did the Republicans steal the election? Greg Palast and Mark Crispin Miller present proof they did…

Donald Trump warned the world of election fraud throughout his campaign. Here’s what he said during an interview on Fox News on the actual day of the election:

“It’s largely a rigged system. And you see it at the polling booths, too… There are reports that when people vote for Republicans the entire ticket switches over to Democrats. You’ve seen that. It’s happening at various places today. It’s been reported. In other words, the machines, you put down a Republican and it registers as a Democrat. They’ve had a lot of complaints about that today.”

And here’s what tweeted:

In fairness, he had well-founded reasons to say so. US presidential elections have been rigged on at least two recent occasions: Bush’s ‘hanging chads’ victory against Gore in 2000 was demonstrably stolen and his win over Kerry in 2004 was likewise manipulated. The proof of voter suppression and other forms of rigging on these occasions was uncovered by investigative journalist Greg Palast who even ran his reports on BBC Newsnight.  One technique Palast failed to mention, however, concerns methods of hacking or otherwise tampering with voting machines, but others better qualified looked into this too and likewise raised the alarm. Gore Vidal was one of the most vocal of mainstream voices calling for investigations in the wake of both election results. All of this is covered in an earlier post.

But Trump is Trump. The insinuations of a loudmouthed pantomime villain who spews vitriolic hatred, spouts arrant nonsense and dabbles in “conspiracy theory” were easily dismissed by a hostile media. Eager to cover up deficiencies, flaws, and criminal fraudulence inherent in contemporary American electoral procedures and processes, rather than investigate his claims, Trump was simply laughed off.  But what if, just perhaps, like the proverbial stopped clock, Trump was telling the truth for a change? Or telling half of the truth…? To paraphrase Hamlet, the Donald doth protest too much, methinks…

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Exit polls are the standard by which the US State Department measures the honesty of foreign elections. Exit polling is, historically, deadly accurate. The bane of pre-election polling is that pollsters must adjust for the likelihood of a person voting. Exit polls solve the problem.

But three times in US history, pollsters have had to publicly flagellate themselves for their “errors.”  In 2000, exit polls gave Al Gore the win in Florida; in 2004, exit polls gave Kerry the win in Ohio, and now, in swing states, exit polls gave the presidency to Hillary Clinton.

writes Greg Palast in his latest article which is entitled “The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…” He continues:

So how could these multi-million-dollar Ph.d-directed statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong?

Answer:  they didn’t.  The polls in Florida in 2000 were accurate.  That’s because exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?”  What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted.”

In 2000, in Florida, GOP Secretary of State Katherine Harris officially rejected 181,173 ballots, as “spoiled” because their chads were hung and other nonsense excuses.  Those ballots overwhelmingly were marked for Al Gore.  The exit polls included those 181,173 people who thought they had voted – but their vote didn’t count.  In other words, the exit polls accurately reflected whom the voters chose, not what Katherine Harris chose.

In 2004, a similar number of votes were invalidated (including an enormous pile of “provisional” ballots) by Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.  Again, the polls reflected that Kerry was the choice of 51% of the voters.  But the exit polls were “wrong” because they didn’t reflect the ballots invalidated by Blackwell.

Notably, two weeks after the 2004 US election, the US State Department refused the recognize the Ukraine election results because the official polls contradicted the exit polls.

And here we go again. 2016: Hillary wins among those queried as they exit the polling station—yet Trump is declared winner in GOP-controlled swings states. And, once again, the expert pollsters are forced to apologize—when they should be screaming, “Fraud!  Here’s the evidence the vote was fixed!”

Click here to read Palast’s full article.

The nightly anti-Trump vigil beneath Trump Tower is valiant but futile. Likewise, the alienated thousands across America with placards reading “love trumps hate” and “not my president” or else venting spleen in more riotous fashion represent no serious challenge or threat without a cause greater than such a loosely configured fear and loathing of Trump to rally around — as understandable and justifiable as that fear and loathing is. On the other hand, proof of election fraud would serve not only to validate the widespread sense of grievance, but might also be used to focus it.

So once the dust as settled, there has to be a change of political strategy. In the meantime consider the thoughtful analysis of Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media, Culture and Communications at New York, author of “Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform” and “Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy.” His latest article is “An open plea to Michael Moore (and all our other lefty stars): Dude, where are our votes? WAKE UP!”

There is also Greg Palast’s newly released documentary, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and this companion piece. For the evidence is beginning to stack up and it appears to validate their contention that Trump is not by rights President-Elect of the United States, as indeed, by similar account, Clinton, whose DNC team quite overtly stole the nomination from Sanders, was never by rights the Democrat candidate. Both elections were a travesty. In all likelihood, both were a crime too.

As a taster, I recommend the latest episode of comedian Lee Camp’s Redacted Tonight, which features interviews with Greg Palast and Mark Crispin Miller and is embedded below:

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Additional:

Here are Palast’s BBC Newsnight reports on the US election in 2000:

And on the US election in 2004:

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Filed under election fraud, Greg Palast, USA

(with regret) I approve this message: Mike Whitney on Clinton v. Trump

This is what it must feel like to be on Death Row, to be waiting for the moment when the iron door clangs open for the last time and four burly guards escort you arm-in-arm to the room where your life will be extinguished. That same sense of dread hangs over the presidential election of 2016.

writes independent journalist and political analyst Mike Whitney in today’s Counterpunch beneath the apt headline “Doomsday Election”.

He continues:

The growing sense of desperation in America today is palpable and it goes far beyond this one, isolated election cycle. The steady erosion of confidence in the nation’s main institutions is evident in Congress’s public approval ratings which seem to be stuck in single-digit territory. The public probably feels equal contempt for the Loretta Lynch Justice Department which is loaded with Clinton toadies that have done their best to quash any investigation into the illicit pay-to-play machinations at the Clinton Foundation. And, let’s not forget the media which has lost whatever shred of credibility it managed to salvage after its myriad of war-promoting lies about WMD, mobile weapons labs, aluminum tubes and Assad’s imaginary chemical weapons attacks, attacks that were invented from whole cloth at one of Washington’s many neocon think tanks where these fake ideas are typically hatched. The Forth Estate’s latest gambit is an idiotic attempt to prove that Vladimir Putin is trying to hack our thoroughly-corrupted Third World voting system to achieve some nebulous political gain. What a joke.

No, Hillary, Putin is not gaming the system like you did in the primaries with Bernie Sanders, nor did he put a gun to your head and force you to delete the 33,000 missing emails from your private server. That was your handiwork Ms. Clinton, although you have a done a masterful job in deflecting attention  from yourself and  passing the buck for your own sleazy, criminal activities onto Moscow.

[with links added]

Hillary stole the nomination, as Whitney reminds us, but what of Trump. The rise of Trump is more alarming again:

To large extent, Trump owes his shocking rise to the top of the GOP ticket to the fact that he shoots from the hip and that the media hates him. What was once a liability, has become an asset as trust for the despised media has plunged to depths never seen before.

But that doesn’t explain what’s really driving this election and why are the American people so overcome by desperation?

It’s all about economic insecurity. It’s all about the fact that standards of living are slipping, that an entire generation is bogged down with student debt, that all the good-paying jobs have been shipped to other countries, that family incomes are shriveling, that a good portion of the population feel threatened by immigration, that health care costs have skyrocketed, that retirement plans have been postponed, and that the great bulk of the nation’s wealth has been transferred to the 1 percent plutocrats and Wall Street landsharks who dictate policy through their Congressional lackeys and their allies at the Federal Reserve.  That’s what the election is really all about.

People are waking up to the fact that the American dream is dead, that the US is no longer the land of opportunity, and that the lives of their children are going to be worse than their own, far worse. This is why everyone is so upset, so frustrated, so hopeless.  They are looking for a political ally who will address their needs, and instead they get bromides on transgender bathrooms or “glass ceilings” or any of the other soothing slogans the Democrats use to pacify the masses and to keep them in the flock. Only now it’s not working as well. Now a sizable portion of the blue collar vote has shifted into Trump’s camp mainly because they see through the phony Democrat rhetoric and all the job-eviscerating free trade deals they’ve pushed for years. Trump has skillfully tapped into the collective psyche of millions of working people who feel the Democratic Party tossed them under the track-hoe 30 years ago and never looked back. And, he’s right, too.

Whitney then continues with a quote from Zerohedge that quashes any lingering doubts about whether or not billionare-man-of-the-people Trump might be Wall Street connected too:

But there was another big move that Trump made that escaped the notice of the media and which really underscores his willingness to  “play by to the rules.” Here’s the story from Zero Hedge:

Six months ago, Steven Mnuchin became finance chair for the Trump campaign. Having successfully helped to raise 10s of millions of dollars for the campaign, the former Goldman Sachs partner and Soros Fund management employee is now positioned for something much larger as Donald Trump reportedly told his aides today that he wants Mnuchin to serve as his Treasury Secretary. *

[original highlight and links restored]

Whitney continues:

Another head of Treasury from G-Sax?

That figures.

Trump is great with the rabble-rousing “take back your country” tirades and all the gibberish about the “rigged” system. But he also knows how to cave in when it suits his interests. He knows he’s not going to be president without Wall Street’s nod, so he’s enlisted a trusted insider to take care of business at Treasury. It’s a signal to the bigwigs that they don’t have to worry about the Donald going off the reservation. (wink, wink)  So much for Trump’s independence, eh?

Whittled down to a choice between Hillary and the Donald, it has long since been a choice between lesser evils – Alien vs Predator (I leave you to decide which is which). Here’s more on Clinton:

And what can we say about Hillary Clinton that hasn’t been said a million times before?

Clinton, who still holds a slim lead in most of the polls, is clearly the establishment candidate in a year when hatred for the corrupt Washington oligarchy, has reached levels not seen in the last hundred years. The fact that Hillary can run for the nation’s highest office while being investigated by the FBI, while being savaged by the daily releases of new, incriminating emails (from WikiLeaks), and while promoting a hawkish, neocon-driven foreign policy that portends a direct military confrontation with Russia, speaks to the fact that traditional liberal Democrats are either still hoodwinked by the Democratic Party’s manipulation of identity politics or simply terrified of the alternative, Donald Trump.

And that’s why everyone is so utterly dejected and depressed about the election, because instead of voting for a candidate they really want or admire, most people are simply voting for the candidate that either disgusts or scares the hell out of them the least. What kind of choice is that?

With Trump we face martial law in America, with Clinton, a nuclear war with Russia – not my words but the forecast of another disheartened American. As Mike Whitney concludes:

In less than 48 hours, the most agonizingly-wretched campaign of all times will be over, the ballots will be counted, and the new president will be named. The only thing that is certain is that, whoever wins, we lose.

With deep regret and profound sadness, I approve Mike Whitney’s message.

Click here to read it in full.

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* From an article entitled “Trump Wants Former Goldman Partner and Soros Employee To Serve As Treasury Secretary” written by Tyler Durden published in Zerohedge on November 3, 2016. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-11-03/trump-wants-former-goldman-partner-and-soros-employee-serve-treasury-secretary

The same article continues:

Ironically, Trump has often criticized Clinton (and his former competitor Ted Cruz) for their links to the big banks:

“I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in one debate.

But as we noted previously, he had no qualms, however, in hiring one of the most prominent Goldman alums to raise money for him. […]

But for Trump, a self-professed “anti-establishment” candidate, who has repeatedly stated he is not “for sale to special interest groups”, his sudden call for the seemingly most “Wall Street” of Wall-Streeters to become Treasury Secretary may come as a big surprise to some and will leave many of his supporters demanding an explanation.

[highlights as in original]

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Additional:

On Wednesday 9th, John Pilger gave an extended post-election interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground. The full show is embedded below alongside my own transcription of selected passages:

I think the only people surprised [by Trump’s victory] are those who enabled it to happen. I’m speaking about mainly, what I would call in the United States, a liberal class. To a certain degree in this country [i.e., Britain] a liberal class. They told us that only the status quo – only a corrupt, warmongering status quo – would be acceptable to the majority… They’ve created Trump in the same way they created Blair…

In the United States they corrupted a voting system within the Democratic Party that ensured that another populist, Bernie Sanders – I don’t think really he would have beaten Trump – but he was a populist. But instead, the corrupt candidate, the embodiment of the status quo, that has declared the whole world a battlefield was the “candidate of sanity”. “The candidate for women”. This grotesque campaigning for a candidate… who represented great rapacious power has been probably the most eye-opening side to this. I don’t think Trump is – you could see him coming a mile off. Or ‘a Trump’. [from 1:30 mins]

[Clinton] is clearly the embodiment of a corrupt system. She is the embodiment of a very warmongering system that has declared the world a place where it can go to war, wherever it likes. Where it can bomb agricultural communities in Yemen where half the children are malnourished. Where it can do what it likes in Syria. Do what it likes in Iraq. I think most of humanity… regards that kind of behaviour from the allegedly most powerful country in the world as abhorrent. And she has been the embodiment of that.

Now, whether Trump will be is an open question. He says he’s anti-establishment, but of course, he’ll come with his own establishment. He’s anti- their establishment; I don’t believe for a moment he’s anti- the wider establishment of the United States: indeed he’s a product of it. [from 3:50 mins]

The truth is there was no-one to vote for… there was perhaps Sanders earlier on. But he was a kind of minority populist candidate with a large following. But the system threw up those who could afford it: Trump had his own money; Clinton was backed by the Democratic Party. Clinton was backed by the arms companies – she was the only candidate that amongst her own backers included all but one of the ten leading arms manufacturers in the world. [from 5:20 mins]

They’re not journalists: they’re anti-journalists. One of the most revealing aspects of this has been the exposure of journalism. The exposure of journalism as an extension of that same corrupt established power that I’ve been speaking about. They’re not independent: they are echo chambers. They amplify and echo that which is handed down to them. And the worst, of course, the greatest echoes are the so-called enlightened, respectable, liberal press. The New York Times has become a kind of Cold War propaganda sheet with all the nonsense about Russia interfering in this campaign… The Guardian has given up. Yesterday, we had in the Guardian an article called the “Hall of Shame” by Jonathan Freedland in which he pointed the finger at a truth-teller like Julian Assange. As if he would be to blame if Hillary Clinton, this paragon of liberal virtue, was defeated. That’s grotesque. [from 7:10 mins]

The media along with The Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department and all the rest, including the Republican Party were Trump’s opponents. But they were the shouters… the BBC, CNN, as I mentioned, the Guardian, New York Times and you name it… they were all there because Hillary Clinton represented them. [from 9:10 mins]

But you know what has struck me is the silence. The silence of those with the facility, with the privilege, of being able to analyse and help us understand. To make sense of this extraordinary American year leading up to this extraordinary result. The silence, particularly of media, and particularly of the so-called liberal class, who have enabled so much of this. Their silence first of all about Iraq. Their silence about Libya. More than silence, their collusion with those dreadful events that are so described in Clinton’s emails…

You know, the emails that wikileaks published, that Assange spoke about the other day, really exemplify the very corruption. When you have a campaign manager of a candidate for the President of the United States [who] is the officially registered agent of Saudi Arabia. And that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding the Clinton Foundation, and Clinton as Secretary of State is approving arms sales (including the biggest arms sales in history) to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. [from 16:00 mins]

Something like 40% of the world in one way or another is under American sanctions. The EU usually follow on. The EU is not an independent collection of nations; by and large it follows the United States. Sanctions impose themselves on countries all over the world destroying life… infamously, destroying life in Iraq, killing according to UNICEF 500,000 infants under the age of five between 1991 and 2003. Sanctions led by the United States and Britain. [from 22:50 mins]

We live in Britain with the imposition of an extreme ideology with this awful name neo-liberalism… They hauled a perfectly good word out of the dictionary – “austerity” – and now that’s part of the ideology. All of it unnecessary in this rich country. The imposition of power on people’s lives is the issue today and in whatever form it has taken that’s what Americans – the majority of Americans – took to the ballot box with them. [from 25:00 mins]

We have in the Northern hemisphere up against the border with Russia the greatest build up of US-led Nato forces since World War II. In Asia and the Pacific we have the greatest build up of US naval forces since World War II aimed at China. We have something like eight or nine hundred US bases around the world, on every continent: 400 of them encircling China. Many more, I think, I haven’t counted lately because they keep cropping up, encircling Russia… I’m not saying that those who are doing this want nuclear war. Even they must understand that it would mean their own destruction. But this recklessness I’ve often felt could lead to the kind of mistake or accident that begins something.

And that is all about the imposition of power that comes from within the West. That is the issue. That’s the issue that this election campaign has thrown up and that’s the issue about which so many of those [in] the educated liberal class – those with the privilege of public platforms – have kept silent about. Keeping that out of the campaign in the United States has been a liberal exercise. Keeping it out of the reporting of the campaign in this country has been the same exercise. [from 26:10 mins]

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Also on Wednesday, Democracy Now! spoke with Muslim Democrat activist and Bernie Sanders supporter, Linda Sarsour, who said:

I’m going to be honest with you. I’m horrified. I’m absolutely beyond myself. I had a 12-year-old daughter sobbing at home. We failed our young people. We failed generations to come… It’s a mirror up to our face as a nation, that this is who we are and who we have been. And anyone who has denied us that truth is why we are in the place that we are in right now. And we have a president right now who has access to executive orders. He has access to nuclear codes. He is going to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, which will live for generations after his presidency. I am appalled that I am sitting right now having to figure out how to explain to young people across this country, including my own children, why we have a sexist, misogynist, racist Islamaphobe in the White House. I’m just—I haven’t slept all night. I have no idea. I’m speechless.

Amy[Goodman], honestly, like I don’t care what anyone says. If Bernie Sanders was the Democratic nominee, we would have won this election by far. Michigan, we were down 20 percent in the polls in the primaries, and Michigan gave Bernie Sanders the biggest political upset in U.S. history. […]

Yes, he did, in Michigan. Who gave him that win? It was Muslims in Dearborn. We looked at—we looked at Dearborn this time around for Hillary. I’m going to be honest with you. Hillary wasn’t helping me. I went around the country talking an anti-Trump message, because I couldn’t bring myself to support her and be as a surrogate like I was for Bernie Sanders. War hawk, warmonger—people were worrying about what she would do in Syria, looking at her foreign policy. […]

What I want to say, Amy, is that this is a time for soul searching for the Democratic Party. They left young people out in the cold. They called us naive. They called us idealistic. They left Muslims out in the cold. Any time Hillary Clinton mentioned us, she said we were eyes and ears, we were on the front lines of countering terrorism. She never talked about us in any other way but as a law enforcement tool. And I’m honestly—I’m just waking up now, even though I haven’t slept. I’m outraged, not just at the fact that Donald Trump is the president. I’m outraged at the people who are going to put blame on black people and immigrants and Latinos voted more for Trump than they did for Mitt Romney, when, in fact, the blame that I want to put here is on the Democratic Party, because they are the ones that put me in this situation. [from 4:20 mins]

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On Thursday 10th, Democracy Now! featured an extended interview with Glenn Greenwald in light of his latest article “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” published by The Intercept. He began:

It’s incredibly striking, but also very alarming, how similar the path of Brexit was to the election of Trump, because just like with the U.S. election, in the U.K. during the Brexit debate referendum, British elites, outside of this kind of circle of populist, right-wing Murdoch types, pretty much were unified across ideological and party lines. You had the Liberals and the Labour centrists and the sort of more establishment Conservatives united in opposition to Brexit. And they essentially stayed online all day on Twitter telling each other how smart they were and praising each other’s columns, saying that Brexit was this grave threat and this unique evil. And the opinion class that is considered respectable, meaning not the right-wing tabloids, essentially unified, just like the opinion-making elites in the U.S., outside of Sean Hannity and Fox News and Ann Coulter, that wing of Fox News and that right-wing circle, were unified, as well. You had leading neocon intellectuals and establishment Republicans and then the sort of establishment liberal pundits all in agreement that Trump was this grave evil, constantly praising each other and citing each other in this endless echo feedback chamber.

And so, the people who were supporting Brexit and the people who were supporting Trump weren’t really ever heard from; they were just talked about in very contemptuous tones. These were the troglodytes. These were the uneducated idiots. These were the people motivated by malice and racism and xenophobia. And so they were sort of looked at like zoo animals, like things that you dissect and condemn.

And because this opinion-making elite was so unified, it led so many people, in both cases, to believe that their victory was certain. Nobody thought, in the opinion-making elite classes, that Brexit would win, and the same is true of Trump.

And then, both before and after you had this result, what you saw is not any notion of accountability. Why are there so many people wanting to leave the EU? Why are there so many people supporting this person so far outside the norm? No accountability, no self-critique. Only a way to distract attention from their own responsibility by just spouting hatred and disgust for the people who are being insubordinate.

Click here to watch the full interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, John Pilger, USA

on Yemen’s forgotten war: two stories that say so much

Millions of people in Yemen are starving, including children who will be crippled for life, the UN has warned as new photographs from areas worst hit by the war show teenagers dying of hunger.

Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, in the Yemen city of Hodeida, is among many people left without food by a Saudi blockade. British support for Riyadh was raised at prime minister’s questions yesterday Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

Yemen now has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said yesterday. More than 14 million people are going hungry, half of them starving. At least ten of the country’s 21 governorates are close to a famine.

From an article published yesterday [Thurs 27th] by The Times.

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Meanwhile, also published on Thursday:

Yesterday 129 Labour MPs voted to stop support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen. The vote was defeated by a majority of 90.

The motion called for support to be withdrawn from the Saudi government until a United Nations investigation could determine whether the Saudi bombing campaign had breached international law. The motion did not explicitly include a suspension of UK arms sales.

Over 100 Labour MPs did not vote on the motion. If all of them had voted to support it, the government would have been defeated.

The following list are the Labour MPs who abstained or were not present for the vote yesterday.

  1. Adrian Bailey
  2. Andy Burnham
  3. Angela Eagle
  4. Angela Smith
  5. Ann Clwyd
  6. Ann Coffey
  7. Anna Turley
  8. Barry Sheerman
  9. Ben Bradshaw
  10. Bridgit Phillipson
  11. Caroline Flint
  12. Catherine McKinnell
  13. Chris Bryant
  14. Chris Elmore (Teller)
  15. Chris Evans
  16. Chris Leslie
  17. Clive Lewis (ill)
  18. Connor McGinn
  19. Dan Jarvis
  20. David Crausby
  21. David Lammy
  22. Diana Johnson
  23. Fiona MacTaggart
  24. Frank Field
  25. Gareth Thomas
  26. Gavin Shuker
  27. Geoffrey Robinson
  28. George Howarth
  29. Gerald Kaufman
  30. Gill Furniss
  31. Gisela Stuart
  32. Gloria De Piero
  33. Graeme Jones
  34. Graham Allen
  35. Graham Stringer
  36. Heidi Alexander
  37. Helen Jones
  38. Ian Austin
  39. Ian Murray
  40. Ivan Lewis
  41. Jamie Reed
  42. Jim Fitzpatrick
  43. Joan Ryan
  44. John Mann
  45. John Spellar
  46. John Woodcock
  47. Judith Cummins (Teller)
  48. Julie Elliott
  49. Kate Hoey
  50. Keith Vaz
  51. Kevan Jones
  52. Kevin Barron
  53. Liz Kendall
  54. Luciana Berger
  55. Lucy Powell
  56. Madeleine Moon
  57. Margaret Beckett
  58. Margaret Hodge
  59. Maria Eagle
  60. Mark Hendrick
  61. Mary Creagh
  62. Meg Hillier (Paired)
  63. Melanie Onn
  64. Michael Dugher
  65. Mike Gapes
  66. Natascha Engel
  67. Neil Coyle
  68. Nia Griffith
  69. Pat McFadden
  70. Paul Flynn
  71. Peter Kyle
  72. Phil Wilson
  73. Rachel Reeves
  74. Rob Flello
  75. Rob Marris
  76. Roberta Blackman-Woods
  77. Rosena Allin-Khan
  78. Rosie Cooper
  79. Rushanara Ali
  80. Ruth Smeeth
  81. Shabana Mahmood
  82. Siobhain McDonagh
  83. Stephen Kinnock
  84. Susan Jones
  85. Toby Perkins
  86. Tom Blenkinsopp
  87. Tom Watson
  88. Tracy Brabin
  89. Tristram Hunt
  90. Vernon Coaker
  91. Wayne David
  92. Wes Streeting
  93. Yasmin Qureshi
  94. Yvonne Fovargue

Click here to read the original report at Evolve Politics.

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Filed under Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

“no-fly zone” means escalation of war, and this time it will be against Russia… are you ready for that?

Update:

It is abundantly clear from our dark alliance with Saudi Arabia and our conduct in support of jihadists in Syria that our current leaders have learned nothing from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya as we prepare to plunge head-long into the abyss of a world war.

The warning comes from former Democrat presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in an article published on October 21st by Counterpunch.

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On every occasion it goes like this. Firstly, a pretext – an outright and convenient lie that justifies invasion. A lie to be repeated again and again until it sticks; so better to make it sound plausible (although even plausibility is not as important as it might first appear). Then the military offensive and a regime change – the true intention. And lastly, there follows an absolute collapse of law and order and the breakdown of civil society in a once stable, perhaps even relatively prosperous nation. The repeated outcome is a failed state and a puppet regime, overrun with Jihadist terrorists, but not to worry – the only cameras left at this stage of events will be the ones used for targeting drone-strikes.

So here’s a quick recap:-

Afghanistan – fifteen years ago the pretext was Bin Laden, of course, wanted dead or alive. Then, once the place had been bombed to hell, with the Saudi-backed Taliban overthrown thanks to the assistance of warlords of the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’, a pro-western government led by Hamid Karzai was briskly installed. (Tremendous news if you happened to be building oil pipelines – remember Unocal? – or for those in the business of smuggling opium.)

Iraq – here it was ‘babies out of incubators’ first time around (a since discredited story about a non-existent atrocity scripted and staged by PR firm Hill & Knowlton 1) and then came those still more infamous missing WMDs which the weapons inspectors led by the exemplary Hans Blix simply couldn’t uncover any evidence of, but which, as Bush Jr. joked later, “gotta be somewhere”. He even had the temerity to say it during the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. And the press just lapped it up, as he knew they would:

The WMDs were a fiction, of course, as Bush was later forced to admit more soberly 2, but so what – those admissions came much too late to change anything. A million people had died already and millions of other disposable lives are still being quietly destroyed thanks to the use of chemical agents like white phosphorous and the misleadingly named ‘depleted uranium’ (DU). Read more here.

With Libya, there was a different Commander-in-Chief and a new twist: the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect’ invoked to deal with freshly concocted stories of regime-supplied Viagra and mass rape. A more nonsensical fiction than before – but never mind that, the press dutifully lapped it up.

Gone too was ‘shock and awe’ (at least in name). The bombs tearing up Libyan lives were more lovingly delivered since dropped under the guise of a “humanitarian intervention”. A “no-fly zone” that Russia and China very reluctantly sanctioned (having eventually succumbed to hysterical and sustained criticism across the western media) which immediately paved the way to more expansive (and wholly unsanctioned) “kinetic action” as Nato supplied air cover to the bloodthirsty Salafist militias on the ground.

The slaughter of innocents by those same ‘moderate’ al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, and especially the widespread lynching of black Africans, was barely reported upon in the western press – the greater truth is unlikely to ever come out. But you can read more about it here – and here in an earlier post.

Today we have more of the same in Syria – once again, the intention was always regime change and indeed there is rather more candour in admitting this than on past occasions. However, the movable official narrative and the facts on the ground quickly diverge thereafter.

The West and its Middle East allies have covertly backed a mix of al-Qaeda factions from the very earliest days of the Syrian conflict, precisely as they did in Libya. In both instances, when it comes to western-backing, use of the term ‘moderate’ is next to meaningless. Here is an article I posted in August 2012  as news of Islamist infiltration was first beginning to leak into mainstream articles. And here is a more intensively documented piece put together a year ago and closely detailing our clandestine support of al-Qaeda factions and their splinter group ISIS.

The ‘moderate rebels’ are mixed in with al-Qaeda terrorists, the official story now openly confesses – an incremental shift from outright denial to open admission of terrorist ‘links’ that accidentally provides a measure of just how far the mask of the West’s legitimacy has fallen. It has shifted out of desperation, as the strategy for overthrowing Assad and the Syrian government began to falter.

So the clamour again is for another “no-fly zone”; a more overtly aggressive act of war-making, necessarily portrayed as an act of peace. That “no-fly zone” always means ‘war’ is unarguable as I have already pointed out on a number of occasions during the lead up to the bombing campaign in Libya (here is one post). But why trust me, when you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth:

The issue is not complicated. As today’s leaks show Hillary Clinton laid it out back in 2013 when she said, “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk— you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

The quoted reminder is courtesy of a piece by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition. His article, published on Tuesday 11th, continues more alarmingly:

Or, just last month, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted, “right now, for us to control all of the air space in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia; that’s a pretty fundamental decision”.

‘Fundamental’ is putting it lightly – but let’s go on with Nineham’s excellent analysis of the likely consequences for the Syrians (I’ll come back to consider the prospect of apocalyptic madness in a moment):

The situation in Aleppo and other parts of Syria is desperate. The idea of a no-fly zone can seem attractive because people rightly want there to be an effective humanitarian response. But as these two quotes outline, a no-fly zone would need to be secured by Western forces against opposition from Syria and Russia. Air defenses would have to be taken out and Syrian and Russian planes shot down. In the end a no-fly zone in Syria would work the same as the no-fly zone in Libya did, as a corridor for western military bombing. […]

People say the situation in Syria can get no worse, but they are wrong. As Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary explained today in parliament, “in a multi-playered, multi-faceted civil war such as Syria, the last thing we need is more parties bombing”. Such action will inflame and escalate an already desperate situation leading not just to more agony on the ground in Syria, but almost certainly to the break up of the country.

It is quite amazing that the views of MPs like Boris Johnson and Andrew Mitchell are taken seriously at all on issues of foreign policy. Andrew Mitchell voted for the Iraq War, for the intervention in Libya and twice for bombing in Syria. Johnson too has voted for every war he has been able to. If the daily reports of carnage and chaos in the news are not enough to convince people of the catastrophic effects of these escapades, they have been roundly condemned as chaotic disasters in a series of official reports, including Chilcot, the Select Committee Report on Libya, and the House of Commons Defence Committee report on the intervention in Syria. 3

Click here to read Nineham’s full article.

But here’s the mystery – it’s not really a mystery, but let’s pretend for just a moment. When the modus operandi becomes this transparent, how come it still works as effectively as it does? How do good people fall into the belief time and again that the next bombing campaign will be different – will result in a better outcome and not perpetuate the carnage of this monstrous “war on terror”?

And how do our western powers manage to stake a claim to having any kind of humanitarian agenda whatsoever, especially when simultaneously they are aiding the despotic regime of Saudi Arabia in its genocidal bombing of Yemen? Are we supposed to believe that the powers-that-be – our marvellous military-industrial complex – really love Syrians so much more than Yemenis?

There’s actually no mystery at all. The war party is extremely adept at playing on and manipulating our good conscience. It operates by unabashed deceit and by virtue of the largesse of foundation funding – these two go hand-in-hand in fact. If you want some names of our deceivers then read this earlier article and this one too. In short, beware the pressure groups and NGOs – take care to follow the money. But most importantly of all, beware the corporate media. The corporate media has taken us into each and every one of these disastrous wars and without its relentless, monotonous and insidious manufacturing of our consent there would be no “war on terror” at all:

In the video embedded above, independent journalist James Corbett exposes Channel 4 news as they are caught lionising the very same criminal gang (literally the same men) who filmed themselves beheading a twelve-year old boy.

For it is an easily corroborated fact that the West and its allies have a long and sustained history of manipulating gangs and insurgents, and most notably Islamist factions, to achieve their desired geostrategic objectives, yet this irrefutable truth must never be widely disseminated. Amnesia is vital, therefore, and thankfully the media is highly dependable when it comes to aiding our forgetting. But then, every atrocity the West commits is simply a cock-up; our enemies alone commit all the war crimes (with the singular exception of the crimes of Tony Blair).

Meanwhile, compliance of the press is likewise assured whenever it comes to pushing buttons readying us for the next war. Allowing an occasional embarrassing truth to dribble out now and again serves to regain some public trust – just enough to convince us of how the media maintains a vital role in holding power accountable rather than simply operating as a propaganda arm for the establishment. In this regard Blair serves the cause as a wonderful decoy too – his own unprosecuted crimes taking much of the heat off Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama.

Moreover, to those who in any way sponsor our perpetual “war on terror” yet talk freely and hypocritically about the ‘war crimes’ of others please do reflect on the Nuremberg rulings which deem every war of aggression “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 4

But here is the truly startling difference today: these purveyors of war appear to have become more irresponsible and reckless than ever before. Indeed, it seems that many in our press corps are finally losing a grip on reality. Inevitable perhaps, once groupthink takes such a hold of you.

This “no-fly zone” in Syria, if launched, means war not just against Syria and its already deeply committed ally Iran, but also and unavoidably against Russia. Yet voices across parliament and throughout the media are cheering on this unthinkable act. Do these same low-grade politicos and media hacks feel so assured of their place hunkered down in some impenetrable secret bunker, tucked up with the Strangeloves? Or do they feel rather unconcerned about the catastrophic potential of a war with Russia, imagining it will somehow remain contained like all our other ongoing wars – faraway and in someone else’s backyard? In short, are they blasé or just plain stupid? I confess to feeling contempt either way. Contempt combined with a growing sense of bewilderment and dread.

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1 Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيره الصباح‎), called “Nurse Nayirah” in the media, was a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, who gave false testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990, stating that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H.W. Bush. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and that her testimony was scripted as part of a PR campaign run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International.

2

3 From an article entitled “Don’t believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” written by Chris Nineham, published by Stop the War Coalition on October 11, 2016. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2208-don-t-believe-the-start-the-war-coalition-ask-libyans-about-no-fly-zones

4 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/judnazi.asp#common

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Iraq, Libya, Syria

first-hand accounts from the US Peace Council and other non-aligned observers of the ‘civil war’ in Syria

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so — Mark Twain 

In July, the US Peace Council sent a delegation to Syria for a week-long visit to meet with secular and religious leaders. They returned to the US and gave a press briefing at the UN on August 9th in which they denounced the entire US/western depiction and narrative of Syria as a propagandist lie:

“What we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. [Yet] it’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.”

I have produced a comprehensive transcript of the briefing which is attached as an addendum.

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The journey from Homs however is a profound experience, for it involves hours of travelling across expansive plains, through miles of destroyed and deserted villages and towns that had been occupied, terrorised and destroyed by Islamist fighters, and the battles that ensued. Most of the millions of internally displaced who fled to the comparative safety of government-controlled areas, and refugees who have fled the country fled early in the fighting, both because of the brutality of the rebel groups, and because of the government bombing of the enemy. But none of us realised the extent of destruction which had been done at the hands of the fighters, who would destroy the homes and factories of anyone who opposed them.

As we passed through the deserted destroyed streets of one large town, we saw graffiti insulting a local Saudi Sheikh who had preached the Wahhabi ideology, and who had encouraged the town to rise up against the secular government. Throughout our visit, people in different places told us that one of the factors leading to the uprising had been the influence of Wahhabi doctrine on the thousands of Syrians who had gone to Saudi Arabia to work and study prior to the conflict. This was an insight of which I had not been previously aware.

writes Revd. Andrew Ashdown who led an entirely separate British delegation on a visit to Syria just one month ago at the start of September. The group, which included two cross-bench members of the house of Lords: Baroness Caroline Cox and Lord Raymond Hylton, had been invited by the Grand Mufti of Syria, Dr. Hassoun; Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Armenian Archbishop of Damascus; Bishop Audo of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Aleppo;  and Revd. Harout Selimien, President of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Syria.

Following visits to Damascus and Maaloula, the party journeyed onwards to Homs and Aleppo. This is Ashdown’s account of what they found in Aleppo:

Arriving in Aleppo from the Castello Rd is a bewildering experience. After passing through miles of destroyed suburbs, (formerly occupied by ‘rebels’, but now secured by the Syrian army) the road into town very suddenly becomes like any other city. Within the space of a hundred metres, empty ruins become tree-lined, car-filled boulevards, cafes, shops, Churches and mosques. The media give the impression that the whole city of Aleppo is destroyed. This is far from the truth. Large areas are, but two thirds of the city still stands, and in this city, constantly shelled by rebel-held areas, where death and destruction is a threat from all sides, a veneer of ordinary life goes on. Arriving at sunset, less than five hundred metres from an area that looks like a scene from Armageddon, people were out in the streets and the cafes were full. This is government-controlled Aleppo, where 1.5 million people live. These people are not being bombed by Assad. Rather the Syrian Army is protecting them, no matter to which sectarian or faith community they belong. These people are very grateful that the long siege of the city imposed by the rebels, which received barely any attention in the international media is now over.

The scenes of devastation that we see on our TV screens are real, but they are only a part of the story. The narratives we hear about on our media are exclusively reported from the rebel side, where an estimated 200,000 people struggle to survive. Of those, 50,000 are fighters, many of them foreign and most belonging to extremist factions, and the remainder are mainly families of those fighters. Most of the resident population of those areas have long since fled, either to the safety of the government-held areas, or have fled the country. […]

The Syrians we met asked if the world knew what was going on in Aleppo. I could only respond that as far as people knew, the whole city was destroyed, and that the government are bombing, shelling and gassing their own people. They were both amused and exasperated. They said that the rebels had used gas, not the government. It is also an extremely common view in Syria (and often repeated by those in Aleppo themselves) that the people whom the government are bombing in the city, are not civilians, but are almost exclusively terrorists and their families. The 1.5 million civilians living in the comparative ‘safety’ of the government-held areas of the city are exhausted by the constant shelling and ‘hell-fire canon’ attacks of the rebels, and are keen for the government to win the war.

Continuing:

In the afternoon, we met with the Governor of Aleppo who told us of the efforts being made to receive what civilians are left in rebel-controlled areas.  He mentioned the many stories of people who are wanting to leave those areas, being prevented from doing so, and some being killed for wanting to do so.  He despaired of the international media’s misrepresentation of the realities on the ground.

Afterwards we were incredibly lucky to visit the Senior Doctor’s Council of Aleppo. This was a last minute arrangement, and by chance we interrupted a meeting of the Senior Executive of Aleppo Doctors. The doctors were glad to interrupt their meeting and welcomed us warmly, saying they were delighted we had come to see the situation. The group that were present included representatives of different medical specialities. The first thing we asked was about the regular media reports that there are only a few doctors left in Aleppo and that the last paediatrician was killed in a government airstrike. They laughed.

“Firstly you must understand that there is a media war against Syria, so you won’t hear about what’s happening in Government-controlled areas. Actually, there are 250 paediatricians currently active in Aleppo. The one that was killed is not on any register as a doctor of this city. Nor is the ‘Al Quds’ hospital that was supposedly destroyed known in Aleppo it all. It was probably a temporary field clinic set up by the terrorists. When they say that a ‘hospital’ has been targeted by the government, they are usually temporary field-clinics; they are not registered clinics or hospitals. Today, there are 4,260 doctors in Aleppo of which 3,150 are active. Of these, about 1,500 are specialists. Since the start of the conflict, 20 registered hospitals have been destroyed by the terrorists (these are not mentioned in the western media). But there are still 6 active public hospitals and about 40 small private hospitals in the city. At the moment we have a huge shortage of medicines and equipment in both public and private hospitals, including MRI machines. Our priorities are spare parts for equipment. Most of the aid given by the WHO and by other agencies, and all the resources given by Saudi Arabia and Turkey goes to the terrorists, not to the citizens of the city.”

Click here to read Ashdown’s full diary and a summary of the findings of his own delegation which concludes as follows:

While almost all media coverage in the West focuses on the devastating effects of military offensives by Government forces, in just one day during our visit (September 5th) the following attacks by the armed Opposition inflicting indiscriminate death and injury included:

Four car bombs at Homs with 12 killed and 30 injured; in Tartus 45 killed and 100 wounded; in the Damascus countryside, 3 killed and 12 wounded; in Hasaka, 6 killed and 20 wounded.

This is only a part of the daily toll of death and injury inflicted by Opposition forces on civilians, such as the shelling of the University in Aleppo by 4 missiles on the day we were there.

Already, we have been accused of spouting ‘government propaganda’.  No. We travelled to Syria to listen to the voices of Syrian people and we have met hundreds from across the respective communities in the country. Personally, this is my fifth visit to the country since April 2014, and the messages remain consistent and widespread. What we are sharing is not ‘government propaganda’ at all, but the voices of ordinary Syrians. Anyone who thinks otherwise is showing their ignorance!

I would repeat the cry of most Syrians we have met. Come and visit us and see the reality for yourselves. I have seriously wondered whether the enormous pressure put upon us by both government and Church figures NOT to visit Syria, is precisely because they do not want us to see and hear the truth, simply because it does not ally with the deliberate misrepresentation the international community is conveying to achieve their own agendas.

I hope and pray that any ceasefire leads to a true and lasting peace. I also hope and pray that the international community will adjust their policies to consider the real needs and wishes of the Syrian people, and that we do not use the ‘provision of aid’ as a means of rearming militant factions to further prolong the war. The goal of everyone should be the restoration of peace; the rebuilding of the country; the respect of plurality and development of reform; and the reconciliation and healing of souls, which will be the most difficult task. Enough of fuelling war. Let us end the policy of violence, and truly seek the path of peace, and listen first to the voices of the people themselves.

[bold emphasis added]

Andrew Ashdown was interviewed about his experiences by Mike Robinson for UK Column on Thursday 6th. The interview is embedded below:

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Eva Bartlett is Canadian freelance journalist and activist who spent more than three years living in Gaza documenting Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Since 2014, she has undertaken four trips to Syria and following her latest visit gave an extended interview to Sign of the Times Media [September 2nd] which is embedded below:

Click here to read more on her blog In Gaza.

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Vanessa Beeley is a British investigative journalist and photographer. The daughter of Sir Harold Beeley, Middle Eastern Advisor to Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, she too has been a frequent visitor to the Gaza Strip and campaigner for Palestinian rights.

Vanessa Beeley was a member of the US Peace Council delegation that visited Syria in July (see above). After the main contingent returned, however, she journeyed onward and continued with her own investigation. Here is an interview she gave on Liberty Report in late September shortly after returning:

Click here to read more on her blog thewallwillfall.

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Addendum: transcript of US Peace Council speaking at UN

It was quite evident to us over the several years that what we were hearing and reading from the press was obviously confusing the American people and the peace movement – the large vocal anti-war movement that exists in our country. We saw the same pattern of ever other invasion where the leadership of the country was demonised and therefore used as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs. Our organisation, US Peace Council, is a firm advocate of the United Nations Charter, with deep respect for the sovereignty of all countries; respecting the rights of the peoples of those countries to determine their own destiny.

It was our consideration that we had to reach out to the US peace movement and ask that they participate in a delegation to Syria to see for themselves what existed, to speak to both officials and non-officials, [and] civil society, to try to determine for themselves independently, the situation in Syria and the road to peace. That is our responsibility. Our responsibility is to reach out first to the US peace movement and then to the American people.

The campaign to confuse the American people has been intense. And it is our purpose to try to bring some light – some understanding – which can perhaps lead to the American people demanding an end to the intervention and peace in Syria.

We reached out to many peace organisations in our country to try to get a broad delegation to go. I would be less than honest if I did not say that some did not come because they were fearful of going into a warzone. Others demonstrated a confusion that does exist because of reading the propaganda and the barrage of, unfortunately, the media which gives such a one-sided story. We feel we have that obligation. And it is a tribute to those who went that they overcame those obstacles and agreed to go and, may I point out, paid their own way to go.

– Alfred Marder, President of the US Peace Council [3:00 mins on]

*

I think what Alfred said is so true: we are fighting a mass of propaganda that has demonised the Syrian government, demonised its leaders. An effort that precedes every other intervention that the United States has made over the course of many, many decades. In order to convince people that it’s okay for quote-unquote “humanitarian reasons” to overthrow a government, and to replace it with whatever. The United States prefers a government that is not independent, that is a willing participant in whatever US policy is. So what we saw in Damascus and what we saw in the two villages outside Damascus belies the propaganda that has overwhelmed us. It’s hard for even those of us who have been in the peace movement for a long time – it’s hard for us to ignore this propaganda – it is so well-orchestrated.

We spoke to members of industry – the chamber of industry. We spoke to leaders in the student union – the national student union. We spoke with NGOs that are involved with taking care of the orphans of those who have died in this war on both sides. They don’t discriminate. Orphans are orphans: whatever side they were fighting on these young people have to be taken care of. We spoke with an NGO that trains women (who don’t have a skill in sewing) because they lost the breadwinner in their family. We spoke to an NGO where they’re trying to deal with reconciliation and trying to make sure supplies get to the country that is under the control of the terrorists – the mercenaries.

And we make a distinction between opposition – the political opposition with whom we also met – and the terrorists and the mercenaries with whom we did not meet. We met people in Syria who work non-violently to bring about change. We learned of their efforts to bring about change working in opposition to the government, working with the government, but non-violently.

We met with government officials. We met with the Minister of Administration. We met with the Ministry of Health. We met with the Minister of Reconciliation: a whole approach to bringing back those Syrians who have for one reason or another joined the mercenaries and the terrorists. […]

We saw for ourselves the damage that was done to the university. Even while we were there a shell fell into the School of Architecture killing students and faculty. And the students themselves were rebuilding the damage. We saw villages that are basically Christian villages that have been besieged by the terrorists but have now been liberated. And the damage done to a shrine in a village called Maaloula, which is a village where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And the attacks on the Christian population.

One of the things I bring back – there are two things I want to mention finally, that we feel are really important – one is that while the United States would like to divide the Syrians up by religion, or within a religion by the different beliefs within that religion, there wasn’t a Syrian we talked to who would accept that. We spoke to the Grand Mufti and he said people ask me how many Muslims there are in Syria, and his response is always 23 million. That’s the population of Syria. And when we spoke to the bishop of one of the Orthodox churches he answered the same thing. The number of Christians is 23 million. We will not allow ourselves to be divided up the way that the United States has divided up the people of Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or so many other countries. We won’t allow that. And that unity, I believe, has led to the ability of the Syrians to withstand an invasion by the most powerful country in the world and its most powerful allies in Europe [and] its most powerful allies in the Middle East. With what is a vicious attack on the Syrian people.

The second is the sanctions. I have to admit that I did not know before I went that the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria in a way that’s similar to the sanctions the United States imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, in order to weaken that country and that government, that the United States admits killed 500,000 children in Iraq (during the 1990s sanctions). That set of sanctions means that the Syrian people cannot get medicines that they desperately need, that they cannot get factory parts that they need to maintain their economy, they can’t get infant formula and many other things. Their students cannot go abroad. Their lawyers are separated from the rest of the international legal system because of those sanctions.

These sanctions are not reported in the US media to my knowledge and we need to know about them. These sanctions are another way to weaken the Syrian government and the Syrian state.

— Henry Lowendorf, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Head of the Syria Delegation [7:30 mins on]

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I went to Syria because I thought it was important to learn from the Syrian people themselves what was actually happening in Syria because there has not been a focussed enough response by the peace movement in the United States to what’s been going on in Syria.

I can’t add a whole lot to what Henry and Al have said but I want to make this one particular point because I think it’s very important and it gets to the core of everything that’s going on. This is not a civil war in Syria. That’s probably the first thing we heard and we heard it over and over again. It is not President Assad against his own people. It is President Assad and the Syrian people all together in unity against outside forces – outside mercenary forces – terror organisations. And the names change every day, or every other day, to try to protect their identity and maybe keep the connection between the country that funded it and that group a little more nebulous. But there are groups – mercenary forces – supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, and underneath it Israel – the state of Israel. And these outside mercenary forces are the ones that are terrorising the Syrian people and are attempting to divide the Syrian people.

I remember when the US invaded Iraq. Our organisation was against it well before the invasion ever began. But once the invasion was over and the United States was setting up a government we talked to many Iraqis who said: we’re not Sunni and Shia; we’re not Sunni, Shia and Kurds; but the United States is trying to divide us that way. And we got exactly the same message when we were in Syria. We are Syrians. As Henry said before: whether you are Christian, Muslim or other you are Syrian; and that’s one of the things that enabled the Assad government to withstand five-plus years of this kind of outside attack.

When it was time for the US to unseat Saddam Hussein after years of sanctions and two wars, he fell like that [click of fingers]. When it was time the United States decided for Gaddafi to go he fell like that [click of fingers]. But when it was time the United States decided for Assad to go, he did not fall. And why? Because he has the support of 23 million Syrian people – and it was more before all these refugees were created and sent around the world.

The whole idea of regime change – the policy of regime change – is illegal under international law. The United States has no right to do that. The United States has no right to decide for the Syrian people who their government leaders should be. And so during my time there in Syria I felt over and over again “who are we?”, “why are we presuming to know what’s best for the Syrian people?”

And the other part of this that I think the people of United States need to know is that the Assad government provides free healthcare – free universal healthcare to everyone. It’s part of the government’s mission. Free education for everyone from primary school all the way through, even to university and medical school. And when we met with this one particular person from the non-violent opposition, we asked him, well tell us, what are some of your grievances with the Assad government, and he said, well, you just heard that it costs about $50 a year for people going to medical school, we think that’s too high. He was being somewhat facetious, of course, but these are the kinds of policies that our citizens here in the United States are calling for: tuition free college; universal healthcare. So the Assad government is in the business of doing this and providing this to the people. And without a doubt, even the non-violent opposition parties, who had issues with democracy or corruption prior to 2011, everyone has thrown themselves in behind the Assad government because that’s the best hope, the best bet for the Syrian people.

Lastly, I think I want to echo what Henry said, that to a person, people ask that the sanctions be lifted. While we were there someone came and said a certain pharmaceutical company which name I forget at the moment was refusing to send childhood immunisations from the United States to Syria causing great harm to Syrian people. That’s not how this country or any country should act within the world’s community. So the sanctions, as we’ve learned many times, do not hurt the governments they’re intended to hurt, they hurt people – and so, they need to be lifted.

We also heard that the border between Turkey and Syria needs to be closed so that this pipeline of trained groups – terror groups – is blocked, and no more of those groups get into Syria. And finally, that the United States needs to stop supporting some of those outside terror groups. All of the support for the outside terror groups needs to be withdrawn. And allow the Syrians to fend for themselves. The Syrian Arab Army is fighting for its life and fighting for the life of Syria, and we need as a country to acknowledge our role – what we’re doing to cause harm and destruction to the Syrian people – and we need to stop it, and we need to stop it now, and that’s one of the things I’ll be saying over and over again since my return from Syria.

— Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director of New Jersey Peace Action, Member of the Syria Delegation [16:30 mins on]

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I have been a human rights and a peace activist as long as I can remember… I was honoured to be asked to be part of this delegation. […]

As an American citizen it is shameful for me to admit what my government is doing in the sovereign country of Syria. We have no right to impose these illegal sanctions. In fact, these sanctions, allegedly the government says, are against the government of Syria, but in fact, it’s against the people – civil society. People who are attempting to maintain the infrastructure, the healthcare, the safety of all Syrian people. One of the things that stood out to me is not only the lack of medication [but] the fact that Syrian children are dying because they can’t get chemotherapy med[icine] into the country, because of the illegal sanctions that the US and the West has imposed.

Also, they’re not allowing parts and materials to get to businesses who are trying to maintain. And they are trying to maintain for more than one reason – not just to continue to make money, but to employ people. Because when people have no way to earn a living they become desperate. And we know that some of the Syrian people who may have chosen to join the terrorists [did so] mostly for economic reasons, because they couldn’t earn a living. And their benefactors, the US and all the others who are collaborating together to fund this terrorism, are paying people very well to participate in this illegal activity against the Syrian people.

So there are so many ways – subtle ways – that the US sanctions are affecting the Syrians. And when we spoke the business people, they mentioned to us that we are desperately trying to stay in business, we’re desperately trying to keep our people employed, so they don’t become desperate, and they don’t then feel like they have no other choice.

Something else that’s very important is that we did have the opportunity to speak with civil society – not just all of the official organisations. And we met with people who have witnessed, and lived through, and shared their experiences with the mercenaries and explained unspeakable things that I’m not going to go into detail about what those were, but it was very difficult to sit in the presence of someone whose child was assassinated, whose niece was kidnapped and is still missing, whose daughter was raped – kidnapped, raped and then sent back – male and female rapes we heard about.

So this is what the US is financing. This is what the US is backing. And this is not okay. And as a citizen, beyond being a peace and human rights activist, I will not be silent about what I learned, and we have to take responsibility for what’s happening in this country, and the lack of morality when it comes to our foreign policy, and what we are doing elsewhere.

I do want to say that we had almost a two hour meeting with President Assad which we were all very grateful for. After listening to all the voices of civil society groups and officials that we met with, if you think about it, it makes no sense what the US and western media is reporting. It makes no sense that Assad, who is trying to maintain the infrastructure and look toward the future for the Syrian people, would be the one destroying hospitals, and all these places that the US media and western media is saying he is the one responsible for destroying. Just doesn’t make sense. He is interested in the future for Syria. He told us flat out, when this is over with we can have another election, [and] if they don’t want me, they don’t want me, that’s fine. But for now, I have been elected to lead this country and that is what I will do.

The last piece I want to talk about is, you know, having been a student and scholar of restorative and transitional justice for many years, I was really very, very impressed and excited about the fact that they have a Ministry of Reconciliation. That even in the middle of the trauma that Syrian people are involved with at this point, they are looking towards the future and they are dealing with people in a restorative and healing way already. So if some Syrian citizen has joined the mercenaries and if they put down their arms, they are welcomed back into Syrian society. They are fed and their families are fed and restorative justice techniques are being used so that you don’t have a group of Syrians now who are feeling outside of society. So everything I have said, I will continue to say and I will continue to share with other people. And I feel now, since I have been there, we are now capable of sharing truth that unfortunately our media has not been offering the world, and we intend not to be silent from here forward.

— Donna Nassor, Professor and Lawyer also part of US Peace Council [23:30 mins on]

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I am reminded of the famous comment by the American writer Mark Twain who once said that it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, what gets us into trouble is what we think we know for sure that just ain’t so. And that’s what I think of when I think of my fellow Americans and what they know about Syria – and what they think they know about the war and the Syrian government and the Syrian leadership. What they think they know, just ain’t so. So we have to take that on, because we’re getting into trouble.

Our delegation came to Syria with political views and assumptions, but we were determined to be sceptics, and to doubt everything – meet everyone we could – and to confirm or disconfirm received opinion, conventional wisdom, and to follow the facts wherever they led us. I concluded a number of things from the trip: I won’t go over things that my colleagues have already mentioned.

The motive, in my opinion, of the US war is to destroy an independent Arab secular state. It’s the last secular Arab state standing, and it wants a client regime like Libya, like Iraq, like a number of other countries you could mention. The US hostility to independent Syria long precedes 2011, the beginning of the war.

US, I concluded, claims to be against ISIS, but yet has been loathed to fight a really consistent fight against terrorism. Certain privileged groups such as the al-Nusra Front – the names shift – are called ‘moderate rebels’ because they fight the Syrian government, and the US wants that. They are not moderate: they beheaded a twelve year-old boy when we were there – we saw it on youtube and on TV.

The motives of the US proxy states are somewhat different: sectarian motives and regional power rivalries affect Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Wahhabist ideology, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a sick, medieval, backward ideology, it drives the Saudi state, it motivates that state to finance this war, and Damascus by contrast promotes a socially inclusive and pluralistic form of Islam – and we met the leaders of that form of Islam and they are humane and democratic-minded people, and have every reason to join with the American people in stopping this insane support for Wahhabism, which is behind so much terrorism in the world.

Those of my fellow countrymen who are dogmatic about Assad demonisation are not going to like what I have to say now, which is that the Syrian government is popular and for that reason it is winning the war. The battle for Aleppo will probably be decided soon – relatively soon – and may be the last hurrah, in my opinion, of the foreign mercenaries. The president is popular. His government is recognised as legitimate by the UN. It contests and wins elections. The elections are monitored. There’s a parliament which contains opposition parties – we met them. There is a significant non-violent opposition, which is trying to work constructively for its own social vision. Some of it is inside the government, which in effect is a government of national unity; some of it is in the parliament – we met them. The Minister of Reconciliation deals directly with armed groups, and he’s an opposition leader.

So let me conclude. The US policy on Syria regime change is not wrong in its details, it is wrong in its fundamentals. It is wrong, root and branch. It violates the UN Charter. It violates international law. The US is bombing parts of Syria without the consent of legitimate government – that violates international law. The sanctions violate international law. […]

I think, out of our trip flows certain tasks. I think it is the task of the US anti-war movement to unite around a different vision than what it has united around thus far. Thus far it has united around a feeble vision that is partly false: that partly accepts the dominant State Department, corporate media narrative. We must directly and forthrightly challenge US policy if we are to shift US public opinion. Some organisations alas buy into the dominant mainstream media narrative. They have not covered themselves in glory by so doing.

This is a dangerous moment. Without mentioning names, apparently the leading candidate for president is surrounded by military advisors who are talking about ‘no-fly zones’, which means air-war against the Syrian airforce and the Russians, or ‘boots on the ground’ which means US invasion. If we’re not frightened by that talk, we should be (frightened by that talk). This is a dangerous moment. We have to change the basic US policy, we need a different anti-war movement, and we must begin to shift US public opinion.

— Joe Jamison, Member of the Executive Board of the US Peace Council, Member of the Syria Delegation [30:00 mins on]

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Widely attributed although unsourced.

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marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

On the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, last night’s BBC Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with a member of a Salafist terrorist faction which a mere forty days prior was officially affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Mostafa Mahamed, puffed up as “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), a rebranding of the al-Qaeda in Syria terrorist faction formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, was afforded uninterrupted airtime to claim that aside from no longer being any part of al-Qaeda, his terrorist militia is “deeply embedded in [Syrian] society and cannot be singled out in any way”. Put another way, he is saying “we are the moderates”.

[Note that: after I posted this article, BBC uploaded the report on the Newsnight youtube channel — I have therefore decided to include it in an update at the end of the article.]

Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of ISIL, soon after renamed ISIS and then DAESH, JFS are just the latest al-Qaeda franchise. Except that once ISIS had splintered from al-Qaeda, they were immediately decried as the terrorist bad boys – the worst of the worst – a portrait that took a little of the heat away from remnant factions of al-Qaeda, including allied ‘rebels’ Jabhat al-Nusra, thereby enabling some in the West to recast them in a comparatively better light. This time, however, JFS – who have been loyal al-Qaeda affiliates until July 28th – are seeking to jettison the terrorist label altogether, albeit with nothing more substantial than a name change:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 1

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian published on July 28th.

Back on BBC Newsnight, and following on from Mahamed’s more or less untrammelled JFS promo, the same report continued as follows:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 2

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

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Update:

This curtailed version of the Newsnight report was uploaded on Sept 15th with the following notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

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1 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

2 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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Corbyn v. Smith is a bigger than Labour and bigger than Britain

There’s always a new way
A better way that’s not been tried before

Ben Okri 1

This leadership contest is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party, we hear – repeatedly. Often enough that it has become something of a cliché. But that doesn’t make it any less true. It simply means we tend to stop thinking about the deep and inherent truth of it.

Here’s another cliché: it’s about a movement, not a man (a slogan better associated with Bernie Sanders’ campaign although more fitting in Corbyn’s case). Corbyn, after all, is actively committed to the building of a movement, fully aware that without massive popular support, the core policies he advocates would be both too radical to institute and could not possibly endure.

But then Corbyn is an instinctive democrat. So he recognises something others on the left habitually forget. That socialism and democracy must travel hand in hand as equal partners (for without democracy, socialism is rapidly debased and sinks to be as oppressive as any system it challenges). Fortunately – and here is the crux – social justice and genuine equality are what the majority would unfailingly choose if clearly presented with such an option, and if only because social justice and greater equality serve the self-interest of the majority.

Orwell put this perfectly:

“Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.”

Since, as he goes on to point out:

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.” 2

So here’s a third and final thought – perhaps it can become a cliché too (certainly it is not original). That those who today stop at nothing to stop Corbyn are ultimately intent on stopping us all. Denying the vast majority of us basic rights, a modicum of social justice, a functioning NHS, pensions for all, and set solidly against any levelling up of what is now grotesque inequality. Okay, that’s too long to be a cliché – so reduce it; sloganise its kernel of blazingly obvious truth.

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Corbyn, like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, is part of the new popular resistance that is rising up from the ruins of neoliberalism and globalization to fight the international banking system and American imperialism.

wrote American journalist and political commentator Chris Hedges in an article entitled “where is our Jeremy Corbyn?” published shortly after his leadership victory last Summer.

Hedge’s subtext is that Bernie Sanders is no Corbyn – and Hedges is correct, of course. Sanders capitulation to Clinton was the final proof, if proof was needed. However, Syriza and Podemos are no Corbyn either. Sadly, and in different ways, the wheels have now come off both these alternatives. Of the serious contenders then, Corbyn is the last man (currently) standing – and the only one who has a tested record.

Hedges also astutely foresaw today’s lamentable situation almost precisely a year ago – this is what he wrote then:

Corbyn’s ascent to the head of the Labour Party has already triggered a backlash against him by the forces of the neoliberal political order. These forces are determined to prevent him from becoming prime minister. The entrenched elites within his own party—a number of whom have already resigned from party leadership positions in protest of Corbyn’s election—will seek to do to him what the Democratic establishment did in 1972 to George McGovern after he won the party’s nomination. The rhetoric of fear has already begun. Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday tweeted: “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.” This battle will be ugly. 3

Ugly is the word!

Here is Corbyn delivering a recent speech [August 21st] to a 4,000-strong crowd packed inside Ruach City Church, Kilburn in London – his central theme is real democracy: giving power back to the people…

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Style over substance

“Politics is showbusiness for ugly people” Jay Leno 4

Owen Smith isn’t Superman, but he’s borrowing his poses.

The Labour leadership contender almost certainly can’t fly, and can’t boast of X-ray vision.

But he’s been snapped adjusting his glasses in the same fashion as the Man Of Steel’s alter ego, Clark Kent.

And this being the age of the internet, the iconic pose has not been overlooked. 5

So oozes a puff piece written by Mikey Smith (presumably no relation) and published by the shamelessly sycophantic Mirror at the beginning of Smith’s already faltering campaign for Labour leadership back in mid July.

For the record, here is another superhero lookalike with the same iconic pose…

Groovy baby, yeah!!!

Which is the trouble with politics that obsesses over synthetic charisma and spin. Not only that these are extremely shallow attributes, but that the public has grown weary of them. We see through the sophistry and are turned off by the plastic presentation. Like Austin Powers, Smith’s act is dated and outmoded, but worse still, it lacks any modicum of charm.

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Normality v. Reality

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” — Martin Luther King 6

Owen Smith’s ineffective charm offensive is one side of former Pfizer-mans latest rebranding exercise. The other side is more revealing: that Owen Smith is ‘normal’!

We know this because he said so, over and over again, during a Sky News interview. The offhanded inference being, of course, that Corbyn is not as ‘normal’ as he is. But what does Smith even mean with his claims to be ‘normal’ (besides presumably not being “a lunatic”)?

Here is a closer analysis of Smith’s Sky News performance: a study of the dormant ratiocination betrayed line by line in his overwrought protestation of normalcy:

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In this post-ideological age, Corbyn stands out as exceptional on many counts. Although the quality that singularly distinguishes him from political rivals is simply his sincerity. That he holds principles and values we do not need to test him on. In fact no-one ever seriously challenges his good faith – his voting record alone attests to honest dependability.

We know, for instance, that Corbyn opposes the wars. He opposed the war in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the war in Libya, opposes airstrikes in Syria and Yemen, and served as chair of the Stop the War Coalition (2011—15). He is against Trident too.

Likewise, we know that he actively supports refugees including the two million living in Palestinian camps on the West Bank and inside the Gaza Strip and three million other displaced Palestinians living in camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. 7 He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Equally we know that Corbyn is fiercely anti-austerity. That he is pro-workers’ rights, union rights, women’s right, LGBT rights, and human rights in general. That he is a staunch advocate of a fairer and more caring society with well-funded public sector services, universal welfare (though he says he prefers the less loaded term “social security”) and free healthcare provision for all. And we know that Corbyn is a committed environmentalist. Indeed, it is a delightful revelation to hear any modern politician who speaks so freely and so frankly on all these issues. But then, sincerity comes easily when you have integrity, as does remaining truthful for those who live in accordance with their own stated beliefs.

Tony Benn once explained how he divided politicians into one of two camps: weathercocks and signposts:

 “The signposts say this is the way you should go. You don’t have to follow them but if you come back in ten years’ time the signpost is still there. The weathercock hasn’t got an opinion until they’ve looked at the polls, talked to the focus groups, and discussed it with the spin doctors. I have no time for weathercocks, I’m a signpost man”

Benn was certainly a signpost. Corbyn is too. So how about Owen Smith and the PLP ‘rebels’ who back him…?

Smith says he is as passionate as Corbyn when it comes to all the important matters: housing, education, welfare, NHS. He’s a progressive, and always was anti-austerity and the rest. The main difference, he says, is that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. That’s right – as any PR man will tell you – if you just repeat something often enough, it becomes true.

Smith hopes we will overlook how under Corbyn’s leadership Labour now enjoys the largest membership of any political party in Europe. And that at Corbyn’s rallies thousands regularly turn out to cheer. Smith does well if he manages to corral a few dozen onlookers (even with an ice-cream van parked nearby). No-one is excited by Smith: not even his supporters.

But then Smith’s copycat routine lacks the very thing that actually counts: authenticity. He is not the real deal. Corbyn is. And Corbyn’s authenticity is the fundamental reason why the focus of political debate in Britain is steadily swinging back again. Why anti-austerity, pro-public services rhetoric is becoming de rigueur. After less than a year as leader, constantly hobbled by those inside the party (very much including shadow cabinet colleagues like Smith), Corbyn has dragged the debate around regardless, and Owen Smith’s campaign inadvertently serves as further proof that Corbyn is winning. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Meanwhile, the PLP’s Blairite inner circle knows that as the desire for real change grows and with it distrust in the established political class, their unstinting efforts to undermine Corbyn are failing, because he is indeed electable. This keeps them awake at night.

For as hopeless as Smith is, he was the best challenger they could muster. The rest of the 170+ ‘rebels’ have mostly preferred to keep their heads down for obvious reasons. Smith is more reckless and, even as politicians go, morbidly ambitious: a character flaw that totally clouds his judgment. He believes his own spin. Meanwhile, the only other challenger to step forward was sillier even than Smith. Angela Eagle was evidently advised to step aside again asap. Both have very likely ruined their political careers for good.

Here is an audio clip from BBC Radio Stoke covering Jeremy Corbyn’s 1000-strong rally in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday [September 1st] which includes an interview comprised of typically inane questions:

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Ultimately, this fight – possibly to the death given how the embedded Blairite entryists are so willing to sacrifice the party they hijacked two decades ago – pits the prevailing politics of style and spin against the long abandoned politics of content and real change. Hence the relentless mudslinging. Having nothing alternative to say, but with the might of the media behind them, slurs and innuendo is all Corbyn’s opponents can offer. Negative campaigning is all they’ve got.

This works up to a point (and sadly always will) but their stocks of ammunition are gradually being exhausted. Which is one reason the attacks have suddenly intensified – this challenge from Smith, though utterly inept (more in a moment), is certainly a blitzkrieg operation. They want to win quickly, not necessarily in this ballot, but in the hope of spoiling Corbyn’s long-term chances, especially as, following the grand slam in the party’s recent NEC vote, his supporters now look set to dig in. So the stage is set for act 2, scene 1. As for how many acts will follow? This we can only guess.

Smith says that he will heal the party, but again literally nobody believes him. Likewise, when he parrots the refrain that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’, he trusts that few will be able to spot the irony. Yet even while the media keeps its hounds at bay, he still manages to make gaffe after gaffe. For a man with such a relatively low-level of public exposure (basically unknown to most people just two months ago), his track record is mind-bogglingly incompetent. His latest one so cringeworthy that it might have been gabbled forth as the lewd punch-line to the crassest of David Brent’s unguarded ejaculations:

Not that uncontrolled outbursts of casual sexism are anything new to Smith’s repertoire. In May 2010, literally days after first entering parliament after a narrow victory in the Labour safe seat of Pontypridd, he found himself apologising for publishing the following remark:

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

Feeling the heat after making such a thoughtless and insensitive comparison between the relations within the newly-formed coalition government and domestic abuse, Smith afterwards ‘apologised’ with a big wavering ‘if’, writing:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing.” 8

So does anyone seriously imagine Smith would survive long once the press have stopped comparing him to Clark Kent and marked him down rather more perceptively as just another “Welsh windbag” (with the majority of Labour party members nodding sorrowfully in accord)?

Surely, no matter how rigged – and this vote is enormously rigged, as we know – Smith will be defeated by the end of this bitter and ridiculous leadership challenge.

As Aaron Bastani of ‘Novara Media’ sums up in the video below “Smith’s candidacy is a farce…”:

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A new dream of politics

“Politics is the art of the possible” Otto von Bismarck 9

If politics is the art of the possible, as Bismarck once said, then what does this mean? Well, it all depends on where you decide to place the emphasis. Bismarck, who was famed for his realpolitik, would have placed the emphasis on ‘possible’. What is possible becomes, according to this idea, the prime constraint. And Bismarck’s conviction is today’s orthodoxy.

Others, however, may prefer to place the emphasis earlier, on the word ‘art’ instead. The constraint then falls not solely on practicability, but on the collective imagining of how a better future can be made possible. A politics grounded no longer in mere expediency – although there is a great deal to be said for pragmatism, of course – but held in check by values and moral principles, whilst elevated by human creativity.

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On the day Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, he shunned the journalists and ignored the cameras and headed off instead to speak about some of the people who had inspired him. He said “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love.” These words were in fact stolen from Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri. Afterwards, Okri repaid the compliment with a poem dedicated to Corbyn, entitled “A New Dream of Politics”.

Then in July, Corbyn and Okri – who met sometime later – decided to stage a joint event at the Royal Festival Hall. United by a desire to make our world a kinder, fairer place, they spent a leisurely hour exploring a range of subjects encompassing history, world affairs and literature along with the personal journeys that made them who they are. A curious mix of readings, conversations and word games: they let politics take a backseat to the art of the possible – as it should:

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Additional: worst example of BBC bias yet?

On Friday night [Sept 2nd] BBC’s flagship political show Newsnight closed as follows:

Emily Maitlis: In the week that JK Rowling went to war with the Corbynistas on Twitter over who should lead the Labour Party. Getting into a scrap with one of the country’s most influential authors probably isn’t a good idea though, as we discovered when Warner Brothers gave us a sneak peak of the next Harry Potter movie.

Given that the party is in the midst of a leadership campaign, I raise two points.

Firstly, is “Corbynistas” acceptable language for a publicly funded organisation with a commitment to maintain impartiality? Has the BBC ever used the term “Blairite” in an equivalent manner during this leadership campaign or on any earlier occasion?

Secondly, although the BBC will defend itself on the grounds that this is a joke, it has already been harshly criticised by former chair of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, who said there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

Click here to read a Guardian article published on May 12th entitled “BBC may have shown bias against Corbyn, says former trust chair.”

More recently, the BBC was declared guilty of “marked and persistent imbalance” in a report released by the researchers from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, which found that “almost twice as much unchallenged airtime was given to people criticising Mr Corbyn than his allies on the BBC”.

Click here to read an Independent article published on July 30th entitled “Media ‘persistently’ biased against Jeremy Corbyn, academic study finds”

Given that the BBC is already under suspicion of bias, how does it now see fit to portray Corbyn as, in effect (and regardless of context), the Prince of Darkness?

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Update:

On September 1st, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke at Cardiff City Hall, and offered a candid and entertaining blow-by-blow account of the PLP coup against Corbyn. (Unfortunately the audio is quite poor throughout and so I advise turning the treble down and the bass up):

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1 

Final couplet from Ben Okri’s poem “A New Dream of Politics” which he dedicated to Jeremy Corbyn. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/12/ben-okri-politics-poem-jeremy-corbyn

2 Extract taken from The Road to Wigan Pier, Part 2, Chapter 11, written by George Orwell, published in 1937.

3 From an article entitled “Where Is Our Jeremy Corbyn?” written by Chris Hedges, published in Truthdig on September 13, 2015. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/where_is_our_jeremy_corbyn_20150913

4 Quote often attributed to American comedian and TV host, Jay Leno, although perhaps first used by Clinton-Gore strategist Paul Begala. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/12/who_says_washington_is_hollywo.html

5 From an article entitled “Owen Smith posed for this picture and now the internet is convinced he’s Superman” written by Mikey Smith published in The Mirror on July 27, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/owen-smith-posed-picture-now-8508455

6 From Strength to Love, Ch. 2 “Transformed nonconformist”, written by Martin Luther King, Jr., published in 1963. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_strength_to_love_1963/

7

Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

From the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) official website. http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

8 From an article entitled “MP Owen Smith sorry for domestic violence comment” published by BBC news on May 25, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10156864

9 Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen. (Politics is the art of the possible) Otto von Bismarck

From an interview (August 11, 1867) with Friedrich Meyer von Waldeck of the St. Petersburgische Zeitung: Aus den Erinnerungen eines russischen Publicisten. 2. Ein Stündchen beim Kanzler des norddeutschen Bundes. In: Die Gartenlaube (1876). Reprinted in Fürst Bismarck: neue Tischgespräche und Interviews, Vol. 1, p. 248.

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NATO, the EU, and peace in our time…?

In 2003, the British government published a Defence White Paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Chapter 3 was headed “Further Requirements for Defence”; it opens as follows:

There are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO – but the threat from proliferation and international terrorism remains very real and in the worst case could result in serious casualties and significant disruption to the national economy and our way of life. 1

[bold emphasis added]

However, more recently, following Nato’s deployment of thousands of troops to the Baltics and Poland, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defended his decision telling German newspaper Bild, “[it] is an appropriate response” to Russia’s “aggressive actions”:

“We want to show our partners that we are there when they need us. And we want to show potential attackers that we react when they threaten us.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

To understand this extraordinary and troubling volte-face from “no major conventional threats” (2003) to the current ‘new Cold War’ hostilities and Russia singled out as a “potential attacker”, it is helpful if we retrace the steps just a little further again. Back to the early ’90s as the rubble of the Berlin Wall lay strewn and the dust had barely settled.

*

Nato’s chequered retreat

Once the Cold War ended (officially at least), Nato’s raison d’être was inevitably thrown into question. If it was to re-establish its role in the world, then it urgently needed to rediscover a purpose. The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the ongoing civil war between the republics perfectly served these ends. Nato became the peacemaker.

With UN Security Council Resolution 816 calling for the enforcement of “a no-fly zone” over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nato entered the conflict in April 1993. For the first time in its history, it was directly engaged in combat. (Note the bold highlight – it will be repeated later.)

The Bosnian War (1992–1995) happened during an unprecedented period of modern history. In the immediate wake of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War, anti-imperialist voices were at their weakest. Consequently, with anti-war opposition stifled, there was almost nothing by way of countervailing analysis or commentary.

By the time of the Kosovo War (1998–1999), the silencing of dissent became more intense again. The proclaimed success of Nato’s earlier intervention ending the Bosnian War with the negotiated settlement of the Dayton Accords had engendered an atmosphere in which anti-war sentiment had been completely marginalised and opposition voices were quiescent.

As in Bosnia, Nato’s campaign in Kosovo was presented as a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that pre-Iraq and -Libya did not possess such a deathly, hollow ring. It was a propaganda line that would be adopted as an article of faith, particularly, it seemed, within ranks of the liberal left. And those who protested too loudly against the bombing were judged to be appeasers – there was little outcry at the time.

One journalist who spoke up against the official narrative was John Laughland. The following extract is taken, however, from a later article published in 2007 by the Guardian: it is Laughland’s response to the now largely forgotten verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after it ruled that Serbia was not guilty of the massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. 3

In the piece, Laughland challenges some of the half-truths that had inculpated the Serbs and their leader, “the Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milošević:

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade [Milošević] failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence? 4

Click here to read John Laughland’s full article.

This is Noam Chomsky, another critic of the Kosovo war, answering questions regarding the guilt or otherwise of Milošević and the Serbian forces:

Investigative journalist John Pilger was another who spoke out strongly at the time and continues to do so now:

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes. 5

Click here to read John Pilger’s latest article [August 23rd] in full.

For an alternative perspective on Nato and the West’s involvement in the breakup of Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, I also recommend Boris Malagurski’s controversial Canadian documentary The Weight of Chains which is embedded below – although the style is light, the content is serious and, on the whole, well-documented:

*

The West’s about-turn

But then came the attacks of September 11th, which presented the Nato alliance with a fresh threat – purportedly of existential proportions. Overnight, everything was changed. Indeed, on September 12th, Nato met in emergency session and, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 5  of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

The “Global War on Terror” was thereby launched with Nato at the helm, although during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF-A), of course, only America and Britain sent out forces to overthrow the Taliban. The other Nato allies looked on and waited. Meanwhile, Canadian and US forces were jointly mobilised under Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) around the North American continent.

It was later, in October 2003, under the mission title International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Nato forces stepped fully into the fray. Here is how BBC news had then reported the story:

Nato is repositioning itself for a future as a key force in the “war on terror”, according to its US ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

The organisation has been struggling to define its role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat from which was the basis of its foundation. […]

Questions have been asked about Nato’s role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the alliance intervened in Kosovo, it did not formally operate in the military campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  […]

“Nato’s purpose is to be on the front lines, to fight the war on terrorism for Europeans, and for Americans and Canadians.

“That’s where we’ve turned the organisation, that’s how we’ve transformed it over the last two years.”

In particular, Mr Burns stressed the role the newly-established rapid response force would play.

The force is designed to be able to deploy within days to anywhere in the world if needed, with between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.

Mr Burns refuted suggestions that it would merely be a tool of American foreign policy. 6

[bold emphasis in original]

A decade on and, after the 2014 Wales Summit, that same Nato Response Force (NRF) has been enhanced with the formation of a “spearhead force” or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) within it. And the prime target is no longer “terror”, but Russia instead (already by 2014, history had turned full circle):

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO agreed the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. This is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. The RAP addresses risks and threats from the east and the south. […]

Due to the changed security environment on NATO’s borders, the RAP includes ‘assurance measures’ for NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, reinforce their defence and deter potential aggression. 7

This is taken from Nato’s official release on its Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and note that references to Russia remain oblique throughout – although you certainly don’t need to be a mind-reader to understand the real message, which goes on as follows:

To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the first six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – were inaugurated in Central and Eastern Europe. Two more NFIUs are being set up in Hungary and Slovakia. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters is being set up.

And whereas Nato (at least in their public documents) are timid when it comes to mentioning the name of their latest (and oldest) enemy, the closely-affiliated think tank Atlantic Council  is altogether brazen:

Firstly, the VJTF’s size does not pose a credible deterrent to Russia, particularly with regard to the Baltic States, which are widely viewed as the flash point for any potential NATO-Russia confrontation. Russia has undertaken massive impromptu military exercises involving up to 100,000 troops along its borders with the Baltic States. It would be difficult for a NATO force of 5,000 to deter Russia from afar. […]

The VJTF should be high on the agenda of the Alliance’s seminal Warsaw Summit in July, and for good reason. Russia has become emboldened by its military forays in Ukraine and Syria. In the unlikely event it sets its sights on NATO territory next, NATO must ensure its spearhead force is sharp enough to respond. 8

Likewise, following a meeting of Nato ministers of defence last February, Nato released this more coded announcement:

“NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The enhanced forward presence will be “multinational, to make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” he stressed. 9 [bold highlight added]

Stoltenberg is thus invocating Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – Nato’s call to arms.

In short then, the “War on Terror” has allowed Nato’s existence to be kept on ice. Ready for when the Cold War could begin again in earnest.

*

Nato and the EU pincer

At last month’s Warsaw summit [on July 8th], Nato issued a official joint declaration with the EU for the first time in its history. The declaration begins:

We believe that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

Continuing:

Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is facing unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and East. Our citizens demand that we use all ways and means available to address these challenges so as to enhance their security.

Now let us unpick this opening statement. Firstly, notice the fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy. After all, “our citizens” did not get a vote on the actions of the long-standing Nato-EU strategic partnership and we certainly have no say whenever it comes to Nato’s long-standing meddling in “the South and East”.

In fact, contrary to this official statement, “the Euro-Atlantic community” (presuming this uncertain label attaches to the people of Europe and America) has been consistently opposed to the post-9/11 spate of wars. Our only consistent and clear demand having been for a cessation to hostilities. Yet in spite of the wishes of the “Euro-Atlantic” majority, a perpetual “Global War on Terror” is ravaging Central Asia, the Middle East and (though rarely if ever reported upon) many territories in North Africa. This extended warzone – reduced in the Nato-EU lexicon to ‘the East and the South’ – involves multiple interconnected battles which spill over into each other causing incalculable misery to some of the poorest people on earth, and very much to the detriment of our own western security.

We read on:

The substantial cooperation between NATO and the EU, unique and essential partners, established more than 15 years ago, also contributes to this end.

In light of the common challenges we are now confronting, we have to step-up our efforts: we need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition; because our security is interconnected; because together we can mobilize a broad range of tools to respond to the challenges we face; and because we have to make the most efficient use of resources. A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing. Together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond. [bold emphasis added]

This post-Brexit statement signed by Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk, and Secretary General of Nato, Jens Stoltenburg, is all about a deepening collaboration between the two organisations. An arrangement that, amongst other things, will involve “Facilitat[ing] a stronger defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic.”

Is this the same EU that proponents say brings peace in our times?

*

James Baker’s booby trap

For those puzzled by the relationship between Nato and the EU, here are a few vital statistics – encyclopaedic background details. Firstly, the EU and Nato individually comprise 28 member countries. Of these countries, 22 are joint members of both bodies. A club of nations including many that once fell behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, plus the formerly occupied Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 10

As Soviet satellites under Moscow’s thumb, these states were once the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. Today there is no buffer.

And here is another piece of the historical geostrategic jigsaw, albeit a forgotten one – at least in the West – that Nato membership of every one of these former Eastern Bloc countries is in contravention to Western promises made shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall; a deal (declared though never formally signed) that if Russia acceded to the reunification of Germany then the old Eastern Bloc would remain non-aligned:

What the US secretary of state [James Baker] said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” 11

The West’s double-dealing, though a dusty footnote in the West, is very well-remembered in Russia. The loss of twenty-four million lives during the Second World War (one third of the total fatalities) gives Russians good reason to fear an invasion – especially one from the west – its concerns about Nato’s eastward expansion are perfectly understandable.

*

Encirclement

During the last seven decades of the post-war nuclear age, a fragile peace held out. Just. As much, if not more, by sheer luck than judgement. Indeed, our world very narrowly escaped all-out thermonuclear obliteration on numerous occasions – two of the best known incidents remembered in an earlier post. Here is a more detailed overview titled “Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew” written by Gunnar Westberg and published in Counterpunch.

We did not need hindsight to see that the first Cold War was an era of astonishing madness, but with the aid of hindsight we do know that the madness itself was premised on a wholly non-existent threat of Soviet invasion. The Kremlin had no plans to launch an attack and there never had been a “missile gap” of any kind. Instead, the USSR was mainly preoccupied with quelling dissent amongst its own downtrodden population (or crushing those desperate to flee the occupation of its Eastern Bloc satellites).

Yet, in spite of the lack of an authentic communist threat, the superpowers repeatedly went to the brink of Armageddon, and had it not been for the remarkable courage and cool-headed reason of (at least) two men (both Russians – or, more accurately, Soviets) who held their nerve during moments of extreme crisis, there would be little that remains of our wonderful and shared European heritage besides a few smouldering mounds of rubble.

So what of Russia today? Is it planning to invade the West? Let us consider the evidence as dispassionately as we can.

Eighteen months ago it was widely reported (and believed by most in the West) that Russian battalions and, even more crucially, columns of tanks had begun crossing into Eastern Ukraine. At one point, Poroshenko held up Russian passports as evidence – there were six. 12 The principle claims, however, turned out to be completely bogus, though retraction by our media has been understandably muted. Russia did not invade Ukraine, and there is literally no evidence that it had any intention of doing so. (Crimea was not invaded, and though the territory was annexed following a referendum that was never legally sanctioned, the majority of Crimeans evidently welcomed the return of their territory to Russia – the reason there was no bloodshed.)

It is undeniable that Russia has covertly aided the ‘rebels’ in Eastern Ukraine (or the ‘separatists’ – both labels are propagandistically skewed and there is no absolutely neutral alternative), just as America has provided military assistance to Kiev. However, when the ‘rebels’ held a referendum of their own, the Russians ignored the results. They preferred not to be dragged directly into a war with Kiev. Meanwhile, while some Russians did indeed cross the border to fight, so did many westerners – individuals in fact joined the armed factions on both sides in the conflict.

Perhaps more revealing was Russia’s judicious response when Turkey shot down one of its jet fighters flying close to the Syrian border last winter. Was their jet violating Turkish airspace? The Russians said it didn’t; the Americans said it did – no evidence was ever released to prove the Russians guilty:

Either way, if Russia was wishing to spark a wider war, then what better provocation could The Kremlin find? In refraining from a retaliatory strike, however, Russia was careful to avoid a potential tripwire and an escalation into a full-blown war against a Nato member.

By contrast we have recently seen Nato forces, with the EU’s mutual aid and consent, engaged in one of the largest military exercises since the end of the first Cold War:

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large numbers of vehicles, aircraft and ships will be deployed in one of the biggest exercises on NATO’s eastern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put further strain on the already-tense relations between the Kremlin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 exercise, which includes manoeuvres such as a night-time helicopter assault and the dropping of US paratroopers to build a temporary bridge over the Vistula river, is being held one month before a NATO summit in Warsaw that will approve more troops to be stationed in eastern Europe. 13

Stretched out for 450 miles across the length of Poland, more than 30,000 troops from 24 nations played out war games on Russia’s borders. These forces actually included German tank divisions; the first to move in sight of Russia’s border since 1941. According to The Independent article quoted above, this sent out a “clear message to Russia”.

Is there also a clue in the name of this “clear message” too? After all, an anaconda is a snake, but not just any old snake, the largest snake in the world – and it kills its prey by constriction.

At the same time, Nato formally switched on the first stage of its $800 million state of the art “missile defence” shield in Romania and broke the ground on a sister site in Poland. Ostensibly to protect Europe against Iranian nukes, which are, of course, non-existent, the system is rather blatantly directed against Russia’s security. Understood in terms of the twisted but unavoidable logic of nuclear deterrence, this becomes a far greater provocation than mere tanks rolled up to the Russian border. For if Russia’s deterrent is effectively defused, then, rendered defenceless, Russia is de facto under attack.

Indeed, to better navigate the geopolitical landscape of today, rather than hastily dismissing the Russian outlook as deeply paranoid (as we are encouraged to view it), we might try to step into their shoes for a moment. Suppose, for instance, a potentially hostile power – let’s say China – deployed thousands of troops to Ireland. Would Britain raise any concern? Or suppose China built bases in Mexico… there are none but that doesn’t stop the howls of red scare rumour-mongering. And we do not even need imagine the response were Russia to install its latest “regional missile defence system” in Cuba… Another missile crisis, anyone?

But then, Russia is routinely portrayed as the aggressor by the western media, so now consider these further incontestable facts:

Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. 14

On July 6th Sibel Edmonds’ alternative outlet ‘Newsbud’ broadcast a discussion with Montenegrin author, political activist and university professor, Filip Kovacevic, who had recently authored a piece published by ‘BoilingFrogsPost’  in which he analyses “The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg”.

Here Kovacevic explains why he believes Nato’s influence is undergoing serious decline, and the danger this poses of more widespread international conflict:

*

America über alles

The Russian army can outgun British troops on the battlefield, according to a shock Ministry of Defence report.

So begins a flabbergasting article even by Daily Mail standards entitled perhaps even more hilariously “Shock Ministry of Defence report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield… [blah, blah, blah]”

This same piece continues:

The leaked assessment warns that rocket launchers and other weapons at Moscow’s disposal were superior to ours – while its mastery of electronic warfare technology was ‘game changing’. 15

Well, I say “blah, blah, blah” although the headline actually reads “… as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin”.

If true, then surely that represents a move to the good? Or is the Daily Mail and the MOD proposing that Britain might one day wish to test its relative might on the battlefield against Russia?

The peace we have enjoyed in Europe is becoming extremely fragile again. Outside Europe, after two decades of sustained neo-imperialist adventuring, we have destroyed lives and devastated ancient civilisations, spreading only chaos and pandemonium. The havoc we have wrecked is certainly coming back to haunt us, both directly and indirectly. But far more dangerous to the West is the immediate threat we pose to Russia. If Russia fights back, then everything is lost.

To prevent the unthinkable, there has to be a rollback. Our perpetual meddling in “the South and East” is already generating a crisis close to Russia’s borders. If this meddling moves along to Iran (as is being mooted again), then Russia will be directly drawn into conflict against the West.

Equally pressing, however, is the requirement to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. Sanctions historically are a precursor to war, but surely even the biggest warmongers cannot seriously contemplate war with Russia. So why inflict such counterproductive damage on our own European economies when this tactic of isolation achieves nothing except to serve the vested interests of neo-cons in Washington? There has to be rapprochement with Russia.

With relations between Russia and Europe (or, better still, the West) restored, the resolution of many conflicts and international disputes becomes foreseeable again. It also becomes possible to end the overwhelmingly dire threat of thermonuclear exchange, accidental or otherwise. Such a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament could and should have happened long ago – shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the official ending of Cold War hostilities. Instead, as we know, Nato and the West opportunistically pressed eastward.

Nato was inaugurated to confront a perceived communist threat – a threat, largely imagined, that has since been vanquished altogether. In light of this irreversible change in international relations, Nato’s dissolution ought thereafter to become a final peacetime objective. For what function does Nato serve in any truly post-Cold War world? To ensure its own survival it will always look for enemies elsewhere.

In an extended piece recently published in The Atlantic arguing the case for Nato, former Fulbright Professor of Political Science at Moscow State University and ardent globalist, Ira Straus, writes candidly that:

The main, but unstated, reason the U.S. has troops in Europe nowadays is not for the defense of Europe but because it is a cheaper, more convenient location for getting to the Mideast than the continental U.S. It costs us more, not less, when we keep all our troops at home.

We have an irrationally small number of troops in Europe today (64,000). It would be cheaper for us if we put three times as many of our troops in Europe.

Under the heading “The [American] people support NATO as a plus for American power, and they’re right”, Straus continues:

Most people have the common sense to support their own society and their own power. NATO is the greatest extension that America has in the world. It is a kind of Greater America (and so is its informal additional wing in the Pacific). Trump likes American greatness and building big. This is the place for it.

The Alliance is what has preserved America’s greatness no matter how weak or incompetent its leaders. 16

So yes, Nato is “a kind of Greater America” although in reality they operate together as a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ team. America lost its reputation long ago and is less squeamish about getting its hands bloodied. Nato generally turns up afterwards and mops up.

Meanwhile, the more soft-spoken but firm Atlanticist alliance between Nato and the EU, with neighbouring HQs in Brussels and joined-at-the-hip foreign policy agendas (EU foreign policy is totally reliant on Nato), has also been instrumental in expanding post-9/11 Western influence militarily into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, throughout many other regions of North Africa, into Syria, and within Ukraine. And whatever the EU may have dreamed of becoming — no matter how many Nobel Peace Prizes it receives! — it is no longer tenable to claim that it is in the business of making peace.

Ties between the EU and Nato ought now to be loosened rather than strengthened, as is actually happening. Last month’s joint statement supplying further proof, if any were needed, that the EU is really just a different arm of our aggressively expanding military-industrial complex:

A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

Is this the Europe we were hoping to build?

*

 Additional:

Afshin Rattansi spoke with John Pilger in an extended interview broadcast on RT’s Going Underground on August 31st. The subjects covered included the last days of the Obama presidency, the race between Sanders, Clinton and Trump, and the looming threat of global conflict. Pilger says:

“The United States is in a frenzy of preparation for conflict of some kind. And conflict of some kind can lead to war of the real kind – against China and against Russia – on two fronts. The greatest build-up of forces since the Second World War has happened in Eastern Europe and in the Balkan states.” [from 9:00 mins]

“The full American so-called “interest” has gone to a country [Ukraine] that means ‘borderland’ and through which the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early 1940s at the cost of something like 27 million lives. Imagine – and this is something that we’re not allowed to imagine – imagine the equivalent in the United States. The border with Mexico. The border with Canada. Well, we can imagine it because it happened when the Russians unwisely put missiles into Cuba, and we almost had then World War III.

“But I think what is striking in a country like the United States which has constitutionally the freest media in the world. These war preparations against Russia and against China have not been mentioned. A great silence covers them.

“When China is mentioned it’s about its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It’s very interesting to see how the American public is being primed to accept so-called “aggressive moves” by China when in fact they are clearly defensive moves. The United States has something like 400 major bases encircling China like a great noose. Well, actually it’s an arc: it starts in Australia, it goes all the way through Asia – the Philippines (where they’re back – were thrown out a few years ago, but they’re back now), Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Looking straight at Shanghai is Okinawa. Okinawa has 32 American military installations. Japan has 130 in all. Okinawa is interesting – it’s about the size of Long Island. If you imagine Long Island as a Chinese base looking straight at New York, that’s the equivalent. [from 10.50 mins]

*

1 From a 2003 British government white paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”, Ch3, p. 11. http://archives.livreblancdefenseetsecurite.gouv.fr/2008/…/whitepaper2003.pdf  

2 From an article entitled “Jens Stoltenberg: NATO troop deployment right response to aggressive Russia”, written by Hanne Cokelaere, published in Politico.eu on June 6, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/jens-stoltenberg-nato-troop-deployment-right-response-to-aggressive-russia/ 

3

THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide. […]

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by Bosnia.

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.

From an article entitled “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide” written by Marlise Simons, published in The New York Times on February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/world/europe/27hague.html?ref=world&_r=0

4

Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

From an article entitled “Lies of the vigilantes” written by John Laughland, published in the Guardian on February 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/28/warcrimes.balkans

5 From an article entitled “Provoking nuclear war by media” written by John Pilger, published on August 23, 2016. http://johnpilger.com/articles/provoking-nuclear-war-by-media

6 From an article entitled “Nato turns to terrorism fight” published in BBC news on October 18, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3201578.stm

7 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

8 From an article entitled “It’s Time to Sharpen NATO’s ‘Spearhead’ Force” written by Robbie Gramer, published by the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/it-s-time-to-sharpen-nato-s-spearhead-force

9 From an article entitled “NATO boosts its defence and deterrence posture” published by Nato on its official website on February 10, 2016. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127834.htm

10 28 NATO member countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

28 EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

11

Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

From an article entitled “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” written by Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe, published in Der Spiegel on November 26, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

12 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31206434

13 From an article entitled “NATO allies launch largest military exercise since end of Cold War in clear message to Russia” written by Wiktor Szary, published in The independent on June 6, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anakonda-16-nato-allies-launch-largest-military-exercise-since-end-of-cold-war-in-poland-in-clear-a7068141.html

14 From an article entitled “Baiting the bear: Russia and Nato” written by Conn Hallinan, published in Counterpunch on May 4, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/04/baiting-the-bear-russia-and-nato/

15 From an article entitled “Shock Ministry of Defense report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin” written by James Tapsfield, published by the Daily Mail on August 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3732828/Russian-forces-defeat-battlefield-shock-Ministry-Defence-report-warns.html

16 From an article entitled “Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?” written by Nicholas Clairmont, published in The Atlantic on August 23, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/natos-a-deal/496952/  

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ex-miner John Dunn is guilty of speaking truth to power – so the Labour Party have suspended him!

John Dunn, a Labour Party member for 45 years, has suddenly been suspended. His infraction?

Well, back in late July, Dunn was out and about tackling Owen Smith – politely but firmly:

The two men spoke for a few minutes, before Mr Smith was bundled into the back of a car and driven away, his encounter now over with the very personification of the challenge he faces this summer. 1

An ex-miner, Dunn confronted Smith and accused him of “shamelessly exploiting” what had happened at Orgreave for his own political ends.

As you can see from the photo above, Dunn is proudly sporting a “Orgreave truth and justice campaign” T-shirt. Further evidence of his contumacy.

Dunn afterwards described the moment on his Facebook page:

Just back from running Owen Smith out of S Yorks.

So sick of him trying to shamelessly exploit our struggle that I felt compelled to dash off to Orgreave to politely (yes I can do polite!),and, as a striking miner, ask him to stop such shameless opportunism. He tried to tell me about his background in S. Wales so I replied that whilst he was making pharmaceutical companies rich we were struggling for justice and told him that it was disgusting that he would have such shame as to tarnish the defining moment in our strike, and if he was so committed to the Orgreave issue why had he not signed Ian Lavery’s early day motion, to which I got no response whatsoever.

I added that his actions in the PLP coup were no different to the UDM [Union of Democratic Minerworkers] scabs who undermined our strike. He scuttled into his car, wound the window up and wouldn’t speak to me anymore.

I personally saw John Dunn deliver a terrific speech, both poignant and hilarious by turns, in support of Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Sheffield rally.

Unfortunately there is only limited footage I can find to embed, although there are plenty of tweets including this one:

And this image published in The Mirror:

Staunch support for the party’s leader appears to have been Dunn’s most egregious infringement of party regulations to date. The last straw, presumably, for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), although we will never know for sure because they have refused to comment on any decisions regarding individual members:

The Labour party say their validation process includes an electoral register check and a duplication check.

It also includes “verification all voters share the aims and values of the Labour Party”, but they have not revealed on what basis this is judged.

It’s been suggested that supporters’ social media accounts are being examined for words including “traitor”, “scab” and even “blairite”, though Labour would not confirm this.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on NEC decisions regarding individual members.” 2 

[bold emphasis added]

Defiant as ever, John Dunn vows to fight on:

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John Dunn is one of many members and activists now being suspended ahead of the leadership vote. Others excluded include Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who says he is “disgusted and in shock”.

Although reminiscent of a previous Labour Party witch-hunt carried out under Neil Kinnock’s leadership during the mid-80s when members were expelled on the grounds of allegiance to Militant Tendency, in the case of today’s purges, the vast majority of members targeted are among the ranks of supporters of the party’s leader, and not those in alliance with any breakaway faction.

The media has indeed repeatedly tried to recast pro-Corbyn group Momentum as if it were comprised of Militant-like entryists, but the slur is much too obvious and doesn’t wash. The better comparison to the 80s infiltration by Militant in fact belongs to another fringe ‘ginger group’ Progress – an influential Blairite faction that the media assiduously fails to discuss.

Progress put forward its own candidate, Liz Kendall, during the last leadership contest. She was so unpopular that she won just 4% of the vote.

Click here to read an earlier post with more about the recent history of the Labour Party and how Peter Mandelson steered it away from its traditional trade union roots and towards the ‘extreme centre’ of British politics.

Finally, here’s a brief and incisive overview on “how to rig an election” from youtube vlogger James Prowse:

*

1 From an article entitled “Labour leadership: Owen Smith attempts to woo Jeremy Corbyn backers” written by Chris Mason, published in BBC news on July 27, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36909320

2 From an article entitled “long serving trade union leader banned from Labour Leadership vote” written by Mikey Smith, published in The Mirror on August 25, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/long-serving-trade-union-leader-8704495

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eleven Taser deaths in as many years – RIP Dalian Atkinson

Well-loved ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson (aged 48) lost his life last week (in the early hours of Monday, August 15th) shortly after he was Tasered by police outside his father’s home in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire. This is testimony of Paula Quinn, an eyewitness to the events leading up to Atkinson’s violent death:

“They were shouting and kicking so much all I could hear were the boots hitting him. And then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that.” 1

[bold highlight added]

On Thursday [August 18th], following a postmortem examination determining the cause of his death as ‘inconclusive’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission released a statement that two West Mercia police officers were being served with gross misconduct notices and put under criminal investigation:

The IPCC commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “Having carefully considered the evidence gathered so far, we are undertaking a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Atkinson’s death and the level and type of force used. Two police officers will be interviewed under criminal caution by IPCC investigators.

As this is a criminal investigation, the IPCC is limited in the amount of information which can be released into the public domain. I would ask people to be patient during the progress of our investigation and not to add to speculation about the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death. Speculation across the media as a whole can risk prejudice to the investigation process. 2

The IPCC says there will be “a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the death” but sadly there are historical reasons to be doubtful, and Atkinson’s death inevitably adds extra weight to already confirmed suspicions that in Britain, as in America and elsewhere, black people are still disproportionate victims of police brutality – including being Tasered. 3

Moreover, Atkinson’s tragic death highlights the often overlooked fact that Tasers, which deliver a 50,000 Volt shock, are not non-lethal weapons but classified as “less lethal” firearms. In fact, according to official statistics there has been at least one ‘Taser-related’ death in Britain every year for the last ten years – 11 in total. 4 Meanwhile, in America, where Taser use is more established, the number of fatalities may well be in the hundreds 5, although deaths are often attributed instead to ‘excited delirium’.

The introduction and, inevitably, the increasing use of the Taser is, in truth, indicative of unsettling trend in our culture – which unfortunately once again takes its lead from America. For as law enforcement does away with the blunter instruments of previous decades and centuries, the public is trained instead to tolerate the semi-detached, hi-tech violence administered by twenty-first century technology: yesterday’s more savage methods of coercion continually upgraded and superseded by less bloody, more hands-free techniques of ‘pain compliance’ – and Tasers do not simply disable the victim, they are torture devices too, as countless internet videos testify, and as the UN’s Committee against Torture declared in 2007:

“The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use,” the committee said in a statement.

“Well, it means that it’s a very serious thing,” Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox told CBS Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. “These are people that have seen torture around the world, all kinds of torture. So they don’t use the word lightly.” 6

[bold highlight as original]

So let us take stock. Beneath the science fiction brand name, these ‘stun guns’ are more literally cattle-prods for people. Is this how we expect fellow humans to be treated in modern Britain?

At this stage the IPCC is justifiably asking the media to refrain from detailed speculation about the circumstances surrounding Dalian Atkinson’s death since it could be prejudicial to the inquiry. Obviously I respect this request. Whatever the eventual findings of the IPCC, however, it is irrefutably the case that Dalian Atkinson was just the latest victim of the creeping militarisation of the British police force. Tasers torture and kill – they should be banned.

Click here to add your support to a petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to hold an urgent review of Tasers and the medical implications of their use.

R.I.P. Dalian.

*

1 From a BBC news report entitled “Dalian Atkinson dies after being Tasered in Telford by police” published on August 15, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37082207

2 From an article entitled “Police officiers investigated over Dalian Atkinson Taser death”, written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on August 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/18/police-officers-investigated-over-dalian-atkinson-taser-death

3

Black people are three times more likely have a Taser used against them by police than white people, according to figures that have raised the alarm among race relations campaigners.

From an article entitled “Black people ‘three times more likely’ to be Tasered” written by Damien Gayle, published in the Guardian  on October 13, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/13/black-people-three-times-more-likely-to-have-taser-used-against-them

4 IPCC files show ten people have died following the police discharging a Taser. They are:

  • John Butler: Wigan, May 2006 – shot himself after Taser fired
  • Robert Haines: New Romney, Oct 2006 – Taser fired after police shot him
  • Brian Loan: County Durham, Oct 2006 – died from heart disease three days after Taser fired
  • Justin Petty: Bedford, Jan 2008 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Raoul Moat: Rothbury, July 2010 – shot himself dead after Taser fired
  • Dale Burns: Barrow, Aug 2011 – died of drug poisoning after Taser fired
  • Philip Hulmes: Bolton, Aug 2011 – a Taser was fired after he stabbed himself
  • Ernestas Anikinas: Gatwick, Feb 2012 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Andrew Pimlott: Plymouth, April 2013 – Liquid he had doused himself in caught fire after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)
  • Jordan Begley: Gorton, July 2013 – died after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)

Source: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

From an article entitled “Man dies after police use Taser in Manchester” published by BBC news on July 11, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23265905

5 Jared Feuer, who heads the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, said the group has documented that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser since June 2001.

From an article entitled “Police use of Tasers causes few injuries: study” writteb by Will Dunham, published in Reuters October 8, 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-weapons-stun-idUSN0523646320071008

6 From an article entitled “U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture” published by CBS news on November 25, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-tasers-are-a-form-of-torture/

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