Dark Thirty, such complicated and technical initiatives on behalf of individuals who have been given the tag, implicitly if not explicitly, of “terrorist” stand little chance of getting attention.

“Each Time It’s Worse”

Nearly a decade ago, at the New York opening night of Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, the play Gillian Slovo and I wrote using only the words of the relatives of prisoners in that jail, their lawyers, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an elderly man approached Moazzam Begg’s father and me.  He introduced himself as a former foreign policy adviser to President John Kennedy. “It could never have happened in our time,” he said.

When the Global War on Terror was still relatively new, it was common for audiences to react similarly and with shock to a play in which fathers and brothers describe their bewilderment over the way their relation had disappeared into the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In the years since, we have become numb to the destruction of lives, livelihoods, futures, childhoods, legal systems, and trust by Washington’s and London’s never-ending war on terror.

In that time, I have seen children grow from toddlers to teenagers locked inside this particular war machine.  What they say today should startle us out of such numbness. Here, for instance, are the words of two teenagers, a girl and a boy whose fathers had been imprisoned or under house arrest in Britain for 10 years and whose lives in those same years were filled with indignities and humiliations:

“People seem to think that we get used to things being how they are for us, so we don’t feel the injustices so much now. They are quite wrong: it was painful the first time, more painful the second, even more so the third. In fact, each time it’s worse, if you can believe that. There isn’t a limit on how much pain you can feel.”

The boy added this:

“There is never one day when I feel safe. It can be the authorities, it can be ordinary people, they can do something bad for us. Only like now when we are all in the house together can I stop worrying about my mum and my sisters, and even me, what might happen to us. On the tube [subway], in class at university, people look at my beard.  I see them looking and I know they are thinking bad things about me. I would like to be a normal guy who no one looks at. You know, other boys, some of my friends, they cut corners, things like driving without a current license, everyone does it. But I can’t, I can’t ever, ever, take even a small risk. I have to always be cautious, be responsible… for my family.”

These children have been brought up by women who, against all odds, have often preserved their dignity and kept at least a modicum of joy in their families’ lives, and so, however despised, however unnoticed, however locked away, made themselves an inspiration to others. They are not victims to be pitied, but women our societies should embrace.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response to recent proposals that Washington establish a secret court to oversee the targeting of terrorist suspects for death-by-drone and President Obama’s expanding executive power to kill, speak for the world beyond the West.  They offer a different perspective on the war on terror that Washington and Great Britain continue to pursue with no end in sight:

“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the nineteenth century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.  I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.”

Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.

English-speaking Islamic extremist increase worries US, EU

Published time: March 07, 2013 09:53

AFP Photo / Khalil Al-Murshidi

Western officials are disturbed by the growing use of English-language recruitment of Islamic extremists online, especially from the UK to Syria. They fear the return of new English-speaking recruits to the EU to plot attacks at home or in the US.

European intelligence sources revealed that up to 60-70 people have left Britain to join in military factions to fight against the Syrian government, Reuters reported.

They have also noted an increase in the number of Internet messages directed at potential English-speaking militants in the UK to join in the fight against Syria’s government.

Both the US and EU security officials confirm that there has been a growing number of English-language recruitment videos and online content, which is proving successful in luring dozens of English-speaking Muslims from their homes in Europe to travel to the Middle East and fight in places such as Syria.

Even though the US and EU policy supports anti-Assad forces, the problem arises when English-speaking recruits join the extreme, anti-Western Syrian rebel factions, become terrorists and then return home, stated officials.

The majority of those who already left UK to fight in Syria have joined the militant anti-Assad faction, known as Al-Nusra, which the US has named a terrorist group connected with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Reuters reported.

AFP Photo / Carl Court

An increase in English-content videos and online messages has been reported by security officials in the US and the EU.

Last week a jihadist website controlled by an Islamic militant group based in Somalia, al Shabaab, posted a new video of a man speaking English and calling himself Abu Ahmed al-Amriki (Arabic for 'the American'), counterterrorism blog the Long War Journal reported.

In the video Abu Ahmed calls upon all Muslims living in the West to give up their lives there and join the Islamic holy war in Somalia, Mali and Afghanistan. The identity of the man in the video remains unknown.

In February another man posted a second of two video messages calling himself an “American mujahid [holy warrior]” and praising his involvement with rebels fighting against the Syrian government, stated a group that monitors militant websites, the Flashpoint Global Partners.

“Bashar Assad, your days are numbered,” the man speaking in English with an American accent is quoted as saying, referring to Syria’s president. “You should just quit now, while you can, and leave. You are going to die, no matter what. Where you go we will find you and kill you.”

US officials also noted an increase in English-language online literature, which calls on wannabe militants to turn to violence and provides instructions on how to use household items to cause damage and death.

“We've been monitoring [these developments] and yes, it's concerning,” Deputy Commissioner and spokesman of the New York Police Department Paul Browne told Reuters.

This past week, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released two English-language publications in its ‘Inspire’ magazine targeting aspiring holy warriors.

Image from al-malahem.com

The first piece is a death list, which names selected Westerners and includes prominent figures, such as the anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders, and the Koran-burning Florida preacher Terry Jones.

The other publication is a rulebook, ‘The Lone Mujahid Pocketbook’, which explains how to cause traffic accidents, deadly ambushes, gas leaks, destroy buildings and start forest fires in your own country.

The publication asks the reader: “Have u been lookin' 4 a way to join the Mujahideen in frontlines? Well, there's no need to travel abroad, coz the frontline has come to you... Just read 'n' apply the contents of this guide.”

Recruitment tactics have also made headway in social media.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militia from South Somalia began tweeting in English and gained more than 20,000 subscribers by the time Twitter closed its account in January. As the group set-up a new account, it gained 2,000 followers in a week in February.

Holder on Too Big to Jail, Nation’s Strictest Abortion Ban Enacted, and More

Holder on Too Big to Jail, Nation’s Strictest Abortion Ban Enacted, and More

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Posted on Mar 6, 2013

Keeping the Lights On: The House on Wednesday voted to avoid a government shutdown, passing a temporary budget measure that would extend spending cuts that were enacted March 1 and keep the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The measure, passed by a 267-151 vote, would shift billions in order to ease the across-the-board spending cuts on the military. It now heads to the Senate, where a bipartisan coalition will attempt to expand the package to give the same kind of relief to other departments affected by the sequester. Without an agreement, the government will shut down March 27. (Read more)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? In an effort to close the increasingly widening political divide, President Obama has invited a group of prominent Republican senators to dine with him Wednesday night. Among the expected guests: Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, compiled the guest list on the president’s behalf. In another attempt to reach across the aisle, Obama also requested to hold separate meetings with all House and Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill next week. (Read more)

The Big Picture: Comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday may shed more light on why the government doesn’t prosecute the big banks that many believe are responsible for the country’s financial crisis. Testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Holder said, “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.” In other words, the Justice Department has become afraid to prosecute big banks now because it fears the repercussions that legal action could have on the national economy. It’s a shame Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t sit on the Judiciary Committee. (Read more)

Extreme Measures: The Arkansas state legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to enact what is now the strictest abortion law in the U.S. The legislation bans the legal—emphasis on legal—procedure after the 12th week of pregnancy. The legislation, which Beebe claimed “blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution,” will most likely face a legal challenge in court. In vetoing the 12-week—and, previously, a 20-week version—of the prohibition, Beebe said he wanted to avoid legal battles and their cost. (Read more)

On the (Cushy) Job: Mitt Romney, who once joked during his failed presidential bid that he was unemployed, has a job once more. Or at least he’ll have a part-time one. According to NBC News, Romney has taken the position of chairman of the executive committee at Solamere Capital, his eldest son Tagg’s investment firm. As part of the gig, Romney will be toiling only one week a month. Nice work if you can get it. (Read more)

Video of the Day: More than two years after a gunshot wound to the head nearly ended her life, Gabrielle Giffords returned to the Tucson, Ariz., supermarket where the shooting happened to speak out in support of background checks on gun purchases. The ex-congresswoman, appearing alongside her husband Mark Kelly, spoke briefly, telling the crowd to “Be bold. Be courageous.” Giffords’ plea comes one day before the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up a bill that would increase penalties for anyone who buys a gun illegally for someone else.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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20 UN peacekeepers taken hostage by Syrian rebels in Golan Heights

Published time: March 06, 2013 21:13

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 by [email protected]

Download video(109.51 MB)

Syrian rebels have seized twenty UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel. The United Nations Security Council demands the convoy’s immediate release.

A young fighter saying he was from the "Martyrs of Yarmouk" said the peacekeepers would not be set free until Syrian government forces withdrew from the village of Jamlah, a mile east of the ceasefire link with the Israeli-occupied Golan, Reuters reports.

"If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners," he said, claiming the UN forces had collaborated with Syrian government troops to drive the fighters out of the village.

After a video appeared on YouTube showing several armed-rebel fighters standing in front of two white armored vehicles bearing the UN inscription with at least five peacekeepers inside, the UN confirmed the incident.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters that "approximately 30 armed fighters stopped and detained about 20 peacekeepers within the area of limitation."

"The UN observers were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah," the United Nations said in a statement issued in New York.

The UN Security Council demanded the peacekeepers immediate release. Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the seizure of the UN observers showed “gross disrespect for the United Nations.”

“Right now there are negotiations between UN representatives and the captors and we hope that the [UN] personnel will be released immediately as the UNSC demands,” Churkin said.

Mentioning an attack on Monday which killed 48 Syrian servicemen and nine Iraqi law enforcers, Churkin said the Golan incident showed “some people are trying very hard in order to extend the geography of the Syrian conflict.”

Human Rights watch said it was investigating the same rebel brigade for its role in a videotaped execution of detained Syrian soldiers posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

The capture of the UN observers points to how the situation on the ground in Syria is getting out of control and all sides are unable to control armed groups on the ground, Karl Sharpo, a Middle East blogger, told RT. He further warned that that there is no way of knowing whose hands outside aid will end up.

“The lines on the ground are very fluid, distinctions don’t really apply and you can’t make sure the weapons end up in the intended sites. Again if you look at the fact at what this incident illustrates is the lack of control that any military authority on the ground for the opposition or an outside political authority, doesn’t exercise the control it says it does,”
Sharpo said.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 by user@syriahro

The incident follows a statement on Wednesday by the Arab League offering military support to the Syrian rebels. Previously the League had only offered to support the Syrian opposition via humanitarian and diplomatic assistance.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elarby told a press conference the Syrian Opposition Coalition had been formally invited to send a representative to attend a league meeting to be held in Doha in April.

The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also announced on Wednesday that Britain will increase non-lethal aid to anti-government forces in Syria. The $19.5 million dollar package will include armored vehicles, body armor, search and rescue, disease prevention and communication equipment.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 by user@syriahro

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced last week that any decision to send aid to rebel fighters would intensify the two year Syrian civil war by encouraging “extremists to seize power by force.”

Shortly after Israel warned the UN Security Council it could not be expected to “stand idle” as the Syrian civil war expands beyond its borders, while Churkin said that armed groups operating out of the Golan were undermining regional security.

“It’s of course something very dangerous they are doing by staging armed activity from that area. It’s something which can undermine security between Syria and Israel. So whoever is supporting that kind of activity or approving it tacitly is playing a very dangerous game,” Churkin warned back on Monday.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 by user@syriahro

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 war. The country agreed to return the land to Syria in return for a peace agreement that was rejected by the Arab world.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syrian forces crossed the ceasefire line into the Golan Heights in an attempt to retake the territory. Syria's troops were repelled by Israeli forces.

Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, though they returned about 5 percent of the territory to Syria. The land was merged into a demilitarized zone that is currently patrolled by UN peacekeeping forces.

S Korea warns North against provocation

South Korea has warned the North that it would take retaliatory measures against any ‘provocation’ by Pyongyang following a reported threat by North Korea to invalidate a truce that ended the Korean War.

"If North Korea carries out provocations that threaten the lives and safety of South Koreans, our military will carry out strong and resolute retaliations," said South Korean Army General Kim Yong-Hyun in a press briefing on Wednesday, reacting to a call by Pyongyang to nullify the 1953 armistice between the two neighbors, AFC reported.

North Korea announced on Tuesday that it would “completely declare invalid” the truce agreement between the two nations in case the United Nations moves ahead with efforts to impose additional sanctions on the country following its recent nuclear test.

The latest exchange of threats, however, occurs at a time of newly intensified tensions between the two Koreas after the North's successful launch of a long range rocket in December and its nuclear test last month.


North Korea’s military statement on Tuesday, according to the report, further mentioned its possession of "lighter and smaller nukes" than before.

The UN Security Council is expected this week to decide on even harsher sanctions on the North, further inciting a reaction from Pyongyang, which is also fuming about a series of joint military maneuvers by US and South Korean in the region.

In his press briefing in Seoul, General Kim, who is director general of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, further announced that a South Korean retaliation would not only target the "origin of provocation" but also the North's commanding forces, according to the report.

The yearly US-South Korea military drills, known as Foal Eagle, involves over 10,000 American troops and a much larger South Korean force that began on March 1 and scheduled to continue through April 30.

Additionally, says the report, a largely computer-simulated joint exercise, named ‘Key Resolve,’ is due to be held by the two military forces from March 11-21.

Meanwhile, the recent North Korean statement condemned the joint military drills as the "most dangerous nuclear war maneuvers... and the most undisguised military provocation."

"This land is neither the Balkans nor Iraq and Libya," said the statement, warning the launch "diversified precision nuclear strikes" by North Korea in response.

MFB/MFB

CIA and FBI Had Planned to Assassinate Hugo Chávez

chavez3

Article originally published by Global Research in 2005, which points to previous attempts to assassinate President Hugo Chavez

This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation.  “How do we know that the CIA was behind the coup that overthrew Hugo Chávez?” asked historian William Blum in 2002.

“Same way we know that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. That’s what it’s always done and there’s no reason to think that tomorrow morning will be any different.”

Now we have a bit more evidence the CIA and the FBI connived with reactionary elements to not only briefly overthrow Chávez, abolish the constitution and the National Assembly, but later assassinate the Venezuelan State Prosecutor, Danilo Anderson. He was killed by a car bomb in Caracas on November 18, 2004, while investigating those who were behind the coup. Giovani Jose Vasquez De Armas, a member of Colombia’s right wing paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, claims he was in charge of logistics for the plot to kill Danilo Anderson. Vasquez De Armas told the Attorney General’s office that those planning the killing, “all discussed the plan with the help of the FBI and CIA.”

And the sun will rise tomorrow.

“According to the Attorney General, Vasquez De Armas said that during a meeting in Darien, Panama, on September 4 and 6, 2003, an FBI Officer called ‘Pesquera’ and a CIA agent called ‘Morrinson,’ attended a meeting along with two of the plot’s alleged organizers, Patricia Poleo and Salvador Romani, as well as two of those who actually did the killing, Rolando and Otoniel Guevera,” writes Alessandro Parma. “An official from the Attorney General’s office, speaking on behalf of Vasquez De Armas, said that in Panama the FBI and the plotting Venezuelans agreed, ‘to take out Chavez and the Government.’ He said, ‘the meeting’s final objective was to kill President Chavez and the Attorney General.’”

None of this is new or particularly revelatory.  Steve Kangas writes:

“CIA operations follow the same recurring script. First, American business interests abroad are threatened by a popular or democratically elected leader. The people support their leader because he intends to conduct land reform, strengthen unions, redistribute wealth, nationalize foreign-owned industry, and regulate business to protect workers, consumers and the environment. So, on behalf of American business, and often with their help, the CIA mobilizes the opposition. First it identifies right-wing groups within the country (usually the military), and offers them a deal: “We’ll put you in power if you maintain a favorable business climate for us.” The Agency then hires, trains and works with them to overthrow the existing government (usually a democracy). It uses every trick in the book: propaganda, stuffed ballot boxes, purchased elections, extortion, blackmail, sexual intrigue, false stories about opponents in the local media, infiltration and disruption of opposing political parties, kidnapping, beating, torture, intimidation, economic sabotage, death squads and even assassination. These efforts culminate in a military coup, which installs a right-wing dictator. The CIA trains the dictator’s security apparatus to crack down on the traditional enemies of big business, using interrogation, torture and murder. The victims are said to be “communists,” but almost always they are just peasants, liberals, moderates, labor union leaders, political opponents and advocates of free speech and democracy. Widespread human rights abuses follow.”

Examples include the coup to overthrow the democratically elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, the ouster of democratically elected Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala, one coup per year (between 1957-1973) in Laos, the installation of the murderous “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the overthrow of Jose Velasco in Ecuador, the assassination of the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba in the Congo (later Zaire), the overthrow of the democratically elected Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic, the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Joao Goulart in Brazil, the overthrow of the democratically elected Sukarno government in Indonesia, a military coup in Greece designed to install the “reign of the colonels” (when the Greek ambassador complained about CIA plans for Cypress, Johnson told him: “F— your parliament and your constitution”), the overthrow of the popular Prince Sahounek in Cambodia, the overthrow of Juan Torres in Bolivia, the overthrow and assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, and dozens of other incidents rarely if ever taught in American school history lessons.

As John Perkins (author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man), as a former respected member of the international banking community and National Security Agency economist, told Amy Goodman: “Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is to do is to build up the American empire. To bring—to create situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country, to our corporations, and our government…. This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men.” Perkins’ job was “deal-making”:

It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan—let’s say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador—and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure—a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you’re not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.” And today we’re going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they’ve accumulated all this debt. So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It’s an empire. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a huge empire. It’s been extremely successful.

Most of the money for these loans, according to Perkins, is provided by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the two premier neolib loan sharking operations (it is important to note that the Straussian neocon, Paul Wolfowitz, is now president of the World Bank, thus demonstrating how closely related the neocons and traditional neolibs are).

If the loan sharks are unable to steal natural resources (oil, minerals, rainforests, water) as a condition of repaying this immense debt, “the next step is what we call the jackals.”

Jackals are CIA-sanctioned people that come in and try to foment a coup or revolution. If that doesn’t work, they perform assassinations—or try to. In the case of Iraq, they weren’t able to get through to Saddam Hussein… His bodyguards were too good. He had doubles. They couldn’t get through to him. So the third line of defense, if the economic hit men and the jackals fail, the next line of defense is our young men and women, who are sent in to die and kill, which is what we’ve obviously done in Iraq.

Hugo Chávez is now between the assassination point of this neolib plan and invasion, when “our young men and women” will be “sent in to die and kill” Venezuelan peasants the same way they are now killing poor Iraqis. Of course, it remains to be seen if Bush can actually invade Venezuela—the neocon roster is teeming with targets, from Syria to Iran—and so we can expect the Bushcons and their jackals to continue efforts to assassinate Chávez, as Giovani Jose Vasquez De Armas reveals the CIA and the FBI are attempting to do, with little success. One notable failure by the jackals is Fidel Castro in Cuba, who experienced numerous assassination attempts and CIA counterinsurgency specialist Edward Lansdale’s Operation Mongoose (consisting of sabotage and political warfare), also known as the ‘’Cuba Project.’‘

As Blum notes, we know all of this is happening, same as we know the sun will come up tomorrow.

Kurt Nimmo is a photographer, multimedia artist and writer. You can visit his blog “Another Day in the Empire” at www.kurtnimmo.com/blog.

Hugo Chávez Dies of Cancer

Death comes 18 months after news of pelvic tumor.

A man walks past a mural portraying President Hugo Chavez and South American liberator Simon Bolivar at the 23 de Enero neighbourhood, in Caracas on March 5, 2013.

March 5, 2013  |  

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Hugo Chavéz, the president of  Venezuela, has died in a military hospital after a long battle against cancer, Reuters has reported, prompting a wave of mourning in the country he ruled since 1999 with a globally distinctive and influential style of leadership.

The symbol of Latin American socialism succumbed to a respiratory infection on Tuesday evening, 21 months after he first revealed he had a tumour. He had not been seen in public for three months since undergoing emergency surgery in Cuba on 11 December.

He will be given a state funeral in Caracas, likely to be attended by millions of supporters and leftwing leaders from across the globe who have been inspired by Chavéz's doctrine of "Bolivarian 21st-century socialism", grateful for the subsidised energy he provided or simply impressed by his charisma.

His death will also trigger a presidential election, which must be held within 30 days, to decide who controls the world's greatest untapped reserves of oil. Chavéz's designated successor is vice-president Nicolás Maduro, who is likely to face Henrique Capriles, the losing  opposition candidate in the most recent presidential election. Until then, according to the constitution, the interim president should be the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello.

Replacing one of most colourful figures on the global political landscape will be an immense challenge. Born to a poor family on the plains, Chavéz became a tank commander and a devotee of South America's liberator, Simón Bolívar. A failed coup in 1992 propelled him into the limelight but it was his ballot box triumphs that made him a inspiration for the resurgent Latin American left and the most outspoken – and often humorous – critic of the US, the war in Iraq and former president George W Bush, whom he described as a "donkey" and a "devil".

Formerly one of the most dynamic political leaders in the world with a globe-trotting schedule and a weekly, unscripted TV broadcast that usually went on for hours, Chavéz shocked his countrymen in June 2011 when he revealed that Cuban surgeons had removed a baseball-sized tumour from his pelvic region,

After that, he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and two more operations in what he described as a "battle for health and for life". His medical records were never made public, prompting widespread speculation about his imminent demise, but he and his supporters insisted he was recovering. Before the presidential election in October 2012, aides claimed he was well enough to complete a full term of office.

During that campaign, Chávez was clearly affected by his illness. But although he made fewer and shorter appearances, he won more votes than in any of his earlier election battles, prompting him to proclaim victory in a "perfect battle".

Fears about his health escalated after he rushed to Cuba for hyperbaric oxygen treatment on 27 November. Less than a fortnight later, he made a televised address in which he said that doctors had discovered malignant cells that required surgery and urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he was incapacitated.

Since his operation in December, Chávez has been visited by family members and several of his closest political allies, including Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba, Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa and Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Beyond a set of four photographs released last month that showed a remarkably hearty looking Chavez smiling in a hospital bed and flanked by his daughters, the president has not been seen or heard for three months. This prompted frequent rumours that the president was dead or on life support. The government denied this and said he continued to run the country by writing down his orders.

Shadow Lives: How the War on Terror in England Became a War on Women...

Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war.  In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.

In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan, nor did I spend time in besieged cities like Iraq’s Fallujah or Libya’s Misrata.  I stayed in Great Britain.  There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what, whether anyone cared to say it or not, was essentially a war against Islam.  Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.

I hadn’t planned to write about the war on terror, but driven by curiosity about lives most of us never see and a few lucky coincidences, I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham.  Some of them were British, others from Arab and African countries, but their husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.

In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for “security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework.  Other lonely women had husbands or sons who had sometimes spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition.

Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods -- but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands, which seemed too intimate, too raw, too frightening, too unknowable to be put into words.

In the early years, it was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. Facebook culture had not come to most of these families. The reticence faded over the years, especially when the children were not there, or in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, a husband’s suicide attempt, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington’s then-expanding global gulag of black sites and, of course, Guantanamo.

In these years, I met some of their husbands and sons as well.  The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Washington’s notorious offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to be released without charges.  When he came home, through his lawyer, he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo.  We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who, unlike him, were still there.

Was My Husband Tortured?

In these homes he visited, there was always one great unspoken question: Was my husband or son tortured? It was the single question no one could bear to ask a survivor of that nightmare, even for reassurance. When working on his book, I deliberately left the chapter on his experiences in American hands in Bagram prison for last, as I sensed how difficult it would be for both of us to speak about the worst of the torture I knew he had experienced.

Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years.  Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.

In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.

I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.

I was halfway through working on Moazzam’s book when London was struck by our 9/11, which we call 7/7. The July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, in three parts of the London underground and a bus, killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700. The four bombers were all young British men between 18 and 30, two of them married with children, and one of them a mentor at a primary school. In video statements left behind they described themselves as “soldiers” whose aim was to force the British government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just three weeks later, there were four more coordinated bomb attacks on the London subway system.  (All failed to detonate.) The four men responsible, longterm British residents originally from the Horn of Africa, were captured, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In this way, the whole country was traumatised in 2005, and that particularly includes the various strands of the Muslim community in Great Britain.

The British security services quickly returned to a post-9/11 stance on overdrive. The same MI5 intelligence agents who had interrogated Moazzam while he was in U.S. custody asked to meet him again to get his thoughts on who might be behind the attacks. However, three years in U.S. custody and five months at home occupied with his family and his book had not made him a likely source of information on current strains of thought in the British Muslim community.

At the same time, the dozen foreign Muslim refugees detained in the aftermath of 9/11 and held without trial for two years before being released on the orders of the House of Lords were rearrested. In the summer of 2005, the government prepared to deport them to countries they had originally fled as refugees.

All of them had been made anonymous by court order and in legal documents were referred to as Mr. G, Mr. U, and so on. This was no doubt intended to safeguard their privacy, but in a sense it also condemned them.  It made them faceless, inhuman, and their families experienced it just that way. “They even took my husband’s name away, why?” one wife asked me.

The women I was meeting in these years were mostly from this small group, as well as the relatives of a handful of British residents -- Arabs -- who were not initially returned from Guantanamo with the nine British citizens that the Americans finally released without charges in 2004 and 2005.

Perhaps no one in the country was, in the end, more terrorised than them, thanks to the various terror plots by British nationals that followed. And they were right to be fearful.  The pressure on them was overwhelming.  Some of them simply gave up and went home voluntarily because they could not bear house arrest, though they risked being sent to prison in their native lands; others went through years of house arrest and court appeals against deportation, all of which continues to this day.

Among the plots that unnerved them were one in 2006 against transatlantic aircraft, for which a total of 12 Britons were jailed for life in 2009, and the 2007 attempt to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow International Airport, in which one bomber died and the second was jailed for 32 years. In the post-9/11 decade, 237 people were convicted of terror-related offences in Britain.

Though all of this was going on, much of it remained remote from the world of the refugee women I came to know who, in the larger world, were mainly preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, with Palestinian developments, filled their TV screens tuned only to Arabic stations.

These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares, but for anyone in their company there was no mistaking them: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another, with several small children, turned back from a prison visit, despite a long journey, because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.

These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another turned back from a prison visit because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.

Here was the texture of a hidden war of continual harassment against a largely helpless population.  This was how some of the most vulnerable people in British society -- often already traumatised refugees and torture survivors -- were made permanent scapegoats for our post-9/11, and then post-7/7 fears.

So powerful is the stigma of “terrorism” today that, in the name of “our security,” whether in Great Britain or the United States, just about anything now goes, and ever fewer people ask questions about what that “anything” might actually be. Here in London, repeated attempts to get influential religious or political figures simply to visit one of these officially locked-down families and see these lives for themselves have failed. In the present political climate, such a personal, fact-finding visit proved to be anything but a priority for such people.

A Legal System of Secret Evidence, House Arrest, and Financial Sanctions

Against this captive population, in such an anything-goes atmosphere, all sorts of experimental perversions of the legal system were tried out.  As a result, the British system of post-9/11 justice contains many features which should frighten us all but are completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom.

Key aspects for the families I have been concerned with include the use of secret evidence in cases involving deportation, bail conditions, and imprisonment without trial. In addition, most of their cases have been heard in a special court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or SIAC, which is housed in an anonymous basement set of rooms in central London.

One of SIAC’s innovative features is the use of “special advocates,” senior barristers who have security clearance to see secret evidence on behalf of their clients, but without being allowed to disclose it or discuss it, even with the client or his or her own lawyer. The resignation on principle of a highly respected barrister, Ian Macdonald, as a special advocate in November 2004 exposed this process to the public for the first time -- but almost no one took any interest.

And a sense of the injustice in this arcane system was never sufficiently sparked by such voices, which found little echo in the media. Nor was there a wide audience for reports from a team of top psychiatrists about the devastating psychological impact on the men and their families of indefinite detention without trial, and of a house-arrest system framed by “control orders” that allow the government to place restrictions of almost any sort on the lives of those it designates.

An even less noted aspect of the anti-terror legal system brought into existence after 9/11 was the financial sanctions that could freeze the assets of designated individuals.  First ordered by the United Nations, the financial-sanctions regime was consolidated here through a European Union list of designated people. The few lawyers who specialized in this area were scathing about the draconian measures involved and the utter lack of transparency when it came to which governments had put which names on which list.

The effect on the listed families was draconian.  Marriages collapsed under the strain. The listed men were barred from working and only allowed £10 a week for personal expenses. Their wives -- often from conservative cultures where all dealings with the outside world had been left to husbands -- suddenly were the families’ faces to the world, responsible for everything from shopping to accounting monthly to the government’s Home Office for every item the family purchased, right down to a bottle of milk or a pencil for a child. It was humiliating for the men, who lost their family role overnight, and exhausting and frustrating for the women, while in some cases the rest of their families shunned them because of the taint of alleged terrorism. Almost no one except specialist lawyers even knew that such financial sanctions existed in Britain.

In the country’s High Court, the first judicial challenge to the financial-sanctions regime was brought in 2008 by five British Muslim men known only as G, K, A, M, and Q. In response, Justice Andrew Collins said he found it "totally unacceptable" that, to take an especially absurd example, a man should have to get a license for legal advice about the sanctions from the very body that was imposing them. The man in question had waited three months for a "basic expense" license permitting funds for food and rent, and six months for a license to obtain legal advice about the situation he found himself in.

In a related case before the judicial committee of the House of Lords, Justice Leonard Hoffman expressed incredulity at the "meanness and squalor" of a regime that "monitored who had what for lunch." More recently, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court endorsed the comments of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley who described those subject to the regime as being akin to “prisoners of the state.”

Among senior lawyers concerned about this hidden world of punishment was Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. He devoted one of his official U.N. reports to the financial sanctions issue. His recommendations included significantly more transparency from governments who put people on such a list, the explicit exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, and the obligation of governments to give reasons when they refuse to remove individuals from the list.  Of course, no one who mattered was paying the slightest attention.

Against ideological governments obsessed by terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic and a culture numbed by violent anti-terrorist tales like “24” and Zero Dark Thirty, such complicated and technical initiatives on behalf of individuals who have been given the tag, implicitly if not explicitly, of “terrorist” stand little chance of getting attention.

"Each Time It's Worse"

Nearly a decade ago, at the New York opening night of Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, the play Gillian Slovo and I wrote using only the words of the relatives of prisoners in that jail, their lawyers, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an elderly man approached Moazzam Begg’s father and me.  He introduced himself as a former foreign policy adviser to President John Kennedy. “It could never have happened in our time,” he said.

When the Global War on Terror was still relatively new, it was common for audiences to react similarly and with shock to a play in which fathers and brothers describe their bewilderment over the way their relation had disappeared into the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In the years since, we have become numb to the destruction of lives, livelihoods, futures, childhoods, legal systems, and trust by Washington’s and London’s never-ending war on terror.

In that time, I have seen children grow from toddlers to teenagers locked inside this particular war machine.  What they say today should startle us out of such numbness. Here, for instance, are the words of two teenagers, a girl and a boy whose fathers had been imprisoned or under house arrest in Britain for 10 years and whose lives in those same years were filled with indignities and humiliations:

"People seem to think that we get used to things being how they are for us, so we don't feel the injustices so much now. They are quite wrong: it was painful the first time, more painful the second, even more so the third. In fact, each time it’s worse, if you can believe that. There isn’t a limit on how much pain you can feel."

The boy added this:

"There is never one day when I feel safe. It can be the authorities, it can be ordinary people, they can do something bad for us. Only like now when we are all in the house together can I stop worrying about my mum and my sisters, and even me, what might happen to us. On the tube [subway], in class at university, people look at my beard.  I see them looking and I know they are thinking bad things about me. I would like to be a normal guy who no one looks at. You know, other boys, some of my friends, they cut corners, things like driving without a current license, everyone does it. But I can’t, I can’t ever, ever, take even a small risk. I have to always be cautious, be responsible... for my family."

These children have been brought up by women who, against all odds, have often preserved their dignity and kept at least a modicum of joy in their families’ lives, and so, however despised, however unnoticed, however locked away, made themselves an inspiration to others. They are not victims to be pitied, but women our societies should embrace.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response to recent proposals that Washington establish a secret court to oversee the targeting of terrorist suspects for death-by-drone and President Obama’s expanding executive power to kill, speak for the world beyond the West.  They offer a different perspective on the war on terror that Washington and Great Britain continue to pursue with no end in sight:

"Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the nineteenth century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.  I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity."

© 2013 Victoria Brittain

Victoria Brittain

Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.

Internet Censorship: Youtube Takes Down Videos Depicting Atrocities Committed by Syria Opposition Rebels

An activist tells Press TV that the video-sharing site, Youtube, deliberately takes down videos depicting the war crimes perpetrated by the FSA terrorists against the people of Syria but ironically provides those terrorists with space to wage their p...

We Must Not Fail Wikileaks Whistleblower Bradley Manning

As I sat in court last Thursday at Fort Meade, watching Bradley Manning take responsibility as the Wikileaks whistleblower, two things struck me: (1) his thorough intelligence fueled by intellectual curiosity and (2) his empathy for other people when so many in war had lost their humanity.

This was the second time I had heard Manning testify. The first was his testimony about the abusive pre-trial incarceration he suffered for one year while being held in a cage in Kuwait and in solitary confinement in the Quantico Brig.  I’ve now seen him testify for a total of 15 hours.

Bradley Manning, sketched by Clark Stoeckley of the Bradley Manning Support Netowrk

Bradley Manning testifying, sketched by Clark Stoeckley of the Bradley Manning Support Network

His testimony leads me to wonder: what would have happened to Bradley Manning if we had a decent educational system that included affordable, preferably free, college education so that young people weren’t driven to the military for economic reasons? What could Bradley Manning have given the country if he had been able to pursue his interests and natural talents? Would Manning have joined the military if the country was honest about how the US Empire operates around the world?

But, that was not to be.  The country failed Bradley Manning.

I hope we do not fail him again.

Bradley Manning reading his plea statement in court, sketched by Clark Stoeckley of the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Bradley Manning reading his plea statement in court, sketched by Clark Stoeckley of the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Manning made it clear last Thursday that he leaked the documents to Wikileaks because he saw serious problems in US foreign policy. Problems which are as serious as they can be: war crimes, criminal behavior at the highest levels up to Secretary of State Clinton, unethical behavior and bullying of other nations.

Manning’s sole purpose was to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”* He hoped the debate “might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.”

Regarding the collateral murder video which showed civilians, including two Reuters journalists being massacred, he said “I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”

When discussing the State Department cables Manning saw that the US was not behaving the way the “de facto leader of the free world” should act as the cables “documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity.” Again, he hoped for a change in policy as the “cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy” that would avoid conflict and save lives.

In some of these statements you get a hint of Manning’s empathy for fellow human beings. The incident that really showed it was his comments on David Frankel’s book “The Good Soldier,” where Frankel describes a seriously injured Iraqi civilian on the ground at the end of the Collateral Murder video. He lifts two fingers toward the soldier, a well-known sign of friendship, as he asks for help. The US soldier responds lifting his middle finger as the Iraqi died. Manning puts himself in the place of the Iraqi thinking his final act was an act of friendship only to be returned by a crude obscenity of unfriendliness. Manning acknowledges that this “burdens me emotionally.”

Manning was clear that he was solely responsible for his actions saying “The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO [Wikileaks Organization] and website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”  He described his conversations with an anonymous person at Wikileaks but made it quite clear there was no espionage conspiracy between Manning and Julian Assange.  His statement made it much more difficult for the US to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act.

There is no question that Manning will spend years in jail.  The ten charges he pled guilty to last week each carry two years for a total potential of 20 years incarceration. The government has announced it will still prosecute the espionage and aiding the enemy charges which could lead to a life sentence. This is an abuse of government power.  They may be able to prove their case, but that does not mean he is truly guilty of those crimes, if convicted it will be another example of laws written to favor the prosecution; another example of injustice in today’s United States.

Judge Denise Lind. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley, Bradley Manning Support Network.

Judge Denise Lind. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley, Bradley Manning Support Network.

Judge Denise Lind has beautiful judicial decorum in court and shows she is on top of the details of the proceedings and the law.  She is an impressive judicial figure but so far when there have been disputes between Manning and the government she has tended to split the difference, always giving a little more to the government. She has served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for 25 years, four as a judge.  She is a product of a system that does not blow the whistle, does not go outside the chain of command and views following orders as a way of life. She will do what she thinks is just when she considers Manning’s case, but I doubt it will seem like justice to those of us who support Manning.

How can we avoid failing Bradley Manning? Ongoing support through the Bradley Manning Support Network continues to be essential but more than that, we need to do what we can to disseminate the information he leaked and work to create a national debate on a foreign policy that is seriously off-track.

This will be a long term effort, and as we pursue that work, we should never forget the young man who put his life and liberty on the line to give the world a glimpse of US foreign policy, a person who was failed by a country that talks about its concern for the young but does not do enough for them. Now, it is our job to pick up the materials Bradley has provided and work to create the better world we urgently need and he sought in his own patriotic way.

* All quotations are taken from the transcript of Manning’s testimony prepared by Alexa O’Brien as the court has not release his written statement to the public.

Kevin Zeese is an attorney who serves on the steering committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network. He also serves a co-director of It’s Our Economy. His twitter is @KBZeese.

Who Wants War on Iran?

 There are those who would have bombed or invaded Iran years ago to make sure there would be no Iranian Bomb, and their voices are getting louder again as another day of high level talks approaches.  Even though Iran’s Supreme Leader has spent years forswearing nuclear weapons, which he calls a “crime against humanity,” skeptics demand proof that there’s nothing to worry about. 

The Iranian nuclear program, whatever it may be, was the only item on the agenda for the seven-nation discussion in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 26, and cautious optimism has been expressed by participants including the United States, Russia, and Iran.  Known as the P5+1 because the group includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) plus Germany, the group is called the E3+3 in Europe.

Perhaps the clearest framework for understanding what the Iranian nuclear development program might or might not be is to keep in mind that the most intense claims that Iran is building nuclear weapons comes from the region’s undisputed nuclear-armed state, Israel.  Much like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein playing cat-and-mouse with WMDs he didn’t have, Iran has cooperated with weapons inspectors only to a point of uncertainty as to whether the program is or is not military.

Iran is one of the 190 countries that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for non-military development of nuclear power, nuclear medicine, and other nuclear applications.  Iran claims it has the legal right to enrich uranium as part of its civilian nuclear energy program.

Iran also claims that it has met its obligations to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), although in 2005 the IAEA, in a vote with 12 abstentions, found Iran in non-compliance over its enrichment program (but even the Congressional Research Service was uncertain whether “non-compliance” constituted a “violation” of the treaty).  The dispute had continued ever since, with IAEA inspectors getting inconsistent access to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.  During 2012, four IAEA reports continued to provide inconclusive indications of a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Israel Rejects Nuclear Transparency 

Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is a presumed nuclear power along with other non-signatories who have nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, and

North Korea.  In 2010, the IAEA sought to bring Israeli nuclear facilities within the safeguards of IAEA, with only limited success, as Israel did not reveal all its facilities and has not yet does so.    Estimates of the Israeli nuclear stockpile vary from75 to 400 warheads, with 200 thought most likely, which Israel could deliver by missile, aircraft, or submarine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested more than once that Israeli might act alone against the perceived Iranian nuclear threat, telling the New York Times in November:

“If someone sits here as the prime minister of Israel and he can’t take action on matters that are cardinal to the existence of this country, its future and its security, and he is totally dependent on receiving approval from others, then he is not worthy of leading… 

 “I am not eager to go to war….  I have been creating very heavy pressure, and part of this pressure comes from the knowledge some of the most powerful nations in the world have that we are serious. This isn’t a show, this is not false.”

Netanyahu first called for an attack on Iran at least as early as 1992, when he said the Iranians were only three to five years from producing a nuclear weapon.   But warnings like that are much older, going back to the 1970s and concerns that the Shah of Iran might arm his police state with nuclear weapons.

In Jerusalem on February 12, Netanyahu again threatened Iran:

“They have to know that if the sanctions and diplomacy fall, they will face a credible military threat. That is essential, and nothing else will do the job, and it is getting closer….  This has to be stopped for the interest of peace and security for the entire world.”              

Iran Denies Nuclear Weapons, Rejects Transparency

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often denied the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, as he did in 2008 during an interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams, when he also questioned the utility of nuclear weapons as a source of security:

“Again, did nuclear arms help the Soviet Union from falling and disintegrating? For that matter, did a nuclear bomb help the U.S. to prevail inside Iraq or Afghanistan, for that matter? Nuclear bombs belong to the 20th century. We are living in a new century … Nuclear energy must not be equaled to a nuclear bomb. This is a disservice to the society of man….”   

On February 10, Ahmadinejad, whose term as president ends in a few months, indicated Iran’s willingness to discuss its nuclear program in bi-lateral talks with the U.S., adding that: “You pull away the gun from the face of the Iranian nation, and I myself will enter the talks with you.”

Ahmadinejad’s superior, Iran’s clerical Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave a foreign policy speech in February 2012 in which he said much the same thing about nuclear weapons that he had said before:

 “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

Not being able to confirm reality, in either Israel or Iran, American and Europeam policy makers tend, unquestioningly in public, to trust the former and demonize the latter.  And now as the world enters the fourth decade of fear-mongering about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program,” some are ratcheting it up again in advance of the Kazakhstan meering, with front page stories that start like this from the February 13 Washington Post:

“Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.” 

If that assertion seems to have a familiar ring, perhaps it’s because it’s so similar in structure and content to what then-President Bush falsely stated, in his 2003 state of the union speech, know known as the infamous “Sixteen Words”:

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”   

Washington Post Works to Create Crisis 

On February 14, under a headline about “the Iranian nuclear crisis,” the Post re-hyped the apparent 2011 order of “ring-shaped magnets” from China as a setback to the “Western-led effort to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear development.” Even though the Post had no idea if the magnets were ever delivered or whether they were actually for centrifuges with a benign purpose.

Taking the Post reports apart on Consortiumnews.com, Robert Parry drew attention to details buried in the story that contradicted the breathless lead – that the centrifuges were old and that Iran had long since told the IAEA of its plans to build 50,000 of them and not some “major expansion of nuclear capacity.”

Parry notes that the sole source for the magnet story was a private entity called the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) whose head is David Albright and that

 “Though Albright insists that he is an objective professional, ISIS has published hundreds of articles about Iran, which has not produced a single nuclear bomb, while barely mentioning Israel’s rogue nuclear arsenal…. 

“The articles not only hype developments in Iran but also attack U.S. media critics who question the fear-mongering about Iran.” 

Albright has hyped the threat of weapons of mass destruction before.  In 2002 when the Bush administration was lying the country into a war against Iraq, claiming that Iraq had “a clandestine nuclear weapons effort” as  well as “chemical and biological weapons” – none of which was true.  As Parry sums it up,

 “A decade ago, Albright and the ISIS were key figures in stoking the hysteria for invading Iraq around the false allegations of its WMD program. In recent years, Albright and his institute have adopted a similar role regarding Iran and its purported pursuit of a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran terminated that weapons project in 2003.” 

 And Who Decides What Is Necessary? 

In his 2013 state of the union, President Obama dealt with Iran in a single, misleading, and threatening sentence:

“Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”   

Since 1979, the United States has waged a long twilight war against its former puppet state with no apparent understanding of why Iran may still resent the U.S. for overthrowing Iran’s elected government in 1953 and imposing one of the world’s nastier police state on 70 million people.  There is credible evidence that the U.S. has not only imposed for economic sanctions that are tantamount to acts of war on Iran, but has also colluded in assassinations of at least five Iranian nuclear scientists as well as cyber attacks on the country’s infrastructure.

Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Valentine’s Day that if Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, Iran should have no trouble proving it.  He urged the Iranians to make “real offers and engage in real dialogue.”

Both the President and the Secretary of State are lawyers, and is aware, most likely, that they don’t have enough evidence of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” to show probable cause for a get a search warrant from any fair court, never mind an indictment.

That suggests, to use Obama’s words, that perhaps “what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon” might be to stop attacking them.

 William Boardman   [email protected]

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

Private military and security companies (PMSC) are the modern reincarnation of a long lineage of private providers of physical force: corsairs, privateers and mercenaries. Mercenaries, which had practically disappeared during the XIXth and XXth centuries, reappeared in the 1960’s during the decolonization period operating mainly in Africa and Asia. Under the United Nations a convention was adopted which outlaws and criminalizes their activities. Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions also contains a definition of mercenary.

These non-state entities of the XXIst century operate in extremely blurred situations where the frontiers are difficult to separate. The new security industry of private companies moves large quantities of weapons and military equipment. It provides services for military operations recruiting former militaries as civilians to carry out passive or defensive security.

However, these individuals cannot be considered as civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, drive military trucks and fulfill other essential military functions. Those who are armed can easily switch from a passive/defensive to an active/offensive role and can commit human rights violations and even destabilize governments. They cannot be considered soldiers or supporting militias under international humanitarian law either, since they are not part of the army or in the chain of command, and often belong to a large number of different nationalities.

PMSC personnel cannot usually be considered to be mercenaries for the definition of mercenaries as stipulated in the international conventions dealing with this issue does not generally apply to the personnel of PMSCs which are legally operating in foreign countries under contracts of legally registered companies.

Private military and security companies operate in a legal vacuum: they pose a threat to civilians and to international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Council has entrusted the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, principally, with the mandate: “To monitor and study the effects of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human Rights (…) and to prepare draft international basic principles that encourage respect for human rights on the part of those companies in their activities”.

During the past five years, the Working Group has been studying emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding private military and security companies.  In our reports we have informed the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly about these issues. Of particular importance are the reports of the Working Group to the last session of the Human Rights Council, held in September 2010, on the Mission to the United States of America  (20 July to 3 August 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.3; on the Mission to Afghanistan (4-9 April 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.2, and the general report of the Working Group containing the Draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) for consideration and action by the Human Rights Council, Document A/HRC/15/25.

In the course of our research, since 2006, we have collected ample information which indicate the negative impact of the activities of “private contractors”, “private soldiers” or “guns for hire”, whatever denomination we may choose to name the individuals employed by private military and security companies as civilians but in general heavily armed. In the cluster of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by employees of these companies, which the Working Group has examined one can find: summary executions, acts of torture, cases of arbitrary detention; of trafficking of persons; serious health damages caused by their activities; as well as attempts against the right of self-determination. It also appears that PMSCs, in their search for profit, neglect security and do not provide their employees with their basic rights, and often put their staff in situations of danger and vulnerability.

Summary executions

On 16 September 2007 in Baghdad, employees of the US-based firm Blackwater[1] were involved in a shooting incident in Nisoor Square in which 17 civilians were killed and more than 20 other persons were wounded including women and children. Local eyewitness accounts indicate the use of arms from vehicles and rocket fire from a helicopter belonging to this company.

There are also concerns over the activities and approach of PMSC personnel, their convoys of armored vehicles and their conduct in traffic, in particular their use of lethal force. This particular incident was not the first of its kind, neither the first involving Blackwater.

According to a congressional report on the behaviour of Xe/Blackwater in Iraq, Xe/Blackwater guards were found to have been involved in nearly 200 escalation-of-force incidents that involved the firing of shots since 2005. Despite the terms of the contracts which provided that the company could engage only in defensive use of force, the company reported that in over 80 per cent of the shooting incidents, its forces fired the first shots.

In Najaf in April 2004 and on several other occasions, employees of this company took part in direct hostilities, as well as in May 2007, where another incident involving the same company reportedly occurred involving guards belonging to the company and forces belonging to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior allegedly exchanged gunfire in a sector of Baghdad.

Also in central Baghdad the shooting of employees of the PMSC, Unity Resources Group (URG)[2], protecting a convoy, left two Armenian women, Genevia Antranick and Mary Awanis dead on 9 October 2007 when their car came too close to a protected convoy. The family of Genevia Antranick was offered no compensation and has begun court proceedings against URG in the United States.

This company was also involved in the shooting of 72-year-old Australian Kays Juma. Professor Juma was shot in March 2006 as he approached an intersection being blockaded for a convoy URG was protecting. Professor Juma, a 25-year resident of Baghdad who drove through the city every day, allegedly sped up his vehicle as he approached the guards and did not heed warnings to stop, including hand signals, flares, warning shots into the body of his car and floodlights. The incident occurred at 10am[3].

Torture

Two United States-based corporations, CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation), were involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. CACI and L-3 Services, contracted by the Government of the United States, were responsible for interrogation and translation services, respectively, at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq.

Seventy two Iraqi citizens who were formerly detained at military prisons in Iraq, have sued L-3 Services, Inc. (“L-3”), a military private contractor which provided civilian translators for United States military forces in Iraq and Adel Nakhla, a former employee of L-3 who served as one of its translators there under the Alien Tort Statute. They allege having been tortured and physically and mentally abused during their detention and that they should be held liable in damages for their actions. The plaintiffs assert 20 causes of action, among which: torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress[4].

Arbitrary detention 

A number of reports indicate that private security guards have played central roles in some of the most sensitive activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) such as the arbitrary detention and clandestine raids against alleged insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan[5] and the involvement in CIA rendition flights[6] as well as joint covert operations[7]. Employees of PMSC would have been involved in the taking of detainees, from “pick up points” (such as Tuzla, Islamabad or Skopje) transporting them in rendition flights and delivering them to drop off points (such as Cairo, Rabat, Bucharest, Amman or Guantanamo) as well as in the construction, equipping and staffing of CIA’s “black sites”.

Within this context, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in May 2007 against Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. (a subsidiary company of Boeing) on behalf of five persons who were kidnapped by the CIA disappearing in overseas prisons kept by USA secret services. Jeppesen would have participated in the rendition by providing flight planning and logistical support. The five persons were tortured during their arbitrary detention[8].

Health

The 2009 annual report of DynCorp International refers to four lawsuits concerning the spraying of narcotic plant crops along the Colombian border adjacent to Ecuador on behalf of 3 Ecuadorian Providences and 3266 plaintiffs[9].

From 1991, the United States Department of State contracted the private company DynCorp to supply services for this air-spraying program against narcotics in the Andean region. In accordance with the subscribed contract of 30 January 1998, DynCorp provides the essential logistics to the anti-drug Office of activities of Colombia, in conformity with three main objectives: eradication of cultivations of illicit drugs, training of the army and of personnel of the country, and dismantling of illicit drug laboratories and illicit drug-trafficking networks.

An NGO report indicated the consequences of the spraying carried out within the Plan Colombia had on persons living in the frontier region[10].  One third of the 47 women in the study exposed to the spraying showed cells with some genetic damage. The study established the relationship of the air fumigations of the Plan Colombia with damages in the genetic material. The study demonstrates that when the population is subjected to fumigations “the risk of cellular damage can increase and that, once permanent, the cases of cancerous mutations and important embryonic alterations are increased that prompt among other possibilities the rise in abortions in the area.

This example is particularly important given that Plan Colombia has served as the model for the arrangements that the United States would apply later to Iraq and Afghanistan. Plan Colombia provides immunity to the employees of the PMSC contracted (DynCorp) the same as Order 14 of the Coalition Provisional Authority did in Iraq.

Self-determination

The 2004 attempted coup d’état, which was perpetrated in Equatorial Guinea is a clear example of the link between the phenomenon of mercenaries and PMSCs as a means of violating the sovereignty of States. In this particular case, the mercenaries involved were mostly former directors and personnel of Executive Outcomes, a PMSC that had become famous for its operations in Angola and Sierra Leone. The team of mercenaries also included security guards who were still employed by PMSCs as was the case of two employees of the company Meteoric Tactical Systems providing security to diplomats of Western Embassies in Baghdad-among which to the Ambassador of Switzerland. It also included a security guard who had previously worked for the PMSC “Steele Foundation” and had given protection to President Aristide of Haiti and conducted him to the plane who took him to exile[11].

Trafficking in persons

In 2005, 105 Chileans were providing/or undergoing military training in the former army base of Lepaterique in Honduras. The instruction consisted in anti‐guerrilla tactics such as possible ambushes and deactivation of explosives and mortars how to avoid them. The Chileans had entered Honduras as tourists and were illegally in Honduras. They used high‐caliber weapons such as M‐16 rifles or light machine guns. They had been contracted by a subsidiary of Triple Canopy.

They were part of a group, which included also 189 Hondurans recruited and trained in Honduras. Triple Canopy had been awarded a contract by the United States Department of State. The strong contingent left the country by air from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in several groups with a stopover in Iceland. Then reached the Middle East and were smuggled into Iraq[12].

The majority of the Chileans and Hondurans were engaged as security guards at fixed facilities in Iraq. They had been contracted by Your Solutions Honduras SRL, a local agent of Your Solutions Incorporated, registered in Illinois, United States of America, which in turn had been subcontracted by Triple Canopy, based in Chicago, United States of America. Some of the Chileans are presently working in Baghdad providing security to the Embassy of Australia under a contract by Unity Resources Group (URG).

Human rights violations committed by PMSC to their employees

PMSC often put the contracted private guards in situations of danger and vulnerability, such as the ‘private contractors’ of Blackwater, killed in Fallujah in 2004 allegedly due to the lack of the necessary safety means that Blackwater was supposed to provide in order to carry out the mission.

It should not be forgotten that this incident changed dramatically the course of the war and the occupation by the United States in Iraq. It may be considered as the turning point in the occupation of Iraq. This led to an abortive US operation to recapture control of the city and a successful recapture operation in the city in November 2004, called Operation Phantom Fury, which resulted in the death of over 1,350 insurgent fighters. Approximately 95 America troops were killed, and 560 wounded.

The U.S. military first denied that it has use white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah, but later retracted that denial, and admitted to using the incendiary in the city as an offensive weapon. Reports following the events of November 2004 have alleged war crimes, and a massacre by U.S. personnel, including indiscriminate violence against civilians and children.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallujah – cite_note-17 This point of view is presented in the 2005 documentary film, “Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre”. In 2010, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a leading medical journal, published a study, which shows that the rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia exceed those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki[13].

The over 300 000 classified military documents made public by Wikileaks show that the “Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq”, as has been widely reported by the international media recently.

The United States has relied and continues to rely heavily on private military and security contractors in conducting its military operations. The United States used private security contractors to conduct narcotics intervention operations in Colombia in the 1990s and recently signed a supplemental agreement that authorizes it to deploy troops and contractors in seven Colombian military bases. During the conflict in the Balkans, the United States used a private security contractor to train Croat troops to conduct operations against Serbian troops. Nowadays, it is in the context of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular that the State is massively contracting out security functions to private firms.

In 2009, the Department of Defense employed 218,000 private contractors (all types) while there were 195,000 uniformed personnel. According to the figures, about 8 per cent of these contractors are armed security contractors, i.e. about 20,000 armed guards. If one includes other theatres of operations, the figure rises to 242,657, with 54,387 United States citizens, 94,260 third country nationals and 94,010 host-country nationals.

The State Department relies on about 2,000 private security contractors to provide United States personnel and facilities with personal protective and guard services in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Pakistan, and aviation services in Iraq. The contracts for protective services were awarded in 2005 to three PMSCs, namely, Triple Canopy, DynCorp International and the U.S. Training Center, part of the Xe (then Blackwater) group of companies. These three companies still hold the State Department protective services contracts today.

Lack of transparency

The information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts between the Government of the United States and PMSCs is scarce and opaque. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. Often, the contracts with PMSCs are not disclosed to the public despite extensive freedom of information rules in the United States, either because they contain confidential commercial information or on the argument that non-disclosure is in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. The situation is particularly opaque when United States intelligence agencies contract PMSCs.

Lack of accountability

Despite the fact of their involvement in grave human rights violations, not a single PMSC or employee of these companies has been sanctioned.

In the course of litigation, several recurring legal arguments have been used in the defense of PMSCs and their personnel, including the Government contractor defense, the political question doctrine and derivative immunity arguments. PMSCs are using the Government contractor defense to argue that they were operating under the exclusive control of the Government of the United States when the alleged acts were committed and therefore cannot be held liable for their actions.

It looks as if when the acts are committed by agents of the government they are considered human rights violations but when these same acts are perpetrated by PMSC it is “business as usual”.

The human rights violation perpetrated by private military and security companies are indications of the threat posed to the foundations of democracy itself by the privatization of inherently public functions such as the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. In this connection I cannot help but to refer to the final speech of President Eisenhower.

In 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American public opinion against the growing danger of a military industrial complex stating: “(…) we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

Fifty years later, on 8 September 2001, Donald Rumsfeld in his speech in the Department of Defence warned the militaries of the Pentagon against “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America (…) Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is (…) a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s. (…) The adversary. (…) It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. (…)That’s why we’re here today challenging us all to wage an all-out campaign to shift Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the battlefield, from tail to the tooth. We know the adversary. We know the threat. And with the same firmness of purpose that any effort against a determined adversary demands, we must get at it and stay at it. Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

Rumsfeld should have said the shift from the Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the private sector. Indeed, that shift had been accelerated by the Bush Administration: the number of persons employed by contract which had been outsourced (privatized) by the Pentagon was already four times more than at the Department of Defense.

It is not anymore a military industrial complex but as Noam Chomsky has indicated “it’s just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext”.

The articles of the Washington Post “Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control”, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (19 July 2010) show the extent that “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.

The investigation’s findings include that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States; and that an estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. A number of private military and security companies are among the security and intelligence agencies mentioned in the report of the Washington Post.

The Working Group received information from several sources that up to 70 per cent of the budget of United States intelligence is spent on contractors. These contracts are classified and very little information is available to the public on the nature of the activities carried out by these contractors.

The privatization of war has created a structural dynamic, which responds to a commercial logic of the industry.

A short look at the careers of the current managers of BAE Systems, as well as on their address-books, confirms we are not any longer dealing with a normal corporation, but with a cartel uniting high tech weaponry (BAE Systems, United Defence Industries, Lockheed Martin), with speculative financiers (Lazard Frères, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank), together with raw material cartels (British Petroleum, Shell Oil) with on the ground, private military and security companies[14].

The majority of the private military and security companies has been created or are managed by former militaries or ex-policemen for whom it is big business. Just to give an example MPRI (Military Professional Resources Incorporation) was created by four former generals of the United States Army when they were due for retirement[15]. The same is true for Blackwater and its affiliate companies or subsidiaries, which employ former directors of the C.I.A.[16]. Social Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the Rotating Door Syndrome.

The use of security contractors is expected to grow as American forces shrink. A July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel established by Congress, estimated that the State Department alone would need more than double the number of contractors it had protecting the American Embassy and consulates in Iraq.

“Without contractors: (1) the military engagement would have had to be smaller–a strategically problematic alternative; (2) the United States would have had to deploy its finite number of active personnel for even longer tours of duty -a politically dicey and short-sighted option; (3) the United States would have had to consider a civilian draft or boost retention and recruitment by raising military pay significantly–two politically untenable options; or (4) the need for greater commitments from other nations would have arisen and with it, the United States would have had to make more concessions to build and sustain a truly multinational effort. Thus, the tangible differences in the type of war waged, the effect on military personnel, and the need for coalition partners are greatly magnified when the government has the option to supplement its troops with contractors”[17].

The military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE impact of Private Security Contracting on U.S. Goals in Afghanistan[18]

Conclusion I: The proliferation of private security personnel in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the counterinsurgency strategy. In May 2010 the U.S. Central Command’s Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate reported that there were more than 26,000 private security contractor personnel operating in Afghanistan. Many of those private security personnel are associated with armed groups that operate outside government control.

Conclusion 2: Afghan warlords and strongmen operating as force providers to private security contractors have acted against U.S. and Afghan government interests. Warlords and strongmen associated with U.S.-funded security contractors have been linked to anti Coalition activities, murder, bribery, and kidnapping. The Committee’s examination of the U.S. funded security contract with ArmorGroup at Shindand Airbase in Afghanistan revealed that ArmorGroup relied on a series of warlords to provide armed men to act as security, guards at the Airbase.

Open-ended intergovernmental working group established by the HR Council

Because of their impact in the enjoyment of human rights the Working Group on mercenaries in its 2010 reports to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly has recommended a legally binding instrument regulating and monitoring their activities at the national and international level.

The motion to create an open ended intergovernmental working group has been the object of lengthy negotiations, in the Human Rights Council, led by South Africa in order to accommodate the concerns of the Western Group, but primarily those of the United States and the United Kingdom and of a lot a pressure exerted in the capitals of African countries supporting the draft resolution. The text of the resolution was weakened in order to pass the resolution by consensus. But even so the position of the Western States has been a “fin de non recevoir”.

The resolution was adopted by a majority of 32 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions. Among the supporters of this initiative are four out of the five members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) in addition to the African Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab Group.

The adoption of this resolution opens an interesting process in the UN Human Rights Council where civil society can participate in the elaboration of an international framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies.  The new open ended intergovernmental working group will be the forum for all stakeholders to receive inputs, not only the draft text of a possible convention and the elements elaborated by the UN Working Group on mercenaries but also of other initiatives such as the proposal submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Montreux Document and the international code of conduct being elaborated under the Swiss Initiative.

However, the negative vote of the delegations of the Western Group indicates that the interests of the new staggering security industry – its annual market revenue is estimated to be over USD one hundred billion – have been quite well defended as was the case in a number of other occasions. It also shows that Western governments will be absent from the start in a full in-depth discussion of the issues raised by the activities of PMSC.

We urge all States to support the process initiated by the Council by designating their representatives to the new open-ended intergovernmental working group, which will hold its first session in 2011, and to continue a process of discussions regarding a legally binding instrument.

The participation of the UK and USA main exporters of these activities (it is estimated at 70% the industry of security in these two countries) as well as other Western countries where the new industry is expanding is of particular importance.

The Working Group also urges the United States Government to implement the recommendations we made, in particular, to:

support the Congress Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, which clearly defines the functions which are inherently governmental and that cannot be outsourced to the private sector;

rescind immunity to contractors carrying out activities in other countries under bilateral agreements;

carry out prompt and effective investigation of human rights violations committed by PMSCs and prosecute alleged perpetrators;

ensure that the oversight of private military and security contractors is not outsourced to PMSCs;
establish a specific system of federal licensing of PMSCs for their activities abroad;

set up a vetting procedure for awarding contracts to PMSCs;

ensure that United States criminal jurisdiction applies to private military and security companies contracted by the Government to carry out activities abroad; and

respond to pending communications from the Working Group.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, under the Universal Periodic Review, initiated a review in November 2010 in Geneva, focussing on the human rights record of the United States. The above article is an edited version of the presentation given by Jose L. Gomez del Prado in Geneva on 3 November 2010 at a parallel meeting at the UN Palais des Nations on that occasion.

Notes

[1] Blackwater Worldwide abandoned its tarnished brand name in order to shake its reputation battered by its criticized work in Iraq, renaming its family of two-dozen businesses under the name Xe’, see Mike Baker, ‘Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name’, AP News Break, 13 February 2009.

[2] URG, an Australian private military and security company, uses a number of ex military Chileans to provide security to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Recently one of those “private guards” shot himself, ABC News, reported by La Tercera, Chile, 16 September 2010.

[3]J.Mendes & S Mitchell, “Who is Unity Resources Group?”, ABC News Australia, 16 September 2010.

[4] Case 8:08-cv-01696-PJM, Document 103, Filed 07/29/10. Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss on a number of grounds. They argue, among others, that the suit must be dismissed in its entirety because they are immune under the laws of war, because the suit raises non-justiciable political questions, and because they possess derivative sovereign immunity. They seek dismissal of the state law claims on the basis of government contractor immunity, premised on the notion that Plaintiffs cannot proceed on state law claims, which arise out of combatant activities of the military. The United States District Court for the district of Maryland Greenbelt Division has decided to proceed with the case against L-3 Services, Inc. It has not accepted the motions to dismiss allowing the case to go forward.

[5] Mission to the United States of America, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/15/25/Add.3, paragraphs 22.

[6] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater guards tied to secret C.I.A. raids ”, New York Times, 10

December 2009.

[7] Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy”, Vanity Fair, January 2010. See also Claim No. HQ08X02800 in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Binyam Mohamed v. Jeppesen UK Ltd, report of James Gavin Simpson, 26 May 2009.

[8]ACLU Press Release, UN Report Underscores Lack of Accountability and Oversight for Military and Security Contractors, New York, 14 September 2010.

[9] The reports also indicates that the Revenues of DynCorp for 2006 were of USD 1 966 993 and for 2009 USD 3 101 093

[10] Mission to Ecuador, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/4/42/Add.2

[11] A number of the persons involved in the attempted coup were arrested in Zimbabwe, other in Equatorial Guinea itself the place where the coup was intended to take place to overthrow the government and put another in its place in order to get the rich resources in oil. In 2004 and 2008 the trials took place in Equatorial Guinea of those arrested in connection with this coup attempt, including of the British citizen Simon Mann and the South African Nick du Toit. The President of Equatorial Guinea pardoned all foreigners linked to this coup attempt in November 2009 by. A number of reports indicated that trials failed to comply with international human rights standards and that some of the accused had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The government of Equatorial Guinea has three ongoing trials in the United Kingdom, Spain and Lebanon against the persons who were behind the attempted coup.
[12] Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Mission to Honduras, United Nations document A/HRC/4/42/Add.1.
[13] Wikipedia
[14] Mercenaries without borders by Karel Vereycken,  Friday Sep 21st, 2007
[15] Among which General Carl E. Vuono, Chief of the Army during the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama; General Crosbie E. Saint, former Commander in Chief of the  USA Army in Europe and General Ron Griffith. The President of MPRI is General Bantant J. Craddock.

[16] Such as Cofer Black, former Chief of the Counter Terrorism Center; Enrique Prado, former Chief of Operations and Rof Richter, second in command of the Clandestine Services of the Company
[17] Article published in the Spring 2010 issue of the University of Chicago Law Review, titled “Privatization’s Pretensions” by Jon D. Michaels, Acting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law
[18] INQUIRY INTO THE ROLE AND OVERSIGHT OF PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS IN AFGHANISTAN, R E P O R T TOGETHER WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES UNITED STATES SENATE, 28 September 2010

‘War weary’ Taliban may form political party

Published time: March 04, 2013 20:52

Members of the Taliban (Reuters/Parwiz)

The Afghan Taliban are considering a political solution to the decade long conflict, a senior Taliban leader has said, amid speculation that the Taliban may be becoming war weary.

“We must launch a political movement to achieve the goals for which we have made so many sacrifices. The Taliban leaders whose names have been removed from the UN black list will play an important role in the political process,” Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim, a close confident of the militant groups elusive leader Mullah Omar and the former head of the Taliban Political Commission, told the Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune. 

However, he added that the warring faction was a “vital part of the Taliban”.

The Taliban have said numerous times that they will not talk to the administration of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who they’ve said was a US puppet. But political analysts believe that the Taliban are tired of waging war.

“The Taliban are tired of war and it will be a step in the right direction if they launch a political movement,” Rashid Waziri, an advisor at the Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan, told the Express Tribune on Sunday.

Pakistan, which has some influence over the Afghan Taliban, recently sent Maulana Rehman, an influential political-religious leader, to meet Taliban representatives in Qatar to help broker peace talks between the militants and the Karzai administration, although officially both sides denied the meeting.

Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim (AFP Photo / STR)

The unofficial talks in Doha, mark the latest efforts at a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

As 2014 approaches – the date when most NATO troops will leave Afghanistan – the US is pushing for an Afghan led solution and for peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgency. 

They also want to get Pakistan on board with any eventual settlement. Pakistan has long been a negative influence on the situation, enabling Taliban groups to operate from its territory while at the same time refusing to support negotiations.

Tony Gosling, an investigative journalist based in Bristol in the UK, believes the Taliban are serious about a political solution and that they have more influence in the country than the Karzai government.

“The Taliban have more influence than Karzai does. If elections in Afghanistan were free and fair, the Taliban might well do very well,” he told RT.

He also said that the west is trying to bring them into the political arena, as it now has little other option.

“We know that this has been going on behind the scenes since the beginning of the occupation. As the cost of the war gets higher and higher and cuts to the defense budget begin to bite, other options are being considered by the occupying powers,” said Gosling.

American military commanders concluded some time ago that the Afghan war could only end in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and not an outright military victory. However talks between the Taliban and the US in 2012 ended in failure.

The talks stalled because the US administration could not complete a proposed prisoner swap for five Taliban members in Guantanamo to be exchanged for the one US soldier in captivity in Afghanistan, Sergeant Bowe Bergdhal.

The swap, which was scuppered by opposition from both parties in Congress, has made more serious talks difficult to envisage.

Reuters / Mohammad Shoib

The Taliban are also internally divided particularly between their political wing and their military commanders, who were critical of the existence of talks.

They are also unwilling to meet Washington’s demands to sever ties with Al Qaida, renounce violence and accept the commitments to political and human rights in Afghanistan’s Constitution.

But despite all these setbacks the Qataris remain willing to host the talks and one of the Taliban negotiators who is still in Doha has said that talks could restart as soon as the prisoner swap takes place and the insurgents are allowed to open an office in Doha.

If this happens “and practical steps are taken by the United States of America, talks will resume. There is no other obstruction,” Sohail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiator, told Japan’s NHK World TV last month.

Gosling believes that when NATO troops have gone and negotiations are underway between the Taliban and the Afghan government, there is a chance of peace in the country, although there may be problems in the short term.

“What’s happening in Pakistan and Iraq with frequent sectarian bombings, there is a likelihood of this happening in Afghanistan. But ultimately, if Afghanistan were left alone, it may turn into a more peaceful regime,” he said.

Truthdigger of the Week: Bradley Manning

Truthdigger of the Week: Bradley Manning

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Posted on Mar 2, 2013
AP/Patrick Semansky

“I believe[d] that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States,” Manning said.

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Thanks to last week’s Truthdigger of the Week, journalist Alexa O’Brien, the public has access to a complete rushed transcript of the statement Pfc. Bradley Manning made to a federal judge Thursday when he pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining state secrets that he subsequently passed to WikiLeaks as well as pleading not guilty to “aiding the enemy.”

Manning’s statement consists of facts describing his military training, the nature of his work as an intelligence analyst, his discovery of WikiLeaks and the “unauthorized storage and disclosure[s]” of a host of sensitive documents that he made over time. It stands as one of the few occasions the public has heard from Manning since his arrest in May 2010.

Manning was recognized for his aptitude as an intelligence analyst. Thus, he had access to troves of sensitive information. It was his job to pore over this data, much of which would be seen by only a handful of people. Apart perhaps from a few of his fellow analysts, the view of U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan that he came to possess was highly detailed and more complete than virtually any other soldier’s, including likely many of his superiors. Seen all at once, he had a bird’s eye view of the wars, and what he saw “disturbed” him.

In his statement he describes being snowed in at his aunt’s house during a blizzard while on leave in Maryland in late January 2010. It was there that he first deliberated over what to do with copies of records he had made of so-called SigActs (reports of events the military believed were worth relating during the course of war).

“I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession,” Manning said. “For me, the SigActs represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.”

Manning said he believed that if the public had access to those records, they would “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as … it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” He “believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.”

Upon resolving to publish the documents, he attempted to contact mainstream newspapers. He spoke briefly with a reporter at The Washington Post, but she didn’t seem to take him seriously. The New York Times ignored him outright, never responding to a voice mail that included his Skype phone number and personal email address. Discouraged by the papers’ lack of interest, he contacted WikiLeaks, which he encountered during the course of reading about world events, which had become a “fascination” for him.

In his message to WikiLeaks, he included a simple note explaining the contents of the file:

“It’s already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information—perhaps 90 to 100 days to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect its source. This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”

In the weeks that followed, Manning provided WikiLeaks with more documents. They included State Department cables showing U.S. officials’ candid lack of interest in helping Iceland during its financial crisis; footage of killings of Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter (which came to be known as the “Collateral Murder” video); and other examples of his government’s lack of concern for human life. All of it “upset” him, he said, and all of it went to WikiLeaks.

As the Iceland example makes clear, Manning’s interest was not limited to America’s wrongdoing in war. “The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations,” Manning told the judge this week. “I also began to think the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that [sic] didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.

“The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public,” he continued. “I once read a [sic] and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”

Manning’s statement was written to be heard by a justice system that is bent on making an example out of him. He is compelled to express himself in a way that keeps him in the best of possible graces with the courts and the American public. Even so, there are moments, such as above, when the rigidity he relies upon in reporting the facts of his actions dissolves away, and he speaks in the naked and young language of hopes and ideals. Military training did not drill Manning’s identity and humane values out of him. Those values could cost him his life, if the trial that is due to begin in June results in a sentence of life in prison or even death.

For being incorrigibly himself and allowing his conscience to be his guide, we honor Bradley Manning once again as our Truthdigger of the Week. Read his statement here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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Bradley Manning: The Face of Heroism

Courage is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged Friday he chose to undertake.

March 2, 2013  |  

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In December, 2011, I wrote  an Op-Ed in the Guardian arguing that if  Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then he is a consummate hero, and deserves a medal and our collective gratitude, not decades in prison. At his court-martial proceeding this afternoon in Fort Meade, Manning, as  the Guaridan's Ed Pilkington reports, pleaded guilty to having been the source of the most significant leaks to  WikiLeaks. He also pleaded not guilty to 12 of the 22 counts, including the most serious - the  capital offense of "aiding and abetting the enemy", which could send him to prison for life - on the ground that nothing he did was intended to nor did it result in harm to US national security. The US government will now almost certainly proceed with its attempt to prosecute him on those remaining counts.

Manning's heroism has long been established in my view, for the reasons I set forth in that Op-Ed. But this was bolstered on Friday as he spoke for an hour in court about what he did and why, reading from a prepared 35-page statement. Wired's Spencer Ackerman was there and  reported:

"Wearing his Army dress uniform, a composed, intense and articulate Pfc. Bradley Manning took 'full responsibility' Thursday for providing the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks with a trove of classified and sensitive military, diplomatic and intelligence cables, videos and documents. . . .

"Manning's motivations in leaking, he said, was to 'spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general', he said, and 'cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.'

"Manning explain[ed] his actions that drove him to disclose what he said he 'believed, and still believe . . . are some of the most significant documents of our time' . . . .

"He came to view much of what the Army told him — and the public — to be false, such as the suggestion the military had destroyed a graphic video of an aerial assault in Iraq that killed civilians, or that WikiLeaks was a nefarious entity. . . .

"Manning said he often found himself frustrated by attempts to get his chain of command to investigate apparent abuses detailed in the documents Manning accessed. . . ."

Manning also said he "first approached three news outlets: the Washington Post, New York Times and Politico" before approaching WikiLeaks. And he repeatedly denied having been encouraged or pushed in any way by WikiLeaks to obtain and leak the documents, thus denying the US government a  key part of its attempted prosecution of the whistleblowing group. Instead, "he said he took 'full responsibility' for a decision that will likely land him in prison for the next 20 years — and possibly the rest of his life."

This is all consistent with what Manning is purported to have said in  the chat logs with the government snitch who pretended to be a journalist and a pastor in order to assure him of confidentiality but then instead reported him. In those chats, Manning explained that he was leaking because he wanted the world to know what he had learned: "I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." When asked by the informant why he did not sell the documents to a foreign government for profit - something he obviously could have done with ease - Manning replied that he wanted the information to be publicly known in order to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms". He described how he became deeply disillusioned with the Iraq War he had once thought noble, and this caused him to re-examine all of his prior assumptions about the US government. And he extensively narrated how he had learned of serious abuse and illegality while serving in the war - including detaining Iraqi citizens guilty of nothing other than criticizing the Malaki government - but was ignored when he brought those abuses to his superiors.

The Geopolitics of Oil and Natural Gas: Russia is Back to Stay in the...

russianwarshipnovocherkassk

By Felix Imonti

Russia is back. President Vladimir Putin wants the world to acknowledge that Russia remains a global power. He is making his stand in Syria.

The Soviet Union acquired the Tartus Naval Port in Syria in 1971 without any real purpose for it. With their ships welcomed in Algeria, Cuba or Vietnam, Tartus was too insignificant to be developed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lacked the funds to spend on the base and no reason to invest in it.

The Russian return to the Middle East brought them first to where the Soviet Union had its closest ties. Libya had been a major buyer of arms and many of the military officers had studied in the Soviet Union. Russia was no longer a global power, but it could be used by the Libyans as a counter force to block domination by the United States and Europeans.

When Gaddafi fell, Tartus became Russia’s only presence in the region. That and the discovery of vast gas deposits just offshore have transformed the once insignificant port into a strategic necessity.

Earlier at the United Nations, Russia had failed to realize that Security Council Resolution 1973 that was to implement a new policy of “responsibility to protect” cloaked a hidden agenda. It was to be turned from a no-fly zone into a free-fire zone for NATO. That strategic blunder of not vetoing the resolution led to the destruction of Gaddafi’s regime and cost Russia construction contracts and its investments in Libyan gas and oil to the tune of 10 billion dollars.

That was one more in a series of humiliating defeats; and something that Putin will not allow to happen again while he is president. Since his time as an officer in the KGB, he has seen the Soviet Empire lose half of its population, a quarter of its land mass, and most of its global influence. He has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.”

In spite of all of the pressure from Washington and elsewhere to have him persuade Bashar Al-Assad to relinquish power, Putin is staying loyal to the isolated regime. He is calculating that Russia can afford to lose among the Arabs what little prestige that it has remaining and gain a major political and economic advantage in Southern Europe and in the Eastern Mediterranean.

What Russia lost through the anti-Al-Assad alliance was the possibility to control the natural gas market across Europe and the means to shape events on the continent. In July 2011, Iran, Iraq, and Syria agreed to build a gas pipeline from the South Pars gas field in Iran to Lebanon and across the Mediterranean to Europe. The pipeline that would have been managed by Gazprom would have carried 110 million cubic meters of gas. About a quarter of the gas would be consumed by the transit countries, leaving seventy or so million cubic meters to be sold to Europe.

Violence in Iraq and the Syrian civil war has ended any hope that the pipeline will be built, but not all hope is lost. One possibility is for Al-Assad to withdraw to the traditional Aliwite coastal enclave to begin the partitioning of Syria into three or more separate zones, Aliwite, Kurdish, and Sunni. Al-Assad’s grandfather in 1936 had asked the French administrators of the Syrian mandate to create a separate Alawite territory in order to avoid just this type of ethnic violence.

What the French would not do circumstance may force the grandson to accept as his only choice to survive. His one hundred thousand heavily armed troops would be able to defend the enclave.

The four or five million Alawites, Christians, and Druze would have agricultural land, water, a deep water port and an international airport. Very importantly, they would have the still undeveloped natural gas offshore fields that extend from Israel, Lebanon, and Cyprus. The Aliwite Republic could be energy self-sufficient and even an exporter. Of course, Russia’s Gazprom in which Putin has a vital interest would get a privileged position in the development of the resource.

In an last effort to bring the nearly two year long civil war to an end, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov urged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad at the end of December to start talks with the Syrian opposition in line with the agreements for a cease fire that was reached in Geneva on 30 June. The Russians have also extended the invitation to the Syrian opposition National Coalition head, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib. The National Coalition refuses to negotiate with Al-Assad and Al-Assad will not relinquish power voluntarily.

The hardened positions of both sides leaves little hope for a negotiated settlement; and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that only by an agreement among the Syrians will Russia accept the removal of Al-Assad. Neither do they see a settlement through a battlefield victory which leaves only a partitioning that will allow the civil war to just wind down as all sides are exhausted.

The Russians are troubled by what they see as a growing trend among the Western Powers to remove disapproved administrations in other sovereign countries and a program to isolate Russia. They saw the U.S involvement in the Ukraine and Georgia. There was the separation of Kosovo from Serbia over Russian objections. There was the extending of NATO to the Baltic States after pledging not to expand the organization to Russia’s frontier.

Again, Russia is seeing Washington’s hand in Syria in the conflict with Iran. The United States is directing military operations in Syria with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia at a control center in Adana about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to the American air base in Incirlik. The Program by President Obama to have the CIA acquire heavy weapons at a facility in Benghazi to be sent to Turkey and onward to Syria is the newest challenge that Putin cannot allow to go unanswered. It was the involvement of Ambassador Chris Stevens in the arms trade that may have contributed to his murder; and the Russians are not hesitating to remind the United States and Europeans that their dealings with the various Moslem extremists is a very dangerous game.

The Russians are backing their determination to block another regime change by positioning and manning an advanced air defense system in what is becoming the Middle East casino. Putin is betting that NATO will not risk in Syria the cost that an air operation similar to what was employed over Libya will impose. Just in case Russia’s determination is disregarded and Putin’s bluff is called, Surface to surface Iskander missiles have been positioned along the Jordanian and Turkish frontiers. They are aimed at a base in Jordan operated by the United States to train rebels and at Patriot Missile sites and other military facilities in Turkey.

Putin is certain that he is holding the winning hand in this very high stakes poker game. An offshore naval task force, the presence of Russian air defense forces, an electronic intelligence center in Latakia, and the port facilities at Tartus will guarantee the independence of the enclave. As the supplier of sixty percent of Turkey’s natural gas, Moscow does have leverage that Ankara will not be able to ignore; and Ankara well knows that gas is one of Putin’s diplomatic weapons.

When the Turks and U.S see that there is little chance of removing Al-Assad, they will have no option other than to negotiate a settlement with him; and that would involve Russia as the protector and the mediator. That would establish Russia’s revived standing as a Mediterranean power; and Putin could declare confidently that “Russia is back.” After that, the Russians will be free to focus upon their real interests in the region.

And what is Russia’s real interest? Of course, it is oil and gas and the power that control of them can bring.

Hollywood-Style History

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Hollywood’s complicity with Washington is longstanding. Movie moguls are duplicitous. The only thing they like better than good films are good deals.

Washington’s requests are prioritized. Scripts feature pro-Western propaganda. “Operation Hollywood” explains.

Daily Variety/Hollywood Reporter David Robb’s bookdiscussed Hollywood’s longstanding relationship with the Pentagon.

It began post-WW 1. The 1927 silent film “Wings” starred Clara Bow. It launched Gary Cooper’s career. It was about two WW I fighter pilot friends. It won Hollywood’s first best picture award.

Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies” tells more. Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black explained. It discusses Franklin Roosevelt’s Office of War Information. It had enormous influence on Hollywood.

It impacted wartime filmmaking. Anyone growing up at the time remembers. WW II films proliferated. They’re still shown on late night TV. Cable channels feature them. Government censors had final say. They controlled everything from casting to production.

Studio bosses were well compensated to collude. Long before Pearl Harbor, film content promoted war. In 1939, Warner Bros. premiered “Confessions of a Nazi Spy.” It claimed Germany sought world conquest. It was before anyone knew Hitler’s full intentions.

In 1940, Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” burlesqued Hitler, Mussolini, and Nazism. Other films featured war propaganda. Once America was attacked, they proliferated.

No plot too far-fetched was omitted. Even Tarzan was exploited. He waged war on Nazism in “Tarzan Triumphs.”

Hitler was no match for the king of the jungle. He defeated German invaders singlehanded. An elephant blitzkrieg helped.

Movie moguls supported the war effort. Most of all they prioritized profits. They claim they give people what they want. They reinvent history doing so.

Pentagon generals supported and approved “Top Gun.” A special Film Liason Office overseas propaganda filmmaking. It focuses on ones related to war. It chooses ones it wants.

It has final say on content and characters. It makes no secret of its purpose. It wants pro-Western propaganda featured. Few war films go other ways.

Zero Dark Thirty chronicled the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s grotesque, dishonest, and fabricated. It opened days before Christmas last year. It reinvented history. Bin Laden was dead and buried. In December 2001, he died naturally.

Hollywood and Obama claimed otherwise. History is reinvented. Doing so is shameless and duplicitous. It says more about America’s imperial agenda than truth.

It exploits 9/11 events. It ignored clear evidence. David Ray Griffin wrote 10 convincing books. America’s false flag struck the Pentagon, downed the twin towers, and Building 7.

Doing so launched overt and covert war on terror. It rages lawlessly at home and abroad. Hollywood marches in lockstep. Movie moguls misinform, manipulate public sentiment, and manufacture consent.

They convince people to support what demands condemnation. They persuade them to hate alleged enemies. They glorify war in the name of peace.

They proliferate Big Lies. They stoke fear. They aid and abet state crimes. They convince people that Washington’s wars are justified because they say so.

They call waging war on humanity liberating struggles. They believe might justifies right. Destroying nations to free them is OK.

Zero Dark Thirty reinvents history. It chronicles a hunt for a dead man. It turns rogue CIA agents into heroes. It’s long, boring, and dishonest. Much of what the film portrays has no connection to bin Laden.

It argues that torture works. Brutalizing detainees helped discover his whereabouts, it claims. Extrajudicial killing is glorified. Misfits become heroes. Crimes of war and against humanity are waged for our own good.

Hollywood and the mainstream media produce this stuff. They do so for profit. They’re unapologetic. Anything for a buck is OK. Propagandizing is the American way.

On February 24, Argo won top honors. Hollywood’s 85th Academy Awards chose it the year’s top film. It should have been denounced instead of honored.

It relates a little-known 1979/1980 Iranian hostage crisis episode. Demonstrators stormed Washington’s Tehran embassy. Fifty-three Americans were held captive for 444 days.

A generation of repressive Reza Shah Pahlavi rule went unexplained. He was Washington’s man in Tehran.

Six Americans escaped. Former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor sheltered them in his home. He’s highly critical. He said script writer Chris Terrio misportrayed events.

The film recounts their rescue. It downplays Canada’s involvement. Terrio took creative liberties. Scenes were fabricated. People were mischaracterized. Iran’s “more hospitable side” was omitted.

Argo is malicious, unjust, and one-sided. It’s Hollywood propaganda at its worst. It foments anti-Iranian hatred. It stereotypically portrays Iran according to pro-Western misinformation.

Press TV called Argo “Iranophobic.” It’s Hollywood-style “Machiavellian maneuvering.” Film critic Kim Nicolini was quoted. She expected Argo to win. She said there’s nothing remotely “best” about it.

It’s “a piece of conservative (pro-Western) propaganda created by Hollywood to support the Obama administration’s” positioning ahead of last November’s presidential election.

“It also primes the war wheels for an American-supported Israeli attack on Iran, so that (Iran bashers) can feel okay about the war when they cast their vote for Obama in November (2012).”

Film director Ben Affleck reinvented history. Students who stormed Washington’s embassy believed it was a den of espionage. Overthrowing the new Islamic Republic was prioritized.

Affleck’s ignored the larger story. His film is one-sided. It’s “a sanitized version of events,” said Nicolini.

“(T)here’s nothing authentic about (its) manipulation of historical events.” It’s “pure political propaganda.”

“Given the vast number of people who have died in the Middle East (Americans, Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis, etc.), why should we give so much attention to 6 white American diplomats who were saved by Hollywood and the CIA?”

“What about all the other people from so many cultural demographics who have and are continuing to be massacred, murdered and tortured daily?”

In 1979, Masoumeh Ebtekar was students’ spokeswoman. She hoped Argo would portray events accurately. She’s sorely disappointed.

“The group who took over the American Embassy were a group of young, very orderly and quite calm men and women,” she said.

Argo’s portrayal is wholly inaccurate. It’s fiction, not fact. It bears no relation to truth. It’s Hollywood-style rubbish.

It’s politically motivated. It leaves the 1981 Algiers Accords unmentioned. Iran and Washington signed it. Most Iranian assets were unblocked.

A day later, 53 US hostages were released. It was moments before Reagan was inaugurated. Washington wants US/Iranian conciliation concealed.

Argo ignored what it should have featured. It reinvented history. It did so Hollywood-style. It sacrificed truth. It bashed Iran in the process.

It’s part of Washington’s propaganda machine. It shouldn’t surprise. Doing so is longstanding. Hollywood does it for profit. It’s the American way.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]

His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

http://www.dailycensored.com/hollywood-style-history/

WikiLeaks: Manning says wanted ‘public debate’ on war

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Infantile Conservatism: America’s “Greatest National Security Threat is Iran.” Do Conservatives really Believe this?

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Regularly now, The Washington Post, as always concerned with fairness and balance, runs a blog called “Right Turn: Jennifer Rubin’s Take From a Conservative Perspective.”

The blog tells us what the Post regards as conservatism.

On Monday, Rubin declared that America’s “greatest national security threat is Iran.” Do conservatives really believe this?

How is America, with thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, scores of warships in the Med, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, bombers and nuclear subs and land-based missiles able to strike and incinerate Iran within half an hour, threatened by Iran?

Iran has no missile that can reach us, no air force or navy that would survive the first days of war, no nuclear weapons, no bomb-grade uranium from which to build one. All of her nuclear facilities are under constant United Nations surveillance and inspection.

And if this Iran is the “greatest national security threat” faced by the world’s last superpower, why do Iran’s nearest neighbors — Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan — seem so unafraid of her?

Citing The Associated Press and Times of Israel, Rubin warns us that “Iran has picked 16 new locations for nuclear plants.”

How many nuclear plants does Iran have now? One, Bushehr.

Begun by the Germans under the shah, Bushehr was taken over by the Russians in 1995, but not completed for 16 years, until 2011. In their dreams, the Iranians, their economy sinking under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, are going to throw up 16 nuclear plants.

Twice Rubin describes our situation today as “scary.”

Remarkable. Our uncles and fathers turned the Empire of the Sun and Third Reich into cinders in four years, and this generation is all wee-weed up over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“For all intents and purposes, (Bibi) Netanyahu is now the West’s protector,” says Rubin. How so? Because Obama and Chuck Hagel seem