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‘Brazil’: now more than ever, a satire for our age

Prologue: a slow ‘soft coup’ in Brazil

When Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, the gaping contradiction between the sporting festival and anger on the streets was widely commented upon. This reported ‘popular uprising’ was said to have been against government corruption and President Dilma Rousseff’s handling of the economy. In fact the forecast riots never happened, and the drama instead took place on the pitch, when the host nation was routed 7-1 by Germany in a semifinal disaster. A portent perhaps that Rousseff’s days were also numbered.

Two years on, in the immediate aftermath of a de facto coup, Brazil descended into more serious political turmoil just as the Olympics arrived in Rio. However, this time around the tear-gas and the plastic bullets failed to make the headlines, with TV coverage maintaining a steady focus on the events inside the stadia.

Brazil’s soft coup is now complete: Rousseff was impeached on August 31st 2016, and the presidency thereafter seized by then-Vice President Michel Temer. With a meager 5% approval rating, he has since become the most unpopular president in Brazil’s history:

Since his appointment, Temer has also been accused of corruption scandals, the alleged reason for which former president Rousseff was impeached, and the very reason that he assumed office. Every measure of social wellbeing has plummeted as Temer’s administration has passed sweeping austerity measures and cut funding the social programs implemented by the Workers’ Party that are credited with making Brazil a main power on the global stage, increasing social inclusion in higher education, growing the middle class, and decreasing hunger and homelessness… Despite his abysmal approval rating, mass protests, public criticism, and a tanking economy, Temer is still in office. And now, the main leftist candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (also known as Lula), who has consistently led in the polls by wide margins, is in prison serving a 12-year sentence for a legal proceeding that has yet to be concluded.

From an article entitled “The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People” by Celina Stien-Della Croce.

The legal battle over former president Lula’s imprisonment is ongoing. Last Sunday Judge Rogério Favreto ordered his release but was subsequently overruled not once but three times “as bewildered Brazilians on social media compared the legal drama to a World Cup penalty shootout”.

Celina Stien-Della Croce continues:

When we think of coups, most of us imagine an image of the past or, at the very least, a clear and undeniable use of force. Large guns. Military intervention. Blood. The brutal overthrow of an elected government. (Think: Chile in 1973, Honduras in 2009, Argentina in 1976). What has been deemed a ‘soft coup’ in Brazil in 2016 stems from the same motive—the protection of corporate, foreign, and imperialist interests over the interests of the poor and working people and their right to self-determination—but comes wrapped in more palatable packaging that makes it easier to deny the violation of democracy. As Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research discusses in their recent dossier “Lula: The Battle for Democracy in Brazil,” the foreign and national elite used a series of legally sanctioned measures to remove the Workers’ Party from office under the guise of corruption. Though the legal case against former president and current Presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former President Dilma Rousseff is full of holes (a lack of evidence, unreliable and changing quid-pro-quo testimonies given in exchange for lighter sentences, illegal wiretapping, etc), it allowed the bourgeoise—operating through the Brazilian courts—a means to sentence Lula to prison and remove Dilma from power. Quoting law professor Carlos Lodi, Tricontinental defines lawfare as the ‘process of using the law to produce political results. Opponents are removed by use of the legal system rather than the constitutionally valid electoral process’. This is a major strategy behind Brazil’s ‘soft coup’ and the assault on Brazilian democracy. 1

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Nineteen eighty-four and a half

The following piece was first drafted at the height of the Brazilian World Cup four years ago but for various reasons remained unpublished. Given the situation in Brazil and elsewhere, it seems more applicable than ever…

Braaaaa-zzzilll, dah, dah, dah, da-da-dah etc… if you’ve been watching what I’ve been watching throughout the last month then you will have been hearing it rather a lot: the laid-back guitar riff on which we drift into every World Cup commercial break. Does it turn my thoughts to warm, golden sands and ice-cold sips of Piña Colada? Well, no actually, barely at all. Instead the dreamy jingle is in the habit of recalling Terry Gilliam’s elegant satire on a garish and tawdry bureaucratic dystopia in his film (called appropriately enough) Brazil. The odd juxtaposition – 1985 film and 2014 tournament – snaps unconsciously into place as if the two were always meant to be conjoined.

Interestingly, Brazil (the movie) is quite deliberately set in no specified place or time. Gilliam’s dread warning is of a tyranny that might assert itself anywhere and anytime. Indeed, his is the more hideous portrait of a society frozen precisely at “the end of history” where every form of alternative outlook and unorthodox opinion has been dismissed outright from the collective psyche. Devoid of nonconformity, all nascent dissent, though it very seldom arises, is stamped out in an instant. Not a very pretty picture.

Yet instead of a cunning and ruthlessly efficient despotism, we marvel only at how such a grey and faceless system grinds on unstoppably, even when it is as comically disorganised as the stiflingly ubiquitous ducts – yes, ducts (as in duct tape… there’s no such thing as duck tape!) – ducts for heating, air-conditioning, for water and waste disposal, and even those old-fashioned ones for sending documents through. Ducts that coalesce into one vast, tortuous entanglement that worms itself throughout Brazil‘s high-rise sprawl; twisting and looping in and out of every gloomy apartment block, shop and restaurant, and every administrative office. A labyrinthine network no less invincible than the Byzantine regime it embodies; one that occasionally, and especially when in need of repair, behaves all-too viscerally: throbbing like the guts of some tremendous monster. Eerily, the ducts often seem more alive than any of the denizens who have to squeeze their lives so awkwardly to fit in around them.

To add to the general misery of Brazil, citizens also have routine terrorist attacks to dodge. Again, it is prescient how terrorism exists as an overarching pretext for these authoritarian rulers (whoever they may be, since – like the terrorists – the powers-that-be are never fully seen) to bring all “enemies of the state” to a swift new equivalence of justice. Long gone is the old-fashioned inconvenience of habeas corpus, with law-enforcement streamlined thanks to SAS-style SWAT team raids and jurisprudence reduced to “interrogation” somewhere inside the wittily titled “Office of Information Retrieval”. A procedure of kidnap and torture that in today’s real world is (no less euphemistically) called “rendition”. In keeping with the tone of the satire, each suspect is thereafter scrupulously billed for “the service” they received! In Brazil the corporatocracy is total.

The title track and accompanying score (composed around the same famous tune as ITV’s jingle 2) is the solitary theme that beguiles us. A leitmotif, it fades up on occasions when central character Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce) daydreams his escape from the humdrum trauma of his dutiful but otherwise meaningless existence. And in some ways, the World Cup also feels like a daydream of distraction to lull us briefly from the inanities and brutalities that we rub against in our own lives or else pass over as news. For it turns out that Gilliam’s futuristic vision (thirty years old already) is prophetic in too many ways. His world of secrecy, surveillance, and superficiality (cosmetic surgery features strongly), an altogether grim exaggeration of where we had been heading all along. Briefly, if you’ve never seen Brazil, then just think Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four retold as a black comedy of errors – it was originally pitched as “1984 and a half” apparently.

Back in Brazil (and now I refer to the country rather than the film), as here and elsewhere, “austerity” remains very much in vogue. Here as elsewhere, of course, “austerity” isn’t for everyone. Our political leaders may try to persuade that “we’re all be in this together” but tightening the belt has never been very respectable in the more prosperous strata of our societies – and for perfectly understandable reasons, never will be.

So yes, there may indeed be inadequate revenues to maintain fully-functioning public services, to rebuild infrastructure or new housing, but money was readily available when the bankers needed their bailouts. It is also noticeable how the public purse can always be stretched (here and elsewhere) whenever it comes to putting on spectaculars like the Olympics and World Cup – not forgetting a stage the Tour de France that passed through my home city Sheffield at the estimated cost to the city council alone of £1 million. With less bread to go around, how blessed we all are with more circuses than ever!

Please don’t get me wrong however, I enjoyed the Tour de France and love the four-year reappearance of every World Cup… FIFA, try as they might, are fighting a losing battle to destroy the romance altogether. But I am torn. For even when the World Cup has been as entertaining this one, a small part of me aches to join in the chorus in the streets (you know, those protesters we don’t normally hear about – reported on just once in a blue moon and especially if it happens to suit Western interests).

It would be far better, of course, if politics and sport never mixed; but unavoidably they do. Take the obvious recent example involving a few overpaid Cameroon players squabbling about bonuses. Individual greed of this sort is just the visible (one might say risible) tip of a truly gigantic iceberg of corruption: but obviously corruption in sport exists simply because sport is a microcosm of wider society.

To take an overhead view, corruption is an oily slime that gurgles through serpentine systems, like those ducts in Brazil, connecting up governments and corporations via the murky conduits of foundations and “political charities”. Looking for social welfare? Well, there’s no money! Corporate welfare? Sure, no problem! Tax breaks, cozy public-private partnerships, no-bid contracts, and bailouts: the media, itself corrupted, naturally plays along.

We see welfare benefits transformed into income support in the most literal sense imaginable, with vital public revenues redirected to make up for shortfalls in real wages – full-time work is no longer sufficient to make ends meet. This is evidently just another form of corporate welfare, but widely misrepresented as an element of social welfare.

And why? Why isn’t every adult in Britain, a developed nation in the twenty-first century, in receipt of, at a bare minimum, adequate income to have a home and keep a family (as opposed to struggling on the laughably titled “Living Wage”)? Well, because government policies are not set in accordance with the popular will (which as vulgar as it sounds is the inherent principle of ‘democracy’ from the Greek dēmokratia, meaning dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’) but at the behest of a few giant corporations, accredited by the foundation funded ‘think tanks’ and ‘policy institutes’: a plethora of staunchly anti-democratic organs of the same monolithic financial-corporate establishment. Thus welfare makes way to ‘workfare’. Workfare – how they must laugh… at the choice of homonym.

Then we come to lobbying. Money creamed off from the top of this extensive profiteering and stuffed into the back pockets of the cronies in government – legalised (though I’m not sure when) bribery. Bringing us inevitably to the biggest racket on this planet…

Warfare is more profitable by miles than any amount of workfare when viewed in purely business terms. It pours out of our tax revenues and directly into arms industry coffers. What other activity could transfer comparable wealth from the poor to the rich with greater efficiency? Not that this constant burden on the public purse is much discussed. Nor do our politicians or media urge much restraint in spite of recent historical precedents: so-called ‘humanitarian interventions’ wreaking far greater horrors than those we ostensibly intended to prevent. That none of the many wars is finally ‘winnable’ is tacitly accepted. It serves as an excuse to double down. Because when it comes to waging war, the government behaves like an addicted gambler. The country’s reserves might just as well be bottomless.

As in Brazil, the nebulous threat of terrorism is the main pretext that justifies all of this. It permits the rollback of civil liberties and the steady abolition of human rights – take for instance the resurgent debate about whether or not torture is effective, which is not only horrifying but a grotesque anachronism.

Counterterrorism also justifies our killing abroad and the total surveillance of our populations at home. A cynical person might say that if terrorism did not exist then the corporatocracy would have to invent it.

Meanwhile, Braaaaa-zzzilll, dah, dah, dah… and there we find our celebrity politicians clamouring to be seen and heard in support of “the team”, feigning ordinariness in the hope that we regard them merely as compatriots, forgiving their true allegiance to transnational corporations and special interests… Whoa! Here comes those commercials… and it’s time once more to be teased: fresh inducements to throw the last remnants of your meagre salary on tantalisingly (im)probable bets… “Have a bang on that!” growls Ray Winstone, as he plays head tennis with an overgrown digitised Big Brother likeness…

In short, there are plenty of lotteries and cheap beer to keep the proles happy, which is exactly as Orwell tried to forewarn us. It is one strand of Nineteen Eighty-Four that is mostly overlooked and forgotten.

The rule is straightforward, of course: financial depression brings political oppression in its wake. Out of political oppression comes conflict and division: riots at home, wars abroad. It is a dire and incontrovertible fact that this cycle of misery has already cost multiple millions of lives, not once, but twice, during the last century. A lesson from history we ought to have learned the hard way.

Instead, it’s getting late again… yet another storm is threatening to break out across the Middle East as clouds are also darkening the skies over Ukraine. Time is running short because the existential threat to Western democracy has nothing to do with terrorism, but is the entirely terrifying prospect of a full-blown international shoot-out. The war that everyone says can never happen.

So this is not the most opportune moment to be putting our feet up and settling back to enjoy ice-cold sips of Piña Colada, or (more probably) pints of lager, as pleasant as putting our feet up and supping ale is. When the circuses have pulled up sticks and temporarily left town, and the final whistle is blown for another four years – or if you happened to live on a stage of the Tour de France, the last of the yellow bunting is taken down – the War Party remains in power.

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Epilogue: it’s not coming home… but that’s ok

“Someone said to me ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen, It’s more important than that’”

— Bill Shankly 3

I was a disappointed as anyone after England’s semifinal defeat to Croatia, but have we lost all sense of proportion? I watched the game at a friend’s house and when ITV switched over to the news studio afterwards we were all quite staggered that its World Cup coverage continued unabated and throughout the rest of the broadcast. Repeats of game that had ended just a few minutes earlier were now interspersed with wide-angle shots of beer-hurling crowds and vox pop interviews of supporters, and on and on and on it went. Eventually we crossed over to Thailand to see pictures of the boys miraculously rescued from the cave who are thankfully now recuperating inside an isolation unit. Apparently they were watching the World Cup too. But the genuine emotion of their cave rescue was over and with far stronger emotion directly on tap back home, the news abruptly switched over once more – to the overblown spectacle of yet more pogoing crowds and bleary-eyed fans.

In truth, the media role today is not to dispassionately present information as it claims but to whip up raw emotion. The targets may shift – fear and loathing of terrorism has mostly given way to fear and loathing of Russiagate ‘meddling’, Putin, ‘Novichok’ and Trump – but the hysteria remains. As playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins writes:

The speed at which they switched from the War on Terror narrative to the Putin-Nazi narrative attests to the power of the corporate media and the neoliberal propaganda machine, generally. It really is an amazing achievement. In less than two years, they managed to condition a significant portion of the Western masses to forget about “the Islamic terrorists” that they had been conditioned to live in fear of, and to transfer their fear and hatred to Trump, and Putin, and anyone who appears to support them, or doesn’t sufficiently hate and fear them.

The ruling classes have achieved this feat by generating an ongoing series of episodes of mass hysteria. Most of them last a week or two, but their cumulative effect is powerful and enduring. Fake news, bots, travel bans, Confederate statues, neo-Nazi rallies, “novichok” attacks, kids in cages … anything the corporate media can use to channel more hatred toward Trump and Putin. None of these episodes are generated out of whole cloth. Obviously, the Russians are pursuing their interests, there is a white supremacist subculture in the United States, as there always has been, those kids were put in those cages, and so on … none of which began with Trump, or has anything exclusively to do with Putin, or triggered mass protests and widespread outrage until the neoliberal ruling classes and corporate media decided it should. 4

Click here to read CJ Hopkins’ latest satirical piece entitled “Hardcore Hitler on Hitler in Helsinki”.

Sport provides another way to push our buttons.

An audience of 26 million Britons apparently watched the game live on Wednesday night although there isn’t anything close to 26 million football fans living on this small island. How many packed-in beneath the giant screens would be watching any ordinary England match? Fewer still are regular match-goers.

Those beside me on the sofa were all long-standing fans of the game. One supported local club Sheffield Utd, another cheers on Crystal Palace and I’ve supported Wolves for most of my life. We all know very well the giddy ups and downs of football fandom. Intense feelings of elation and defeat are recurring experiences. But this was different. This was a festival backed by a media frenzy – the strange intensity heightened again thanks to a highly intoxicated social media. Sorry if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but quite frankly I don’t wish to be sprayed with beer every time my team takes the lead – that’s not football; it’s Glastonbury or Ibiza or something.

Bill Shankly was only joking when he made his famous remark usually misquoted as “football is not a matter of life and death, it’s much more serious than that”, even if a woeful number with the literal-minded priggishness of Christian end-timers are silly enough to have taken him seriously. Shankly knew hardship. After he left school aged fourteen, he had worked in a coal mine. He knew first-hand what it felt like to be hungry and confined in darkness. He surely would have understood the quiet anguish felt by the Thai boys better than any of us, but what would he have made of the media-hyped and largely manufactured heartbreak felt by England’s johnny-come-lately carnival fans? I imagine he might well have choked on his beer… chortling in derision.

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1 From an article entitled “The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People” written by Celina Stien-Della Croce, published in Counterpunch on June 22, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/22/the-soft-coup-and-the-attack-on-the-brazilian-people/  

2 A symphonic reworking of “Aquarela do Brasil” (Watercolor of Brazil), known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil”, written by Ary Barroso in 1939.

3 In an interview on a Granada Television chat-show, hosted by Shelley Rohde on Wednesday 20th of May 1981

4 From an article entitled “Hardcore Hitler on Hitler in Helsinki” written by CJ Hopkins published in Counterpunch on July 10, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/07/10/hardcore-hitler-on-hitler-in-helsinki/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Brazil, Britain, neo-liberalism, police state

censorship in the name of copyright: stop the EU turning the internet into a ‘tool for surveillance and control’

The internet as a public forum is coming under attack once more. In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee today voted for legislation first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 which requires the installation of filters that will highly restrict the inclusion of news snippets in internet content, thus overhauling the existing copyright principle of ‘fair use’.

An open letter signed by seventy tech experts including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, was sent to the President of the European Parliament in June. It begins:

As a group of the Internet’s original architects and pioneers and their successors, we write to you as a matter of urgency about an imminent threat to the future of this global network.

The European Commission’s proposal for Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was well-intended. As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

It concludes:

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Another provision in the proposed legislation is a so-called “link tax” that will force all of us who use news snippets (as I am about to) to obtain a licence:

The aim is to generate income for publishers from aggregators such as Google and Reddit. Since readers usually want to know what a link leads to before clicking, most websites include a snippet of the linked-to content. Any limitation on snippets is hence also a limitation on linking.

The proposal would potentially restrict not just big players but smaller sites and individuals who publish news snippets. Germany and Spain have introduced similar laws, which have failed badly and been disastrous for publishers, the very group the EU seeks to protect. 1

Click here to read the full Guardian report by Kenan Malik.

Here’s another link to a different part of the story (and separate article) that the EU also wants to prevent me from quoting:

[Green MEP Julia] Reda argues that the “link tax” would drastically curtail internet users from sharing news stories and even holiday photos on the internet. Under the proposals, “such snippets would require licensing, including even short and purely factual headlines like ‘Angela Merkel meets Theresa May’”, she wrote ahead of the vote. 2

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Click here to add your name to a petition against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive:

The proposed law includes powers for media giants to charge licensing fees for posting links, through a new type of copyright, aka the link tax. 3 It would also demand websites install bots to monitor your posts, and censor them, if copyrighted content is detected. 4 We know these rules impact how many of us work on a day to day basis: from journalists looking up sources, to professional reviewers discussing the latest films. 5

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1 From an article entitled “A fairer deal on web copyright doesn’t need the bovver boots from Brussels” written by Kenan Malik, published in the Guardian on April 8, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/08/fairer-deal-on-web-copyright-eu-free-speech-open-access

2 From an article entitled “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool of control’” written by Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/20/eu-votes-for-copyright-law-that-would-make-internet-a-tool-for-control

3 Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name. Source: Communia Association

4 Killing parody, killing memes, killing the internet? Source: EDRi

5 Help our link tax impact research AND speak to your MEPs. Source: OpenMedia

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Filed under campaigns & events, internet freedom

America’s favourite terrorist dies peacefully in Miami — more on the life and crimes of Luis Posada Carriles

“He was the United States’ man in Caracas. He worked for the CIA for, by his own admission, over 24 years. It just goes to show you, if you’ve got friends in high places, even though you may be a terrorist, the United States will protect you.”

José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, D.C 1

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Luis Posada Carriles died peacefully at “a government home for veterans” in Miramar, Florida last Wednesday. News of his death passed largely unnoticed, although a few media outlets did produce obituaries.

BBC news reported:

Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born former CIA agent who dedicated much of his life to trying to overthrow the communist government on the island, has died in Florida aged 90. 2

It described Carriles in its headline as simply a “Cuba anti-communist activist”. Meanwhile, The New York Times, beneath a movie star portrait of the younger Carriles, ran with “Luis Posada Carriles, Who Waged Quest to Oust Castro, Dies at 90”, and printed eulogies from his friends:

“He had that magnetic quality to him that I’m sure explains how he was able to survive all those years,” said Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo V. Hernandez. “He was able to establish alliances to help him. You can’t do that if everybody hates you.”

Exiles sent him money, and they bought his paintings to help him survive. (He had learned how to paint in prison.) They paid bribes to sneak him out of jails and countries and into others.

“He was a charmer,” said Santiago Alvarez, a longtime Miami activist who has served time in prison for his anti-Castro efforts. “He had stories for everything. He made you laugh. He was good company.”

Frances Robles, the author of the NYT piece summarised Carriles’ life as follows:

Mr. Posada spent nearly 60 years on a quixotic and often bloody mission to bring down Fidel Castro by any means possible. He was accused of using bombs and bullets in a crusade that took the lives of innocents but never did manage to snare that Cuban leader, who died at 90 in 2016. 3

But the real life Carriles was no hero and was “accused of using bombs and bullets… that took the lives of innocents” because he did. It stands as a fact and not an accusation that Carriles was a most notorious and unrepentant terrorist, who very certainly murdered hundreds of people, the majority of whom were entirely innocent bystanders, and afterwards as he once boasted to a different New York Times reporter, Ann Louise Bardach, when interviewed in 1998, had “slept like a baby”. 4

A comprehensive catalogue of the known crimes committed by Carriles with corroborating evidence contained in documents from the CIA and other US agencies is available at the website of the National Security Archive, the center for research and documentation:

Luis Posada Carriles is certainly on any terrorist expert’s list of top 10 most prolific purveyors of violence over the last 30 or 40 years. He was a Cuban, left Cuba after the revolution, started to work with the CIA, was a paid asset and trainer in sabotage, in explosions — in explosives for the CIA, training other Cuban militants in the mid-1960s. He was on the CIA payroll from 1965 through 1976. He left the United States in 1967 and moved to Caracas, Venezuela, where he became a very high official in the Venezuelan secret police, DISIP.

And while he was in Caracas, in October of 1976, according to CIA and FBI declassified secret documents, he was one of the two masterminds of one of the most heinous acts of international terrorism in the Western Hemisphere before our own 9/11: the bombing of a Cubana flight, mid-air, killing 73 men, women and children on October 6, 1976.

He has a long history beyond that. He went on to orchestrate a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in the late 1990s. He was arrested in Panama in November of 2000 with a car full of C-4 explosives and dynamite in an effort to blow up Fidel Castro during an Iberian-American summit. I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

And we had hoped that he would actually be convicted and, at 83 years old, spend the rest of his life in prison. Instead, it may be that he is able to live in retirement in Miami, which is, you know, a complete stunning turn of events for anybody who cares about the security of U.S. citizens and justice for the victims of international terrorism.

Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University and the Cuba Documentation Project *

To learn more watch Posada Carriles: Terrorism Made in the USA (2007) — a documentary from renowned Venezuelan filmmaker Angel Palacios which details his longstanding relationship with the CIA, dating back to the 1960’s.

The film took two years of meticulous research by an investigative team that examined declassified documents and criminal files, and interviewed witnesses and survivors from several Latin American countries.

Reposted in full below is an earlier article (one of the first posts on this blog) published in May 2011 shortly after Carilles had been tried and acquitted by a court in Texas of immigration-related charges.

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On January 10[th] one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history will go on trial in a small courtroom in El Paso, Texas. This is not the venue the Obama administration has finally selected to prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11; it is where the reputed godfather of Cuban exile violence, Luis Posada Carriles, may finally face a modicum of accountability for his many crimes.

Writes Peter Kornbluh in an article published on January 24th in The Nation magazine:

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial stands out as one of the most bizarre and disreputable of legal proceedings. The man identified by US intelligence reports as a mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban airliner—all seventy-three people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976—and who publicly bragged about being behind a series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush years became an international embarrassment and reflected poorly on the willingness and/or abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an agent and ally of America. For the Obama administration, the verdict will carry significant implications for US credibility in the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations. 5

Whilst James C. McKinley Jr., writing in The New York Times on January 9th, asks why this elderly former CIA agent is on trial not for terrorism but perjury:

An elderly Cuban exile who once worked for the C.I.A. and has been linked to bombings in Havana and the downing of an airliner in the 1970s is scheduled to go on trial this week in a Texas courtroom — not on terrorism charges, but for perjury.

His article continues:

“The C.I.A. trained and unleashed a Frankenstein,” said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst with the National Security Archive who has studied Mr. Posada’s career. “It is long past time he be identified as a terrorist and be held accountable as a terrorist.”

Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, predicted that his client would be acquitted. “He’s innocent of everything,” Mr. Hernandez said.

The defendant in question, Luis Posada Carriles, has in fact worked with the CIA on many different occasions – and especially during America’s Cold War campaign against Castro:

Mr. Posada has long been entwined with American intelligence services, going back to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. He worked directly for the agency until 1967, spying on Cuban exile groups in Miami and running paramilitary training camps, according to declassified documents. He was also a “paid asset” of the agency in Venezuela from 1968 to 1976, according to declassified documents and an unclassified summary of his career in the court record.

“The C.I.A. taught us everything — everything,” he told The [New York] Times in 1998. “They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb[,] trained us in acts of sabotage.” 6

Click here to read the full article.

But then, back in May 2005, the 77-year-old Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami, and held for entering the US illegally; the judge eventually ruling that he could not be deported to face charges in Venezuela:

The judge said Luis Posada Carriles – wanted by Caracas over a 1976 plane bombing which killed 73 people – faced the threat of torture in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government reacted angrily to the ruling, accusing the US of having a “double standard in its so-called war on terrorism”. 7

Click here to read full report from the BBC News in September 2005.

The record of terrorist offences Mr Posada is charged with is a very long one: Posada has actually admitted to involvement with bombings of Cuban hotels and nightclubs, and has already been convicted in Panama for his involvement in many other plots, including the attack which brought down Cubana Flight 455. Stephen Kinzer, writing for The Guardian, in May 2007, says he only narrowly escaped becoming one of those victims:

One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and crashed, killing all 73 people aboard. There should have been 74. I had a ticket on that flight, but changed my reservation at the last moment and flew to Havana on an earlier plane.

I was sitting by the pool of the Hotel Riviera when I heard news of the crash. A few days later, I attended a powerfully moving ceremony at which one million Cubans turned out to hear Fidel Castro denounce the bomb attack. On the reviewing stand next to him were flag-draped coffins of the few victims whose remains had been found.

Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later, however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to jail, he went to work for the CIA.

Last week a federal judge in Texas threw out a case against Posada. The Bush administration has power under the Patriot Act to detain him indefinitely, and could even extradite him to Venezuela. Instead it has chosen to protect him. 8

Click here to read the full article.

Posada Carriles was released from US custody on April 19th 2007, after paying his bond. Peter Kornbluh picks up the story again:

In April 2006 government lawyers decided to hold a naturalization interview with Posada while he was in jail, surreptitiously gathering self-incriminating evidence against him in the hotel bombing case…

Instead, on January 11, 2007, Posada was indicted in El Paso on six counts of making “false statements” and one of fraud about how he came to the United States and for his use of false names and false passports—charges that carry an maximum sentence of five to ten years each. To make matters worse for the credibility of the US legal system, four months later Judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed all charges against Posada. The government, she ruled, had engaged in “fraud, deceit and trickery” in obtaining evidence against Posada under the guise of conducting a naturalization review. The court, she declared, could “not set aside [Posada’s legal] rights nor overlook Government misconduct [just] because Defendant is a political hot potato.”

A free man, Posada took up residence in Miami…

Ironically, it is now the legal proceedings against Posada that could be embarrassing to, and carry significant implications for, WOLADY [the CIA’s codeword for the United States]. In the six years Posada has been in the United States, his case has become a spectacle around the world. Now, if he is found guilty and in effect proven to be a mastermind of terrorism, the US government will have to address the scandalously short sentence the perjury charges carry. If he is found innocent and released, the Obama administration will have to confront the fact that the US legal system is inadequate to hold Posada even minimally accountable for his violent crimes, and that the United States is, in the end, harboring an international terrorist.”

Hardly surprisingly, some of the relatives of Posada’s victims were already outraged that a known terrorist was only going to trial to face charges of perjury:

“He is not being charged as a terrorist but rather as a liar,” says Livio Di Celmo, whose brother, Fabio, was killed in one of the hotel bombings in Cuba. “My family and I are outraged and disappointed that a known terrorist, Luis Posada, is going to trial for perjury and immigration fraud, not for the horrific crime of masterminding the bombing of a civilian airliner,” Roseanne Nenninger, whose 19-year-old brother, Raymond, was aboard the Cuban plane, told The Nation. “Our hope is that the US government will designate Posada as a terrorist and hold him accountable for the pain, suffering and loss he has caused to us and so many other families.”

But they needn’t have worried because in April, the now 83-year-old Posada Carriles was acquitted of even these relatively minor offences, and so the case is presumably closed:

A US court has acquitted a veteran Cuban anti-communist activist and former CIA agent, Luis Posada Carriles, on immigration charges.

US federal prosecutors had accused him of lying to immigration officials, but a jury found him not guilty. 9

Click here  to read the full report from BBC News on April 8th.

Back in May 2007, Stephen Kinzer had written:

“After last week’s verdict, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice said Posada’s case is under review. A grand jury in New Jersey is investigating his role in the bombing of Cuban hotels in the 1990s. So far, though, the services he provided to the CIA for more than four decades have protected him.

“If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist,” President Bush famously declared after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States is now harbouring Luis Posada Carriles. His continued freedom mocks victims of terrorism everywhere. It also shows how heavily the “war on terror” is overlaid with politics and hypocrisy.”

This latest verdict merely goes to show how the double standards that applied during Bush’s “war on terror” have been perpetuated under the Obama administration.

*

1 José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, D.C, speaking on Democracy Now! on Friday 25th.

Click here to read the watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

2 From an article entitled “Luis Posada Carriles: Cuba anti-communist activist dies” published by BBC news on May 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44226647

3 From an article entitled “Luis Posada Carriles, Who Waged Quest to Oust Castro, Dies at 90”, written by Frances Robles, published by the New York Times on May 23, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/obituaries/luis-posada-carriles-castro-foe-dies-at-90.html

4 From an article entitled “Catch him if you can” published by The Economist on April 14, 2011. https://www.economist.com/node/18560259

5 From an article entitled: “Former CIA Asset Luis Posada Goes to Trial” by Peter Kornbluh, published in The Nation, January 24, 2011. www.thenation.com/article/157510/former-cia-asset-luis-posada-goes-trial

6 From an article entitled “Terror Accusations, but Perjury Charges” by James C. McKinley Jr, published in The New York Times on January 9, 2011. www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10posada.html

7 “No deportation for Cuban militant” from BBC News published on Wednesday 28, September 2005. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4289136.stm

8 From article entitled: “The terrorist Bush isn’t after: Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist – but an anti-Castro one, so as far as America is concerned he’s all right.” by Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian,  published on May 15, 2007. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/may/15/theterroristbushisntafter

9 From an article entitled “US court acquites Cuba militant Luis Posada Carriles” published by BBC News on April 8, 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13021002

* Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University and the Cuba Documentation Project, speaking on Democracy Now! on April 11th 2011.

Click here to read the watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Media on Trial event banned

OffGuardian

Media on Trial has released the following statement:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, Leeds City Museum, a city council owned and operated venue, cancelled the Media on Trial’s booking for the event we had planned for 27 May.

The fact that the event was cancelled is perhaps bad enough. What became clear as the day has progressed, though, is that Leeds City Museum appear to have informed the press and media of the cancellation before they informed Media on Trial organisers. Indeed they waited for the Media on Trial representative to arrive at the venue for a planned meeting following a four hour train journey before giving us the news.

They seem to have taken this decision on the basis of misinformed assumptions about the content of the event, and offered no right of reply to Media on Trial.

Leeds City Museum has cancelled an event that threatened mainstream…

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illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2

Reposted below before my own thoughts and analysis is the full statement released today by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition.

Gesture Bombing – the Causes and Consequences of a Pointless Airstrike

Theresa May’s cynicism is so deep it’s hard for us comprehend. There was quite simply no possible good outcome from this bombing in the Middle East, even from our rulers’ warped perspective. People will surely have died, the war will be prolonged, it will have done nothing to control chemical weapons and tensions with Iran and Russia will have risen. International law is unambiguous that these strikes were illegal too.

But no matter, Trump has been obeyed and May thinks she looks tough on the world stage. Not really though. It’s too obvious she is frightened of parliament, which is reconvening on Monday and that she is taking orders from Washington. It is also clear that the US’s position in the world is weakening.

Deadly Decline

This action has been shaped by the failure of Western policy in the Middle East. It is not true that the West has been doing nothing in Syria over the last few years. Britain was involved in covert ops before 2015 and regular bombing raids since the vote in 2015. According to Airwars, the West has been involved in more than 50,000 bombing raids in Syria in the last four years, killing thousands of civilians. But their basic plan, to use the Syrian opposition to secure regime change by arming them and providing them with military back up, has been unsuccessful. The project of getting rid of Assad has been abandoned for the time being.

The bombing of Libya in 2011– an intervention most strongly promoted by Britain and France – was clearly a catastrophe. Sold as a humanitarian operation, it ended with 50,000 dead, brutal regime change and complete state failure. Even Barak Obama has said later he regretted sanctioning it. Before that there was Iraq. The invasion and occupation did untold damage to the country and the wider region. That intervention more than anything is the root cause of the current chaos in the Middle East. But it was also a failure from the point of its main protagonists in Washington and Whitehall.

The West’s failure to pacify and secure the country allowed the US’s main enemy in the region, Iran, to strongly increase its reach and influence. Its demonstration of the limits of US power has encouraged other powers to flex their muscles in the region. The resulting interventions in Syria by Russia, Turkey Saudi Arabia and others have of course only increased the death and destruction.

Calculated Killing

So, angry but more and more impotent, the Western powers this time have settled for gesture bombing, and gestures don’t impress anyone. But periods of imperial decline are inherently dangerous. There is no way the US is going to passively accept reduced influence in the Middle East. In so far as there is a Western strategy, it is the attempt to roll back Iranian influence through support of the emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus to reassert control over the region. Assad’s consolidation is only going to encourage a vigorous pursuit of this project. Next time Trump and his most loyal ally are likely to get more serious.

Domestic Damage

Back home this irresponsible and pointless attack will further undermine what is laughingly referred to as May’s authority. What is so heartening – and something that has limited her options from the start – is that the vast majority of people have complete contempt for this kind of calculated killing. All the opinion polls published so far show big opposition to these strikes despite almost blanket support for them in the mainstream media.

The crucial thing is that we continue to build on and to mobilise this opinion. Once again people have shown their willingness to stand up against war. Many thousands have lobbied their MPs, in Stop the War we were notified of 30 protests around the country on Friday – there were no doubt many many, more. A crowd of hundreds closed Whitehall in London. This Monday night in London from 5.30pm we will be back on the streets outside Parliament the day it reconvenes. There will be other protests around the country. Tell your friends, neighbours and workmates protests matter. No to war – yes to democracy.

Click here to read the same article on the Stop the War Coalition website.

*

One year ago, America rushed to judgment to condemn Assad for an alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun:

On April 11, the White House released a declassified four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belated justification for the Tomahawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.

The report, which was authored not by US intelligence agencies but by the White House under the supervision of national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, says that “The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.” 1

Given the undue haste to pin the blame on Syrian forces, many were justifiably suspicious of US claims. Veteran investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Seymour Hersh; former CIA case officer, Philip Giraldi; former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford all spoke out as you can read in this previous post. Meanwhile, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National-Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, who had previously served as a scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon produced a painstaking analysis of the White House report. Here is more from the same The Nation article quoted above:

Postol’s exhaustive critique of the White House report notes that “The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.” And yet, according to Postol, “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft. In fact, the report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.” […]

“In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report.” Postol concludes that the “report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR [White House Report] could not possibly be true.”

The Nation spoke to Postol over the weekend.

“What I think is now crystal clear,” he said, “is that the White House report was fabricated and it certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ.”

“My best guess at the moment is that this was an extremely clumsy and ill-conceived attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Syria without any intelligence evidence that Syria was in fact the perpetrator of the attack…. It may be,” he continued, “that the White House staff was worried that this could eventually come out—a reckless president acting without regard to the nation’s security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia, and a breakdown in cooperation with Russia that would cripple our efforts to defeat the Islamic State.”

“If that is not an impeachable offense,” Postol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”

Click here to read the full report written by James Carden published in The Nation.

Since this time there has been the UN OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) report which claimed to be “confident” that Syria had been responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun. On the face of it then, the US were correct in their original assessment, and this is how the incident is now reported on. What is seldom reported on is how experts were not permitted to visit the site, and so the JIM report relied instead on samples gathered by the very militants that controlled the area. It is vital to understand that no independent experts ever visited the site.

Back in 2013, Reuters reported that:

Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

Luhan adds:

 “The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

So we see how just four years on, the OPCW was quite clearly in breach of its own technical standards with respect to ensuring a chain of custody. Furthermore, as the OPCW itself made clear in its legal framework to the mission to Khan Sheikhun:

The scope of the FFM [OPCW Fact Finding Mission] mandate does not include the task of attributing responsibility for the alleged use. 3

Other criticisms of the report are based on technical details that are explained in detailed reports here  and here.

In short, last year’s allegations that Syrian forces released sarin gas at Khan Sheikhun remain unsubstantiated. In any case, allegations of Assad’s use of sarin have since been quietly dropped by the US administration, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis conceded as recently as February this year:

The U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports from aid groups and others that the Syrian government has used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday [February 2nd].

“We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “We do not have evidence of it.” 4

Click here to read the full AP report entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says”.

*

Last Thursday [April 12th], the same James Mattis was called by Congress to speak before the House Armed Services Committee. In his testimony he said that the US and its allies “don’t have evidence” to support the latest allegations although “we certainly have a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used”.

What he had seen in other words is that same footage we have all seen. Video showing people – mostly very young children – being hosed down with water in an unknown location, and also the more macabre roving camera footage showing close-ups of corpses lying on top of one another inside what appears to be an apartment.

All of this video footage along with initial reports appeared quite suddenly on social media platforms having been uploaded by a small assortment of “pro-opposition” sources: the al-Nusra front terrorist-affiliated White Helmets and the so-called Douma Media Centre as well as the more grandiosely named Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) which is closely associated to USAID and is US State Department funded. It was SAMS that reported on Saturday April 7th:

“Amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighbourhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases – the majority of whom are women and children – were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”.

This lack of credible sources presents us once again with reasonable grounds for doubt. But even leaving aside the questionable origins of the material, it is not at all clear what we were actually seeing or even whereabouts these events took place.

I shall not dwell on the details of the videos but it is evident the children shown are obviously in distress. They may well be in shock from conventional airstrikes or possibly suffering from smoke inhalation due to subsequent fires. We simply don’t know. More chillingly, it is also possible that these children are the victims of those who appear to be first responders – certainly it would not be the first time that children have been used as props in staged events:

What we do know for certain, however, is that the area under attack was under the control of the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (“Army of Islam”), a terrorist faction that is responsible for committing many atrocities including the execution and torture of prisoners and the alleged use of chemical weapons. It is also known that Jaish al-Islam – a group that is well known for using hostages as human shields – held literally thousands captive in its basement prisons:

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters.

Furthermore, the targeted area where the alleged attack took place was literally on the brink of recapture by government forces:

An agreement has been reached to release all prisoners held by Syrian rebels controlling the eastern Ghouta city of Douma in return for the fighters’ leaving the city, Syrian state television reported on Sunday, citing an official source.

According to the agreement, Jaish al-Islam fighters will leave Douma for the northern city of Jarablus, near the borders with Turkey, within 48 hours, the source added.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which control the city. 5

Indeed, almost immediately after the video footage had been released the area was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces who entered the site without protective gear. And though reports that the Red Crescent likewise confirmed it found no evidence of chemical weapons were later retracted, as Antiwar.com points out:

That the Red Crescent operates a hospital in a city supposedly inundated with wounded and didn’t get a single patient with confirmed exposure, however, is very noteworthy. 6

A detailed overview of the sources which first broke the news of this alleged attack was put together by independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

She comments:

So to be clear, we’re being asked by these people to believe that Bashar al-Assad launched a “mass casualty chemical attack”, the thing which would provoke the wrath of the US war machine, just as Trump was seeking a withdrawal from Syria and just as Assad was approaching victory in Douma. We are being asked to ignore the fact that the area is crawling with actual, literal terrorists, to ignore the western empire’s extensive history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military aggression, to ignore the extremely suspicious western funding and terrorist ties of the White Helmets who are circulating these photos and information, and to ignore the fact that Syria has been a target of imperialist regime change for many years. We are being asked to ignore all that and believe instead that Assad spontaneously began acting against his own self-interest so that he could kill children for no discernible reason.

It says so much about the power of western media psyops that this has a strong chance of being believed. 7

Click here to read the full article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects”.

*

On Tuesday 10th, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was afforded a live interview with BBC Radio Scotland. Here’s what he told presenter Gary Robertson:

Gary Robertson: There’s a lot of tough talk on both sides here. I wonder where you think it will lead us.

Peter Ford: Well I greatly fear it will lead us to the edge of Armageddon. It’s time to take a deep breath and consider where we’ve got ourselves into as a result mainly of hysteria and distortion.

The worst case is that Trump does launch off with some very unwise multiple attacks on Syria. And given that Russian forces are deeply embedded with Syrian forces – in particular air defence – it’s highly likely that scores of Russian soldiers will be killed. If anyone thinks that Russia will take that just lying down I think they need to think again. Russian planes in the last twelve hours have been buzzing UD destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Please – I think everybody needs to take a deep breath before something truly horrible occurs affecting the security of us all including in this country. We have forces in Syria. The government don’t like to talk about this, but one was sadly killed two days ago revealing the extent of our existing military involvement in Syria. So at the very least our own forces would be exposed to grave danger.

GR: Indeed it’s not just the UD President though who’s appalled by what they’ve seen in terms of these pictures coming from Douma. We’ve had condemnation from President Macron, likewise from Prime Minister Theresa May too. If it isn’t the sort of military action that you’ve just outlined there, what should be the response to this use of chemical weapons if it’s proved.

PF: The correct response is obviously – and I think a child could see this – to get inspectors on to the alleged site of the alleged offences. And in fact in the last few hours Russia has offered to provide military escorts for inspectors from the recognised body in this field: the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare.

GR: And if it’s proved then what – because, of course, we know that Assad has form on this. We’ve had investigations previously and there has been fairly conclusive proof that chemical agents have been used.

PF: I don’t think that Assad is in the least worried that the inspectors would find out his guilt because he’s probably not guilty at least on this occasion. I mean we have to engage our brains as well as our emotions here. Not be stampeded by those videos which are described as being unverified but which by dint of being repeated over and over and over again come to acquire a spurious credibility.

We have to ask ourselves what are the sources of the information on which we’re in this stampede to war. They are twofold – and I’m sorry but the media are falling down on the job of investigating this – the sources are the Syrian American Medical Society, which is a pro-Islamist propaganda outfit based in the United States…

GR: So are you saying these pictures are being staged? Are you saying that people haven’t died?

PF: Yes, yes, in all probability the incidents have been staged. Come on, we know how easy it is to fake images for the internet. Look at the images – anybody could stage those. And then the second source is supposed to be the so-called first responders. Who are the first responders? In this case they are the White Helmets, which is another pro-Islamist jihadi propaganda outfit.

GR: This is an awful lot of effort to discredit Assad isn’t it?

PF: Please let me finish this important point. The witnesses to these terrible events are people who themselves were involved in beheadings: literally picking up the body parts. And we choose to give credence to testimony from these alleged first responders.

GR then interrupts before PF is allowed to continue.

You don’t allow. The BBC does not allow questions of important details to be addressed.

GR: We have a short period of time. I’m trying to probe what you’re saying. The point surely is that Assad’s reputation is already dented. What would be in the interest of these people to stage these events?

PF: Is that not obvious? A child can see that the intention was to produce the hysteria and now the military action that we are on the point of taking, risking our own safety. What the jihadis have done is jerk our leash.

And frankly for one I think it’s pretty disgusting that we are allowing ourselves to have our own leash jerked by these Islamist fanatics. This is what’s going on and ask yourself how has it profited Assad?

Please engage with your brain. Answer the question: how has Assad benefitted from all this mayhem? In fact it’s rebounded against him. Why would he do such a thing when he was already winning [and] the battle for Eastern Ghouta was virtually over? Why would he choose this moment to do the one thing that was guaranteed to pluck defeat for him from the jaws of victory?

*

On Wednesday 11th, erstwhile political opponents Peter Hitchens and George Galloway discussed the build up to war in Syria and the potential repercussions:

*

So just why did Trump, Macron and May launch a barrage of cruise missiles towards Damascus at a cost of multiple millions that might otherwise have been usefully invested in our terribly underfunded public services at home? The corporate media which has been screaming for “a response” wants us to believe that it is because these leaders care so much about the people of Syria and especially the children. Opinion polls in Britain, however, reveal that only a minority are quite so easily deceived.

If Trump and May really wanted to perform a grand humanitarian gesture then they would have been far better served in ending support to the Saudi regime’s murderous assault and blockade of Yemen that is now causing widespread famine and the most terrible outbreak of cholera. Instead they recently welcomed the Crown Prince in extended visits before signing new contracts for arms sales. Alternatively, they might have sanctioned Netanyahu’s government, forcing it to bring a halt to the massacre taking place on the border with Gaza where more than a thousand of peaceful protesters have been wounded and dozens more killed by the live ammunition of Israeli snipers. But instead of taking the moral high ground they chose predictably to bomb an already war-torn country to the sole benefit of western defence contractors and the arms industry, and for furthering shared Anglo-American-Saudi-Israeli geopolitical interests.

The corporate media do not want you to worry about the geopolitical context. They want you to overlook the fact that when the very same western powers carried out the illegal “shock and awe” campaign to oust Saddam they shamelessly led the propaganda offensive. That they also cheered on Nato as it provided air cover for terrorist militia that quickly swarmed across Libya. And obviously they hope everyone forgets about Wesley Clark’s infamous statement of Pentagon plans to bring about regime change in “seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Yesterday’s fireworks over Damascus achieved nothing at all for peace, but did transfer a little more wealth from the public purse (the poor) into the hands of the arms manufacturers and other defence contractors (the rich). It also left people across the entire world a little less safe than before.

*

Additional: the return of John Bolton

Until now Trump has proved himself to be the great blusterer and for this we ought to be grateful. Yes, he talked tough to North Korea, but instead of following through with his threats he eventually gave way to Kim Jong Un and agreed to negotiate instead. Thus, the coming war with China was back on ice and all who care about the already perilous state of world affairs could breathe a small sigh of relief. Likewise, having unleashed a nearly atomic-sized explosion, the so-called MOAB (“Mother of all Bombs”), on the villagers and goatherds of Afghanistan, with this vile experiment completed, Trump returned to overseeing his country’s conventional and everyday devastation by drones. And again, following last year’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, Trump instantly launched a tremendous barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase. Then, having publicly beaten his chest to the satisfaction of the corporate media, he left the US military to continue its pursuit of regime change by less overt means. Under Trump, in other words, it has been business as usual regarding the “war on terror”, occasionally interspersed by a few more exceptional and shocking instances of long-distance slaughtering. However, all this happened before John Bolton returned to the White House again.

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 8, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 9

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Aside: Incidentally, although al-Qaeda and Iraq were both separately accused of perpetrating the post-9/11 anthrax attacks it was later discovered that the strain originated from a US defence lab. After wrongly suspecting bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill who was afterwards awarded damages of $5.82 million, the FBI turned attention to senior bioweapons scientist Bruce Edwards Ivins. No formal charges were ever filed against him and no direct evidence has been uncovered but while under investigation Ivins apparently committed suicide.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 10

Click hear to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 11

Bolton’s admirers say he is a foreign policy realist akin to Kissinger and so different to the bona fide neo-cons who refrain from dropping American bombs unless in the service of spreading human rights and democracy. And if you think I’m joking then read this extract taken from an article published by the Henry Jackson Society:

For Bolton, the liberation of Iraq was coincidently about universal moral concerns, usually a ruinous basis for any state’s foreign policy (look at Somalia, he says). Fundamentally, Saddam was destroyed because he posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security – a risk that could be lessened. The democratisation of his one, long-time fiefdom is undertaken because the odds of a democracy threatening U.S. security are far less. The enfranchisement of women across the Middle East may well be a happy consequence of his removal but it is not an issue that keeps Bolton awake at night. William Kristol, on the other hand, a far more eager intervener, wants us to believe that women’s rights are basic to America’s global mission. For sure, Kristol likes Bolton, but this does not make Bolton a neocon. 12

So according to the Henry Jackson Society, the preeminent British neo-con foreign policy think tank, Bolton correctly foresaw that Saddam “posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security.” Again, who actually believes this nonsense? And who beyond the corridors of the neo-con/humanitarian-bomber establishment has swallowed any of the lies of such hypocrites as Kristol or Blair? Aside from associates of HJS, scarcely anyone believed the cant that set the stage for the downfall of Saddam even though the media did its utmost to manufacture public consent by uncritically repeating the lies long before Bush and Blair took us to war anyway.

Today another war is looming and Bolton has the ear of Trump. Trump who blusters and tries to look tough in vain attempts to prove to a disconnected audience that the US Commander-in-Chief is in control and knows what he’s doing. He is neither. On foreign policy as on domestic issues, he is quite obviously clueless and in the thrall of the corporate elite, and now with Bolton behind him, the chickenhawk neo-cons are ruling the roost.

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1 From an article entitled “The Chemical-Weapons Attack In Syria: Is There a Place for Skepticism?” written by James Carden, published in The Nation on April 19, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-is-there-a-place-for-skepticism/ 

2 From an article entitled “’Evidence’ of Syria chemical weapons use not up to U.N. standard” written by Anthony Deutsch, published in Reuters on April 26, 2013. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemical-weapons/evidence-of-syria-chemical-weapons-use-not-up-to-u-n-standard-idUSBRE93P0UG20130426

3 https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Fact_Finding_Mission/s-1510-2017_e_.pdf

4 From an article entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says” written by Robert Burns, published by AP News on February 2, 2018. https://apnews.com/bd533182b7f244a4b771c73a0b601ec5

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The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters. Five prisoners were released on Wednesday, after earlier departures by Jaish al-Islam fighters.

From a report entitled “Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma in return for releasing prisoners published by Reuters on April 8, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-negotiati/jaish-al-islam-to-leave-douma-in-return-for-releasing-prisoners-idUKKBN1HF09Z

6 From an updated article originally entitled “Red Crescent Says No Evidence of Chemical Attack in Syria’s Douma” written by Jason Ditz, published by Antiwar.com on April 9, 2018. https://news.antiwar.com/2018/04/09/red-crescent-says-no-evidence-of-chemical-attack-in-syrias-douma/

7 From an article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects” written and published by Caitlin Johnstone on April 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/new-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-being-reported-by-all-the-usual-suspects-bb52e9a4f982

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“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

9 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

10 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

11 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

12 From an article entitled “John Bolton is not a neocon” written Tim Lynch and published by the Henry Jackson Society on July 20, 2005. http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2005/07/20/john-bolton-is-not-a-neocon/

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join protests to stop the killing in Gaza – Saturday April 7th

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (literally “catastrophe”) when nearly a million Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes during the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Palestinians still have the keys to the buildings their families fled from all those years ago, kept as symbols of hope, of yearning and of resistance. The return march is part of 45 days of action leading up to this anniversary.

Last Friday [March 30th] was the 42nd anniversary of Land Day. On that day in 1976, Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian protestors killing six people. This year live bullets have once again been fired on unarmed protesters by Israeli snipers at the Gaza border. To date 17 people are dead and more than 1500 people injured. The protest is the first of a series of events that will continue until Nakba day on May 15th.

By selling arms and in other ways supporting the right-wing Netanyahu government, Britain is complicit in the Israeli state’s war crimes against Palestinians. As part of an extended Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) actions have been taking place around the world since February – an international series of events to raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

This Saturday Stop the War Coalition is helping to organise protests across Britain. #GreatMarchOfReturn

In London:

When: Saturday 7 April, from 1pm – 3pm.
Where: opposite Downing Street, SW1A 2AA.
Nearest Station: Westminster.

The details above can also be found on the Protest for Gaza: Stop the Killing facebook page.

In Sheffield:

When: Saturday 7 April from noon
Where: outside Town Hall

An earlier protest is also taking place to target HSBC, calling on them to stop supporting the arms trade with Israel. This will begin after a meet up in the Winter Gardens at 11.00 am for a short briefing about the action. Those who cannot make the meeting at 11:00 am are encouraged to join the protest at 11:30 am outside HSBC.

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Update:

Voices of some of the thousands who took to the streets of London:

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genocide in Yemen is great business — all hail Prince Mohammed bin Salman!

People in war-torn Yemen are facing a situation that “looks like the Apocalypse”, the UN’s humanitarian chief has told Al Jazeera, warning that the country could become the worst humanitarian disaster in half a century. […]

“The situation in Yemen – today, right now, to the population of the country – looks like the apocalypse,” Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on Friday.

“The cholera outbreak is probably the worst the world has ever seen with a million suspected cases up to the end of 2017.”

Lowcock said “a terrible new epidemic” of diphtheria, a bacterial disease which should be completely preventable by immunisation, has already “affected up to 500 people with dozens and dozens of deaths” in the past few weeks

“That is going to spread like wildfire,” he added.

“Unless the situation changes, we’re going to have the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years”.

From a report entitled “Yemen could be ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis in 50 years” published by Al Jazeera.

The same report continues:

Lowcock’s comments came as the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $50m to bolster the relief effort in Yemen, where more than eight million people are on the brink of famine. 1

This manufactured starvation is due to a blockade of the country’s air and sea ports that amounts to genocide. However, here is a genocide carried out by a ‘Saudi-led coalition’ that is very much armed and enabled by close allies Britain and America. In fact without British and US intelligence and other assistance including the refuelling of aircraft, this genocide could be ended tomorrow:

The U.S. has supplied Saudi Arabia with more than $20 billion worth of weapons during its Yemen campaign, including thousands of MK-82 bombs. In November, the State Department approved the sale of 8,020 new MK-82 bombs as part of a $1.29 billion transfer of more air-to-ground weapons.

Throughout his presidency, President Obama has sold more than $115 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis – more than any other President.

Reports Alex Emmons in a carefully documented piece published last October by The Intercept.

The same piece concludes with a quote from CIA officer and senior fellow at the Atlanticist ‘think tank’ Brookings Institute, Bruce Riedel, who in April described the U.S as “a partner in this war” and said:

“If the United States and the United Kingdom, tonight, told King Salman [of Saudi Arabia] ‘this war has to end,’ it would end tomorrow. The Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.” 2

Click here to read the full report.

Which is why the deliberate starvation of eight million people gets scarcely a mention by the corporate media.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ruler-in-waiting, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “who Riedel called the ‘architect’ of the war in Yemen” 3 is set to visit Britain this coming Wednesday. Following a formal reception with Prime Minister May, he will afterwards be wined and dined at Windsor Castle by the Queen. A week on, the Crown Prince arrives in the United States to begin a state visit running from March 19th to the first week of April.

But no amount of red carpet will be able to soak up all the blood, just as nothing at all can disguise the stench of western hypocrisy.

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Additional:

On RT’s Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi today spoke to Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) on how billions of pounds worth of UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia threatens the lives of the millions already suffering in Yemen:

Click here to petition the UK government to cancel the invitation for the visit of Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

And here to read more about the #SaudiPrinceNotWelcome campaign.

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1 From an article entitled “Yemen could be ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis in 50 years” published by Al Jazeera on January 5, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/yemen-worst-humanitarian-crisis-50-years-180105190332474.html

2 From an article entitled “Photos Show Fragments of U.S. Bombs at Site of Yemen Funeral Massacre” written by Alex Emmons, published in The Intercept on October 10, 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/10/10/photos-show-fragments-of-u-s-bombs-at-site-of-yemen-funeral-masssacre/  

3 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2016/04/22/watch-sen-chris-murphy-on-revisiting-u-s-saudi-relationship/

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House of Saud: the West’s favourite despots

On Tuesday [January 23rd] BBC broadcast the final episode of its 3-part series “House of Saud: A Family at War”, which, according to the blurb, “looks at the challenges facing the new Crown Prince, 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to transform the country.” In fact the series is considerably more hard-hitting than that.

Episode one is slow burning and it takes about half an hour to get to the real point. Eventually, however, we are introduced to incontrovertible proof that the Saudis have been directly arming and funding both ISIS and countless “rebel” factions in Syria including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), which is described by an anonymous member as “a Saudi organisation more than it is a Syrian one.”

None of this is revelatory, of course. News that the Gulf States have been covertly backing terrorist militia in Syria leaked out throughout the duration of the war. Neither is it the first time that disturbing footage of women in cages driven through the streets of Damascus as human shields (from 2015) has been reported in the mainstream.

The departure comes more in the way the evidence is presented. In this episode — as in the subsequent ones that explore corruption and human rights abuses respectively — the main narrative freely castigates the Saudi ‘government’ for its crimes and likewise condemns a select few of the West’s co-conspirators (Tony Blair is always an available villain) – disappointingly though unsurprisingly the more pejorative term ‘regime’ is held back. Where it fails most egregiously however is by perpetuating the claim that old-style Saudi despotism may be on the cusp of transformation. That arguably the most corrupt and backward regime on earth is somehow about to mend itself.

So I am recommending this series in all three parts but with firm reservations. As far as BBC’s reporting on Saudi Arabia goes this is a refreshingly frank and daring condemnation of the kingdom, and yet underlying the opprobrium is a repeated message to overlook and forgive Saudi’s diabolical human rights record and its pivotal role in the spread of Salafist terrorism because it remains a ‘vital ally’ and a ‘key partner in the fight against terror’. The BBC opens the way for this doublethink by allowing a platform to such apologists as former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, Ali Shihabi of the Arabia Foundation, Michael Stephens of RUSI and former CIA Director and RUSI award-winner General David Petraeus, who once recommended US support for al-Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra.

My advice is watch all parts (each one is a damning investigation) mindful that all countervailing opinion is provided by sources closely aligned with the arms industry.

To watch episodes 1 (available for 14 days), 2 (21 days) and 3 (28 days) of BBC’s “House of Saud: A Family at War” on iplayer click here, here and here.

Click here to read an extended post detailing the origins of ISIS with timelines entirely collated from mainstream sources.

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Petition: Cancel the invitation to Saudi Crown Prince to visit UK

We call on the Prime Minister to withdraw the invitation for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to visit the UK. The Saudi Arabian regime has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture and arbitrary detention are widely documented. In 2017 alone, over 100 people were executed.

The Crown Prince has directed the bombardment of Yemen. Tens of thousands have been killed or injured. There is widespread famine and cholera, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Yet, the UK still sells arms to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime has supported repression in Bahrain, where its military intervened to end peaceful protests in 2011.

The lives of people in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are more important than arms sales. Stand up for human rights and cancel the visit.

Click here to add your name to petition the UK government.

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Chris Hedges and WSWS on organising resistance to internet censorship: watch tomorrow’s webcast

On January 16th (tomorrow), the World Socialist Web Site will video livestream a discussion on Internet censorship, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North. WSWS reporter Andre Damon will moderate the discussion.

The webinar will explore the political context of the efforts to censor the Internet and abolish net neutrality, examine the pretexts used to justify the suppression of free speech (i.e., “fake news”), and discuss political strategies to defend democratic rights. Hedges and North will also field questions from on-line listeners. The webinar will be streamed live by the WSWS on YouTube and Facebook on Tuesday, January 16 at 7:00 pm EST (midnight in London, 1:00am in Berlin, 3:00am in Moscow and 11:00 am January 17 in Sydney. Full Time Zone Conversions).

The youtube livestream is embedded below:

Award-winning Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger threw his support behind the meeting, writing: “As a journalist and filmmaker who has long navigated the mainstream, I offer my support to this important discussion between Chris Hedges and David North.”

Pilger called the WSWS, Wikileaks, Counterpunch, and other left-wing news sources “crucial,” and said “the filtering and limiting of Google searches of these sites is rank censorship… The matter is urgent; voices must be raised! I urge my colleagues to break their silence.”

Attendees from six continents and dozens of countries have signed-up for this world event even as Google, Facebook, and other platforms continue to censor articles from the WSWS.

Keep our momentum going! Register for the event today.

Share this new video to social media and build awareness of the January 16 event!

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reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia

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A day of tyranny

On Sunday, all across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote.

writes independent journalist Kevin Buckland, who provides eyewitness testimony of the Spanish government’s savage determination to thwart Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia.

He continues:

I am sitting on the floor of the polling station in central Barcelona, a long line has grown behind us. We have been here for hours already, but it doesn’t bother us. Just by being here we are useful. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and faces are emerging from beneath the umbrellas. It could be the line of people waiting to see a movie, young couples, the middle-aged with their adult daughters, families with children — these are not protestors, these are people.

There is a nervous tension, as we wait we are seeing realtime images of polling stations that look exactly the same as ours having their doors kicked in, people pulled away by their hair, elderly women thrown down stairs; twitter is a scroll of police clubs and rubber bullets. In some places the hundreds of people, with arms linked or hands in the air are enough to turn back the police, in others masked men walk out of schools holding half-filled ballot boxes.

Please take a second to imagine this: you go to your usual polling station and, as usual, you wait in a short line to vote. As you wait, masked men in dark armored suits smash their way in, pushing the elderly, clubbing your neighbor and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. They grab the ballot boxes and march out. They steal your vote; steal your voice. Twitter says there are 234 people injured.

This is the largest act of civil disobedience I have ever seen, and the bravery it required of the everyday people should not be diminished. Just by standing in that line we were all risking great harm. We wait our turn, patiently and calmly, but nervously. We pass the time by chatting to those next to us in line. The woman in front of us tells us of the first time she voted after fascism ended; of the student protests and the police brutality. In a country with such a recent history of dictatorship, voting means something different for the older generation.

The crowd cheers after an elderly woman walks past the long line after voting, she claps her hands in joy and the crowd joins her. Having spent most of her life under fascism, democracy must taste sweeter. I see the woman in front of me wipe away a tear. The crowd cheers next for a old man in a wheelchair and a young couple with their baby, the noise follows each of them from the polling station. We cheer for everyone, not for how they voted, but becausethey voted. This has become about more than independence, it is about the right to vote; the right of a population to ask itself a question and to answer it.

Click here to read Kevin Buckland’s full report of the day.

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Richard Sudan was another journalist who encountered the brutality first hand. The following extract is drawn from an article published by RT:

I witnessed for myself police trying to control the flood of people entering one polling station in Barcelona, only to fail due to the sheer numbers of those present. A number of videos showed police entering separate polling stations and seizing ballot boxes full of votes that had been cast. Were it not for the large amounts of people occupying the polling station where I spent the afternoon, I believe the same thing would have happened there too.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Spain, or any other country, cannot claim for itself the status of ‘a democracy,’ while repressing the fundamental democratic freedoms of its people, in this case, the Catalans. Personally, the situation brings to mind the plight of the Palestinians, who are routinely attacked by the Israeli state while Israel harps on about being a democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Now, we’ve all the seen the images of the Spanish police beating Catalans, shutting down polling booths, and seizing ballot boxes. What I didn’t see, however, and which is a stark paradox in my mind, were gatherings of neo-Nazi nationalists who were openly doing Nazi salutes in Catalonia Square being challenged with the same vigor, by the very same police who were attacking the polling booths. Why? How can this possibly make any sense?

How can the Spanish police justify their crackdown on voters while allowing neo-nationalists to make open Nazi salutes and parade in Barcelona unchallenged? Are the Spanish authorities really more afraid of the ballot box than neo-Nazis?

Entitled “Deafening silence: EU must condemn Spain’s Catalonia crackdown”, the same piece continues:

The only thing worse than this violence and hypocrisy is the deafening silence from other European and world leaders. The EU as a bloc has failed to take a formal stand against the brutalization of the Catalan people, who are, after all, citizens of the EU. Now, I’m not a fan of the neo-liberal economic program that underpins the EU, and I’m even less of a fan of the ‘leave’ campaign in Britain.

But it cannot be right, that the leadership of the EU is silent on this issue of Catalonia when it is so willing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere.

Click here to read Richard Sudan’s full report.

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Media silence and complicity

In the days leading up to the referendum, corporate media outlets with few notable exceptions (RT, Al Jazeera and to some extent the Guardian), uncritically repeated the pro-Madrid mantra that the independence election was unconstitutional and thus illegal. Here was the patina of legitimacy for what would quickly follow. Repeating it meant promoting the Spanish government’s pretext for violent suppression. It justified the media’s collective decision to downplay an already impending paramilitary crackdown against a peaceful movement.

Of course the full shock of Catalonia’s bloody Sunday could hardly fail to make headline news across the mainstream. That said, the media is well-honed in methods for spinning half truths and so although widely reported, the true picture was obscured nonetheless: voters became “protesters” with Madrid’s armoured enforcers portrayed as “the security cordon”. Reprinted below is part of an excellent post put together by Craig Murray which summarises the propaganda techniques used across the British media:

This was a headline on the Guardian front page at 10.29am today. The people who wrote it are highly educated media professionals. The misleading impression a natural reading gives is absolutely deliberate.

Maintaining the Establishment line in face of reality has been a particular problem for picture editors. The Daily Telegraph has produced a whole series of photos whose captions test the “big lie” technique to its limits.

Note the caption specifically puts the agency for the “clash” on the people. “People clash with Spanish Guardia Civila…”. But the picture shows something very different, a voter being manhandled away from the polling station.

Actually what they are doing is preventing voters from entering a polling station, not preventing a riot from attacking a school, which is the natural reading of the caption.

In fact the firemen are trying to shield people walking to vote from the paramilitaries. The firemen were attacked by the Guardia Civilia shortly after that.

Sky News every half hour is repeating the mantra that the Catalan government claims a mandate for Independence “after a referendum marred by violence”, again without stating what caused the violence. In general however Sky’s coverage has been a great deal better than the BBC; Al Jazeera has been excellent.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

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What next?

When Spanish President Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police forces to Catalonia to repress an illegal referendum for independence, he probably thought it would bring some closure to an open issue. Perhaps, enforcing the law violently on peaceful citizens who just wanted to cast a vote, and doing it on the global stage would finally convince those rebellious Catalonians that their cause was lost.

Far from closure, the events of 1 October 2017 will cause more consternation in Catalonia than ever before. It is fair to question if Catalonians live in a 21st Century democracy, whether their most basic human rights are going to be respected and whether there is any room for political dialogue. Many of those who were not pro-independence before yesterday but supported a referendum, are probably wondering today whether there is any point in even considering staying in Spain, after all.

writes journalist Victor Lasa in another article published by Counterpunch.

Lasa continues:

Make no mistake, this is not a symptom of political idiocy, but a well-thought, effective strategy. Surveys are already showing the PP [Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid] would win the government again, by a landslide. The PP thrives in conflict, and Catalonians served them one on a silver platter. Why resolve a conflict when you can benefit from it instead?  This is classic Real Politik applied within its own borders. By simplifying and trivializing, they polarize the electorate, perhaps leaving almost no chance for those who show moderation and relative impartiality, like center-left PSOE and Podemos. On the other hand, this conflict is the perfect attention deviation device. One they desperately need to divert attention from hundreds of cases of rampant corruption, which include the political manipulation of the same national police they sent over to Catalonia.

Madrid’s iron-fisted suppression of Catalan nationalism plays well as a populist strategy in many quarters of Spain, however as Lasa points out, this latest display of force was so excessive that it has altered the political landscape more emphatically. He adds in conclusion:

The next time they have a chance, Spaniards and Catalonians will vote with their guts rather than their brains. Nevermind that PP will be reduced to political irrelevance both in Catalonia and the Basque Country. They will have the rest of Spain, drawing a map that paradoxically will make borders ever more obvious. One more question to answer now is how far the PP will go with this strategy. How much can the conflict be managed for political benefit before it explodes into an uncontrollable succession of violent events. It looks like we could find out soon, as the Generalitat [government of Catalonia] prepares itself to unilaterally declare Independence in the following days.

Click here to read Victor Lasa’s full article entitled “Catalonia and the Unsustainable Strategy of Conservative Spain”.

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Update:

On October 2nd, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was interviewed on BBC2’s Newsnight by Mark Urban. Here is part of that interview [from 0:50 mins]:

MU: But do you think the police in every case – pushing women downstairs, firing rubber bullets into polling stations – do you think they have used proportionate and legitimate force?

AD: Yes I do.

However, when interviewed more recently (Sunday October 22nd) on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dastis’ position had completely changed. Where previously he tacitly acknowledged the extreme police brutality and defended it as legitimate, he now claimed it was “fake news” [from 6:45mins]:

AD: No I don’t think there is any brutal situation – look, I think by now many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures…

AM interjects: Really?

AD: And if there was any use of force it was a limited one and prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.

AM: You’re saying that those pictures that people saw of Spanish police intervening aggressively in polling stations are all fake pictures – they didn’t happen?

AD: I’m not saying that all are fake pictures but some of them are. And you know there has been a lot of alternative facts and fake news here. And as I said, if there was at all – and according to the pictures there was – some use of force it was not a deliberate use of force. It was a provoked use of force.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the interview because that option has been made unavailable but you can watch it by following this link: https://youtu.be/wuIAx_oQ-Ss

You can also watch the same interview on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

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