Category Archives: Central Asia

Mansoor Adayfi: kidnapped as a teen, sold to the CIA by Afghan warlords and held without charge at Guantánamo for 14 years

cranes by a coastal landscape - artwork by Mansoor Adayfi

We, as prisoners, or detainees, we weren’t just the victims at Guantánamo. There are also guards and camp staff, were also victims of Guantánamo itself. You know, that war situation or condition brought us together and proved that we’re all human and we share the same humanity, first.

This is the verdict of Mansoor Adayfi, who had been abducted as a teenager, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured, kept in solitary confinement, force-fed, and finally released without charge from the CIA gulag of so-called ‘black sites’. Speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he continues:

Also, Amy, a simple question: What makes a human as a human, make Amy as Amy, make Mansoor as Mansoor, makes the guys in there as individual and person, you know? What makes you as a human, and uniquely, is your name, your language, your faith, your morals, your ethics, your memories, your relationships, your knowledge, your experience, basically, your family, also what makes a person as a person.

At Guantánamo, when you arrive there, imagine, the system was designed to strip us of who we are. You know, even our names was taken. We became numbers. You’re not allowed to practice religion. You are not allowed to talk. You’re not allowed to have relationships. So, to the extent we thought, if they were able to control our thought, they would have done it.

So, we arrived at Guantánamo. One of the things people still don’t know about Guantánamo, we had no shared life before Guantánamo. Everything was different, was new and unknown and scary unknown, you know? So, we started developing some kind of relationship with each other at Guantánamo between — among us, like prisoners or brothers, and with the guards, too, because when guards came to work at Guantánamo, they became part of our life, part of our memories. That will never go away. The same thing, we become part of their life, become memories.

Before the guards arrived at Guantánamo, they were told — some of them were taken to the 9/11 site, ground zero, and they were told the one who has done this are in Guantánamo. Imagine, when they arrive at Guantánamo, they came with a lot of hate and courage and revenge.

But when they live with us and watch us every day eat, drink, sleep, get beaten, get sick, screaming, yelling, interrogated, torture, you know, also they are humans. You know, the camp administration, they cannot lie to them forever. So the guards also, when they lived with us, they found out that they are not the men we were told they’re about. Some of them, you know, were apologizing to us. Some of them, we formed strong friendships with them. Some of them converted to Islam.

The military rules is cruel. And they treat those guards as a product, not humans, you know? Even those guards, when they — some of them went to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When they came back, we saw how they changed. When I grew up and became my thirties, when they used to bring younger guards, I looked at them as like younger brothers and sisters, and always told them, like, “Please, get out of the military, because it’s going to devastate you. I have seen many people change.”

Adayfi, the author of the new memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, says Guantánamo was not only constructed as a prison and torture site but reminds us how under the direction of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, it was used as a US research lab for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EIT) and other forms of unusual punishment of detainees. Moreover, when army captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, had courageously spoken out against these crimes, he was in turn falsely accused of stealing classified documents, denounced and punished as a collaborator:

I remember, the first time I talked to James Yee, I was taken to the interrogation room, stripped naked, and they put me in a — we call it the satanic room, where they have like stars, signs, candles, a crazy guy come in like white crazy clothes reciting something. So, they also used to throw the Holy Qur’an on the ground, and, you know, they tried to pressure us to — you know, like, they were experimenting, basically. When I met James Yee, I told him, “Look, that won’t happen with us that way.”

James Yee tried to — he was protesting against the torture at Guantánamo. General Miller, the one who was actually developing enhanced interrogation technique, enhanced torture technique, saw that James Yee, as a chaplain, is going to be a problem. So he was accused as sympathizer with terrorists. He was arrested, detained and interrogated. This is American Army captain, a graduate of West Point University, came to serve at Guantánamo to serve his own country, was — because of Muslim background, he was accused of terrorism and was detained and imprisoned. This is this American guy. Imagine what would happen to us at that place.

So, when they took James Yee, we protested. We asked to bring him back, because the lawyers told us what happened for him after like one year. We wrote letters to the camp administration, to the White House, to the Security Council, to the United Nations — to everyone, basically.

Today Mansoor Adayfi works as the Guantánamo Project coordinator at CAGE, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of the ‘war on terror’. Wearing an orange scarf during the interview, he says he likes to wear orange – inside the camp he had been told by a psychologist then whenever he saw the colour, it would traumatise him again, to which his response was, “No, this is part of my life, and I will never let Guantánamo change me.” Adayfi and his fellow inmates also found solace in music and painting:

People who were at Guantánamo, they were artists, singers, doctors, nurses, divers, mafia, drug addicts, teachers, scholars, poets. That diversity of culture interacted with each other, melted and formed what we call Guantánamo culture, what I call “the beautiful Guantánamo.”

Imagine, I’m going to sing now two songs, please. Imagine we used to have celebrate once a week, night, to escape away pain of being in jail, try to have some kind of like — to take our minds from being in cages, torture, abuses. So, we had one night a week, in a week, to us, like in the block. So, we just started singing in Arabic, English, Pashto, Urdu, Farsi, French, all kind of languages, poets in different languages, stories. People danced, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, to rap, to all kind. It’s like, imagine you hear in one block 48 detainees. You heard those beautiful songs in different languages. It just — it was captivating.

However, the interrogators took it as a challenge. We weren’t challenging them. We were just trying to survive. This was a way of surviving, because we had only each other. The things we brought with us at Guantánamo, whether our faith, whether our knowledge, our memories, our emotions, our relationships, who we are, helped us to survive. We had only each other.

prisoners under a starry sky - artwork by Mansoor Adayfi

Also, the guard was part of survival, because they play a role in that by helping someone held sometimes and singing with us sometimes. We also had the art classes. I think you heard about the — especially in that time when we get access to classes, we paint. So, those things helped us to survive at that place.

Hope also. Hope, it was a matter of life or death. You know, you have to keep hoping. You know that place was designed just to take your hope away, so you can see the only hope is through the interrogators, through Americans. We said, “No, it’s not going to happen that way.” So we had to support each other, try to stay alive.

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

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Additional: the case of Abu Zubaydah, the first post-9/11 CIA torture victim

On Wednesday [Oct 6th] The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Abu Zubaydah, the Guantánamo prisoner who was the first subject of the CIA’s torture programme. Zubaydah’s legal team has spent years trying to obtain testimony from two psychologists, Drs James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who helped the CIA design and implement his torture, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump’s administration strategy to keep key information about Zubaydah’s torture in Poland classified despite the fact that the two psychologists are willing to testify:

On Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke with Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Joe Margulies, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Raymond Bonner, who has long followed the case – the segment is embedded above.

Raymond Bonner, who assisted Alex Gibney in making a new documentary, The Forever Prisoner, about the case, provides the background story on how Abu Zubaydah – the first terrorist suspect captured after the 9/11 attacks – was quickly rendered to a secret site in Thailand, where he was then subjected to relentless bouts of torture:

Soon after he got there is when James Mitchell and then Bruce Jessen showed up and began the interrogation. And as Joe just pointed out, it was very interesting yesterday in the argument to hear, and Justice Barrett included, talking straight about torture. What happened to Zubaydah was torture. There was none of this euphemisms like EITs, you know, enhanced interrogation techniques. And he was the guinea pig, in a way. This is where Mitchell designed the program and tested the program of torture.

You know, Amy [Goodman], it’s always struck me that a lot is made of the 83 times he was waterboarded. If you read what was done to him, read in the government cables that were sent at the time, I mean, to me, the waterboarding was almost benign. I mean, they kept him sleepless. They put him in a small coffin-sized box for hours, overnight. He couldn’t move. They hung him by the cell bars with his feet dangling off the ground. I mean, it got to the point it was so bad, that Mitchell would just snap his fingers, and Zubaydah would act, would get onto the waterboard. I mean, what they did to him was far worse, in my view, than waterboarding.

And then, when journalists started to get onto the story about a secret prison — and you’ve got to remember, this was back in 2002, and we didn’t know about secret prisons and black sites. And when they found out about it and started to ask questions, then the CIA moved him to Poland, and quietly, of course, secretly, which leads to the case, as Joe has described, that’s in the Supreme Court, that was heard in the Supreme Court yesterday.

But if I could say one more thing about yesterday’s argument, in addition to the three points Joe raised, I was gobsmacked when they started asking the lawyers about Zubaydah’s habeas petition. Fourteen years ago — Justice Roberts asked about it, too: “Well, hasn’t he filed a habeas petition?” Yes, he has — 14 years ago. And Joe Margulies was his lawyer then. Fourteen years, and the court has yet to rule on his habeas petition. And it’s — “unprecedented” is always dangerous to say, because somebody will find a case that’s taken longer than 14 years. But it’s just staggering that for 14 years you have had two judges have now had the case in the D.C. District Court, the federal court in Washington, D.C., and they’ve yet to rule.

You know why? The cables are there. Because in 2002, Mitchell and the CIA interrogators in Thailand sent a cable to Washington saying, “We’re about to do these EITs,” the torture of this guy. “He might die,” they said. “He might die. And if he does, we’re going to cremate him. And if he doesn’t, we want assurances that he will never be in a position to tell his story.” And Langley cabled back: “You have the assurances of everyone here that he will be held incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” And that is exactly what is happening. We’re never going to hear from Abu Zubaydah. I would be stunned if he’s allowed to testify.

After this spell in Thailand, Zubaydah had then been transferred to a ‘black site’ located somewhere in Poland. His lawyer, Joe Margulies picks up the story:

What Ray describes is exactly right, but what he’s describing is the torture that took place in Thailand, which was the first black site. Abu Zubaydah was the first person thrown into a black site, the first person to have his interrogation, quote, “enhanced.” And we know a fair amount about what happened to him at Thailand.

But we don’t know what happened to him in Poland. We know that, in testimony, James Mitchell described it, just said that Abu Zubaydah was treated very shabbily. But he uses those kind of euphemisms for the most grotesque torture. And that’s all he says. But no one has ever questioned him about what went on in Poland. The Polish prosecutor knows where the site was. He knows when it operated. But inside the cell, he doesn’t know. There were only three people there. It was Abu Zubaydah, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. And they won’t let Abu Zubaydah testify. So if we’re going to get at what happened there, we have to get it from James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who, I should say, are perfectly willing to provide this testimony. When we sought their testimony in this case, they said, “We have no objection. We’re happy to tell you. We’re happy to sit down for a deposition.” It was the United States government that intervened and said, “No, their testimony is a state secret, and you can’t have any of it.”

The other thing I would want to observe — it’s important to remember this — even Mitchell and Jessen, when they were torturing him in Thailand, after six days of virtually 24-hour-a-day torture, they decided that they were done, that they had emptied the content of his head. And they had concluded that they had gotten all the information they needed from him, or all the information he had left — he had to give. And they cabled that to CIA headquarters in Langley. And Mitchell believes it was Jose Rodriguez who cabled back — someone in the Alec Station — who, in James Mitchell’s words, “You guys are a bunch of pussies. You’ve got to continue this. Blood is going to be on your hands if there’s another attack. Keep torturing him.” And so they did, for another two weeks. And what they eventually concluded is that Abu Zubaydah was telling the truth all along. Contrary to what they believed when they started torturing him, he was not a member of al-Qaeda. He had no involvement with the planning for 9/11. He’s never been a member of al-Qaeda. He is ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, which is what he had been saying. And they eventually concluded that that was true.

The suppression of information relating to this case as well as the denial of justice continues under Biden, just as it did under Trump. As Margulies says:

Our litigation began during the Trump administration. And the Trump administration sought the review in the United States Supreme Court, and there was the passing of the baton between Trump and Biden, while the case was pending. And the Biden administration picked up the Trump administration’s argument and doubled down on it. So, there’s no — there’s no window. There’s no air between the two administrations.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the same interview at the Democracy Now! website.

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Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi was also tortured and detained for 13 years without charges

The United States repatriated Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, to Tunisia on June 15, 2015, after 13 years in custody without charges or trial. El Gherissi, 52, here recounts being severely beaten with batons, threatened with an electric chair, subjected to various forms of water torture, and being chained by his arms to the ceiling of his cell for a long period. He has received no compensation or support for his wrongful detention or the torture he endured. At the time of filming in October 2016, he was destitute, unable to work, and experiencing the consequences of serious physical and emotional trauma that he says is a direct result of his treatment in US custody:

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Filed under Afghanistan, Poland, Thailand, USA

Afghanistan: the war you didn’t see

A war that began with the massacre of hundreds of captured Taliban soldiers who were crammed into shipping containers and left to suffocate under the baking desert sun – the containers vented with machine gun fire once the victims pleaded for air – now ends with the targeted drone killing of a family and credible reports of the indiscriminate shooting of dozens more innocent civilians in the ensuing pandemonium after Thursday’s ISIS-K suicide bombing:

With the spotlight now fixed on Afghanistan and Kabul in particular, these latest atrocities have received an uncommon level of mainstream coverage, shedding light on what the public is only seldom permitted to see. These images and reports present us with the true face of the West’s dirty war and a glimpse of the day-to-day evils of a foreign occupation. They should also lead to the following questions:

How many more men, women and children have been casually butchered by “soldiers” an ocean away playing computer games for real in their air-conditioned offices? Moreover, what warfare could ever be more asymmetric than the cowardly terrorisation of a population by drones?

How many innocent others have been mown down by the indiscriminate fire of automatic weapons, whether unleashed by panicked troops or else with cold-blooded deliberation?

And lastly, how many more horrific war crimes have been perpetrated by western troops or their “allies” in the vast wilderness of the Afghan deserts?

As Harold Pinter said in his Nobel Prize winning speech delivered in 2005:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

Continuing:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

Watch it above and read it in full here – it is without doubt one of the greatest political speeches of all-time.

Update:

Glenn Greenwald contrasts the US media’s immediate embrace of the Biden administration’s false claim that its Afghan drone strike killed no civilians, with its polar-opposite Trump-era posture of extreme scepticism:

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In 2011, investigative journalist and filmmaker John Pilger released a documentary entitled “The War You Don’t See” in which he exposed the western media’s central role and historic complicity in manufacturing consent for wars.

In the film, he says:

“We journalists… have to be brave enough to defy those who seek our collusion in selling their latest bloody adventure in someone else’s country… That means always challenging the official story, however patriotic that story may appear, however seductive and insidious it is. For propaganda relies on us in the media to aim its deceptions not at a far away country but at you at home… In this age of endless imperial war, the lives of countless men, women and children depend on the truth or their blood is on us… Those whose job it is to keep the record straight ought to be the voice of people, not power.”

Framing the current plight of the people of Afghanistan within its broader political and historical context, Pilger writes in his latest article:

As a tsunami of crocodile tears engulfs Western politicians, history is suppressed. More than a generation ago, Afghanistan won its freedom, which the United States, Britain and their “allies” destroyed.

In 1978, a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Dawd, the cousin of King Zahir Shar. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise.

Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported the New York Times, were surprised to find that “nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup”. The Wall Street Journal reported that “150,000 persons … marched to honour the new flag …the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.”

The Washington Post reported that “Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned”. Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a programme of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned.

Under the monarchy, life expectancy was thirty-five; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety per cent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched.

For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 per cent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 per cent of its teachers and 30 per cent of its civil servants.

So radical were the changes that they remain vivid in the memories of those who benefited. Saira Noorani, a female surgeon who fled Afghanistan in 2001, recalled:

Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked … We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian films on a Friday … it all started to go wrong when the mujahedin started winning … these were the people the West supported.

For the United States, the problem with the PDPA government was that it was supported by the Soviet Union. Yet it was never the “puppet” derided in the West, neither was the coup against the monarchy “Soviet backed”, as the American and British press claimed at the time.

President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoirs: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.”

In the same administration was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist whose enduring influence on American presidents expired only with his death in 2017.

On 3 July 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorised a $500 million “covert action” programme to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government.  This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone.

The $500 million bought, bribed and armed a group of tribal and religious zealots known as the mujahedin. In his semi-official history, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA spent $70 million on bribes alone. He describes a meeting between a CIA agent known as “Gary” and a warlord called Amniat-Melli:

Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in one-foot stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say we’re here, we’re serious, here’s money, we know you need it … Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.

Recruited from all over the Muslim world, America’s secret army was trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6. Others were recruited at an Islamic College in Brooklyn, New York – within sight of the doomed Twin Towers. One of the recruits was a Saudi engineer called Osama bin Laden.

The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilise and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.

Aptly entitled “The Great Game of Smashing Countries”, I very much encourage readers to follow the link to the full article and so will merely add Pilger’s concluding remarks:

The invasion of Afghanistan was a fraud. In the wake of 9/11, the Taliban sought to distant themselves from Osama bin Laden. They were, in many respects, an American client with which the administration of Bill Clinton had done a series of secret deals to allow the building of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline by a US oil company consortium.

In high secrecy, Taliban leaders had been invited to the US and entertained by the CEO of the Unocal company in his Texas mansion and by the CIA at its headquarters in Virginia. One of the deal-makers was Dick Cheney, later George W. Bush’s Vice-President.

In 2010, I was in Washington and arranged to interview the mastermind of Afghanistan’s modern era of suffering, Zbigniew Brzezinski. I quoted to him his autobiography in which he admitted that his grand scheme for drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan had created “a few stirred up Muslims”.

“Do you have any regrets?” I asked.

“Regrets! Regrets! What regrets?”

When we watch the current scenes of panic at Kabul airport, and listen to journalists and generals in distant TV studios bewailing the withdrawal of “our protection”, isn’t it time to heed the truth of the past so that all this suffering never happens again?

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article published by Counterpunch on Wednesday August 25th.

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Additional:

On August 27th, independent journalist Katie Halper spoke with three-times Nobel Peace Prize nominated peace activist Kathy Kelly, who since 2010 has made thirteen trips to Afghanistan, and with anti-war veteran and author Danny Sjursen. They discussed the true motives behind the Afghanistan War and carefully deconstructed the media narrative about women’s rights and human rights:

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, John Pilger, USA

failure in Afghanistan was inevitable yet the noble lies of the “war on terror” persist

In the last few days we have heard a great deal about the plight of Afghanistan, which is in stark contrast to the last two decades when there has been next to no news reporting from this war-torn and beleaguered nation. The officially recorded quarter of a million lives lost in the last twenty years of western invasion and occupation have mostly happened unseen; the millions more soldiers and civilians who lost their limbs, eyes, genitals or were otherwise mutilated by shrapnel and high explosives and others who fell victim to shadowy CIA-backed death squads have likewise hardly received any mention.

On December 18th 2020, Democracy Now! spoke to Andrew Quilty of The Intercept about his shocking exposé of how CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan have killed children as young as eight-years old in a series of night raids on madrassas, which are Islamic religious schools:

Yet it is only in the aftermath of America’s shambolic and humiliating exit when suddenly there is any outpouring of expressed concern for the plight of women and children (in particular), as if all the drones and the air strikes and the CIA black sites and Trump’s “mother of all bombs” were their last and only salvation from the admittedly monstrous Taliban. And I say admittedly monstrous, but again, these are strictly speaking our monsters; ones America trained and funded to be the cat’s paw that ultimately defeated the Soviet Union.

As Hillary Clinton admitted an interview to Fox News: “we have helped to create the problem we are now fighting”:

And here is a different statement made by Hillary Clinton justifying the US support for the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets under Operation Cyclone:

Click here and here to watch different uploads of the same clips available on DailyMotion.

More recently the western powers have trained, funded and also provided air support for comparable and arguably worse Islamist factions in order to bring about regime change in Libya and to attempt another overthrow in Syria – if you’ve never heard of it, look up Timber Sycamore. This is how western foreign policy operates covertly today.

For a better perspective on moral responsibility, here is Noam Chomsky’s response to a concerned pro-war critic speaking at a forum held on October 18th 2001 (the war began on October 7th) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

Click here to watch the full debate. The excerpt above is from 3:50 mins of the second part which is a Q+A session.

The extreme levels of hypocrisy and ahistorical revisionism surrounding the Afghan War (so often downplayed as merely an “intervention”) make the task of unravelling the truth a difficult one, so I shall leave it to two US war veterans turned activists to supply the details.

Mike Prysner served in Iraq and afterwards became co-founder of March Forward!, an organisation of active-duty members of the U.S. military and veterans that encourages current active-duty service personnel to resist deployment. Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. A veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, he also served in seven other conflict areas.

In an interview with Katie Halper (embedded below), Mike Prysner addresses a range of questions that cover the true historical background to conflict, the serious issues around women’s rights, and gives valuable insight into how for more than a decade the war was officially but secretly acknowledged as a failure. In more sardonic tone, Stan Goff gives praise to Biden for finally ending the perpetual war and considers the true repercussions of the US withdrawal. Please skip down the page for these excellent pieces.

Update: On Thursday 19th, Novara Media spoke with British Labour MP Clive Lewis, a veteran of the Afghanistan War who did not get a chance to speak during the previous day’s parliamentary debate:

My purpose here is instead to scrutinise the latent ideology that actually drove the West into this well-named “graveyard of empires” and that entirely inflamed the “war on terror”. Once this is properly understood, it becomes clear that as Joe Biden confessed in his recent White House speech on Monday 16th:

Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.  It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.

Of course, for these candid admissions, Biden has received furious bipartisan opprobrium from the usual hand-wringing politicians and media alike, although this part of his statement is nothing more than the unvarnished truth.

Moreover, when George W Bush told the world two decades ago that America was hunting down Osama Bin Laden “wanted: dead or alive”, he was clearly playing both to an audience traumatised by the attacks of 9/11 and one brought up on Hollywood stories where the guys with the white hats are unimpeachably good and always win.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the neo-con faction who seized power were eager to launch a global US-led military offensive on the pretext of a “new Pearl Harbor” that neatly fitted the one outlined in their own document Rebuilding America’s Defenses published almost precisely one year earlier.

Furthermore, if the Afghanis were the immediate victims of this neo-con strategy that got the ball rolling on “the New American Century”, then even from the outset it was abundantly clear that the next target would be Iraq. In a letter to President Bush dated September 20th (scarcely more than a week after 9/11), the neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) led by William Kristol and Rober Kagan already implored the president to ramp up his “war on terrorism”, specifying:

We agree that a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism should be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates. To this end, we support the necessary military action in Afghanistan and the provision of substantial financial and military assistance to the anti-Taliban forces in that country.

Continuing in the next paragraph under the heading “Iraq”:

We agree with Secretary of State [Colin] Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Clearly then, the neo-cons were not interested in “justice” (the official spin) but determined to embark on a vast neo-imperialist project that in their own terms would bring about a Pax Americana. However even this is a lie, of course, as they knew perfectly well too, since peace was never a serious concern. But the neo-cons unflinchingly justified every deception in terms their intellectual progenitor Leo Strauss espoused: for these were “noble lies”.

Significantly, the neo-cons are the direct heirs of Strauss and not only because Paul Wolfowitz was one of his most notable students. Strauss’s uncompromising worldview is the main inspiration to the whole neo-con ideology. In order to better understand their methods and motives, therefore, we must take a closer look at Straussian philosophy.

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In 2003, Danny Postel, who is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and former senior editor of openDemocracy, produced an extended article based on an interview with Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan and a leading scholarly critic of Leo Strauss.

The article entitled “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq” is a really excellent one and its significance is very much resonant today – why? Because although the discussion surrounds the illegal Iraq invasion, it considers the motives of the same cast of neo-cons who launched the “war on terror” against Afghanistan; both conflicts clearly intended to deliver corresponding geopolitical ends.

Of course, it more or less goes without saying that the “war on terror” was an absolute godsend for the military-industrial complex. As America’s most decorated general Smedley Butler told us: war is a racket! – which is always the bottom line.

Top 5 US Defence Contractors shock market gains since 2001

But what of the ideology behind the neo-cons and the importance of Leo Strauss? Well, the key to following their methods, and to seeing why their approach has been so succesful in inculcating a pro-war consciousness amongst the liberal classes, lies in understanding their basic stratification of society into three layers: the wise few (the elite, and in their terms, rightful rulers), the vulgar many (the majority), and the gentlemen. Crucially, it is role of the gentlemen to be the unwitting enablers, who, according to this scheme, although well-intentioned are simply useful idiots who are manipulated to achieve the desired ends for the ruling elite. As Shadia Drury says:

“There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

“The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave [reference to Plato’s cave]. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

“The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.”

She continues:

“For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.”

Drury then considers Strauss’s immediate philosophical influences, before summarising his general political outlook as follows:

“Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts. Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

“This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

“I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.”

Understood in this context, it is perfectly easy to see why the neo-cons would be keen to initiate conflicts that might then go on indefinitely. Although Drury herself offers a caveat saying that factions within the neo-cons may also have somewhat different aspirations; ones that more closely align with those ‘the gentlemen’ are in fact encouraged to believe:

“I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

“I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.”

To sum up then, the chief architects of the “war on terror” which began in Afghanistan hold views that are (in Drury’s own terms) wholly fascistic, although into that mix we must admit that some do believe in globalised neoliberalism. Soft or hard, the imperialist desire is both undeniable and unrestrained.

I have appended an unabridged version of their “guide to his influence on US neo-conservatism” that takes the form of Q+A interview with all highlights and links retained at the end and recommend reading it all – indeed following the link to read the original article.

*

Understanding Afghanistan with Anti-war Iraq Veteran Mike Prysner

On August 16th, political commentator Katie Halper invited Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran, anti-war activist and organiser, producer of Empire Files and co-host of the Eyes Left Podcast to share his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan, what needed to happen, and what needs to happen next. Their discussion features in the first 45 minutes of the video upload embedded below. I have also produced a full transcript with relevant links included.

Katie Halper: [from 2:05 mins]

I just wanted to know your perspective on this as someone who was an anti-war former soldier, a current veteran – I guess you’re always a veteran – what you thought of what’s happening in Afghanistan. If you could just set up where we are right now and I guess the question I have is what could have been done? What should have been done? And what needs to happen now?

Mike Prysner: [from 2:30 mins]

I just want to say from the outset that I wasn’t in Afghanistan – I was in Iraq. I joined the army two months before the September 11th attacks in 2001, so I witnessed the Afghanistan war from an inside perspective. From the beginning, even though I was sent to, as Obama called it, ‘the dumb war’, instead of ‘the smart war’ which is Afghanistan: that whole framing…

But I’ve been super-engaged in this issue for the duration because after I separated from the military in 2005 and became a part of the anti-war movement, since then [I’ve been] very much a part of organising around the Afghanistan war specifically – so mobilisations for the anniversary of Afghanistan, but in particular, working with active-duty soldiers who were deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. And so, I got that inside perspective of organising with Afghanistan veterans who were then returning to the country, helping them resist orders to go, and still to this day I’m in touch with that community.

I know a lot of people normally don’t talk about Afghanistan – a lot of people are talking about it now who never talked about it before. But my engagement with the issue of Afghanistan was always around creating media content and agitation directed at active-duty soldiers who were about to deploy. So having to follow the issue very closely because we were literally on a military bases talking to soldiers who were having orders to go – and talking to them about their options for why they should not go, and all the political and strategic reasons why they shouldn’t as well.

My take on what’s happening now is… what we’re seeing now is what we knew back in Obama’s first term. You know I think in 2009-2010 there was probably still some hope among the Pentagon establishment that the war could be turned around. I mean the Taliban were dispersed within the first months of the US invasion, but then once they started mounting a comeback there was probably some belief in the Pentagon brass that they could turn the war around and emerge victorious.

But by 2011, it was clear to the military establishment – the top generals, the commanders, all of them – they knew that they couldn’t win. They knew that they could never defeat the Taliban. They knew that the only possible victory that the US military and US government could get out of Afghanistan was putting enough military pressure on the Taliban where the Taliban would enter a power-sharing agreement. Where they’d say okay we get 50% of the new government and the US-backed puppet government will get 50%.

So that since about 2010 that’s what the US has been pursuing. The troop surge in Afghanistan – all these massive strategies that led to large numbers of people dying on US and Afghan sides and the Nato side – all of that was on the understanding that the US couldn’t actually defeat the Taliban. All they could do was maybe give them enough of a bloody nose where the Taliban would concede and say maybe we’ll do a 50/50 government. So that’s really been the goal of the war for the entire time.

You know in 2011, is when there is this major report came out by a guy named Lieutenant-Colonel [Daniel] Davis, and he was tasked by the Pentagon to travel to every province in Afghanistan – travel 9,000 miles across the country – and give an honest assessment of how everything was going. And he came back and he went out to the media and he said ‘we’ve got to get out now’. He’s like ‘I’ve seen the war more than anyone else – for a longer period of years than anyone else – and we have lost and there is no possibility for us to win’. I mean this is back in 2011 that he did this.

From that point on the Pentagon knew that there was no military victory against the Taliban and the best they could do was unity government. Even that seemed almost impossible to accomplish because the Afghan puppet forces were not reliable, they weren’t capable, and you know the Taliban were just a strong resistance force. And that knew then too that if there was a US withdrawal the very situation we are seeing today would happen.

You know in 2019, we had the Pentagon Papers [aka Afghanistan Papers], the bombshell revelation that came out, which made a little bit of a media splash but not much – you know Joe Biden was very much implicated in the Pentagon Papers as one of the people who helped cover up how badly the Afghanistan war was going. He got one debate question the Primary that was hammering him for it, but he never really had to answer for that.

For those who don’t know, really what the Pentagon Papers revealed was that, particularly throughout the Obama administration, all of the generals were going to the White House and saying ‘by every metric we have lost the war – by every metric’ and the Obama administration went back and said ‘well create a metric that has us winning the war’. So they created all these false charts for progress of oh, we built this many schools compared to five years before, so that shows we’re winning! They just created all these fake rationales to show there was progress. To deceive the American people into thinking there was some hope for a victory in Afghanistan, while they knew all along they were just lying to the American people.

So, for example, the maps that we are seeing now of how quickly the Taliban took over – where you see the provinces outlined – and saying two months ago the Afghan government controlled all of these provinces and now it’s all Taliban controlled – I mean most of those have been under Taliban control forever – as the Pentagon Papers show, the US is just lying about what provinces the US-backed Afghan government controlled. So this has been, of course, a dire situation for the US for a long time.

For the United States they know that it looks bad for the image of the empire. A war that they can’t win – to just be bogged down for twenty years in a military quagmire where we can talk about how badly they were losing – but when they try to go out into the countryside they are hammered and kicked back to the main bases and then they could have dealt with maybe this endless stalemate situation, but that looks back for the empire. And so for a long time the Pentagon has acknowledged that they need to retreat. They need to leave.

And really this is what happened under Obama, when Obama announced his troop surge – his flooding of soldiers into every remote area of Afghanistan – like bulking up troop numbers to 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan bolstered by a lot of Nato forces too – because it wasn’t just a defeat for the US but every other major imperialist army was a part of this. You know when Obama announced we are going to do this troop surge but then we’re going to leave in two years – announcing the end of the war – they knew that they are going to be retreating and so it’s very similar to the Vietnam war where once the White House and the Pentagon knew ‘we’ve lost – we can’t win’ instead of just saying ‘well if we’ve lost and we can’t win and the outcome of a conquest by our enemies is the same no matter what, [so] why don’t we  just leave right now and stop killing people and stop having our own people [killed]’ but the hubris of the American political machine doesn’t allow that.

I mean what President wants to admit defeat at the hands of an insurgency that’s using rifles from a hundred years ago? No-one wants to be in that position of admitting defeat and so what we’ve seen over the past more than a decade has really been a slow-motion retreat by the US empire. Knowing that eventually they are going to fully leave, but like Nixon did, the strategy of ‘peace through honour’, meaning ‘yes we’ve lost, we’ve got to end the war, but we’re going to kill a bunch more people on our way out, so it doesn’t seem like the empire has been defeated so badly’.

So that’s really been the strategy [with] an acceptance that the US would eventually leave…

[connection problems briefly cut the conversation]

Katie Halper: [from 10:40 mins]

I was listening to you on Brian Becker’s show on his podcast [embedded immediately below], and I don’t know if I ever knew this, or I don’t know if my politics were so naive that I didn’t think this was a big deal, but I didn’t realise that… the Taliban said that they were willing to give up Osama Bin Laden and the United States said ‘we refuse to negotiate with terrorists’ – again, it shouldn’t have been shocking, but it was shocking. Can you talk about that and what the significance is and what it reveals about the United States’ motives in Afghanistan?

Mike Prysner: [from 11:20 mins]

Yeah. Well, it’s important to remind people that the Taliban had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks – no role in it. Of course, Bin Laden from being essentially an operative and ally of the United States through the war in the 1980s and funded by the United States, you know had training camps and a base of operation for his al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. And maybe there was some overlap with Taliban people going to the al-Qaeda schools. You know they’re in a war with a group called the Northern Alliance and so they would send some of their soldiers to al-Qaeda training camps that existed in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban did not support the 9/11 attacks. They condemned the 9/11 attacks, so it was a shock to them when all of a sudden the US was talking about the Taliban and at the time the Taliban was trying very hard to prevent that from happening.

And we’re not just talking about this ragtag group that’s just issuing statements from the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. Afghanistan had a robust press network and so they’d have spokespeople who would give press conferences in English in countries in the region and would be talking directly to the United States saying ‘we’re trying to negotiate; we don’t support what happened; we want to find a resolution’ and they even said in these press conferences ‘the United States used to call us freedom fighters, not too long ago – and then all of a sudden we’re terrorists and they won’t negotiate with us’.

So that is what happened, as you recounted it Katie. The Taliban offered a solution where the US didn’t have to invade and occupy the government in Afghanistan but that wasn’t really the motives for the US going into Afghanistan. The US didn’t really invade Afghanistan because they thought that was the only way to destroy al-Qaeda and get Osama Bin Laden. They easily could have done that through other methods.

The reason that they wanted to invade Afghanistan is because the Taliban weren’t subservient collaborators to the United States. I mean Clinton in the ’90s had tried very hard to build relationships. He didn’t care that the Taliban lynched people when they came to power in the ’90s. He just cared that maybe they could sign an oil contract together. Unocal, the oil company, flew delegations of Taliban leaders to Texas to stay in their ranches and discuss plans for oil pipelines.

But the Taliban wasn’t that interested in that kind of development and they weren’t a subservient client state to the United States. So any country that is in its own orbit – [enjoys] its own independence – and isn’t a client to US corporations and subservient to the US government, they get targeted for destruction. And so when 9/11 happened, the US government said ‘great, this is perfect’ because we’ve been trying to negotiate with these guys and they won’t let us build this pipeline, or they won’t let us have a military base, so we’ll just overthrow them, set up our own puppet government – move over to Iraq, overthrow them, set up a puppet government, move over to Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Sudan – all the countries that were on their list for overthrow after the 9/11 attacks.

So that was the reason in the first place. I mean that’s really what’s behind it. It was never really about al-Qaeda. And it was never really about giving the Afghan people a better life from the Taliban. But to answer your question, yes, it was a totally avoidable war in the first place – there was no reason to do – but if you can remember at that time, I mean support for it was high.

[And 9/11] was used as a way for the US to achieve its other objectives, which is proven by the fact that we ended up in Iraq a year later, which had less to do with 9/11 than the Taliban.

Katie Halper: [from 15:25 mins]

There’s a kind of parallel between the way people frame the war in Afghanistan with the first Iraq War. There’s a whole group of liberals who consider the first Iraq War, ‘the good Gulf War’, and the war in Afghanistan, ‘the good response to 9/11’. As you have pointed out, and others have pointed out, that’s not the case and… I don’t know if you know about Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez – they started “not in our name” – their son Greg was in one of the towers when he was killed, and they immediately knew that the US government was going to try to use this to justify a war and they wrote a letter saying “Not in our son’s name”… you know, he didn’t die so that you could use his name to invade another country.

And you know what she told me…? She told me that they wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that they didn’t publish. Can you imagine? Right after 9/11, you have one of the parents of the people who died saying ‘don’t go to war in our son’s name’ – can you imagine the gall of the New York Times not even printing that op-ed?  Like not even seeing the newsworthiness of it? They’re such ideologues that they would not publish that.

Mike Prysner: [from 16:50 mins]

The first major demonstration against war on Afghanistan occurred, I think it was four days after the September 11th attacks. It was about 40,000 people – so it’s not a small crowd. The slogan of the march: the banner was “war won’t bring our loved ones back”, and the march was led by people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks [Guardian report from Sept 20th ­­] .

And then all the headlines about this fairly significant anti-war demonstration after 9/11 was like ‘people rally in support of terrorists’ and ‘people rally in support of negotiating with terrorists and not fighting terrorism’ and things like that. So it just gives you a window into the war fervour in the country post-9/11, which continued for quite a long time.

I mean even in the anti-war movement there was an entire sector that supported the Afghanistan war. Even in Veterans Against the War, it was controversial – it wasn’t okay to talk about Afghanistan too, in fact it was too alienating to lots of veterans who were in the anti-war movement – ‘I joined the army to go fight in Afghanistan, I didn’t join to go fight in Iraq’. It was a significant faction that had to be battled against for a long time.

And so that’s [what] Obama essentially campaigned on: he campaigned on the intense opposition to the Iraq War, but kind of this idea: ‘weren’t we supposed to go fight in Afghanistan…? And then immediately we went to Iraq and then we lost the war in Afghanistan’. So Obama’s thing was, we’re going to get out of Iraq (‘the dumb war’) and then we’re going to win the war in Afghanistan. And that got a lot of support from liberal-minded people as well.

But that’s when that new era began that really defined the Afghanistan War. The US said: ‘okay, we were slacking, focussing too much on Iraq, so now we’re going to get everyone out of Iraq (not everyone) but we’re going to get a good portion of people out of Iraq and send them right to Afghanistan, and then we’re going to try to completely overwhelm the Taliban’. And even when the United States had an insane number of troops there – and they were everywhere in Afghanistan – there was really no place where they really could win or beat back the Taliban. So I think that’s one of the hidden histories of the Afghanistan War.

I mean you have the US outposts out in the middle of the countryside with [about] 40 soldiers there – 40 US troops – this is what a normal day would be like: you would get up (and this is just recounting from countless friends of mine) and you would leave the gates of your base to go on a patrol that had no purpose other than to say ‘hey, we’re here! we’re patrolling this area’.

You get a hundred yards off the base, if you’re lucky, when you start getting shot at by people that you do not see – they are a thousand yards away just harassing you with sniper fire and machine gun fire – at some point on your little walk, your little pointless walk through a bunch of fields that have no purpose to walk through for any reason, some will get blown up by an IED because you’re walking on paths every day – and you know the signature wound of the Afghan War around that time (the surge time) was triple amputations; so losing usually two legs and one arm and your genitalia (I think when the troop surge happened there was about a 92% increase in wounds to genitalia – that became really the most common wound)… If you kept your legs you probably lost a bunch more flesh down there.

So every day you’d go on these completely meaningless, pointless patrols, where basically the point was just to get shot at so then you know who to shoot back at, which most of the time they didn’t do anyway. Then you’d go back to your base at night, and then at night you would just come under heavy assault by missiles and mortars and indirect fire. And sometimes you’d have hundreds of Taliban fighters assaulting a little outpost that had 40 US soldiers. And this was happening all over the country… and in a lot of cases you had Taliban fighters getting over the wall, and being inside the US base and being killed inside the US base.

The job of US soldiers then was basically to be bait for these Taliban to come – it was exactly like the Vietnam War: you’re on a hilltop [and] you’re just bait for the Taliban to attack, and your job is to survive long enough for air support to get to you. So you start getting attacked, you call in air support, it takes 30 minutes or so for the Apache helicopters, the A-10s, [and] the B-52 bombers to come in and just level the area where you’re being attacked from with heavy munitions.

So that really defined the troop surge era of the war. I mean it was just a complete failure from a military standpoint and it was just completely senseless bloodshed. There’s even a lot of rebellion and opposition among soldiers who are very pro-military and pro-war – blowing the whistle on all this, just saying there’s no reason for us to do this; there’s no reason for us to go on these convoys; no reason to go on these patrols. We’re just meant to be bait. We’re just meant to be sitting ducks.

All of those deaths then were just completely pointless. And then the US realised, you know this strategy doesn’t work at all. They retreated from all those areas all across the country – you know places like Korangal Valley [nicknamed “The Valley of Death”] which was ‘the most strategically important valley’ of the Afghanistan War. Like 120 US soldiers died defending just this one valley and then at the end of this two year period of huge battles there, the Pentagon said: ‘you know what this valley doesn’t actually matter at all, we’re just going to go back here’. So that really was emblematic of the war.

So then the US pulled back to its main bases and that defined the war in the post-surge era when US casualties went down, but that’s because they basically had retreated from most of the country already [and] were just holed up on the big bases, where they are operating through proxy forces and special operations. And then the ironic thing about that too is that the US said: the US casualties are getting too serious, we need to just hide out on the bases and send our proxy forces out. Well, when they tried that strategy the number one killer of US troops became the Afghan soldiers who they were training just killing them.

So you had tons of people who were either Taliban or just anti-US joining the Afghan army and then within a week they’re sitting there with US soldiers getting trained on how to shoot, they just turn their guns around and kill all the US soldiers training them. So then it became even too strategically untenable to have US soldiers training troops back in these supposedly super-safe and secure bases. So from every angle it was a total military defeat. Mind you we’re talking about a decade ago that it was that bad, and they knew at that point we’re not going to make any more progress.

You know Trump came in and thought he could win the war by taking bombing to a whole new level, and that was really Trump’s legacy in Afghanistan. Although he campaigned on ending the war, he was responsible for more civilian casualties for two years in a row than any other previous year of the war, just through air strikes. And that says a lot because Obama was in charge of the troop surge. A lot of people died in the troop surge. Trump killed more people just by changing the rules of engagement so they could really drop huge munitions everywhere in the country. And that didn’t do anything either.

I mean I guess it got the Taliban to the table in the sense that they would accept this deal which they did accept – and the Taliban spokesman before we started talking said we are going to honour our commitment to not allow terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan, and we’re not going to punish anyone in the former government – it’s kind of sticking to the Doha Agreement so they have some kind of legitimacy.

I think the important thing is that the generals, the Pentagon, the White House; they’ve always known that this was inevitable anyway, unless we just stayed forever holed up on a base in Kabul. But what we didn’t have was a president that was willing to say: ‘I’m going to end the war and I accept the responsibility for it looking bad when the Taliban comes in to take over’.

And it’s funny that Biden is that person, because Biden doesn’t have any guts. He never has been advocating for withdrawing from Afghanistan because it’s the right thing [and] it is the right thing. A full, complete and immediate withdrawal of US troops is the right thing. Biden never advocated for that. He always advocated staying until the Afghan government was stable enough to stand on its own, which was always a pipedream.

So I think he was just kind of the fall guy, you know. He came in after campaigning on staying in Afghanistan – criticising Trump’s Taliban agreement and saying that we need to leave 3,000–4,000 troops because we can’t abandon the Afghan government. After a couple of months in office, he’s like: ‘actually, you know what? we’re going to leave Afghanistan fully’. So he does press conferences now and [he gets]: ‘what do you mean the Taliban are going to take over the government? what are you talking about?’

So instead of having a president saying ‘finally I’m willing to do the right thing even though it’s going to end up aesthetically bad, it’s still a war that we need to get out of’, he didn’t do that for that reason… and the proof that Biden thought it was going to look good for him – ‘I’m the one who ended the war that the Americans are tired of’, which they are; polls show that about 70% of Americans support the withdrawal – Biden actually thought he could have a 9/11 victory lap celebration. And they’ve been planning this event for 9/11 where he could boast that our administration ended the war: we did it; we ended a long, unpopular forever war. I don’t think they’re going to be doing that celebration any more.

And even if back in April they were getting some good press around this: for ending the war; people want the war to end. You know this is maybe a good thing. Kamala Harris came out and leaked to the press back in April: ‘I helped convince Biden to do a complete withdrawal’ and ‘the last person Biden talked to before making his decision was me, Kamala Harris’; trying to take credit because she anticipated that the story was actually going to look good for the Biden administration.

I think now that the press is pretty negative – it’s a pretty humiliating, embarrassing defeat for the US that their puppet forces fell so dramatically – but the Pentagon knew. You had Pentagon insiders weeks ago saying the Taliban will probably take over within 30 days. And there was a real disconnect between what Biden and Harris were projecting out to the public and what the actual Pentagon officials were telling them.

Katie Halper: [from 27:35 mins]

So why is the withdrawal happening when it’s happening?

Mike Prysner: [from 27:40 mins]

I think the US really just needed to get out. I mean obviously the US is going to stay engaged in some way. They’re going to continue with probably bombing Afghanistan whenever they feel like it; just like they did a B-52 bombing just a week ago against a school and a health clinic and killed about 20 civilians. There’s still going to be CIA operatives and proxy forces on the ground – you know the death squads that have been terrorising the country for 20 years. They are of course still going to be there.

But the US lost and I think a lot people just thought well there’s money to be made in the Afghanistan War and so they’re going to stay forever. So job of the state (which includes the military establishment) is to advance the collective interests of the ruling class, right? – so yes, there are particular industries (the weapons manufacturers, the mining companies, energy companies) that probably aren’t happy with the withdrawal. But it’s not about this or that sector of the ruling class that matters, it’s what collectively is good for the empire; what’s collectively good for American capitalism and American imperialism.

US Defence Contractor board members and revolving doors of govt

And so the state [and] military establishment calculated that ‘you know we’re not really achieving our objectives here’. We can’t have a puppet government because the Taliban are too powerful. We can’t defeat the Taliban. And this idea of well we can be there to steal Afghanistan’s mineral resources – well, how are you going to build a mine if you’re coming under attack by the Taliban constantly? And they knew that it was never going to be resolved. They were never going to be able to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, or mine Afghanistan, so long as they were in a war with the Taliban.

So they figured we can get out of Afghanistan and then just do what we do with every country: we negotiate with them; sanction them if they don’t do what we want; bomb them if they don’t do what we want; but try to get something out of the situation. Because they knew that staying and fighting endlessly wasn’t going to. So they felt that the time had finally come. They had a president who was willing to – whether he was conscious of it or not – bear the brunt of all the negative press that’s going to come down. And then they’re going to treat the Taliban government like they do others that they try to get something out of who, you know, they don’t approve of everything they do, but well as long as you’ll meet our strategic interests we’ll work with you, and if you don’t we’ll just bomb you.

Katie Halper: [from 30:15 mins]

And what do you say to people who are arguing that women are going to be especially vulnerable? I’m not talking about cynical people who have shitty politics. I’m talking about people who really are in good faith worried about the civilian population. What’s your response to that?

Mike Prysner: [from 30:35 mins]

Sure well, the backwardness that exists there, first of all is a construct of the United States. It was the legacy of US intervention in the country that even brought to prominence these reactionary forces; these right-wing forces. I mean they are completely born from the US intervention in the ’80s. So first off, the situation for women in Afghanistan is because of the United States in the first place. So the idea that it could be solved by continued US intervention is just also kind of absurd.

Everyone talks about the Taliban’s treatment of women but the Afghan puppet government was also really bad towards women. And that was never really scandalous in the media that the Afghan puppet government had almost the same policies towards women as the Taliban…

To understand that the majority of civilian casualties – for people who care about women in Afghanistan – are from US air strikes, and US forces, and US proxy forces. So it’s kind of disingenuous to say the US military can play some sort of role of protecting women in Afghanistan. But how many women have been killed by US air strikes over the last 20 years? A lot.

The US government doesn’t care about that. They’re happy to work with Saudi Arabia. They’re happy to work with other countries that have horrible repressive policies towards women. And they will be happy to work with the Taliban, as long as the Taliban say ‘hey, we’re ready to work with you’, the US government [in] Washington will forget about all of the criticisms they have of the Taliban’s treatment of women.

And just one thing I’ll say about the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan. There is an expose by The Intercept. It was covered on Democracy Now! I think the Washington Post did a story on it also. But the CIA, you know these Special Activities Divisions – the CIA soldier, ground troops – did a couple of operations where they went to religious schools in Afghanistan. They rounded up these children – some of them were as young as eight-years old, nine-years old – they took them all into one room together and then they executed them.

I mean this is Americans – CIA soldiers, ground troops – who were executing children. Shooting children in the head to create the sense of terror that if you one day – you know, this is what happens if you go to a religious school that could one day feed people into the ranks of the Taliban army. And that’s pretty brutal. That’s pretty representative of the conduct of Afghan military, Afghan special operations, US special operations. I mean summary executions were so, so commonplace, especially by special operations, US and CIA and others.

So the idea that an occupying military force that is carrying out over the last 20 years these type of actions can be some sort of force that can protect people is just false. Afghanistan can [move] forward; it can move towards progress; just like so many other countries that are plagued with the backwardness of just the impact of US imperialism. They can’t begin to move forward – they can’t begin to progress – until they solve that main contradiction, which is the contradiction with imperialism; an occupying foreign army.

So any [progressive] forces in Afghanistan – women’s activism – none of that will be able to get momentum or steam to push Afghanistan in the direction that it needs to go socially if there’s a war in the country between an occupying imperialist power – multiple ones – and an insurgent force that’s fighting it – that gets pretty popular fighting it, because most people don’t like the foreign occupying troops.

Of course we want to see social progress in Afghanistan, but that is a chapter that has to start with the elimination of an occupying imperialist force – when that exists it sucks up everything [and] becomes the main problem in the country. And I think now that that’s gone, it opens up an entirely new space for there to be social progress.

And the last thing I’ll say is I don’t want to paint any kind of rosy picture of the Taliban, or make any optimistic predictions about the kind of government that they’re going to impose on the country, but I will say that one of the recent statements by the Taliban was saying ‘we want to create a unity government’, and even said specifically ‘we believe in the right of women to get an education and so forth’ and so they seem to be trying to have some kind of PR around the fact that ‘we’re not what everyone says we are, we’re not going to do things that are objectionable, we’re going to be a legitimate government of a sovereign country on the world’s stage’.

So I don’t want to give that too much credence – I mean we’ll have to see – but that’s also the kind of thing that you don’t see in the dire projections. Not only that but also the impact on women by the US occupation.

Katie Halper: [from 35:55 mins]

Yes, that’s a really important point, and the civilian deaths are something that don’t really get talked about.

Can you also share what changed your politics?  I mean you were in the army, so what changed your politics? Why are you anti-war now? And what were your politics like when you enlisted?

Mike Prysner: [from 36:15 mins]

Well like I said, I joined before 9/11, so it was just a different climate. Everyone I was in training with, everyone was just like ‘we’re not going to have to go to war’. Like the last war in our memory was the Gulf War when barely anyone went and all of the soldiers who died – like 99% – died from friendly fire: everyone blowing themselves up!

So there wasn’t really a consciousness about ‘oh, we’re going to go to war’. The memory of Vietnam was [that] that was the way wars were fought in the past, whereas they aren’t fought this way anymore. So everyone in my generation who joined was like ‘ah, we’re never going to go to war’.

I think the Iraq War in particular was just so outrageous, so heinous, that it didn’t matter how much propaganda and racism we were fed. I mean being in Iraq as an occupying soldier, pretty quickly you see that everything Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were saying on TV when you were going were just complete lies and that there was no justification…

For me I think that the thing that turned me around – which was the thing for most soldiers, because thousands of active-duty people turned against the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War too, but predominantly the Iraq War – is realising we’d be doing the same thing if we were Iraqi. And seeing what US forces were doing in the country.

I mean even if they weren’t just driving around shooting random people – which was happening – just being there, just being this kind of messed up occupying force, you know imposing a new government on people, subjecting people to checkpoints and home raids and all of these things – everyone I was with was basically like: ‘if I was Iraqi I’d be shooting at American forces’. You know who wouldn’t? It was like Red Dawn – everyone’s like this is like Red Dawn, except that we’re the bad guys!

So it wasn’t a big leap for people to not only to see through the propaganda, but identify with the people that we were told were enemies – and to see a great deal of commonality between the Iraqi people and ourselves. That’s really what moved me was feeling an intense brotherhood and kinship and commonality with the people that I was interacting with every day as an occupying soldier and understanding.

You know it reached the point where we’d be getting attacked and I’d be [thinking] I support this even though I might die, you know I definitely support that this is happening. Because I’d become so disgusted with what the Iraqi people had been made to live under.

And so I think that that actually happens in every war that the US wages, and that’s really the history of US intervention in every war – I mean going back to the 1800s [with] US occupation of the Philippines and so forth, you had soldiers who basically switched sides. I think that’s going to be the case in future wars also, but it’s also part of the history of the Afghanistan War. Large numbers of Afghanistan veterans became fighters and activists against it and they’re as much a part of the history as the history that’s going to be written for us.

After Obama ended the Iraq War, you know he declared this new national holiday: I thnk it was called ‘Freedom Day’ or something; marking the end of the Iraq War. And just laid out: this is the legacy of the Iraq War. The White House gave their own convoluted narrative history of the Iraq War, which was completely false and fake.

So it’s up to people like us to make sure they don’t do the same thing with the Afghanistan War. They’re going to try to rewrite the narrative, rewrite the history of what happened, what US forces did, but of course it’s going to bear no real resemblance to what really happened, and that’s up to grassroots independent media to make sure that stuff is still on the record.

Katie Halper: [from 40:10 mins]

A lot of people are talking about the poppy fields. Do you know what the significance of those are and the motives of the United States?

Mike Prysner: [from 40:25 mins]

Yeah, Afghanistan is like the biggest heroin producer. I mean it wasn’t until the US invasion. The Taliban had strict rules against cultivation of opium and so they had eradicated most of the opium production in the country. The US comes in and I think there’s a lot of speculation that the CIA wanted the opium because it was using it for dark money for black ops, and there probably was some degree of that.

The Taliban and the US basically allowed the cultivation of poppy in the country. The Taliban because it was a big money-maker. They had moral objection to it, but when you’re fighting a war against not only the United States, but all of the Nato powers, all the big imperialist countries, and all of their technological advance, it helps to have, you know, a few million dollars a week rolling in in heroin money.

How Afghan opium farming expanded during US occupation

But also the US allowed the heroin production because the US is stationed in all these middle-of-nowhere areas in Afghanistan; they’re having to have the loyalty of local farmers [as] people that they want to trust and say don’t let the Taliban put IEDs on our path. Tell us if there are insurgents who are going to come kill us. So in order to maintain good relationships with farmers in the countryside, they had to not just let them grow opium, but protect the opium.

And so you’ll hear any soldier who was stationed in the area where they were growing opium – there’d be paths where there would be IEDs on them, where you know if you walk down this path you’re going to get blown up – then there’s the opium field where you know if we walk through the field there’s probably not a good chance that there’s going to be an IED because where would you put them, it’s such a huge field? But they would get in trouble for walking through the opium field, because then the farmer would get mad and then they would call the commanders and the commanders would say ‘don’t walk through the opium fields’.

So then who knows how many people are walking around right now, or who are not walking around, [but] in wheelchairs or missing arms and legs, missing their genitals, simply because they didn’t want to walk through the opium fields because they would make someone [mad] who the commander thought was strategically important. So that speaks to the absurdity of the war the entire time.

The US of course would have liked to have a puppet government in Afghanistan – you know big pharma buys opium from places like India – I mean it is a commodity on the market; the US doesn’t really grow it itself. So of course the US, if they had won the Afghanistan War, would have thought ‘oh great, now we have a supply of opium that’s under our own jurisdiction’. And so yes, that was probably one of the ideal outcomes for the US war on the country – not just the oil industry, not just the mineral industry, not just the defence industry, but big pharma had a lot to gain from it also.

So I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of opposition in the media. In the corporate media there’s a lot of anger about the withdrawal right now. Number one, because it’s just humiliating and makes the US look bad, and so they’re all mad that it happened in such a disastrous way. But there are sectors of the ruling class that are pissed that they are going to miss out on a huge cash crop unless they can have some kind of long-shot deal with the Taliban.

It’s funny because normally the media are just stenographers of the Pentagon, but it’s more that they’re just supporters of war whatever war it is. Because the Pentagon wants to leave: this is the Pentagon’s plan, and so it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the entirety of the establishment media, and all these big talking heads, go against the wishes of pretty much the entire Pentagon establishment is when they’re actually pulling back from a war. So it made me reevaluate that they don’t just repeat everything the Pentagon says, but [only] when it’s pushing more war around the world.

Katie Halper: [from 44:15 mins]

Yes, that’s really interesting.

And finally, [a listener] asks “isn’t this withdrawal to help with the new cold war with China?”

Mike Prysner: [from 44:20 mins]

Oh, absolutely. I mean that’s probably the most important thing about this.

When Obama came into office, he became very critical of Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He said, ‘you screwed up Afghanistan; that should have been a quick easy in-and-out war’. But the case that Obama made was not that Iraq was just immoral and wrong, Afghanistan was a complete mistake to do this – his thing was: the American empire has become bogged down in the Middle East, and it is preventing us from pointing towards our real enemy which is China, and this doctrine of great power confrontation.

‘The Asia Pivot’ – many people will know that term, ‘the Asia Pivot’, which was Obama’s foreign policy orientation towards confronting China and building up military forces against China and rallying all our allies and potential allies to create confrontation and conflict with China

Pivot away from what? He meant pivot to Asia from the Middle East. So that was the Obama Doctrine: pivot away from the Middle East towards our real enemy China.

The drawdown, which is also happening in Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan, this is very much a re-orientation. That’s been happening for a little while. A re-orientation of US foreign policy and imperialism to try to disrupt and confront China, and other places in the world as well. But it’s harder to do that when you’re bogged down in a lost war. So yes, that’s obviously something everyone needs to be very conscious of.

You know I see a lot of comments saying, ‘the empire’s crumbling, the empire’s in decline’, because it’s been dealt this big embarrassing, humiliating military defeat. You know it was defeated very badly in Korea. The US was defeated very badly in Vietnam. That didn’t mean the US backed off at all: ‘hey man, we’ve got to relax on this war stuff’. They just went towards other parts of the world. They went to Latin America, and they went to the Middle East. I mean it doesn’t matter and it’s almost like they need to redeem themselves.

You know after the defeat in Vietnam, they were like: ‘communism got one over on us, but we’re going to get one over on the communists in Latin America’, and sponsor all these dirty wars, and start funding coups of independent and socialist governments around the world.

They’re not going to take this well. They know they look very bad. And what they can do to recover from it is focus everyone’s attention on some other theatre or some other American victory around the world, which we should be a little nervous about, but also prepared to confront it, because that’s of course what’s necessary.

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In Praise of Joe Biden | Stan Goff

The following extended excerpt is taken from an article published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

The US is not morally, socially, or politically fit to run the affairs of people halfway around the world. Forgotten — in the plethora of images being pumped into the fires of public outrage by the military-industrial-media complex — are the atrocities of “our side,” of the state of extreme exception that has been normalized since 2001, of the expansion of the war into seven countries by Obama, of the torture and execution black sites, the drone strikes against civilians, and the fascist Patriot Act. Unreported were the day-to-day humiliations and abuses that are committed by ALL occupying forces everywhere and throughout history.

I’ll tell you who made out like bandits, though. War industries and their politicians. Mercenary “contractors.” Cable news.

I completely understand, even if I disagree with, the sentiment of veterans and military families: “Can this all be for nothing? Did all those people spend all that time and effort, some losing life, limb, or eyesight . . . was all that treasure spent ($2.26 trillion conservatively) . . . for nothing?”

It’s an important question, because it’s the question that will become a campaign slogan soon enough, even though the answer is far less satisfying and politically effective than attacking Joe Biden for this affront to the nation’s masculinity. To those veterans and military families — from a retired Army veteran who belongs to a very military family — I say, yes, it was all for nothing . . . like a tragic accident, only one that someone did on purpose. It was all for nothing . . . if we let it be; that is, if we fail to learn from this. That’s how we make it “worth it,” as if such an accounting weren’t part of the bodyguard of lies that accompanies all wars.

I’m praising Joe Biden. This departure took guts. It takes guts in a culture so steeped in simulacra, manufactured myth, and incessant political maneuvering to do a thing that’s simultaneously necessary and sure to produce unsavory results. Whatever else Biden does that pisses me off in the future — and that’s a sure thing — he deserves credit, not all this hand-wringing and blame. He has confronted the Archons of the military-industrial-media complex, who are writhing and raging now across the screens of cable news — an industry taken over by the same ideology that got us into Afghanistan in the first place: neoconservatism, an arrogant and clueless late imperial ideology now spouted on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC.

Biden is not to blame for a “debacle” in Afghanistan.

This exercise in mortal stupidity started with George W. Bush, and cheered on by the media. It was extended and expanded by Bush II (Obama). It was denounced by Trump, but allowed to go on, because even Trump didn’t have the guts to risk a hit to the very performative masculinity that fueled his popular appeal. The occupation was not wine, improving with age. It was a wound festering to gangrene, and now there had to be an amputation. And none of them, not Bush, not Obama, not Trump, had the guts to say, “Stop!” Only Biden, at long last. Praise be!

Click here to read the full article entitled “In Praise of Joe Biden” by Stan Goff, published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

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Addendum: a guide to Leo Strauss’s influence on US neo-conservatism

A natural order of inequality

Danny Postel: You’ve argued that there is an important connection between the teachings of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war. What is that connection?

Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States the business about weapons of mass destruction and a fictitious alliance between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.

So what were the real reasons? Reorganising the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel? Expanding American hegemony in the Arab world? Possibly. But these reasons would not have been sufficient in themselves to mobilise American support for the war. And the Straussian cabal in the administration realised that.

Danny Postel: The neo-conservative vision is commonly taken to be about spreading democracy and liberal values globally. And when Strauss is mentioned in the press, he is typically described as a great defender of liberal democracy against totalitarian tyranny. You’ve written, however, that Strauss had a profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy.”

Shadia Drury: The idea that Strauss was a great defender of liberal democracy is laughable. I suppose that Strauss’s disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it.

How could an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a liberal democrat? The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so.

Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss’s most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature – not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe) but the natural order of domination and subordination.

The necessity of lies

Danny Postel: What is the relevance of Strauss’s interpretation of Plato’s notion of the noble lie?

Shadia Drury: Strauss rarely spoke in his own name. He wrote as a commentator on the classical texts of political theory. But he was an extremely opinionated and dualistic commentator. The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

In Plato’s dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man (pp. 74-5, 77, 83-4, 97, 100, 111) that Thrasymachus is Plato’s real mouthpiece (on this point, see also M.F. Burnyeat, Sphinx without a Secret, New York Review of Books, 30 May 1985 [paid-for only]). So, we must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.

Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the tyrannical teachingof his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.

The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception in effect, a culture of lies is the peculiar justice of the wise.

Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

In contrast to this reading of Plato, Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one (Natural Right and History, p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

The dialectic of fear and tyranny

Danny Postel: In the Straussian scheme of things, there are the wise few and the vulgar many. But there is also a third group the gentlemen. Would you explain how they figure?

Shadia Drury: There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution Strauss pointed to the nocturnal council in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

This is made clear in Strauss’s exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strauss’s On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalisation of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialisation of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts.” Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.

Danny Postel: You’ve described Strauss as a nihilist.

Shadia Drury: Strauss is a nihilist in the sense that he believes that there is no rational foundation for morality. He is an atheist, and he believes that in the absence of God, morality has no grounding. It’s all about benefiting others and oneself; there is no objective reason for doing so, only rewards and punishments in this life.

But Strauss is not a nihilist if we mean by the term a denial that there is any truth, a belief that everything is interpretation. He does not deny that there is an independent reality. On the contrary, he thinks that independent reality consists in nature and its order of rank the high and the low, the superior and the inferior. Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilisation has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble something they both lamented profoundly.

Danny Postel: This connection is curious, since Strauss is bedevilled by Nietzsche; and one of Strauss’s most famous students, Allan Bloom, fulminates profusely in his book The Closing of the American Mind against the influence of Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

Shadia Drury: Strauss’s criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.

The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, magazines, newspapers). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.

The intoxication of perpetual war

Danny Postel: You characterise the outlook of the Bush administration as a kind of realism, in the spirit of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli. But isn’t the real divide within the administration (and on the American right more generally) more complex: between foreign policy realists, who are pragmatists, and neo-conservatives, who see themselves as idealists even moralists on a mission to topple tyrants, and therefore in a struggle against realism?

Shadia Drury: I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.

The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honour-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.

Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism and a Strauss disciple, denounced nationalism in a 1973 essay; but in another essay written in 1983, he declared that the foreign policy of neo-conservatism must reflect its nationalist proclivities. A decade on, in a 1993 essay, he claimed that “religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism.” (See The Coming Conservative Century, in Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, p. 365.)

In Reflections of a Neoconservative (p. xiii), Kristol wrote that:

patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness. Neoconservatives believe that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of national security. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny not a myopic national security. The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that America is the Zion that will light up all the world.

It is easy to see how this sort of thinking can get out of hand, and why hard-headed realists tend to find it naïve if not dangerous.

But Strauss’s worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the last man would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the night of the world would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalisation of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of America’s global aspirations meant to them.

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularisation of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.

On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her national destiny, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.

Among the Straussians

Danny Postel: Finally, I’d like to ask about your interesting reception among the Straussians. Many of them dismiss your interpretation of Strauss and denounce your work in the most adamant terms (bizarre splenetic). Yet one scholar, Laurence Lampert, has reprehended his fellow Straussians for this, writing in his Leo Strauss and Nietzsche that your book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss contains many fine skeptical readings of Strauss’s texts and acute insights into Strauss’s real intentions. Harry Jaffa has even made the provocative suggestion that you might be a closet Straussian yourself!

Shadia Drury: I have been publicly denounced and privately adored. Following the publication of my book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss in 1988, letters and gifts poured in from Straussian graduate students and professors all over North America books, dissertations, tapes of Strauss’s Hillel House lectures in Chicago, transcripts of every course he ever taught at the university, and even a personally crafted Owl of Minerva with a letter declaring me a goddess of wisdom! They were amazed that an outsider could have penetrated the secret teaching. They sent me unpublished material marked with clear instructions not to distribute to suspicious persons”.

I received letters from graduate students in Toronto, Chicago, Duke, Boston College, Claremont, Fordham, and other Straussian centres of learning. One of the students compared his experience in reading my work with a person lost in the wilderness who suddenly happens on a map. Some were led to abandon their schools in favour of fresher air; but others were delighted to discover what it was they were supposed to believe in order to belong to the charmed circle of future philosophers and initiates.

After my first book on Strauss came out, some of the Straussians in Canada dubbed me the bitch from Calgary. Of all the titles I hold, that is the one I cherish most. The hostility toward me was understandable. Nothing is more threatening to Strauss and his acolytes than the truth in general and the truth about Strauss in particular. His admirers are determined to conceal the truth about his ideas.

Respond to this article, and debate Strauss, philosophy and politics in our forum.

My intention in writing the book was to express Strauss’s ideas clearly and without obfuscation so that his views could become the subject of philosophical debate and criticism, and not the stuff of feverish conviction. I wanted to smoke the Straussians out of their caves and into the philosophical light of day. But instead of engaging me in philosophical debate, they denied that Strauss stood for any of the ideas I attributed to him.

Laurence Lampert is the only Straussian to declare valiantly that it is time to stop playing games and to admit that Strauss was indeed a Nietzschean thinker that it is time to stop the denial and start defending Strauss’s ideas.

I suspect that Lampert’s honesty is threatening to those among the Straussians who are interested in philosophy but who seek power. There is no doubt that open and candid debate about Strauss is likely to undermine their prospects in Washington.

Click here to read the full article written by Danny Postel based on an interview with Shadia Drury, published in October 2003.

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how the Afghan ‘Bountygate’ hoax deflects from the dirty truth

On June 26th, The New York Times ran a sensational story claiming that as its headline announces in bold “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says”.

This first NYT report (one of many) begins:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Continuing:

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The first thing to note here is that the allegation itself has historical precedence:

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the mujahideen (jihadists) in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989

Quoted above is the opening passage to the current Wikipedia entry on Operation Cyclone: a clandestine Cold War initiative led by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which cost more than $20 billion in U.S. funds. What the US did in the eighties is therefore precisely what Moscow is accused of doing by these ‘sources’ and the NYT today.

The next thing to note is the absence of evidence to back this purported ‘intelligence’ and exceedingly vague claim that bounties were paid not to the Taliban but to “Taliban-linked militants”. The NYT does however shed interesting light on the origins of the claim:

The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. 1

“Interrogations” has become a familiar euphemism in our post-9/11 age, and I shall return to consider its meaning in this context shortly.

In the following week, the NYT embroidered its “suspicions of Russian bounties” (as one headline begins) with a series of follow-up pieces. To lend weight to otherwise unsubstantiated claims, evidence was now presented of sizeable transfers of money purportedly traceable to Russia:

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence. […]

The intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees. The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said. 2

This follow-up piece that appeared on June 30th proceeds from a byline with no less than five credited authors! (Safety in numbers?) In total, nine separate correspondents were seconded to work on this quickly expanding series of NYT ‘Bountygate’ articles; the account of events constantly revised as the dramatic “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops” claim was gradually walked back over the course of a few days.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote in a detailed rebuttal of the ‘Bountygate’ story:

[S]ubsequent reporting revealed that the “US intelligence reports” about a Russian plot to distribute bounties through Afghan middlemen were not generated by US intelligence at all.

Regarding the specific allegation of money transfers to “Taliban-linked militants”, Porter continues:

The Times reported first on June 28, then again on June 30, that a large amount of cash found at a “Taliban outpost” or a “Taliban site” had led U.S. intelligence to suspect the Russian plot.  But the Times had to walk that claim back, revealing on July 1 that the raid that turned up $500,000 in cash had in fact targeted the Kabul home of Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessmen said to have been involved in both drug trafficking and contracting for part of the billions of dollars the United States spent on construction projects.

The Times also disclosed that the information provided by “captured militants and criminals” under “interrogation” had been the main source of suspicion of a Russian bounty scheme in Afghanistan. But those “militants and criminals” turned out to be thirteen relatives and business associates of the businessman whose house was raided.

While on the subject of “interrogation”, Porter adds:

Furthermore, contrary to the initial report by the Times, those raids had actually been carried out exclusively by the Afghan intelligence service known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The Times disclosed this on July 1. Indeed, the interrogation of those detained in the raids was carried out by the NDS, which explains why the Times reporting referred repeatedly to “interrogations” without ever explaining who actually did the questioning.

Given the notorious record of the NDS, it must be assumed that its interrogators used torture or at least the threat of it to obtain accounts from the detainees that would support the Afghan government’s narrative. Both the Toronto Globe and Mail and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have documented as recently as 2019 the frequent use of torture by the NDS to obtain information from detainees. 3

Porter’s analysis is assiduous and I very much encourage readers to follow the link to his full article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” by The Grayzone.

On Saturday 11th, ‘Red Lines’ host Anya Parampil spoke with Gareth Porter about his latest report. Porter explains why the Afghan regime was so eager to concoct a story in fears that Trump was ready to pull out US troops to boost his own poll ratings:

But leaving aside these bogus ‘Bountygate’ claims cooked up to embarrass Putin and Trump (already joined at the hip thanks to the ‘Russiagate’ hysteria) and thereby apply leverage to “keep US troops entrenched in Afghanistan” as Porter puts it, there is actually far more to this sordid tale. In fact substantiated allegations do exist that the Taliban has been paid off in order to keep the war in Afghanistan going: evidence that forms the basis for a lawsuit. Those presently in the dock are not based in Moscow however, but representatives of businesses including US companies with their own vested interests in prolonging the war:

Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban.

“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”

From a report published by Courthouse News Service published in late December, which continues:

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. […]

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. 4

Click here to read the full report entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops”.

And here to read a report by NPR.

Hat tip to Scott Creighton of Nomadic Everyman.

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Update:

While the military is investigating the allegations, Mark Miley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says there’s no proof that Russian payments led to any US deaths. The National Security Agency says it found no communications intelligence supporting the bounty claim.

Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, says he’s not convinced that American troops died as a result of Russian bounties.

“I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he tells The Washington Post.

From an article entitled “Russia Bounty Story Falls Flat” written by Reese Erlich, published in Antiwar.com on July 18th.

The piece goes on:

Matthew Hoh, who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, tells me that the reports of Russian bounties likely originated with the Afghanistan intelligence agency.

“The mention of Russia was a key word,” says Hoh. CIA officials fast-tracked the Afghan reports. They argued that Russia’s interference, and Trump’s failure to respond, only emboldens the Russians. […]

Hoh says the alleged bounties make no sense politically or militarily. Last year, he says, “The Taliban didn’t need any incentives to kill Americans.” And this year, it has stopped all attacks on US forces as part of the February agreement.

Adding:

“There’s an entire infrastructure influencing policy,” says Hoh, who had an inside seat during his years with the government.

The Deep State is not monolithic, he cautions. “You won’t find a backroom with guys smoking cigars. But there is a notion of US primacy and a bent towards military intervention.”

And that’s what the current Russia-Taliban scandal is all about: An unreliable Afghan report is blown into a national controversy in hopes of forcing the White House to cancel the Afghan troop withdrawal. Demonizing Russia (along with China and Iran) also justifies revamping the US nuclear arsenal and building advanced fighter jets that can’t fly.

“It’s Russia hysteria,” says Hoh.

Click here to read Reese Erlich’s full article at Antiwar.com.

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1 From an article entitled “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says” written by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt & Michael Schwirtz, published in The new York Times on June 26th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/politics/russia-afghanistan-bounties.html

2 From an article entitled “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers” written by Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt & Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/us/politics/russian-bounties-afghanistan-intelligence.html

3 From an article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” written by Gareth Porter, published in The Grayzone on July 7, 2020. https://thegrayzone.com/2020/07/07/pentagon-afghan-bountygate-us-intelligence-agencies/

4 From an article entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops” written by Tim Ryan, published in Courthouse News Service on December 27, 2019. https://www.courthousenews.com/us-contractors-accused-of-funding-taliban-attacks-against-american-troops/

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Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

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Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

*

1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/ 

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan

the horror, the horror… can be found in the subtext too

The only person to have been put on trial and convicted for any reason relating to America’s use of torture against prisoners is the former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. Kiriakou was the first insider to disclose the use of waterboarding and like many whistleblowers, he paid a heavy price.

Three years ago, in January 2012, just weeks after Obama had signed his name under the now notorious NDAA 2012 with its “indefinite detention” clauses, Kiriakou had been formally charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act as well as the Espionage Act of 1917 – and please note that under Obama’s administration, this act has been used to bring more indictments against whistleblowers than under all other presidents combined. A year later, after a plea deal had been reached with federal prosecutors, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge at the trial described Kiriakou’s sentence as “way too light.”1

Kiriakou was recently released from prison, although he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. And following his release, he was interviewed from his home on yesterday’s Democracy Now! These are selected excerpts from what he had to say, beginning with the extraordinary case of Abu Zubaydah.

During his capture in Pakistan, Zubaydah was shot three times and gravely wounded. He was then sent to a secret location, where the CIA brought in a trauma surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to treat him:

When we first captured him, we took him to a hospital, a military hospital in Pakistan. He had lost so much blood, we needed to transfuse him. And he was initially in a coma. He came out of the coma a couple of times, and we were able, at first, to just exchange an initial comment, later on, in the next couple of days, to have short conversations. For example, when he first came out of his coma, he asked me for a glass of red wine. He was delirious. Later in the evening, he asked me if I would take the pillow and smother him. And then, the next day, we talked about poetry. We talked about Islam. We talked about the fact that he had never supported the attacks on the United States. He wanted to attack Israel.

Well, he was sent from Pakistan to this secret location. And once he was healthy enough to withstand interrogation, a group of CIA interrogators—I’m sorry, a group of FBI interrogators interviewed him, appeared to have been successful in gathering some information, but then were replaced by CIA interrogators, that we’ve now learned were untrained, unprepared, and was subjected to waterboarding in addition to other torture techniques, placed into a cage. He had a fear of bugs, so they put him in a small box and put bugs in the box with him. He was subject to a cold cell, to lights on 24 hours a day, booming music so that he couldn’t sleep. There were several different things that the CIA did to him.

Torture is wrong under any circumstances. You know, we know from the Second World War, when the Justice Department was interrogating Nazi war criminals, we know that the establishment of a rapport, the establishment of a relationship with someone, results in actionable information, if that prisoner has actionable information which he’s willing to give. That wasn’t the case with Abu Zubaydah. He was beaten. He was waterboarded. He was subject to sleep deprivation. He had ice water poured on him in a 50-degree cell every several hours. The man just simply didn’t have any information to give.

I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives. It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.

It was in 2007, Amy [Goodman], that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, “We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.” And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true. Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people.

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded no less than 83 times and yet we now know that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge.

I will return to Kiriakou’s interview later. But first would like to address the bigger issues here. For instance, why does Guantánamo remain open at all, especially since more than half of its inmates have long since been acquitted of terrorist charges? Leaving aside the logistical and legalistic excuses, one of the unspoken reasons concerns us all. It is the same reason Obama was determined to surreptitiously sign into law the NDAA 2012. And part of the reason why we are seeing no serious repercussions following last December’s release of the long-delayed Senate report which detailed the horrendous catalogue of crimes committed by the CIA (and only those committed by the CIA – which actually lets the Pentagon off the hook): crimes of torture nowadays chillingly redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Reading through those horrendous descriptions of what the spy agency has routinely been doing to prisoners in the name of “freedom and democracy” is painful. Not that these “revelations” come as much of a surprise. Other than the most lurid details, we already knew all of this, didn’t we? But then think about it this way, and imagine for a moment the public outcry if an ordinary citizen (a civilian, to use the preferred label attached by today’s news media) confessed to having chained their victims to a wall, repeatedly half-drowned them and also forcibly inserted a variety of objects into their anus (so-called “rectal feeding” is an abuse more straightforwardly described as rape). Such an individual would rightly be publicly judged to be a depraved monster and hurriedly locked away in a very secure facility (somewhere not so very different from Guantánamo, but without the torture regime). Yet instead, these open admissions of crimes committed by an extremely depraved “intelligence” arm of our terribly depraved system are met with little more than a grimace and a whimper. After the obligatory week of media coverage, the news of this systemic cruelty has largely been forgotten, and in spite of the weight of harrowing evidence, it appears that no-one at all will be prosecuted.

With Kiriakou locked away in jail for speaking out of turn, here is what CIA Director John Brennan had to say by way of apology for those most heinous of crimes:

CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were “harsh” and “abhorrent”.

Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.

So begins a report from BBC news entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy”. The implication being that torture is a “strategy”. Well, yes, if we listen to neo-con voices such as John Brennan, echoed without contradiction thanks to the drones at the BBC.  But before returning to the BBC and their article, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of John Brennan’s prior approval of the CIA’s use of torture. Indeed, it helps to go back two years to his Senate confirmation hearing when he was appointed CIA Director. The following is taken from a Guardian article published in February 2013:

Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA’s abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret “black sites”, following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. […]

Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs [sic] “saved lives” by gathering valuable intelligence.

“The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out,” he said.2

Click here to read the full article.

Likewise, The Atlantic then reported:

In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”3

Incidentally, this latest release is merely a 525-page summary of the aforementioned 6,000-page report. Two years after it was approved by Senate, the full report remains highly classified. In any case, the White House needed time for the torture-happy Hollywood fantasy Zero Dark Thirty to seep deeply into the American collective unconscious before any part of this lesser report could be publicly released. Think I exaggerate…? Well then read how the Huffington Post reported on the story two years ago:

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer. […]

While “Zero Dark Thirty” suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using “enhanced interrogation,” top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition.

Nevertheless the idea that torture can provide valuable information was very helpfully implanted by the film – and it is still being repeated by Brennan and his ilk. Just as a different meme was being embedded at the very same time, and in this case by neo-con apologist Dianne Feinstein:

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”4 [my bold highlight]

So we are supposed to swallow this ludicrous defence that torturing was a terrible mistake. Just an accidental error of judgement. Which it obviously isn’t and never could be. And so let’s come back to the BBC news report already quoted above, because it then continues:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose committee produced the report, said torture should now be banned by law. 5

But torture IS banned by law! It is already against the law because it was ‘banned’ (i.e., criminalised) a long time ago. For instance, “cruel and unusual punishments” are in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. On top of which, torture contravenes the UN Convention against Torture that was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and then ratified by the Senate in October 1990. But more importantly, torture is internationally outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and legally defined as a war crime. So why does the BBC insist on perpetuating this kind of claptrap?

Deliberate or not (I leave the reader to judge), uncritical repetition of this sort of nonsense as if it were impartially reporting facts serves to acclimate readers to accept the unacceptable and to tolerate the intolerable. Torture may or may not be a necessary evil, they imply in this way, but regardless of the ethical concerns it was lawfully sanctionable. As I say, this is absolute rubbish – and patently so.

Incidentally, John Kiriakou describes Senator Feinstein as “one of the CIA’s leading supporters on Capitol Hill”. He adds: “So for Dianne Feinstein to come out with a report as critical as this report was just shows you how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was.”

But now we must come to an even more shocking illustration of how public perceptions are being shifted and reframed. And the author on this occasion happens to be Anthony Romero, who is none other than the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero writes:

BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal. 6

I will not bother to outline the kinds of doublethink which encourage Mr Romero to reach such a startling and illogical conclusion. If you can stomach any more then I direct you read his New York Times op-ed.

So what we have in summary is one extremely shocking although highly redacted text that has been released in such a fashion as to make believe the rule of law is extant. As with child abuse, the offending authorities have taken care to draw an historical line so as to make it appear a problem of past failures. Torture was “a mistake”. And thus, like a fashion that disappeared for no more discernible reason than footballers stopped wearing moustaches and perms, all the torturing has since stopped, or so we are encouraged to believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that the ‘black sites’ never went away), because the perpetrators, who were previously misguided in the actions, have since spontaneously and miraculously come to their senses.

After John Kiriakou had heard about the release of the Senate report whilst in jail, he says that “like most other Americans, [he] was absolutely shocked and appalled at some of the details”:

We need to prosecute some of these cases. I understand that reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not case officers who really believed they were carrying out a legal activity should be prosecuted. I understand that. But what about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with everything Kiriakou says in this interview.) 7

The BBC may feel obliged to keep up this pretence that torture is not in itself illegal, and one of the largest civil rights organisations may actually believe that even though torture was and is illegal, for legal reasons it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, but as it happens John Kiriakou begs to differ. Likewise, I believe that the proper response must be to demand criminal prosecutions for those who were most responsible: beginning from the top with Cheney and Bush and working down. Kiriakou also believes that Cheney should now be tried and he makes this perhaps more important point:

We’ve seen Vice President Cheney, we’ve seen former CIA directors, several of them, former senior CIA officers go on the network news programs and defend, defend, defend their actions during the torture regime. The reason that they’re doing that is because torture is their legacy. When their obituaries are written, those obituaries are going to say that they were instrumental in the torture program. And the only thing they can do at this point to save their reputations is to keep repeating this lie that torture worked and hope that the American people eventually believe it.

Yes, torture is still being normalised. Doubtless, for the reason Kiriakou states above, but also because there remains a sinister determination by some at the top to undo the well-established justice process and take us back into the dark ages. So the horror of December’s report is not entirely contained within the text per se, but very much exists within the surrounding subtext too. That under a given pretext (which our never-ending “war on terror” usefully sustains) torture can be inflicted with absolute impunity on whosoever America and her close allies deems an enemy, because might is right and the rule of law be damned.

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

*

Additional:

If you are wondering in what ways our own authorities in Britain have also been complicit in these torture programmes, then I recommend reading an article by former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, published in the Daily Mail last December, immediately following the release of the summary of the Senate report. It begins:

In the summer of 2004, I warned Tony Blair’s Foreign Office that Britain was using intelligence material which had been obtained by the CIA under torture. Two months later I was sacked as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the orders of Downing Street, bringing to an end my 20-year diplomatic career.

When I then went public with the news that Uzbek territory was part of a global CIA torture programme, I was dismissed as a fantasist by Mr Blair’s henchmen. Now finally, a decade later, I have been vindicated by last week’s shocking Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Over 500 pages it details the CIA’s brutal abuse of Al Qaeda suspects, who were flown around the world to be tortured in a network of secret prisons. One of these was in Uzbekistan, where the US had an air base.

Murray continues later:

The British Government continues to cover up the truth even today. We should not forget that the climate of public and media opinion which made it possible for this US Senate report to be published at all was generated entirely by the work of whistleblowers. I was the first of these, but at least I remain at liberty: two subsequent whistleblowers – soldier Chelsea Manning and CIA agent John Kiriakou – are serving long stretches in prison. Although it is in no way comparable to the horrifying abuses suffered by the torture victims, we truth-tellers have also been through hell.

It is very strange to now hear Westminster politicians calling for a judicial inquiry into our involvement in rendition. There has already been one, headed by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. He started to gather evidence, and ordered the Foreign Office to give me full access to all the classified documentation on the subject from my time as Ambassador. Indeed, Gibson gave every appearance of being a man of integrity, appointed to lead an investigation into governmental wrongdoing.

It was therefore no surprise when the Gibson inquiry was cancelled and his duties handed to politicians on the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Incredibly, its members include Hazel Blears, one of Tony Blair’s Ministers at a time when the Government had a policy of using intelligence from torture. She is therefore investigating herself.

No wonder a source on the Intelligence and Security Committee told journalists last week that they would only scrutinise members of the security services, not the politicians who instructed them.

He concludes with a call for both Tony Blair and Jack Straw to be put on trial:

Recent scandals, such as the alleged cover-up of an Establishment paedophile ring, highlight the apparent impunity of our political class in the face of the honest forces of law and order.
We don’t need an inquiry into British complicity in torture. We need a trial. And it should be Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the dock.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full statement.

 *

1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/former-cia-officer-john-kiriakou-sentenced-to-30-months-in-prison-for-leaks/2013/01/25/49ea0cc0-6704-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html

2 From an article entitled “Brennan rejects CIA torture claims in confident display at Senate hearing” written by Chris McGreal, published by the Guardian on February 7, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/07/john-brennan-cia-torture-claims-senate-hearing

3 From an article entitled “Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture?” written by Conor Friedersdorf, published in The Atlantic on January 8, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/does-it-matter-if-john-brennan-was-complicit-in-illegal-torture/266918/

4 From an article entitled “CIA Torture Report Approved By Senate Intelligence Committee” published by the Huffington Post on December 13, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13/cia-torture-report_n_2295083.html

5 From an article entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy” published by BBC news on December 12, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30437804

6 From an article entitled “Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured” written by Anthony D. Romero, published by the New York Times on December 8, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=2

7 Kiriakou adds that: “I understand that President Obama is not going to seek the prosecution of the CIA leaders who carried out the torture, the case officers involved in the day-to-day torture program. I understand that. The lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, I understand. No problem. But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death? What about the torturers of Hassan Ghul? Hassan Ghul was killed during an interrogation session.”

I strongly disagree with him on these points. All those in charge must be prosecuted and the lawyers who sanctioned these crimes doubly so.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Craig Murray, police state, USA, Uzbekistan

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

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Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

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Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

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Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

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George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

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Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

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

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Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

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And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

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Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

*

1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan

US drone programme deemed unlawful by two major human rights groups

Amnesty International yesterday released an important new report on how US drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan, saying that some drone killings may amount to war crimes. In a separate report, Human Rights Watch criticized the US drone programme in Yemen, where strikes have also killed many civilians.

Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report, “‘Will I be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” was interviewed on today’s Democracy Now! broadcast. He says:

When you look at people living there, already facing so many threats, curfew, living a very difficult life, the idea that in the skies, the skies are no longer safe, and then when these strikes happen—you know, it could be very close to you, could be your neighbors, could be your loved ones involved—obviously you want to help them, and now people are so scared even to do that, it’s really quite shocking.

In terms of the law, that—we see that as unlawful. We can’t see a justification for that. We really call on the U.S., as we saw with [White House Press Secretary] Jay Carney claiming this is a legal program—well, fine, show us the legal justification for it and ensure those justifications and the facts are given to a genuinely independent, impartial investigator. That’s the key thing. We are saying now to the U.S. government: Come clean, show us what is your evidence in law and fact for justifying rescuer attacks and the other unlawful killings we’ve documented in the report.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the video on the Democracy Now! website.

Concurrently, a second report by Human Rights Watch entitled “US: Reassess Targeted Killings in Yemen” was also released yesterday. Author of the report, Letta Tayler, who is senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, saying in the press release:

“The US says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen. Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Meanwhile, BBC news also reported on this latest evidence presented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch under the headline “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’”. What caught the eye, however, was an inset to the main article under the heading “analysis” put together by their correspondent M Ilyas Khan, who writes:

The general impression that one gets from talking to elders and correspondents from the area is that drone strikes are for the most part accurate, causing little or no collateral damage.

They say if civilians deaths had been as high as those mentioned in some recent international reports, there would have been more of an outcry against it both socially and also in the media.1

Khan’s remarks are deplorable. Presented with carefully gathered evidence from not one, but two human rights groups, independently alleging that US drone attacks are probably in violation of international law, his response is to ignore the evidence and downplay their conclusions purely on the basis of hearsay that drone strikes have caused “little or no collateral damage”. Such thoughtless use of neo-con euphemisms simply underlining his deliberately calculated and utterly flippant dismissal of the crimes taking place. Lazy and biased reporting which, to quote Khan again, is a big part of the reason there hasn’t been “more of an outcry against it… in the media”. Shameful.

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

1 From an article entitled “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’” published by BBC news on October 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24618701

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Filed under drones, Pakistan, Uncategorized, Yemen

John Kiriakou jailed after exposing CIA’s use of torture

John Kiriakou has recently become the only CIA officer to yet face imprisonment for any reason relating to use of torture in the post-9/11 “war on terror”. His supposed crime, however, was not any complicity in America’s on-going crimes against humanity, but rather the result of his decision to blow the whistle on the CIA and White House sanctioned torture programme and, specifically, their use of ‘waterboarding’ for purposes of so-called “enhanced interrogation”.

Having just been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years behind bars, John Kiriakou gave an extended interview on yesterday’s Democracy Now! [Jan 30th]. He began by explaining how he had become a whistleblower more or less by accident, and what the immediate consequences had been for himself and his family:

In 2002, I was the chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA in Pakistan, and my job was to try to locate al-Qaeda fighters or al-Qaeda leaders and capture them, to turn them over to the Justice Department and have them face trial. That was the original—the original idea, not to have them sit in Cuba for the next decade.

But we caught Abu Zubaydah. He was shot three times by Pakistani police as he was trying to escape from his safe house. And I was the first person to have custody of him, to sit with him. We spoke to each other extensively, I mean, talked about everything from September 11th to poetry that he had been writing to his family. And then he was moved on to a secret prison after that. Once I got back to headquarters, I heard that he had been subject to harsh techniques, then euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and I was asked by one of the leaders in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center if I wanted to be trained in the use of these techniques. I told him that I had a moral problem with them, and I did not want to be involved.

So, fast-forward to 2007. By then, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had reported that al-Qaeda prisoners had been tortured, and ABC News called and said that they had information that I had tortured Abu Zubaydah. I said that was absolutely untrue. I was the only person who was kind to Abu Zubaydah, and I had never tortured anybody. So, they asked me to go on their show and defend myself. I did that. And in the course of the interview, I said that not only was the CIA torturing prisoners, but that it was official U.S. government policy. This was not the result of some rogue CIA officer just beating up a prisoner every once in a while; this was official policy that went all the way up to the president of the United States.

Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a crimes report against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.

But a more important bit of fallout from that interview was that every time I would write an op-ed, every time I would give a television interview or give a speech at a university, the CIA would file a crimes report against me, accusing me of leaking additional classified information. Each time, the Justice Department determined that I did not leak any classified information. In fact, I would get those op-eds and those speeches cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board in advance.

Then the CIA started harassing my wife, who at the time was a senior CIA officer, particularly over an op-ed I had written. They accused her of leaking classified information to me for the purpose of writing the op-ed. Well, I said I had gotten the information in the op-ed from two UPI reports and from a South American Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. And they would back off.

But this sort of became our life. We would be under FBI surveillance. She would be called into the CIA’s Office of Security. I would have trouble getting a security clearance when I went to Capitol Hill. It just became this pattern of harassment.

A pattern of harassment that will no doubt be familiar to other high-level whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and Sibel Edmonds.

Click here to watch the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

Democracy Now! also spoke to Kiriakou’s attorney Jesselyn Radack. She has previously represented Tom Drake, the National Security Agency (NSA) insider who helped to expose the massive fraud and waste within the organisation, whilst also bringing public attention to the illegal, although once again government sanctioned, programme of warrantless wiretaps. Radack says:

But in the grander scheme, the prosecution of John Kiriakou and the war on whistleblowers, using the heavy handed Espionage Act, by charging people who dare to tell the truth as being enemies of the state, sends a very chilling message. And Judge Brinkema [who presided over Kiriakou’s trial] herself acknowledged that a strong message had to be sent, that secrets must be kept. But apparently, that only applies to people who are trying to reveal government abuses and illegality, because all of the people in the White House and the CIA who revealed classified information and—of undercover identities to the makers of a Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty, have done so with impunity and with lavish praise. […]

Specifically, the White House and the CIA were very involved in the making of Zero Dark Thirty, which pretends to be some kind of neutral film that implies torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, which it absolutely did not. In that process, a high-level Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, revealed the identity of an undercover Special Operations Command officer, but was not held to account for that. And the CIA revealed numerous classified pieces of information, including sources and methods. […]

So when the United States talks about the sanctity of keeping secrets, and both the judge and multiple statements by United States officials discussed that, they are the biggest leakers of all. And they do so with impunity.

With mainstream news coverage focusing considerable attention on President Obama’s nomination of the seemingly rather moderate Chuck Hagel to replace well-known drone attack enthusiast Leon Panetta as US Secretary of Defense, surprisingly little concern is being raised about Obama’s other nomination of neo-con hawk and torture-endorsing John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Kiriakou, who had worked directly with Brennan twice, says Brennan “is a terrible choice to lead the CIA”:

Obviously I can’t read John Brennan’s mind, but I can tell you that at the time that the torture techniques were being implemented, John Brennan was President Bush’s director of the National Counterterrorist Center. He was also, a little earlier than that, the deputy executive director and then, I believe, executive director of the CIA. That’s the number three ranking position in the CIA. So, he would have had to have been intimately involved in—not necessarily in carrying out the torture techniques, but in the policy, the torture policy—either that or he had to be brain dead, because you can’t be in positions like that, director of the National Counterterrorist Center and executive director of the CIA, without knowing what the CIA’s torture policies are.

Now, I’m surprised, frankly, also, at the fact that there’s no outrage in the human rights community now that Mr. Brennan’s nomination has been made official. There was a great hue and cry in 2009 when he was initially floated for the position of CIA director. And I’m not sure why there’s a difference between four years ago and now. John Brennan certainly hasn’t changed.

Click here to watch the second part of the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Pakistan, police state, USA

making out like bandits: the endless profits of an endless war

Last Monday [Dec 10th] was an extremely interesting day for news stories. For one thing, it was the day when the New York Times disclosed the altogether astonishing decision made by US federal authorities not to indict British bank HSBC for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act:

HSBC’s actions stand out among the foreign banks caught up in the investigation, according to several law enforcement officials with knowledge of the inquiry. Unlike those of institutions that have previously settled, HSBC’s activities are said to have gone beyond claims that the bank flouted United States sanctions to transfer money on behalf of nations like Iran. Prosecutors also found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups.1

High crime indeed, and please keep in mind the last part: “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”. Could that mean al-Qaeda…?

HSBC was thrust into the spotlight in July after a Congressional committee outlined how the bank, between 2001 and 2010, “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks.” The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a subsequent hearing at which the bank’s compliance chief resigned amid mounting concerns that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity. For example, an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda, according to the Congressional report.

The message is that bankers have become entirely immune to prosecution for almost any kinds of racket imaginable. No prosecution because, as the New York Times reports, of “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system”, which is plainly ludicrous. Put simply, “too big to fail” has now slipped to become – and inevitably so, when you think about it – “too big to jail”:

Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities.

Apparently the biggest settlement in history, but chickenfeed to HSBC nonetheless. The same article also going on to explain how:

Given the extent of the evidence against HSBC, some prosecutors saw the charge as a healthy compromise between a settlement and a harsher money-laundering indictment. While the charge would most likely tarnish the bank’s reputation, some officials argued that it would not set off a series of devastating consequences.

A money-laundering indictment, or a guilty plea over such charges, would essentially be a death sentence for the bank. Such actions could cut off the bank from certain investors like pension funds and ultimately cost it its charter to operate in the United States, officials said.

So, excuses in hand, the federal authorities have chosen put aside the law and apply something they euphemistically call a “deferred prosecution agreement” – a glossy title for what is really nothing more or less than a ‘get out of jail free’ card.2

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

You can also read and hear more about “deferred prosecution agreements” courtesy of William K Black in this previous article.

On Thursday, Democracy Now! invited Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of “Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.” Now you might be wondering how on earth an editor of Rolling Stone magazine became a serious fraud investigator, but seeing how others apparently better qualified and positioned were failing in that vital task, Taibbi eventually decided to jump in. He has since turned himself into one of leading experts on the current banking crisis (and its related scandals). And this is what Taibbi has to say regarding the latest cover-up:

Here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message, not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail.

It is unusual to see a news discussion in which all of the participants are at such a loss in trying to comprehend what they are describing, but here Taibbi and the others appear almost lost for words. Between all the raised eyebrows and the quizzical smiles, Taibbi put it this way:

[And] what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?”

What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.

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

On the very same day, Monday 10th, the New York Times was also running an editorial piece entitled simply “Al Qaeda in Syria”. An article that begins:

The presence of rebel fighters in Syria that were trained and supported by Al Qaeda poses a serious problem for the United States and Western allies. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has become one of the most effective forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.3

Not that news of al-Qaeda rebel fighters in Syria can really be called news at all any more – this latest development involving the Iraqi group known as Jabhat al Nusra having already surfaced in a report from McClatchy that was published a week prior to the more prominent New York Times version of events:

When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics.

Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.4

Click here to read the full report from McClatchy.

The steady assent of al-Qaeda amongst the Syrian rebels is a story that has slowly been leaking out for many, many months. It emerged in the Guardian back in late July, and as long ago as August, the BBC had also put together their own news report to show how one group of Syrian insurgents were forcing prisoners to become unwilling suicide bombers – a story that was quickly removed by the BBC – but one that you can find embedded below from youtube:

The video footage in the report was actually shot by New York Times reporters (NYT again) who had spent five days following a group known as the Lions of Tawhid. And you can read an accompanying New York Times article published August 20th here.

At this time, both the BBC and the New York Times were still avoiding any mention of al-Qaeda, or for that matter circumventing words like Islamist or Jihadist that might be used to describe some of the rebels, and so instead the writer, C.J. Chivers, makes what with hindsight appears to be a few hints at the kind of force they might be dealing with: mentions of thick beards and repeated quotes from the rebels saying “God is Great” or along the lines of “we will kneel only for God.” Reading down the New York Times article, you will also find a parallel account of the story of the unwitting ‘suicide’ bomber who features in the (subsequently censored) BBC news clip:

The rebels lacked the heavy weapons to take the checkpoint in a head-on fight. So several of them would dress as civilians, move the truck bomb near the checkpoint and set it off. This would be the signal for an assault over the ground.

There was one problem. The Lions of Tawhid said they did not believe in using their fighters as suicide bombers.

Two fighters poured fuel into the truck’s gas tank while Mr. Meldaoun, the nurse, snipped branches from shrubs and stacked them on the bomb, hiding it from view.

The real plan was beginning to emerge. It involved the prisoner, Abu Hilal. The assurances that he would be released had been a deception. The fighters intended to put him behind the wheel of the truck bomb near the checkpoint and tell him to drive forward in a prisoner exchange.

[…]

“We told Abu Hilal, ‘Go, drive that way, your father is waiting for you there, don’t do any bad things in the future,’” Hakim said. “And he was so happy, and he drove.”

Abu Hilal stopped the truck at the checkpoint. Abdul Hakim Yasin pushed the button on the remote detonator, ready for the flash and thunderclap of more than 650 pounds of explosives. It would be the signal for his fighters to move forward and mop up.

Nothing happened.

He pushed the button again.

The truck did not explode.5

If the bomb had detonated this would have been a much more terrible atrocity, although obviously even this failed attempt was a war crime. And the embedded New York Times reporters might have highlighted the barbaric nature of this incident (as the BBC report had done), but instead the main body of the article devotes itself to presenting the rebels as a band of ordinary guys caught in the crossfire. Portrayed as romantic heroes, here is how the same article ends:

But as the rockets struck, the Tawhid fighters were barely distracted. They were waiting for the government soldiers nearby to show themselves, certain that night by night their foes were growing weaker, and their uprising was gaining strength.

After each explosion, Mr. Yasin, an accountant leading a life and a role delivered to him by war, keyed his two-way radio, and checked on his men. All around him they crouched in the smoky darkness, weapons ready, waiting for orders or for more action against a government they consider already dead.

It reads more like pulp fiction than serious journalism. But the point I wish to make is that mainstream stories about Islamist terrorists in Syria were just beginning to trickle out around this time. Indeed, in the New York Times blog of the following day [Aug 21st], David D. Kirkpatrick actually wrote the following:

Reports from Western officials, militant Islamist Web sites [sic], neighboring countries and, to a limited extent, inside the Syrian opposition indicate that Al Qaeda and homegrown militants are joining the fight and competing for influence. And that poses a vexing question for American policy makers and politicians. So far, all sides of the debate in Washington have called for supporting the insurgency, and the only question is how much. The Obama administration talks of diplomacy and economic sanctions, while some Republicans push to provide weapons to the insurgents. Is the United States acting side by side with Al Qaeda?6

Kirkpatrick is then very quick to answer his own question:

The short answer is no. A group as numerically tiny as Al Qaeda could never by itself steer a movement as large as the Syrian revolt. And even if Al Qaeda or other anti-Western militants are seeking to exploit or direct the Syrian uprising — why wouldn’t they? — that merely makes them rivals to the West for influence over the course of the revolt.

The difference three months later is that Kirkpatrick’s snap judgment is entirely overturned. Not only are al-Qaeda more or less running the Syrian revolt, but we also know that the American government is well aware of the fact. Obama himself now trying to explain the case for supporting the rebels, as he did on ABC news on Tuesday:

Obama expressed caution today about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.

“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”

The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.7

Click here to read the full ABC news report and to watch the interview with Obama.

But did the situation in Syria really transform so rapidly and if so, how so…? I will leave the answers for others to fill in and move to the next part of Kirkpatrick’s rather remarkable article, as he candidly admits what many will have suspected all along:

The West, for its part, is eager to deprive Iran of its principal regional ally, the Assad government.

Yes, and lest we forget, this whole decade of war has consistently had as its long term objective some kind of military offensive against Iran. Meanwhile, and with regards to the developing crisis in Syria, these latest admissions make “Al Qaeda in Syria”, a more officially sanctioned story. With the ugly truth no longer plausibly deniable, the new hope of the American administration being that the press and the public won’t begin asking too many difficult but obvious questions. Questions like why does the US increasingly appear to be in cahoots with al-Qaeda – again?

So playing this whole story down has necessarily become the fall-back approach, and the New York Times helps the cause by reporting this latest episode (on Monday) with the same impartial tone as many of its earlier reports about the role and rise of the Syrian jihadists. Explaining to its readers that these al-Qaeda forces might “hijack the revolution”. And that “there are no easy answers.” And anyway, “[al-Qaeda’s] skilled fighters have been so effective.” Such a dilemma for any hawk…

The fear is that the group could hijack the revolution and emerge as the dominant force in Syria after Mr. Assad is ousted from power. […]

There are no easy answers, and no one believes that Washington, or any external power, can dictate the outcome. But President Obama still needs to provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.

These repeated statements are a measure of how dumb they actually think most of us are. After all, American administrations have spent more than half a trillion dollars8 fighting off al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in a war that is well into its twelfth year. Yet we discover that the current administration are simultaneously backing a different group of resistance fighters, whilst fully aware that these other rebels are thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda – and not just any old al-Qaeda, but a group that has established a foothold in another of the old war haunts, neighbouring Iraq. Asking us to believe that all of this has happened almost without them noticing truly beggars belief!

Mr. Obama has blacklisted the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, which would make it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with it. It makes sense to isolate the group and try to dry up its resources, but the designation by itself isn’t sufficient. American officials have to make a case directly to the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.

Which means that as the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan grinds on and on into bloody stalemate, and through its horrors, helps in recruiting fresh militants ready to take up AK47s and plant IEDs against the imperialist infidels, there will be American officials “making a case” to favoured client states in the Middle East in efforts to persuade them not to supply “the weapons and other assistance” to this self-same enemy in a different place and under another name. Assistance that presumably includes all of that “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”, laundered, so we now learn, by one of the world’s leading banks. A criminal enterprise that, in view of the laughable excuse for not seeking prosecution – remember those “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system” – seems more than likely to continue. Such open corruption and such flagrant lies.

When Obama first came into office in 2008, the war in Afghanistan was already thought by many to be unwinnable. Obama might very easily (given the weight of public opinion) have begun the process of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Instead of this, however, Obama brought in more troops and then covertly expanded operations across the border into Pakistan. This expansion being made possible thanks to a change in tactics; more specifically, by the use of secret and illegal drone strikes. Attacks that are officially unauthorised by the Pakistan government and illegal according to the United Nations.

The death toll from these cowardly and, by any proper understanding of the word, ‘terrorist’ drone strikes against the people of Pakistan is already estimated to be around 3000, of which, it is officially acknowledged9 that many hundreds are innocent civilians – deaths and injuries that the US continues to disregard as “collateral damage”.

All of which brings me to the third of the three reports from Monday 10th: a somewhat mixed but nonetheless worthwhile BBC Panorama investigation into “The Secret Drone War”. Reporter Jane Corbin interviewing members of families who have become victims of the drone attacks in Waziristan, a region inside Pakistan that the programme makers describe as “one of the most dangerous places in the world”.

Corbin also speaks with former cricketer and politician Imran Khan, who has helped to organise a mass anti-drone protest march across half the country, as well as to Medea Benjamin of CodePink and lawyer Clive Stafford Smith; just two of the many human rights activists who had joined in the march. And in the latter part of the programme, Corbin questions the use of so-called “signature strikes”: indiscriminate assassination where no named target has been located, but an attack is still launched against anyone unfortunate enough to be deemed involved in “an activity that looks suspicious”.

Click here to watch the Panorama episode “The Secret Drone War” which is available until Tuesday 10th December 2013.

It is now more than a decade since the then-US Under Secretary of State and prominent neo-con, John Bolton, (someone more recently spotted endorsing Mitt Romney during the presidential race) made an announcement in a speech that was entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to the effect that:

… three nations [Cuba, Libya and Syria] could be grouped with other so-called “rogue states” – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – in actively attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.10

Of those original six nations making up Bolton’s extended “Axis of Evil”, two, Iraq and Libya, have since been subjected to American-led campaigns resulting in regime change; one under Bush and one under Obama. Certainly, Obama’s less sustained “kinetic action” against Libya was to some extent sanctioned by the UN Security Council, in contrast to Bush’s entirely illegal “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. But there are many similarities.

After the bombardment and with the old despotic rulers gone, oil contracts and reconstruction deals were quickly approved by the newly appointed representatives of the two countries. Both countries were then otherwise abandoned to the chaos that the war had brought, and, as a direct consequence of the war, both are now teeming with jihadi forces. Syria, which was another country on Bolton’s wish list, is now suffering from a similar influx of jihadists, whilst waiting its turn for yet another Nato “intervention”. Is all of this mere coincidence?

Of course, we don’t hear so much about the “war on terror” these days, even as it continues unabated in the Af-Pak conflict; and absolutely nothing at all about that loose-fitting alliance called the “Axis of Evil”. Instead, we have been hearing more again about “weapons of mass destruction”. Periodic reminders of the nuclear threat from Iran, and most recently, new rumours of chemical weapons about to be used in Syria. Rumours that rhyme with yellowcake uranium and those mobile chemical warfare laboratories of George W. Bush and Colin Powell’s vivid imaginations.

We see then that under Obama the methods have changed in some respects, but that the general trajectory remains unaltered. American foreign policy still following a course that was publicly outlined by the Project for the New American Century (or PNAC) as far back as 2000. Certainly the talk is less bellicose and more guarded, but the war profiteering goes on and even the list of target nations has remained significantly unaltered.

The battle over Libya was justified as humanitarian, and any full-scale intervention in Syria will most likely be presented the same way (unless, that is, the WMD card comes into play), and yet in other ways the cloak of humanitarianism has since been dropped altogether. So we learn, for instance, from “a despicable article in Military Times” that the US military has recently declared that children have become legitimate targets on the battlefield, at least when it comes to operations in Afghanistan. The following coming from an article published on Dec 4th in The Nation magazine and frankly entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”:

When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.

It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”

But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.

Shockingly, the [Military Times] article quotes a senior officer saying that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:

“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”11

Click here to read the full article by Robert Dreyfuss.

I began writing this article because within these three different reports from last Monday there is a common thread. On one level that thread is simply al-Qaeda – bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, covertly supported in Libya and Syria, and all whilst the US government turns its blind eye to any financial assistance provided by banks like HSBC. All of which, for different reasons, makes a nonsense of the on-going “war on terror”. It makes no sense, that is, until one considers the underlying geo-strategy combined with the enormous profits to be made from all these wars. It makes no sense, in other words, unless you look at who the winners are – the private contractors alongside the global financiers. Because these wars are all very lucrative.

To understand just how profitable, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “Iraq for Sale” that was made by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Greenwald in 2006. It is embedded below:

You might also be interested in reading an extended pamphlet called “War is a Racket” (available online) that was written by Major General Smedley D. Butler and first published as long ago as 1935.

Butler, who was the most highly decorated soldier in American history, takes the case of war profiteering during WWI, and in a few short chapters he lays out the evidence with countless, very detailed examples. His research and considerable military experience leading him to the conclusion that, as he states in the very first paragraph:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are recognised in dollars and the losses in lives.”

On another occasion12, Butler summarised his own part in that racket with these words:

“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. ”

Tragically, that same old war racket is now reaching a new apogee. So is there any appropriate and useful response to this never-ending carnage and human misery? Butler saw only one lasting solution:

“A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”

Ending the war profiteering won’t happen overnight, but it is definitely an objective we might practically and realistically aim for. It would mean reversing the last twelve years of American foreign policy, but this is not impossible. It will require America and the rest of the world to make genuine international attempts to stall this insane war machine once and for all. The journalists could even help to set the ball rolling by reporting promptly and honestly as the battles continue to rage. Later, the courts must bring to justice all of the criminals who were complicit. No more deferred prosecution agreements for anyone. If all of this requires little short of a revolution, then what’s the alternative? Doing nothing means only that this war racket will keep on growing unopposed, when already we find its shadow over everything.

*

In the meantime, and if you are an American citizen, you might like to add your name to a “We the People” petition to the White House that calls for a cease to “all funding and support for al-Qaeda terrorists and extremist rebels in Syria”:

Hillary Clinton has admitted that Al-Qaeda is supporting the Syrian rebels, who are backed by the Obama administration with $200 million dollars in aid. According to McClatchy Newspapers one of these groups, Al Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, is now conducting “the heaviest frontline fighting” in Syria and has been responsible for terrorist attacks. Impartial observers such as Dr. Jacques Beres say the majority of rebels in Syria are foreign extremists whose goal is to impose Sharia law. These rebels have also been filmed burning U.S. flags and chanting anti-American slogans. Funding terrorists is a crime under the National Defense Authorization Act. Such activity has had disastrous consequences in the past, such as 9/11. We demand all support direct or indirect to cease immediately.

To locate the petition click here.

1 From an article entitled “HSBC to Pay $1.92 Billion to Settle Charges of Money Laundering”, written by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, published by the New York Times on December 10, 2012. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/hsbc-said-to-near-1-9-billion-settlement-over-money-laundering/

2 Ibid.

“The HSBC deal includes a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Justice Department. The deferred prosecution agreement, a notch below a criminal indictment, requires the bank to forfeit more than $1.2 billion and pay about $700 million in fines, according to the officials briefed on the matter. The case, officials say, will claim violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and Trading with the Enemy Act.

“As part of the deal, one of the officials briefed on the matter said, HSBC must also strengthen its internal controls and stay out of trouble for the next five years. If the bank again runs afoul of the federal rules, the Justice Department can resume its case and file a criminal indictment. An independent auditor will also monitor the bank’s progress to strengthen its internal controls, and will make regular assessments on the firm’s progress.”

3 From a New York Times Editorial entitled “Al Qaeda in Syria” published on December 10, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/opinion/al-qaeda-in-syria.html?_r=0

4 From an article entitled “Al Qaida-linked group Syria rebels once denied now key to anti-Assad victories”, written by David Enders, published by McClatchy Newspapers on December 2, 2012. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/12/02/176123/al-qaida-linked-group-syria-rebels.html

5 From an article entitled “Life With Syria’s Rebels in a Cold and Cunning War”, written by C. J. Chivers, published by the New York Times on August 20, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-coalesce-into-a-fighting-force.html?pagewanted=all

6 From an article entitled “Concerns About Al Qaeda in Syria Underscore Questions about Rebels”, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, published by the New York Times on August 21, 2012. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/concerns-about-al-qaeda-in-syria-underscore-questions-about-rebels/?ref=middleeast

7 From a report entitled “Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition Group”, written by Devin Dwyer and Dana Hughes, published by ABC news on December 11, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/exclusive-president-obama-recognizes-syrian-opposition-group/story?id=17936599#.UMyZ_qywbZP

8 You can find a detailed breakdown of the costs of recent US military interventions at this site courtesy of the National Priorities Project : http://costofwar.com/about/counters/

9 A full official breakdown can be found here: http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones

10 From a BBC news report entitled “US expands ‘axis of evil’” published May 6, 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1971852.stm

The report continues as follows:

“[Bolton] also warned that the US would take action.

“America is determined to prevent the next wave of terror,” he said, referring to the 11 September attacks in Washington and New York that killed up to 3,000 people.

“States that sponsor terror and pursue WMD (weapons of mass destruction) must stop. States that renounce terror and abandon WMD can become part of our effort, but those that do not can expect to become our targets,” he said.”

11 From an article entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”, written by Robert Dreyfuss, published in The Nation magazine on December 4, 2012. http://www.thenation.com/blog/171582/us-military-approves-bombing-children#

12 From Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935. You can find the quote attributed here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler

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