Tag Archives: Aaron Maté

the coming wars with Russia, China and Iran? why the stakes are raised in the last days of the unipolar order

While Britain’s political class is distracted by a Downing Street party, the world is at the most dangerous strategic juncture since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

These are the sobering thoughts of Daily Telegraph’s International Business Editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, as expressed in the opening paragraph in his latest article entitled “The West’s nightmare: a war on three fronts”.

Under the strapline “There has never been a more unsettling strategic landscape in my lifetime – we must turn our attention to the prospect of conflict”, the same piece then continues:

The West faces escalating threat of conflict on three fronts, each separate but linked by unknown levels of collusion: Russia’s mobilisation of a strike force on Ukraine’s border, China’s “dress rehearsal” for an attack on Taiwan, and Iran’s nuclear brinksmanship.

Each country is emboldening the other two to press their advantage, and together they risk a fundamental convulsion of the global order.

You have to go back yet further to find a moment when Western democracies were so vulnerable to a sudden change in fortunes. Today’s events have echoes of the interlude between the Chamberlain-Daladier capitulation at Munich in 1938 and consequences that followed in rapid crescendo from Anschluss to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

Click here to find Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s article published on December 9th behind The Telegraph paywall.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, regular columnist Michael McFaul, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Hoover fellow at Stanford University teamed up with Oleksiy Honcharuk, former Ukrainian Prime Minister under current President Volodymyr Zelensky, and member of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center in an article headlined “The best response to Russia’s threats is a closer relationship with Ukraine”, which states:

Since 1939, the specter of an all-out conventional war in Europe between two major militaries has never been greater.

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post on Dec 1st.

It is quite easy, of course, to write off commentators like Evans-Pritchard and McFaul as alarmists, since what they are speculating on – even forecasting – is more or less unthinkable. War with Russia. War with Iran. War with China. War with all three simultaneously! This is absolute madness, and nothing good could possibly come from a war with any of these three rising powers.

However, if we accept Evans-Pritchard’s account this build up to the terrifying potential of full-fledged global conflict becomes very nearly inevitable, as an unavoidable response to the expansionism of Putin and Xi and/or the belligerence of the Iranians. To have stood by and done nothing, he compares directly with appeasement of Nazism – all three rivals to western hegemony duly compared to the most wicked and unassuageable enemy of humanity in modern times. Such unabashed reduction ad Hitlerum is always deemed permissible when enemies under scrutiny are ours!

Setting aside the partisanship, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is both a well-informed and (for what it’s worth) a respectable mainstream commentator and so his concerns surrounding this growing crisis and the tripartite nature of the envisioned threat surely demand our attention, even when the background he paints overlooks countless and crucial pieces that are required to the complete the picture.

When he says straightforwardly “there has never been a more unsettling strategic landscape in my lifetime” and then announces “we must turn our attention to the prospect of conflict” I don’t believe he is exaggerating purely for effect. This is not mere hyperbole. It represents an honest appraisal of the rapidly escalating geopolitical tensions and of the commensurable threat the West is at least potentially facing. Where his analysis fails, however, is in correctly apportioning blame for these crises and in his surprising lack of informed historical context.

In the case of Russia, for instance, he makes no mention of the West’s broken promise to Gorbachev that in exchange for Russia’s consent to German reunification, Nato would not move an inch eastward. Instead it has since expanded 700 miles right up to Russia’s doorstep. This is critical. Without recognising this Nato expansion eastwards, we instantly lose all sense of Russia’s justified fear of invasion – eighty years ago under codename Operation Barbarossa the Nazis launched a massive Blitzkreig attack through the Baltic States and Ukraine: an entirely unprovoked attack that laid waste to towns and cities and was beaten back at the cost of some 25 million Russian lives. The Russian people have not forgotten this.

On December 5th, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke with Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands and just released Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War:

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Their discussion took place shortly after UN Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had ended talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and on the eve of the Biden-Putin summit.

Richard Sakwa reminds us:

“This is the second time this year that we’ve seen a war theatre emerging with Russian troop movements, Ukrainian troop movements and so on. The immediate issue clearly is concern on both sides that there’s going to be a forcible attempt to resolve the Donbass question: that is the secessionist republics in that part of Ukraine.

“But the larger context is like a Russian doll – a Matryoshka doll – in which that conflict is nested in a larger one, which in the immediate context is the model of Ukrainian state building since 1991, where a certain Russophone population was objecting to a particular vision of Ukrainian statehood – a lot of authors have pointed this out over the years – and it came to a crunch in 2014. And so then we had the counter movement in Crimea and Donbass.

“But even bigger than that is the failure since 1991 to establish what the Russians would certainly call an inclusive and equitable security order. And that of course is what was being discussed at the OSCE Security Conference just these last few days when Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister met.” [from 0:50 mins]

Regarding Russia’s true motives, Sakwa continues:

“The idea that Putin is, as an article in the New Statesman (this week’s issue) puts it, ‘the agent of chaos’ and the fomenter of instability is the complete mistake; it’s in fact the opposite. Russia constantly wants stability; it wants a framework for order. And more than that, it is committed still to that international system, and the international law established after 1945…

“Certainly the Russians would argue that it’s the West that has become revisionist; it’s the West that wants to destabilise the order by advancing a military alliance almost to Russia’s borders. And the idea that Putin needs some sort of external adventure in order to consolidate his position at home is also mistaken.

“I think that there’s a whole stack of arguments involved here, including of course the view that what’s going on in Ukraine is a Russian invasion or Russian attack, when there’s the internal domestic – let’s perhaps not call it a civil war but civil contestation about the vision of Ukrainian statehood. It’s homemade.

“And so what we see in this second Cold War is the constant projection of internal contradictions in Ukraine, and indeed in the Western Atlantic power system, onto Russia, which leads to a very mistaken view of the dynamics and motivations of the Russian leadership today, which leads of course to mistaken policies, which leads then to the intensification of the conflict and leads us to the danger of an inadvertent war. This is why the context is just so important…

Any basic realist view would suggest that Russia has national interest, it has concerns. And any power in Moscow would be concerned about a military alliance coming up to its borders. Even if Nato doesn’t expand, as Putin has been saying over the last few months, Ukraine de facto is being armed with very offensive weapons – the Javelin and other things – which of course even Barack Obama refused to give because he warned that this would only intensify and exacerbate the conflict.” [from 5:00 mins]

Moving away from Russia and the Ukrainian crisis, Evans-Pritchard also says nothing of the West’s more recent broken promise to Iran in the form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was painstakingly negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union) and eventually signed off in July 2015.

However, within the term of the very next US administration under Donald Trump, the US unilaterally withdrew from the agreement doubtless at the behest of Trump’s great friend Netanyahu. Thus, having struck a deal that removed crippling economic sanctions by assent to a rigorous inspection regime to ensure nuclear non-proliferation, this hard-won reward was snatched away and with it the disincentive to pursue a nuclear weapons programme was lost. Nevertheless Iran is back at the negotiating table in Vienna, even while the prospect of a revised deal looks increasingly unlikely:

On Sunday {Dec 5th], amid reports that the talks might collapse, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on the countries in Vienna to “take a strong line” against Iran. According to Channel 12 news in Israel, Israeli officials are urging the US to take military action against Iran, either by striking Iran directly or by hitting an Iranian base in Yemen. Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, Israel says that it reserves the right to take military action against Iran.

This is the assessment of Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold, who are respectively cofounder and national co-director of Codepink, in an article entitled “Israel Is Hell-Bent on Sabotaging US Nuclear Negotiations With Iran”, that also reminds us:

Israeli threats aren’t just bluster. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated, presumably by Israel. In July 2020, a fire, attributed to an Israeli bomb, caused significant damage to Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. In November 2020, shortly after Joe Biden won the presidential election, Israeli operatives used remote control machine guns to assassinate Iran’s top nuclear scientist. Had Iran retaliated proportionately, the US might have backed up Israel, with the conflict spiraling into a full-blown US-Middle East war.

In April 2021, as diplomatic efforts were underway between the Biden administration and Iran, sabotage attributed to Israel caused a blackout at the Natanz. Iran described the action as “nuclear terrorism.”

Ironically described as Iran’s Build Back Better plan, after each of Israel’s nuclear facility sabotage actions, Iranians have quickly gotten their facilities back online and even installed newer machines to more rapidly enrich uranium. As a result, American officials recently warned their Israeli counterparts that the attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities are counterproductive. But Israel replied that it has no intention of letting up.

Obviously if the original deal had not been so rashly torn up by Trump there is every reason to presume Iran would have stayed disarmed, but instead, with so much sabre-rattling out of Israel and America, there is every incentive to follow North Korea’s lead and join the nuclear club. As the same piece points out:

Stakes are high for the talks to succeed. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed this month that Iran is now enriching uranium up to 20 percent purity at its underground facility at Fordo, a site where the JCPOA forbids enrichment. According to the IAEA, since Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA, Iran has furthered its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity (compared with 3.67% under the deal), steadily moving closer to the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon. In September, the Institute for Science and International Security issued a report that, under the “worst-case breakout estimate,” within a month Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Click here to read the full article by Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold published by Jacobin magazine on December 12th.

Nor does Evans-Pritchard give proper context to the question of Taiwan, which first separated from the mainland when the governing Kuomintang (KMT) and its leader Chiang Kai-shek had fled there following their catastrophic defeat to the communists. Both sides soon after advocated a “One-China Policy” although each disputed the right of the other to rule over a future reunited China. Prior to 1971, it had actually been the Taiwanese Republic of China (ROC) that held the seat on the UN Security Council.

Then, when the great reformer Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, he proposed an updated constitutional arrangement of “One Country Two Systems”, according to which partial autonomy would be granted, permitting Taiwan to operate an unfettered free-market economy and an independent military although under mainland sovereignty. This offer was formally rejected by Taiwan, but still a “One-China Policy” has been long-standing and officially recognised by successive American presidents – at least until now.

To quote from the current Wikipedia entry:

Today, ROC is the de facto government of Taiwan; whereas the PRC is the de facto government over Mainland China. However, each government claims to be the legitimate government of all China de jure.

In short, Taiwanese independence remains a highly contentious issue on both sides of the strait.

Stepping back therefore we should acknowledge that China has both political and strategic interest in Taiwan and the sovereignty issue remains an exceedingly complex one. Likewise, Russia has historical and cultural ties to the people of the breakaway republics of the Donbass and Luhansk, who are still embattled and fighting for independence against Ukrainian Nationalists (including neo-Nazis) in response to oppressive measures introduced in the immediate aftermath of the Maidan coup of 2014.

So although it is easy to characterise each of these conflicts as revanchist on the part of the Russian and Chinese regimes, which then in turn validates the prevailing argument that we must not repeat the historical error of appeasement, this is actually a dangerous misrepresentation of the full picture. It denies the basic fact that all nations have interests, and that some of interests are non-negotiable.

Returning to Evans-Pritchard’s cited example of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which involved an American response to a perceived as a Soviet threat that was in turn a Soviet retaliation after the US moved its missiles to Turkey, we see that both sides considered the danger posed by the other as a just cause for nuclear brinksmanship.

In 2016, John Pilger released his 60th documentary film The Coming War on China which is embedded below. In the notes on the official website, Pilger writes:

This film, The Coming War on China, is a warning that nuclear war is not only imaginable, but a ‘contingency’, says the Pentagon. The greatest build-up of Nato military forces since the Second World War is under way on the western borders of Russia. On the other side of the world, the rise of China as the world’s second economic power is viewed in Washington as another ‘threat’ to American dominance.

To counter this, in 2011, President Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, which meant that almost two-thirds of all US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific, their weapons aimed at China.

Today, some 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. They form an arc from Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. It is, says one US strategist, ‘the perfect noose’.

In secrecy, the biggest single American-run air-sea military exercise in recent years – known as Talisman Sabre – has rehearsed an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca, cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is largely this fear of an economic blockade that has seen China building airstrips on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Last year, Chinese nuclear forces were reportedly upgraded from low to high alert.

This is not news, or it is news distorted or buried. Instead, there is a familiar drumbeat identifying a new enemy: a restoration of the psychology of fear that embedded public consciousness for most of the 20th century. The aim of The Coming War on China is to help break the silence. As the centenaries of the First World War presently remind us, horrific conflict can begin all too easily. The difference today is nuclear.

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All of today’s escalating crises have been – and continue to be – inflamed, in the most part deliberately, by Western interference. The Ukrainian Maidan was initially sparked by the actions of the European Union although the violent protests that ended in the toppling of elected President Viktor Yanokovych and installation of Western puppet Arseniy Yatsenyuk were directed by Washington as a notorious leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt revealed.

Having helped to orchestrate a coup, America continues to supply arms and offer military and intelligence support to the Ukrainian nationalists in their war against the peoples of the Donbass and Luhansk regions. Meanwhile Nato sails its warships provocatively on the Black Sea, while occasionally buzzing the still disputed territory of Crimea. Likewise, America and Britain now regularly send their warships to the South China Sea for large-scale exercises. Why are the British and American navies patrolling waters so far from their own shores? What other purpose than provocation?

On December 1st, the German newspaper Die Welt published an opinion piece by its Chief Foreign Policy Correspondent Clemens Wergin under the headline “The West must finally treat Moscow like the pariah regime it is acting as”, in which it boldly asserts in the language of this new Cold War era that: “Moscow is trying, as in Soviet times, to force parts of Eastern Europe under its thumb.” Yet in reality, most of the former Soviet Bloc countries including Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, are now fully-fledged members of Nato.

Richard Sakwa says:

“Ultimately the question is ‘what is the US strategic goal’? It should be peace. It should be some sort of framework in which Russia is part of the solution, instead of which being constantly externalised as an enemy… There’s a marvellous book which I’m sure you know [by] William Hill called No Place for Russia which describes how since 1991 desperate attempts by Yeltsin and then Putin to establish an inclusive security order – and indeed Medvedev with his ideas in 2008 – so the idea is that you can’t negotiate with Moscow because it doesn’t want to deal, or that any negotiation effectively is appeasement.

“It is sort of crazy talk. That means there can be no diplomacy. There can be no engagement, no dialogue, no working on common issues, though Biden of course after the Geneva Summit has established a working party on cyber issues and on strategic security, which is very welcome, and so there is talk going on, but in an atmosphere of fundamental distrust.” [from 10:35 mins]

In fact these crises are happening because the world’s superpowers are butting heads, just as they did during the first Cold War. And throughout that first Cold War the public was constantly informed about the Soviet Union’s abysmal human rights record and their tremendous eagerness to invade the West. The first claim is provably true, of course, but the follow-up claim was false; a cheap propaganda trick that instilled fear and maximised the expansion of the military-industrial complex.

Nor do the Russians or Chinese have plans to invade us tomorrow, but threatened by western expansion up to their borders, both are now preparing to defend their national interests. The latest threats of pre-emptive strikes on Ukraine and Taiwan are reactive. Thus Evans-Pritchard’s parallels with the Cuban Missile Crisis are entirely valid. And keep in mind that in 1962 the world only narrowly escaped disaster thanks to courage of Soviet submarine commander Vasily Arkhipov, who overrode a decision to launch a nuclear strike that otherwise might have ended civilisation and annihilated much of the life on this planet.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are not, as Evans-Pritchard states in his article, on the immediate brink of testing a bomb, but instead, and unlike their Israeli adversaries, lack any nuclear capability. Nevertheless another Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear facility – especially if it is a civilian one that causes widespread radioactive contamination – might yet be the trigger that ignites a war to end all wars.

As John Pilger describes in his notes to The Coming War on China:

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, ‘disappeared’, a political embarrassment.

Another shadow now looms over all of us.

As a youth I was a member of CND and also subscribed to their in-house magazine which carried the apt title Sanity to helpfully distinguished the group’s unilateralist disarmament position from the multilateralist principle of deterrence known as ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ or MAD. Today instead of MAD we have a more frank if utterly absurd discussion that considers nuclear first-strike to be an option; crazy nonsense that mostly comes from the neo-con factions inside the US and Israel. These are the Strangeloves; not merely psychopaths, but madmen with a death wish, because adopting such a strategy is far, far madder than MAD ever was! How did our democratic systems fail so badly as to enable these certifiable lunatics ever to come to power? (That’s a question for another day.)

Writing for the Quincy Institute journal Responsible Statecraft, British policy analyst and Orwell Prize-winning journalist, Anatol Lieven, goes so far as to describe Washington’s antagonist relationship with Russia, including the tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as “absurd and reckless”. An article published on December 1st begins:

Official U.S. behavior towards Russia is suffering from a pretty acute case of what might charitably be called obsessive-compulsive disorder. As a result of this affliction, it has often lost touch not only with basic strategic common sense, but with the overall goals and strategy of the current U.S. administration.

The latest manifestation of this has been the U.S. refusal to extend the visas of Russian diplomats in Washington, which this week naturally and inevitably led to a new round of tit for tat expulsions of U.S. diplomats from Moscow. As a result of an escalating cycle of retaliation in recent years, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is now the only U.S. diplomatic presence in that country, and the number of its staff is barely one tenth of its previous figure.

While being unwilling to seek any real compromises with Russia, President Biden and his team are clearly anxious to avoid new crises if possible; and there are the most obvious and sensible reasons for this desire. The administration has made meeting the challenge (whether real or imagined) from China the core of its entire global strategy. Any new confrontation with Russia would be a colossal distraction from this strategy, and would in fact be a magnificent strategic gift to Beijing.

In these strategic circumstances, the obvious course for America would be to carry out the “opening to China” of the 1970s in reverse, and aim for a grand strategic compromise with Russia that would neutralize U.S.-Russian tensions and split Moscow from Beijing. Even if such a move is beyond the vision and moral courage of U.S. leaders today, at the very least one would expect that U.S. policy would avoid all purely gratuitous and unnecessary gestures of hostility towards Russia, especially when these are absolutely bound to provoke an equal Russian response.

Yet since the Biden administration took office, efforts to defuse tension with Russia have been interspersed with episodes of insulting language, symbolic affronts and meaningless but deeply provocative statements. It is as if the U.S. establishment simply cannot control itself when it comes to jabbing at Russia.

Concluding:

The result is to damage or eliminate precisely those lines of communication which it is essential to keep open if minor incidents are to be prevented from escalating into major and unnecessary crises.

If these moves were part of a U.S. considered strategy, they would be deeply foolish and reckless; but at a time when the U.S. leadership actually wants to reduce tension with Moscow, they verge on the insane.

Click here to read Anatol Lieven’s full article entitled “Tit for tat diplomatic expulsions by Russia and America are absurd and reckless: At a time when Washington wants to reduce tension with Moscow, these acts verge on the insane” published in Responsible Statecraft.

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America’s long-term geostrategic repositioning through the stealth expansion of Nato directly up to the borders of Russia and China is now combined with its ever more bellicose political posturing. Repeatedly under the threat of attack, loose defensive alliances have tightened between Russia, China and Iran, so a coordinated response becomes all the more likely. Should the West or Israel (with US consent) take the decision to declare “pre-emptive” war against any one of the three sovereign powers, the realistic expectation is wider war. Given the probable magnitude of a three-pronged retaliation and the genuine potential for a thermonuclear exchange, the prospect of wars against Russia, China and Iran is therefore absolutely unthinkable.

A century ago a detached and callous ruling class led a largely innocent and unwitting generation into the bloody technological hellhole of no-man’s land to slaughter one another for the glory of king and country and, importantly, for the sake of empire. Back then and ever since, we have rightly talked of “lions led by donkeys”. Astonishingly, the donkeys are back in charge again, except that this time around besides an imbecilic and unprincipled political class, we also have an atrophied antiwar opposition, a moribund fourth estate and an endlessly diverted populous, so the worry is that we may be dealing with donkeys virtually all the way down.

So forgive me when I hammer this point: war is in the air again, and not just any old war. WAR with Russia! WAR with Iran! WAR with China! WAR with all three simultaneously!

I make no apologies for my vulgar use of capitals. We all need to shout about this. What’s the alternative?

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Under UN Resolution 2758, passed on 25 October 1971, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was recognised as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all organizations related to it.” An earlier General Assembly Resolution 1668 passed in 1961 had ensured this change in recognition had required a two-thirds majority of all voting members.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, China, did you see?, Iran, Israel, John Pilger, Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized, USA

renewed calls for a full investigation into the OPCW Douma cover-up

On April 15th, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias faced questions about the Douma cover-up from Mick Wallace and Clare Daley of the European Parliament. Both Wallace and Daley asked Arias why he has refused to address the Douma cover-up and meet with the dissenting inspectors. The meeting chair, former French cabinet minister Nathalie Loiseau, tried to cut-off the questions and even apologized to Arias for them being posed.  Arias then made a series of excuses and even false claims.

The following day, the Douma scandal was discussed at an Arria Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The invited briefers at the meeting included Hans von Sponeck and Lawrence Wilkerson, two veteran diplomats who have signed a Statement of Concern about the Douma scandal, alongside other notable voices including five former OPCW officials. In his comments, von Sponeck revealed that Arias, the OPCW chief, refused to read the statement and returned it to sender. In response, the ambassadors of the nations that bombed Syria in April 2018 – the US, UK, and France – tried to dismiss the Douma cover-up scandal as Russian propaganda and refused to offer any substantive comments on the issue.

The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté also presented evidence to the UNSC and embedded below is a powerful report by Maté on what took place and why it is vital to counter the lies of the OPCW and its new chief Fernando Arias:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the third of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 19th 2019, was the Douma gas attack staged…? little by little the truth is coming out was the first of two articles (here is a link to the follow up) in which I presented some of the growing evidence disproving the official story surrounding the alleged Syrian chlorine gas attack in Douma and including the Twitter stream from BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, in which he claimed to have knowledge that the event was staged by terrorist faction Jaish al-Islam.

Do you remember these harrowing scenes shot inside a hospital in Douma from early April last year?

The footage of an alleged chemical attack is genuinely distressing. The children who have queued up to receive treatment are clearly suffering, and many have terrified looks in their eyes. However, within hours and with the actual arrival of journalists on the ground, the first reports differed markedly from claims presented in this video footage.

They did not find evidence to corroborate the story that poison gas had been released. Instead, they spoke to eyewitnesses who described the aftermath of conventional airstrikes, some of whom also talked about smoke and dust inhalation. (Here are extracts of these on-the-ground reports that I reposted at the time.)

“What you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani, an eyewitness working in the clinic, told Robert Fisk of The Independent. The same doctor also explained how although the patients were suffering from smoke and dust inhalation, “someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.” 1 This story was later corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of others including 11-year-old Hassan Diab (one of the children seen in the video) and by members of the hospital staff. 2

In short, what the video shows is real in one sense, but in another way this is a manufactured panic that was staged, repackaged and distributed all by the White Helmets group. In different circumstances, the footage would be called fake news because it is.

The tweet above was written by BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, and it first came to light in February before being swiftly deleted. “After almost 6 months of investigations”, Dalati claims, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

Continuing in another tweet:

Truth is James Harkin got the basics right in terms of Douma’s “propaganda” value. The ATTACK DID HAPPEN, Sarin wasn’t used, but we’ll have to wait for OPCW to prove Chlorine or otherwise. However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

In the same thread Dalati added:

I can tell you that Jaysh al-Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist. They coopted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation. In fact, one of the 3 or 4 people filming the scene was Dr. Abu Bakr Hanan, a “brute and shifty” doctor affiliated with Jaysh Al-Islam. The narrative was that “there weren’t enough drs” but here is one filming and not taking part of the rescue efforts. Will keep the rest for later.

As Zerohedge reported at the time:

Interestingly, the BBC’s Dalati had actually first hinted he knew that elements surrounding the Douma attack had been staged a mere days after the incident.

In a now deleted April 11, 2018 tweet, he had stated: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

Thus far mainstream networks have not picked up on this latest bombshell admission from the BBC producer, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any formal response from the BBC based on the Russian foreign ministry’s request. 3

Click here to read the full report entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden.

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More recently, a suppressed OPCW report was made public by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The following extracts are drawn from an excellent overview put together by Kit Knightly and published at Off-Guardian:

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2 : ”The Patio”

Location 4: ”The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of the Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly.

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The corporate media has so far paid little attention to the leaked OPCW document. This can be justified, of course, if as the OPCW contend:

“the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM [OPCW Fact-Finding Mission]”

However, the provenance of the document was in fact established by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media prior to publicly releasing it. As they explain:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, who is listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We have confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM, Henderson was assigned to lead the investigation of the cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand that “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

Moreover:

The engineering sub-team could not have been carrying out studies in Douma at Locations 2 and 4 unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (the body that oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely that Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

And lastly:

The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter. 5

Click here to read more from the briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

One mainstream journalist who did pick up and report on news of the leak is Peter Hitchens:

[A]s I said in my March 9th article ‘On the subject of the cylinders it [the OPCW’s final report] says physical evidence was ‘consistent’ with the view that the cylinders had passed through the concrete roof of the building in which they were found. […]

The leaked document differs sharply from this. So I set out first of all to discover if the OPCW disputed the claim that the leaked document came from within its organisation. As you will see from the response below (As it is mostly flannel, I have highlighted the key words), it does not dispute this. I also asked them to confirm that its named author was in fact an OPCW employee. As you will see from the response below, it declined to confirm the latter. I think, if it had wished to do so, it could have disowned the name person.

I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:

‘The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed.  All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat.

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. (my emphasis, PH)

 At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.’

I thank the OPCW for confirming that the document is genuine. 6

[All emphasis retained from Peter Hitchen’s original article]

Click here to read Peter Hitchen’s full article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” published by the Mail Online.

On the basis of available evidence, the OPCW is a compromised intergovernmental body whose independence can no longer be relied upon. Previously the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media had concluded that:

“It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”

On the basis of the latest disclosure, however, their revised statement concludes more forcibly addressing what it describes as “the hijacking of OPCW”:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. 7

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version below. You are encouraged to download it and share it widely:

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As the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media rightly assert, there were victims who were killed at Douma. The most graphic video footage shows literally dozens of corpses lying on top of one another, with some appearing to have a kind of froth on their mouths. These victims were originally said to have been sheltering in an underground shelter where the gas canisters were allegedly dropped, although it seems more probable that the scenes are from inside a flat. Embedded below is only uploaded version I can find on youtube – it forms the opening segment to a CNN bulletin [the footage runs from 30–60 secs]:

Back in 2013, Euronews interviewed Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute, who had outlined inconsistencies in footage of patients’ symptoms released following the earliest alleged chemical attacks:

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

As the evidence stacks up that the Douma gas attack was entirely staged, the most likely explanation is therefore a macabre one. Jonathan Cook puts it plainly:

An atrocity that appears to be corroborated again by BBC producer Riam Dalati in another of his follow-up tweets:

Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.

Tyler Durden, in the same Zerohedge article, writes:

Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed-out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies. 8

Click here to read Tyler Durden’s full article.

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One final thought as the corporate media turns a blind eye to the approach of the annual “private gathering” of our senior politicians, business leaders, and other movers and shakers at Bilderberg – with days to go the venue still remains a closely guarded secret – it is noteworthy (as I have noted previously) that Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of the OPCW during the Douma investigation, was in attendance at the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria (June 2015) just short of three years prior to the Douma incident. His stay at this secretive conference with its strictly off-the-record political agenda meant rubbing elbows with top brass from Nato, CEOs of the major arms manufactures, and senior politicians including ministers of defence, which clearly compromises the independence and discredits claims of impartiality of this former chief of OPCW. There is a conflict of interests here that needs to be investigated.

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1 From an article entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attacks” written by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent on April 17, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

2 Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

3 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

4 From an article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly, published in Off-Guardian on May 14, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/05/14/leaked-report-douma-chemical-attack-likely-staged/ 

5 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

6 From an article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” written by Peter Hitchens, published in the Mail Online on May 16, 2019. https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2019/05/strange-news-from-the-opcw-in-the-hague-.html

7 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

8 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

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PR rebranding of al-Qaeda in Syria – take three!

Back in February, Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline programme conducted an interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and commander-in-chief of its rebranded offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Jolani, who has been identified as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US State Department, currently has a $10 million bounty on his head:

The interview conducted by Frontline’s Martin Smith is essentially a “media show”—Smith’s own words—staged to whitewash the bloody history of the Al Nusra Front’s terrorism in Syria and provide Jolani with a forum for proclaiming the front’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a legitimate political force and natural ally of Washington. The terrorist designation attached to himself and his organization was “unfair” and “political,” Jolani said.

Smith asked Jolani to take a pledge: “Will you say here and now then, very clearly, that you as a former Al Qaeda leader … will not support … any attacks against the United States?” The Al Qaeda veteran readily accepted.

The HTS leader was also allowed to issue blanket denials of the widespread charges of torture, disappearances, summary executions and severe repression of any form of dissent in the territory in Idlib under control of HTS gunmen. Those who made such charges, he said, were “Russian agents” or “regime agents.”

From an article entitled “Washington brings Syria’s Al Qaeda in from the cold” published wsws.org.

In the same piece Bill Van Auken continues:

A week before the broadcast, three women and one man, accused of adultery and attempted murder, were stoned to death by HTS security forces in the Idlib city center, one of many such barbaric public executions.

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report on Syria in which it described brutal repression of Idlib’s civilian population at the hands of HTS.

“Torture and ill-treatment were widespread,” it reported. “Torture was most common in Idlib central prison and its Shahin section, in Harem central prison and Ouqab prison, with methods including severe beatings, placing detainees in a ‘coffin’ or in a dulab (tyre) or suspending them by their limbs. Victims were frequently tortured during interrogation sessions, and held incommunicado to ultimately extract confessions. Some detainees were told to write a testimony dictated to them by the interrogators, or forced to sign or thumbprint a document, with no knowledge of its content. Some detainees died as a result of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care.” The report added that “former detainees described being sexually harassed, forced to strip naked, electrocuted on their genitals and raped in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham facilities.”

And on April 5, the Syrian Network for Human Rights confirmed that “at least 2,246 Syrian citizens are still detained or forcibly disappeared in HTS’s detention centers, constituting a grave threat to the detainees’ wellbeing, given the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

Concluding:

The attempt to rehabilitate Jolani not only exposes the lies, hypocrisy and criminality of US imperialist policy in the Middle East, it is a warning that new atrocities are being prepared in Washington’s quest for hegemony over the region and entire globe.

Click here to read the full article by Bill Van Auken published on April 7th.

As part of this same public relations campaign to rehabilitate the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which rules Idlib, Syria’s last militant-controlled province – former top US diplomat James Jeffrey, who served as US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy to the International military intervention against ISIL, also acknowledged on the same PBS show that HTS is a US “asset”:

“They are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, and Idlib is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East”

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Lindsey Snell is an independent journalist who reports from across the Middle East and North Africa. In 2016, she was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria – what was then called al-Nusra Front – and held captive for ten days before escaping. Recently interviewed by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone, she was asked about her response to James Jeffrey’s endorsement of HTS:

“It was shocking but not totally shocking because a year ago he made some similar comments – something along the lines of ‘they’re not like ISIS planning international attacks; they’re just in Syria’. Just softening the image of HTS already. So it’s just been a lead up to now – you know, now [he is] explicitly saying they are a US asset.” [from 4:45 mins]

She continues:

“It’s funny because their rebranding campaign actually started when I was their captive – they changed their name for the first time and they announced that they had split from al-Qaeda when I was their captive. It of course didn’t actually change anything and to this day most of them still call themselves Nusra. People in Syria referring to them call them Nusra. I mean their split from al-Qaeda was really just a cosmetic thing, it was surface level; it wasn’t real.

“They’re still the same group. They’re still the same terrorists. They’re inflicting Sharia law on everyone in their territories. While this New York Times journalist was there a few weeks ago, they executed three people for adultery. Stoned them to death.

“They’re the same group. And so all these things that they’re doing are cosmetic. I think that the only substantive thing that they’ve done is that they’re no longer capturing foreigners. I mean they’re no longer trying to take a foreign journalist and holding them for ransom. They’re working with Turkey to allow foreign journalists to basically come and propagandise for them.” [from 5:30 mins]

The full interview is embedded below:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the first of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 27th 2019, terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time covers the BBC’s role in an earlier rebranding exercise.

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The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] in a debut video appearance.

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

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying notes:

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

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

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

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

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

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

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

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

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

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st 2015 in The Daily Beast].

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

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

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

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Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

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1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

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

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

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5 former OPCW officials join prominent voices to call out Syria cover-up

Reprinted below is the full ‘Statement of Concern’ signed by more than twenty prestigious academics, journalists and leading weapons experts including five former OPCW officials who are named as Dr. Sabine Krüger, former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009; Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq; Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader; Alan Steadman, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & UNSCOM Inspector; and José Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France. The full list of signatories is attached at the end of the statement.

Click here to read the same statement as it originally appears posted on the Courage Foundation website on Thursday March 11th.

Embedded below is the latest broadcast of The Grayzone’s ‘Pushback’ in which Aaron Maté details the letter and airs clips of his and Tulsi Gabbard’s recent ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ appearance discussing the OPCW controversy:

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Statement of Concern

The OPCW investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Syria

We wish to express our deep concern over the protracted controversy and political fall-out surrounding the OPCW and its investigation of the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.

Since the publication by the OPCW of its final report in March 2019, a series of worrying developments has raised serious and substantial concerns with respect to the conduct of that investigation. These developments include instances in which OPCW inspectors involved with the investigation have identified major procedural and scientific irregularities, the leaking of a significant quantity of corroborating documents, and damning statements provided to UN Security Council meetings. It is now well established that some senior inspectors involved with the investigation, one of whom played a central role, reject how the investigation derived its conclusions, and OPCW management now stands accused of accepting unsubstantiated or possibly manipulated findings with the most serious geo-political and security implications. Calls by some members of the Executive Council of the OPCW to allow all inspectors to be heard were blocked.

The inspectors’ concerns are shared by the first Director General of the OPCW, José Bustani, and a significant number of eminent individuals have called for transparency and accountability at the OPCW. Bustani himself was recently prevented by key members of the Security Council from participating in a hearing on the Syrian dossier. As Ambassador Bustani stated in a personal appeal to the Director General, if the Organization is confident in the conduct of its Douma investigation then it should have no difficulty addressing the inspectors’ concerns.

To date, unfortunately, the OPCW senior management has failed to adequately respond to the allegations against it and, despite making statements to the contrary, we understand has never properly allowed the views or concerns of the members of the investigation team to be heard or even met with most of them. It has, instead, side-stepped the issue by launching an investigation into a leaked document related to the Douma case and by publicly condemning its most experienced inspectors for speaking out.

In a worrying recent development, a draft letter falsely alleged to have been sent by the Director General to one of the dissenting inspectors was leaked to an ‘open source’ investigation website in an apparent attempt to smear the former senior OPCW scientist. The ‘open source’ website then published the draft letter together with the identity of the inspector in question. Even more alarmingly, in a BBC4 radio series aired recently, an anonymous source, reportedly connected with the OPCW Douma investigation, gave an interview with the BBC in which he contributes to an attempt to discredit not only the two dissenting inspectors, but even Ambassador Bustani himself. Importantly, recent leaks in December 2020 have evidenced that a number of senior OPCW officials were supportive of one OPCW inspector who had spoken out with respect to malpractice.

The issue at hand threatens to severely damage the reputation and credibility of the OPCW and undermine its vital role in the pursuit of international peace and security. It is simply not tenable for a scientific organization such as the OPCW to refuse to respond openly to the criticisms and concerns of its own scientists whilst being associated with attempts to discredit and smear those scientists. Moreover, the on-going controversy regarding the Douma report also raises concerns with respect to the reliability of previous FFM reports, including the investigation of the alleged attack at Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

We believe that the interests of the OPCW are best served by the Director General providing a transparent and neutral forum in which the concerns of all the investigators can be heard as well as ensuring that a fully objective and scientific investigation is completed.

To that end, we call on the Director General of the OPCW to find the courage to address the problems within his organization relating to this investigation and ensure States Parties and the United Nations are informed accordingly. In this way we hope and believe that the credibility and integrity of the OPCW can be restored.

Signatories in Support of the Statement of Concern:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

Professor Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor U. of Arizona and Institute Professor (em), MIT.

Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor, Harper’s Magazine.

Daniel Ellsberg, PERI Distinguished Research Fellow, UMass Amherst. Former Defense and State Department official. Former official of Defense Department (GS-18) and State Department (FSR-1).

Professor Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University.

Tulsi Gabbard, former Presidential candidate and Member of the US House of Representatives (2013-2021).

Professor Dr. Ulrich Gottstein, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW-Germany).

Katharine Gun, former GCHQ (UKGOV), whistleblower.

Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary-General (1994-98).

Professor Pervez Houdbhoy, Quaid-e-Azam University and ex Pugwash.

Kristinn Hrafnnson, Editor in Chief, Wikileaks.

Dr. Sabine Krüger, Analytical Chemist, Former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009.

Ray McGovern, ex-CIA Presidential Briefer; co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (rtd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Professor Götz Neuneck, Pugwash Council and German Pugwash Chair.

Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader, Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq

John Pilger, Emmy and Bafta winning journalist and film maker.

Professor Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and Head Industry Inspections.

Professor John Avery Scales, Professor, Pugwash Council and Danish Pugwash Chair.

Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (Iraq).

Alan Steadman, Chemical Weapons Munitions Specialist, Former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and UNSCOM Inspector.

Jonathan Steele, journalist and author.

Roger Waters, Musician and Activist.

Lord West of Spithead, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 2002-06.

Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

Colonel (ret.) Lawrence B. Wilkerson, U.S. Army, Visiting Professor at William and Mary College and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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these materials may have been obtained through hacking…

After The Grayzone‘s Max Blumenthal reported on newly leaked documents exposing a massive UK government propaganda campaign against Russia, Twitter added an unprecedented warning label that “These materials may have been obtained through hacking.” Although Twitter may have intended to restrict the article, the warning had the opposite effect: it quickly went viral.

Here Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté discuss the suppression effort and the damning UK government leaks at the heart of it. After years of fear-mongering about Russian interference in Western democracies, these UK government files expose a sprawling propaganda effort that explicitly aims to “weaken” Russia. The documents reveal that this propaganda campaign has also enlisted major media outlets Reuters and the BBC, as well as the NATO member state-funded website Bellingcat.

Click here to full the original article entitled “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to ‘weaken Russia,’ leaked docs reveal”.

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Additional:

In the video below, Jimmy Dore outlines Twitter’s new rules and explains how in an absolutely Orwellian twist they are now literally redefining the word ‘hack’ to make it apply to all leaked materials. He also speaks to Max Blumenthal and they discuss an attempted policy reversal when Twitter briefly decided to remove their warning label [caution: strong language]:

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when hate speech is just dandy: release of CCE report throws into light the strange liberal love affair with Alexei Navalny

If I was to describe Muslim migrant workers arriving here from the south as cockroaches and then go so far as you recommend eradication as a solution, not only would I expect my readers to be absolutely disgusted, but I would think it quite justifiable for WordPress, Facebook and Twitter to censor such incendiary racist content. And I say this as an ardent proponent for free speech who fully supports the right for others to hold and spread contemptible opinions, not even debarring vile racism so long as it is within well-established restrictions that make it illegal to incite violence.

With this in mind, now watch “Alexei Navalny Certified Nationalist” (as his own caption reads) rallying his base by speaking to supporters in precisely this way in a political promo broadcast from 2007:

Click here to find the same content uploaded on the Internet Archive.

Ten years later in 2017, Navalny, already the darling of western liberals, was featured by the Guardian in an interview with Shaun Walker. A perfect opportunity to issue his apology and express some modicum of regret (even if phoney) for what the article lightly describes as “a number of disturbing videos, including one in which he is dressed as a dentist, complaining that tooth cavities ruin healthy teeth, as clips of migrant workers are shown.” Instead, however, we learn, Navalny remains “unapologetic”:

He sees it as a strength that he can speak to both liberals and nationalists. But comparing migrants to cockroaches? “That was artistic license,” he says. So there’s nothing at all from those videos or that period that he regrets? “No,” he says again, firmly.

Well hey ho, Navalny may speak in terms no different from Le Pen and Trump and with less restraint and worse manners, and be unrepentant in his choice of rancid language and imagery so long as it appeals to a slavering nationalist base, but quite unlike Le Pen and Trump he somehow still manages to tick all of the liberal boxes; his single discernible quality being his hostility towards Putin, which is evidently all that finally counts. The Guardian certainly gives Navalny a pass, Shaun Walker continuing:

Perhaps he has a cynical belief that, with the support of the liberal elite sewn up, the anti-migrant rhetoric can potentially help him appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, most opposition politicians, even if they don’t like Navalny much, are aware that he is the best hope for swelling anti-Putin sentiment. 1

However, not everyone is so forgiving. For perfectly understandable reasons therefore, and with public pressure mounting, on Tuesday Amnesty International quietly downgraded the status of Navalny, determining that he no longer fits their criteria for “prisoner of conscience”.

In dismay, the BBC yesterday reported:

A spokesman for the human rights organisation in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to “de-list” Navalny was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and “impede” Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody. 2

To be honest, I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about Alexei Navalny, and though our own liberal media has got into the unfortunate habit of fawning over Russia’s own Trump, his “anti-corruption” shtick (to drain the Kremlin swamp presumably!) seems to strike less of a chord with the average Russian. In the west, Navalny is endlessly held up as the poster child of Russian opposition, and yet in truth his political sideshow is seen more as a dubious irrelevance and especially by those on the left who are actually taking the battle to the oligarchs.

To better gauge Russian public opinion and hear a genuine left-wing take on Alexei Navalny, I recommend this recent Grayzone interview in which Katya Kazbek, the editor-in-chief of arts and culture magazine Supamodu.com; and Alexey Sakhnin, activist and a member of the Left Front, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin protest movement from 2011 to 2013, spoke with Aaron Maté:

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Unrelated but with perfect timing, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) yesterday released its long-awaited report. In it they are calling for new laws to tackle the spread of hate speech and the glorification of extremism.

Set up by Theresa May’s government back in 2017 in the shadow of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, the “independent” CCE, “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism,” 3 was headed up by a little-known activist called Sara Khan and ex-senior police officer, Sir Mark Rowley. At the time, the appointment of Khan came as a shock to many and was heavily criticised by anti-racist voices as politically diverse as former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Naz Shah and Diane Abbott, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, and CAGE, the London-based advocacy group for Muslim detainees.

Writing in Middle East Eye, Siema Iqbal expressed her own outrage at Khan’s appointment as follows:

An article Khan wrote that was published in a report by Hope Not Hate in 2017, which amounts to a collection of smears directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broad-brush strokes with which she portrayed these organisations, many of which are stalwarts of the community, does not command confidence. It is true that Khan is from the Pakistani and Muslim communities, but without legitimacy and without trust, this amounts to little.

Continuing:

[W]hat is more extraordinary, is that the government has launched a Commission to Counter Extremism when there is no actual legal definition of the term itself. How is it possible to work on something the government has failed to define?

Instead, why not engage more widely with Muslim community organisations and address the concerns around Prevent and the lack of transparency around the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit and its work?

Numerous academics, organisations and individuals have expressed their concerns around the discriminatory aspects of the Prevent policy and its pseudo-scientific basis, yet the government still refuses to call an independent enquiry.

The government may have found itself a Muslim woman to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office alongside others. However, she is outnumbered by those who will not. 4

Click here to read Siema Iqbal’s full article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment”.

The details of this new CCE report recommend the further tightening of controls on activities the commission describes as “hateful extremism”, which according to Mark Rowley is “where one group targets another to ‘to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology’ and wanting ‘to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence’”:

It is based on a concept already in use in terrorism trials, the “mindset material” where extremist material, such as from the far right or Islamist terrorist videos, are accepted as evidence of pre-existing extremism. […]

Rowley said a tougher approach for the internet was needed but technology companies had pointed out there was little more they could do until they [sic] was an accepted definition of what counted as extremism: “The magnifying effect of social media had transformed it from a sideshow to a major threat.”

The report said there were worrying signs the young were being duped by extremists.

From an article in the Guardian which also includes a response from a spokesman for CAGE – an organisation Sara Khan now claims could meet ‘the threshold for action’ – who in turn accuses the commission of “implementing an ‘official’ state-sanctioned policy of ‘cancel culture’ arguing for further restrictions on lawful speech”:

“After 3 years, and at great taxpayer expense, the CCE concludes its work without any further clarity on what ‘extremism’ is. Instead it promotes ideas from some of the most stridently Islamophobic and censorious organisations in the industry.” 5

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

While seemingly unconnected, the latest twist in the Navalny saga and the concurrent release of the CCE report throw abundant light on the double standards we see operating throughout the media. More alarmingly, the difference in the way cases are being treated seems to be indicative of a divergence at the level of law: what is deemed politically acceptable potentially informing what kinds of freedom of speech will be legally sanctioned in the future.

On the one hand, anyone in Britain presumed to be creating “a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence” may soon find themselves faced with the threat of prosecution. The big question is, of course, to whom will this legislation actually apply? Muslims understandably fear that once again they will be the ones targeted.

Meanwhile, censorship on the grounds of such vaguely defined infringements as “hateful extremism” provides yet another pretext to deplatform alternative opinion, which is deeply worrying at a time when freedom of speech, especially on the internet, is already under sustained attack and unwanted alternative opinions are already subjected to unprecedented levels of censorship.

On the other hand, describing Muslim migrant workers as cockroaches and openly calling for their eradication will doubtless continue to be passed over as a minor indiscretion and more actively defended as a justifiable ploy for gaining political traction against the enemy, just so long as your name is Alexei Navalny.

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1 From an article entitled “Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’” written by Shaun Walker, published in the Guardian on April 29, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/29/alexei-navalny-on-putins-russia-all-autocratic-regimes-come-to-an-end

2 From an article entitled “Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status” written by Sarah Rainford, published in BBC News on February 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56181084

3 From Theresa May’s statement following the terrorist attack near a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, published in full by BBC News on June 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40327996

4 From an article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment” written by Siema Iqbal, published in Middle East Eye on January 29, 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/68777

5 From an article entitled “New UK laws needed to stop hate speech and extremism, says report” written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on February 24, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/24/new-uk-laws-needed-to-stop-hate-speech-and-extremism-says-report

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José Bustani, former head of OPCW, blocked by US, UK and France from giving testimony to UNSC – you can read it here

Ian Henderson, a veteran OPCW inspector who challenged a cover-up of his organization’s investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, recently testified before the United Nations Security Council. At the meeting, Henderson was both attacked and ignored by US, UK, and French diplomats whose governments bombed Syria over allegations that Henderson’s censored investigation undermined.

Click here to watch Ian Henderson’s testimony and to read my previous post on the subject.

At another UN Security Council gathering one week later [Monday 5th Oct], the US and its allies continued their censorship campaign by voting to block the testimony of the OPCW’s former chief, José Bustani, who had come to speak out in support of the whistleblowers. The Grayzone obtained Bustani’s prepared statement and has published it in full (it is also reproduced below).

On yesterday’s Pushback, host Aaron Maté, who delivered his own statement to the first UNSC meeting (again, see previous post), recapped on these extraordinary events with excerpts of Henderson and Bustani’s comments, as well as those of the Western ambassadors who tried to silence them.

Although the UNSC hearings were called to look into allegations of the OPCW’s cover-up specifically during its investigation into an alleged chemical attack on Douma in April 2018 – accusations that then served as a pretext for the bombing of Syria by the US, UK and France – Aaron Maté felt compelled to also repudiate prior allegations of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta since this matter had been raised by the French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière.

I strongly advice readers to watch the final section of this episode [beginning at about 39 mins] which reviews Ian Henderson’s closing statement at the end of the first UNSC meeting, including Henderson’s claim of earlier political interference hampering the OPCW’s original investigative role inside Syria.

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As the OPCW’s first Director General, Bustani experienced first-hand the costs of challenging pro-war narratives. In 2002, he was personally threatened by John Bolton and ousted as OPCW chief after he facilitated inspections that stood in the way of the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq.

In testimony that the UN did not allow to be submitted, Bustani voices support for the OPCW inspectors who found evidence that undermined the official narrative (but were censored by their superiors under US pressure) and urges the current Director General, Fernando Arias, to let them air their suppressed evidence in a transparent manner.

“At great risk to themselves, [the inspectors] have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out,” Bustani says. “Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing.”

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A full transcript of José Bustani’s statement is reproduced below:

Mr Chairman, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, your excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is José Bustani. I am honoured to have been invited to present a statement for this meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Syrian chemical dossier and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As the OPCW’s first Director General, a position I held from 1997 to 2002, I naturally retain a keen interest in the evolution and fortunes of the Organisation. I have been particularly interested in recent developments regarding the Organisation’s work in Syria.

For those of you who are not aware, I was removed from office following a US-orchestrated campaign in 2002 for, ironically, trying to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention. My removal was subsequently ruled to be illegal by the International Labour Organisation’s Administrative Tribunal, but despite this unpleasant experience the OPCW remains close to my heart. It is a special Organisation with an important mandate. I accepted the position of Director General precisely because the Chemical Weapons Convention was non-discriminatory. I took immense pride in the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of its inspectors and wider staff in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. No State Party was to be considered above the rest and the hallmark of the Organisation’s work was the even-handedness with which all Member States were treated regardless of size, political might, or economic clout.

Although no longer at the helm by this time, I felt great joy when the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”. It was a mandate towards which I and countless other former staff members had worked tirelessly. In the nascent years of the OPCW, we faced a number of challenges, but we overcame them to earn the Organisation a well-deserved reputation for effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention autonomy, impartiality, and a refusal to be politicised. The ILO decision on my removal was an official and public reassertion of the importance of these principles.

More recently, the OPCW’s investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons have no doubt created even greater challenges for the Organisation. It was precisely for this kind of eventuality that we had developed operating procedures, analytical methods, as well as extensive training programmes, in strict accordance with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Allegations of the actual use of chemical weapons were a prospect for which we hoped our preparations would never be required. Unfortunately, they were, and today allegations of chemical weapons use are a sad reality.

It is against this backdrop that serious questions are now being raised over whether the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of some of the Organisation’s work is being severely compromised, possibly under pressure from some Member States. Of particular concern are the circumstances surrounding the OPCW’s investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018. These concerns are emanating from the very heart of the Organisation, from the very scientists and engineers involved in the Douma investigation.

In October 2019 I was invited by the Courage Foundation, an international organisation that ‘supports those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record’, to participate in a panel along with a number of eminent international figures from the fields of international law, disarmament, military operations, medicine, and intelligence. The panel was convened to hear the concerns of an OPCW official over the conduct of the Organisation’s investigation into the Douma incident.

The expert provided compelling and documentary evidence of highly questionable, and potentially fraudulent conduct in the investigative process. In a joint public statement, the Panel was, and I quote, ‘unanimous in expressing [its] alarm over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma’. The Panel further called on the OPCW, ‘to permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fulfilment of the spirit of the Convention.’

I was personally so disturbed by the testimony and evidence presented to the Panel, that I was compelled to make a public statement. I quote: “I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

The call for greater transparency from the OPCW further intensified in November 2019 when an open letter of support for the Courage Foundation declaration was sent to Permanent Representatives to the OPCW to, ‘ask for [their] support in taking action at the forthcoming Conference of States Parties aimed at restoring the integrity of the OPCW and regaining public trust.’

The signatories of this petition included such eminent figures as Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor at MIT; Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chair of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights; Coleen Rowley, whistle-blower and a 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year; Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General; and Film Director Oliver Stone, to mention a few.

Almost one year later, the OPCW has still not responded to these requests, nor to the ever-growing controversy surrounding the Douma investigation. Rather, it has hidden behind an impenetrable wall of silence and opacity, making any meaningful dialogue impossible. On the one occasion when it did address the inspectors’ concerns in public, it was only to accuse them of breaching confidentiality. Of course, Inspectors – and indeed all OPCW staff members – have responsibilities to respect confidentiality rules. But the OPCW has the primary responsibility – to faithfully ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Article VIII, para 1).

The work of the Organisation must be transparent, for without transparency there is no trust. And trust is what binds the OPCW together. If Member States do not have trust in the fairness and objectivity of the work of the OPCW, then its effectiveness as a global watchdog for chemical weapons is severely compromised.

And transparency and confidentiality are not mutually exclusive. But confidentiality cannot be invoked as a smoke screen for irregular behaviour. The Organisation needs to restore the public trust it once had and which no one denies is now waning. Which is why we are here today.

It would be inappropriate for me to advise on, or even to suggest how the OPCW should go about regaining public trust. Still, as someone who has experienced both rewarding and tumultuous times with the OPCW, I would like to make a personal plea to you, Mr Fernando Arias, as Director General of the OPCW. The inspectors are among the Organisation’s most valuable assets. As scientists and engineers, their specialist knowledge and inputs are essential for good decision making. Most importantly, their views are untainted by politics or national interests. They only rely on the science. The inspectors in the Douma investigation have a simple request – that they be given the opportunity to meet with you to express their concerns to you in person, in a manner that is both transparent and accountable.

This is surely the minimum that they can expect. At great risk to themselves, they have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out. The Convention itself showed great foresight in allowing inspectors to offer differing observations, even in investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons (paras 62 and 66 of Part II, Ver. Annex). This right, is, and I quote, ‘a constitutive element supporting the independence and objectivity of inspections’. This language comes from Ralf Trapp and Walter Krutzsch’s “A commentary on Verification Practice under the CWC”, published by the OPCW itself during my time as DG.

Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing. As one Director General to another, I respectfully request that you grant them this opportunity. If the OPCW is confident in the robustness of its scientific work on Douma and in the integrity of the investigation, then it has little to fear in hearing out its inspectors. If, however, the claims of evidence suppression, selective use of data, and exclusion of key investigators, among other allegations, are not unfounded, then it is even more imperative that the issue be dealt with openly and urgently.

This Organisation has already achieved greatness. If it has slipped, it nonetheless still has the opportunity to repair itself, and to grow to become even greater. The world needs a credible chemical weapons watchdog. We had one, and I am confident, Mr Arias, that you will see to it that we have one again.

Thank you.

Click here to read the same transcript on The Grayzone official website.

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Ian Henderson, Theodore Postol and Aaron Maté testify at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up

“The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing”

“I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

— José Bustani, first Director General of OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

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At an Arria-Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Aaron Maté of The Grayzone delivered remarks on the OPCW’s ongoing Syria scandal.

Veteran OPCW inspectors who investigated an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018 say that their probe was censored and manipulated. Under direct US government pressure, the OPCW concealed evidence that pointed to the incident being staged on the ground, and instead released a report that suggested Syrian government culpability. The allegation against Syria led to the bombing of Syria by the US, France, and UK just days after the alleged Douma incident.

In his remarks, Aaron calls this “one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory” and urges the UN and OPCW to let the OPCW inspectors air their concerns, and present the evidence that was suppressed.

Full transcript: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/29/gr…

(It is also reproduced in full below.)

Other briefers participating in the UN session included former OPCW inspector and whistleblower, Ian Henderson, a member of the Douma team, who offered a sincere, heartfelt closing statement embedded below – the same statement can also be watched in the full video (linked below) beginning at 3:00:00 hours:

Award-winning physicist Theodore Postol, MIT professor emeritus and former Pentagon adviser, was another who briefed the meeting and his slide presentation [20 mins long] based on evidence discrediting the alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun can be viewed by following the link below beginning from 33:00 mins.

The full video of the UN session can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3ibKj4R

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Transcript of Aaron Maté’s full statement with original links retained:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Aaron Maté. I am a journalist with The Grayzone, based in the United States. It’s an honor to speak to you today about what I think is one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory.

The OPCW — the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog — is facing a serious scandal. Leaks from inside strongly suggest the OPCW has been severely compromised. The implications of this are grave.

It would mean that the OPCW was exploited to accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma in April 2018. It would also mean that the OPCW was used to retroactively justify the bombing of Syria by several member states, just days after the alleged Douma incident. In short, it appears the OPCW was compromised to justify military strikes.

There are also indications that the OPCW has retaliated against two veteran officials who were part of the Douma investigation and challenged the censorship of the Douma evidence.

These two OPCW officials are highly regarded scientists with more than 25 years of combined experience at the organization. Yet instead of being protected, and given the chance to air their concerns, these two scientists have seen their reputations impugned by the OPCW leadership.

There is substantial evidence to back all of this up. I will summarize the key details.

The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission, or FFM, deployed to Syria and what is known as Country X to investigate the Douma incident in April 2018. They interviewed scores of witnesses and visited several key sites. They examined gas cylinders found at the scene, took chemical samples and hundreds of photos, and conducted detailed measurements.

Upon their return from Syria, the FFM team drafted an extensive and detailed report of their findings. But what the investigators found in Douma is not what the OPCW released to the world. And that is because the investigators who were on the ground in Syria were overruled, and had their findings censored.

The key facts about this censorship are, to my knowledge, undisputed:

1) The investigators’ initial report, which was due for imminent publication, was secretively re-edited to produce a version that sharply deviated from the original. Both versions – the original and the altered report – have been published by Wikileaks.

Comparing both reports we see that key facts were removed or mis-represented. Conclusions were also rewritten to support the allegation that a chlorine gas attack had occurred in Douma.

Yet the team’s initial, original report did not conclude that a chemical attack occurred. In fact, their report had presented the possibility that victims in Douma were killed in an incident that was “non-chemical related.” Though unstated, the reader could easily infer from this that the militants who controlled Douma at the time had staged the scene to make it falsely appear that a chemical attack had occurred.

2) Then there is the toxicology assessment. Four experts from an OPCW and NATO-member state conducted a toxicology review.

They concluded that observed symptoms of the victims in Douma, “were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified.”

This finding was kept secret, and are inconsistent with the conclusions of the final report.

3) There were also chemical tests of the samples collected in Douma. These samples showed that chlorinated compounds were detected at what amounted to trace quantities in the parts-per-billion range.

Yet this finding was also not disclosed. Furthermore, it later emerged that the chemicals themselves did not stand out as unique: most, if not all, could have resulted from contact with household products such as bleach — or come from chlorinated water or wood preservatives.

Crucially, the control samples collected by the inspectors to give context to the analysis results were never analyzed.

4) Because of other leaks, we now know that this censorship was protested from the inside. The chief author of the initial report, identified by the OPCW as Inspector B, was among those who deployed to Syria for the entire Douma mission. Records show he was also, at the time, the OPCW’s top expert in chemical weapons chemistry.

On June 22nd, 2018 Inspector B protested the secretive redaction in an e-mail expressing his “gravest concern.” I will quote him: “After reading this modified report, which incidentally no other team member who deployed into Douma has had the opportunity to do, I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts.”

5) After that e-mail of protest, and just days before a substitute, stop-gap interim report was published on July 6, something very unusual occurred. A U-S government delegation met with members of the investigation team to try to influence them. The US officials encouraged the Douma team to conclude that the Syrian government had committed a chemical attack with chlorine. It is worth noting here that the US delegation promoted this chlorine theory despite the fact that it was still not publicly known that no nerve agents had been found in Douma.

The Douma investigators reportedly saw the meeting as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, State Parties are explicitly prohibited from seeking to influence the inspectors in the discharge of their responsibilities.

6) Inspector B’s intervention thwarted the imminent release of the doctored report.

But at that point, the OPCW officials began to manage the issuance of a new negotiated report, namely, the so-called interim report that was released on July 6 2018.

Although this interim report no longer contained some of the unsupported claims that senior OPCW officials had tried to insert, it still omitted key facts found in the original, uncensored report.

7) Around that time, the investigation saw a drastic change. The protesting Inspector B – who had written the original report — was sidelined from the investigation. OPCW executives then decreed that the probe, from that point forward, would be handled by a so-called “core team.”

This new “core” team made formal the exclusion of all of the inspectors who had conducted the investigation in Syria, except for one paramedic. It was this so-called core team—and not the inspectors who had signed off on the original report—that generated the OPCW final’s report of March 2019.

8) That final report sharply differed from what the OPCW inspectors reported in the suppressed initial report. The final report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Douma and that “the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Many crucial facts and evidence redacted from the original report continued to be omitted.

9) The final report also saw a major discrepancy when it comes to witness testimony. The witnesses interviewed offered sharply contrasting narratives – yet only those witnesses whose testimony supported the use of chemical weapons, were used to inform the report’s conclusions.

It is also worth noting the imbalance in witness locations: although the alleged chemical incident took place in Syria, twice as many witnesses were interviewed in Country X.

10) One inference drawn from the OPCW’s final report was that gas cylinders found in Douma likely came from military aircraft. But a leaked engineering assessment assigned to a sub-team of the FFM found otherwise.

The OPCW leadership has yet to offer a substantive explanation for why such critical evidence was excluded and why the original report was radically altered.

The OPCW Director General Fernando Arias justified the conclusions of the final report and excused alleged fraudulent scientific behavior by incorrectly stating that “the FFM undertook the bulk of its analytical work” during the last seven months of the investigation – or after the interim report that was published in July 2018.

A close review of the final report demonstrates that this is far from the case. As the dissenting inspectors have noted, by the time the interim report was released, 31 of the 44 samples were analyzed, 34 of the 39 interviews had been conducted and analyzed, and the toxicological study was already done but the conclusions excluded.

In the nearly eight months after the Interim Report was released, only 13 new samples were analyzed along with 5 additional interviews.

Comparing the text of the final report to the original report is also instructive. The final report copy and pastes much of the text of the original report – the one difference is that inconvenient evidence was removed, and un-supported conclusions were added.

But even if it were true that the bulk of the analysis was done after the interim report, the fact the OPCW would have conducted the bulk of its work after July 2018 would not in any way explain or justify the alleged scientific fraud committed before it. In fact, it would only raise the possibility that more fraud occurred.

Instead of addressing the discrepancies and cherry-picked facts, the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias has also denigrated the two members of the Douma fact-finding mission team who challenged the manipulation of facts and evidence.

The Director General has falsely portrayed them as rogue actors, with only minor roles in the investigation and incomplete information.

Yet these two inspectors are unlikely candidates to suddenly go so rogue. Inspector A has been identified as Ian Henderson – he is here today. The second inspector is known only as Inspector B. They served with the OPCW for 12 and 16 years, respectively.

Internal OPCW appraisals of their job performance offer effusive praise. In 2005, a senior OPCW official wrote that Henderson has consistently received “the highest rating possible.… I consider [him] one of the best of our Inspection Team Leaders.”

In 2018, an OPCW superior wrote that Inspector B, “has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of Chemical Weapons chemistry applied to inspections.” Another manager described B as “one of the most well regarded” team leaders, whose “experience of the organisation, its verification regime, and judgment are unmatched.”

It is important to also stress that the internal concerns go beyond Douma team members. Earlier this year, I heard from an OPCW official who voiced outrage at the treatment of Henderson and Inspector B. I quote this person now:

“It is quite unbelievable that valid scientific concerns are being brazenly ignored in favour of a predetermined narrative. The lack of transparency in an investigative process with such enormous ramifications is frightful. The allegations of the two gentlemen urgently need to be thoroughly investigated, and the functionality of the organisation restored.”

Now fortunately, the two inspectors involved in this Douma controversy have offered a path to transparency and to resolving this scandal. Earlier this year, they each wrote letters to the OPCW Director General asking for their concerns to be heard.

The inspectors have received support from several prominent figures, including the OPCW’s First Director General, Jose Bustani. In October 2019, Bustani took part in a panel that heard an extensive presentation from one of the Douma investigators.

Mr. Bustani wrote: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

I hope that Mr. Bustani’s words will be heeded. As a first step, the OPCW can simply do what it has refused to do so far: meet with the entire Douma team, and let them present the evidence that was censored. It is very concerning that despite the allegations here, the OPCW Director General has never met with members of the Douma team – not just the two dissenting inspectors that are known, but the entire team. If the OPCW is confident in its conclusions, then it should have no issue with at least hearing a dissenting point of view.

The importance of addressing this issue extends far beyond repairing the OPCW’s reputation. Syria is a country that is now trying to rebuild from a devastating, nearly decade-long proxy war that caused massive suffering, destruction and death. But as Syria is trying to rebuild, it now faces a new kind of warfare in the form of crippling economic sanctions. In justifying the sanctions, the US government has cited, among other things, allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The US government also says that the Syrian government is the target of these sanctions. But it is the Syrian people who feel the pain. The UN rapporteur on sanctions says that, “unilateral sanctions applied to Syria have visited untold sufferings on ordinary people.” The World Food Program warns that Syrians living under economic blockade now face “mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

The use of the OPCW to justify warfare on Syria – whether in the form of military strikes in 2018 or economic strangulation today in 2020 – is additionally tragic in light of the OPCW’s own history. It was just seven years ago that the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work eliminating chemical weapons, including in Syria. That was a towering achievement, and a hopeful moment for those who seek a world at peace. How unfortunate then, to see the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog now potentially being comprised to lodge unproven allegations against Syria and justify warfare against it.

The OPCW inspectors who have been silenced and maligned are trying to defend their organization’s noble legacy from political exploitation. It is my hope that they will be heard. Thank you.

||| The Grayzone |||

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Norman Finkelstein on Netanyahu’s options for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestine

With Israel poised to illegally annex parts of the West Bank on Wednesday 1st July, author and scholar, Norman Finkelstein, discussed Netanyahu’s options with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté. Finkelstein says Netanyahu is exploiting a brief window of opportunity under Trump and will use the deadline to swallow up valuable West Bank while pretending to be making a compromise:

“If there were an Oscar for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year,” Finkelstein says. “And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the Occupied Territories that will preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state — they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, gut-wrenching compromise. I could write the script.”

The transcript below is mine:

Aaron Maté: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a date of July 1st to begin Israel’s annexation of major parts of the Occupied West Bank. Under Netanyahu’s plan Israel would declare sovereignty over all of the illegal settlements built on Palestinian land since 1967 including in the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu has a green light from Washington. The Trump administration has said it will recognise Israel’s annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank. For the rest of the world, the annexation move is the latest grave escalation of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. In a statement, a group of 47 independent UN legal experts call the annexation plan “a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”

Well, joining me is Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar: his latest book is called “I Accuse!” Norman welcome to Pushback.

Uncertainty still about what Netanyahu is going to do on July 1st, but what do you think people should know about his talk of annexing the West Bank?

Normal Finkelstein: Well, there are several things. First of all, it’s clearly illegal under international law. Secondly, what seems to have prompted it is not law but brutal politics; namely, Mr Netanyahu is of the opinion, which is probably correct, that he has an opportunity that won’t come again to carry out a large scale ‘legal’ annexation of parts of the West Bank, and that Trump may not be around after November. It’s a question mark. And he wants to take advantage of that opportunity. And I would say thirdly, you have to always bear in mind two things about Mr Netanyahu:

Number one: he is a showman. He’s not really a statesman; he’s a showman. He’s a performance artist. And number two: he is acutely aware of political opportunities. In that regard he’s a politician for sure. He takes advantage of – he exploits – political opportunities as they come along.

There are many examples: actually you’d be surprised, there’s actually a scholarly and academic literature showing how Israelis exploit – take advantage of – political opportunities that come along in order to achieve their goals. Media opportunities, I should say.

So that in mind, there is the possibility that an annexation will occur, although it’s still a question mark. My own opinion is there seem to be three main variations. (Obviously, there are subdivisions of the variations.) But one is annex the Jordan Valley. Two is annex the settlement blocs. And three is annex large chunks of the West Bank: the official figure is 30%; I’m more inclined to believe it’s 40%, but that’s beside the point.

I do not believe he will annex the Jordan Valley, because it’s a question of how it looks. The image projected. So, I said at the beginning, Mr Netanyahu is basically a showman – a performance artist – and so if you look at the map: what it would look like if on one end is Israel and on the other end is Jordan Valley, and in the middle, sandwiched between, are all these Palestinians who don’t have any voting rights.

If you look at the map, it looks like apartheid. Because it looks like if one border is the Jordan Valley, the other border is what’s called the Green Line; namely Israel before the June 1967 war; and then in between are all these Arabs who have no voting rights. It looks like one state where a large chunk of the population is disenfranchised. That looks like apartheid. So I don’t think he’s going to do that.

September 2019 annexation proposal by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jordan valley shown in orange and the rest of the West Bank including Jericho shown in white.

A second possibility is annexing the whole of the West Bank, or large chunks of it. Again, same problem: how do you represent to the world all those Arabs in the West Bank who have no rights? Who have no voting rights, which are the baseline for any rights in our world. Or rights in a state, which is citizenship; and they don’t have citizenship. So that doesn’t look good.

But there’s a third possibility. The third possibility is the settlement blocs. Now, if you look at the map – if you annex the settlement blocs – they border the Green Line, mostly. So that looks okay on the map.

Israel officially claims to annex the settlement blocs would mean annexing 5% of the West Bank. In fact it would be 10% because they play with the numbers, they cook the numbers. It would be about 10% of the West Bank. And if you look at the map, there are two settlement blocs, one called Ariel and one called Ma’ale Adumim. Now those settlement blocs on the ground, they bisect the West Bank, more or less at the centre; because Ma’ale Adumim stretches more or less to Jericho. And then there’s the second settlement bloc, Ariel Shomron, which will bisect the northern half of the West Bank.

Green Line indicated with the Ariel settlement located top left and Ma’ale Adumim centre right

However, if you look at the map, it doesn’t quite look that way because the map doesn’t show the mountainous areas, which means it doesn’t look fully like a bisection of the West Bank. The point is, in my view, without going into all the technicalities, you probably can get away with annexing the settlement blocs. First of all, all of the Democrat Party and Republican Party leadership has always said that Israel would get the settlement blocs anyhow in a final settlement. That’s what Dennis Ross says…

AM: Dennis Ross being the so-called “peace envoy” for the Clinton administration.

NF: Yes, and he’s actually recommended now that Israel annex, not the whole West Bank, not the Jordan Valley, just annex the settlement blocs. He’s officially on record supporting that.

And so first of all the political elites have supported the annexation of the Israeli settlement blocs already. Secondly, you can put the pretence, or make the pretence, that there’s still the possibility of a Palestinian state because “it’s only 5% of the West Bank”. Thirdly, it can be cast as Netanyahu making a gut-wrenching compromise: he wanted the whole of the land of Israel and he had to appease the right-wing of his coalition – and so he makes his gut-wrenching compromise to annex some territory because otherwise his coalition is going to fall apart.

AM: Similar to what they did in Gaza back in 2005, around then, when Sharon reluctantly gave up Gaza, and there was this huge staged performance and there were the scenes of the settlers being pulled out, and they were wailing and we were supposed to feel sorry for them. Meanwhile Israel, as it’s pulling out of Gaza, it’s consolidating its control and expanding its control over the much more valuable territory in the occupied West Bank.

NF: Listen, I’ve said many times if there were an Academy Award – an Oscar – for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year; there wouldn’t even be competition. It would be like comparing Sir Lawrence Olivier with Brad Pitt.  I mean Israel is so practised at the art of performance.

And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the occupied Palestinian Territories that will effectively preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state for geographic and economic reasons which I don’t want to bore listeners with – they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, anguishing, gut-wrenching compromise by Israel. I could write the script.

So I think that’s probably what will happen. And everybody will be a celebratory mood – no quite the contrary, take that back…

The Israeli right-wing – I should say Israeli right-right-right-wing, because there’s a right-right-right-right-wing and there’s a right-right-right-wing, and there’s a right-wing. There’s no centre and there’s no left in Israel: so an unusual state in the world in that regard. But the right-right-right-right-wing and the right-right-[wing] will be so angry, and they’ll be so indignant, and everybody else, [like] The New York Times, will be celebrating the fact that Netanyahu made a very pragmatic decision that kept the two-state solution alive.

AM: There are countries though around the world who are, at least publicly, criticising this. Does this open up the way possibly for some actions like sanctions to be taken against Israel if it illegally annexes territory that it is not legally entitled to?

NF: I don’t believe that will happen because of the way it is going to be presented to the world. It will be presented as a pragmatic compromise. It won’t be presented as an illegal annexation. They’ll keep repeating the fake figure of 5%. They’re going to keep saying, anyhow, we all know that in the final settlement the settlement blocs would have been annexed by Israel in a land swap. And they’ll make it all legitimate, and there will be no reaction.

I’m very sceptical of the kinds of apocalyptic scenarios which are conjured up, and in fact apocalyptic scenarios abet Netanyahu’s agenda, and probably he does it intentionally – I don’t know how much he calculates down to the fine points, but he likes the idea of these apocalyptic scenarios because then he’s going to say “well it’s only 5%”. And it’s going to make him look reasonable.

So all this talk about sanctions – Did anything happen after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? No.

AM: But let’s point out something positive, which is that Bernie Sanders came somewhat close to the nomination, and during the process his advocacy of basic Palestinian rights was popular, and that message is increasingly resonant inside the Democratic base. So in terms of holding Israel accountable, pushing back on the Trump administration’s support for Israeli annexation, do you see a ray of light possibly, right here inside the US when it comes to sentiment towards Israel, and people no longer being willing – except for those in Congress – to stand by as it commits its atrocities?

NF: Trump’s biggest ally in the world is Netanyahu. That doesn’t play very well with a lot of people, you know even people who support Israel. It just doesn’t play well because you’re supposed to be anti-Trump if you’re a Democratic Party member or if you support any of the popular causes you’re supposed to be anti-Trump. So it doesn’t play very well that Trump has the closest alliance to any world leader with Netanyahu. So there is an unexpected consequence of the Trump presidency which it ended up even further discrediting the Palestinian cause in even mainstream American politics because of that Trump-Netanyahu alliance.

AM: [clarifying Finkelstein’s remark] Not discrediting the Palestinian cause?

NF: Discrediting the Israeli cause because of that alliance.

Yes, so it’s been a positive development. It’s part of, as I said, the long-term shift in public opinion as Israel has moved further and further to the right, and a lot of the truth has come out making the cause indefensible.

A lot will depend on whether you can make the Palestinian cause again a salient issue in American political life. If for example the Palestinians found the wherewithal to demonstrate and engage in collective action, there’s some reason for hope. It’s going to be very tough under Biden, if he wins; impossible under Trump.

It’s just a very difficult period right now. I don’t believe in giving people false hope. I think it’s a very tough period right now, but as you say, the positive thing is public opinion is shifting; it’s becoming more manifest as against latent; more active as against passive; and it’s an opportunity for people to work for their so-to-speak cause within a larger progressive or radical framework. So there are possibilities. That’s the most I can say.

From a very young age I read a speech by the African revolutionary at the time Amílcar Cabral, who was a leader of a movement called the PAIGC in a tiny, tiny, tiny, little country called Guinea-Bissau. And he had given a speech and the title was “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. So that resonated with me. I thought that’s the right approach to politics: Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.

So I’m not one for pep talks. I try to be analytical. I try to be objective. I try to be realistic. Because otherwise I feel it’s patronising. It’s like ‘I know the truth, but I can’t tell you the truth because you’re not ready for it – you’re not equipped for it’. So I have to pretend as if things are better than they actually are so as to lift your spirits because you need useful lies to keep you going, but I don’t. No, I don’t do that.

I think that you can be honest about a situation – I’m honest about the situation with myself – I recognise that we’re at a very difficult moment. But truth be told, it doesn’t diminish an iota of the energy I invest in this, because for me it’s not about Palestinians, it’s not about Jews.

At one point in my life, yes it was. And I’ll acknowledge that. I just felt revulsion at what these people – how they had exploited and corrupted the memory of my parents’ suffering during World War Two for an insidious cause. It’s not about that anymore for me: it’s not about Palestinians; it’s not about Jews; it’s not about corrupting the memory of what my parents’ endured during World War Two.

For me it’s about two very basic things – and it took me a very, very long time to reach this point in my life – that it’s no longer about anything personal. It is about people because the memory of my parents’ suffering is permanently engraved in me. But fundamentally, at root, at its core, it’s about Truth and Justice: those eternal values.

And when I see them sullied, or prostituted, it nauseates me. It makes me so angry that people can be so cheap; sell themselves at such a low price: for a mess of professional porridge [sic], they’ll sell out those values.

It’s a very interesting thing for me, and we’ll leave it at that, that all of these stupid leftist, postmodernists, who say that there’s no such thing as truth, there’s no such thing as Justice – these are all social constructions – these intellectually impoverished morons… and then you go to the demonstrations against police brutality, in commemoration of what happened to George Floyd and many others, and what’s the slogan that’s most popular at these demonstrations?  What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

And I think to myself while all these stupid intellectually impoverished so-called academics sit around at stupid, ignorant, irrelevant conferences talking about how Justice and Truth are all just social constructions. When the moment comes we all reach back to those same fundamental values: Truth and Justice. What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

Those values will, so long as humankind endures, forever resonate.

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Mike Pompeo’s ‘democratic plan’ for Venezuela and Juan Guaidó’s alleged involvement in terrorist regime change operations

After bizarrely placing Nicolás Maduro top of a wanted list on charges of drug trafficking, the Trump administration then unveiled a so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ that calls for the ouster of the Venezuelan President in exchange for a five-person “Council of State”.

Irrespective of the hardships already suffered by the people of Venezuela under the current sanctions programme, and heedless to a worsening situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the US is threatening “increased” sanctions if Venezuela does not comply.

Yesterday, Aaron Maté from The Grayzone spoke to Latin America policy analyst and campaigner with Codepink, Leonardo Flores, about the latest US effort to starve Venezuelans into submission in order to force a regime change.

Towards the end of the interview, Leonardo Flores describes the extraordinary revelations of Cliver Alcalá, who is one of those indicted by the US Department of Justice on accusations of narco-trafficking. Shortly after the DOJ press conference ended, Alcalá actually confessed on Twitter that he was involved in plots including terrorist attacks to overthrow Maduro.

Additionally, he said weapons confiscated by Colombian police were paid for with money provided by Juan Guaidó. However, Alcalá was not only implicating Washington’s choice for Venezuelan President, Juan Guaidó, scandalously seen photographed with members of the infamous Los Rastrojos drug cartel, but also an unspecified number of US advisors, who he claims met with him on no less than seven different occasions. Alcalá has now been turned over to US authorities.

The transcript of the interview below is mine [interview begins at 1:50 mins].

Aaron Maté: What is your reaction to this so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ from Pompeo?

Leonardo Flores: My reaction really is bewilderment. Because a few days ago, as you just said, the Department of Justice unveiled indictments against Maduro and 13 other former and current government officials and members of the military; immediately ramping up the pressure. And then this transition proposal seems to be kind of a step back.

First of all it’s a total non-starter. It’s not going to go anywhere. It wasn’t negotiated with anyone in Venezuela on the side of the government. It’s a plan that supposedly came from Juan Guaidó in part, but really it’s been designed in the State Department itself.

AM: The thinking here in the White House, what do you think it is? They’ve been trying now for more than a year to overthrow Maduro. They’ve tried to spark some military uprisings. It hasn’t worked. Now they’ve shifted to this bounty last week on Maduro’s head. Wat do you think is the strategy going on inside Washington? What are they hoping to achieve with these narco charges against Maduro, and now this new so-called plan?

LF: Well, in a sense they’re just trying to throw everything at the wall to just see what sticks. But, particularly with this plan, I think it’s to alleviate the pressure that’s coming on them due to the sanctions.

We’ve seen everyone from the UN to the EU to other multilateral organisations and NGOs call for a lifting of the sanctions. We’re seeing a letter being sent around the Senate that has at least 11 people who’ve signed on led by Senator Chris Murphy calling for humanitarian relief for Venezuela and Iran: lifting the sanctions during this pandemic. And so I think that’s maybe getting to the Trump administration and this is their way of sending some kind of olive branch to these more moderate factions in Washington. But, you know, it’s not a serious proposal.

Side note: “It hurts our nation’s security and our moral standing in the world when our sanctions policy results in innocent people dying. I am particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on the COVID-19 response in Iran and Venezuela”

— Sen. Chris Murphy

AM: What I think has been overlooked in the discussion of all this is that in trying to install Guaidó, the Trump administration has portrayed this picture where it has been basically Maduro versus Guaidó, and there’s no-one in between. But meanwhile, there have been negotiations between Maduro and elements of the Venezuelan opposition, just not the one that includes Guaidó’s faction. Can you talk about this and how it’s been ignored.

LF: Sure. So, the last time Guaidó participated in negotiations seriously – his faction I mean – was in August 2019. And those talks were undermined when the Trump administration imposed what the Wall Street Journal called an economic embargo; they really ramped up the sanctions on August 5th.

After that, about a month later, Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan government began negotiating with more moderate sectors of the political opposition – sectors of that really want to engage in democracy and engage in politics and aren’t looking for regime change. And coincidentally, those months of 2019, I’m talking about September, October and November; they were the most stable months in a really crazy year for Venezuela, that started off with this attempted coup by the Trump administration and Juan Guaidó.

Now, those negotiations are still ongoing. There’s ongoing dialogue. They resulted with – in early January – with a new election for the President of the National Assembly. This new President of the National Assembly was from the same party as Juan Guaidó. I think he was expelled from that party – but I’d have to check up on that to be honest. And what we’re seeing is that Juan Guaidó got kind of pushed out and these extremist opposition sectors got pushed out a bit from these attempted negotiations. So this is their way back in, so to speak.

AM: So, if you could address someone who might look at this plan now from Pompeo and – the way Pompeo’s framing it is that, you know, the US has no preference for who leads Venezuela aside from Maduro. We want him gone. In fact, Pompeo said as much today. Let me play you a clip…

Mike Pompeo: We’ve made clear all along that Nicolás Maduro will never again govern Venezuela, and that hasn’t changed.

AM: That’s Mike Pompeo. Well first of all, let me just ask you to respond to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the United States, declaring that the leader of another country will never govern there again.

LF: I mean it’s completely ridiculous. Maduro has been governing since 2013 and he has been governing throughout this whole time when the State Department has been trying to portray Venezuelan government as nonexistent and they’re trying to force Juan Guaidó as the so-called “interim president”.

But what’s really curious to me is that there’s contradictions within the White House. So that’s a very interesting Pompeo quote, but earlier today, Elliot Abrams, who’s the Special Representative for Venezuela for the Trump administration; he told Reuters that “while Maduro would have to step aside” – and this is a direct quote [the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile ] – “the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and he even suggested that he ‘could theoretically’ run in the election.

So Abrams is saying ‘hey maybe Maduro can run’, Pompeo’s saying ‘Maduro is never again going to be able to govern’. There’s clear disconnect. It’s kind of indicative of what we’ve seen in the White House since Trump to office, with lack of communication between different sectors of the executive branch.

AM: Let’s say that Abrams, what he suggests, is the proposal that the US is putting forward, then somebody might look at that and say, hey you know listen the US shouldn’t be involved in Venezuela, but it is, and the fact is that right now they’re putting forward this plan where they’re offering to relieve these crippling, murderous sanctions if Venezuela just agrees to this new transition and hold new elections. Why not just abide by that to help ease the suffering of Venezuela?

LF: Well, Venezuela has a constitution. I mean that’s the biggest thing we have to talk about. It is a sovereign country that has a constitution, and is guided by that constitution. And so the Trump administration used that constitution, and made these kind of quasi-legal arguments, to say that Juan Guaidó was actually the real President because Maduro was ‘not officially in power’. And now they’re turning around and saying well you know what, forget that constitution and let’s talk about this whole ‘democratic framework transition’ that has no constitutional basis in Venezuela at all.

But what I think we really need to emphasis is that if the Venezuelan government decided to hold new elections – new presidential elections – after coming to an agreement with the opposition, they’re well within their rights. But this plan is being imposed from abroad, it lacks any sort of popular support within Venezuela, and in that regard it’s a non-starter.

AM: Just to stress this point, I do think holding new elections – that has been under discussion in Maduro’s negotiations with the opposition, right?

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean first of all there have to be new elections – I mean parliamentary elections because those are due this year. And after those parliamentary elections there is the possibility that you might have new presidential elections in Venezuela.

But there’s no way that those presidential elections can be carried out while Venezuela is under sanctions from the US and the EU; particularly by the US sanctions. This is reminiscent of Nicaragua in the ’90s when the Nicaraguan people had an election and the US government said that if the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] then wins, then the sanctions will continue, but if the opposition wins then the sanctions will be lifted.

AM: Let me play for you a clip on that front. This is John Stockwell, he is a former CIA officer, and he was describing this tactic the US uses of basically making countries like Nicaragua submit to US demands or starve.

John Stockwell [speaking on December 27th 1989]: The point is to put pressure on the targeted government by ripping apart the social and economic fabric of the country. Now that’s words, you know, social and economic fabric: that means making the people suffer as much as you can until the country plunges into chaos, until at some point you can step in and impose your choice of governments on that country.

AM: So that’s a former CIA officer describing the US approach to countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela. Leo, what’s your sense of where the Venezuelan people are at? They’ve been suffering for a long time now under these sanctions. There was just a poll that was shared by the opposition economist Francisco Rodríguez pointing out that two-thirds of Venezuelans say that US sanctions are causing huge misery inside their country.

What is your sense of where the electorate is at inside Venezuela? The people: are they at the point where they’re willing to give up [and] to submit to US demands, whatever they are, in return for some relief from this blockade?

LF: No, I wouldn’t say they are. I mean we have to be clear though, Venezuela is a very polarised country. So we have this sector that votes for the opposition – that a good percentage of it would likely welcome Pompeo’s plan. But then you have the Chavistas, which represent at least 40% of the electorate, and of all eligible voters, and they would absolutely reject this plan.

It’s absolutely true though that sanctions have completely destroyed the economic fabric of Venezuela. But one of the reasons that Venezuela has been able to overcome the pressure from the United States is due to the social fabric, and due to the organising at the community level, and due to the organising that the government enables from above.

AM: Okay, so you mentioned the Venezuelan electorate. Let me ask you quickly about this, because a huge talking point that the US administration uses and its parroted across the political establishment – even Democrats who oppose the sanctions parrot this talking point –which is that Maduro is not a legitimately elected leader, and they point to alleged fraud in the 2019 Venezuelan elections.

I know it’s complicated but can you give us the simplest case for why this talking point is false.

LF: Right. So, there’s actually no evidence that there was fraud, and really the argument that there was fraud only comes from the United States.

What happened in the 2018 elections is that sectors of the opposition just decided to boycott the election. And they boycotted at the direction, or under the instructions of the State Department.

In early 2018 there was dialogue between the government and the opposition. The two sides were very close to signing an agreement – they actually had an agreement written down. They were negotiating in the Dominican Republic, they went back to Venezuela for one week to consult with various parties involved; during that interim week, then-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, threatened an oil embargo, and he also suggested that if the military were to overthrow Maduro, that this move would be welcomed by the United States.

Also during that week, the State Department said that they would not recognise any elections in 2018: that Maduro had to go first before there were elections. That’s what leads to these kind of claims of fraud because of this opposition boycott. But really there was no fraud: the parties that did participate, participated fully; there were international observers; there was a vote that was audited; and Maduro won in a landslide election.

AM: Maduro received over six millions votes, and, if I have the history correct, the main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, who ran, he was even threatened with US sanctions if he kept participating in the elections.

LF: That’s right. And not only was Henri Falcón threatened with sanctions, but so was Allup who was leader of Acción Democrática – Democratic Action Party – this is one of the bigger opposition parties. It’s slightly more moderate than Juan Guaidó’s party. But he said, I think it was in March of 2019, excuse me 2018, he pondered ‘why would I run, if the US isn’t going to recognise my victory?’

And so the US made it clear that even if an opposition leader had won, that they were not going to recognise it because it wasn’t going to be the opposition leader that they wanted.

AM: So let me ask you about these narco-trafficking charges that have been unveiled against Maduro and other top officials. The allegation – and maybe you can explain it for us – because it’s pretty bewildering: is that Maduro and the other top Venezuelan officials have been engaged in a criminal conspiracy to flood the US with drugs, going back many years.

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. And so the DOJ talks about a plan to plot to flood the US with cocaine since 1999. Maduro wasn’t even in power in 1999. In 1999, he was a member of the National Constituent Assembly and he was helping to draft Venezuela’s constitution.

So one of the interpretations of these accusations in Venezuela is that these aren’t accusations against individuals, it’s really an accusation against the entire Bolivarian revolution. And going a little bit deeper, this plot claim by the DOJ is patently ridiculous, I mean, the US government’s own statistics show that over 90% of the cocaine in the United States is either from Colombia, or has travelled through Colombia. Those same statistics show that less than 7% of the cocaine that the United States has transited through Venezuela at some point.

Venezuela doesn’t produce coca – the coca leaf – it doesn’t produce cocaine, whereas Colombia is the biggest producer of both coca and cocaine in the entire world. It’s clear that these accusations – these charges – are completely politically motivated and they’re not based on any sort of reality.

If they were, then really the conspiracy to flood the United States with cocaine – you have to look at the President of Colombia and the prior President Álvaro Uribe and really the kind of entire Colombian social structure, which enables narco-paramilitaries to control their society and to support cocaine.

AM: And you’ve written about, for The Grayzone, a piece that explains that one consequence of this indictment, is that it’s triggered a confession – a very serious confession – by one of the people charged of a violent US-based plot against Maduro. Can you explain what happened there?

LF: Right. So one of the people indicted, his name is Cliver Alcalá, he was a former member of the military. He used to be very close to Chavismo. He flipped to the opposition in 2016 and since 2017, give or take, he’s been involved in various plots and coup attempts [including] attempted terror plots in Venezuela. He’s been linked to them.

And so immediately after the DOJ press conference last week that indicted Mr Alcalá, he posted some videos on Twitter and other social media confessing to a terror plot in Venezuela from about a week and a half ago —

So a bit of back story: the Colombian police seized 26 high-powered rifles and several other weapons of war and military equipment. Alcalá claimed that the weapons were his – that they were bought using money from Juan Guaidó. That he and Juan Guaidó had entered into a contract for the weapons. That the weapons were going to be used to help overthrow the Venezuelan government by causing a terror plot and by targeted assassination of Chavista leaders.

Alcalá now has been turned over to US authorities. It’s unclear what’s going to happen with him, but what is clear is that he implicated not just Juan Guaidó in this terror plot, but US advisors – he claims that he met with US advisors on at least seven different occasions.

AM: And just to put a final point on this, he says that Guaidó paid him money for this plot. And so those weapons that were seized in Colombia were paid for by Guaidó, and then presumably the US which backs up Guaidó, and is actually using money initially intended for Central American aid to pay for Guaidó and his fellow coup-plotters.

LF: Yeah, that’s right. The money wasn’t necessarily going to Alcalá directly, it was going to the weapons that Alcalá purchased. And Juan Guaidó’s only source of financing is the US government, which basically is us US taxpayers.

AM: So finally, as part of its coup effort in Venezuela, the US has been putting heavy pressure on anybody engaged in business with Venezuela, and that’s included sanctioning Russia’s state oil company, Rosnef.

Rosnef was recently forced to basically divest its holdings in Venezuela and then transfer it to another Russian government – in fact, the wholly Russian government owned company. Will this be enough to keep Venezuela afloat, or do you think that the power of the US is just too strong here?

LF: I think it would be enough under slightly different circumstances, but the fact is that oil is plummeting right now and so it’s unclear what’s happening with Venezuelan government’s finances.

I don’t think the Venezuelan government is going to fall due to financing. I think in that sense, you know, China and Russia have a lot invested in Venezuela, and Venezuela has other means of securing financing, whether it’s through gold or rare earth minerals. But it does make the situation much more difficult and it has led to gasoline shortages recently in Venezuela.

AM: And finally, in terms of what can be done here in the US, you mentioned that there’s now increased talk from Congress – increased pushback from Congress – asking them not to suspend the sanctions entirely, but to simply pause them during the coronavirus pandemic, which I suppose is better than nothing.

But as we are dealing now with economic troubles of our own here at home, what do you think can be done right now to push back on the Trump administration’s coup effort, and to try to stop the regime change plot on Venezuela – and to drop the sanctions?

LF: Well, I think for starters the issue of Venezuela has become incredibly toxic in mainstream politics. So if you take any sort of position that is deemed friendly to the Venezuelan government, even if it’s actually not necessarily friendly to the government, like say humanitarian relief and [lifting] sanctions, you’re immediately going to be seen with mistrust by a certain element of the political establishment.

And so I think that really what’s most important is that to highlight what the Trump administration has been doing to sabotage dialogue in Venezuela. If it were not for Trump, I think we would already have a political agreement in Venezuela and the country would be much more stable. But he’s in thrall to his financers in Florida, the Cuban-American lobby in Florida and rich Venezuelans in Florida; it all boils down to Florida unfortunately.

I think really that the best hope that the Venezuelan government has is to hold out until after the November elections. Even if Trump is re-elected I think it opens up a possibility of negotiations between the Trump administration and the Maduro government.

AM: Yeah, on that front it doesn’t inspire confidence that Joe Biden has fully embraced Trump’s coup attempt, and has recognised Juan Guaidó as the President, but certainly, no matter what happens, November will be a key date in all this and other issues of course.

Leo Flores, Latin American policy expert and campaigner with Codepink, thanks very much.

LF: Thank you Aaron.

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