Tag Archives: ACLU

Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition)

Gilet Jaunes

In late November last year a new grassroots movement took to the streets of Paris. Taking its name from the adopted emblematic apparel of hi-vis yellow vests which every French motorist is obliged to carry in their vehicles, early reports repeated the claim that the thousands of demonstrators had gathered for the rather limited mission of stopping the implementation a new fuel tax. As the weeks passed, however, and as the protests continued even after President Macron’s concessionary intervention to freeze the tax hike 1, it became evident that although elected to office just eighteen months previously, Macron was suddenly facing a very serious political crisis. One of the few political commentators to recognise the nature and the importance of the Gilets Jaunes was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 2

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

Although there is a great deal of misrepresentation of the Gilets Jaunes, it isn’t very hard to trace their origins. We could go back fifty years to the same Paris streets and the anti-establishment uprising instigated by student protests that signalled the beginning of the end for Charles de Gaulle. However, there was a stronger ideological current in ’68 than now; the movement then stirred into being and driven by the purposefully obscure quasi-Marxist slogans of the Situationists, most famous for enigmatically declaring “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the pavement, the beach”).

Within a few decades following the dissolution of the Situationists, a more distinctly anti-capitalist movement began to emerge. Widely referred to at the time as anti-globalisation, for many years it was belittled and trivialised, characterised as directionless and quixotic. In fact it was simply ahead of its time, and with the millennium rapidly approaching, the mobilisation of many tens of thousands who steadily gathered outside the WTO convention in Seattle was about to seriously unsettle the western establishment.

On November 30th 1999, with the conference underway, the authorities reacted. Their response has since become a familiar one: blockades, pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades rained down on what had been more or less peaceful demonstrations. Having provoked a response, the Mayor of Seattle, Paul Schell, subsequently declared a state of emergency, and then, the following day, State Governor, Gary Locke called in National Guardsmen to enforce a no-protest zone. At the height of what would later be known as the “Battle in Seattle” the streets were strewn with shattered glass just as the air was thick with teargas. The estimated costs to the city exceeded $20 million.

As it transpired, the protests Seattle represented the apogee of this first anti-globalisation movement, its growing strength abruptly snuffed out by the attacks on the World Trade Center. No movement so openly hostile to global trade could sustain itself in the immediate post-9/11 environment, and so it withered away as the peace movement would too; all anti-establishment causes becoming collateral damage. In fact it took nearly a decade for any comparable movement to re-emerge, and this time it was born in the shadow of the banking crisis and on the back of the “Arab Spring”.

It was not until 2011 before thousands in Spain and Greece finally took to the streets protesting against neo-liberalism and the “austerity measures” that were starting to cripple their economies and to undermine welfare and other state provision. This happened during the earliest days of this blog, and so I cut my teeth writing a sequence of articles which began with the first of the ‘los indignados’ protests on May 15th (also known as 15M). Shortly afterwards on July 25th, a small contingent of the burgeoning movement had embarked on a thousand mile march from Madrid to the European Parliament in Brussels in forlorn hopes of petitioning “the Troika” to end their measures.

Across the Atlantic, and inspired by popular uprisings now taking place around the Mediterranean (including the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt), Occupy Wall Street then commenced with its call for people to gather on September 17th. Just a month later, on Saturday October 15th (15-O), there was a coordinated day of international dissent called for by los indignados with rallies taking place not only in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), but also in Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym quite freely attached by the press), as well as in other major European cities and across the United States. The 15-O event actually sparked protests as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, South America and Africa.

Click here to read a list of the 15-O Occupy protests around the world and here to read my own post about this first day of global outrage.

By the symbolic (if coincidental) date of November 5th, Occupy Sheffield sprang up too, when a small band of disillusioned strangers put together a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that had been inspired by los indignados in Spring, and spread to Wall Street by mid-September, was within months recruiting fellow travellers in my home city as in other towns and cities of the UK including the capital.

For a brief moment, the Occupy movement became a global protest movement, and one that in superficial respects, resembles today’s Yellow Vest movement. It was horizontally structured, eschewed leadership and listed no formal demands. Finally, and in spite of its foundational and unswerving commitment to non-violence action, when the time came – in America especially – the police response was unrestrained and brutal. The largest encampment in Zuccotti Park would be swept aside within just a few hours on November 15th, scarcely two months after the protests had commenced.

It is true to say that los indignados slowly transformed into the new political party Podemos, and that the parallel protests in Greece likewise helped to trigger the rise of Syriza, however, once the last pockets of resistance were vanquished in other parts of the world, little more remained than a lasting slogan: “we are the 99%”. And so in spite of the tremendous enthusiasm and initial optimism, the revolution was cancelled. Doubtless in part it was doomed to fail if only because camping in the park – especially at the onset of Winter – was a desperately poor strategy to begin with, but more importantly, the movement had never managed to reach out to the wider populous, whether through trades unions, civil rights groups or by tuning in to the real concerns of disaffected groups beyond the large metropolitan centres.

I visited the camp at the Cathedral on a few occasions and at first was eagerly welcomed in, but as the weeks passed, the mood changed. The mix included students, the homeless, drop-outs and well-intentioned others, but rather than actively protesting, this in-crowd mostly spent their days cooking food, constructing shelters and sitting in meetings with comrades where decisions were made on a strict consensus basis, and nights hunkered down in tents or under tarpaulin. They had built makeshift libraries and hung up posters – I recall that one was for Avaaz – and they did workshops for anyone interested. In short, Occupy was always directed towards building a ‘community’ and as such was inward-looking. Outside the tents, the passersby passed by, and most were unimpressed by the genuine commitment shown by those who nightly sacrificed the warmth and comfort of a bed to sleep out on the streets.

Although the Gilets Jaunes are successors to the fin de siècle anti-globalisation movement that culminated in Seattle, and to the Occupy camps which disbanded a decade after, their anger is more palpable and their strength has been greatly reinforced due to support throughout the rural provinces. Unlike the earlier movements, the Gilets Jaunes are in fact marginalised in a different way: largely abandoned by the left-leaning intelligentsia, for better or worse, neither do they enjoy celebrity endorsements. Finally, at the extremes of the criticism they endure, they are disparaged as ‘populist’. This is actually their greatest strength, of course, and the biggest reason they are met with such hardline suppression by the authorities. It is also why both their political cause and the gatherings of thousands each weekend (especially when peace is maintained) have been dutifully downplayed by the corporate media.

In truth, this spontaneous and mostly leaderless movement is more straightforwardly working class, and it is this factor above others that singles it out and makes it significantly different from the earlier movements. Such an awakening of class consciousness also potentially makes it a genuine existential threat to the establishment.

Activist, writer and theoretical physicist, Jean Bricmont, a Belgian perhaps best known for his role in the ‘Sokal Affair’, is a leftist commentator who has actually participated in the Yellow Vest protests. In a recent interview with independent Algerian journalist, Mohsen Abdelmoumen, he outlined other ways in which the Gilets Jaunes radically differs from previous social uprisings:

[T]he movement is intensely patriotic – they sing the “Marseillaise”, wave the French flag, etc. It is an attitude that deeply disturbs the left.  The people show that they are attached to their country – as the Algerians are attached to Algeria, the French are attached to France –, which does not imply any hostility towards foreigners, but it implies a certain idea of national community and this is something that the left has hated for decades. It is the great problem of the left that it is cut off from the majority of people because it rejects this idea of a national community and puts forward its membership in Europe, globalization, etc. From this point of view, the left is completely cut off from the people.

According to Bricmont, the Gilets Jaunes confront the powers-that-be with what is for them an irresolvable crisis:

Yellow Vests ask such fundamental questions that no European government could answer them. Moreover, Macron is a prisoner of the European Union logic. He throws oil on the fire with his provocations, but the crisis is the result of decades of neoliberal politics, deindustrialization, destruction of public services, and so on.

Asked whether the emergence of the GJ movement is historical, Bricmont replies:

Yes, I think so, but it is very complicated to imagine the form by which the people would take power. They talk about the RIC (Citizens’ Initiative Referendum) and the European Union, but they are not at all clear on the latter issue. The problem is that it is a spontaneous and unorganized movement, so there are no leaders, no method for collective thought. There is collective thought developed by people discussing in the traffic circles and who think of alternatives, but the movement is not yet structured enough so that we could know where it will lead. I tend to think that we have to wait to know what will come of all this. For now, they are resisting, which is already remarkable, but where it will go, I do not know. 3

Click here to read the full interview in the American Herald Tribune.

Interestingly, although leaderless, as far back as December 5th a set of demands purporting to be an ‘official’ Yellow Vest manifesto appeared:

Soon after a translated version appeared too:

For alternative leftist analysis of the movement we may also turn to Serge Halimi, editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique, whose thoughts were published by Counterpunch on January 8th. Halimi writes:

The sudden emergence of the yellow vests, just as miraculous and much more powerful, demonstrates the gradual impoverishment of an ever-larger section of society. It also demonstrates the feeling of absolute defiance towards — almost disgust at — the usual channels of representation: the movement has no leaders or spokespeople, rejects political parties, keeps its distance from unions, ignores intellectuals and hates the media. This probably explains its popularity, which it managed to retain even after violence any other government would have capitalised on. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up”.

Another article that shines some clearer light on the rise of the Gilets Jaunes was written by Max Parry and published in Counterpunch on January 4th. He writes:

In less than two months, the yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) movement in France has reshaped the political landscape in Europe. For a seventh straight week, demonstrations continued across the country even after concessions from a cowing President Emmanuel Macron while inspiring a wave of similar gatherings in neighboring states like Belgium and the Netherlands. Just as el-Sisi’s dictatorship banned the sale of high-visibility vests to prevent copycat rallies in Egypt, corporate media has predictably worked overtime trying to demonize the spontaneous and mostly leaderless working class movement in the hopes it will not spread elsewhere.

The media oligopoly initially attempted to ignore the insurrection altogether, but when forced to reckon with the yellow vests they maligned the incendiary marchers using horseshoe theory to suggest a confluence between far left and far right supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. To the surprise of no one, mainstream pundits have also stoked fears of ‘Russian interference’ behind the unrest. We can assume that if the safety vests were ready-made off the assembly line of NGOs like the raised fist flags of Serbia’s OTPOR! movement, the presstitutes would be telling a different story.

And he addresses the reason behind the mostly silent response coming from progressives within America:

While the media’s conspicuous blackout of coverage is partly to blame, the deafening silence from across the Atlantic in the United States is really because of the lack of class consciousness on its political left. With the exception of Occupy Wall Street, the American left has been so preoccupied with an endless race to the bottom in the two party ‘culture wars’ it is unable to comprehend an upheaval undivided by the contaminants of identity politics. A political opposition that isn’t fractured on social issues is simply unimaginable. Not to say the masses in France are exempt from the internal contradictions of the working class, but the fetishization of lifestyle politics in the U.S. has truly become its weakness. […]

In today’s political climate, it is easy to forget that there have been periods where the American left was actually engaged with the crisis of global capitalism. In what seems like aeons ago, the anti-globalization movement in the wake of NAFTA culminated in huge protests in Seattle in 1999 which saw nearly 50,000 march against the World Trade Organization. Following the 2008 financial collapse, it briefly reemerged in the Occupy movement which was also swiftly put down by corporate-state repression. Currently, the political space once inhabited by the anti-globalization left has been supplanted by the ‘anti-globalist’ rhetoric mostly associated with right-wing populism.

Globalism and globalization may have qualitatively different meanings, but they nevertheless are interrelated. Although it is shortsighted, there are core accuracies in the former’s narrative that should be acknowledged. The idea of a shadowy world government isn’t exclusively adhered to by anti-establishment conservatives and it is right to suspect there is a worldwide cabal of secretive billionaire power brokers controlling events behind the scenes. There is indeed a ‘new world order’ with zero regard for the sovereignty of nation states, just as there is a ‘deep state.’ However, it is a ruling class not of paranoiac imagination but real life, and a right-wing billionaire like Robert Mercer is as much a globalist as George Soros.

Ever since capitalism emerged it has always been global. The current economic crisis is its latest cyclical downturn, impoverishing and alienating working people whose increasing hardship is what has led to the trending rejection of the EU. Imperialism has exported capital leading to the destruction of jobs in the home sectors of Western nations while outsourcing them to the third world. Over time, deep disgruntlement among the working class has grown toward an economic system that is clearly rigged against them, where the skewed distribution of capital gains and widespread tax evasion on the part of big business is camouflaged as buoyant economic growth. When it came crashing down in the last recession, the financial institutions responsible were bailed out using tax payer money instead of facing any consequences. Such grotesque unfairness has only been amplified by the austerity further transferring the burden from the 1% to the poor. 5

Click here to read the full article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.”

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” said Gandhi (or possibly somebody else 6), but that was old school in any case. In today’s ‘post-truth’ era, ‘they’ have been enabled both to ignore and to fight you simultaneously. And just as the Occupy movement was forcibly dismantled with the cameras turned away, so on the streets of France another unreported crackdown is being carried out right now.

On January 28th, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who has “been keeping close track of the events linked to the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France since mid-November 2018” made an official visit to Paris, prompted by what she describes as an “increasing number of violent incidents, reported by a very large number of media outlets, confirmed by information passed on to her by national human rights bodies and borne out by evidence received directly by her Office”. A month later on February 26th, she released her damning report on “the circumstances of the use of force by law enforcement officers and some demonstrators, and assess[ing] the human rights situation in the context of the various forms of action linked to the yellow vest movement.” The following summary is directly quoted from that report (further extracts are reprinted in the footnote):

[A]ccording to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds [i.e., rubber bullets], 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye.

In conclusion she says:

The Commissioner is extremely concerned about the number of serious, concurring and credible allegations of police violence causing mutilation and serious injury, particularly to the head. She considers that head wounds caused by LBD [rubber bullets] fire show a disproportionate use of force and the unsuitability of this type of weapon in the context of operations aimed at maintaining public order. 7

Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley has witnessed the police violence first-hand and has been running regular columns throughout the already five months since the GJ first took to the streets. Back on January 31st, she reported:

Since the 24th November 2018 the violence witnessed on the streets of cities across France has escalated dramatically. One French independent journalist, David Dufresnes, has been recording all infractions committed by police and security forces and tweeting them to the Interior Ministry while giving interviews to a huge number of French media channels to raise awareness of the police brutality during peaceful protests. In the tweet below, infraction number 362 dated 26/1/2019, an off duty soldier is reported to be hit in the head by a police LBD40 rubber bullet as he is leaving a restaurant in Montpelier on his way to the nightclub with two of his colleagues:

Link to Tweet and video here.

Dufresnes has recorded 157 injuries to the head including 18 who have lost an eye, fractures of the jaw and comas in the most severe cases. 11 hand injuries, in 4 cases resulting in the loss of a hand. 8 back injuries, 28 injuries to the upper body, 40 lower limb injuries, 3 injuries to the genital area, 48 unspecified injuries and 55 cases of intimidation, insults, repression of press freedom infractions. One eighty-year-old was murdered on the 1st December 2018 in Marseilles – Zineb Redouane was killed when a tear gas grenade was thrown in her face by the security forces. According to Dufresnes this is the list of the more serious injuries, an estimated 2000 – 3000 more GJs have been “lightly” injured during the protests since November 2018.

Record of some of the appalling injuries inflicted upon unarmed civilians by police forces across France. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Dufresnes argues that the police have already lost control of the situation and can no longer be legitimately claiming to “maintain law and order”. In one interview Dufresnes points out that the use of 10,000 tear gas grenades on one day of protests points to a “panic” situation among the security forces. During “Acte XI” of the protests on the 26th January the elderly man, Eric, in the photo below was hit on the head by a police truncheon in Marseilles. He has three fractures and is forced to eat only liquid food from the left side of his mouth for three weeks, according to his brother.

On February 11th, Venessa Beeley delivered a presentation at the Mot Dag Conference in Oslo and provided a powerful testimony of the state sanctioned violence against unarmed civilians in French cities:

Having cited other instances of entirely innocent protesters who have been maimed or otherwise seriously injured, Beeley writes:

Effectively the Gilets Jaunes have exposed Macron and his government for what it is. Macron is the President who was elected by the globalists, the capitalists and the ruling elite to protect their interests. A book recently published, authored by Francois-Xavier Bourmand, entitled “Emmanuel Macron the Banker who would be King” has investigated the corporatocracy who ensured Macron’s election win in order to expand their interests globally and to convert France from Republic into Plutocracy at the expense of the “dispensables”, the “little people”.

During one confrontation with a citizen at one of the Grand Debates, Macron is asked why he has failed to fulfill his pre-election promise of “no more SDF (homeless) on the streets of France – 580 SDF died on the streets of France in 2018. Rather than show compassion for the poverty-stricken and homeless, Macron defends his policies with accountant-speak, informing the audience that the elite must be protected in order to provide jobs for the “poor”.

If indeed Macron’s coterie in government are pushing for confrontation between the people and the security forces and introducing increasingly repressive measures to up the pressure on the protestors rather than trying to defuse matters, it is really ten minutes before midnight in France. The insanity of Macron supporting the “uprising” in Venezuela while sanctioning vicious reprisals against his own people at home is glaringly obvious to all but Macron and his backers. That is because Macron is doing his job and his job is to manufacture the conditions in which the privileged, wealthy ruling elite can thrive and further their globalist ambitions which includes military adventurism and resource theft from target nations that include Venezuela and Syria.

Violence will escalate in France because it is state-sanctioned. Unless the police wake up to their manipulation by the state and join forces with the GJs there is a risk of a serious confrontation in the very near future.

Click here to read Vanessa Beeley’s full article published on Patreon.

On January 28th, Vanessa Beeley, was interviewed on The Last American Vagabond about the “Yellow Vests” movement. She discussed the media suppression, police brutality and its subsequent cover up, and also spoke about the orchestration of an alternative so-called ‘Red Scarf’ resistance movement:

Then on March 10th, Vanessa Beeley appeared as a guest on George Galloway’s RT show ‘Sputnik’, were she again talked about the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests and the media silence:

Protests on consecutive weekends have now passed more than a hundred days, and with no sign at all that the movement is ready to fade away, the Macron government has been stepping up its strong-arm measures, including the deployment of the army on the streets of Paris. This latest move is justified on the basis of an abrupt escalation in violence and vandalism during the 18th act of the protests. However, as wsws.org reported on Thursday 21st, the crackdown comes in spite of widescale evidence of police collusion with black bloc and other agitators:

The escalation of repression by the Macron government after Saturday’s clashes with protesters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, during the 18th weekly “yellow vest” protests, raises the most serious questions as to the government’s role. No evidence has been provided that the violence was caused by “yellow Vest” protesters. But the Élysée is seeking to tear up the right to protest on the basis of these murky events, which sections of the state apparatus itself have attributed to far-right forces.

On Monday, the government announced that protests could be banned in areas where violence had previously occurred, if police declare that “extreme elements” could be present among the protesters. But it is precisely the question of the police’s own role that is raised by Saturday’s events, which saw numerous buildings set on fire, notably Fouquet’s restaurant.

The police, which were filmed ransacking the merchandise store of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, are now threatening the “yellow vests” with a major escalation of violence. Frédéric Lagache, the general secretary of the Alliance police union which is tied to neo-fascists, called for the injuring of demonstrators: “We should be willing to clash with them and maybe cause some injuries. We’re not going up against choir-boys.”

The incriminating footage of alleged police looting can be found here:

[A] segment of a video originally live-streamed by Rémy Buisine, a journalist for the French news site Brut, has gone viral, garnering more than three million views. The footage shows an officer a few metres from the PSG shop entrance carefully folding what looks like club jerseys or white sweatshirts and putting them into a black bag.

Buisine is heard commenting that “some items were…” before being brusquely interrupted. As the camera shakes, Buisine says that he was clubbed by a police officer with a baton, although that isn’t clearly shown in the video. 8

The same wsws.org article continues:

On Saturday, the Socialist Party mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, reacted to the violence by declaring: “What I saw tonight were extreme right groups who want to destabilize democracy, and groups of looters.”

She also pointed to the responsibility of police for the violence that erupted on the Champs-Élysées: “It ought to be possible to take control of a situation like the one we just passed through.”

Naturally, Hidalgo chose her words and took care not to express herself in a way that would raise questions as to the role of the state machine, of which she is herself an important cog. But it is necessary to ask the questions which are directly posed by such statements.

If far-right groups are indeed responsible, then which far-right groups are they? Who are their leaders, and who gave orders to set different shops and buildings on fire? Are there ties between the far-right groups that ransacked the Champs-Élysées, according to Hidalgo, and those, for example, who are now appealing the conviction of their ex-members for the fascist murder of Clement Méric?

Given the vast powers that the state has to monitor electronic communications and mobile phones, how is it possible that they do not know the identities of those responsible?

And if, as Hidalgo claims, the responsibility for the violence lies with far-right forces that threaten democracy, what conclusions should one draw about the role of the government? Why are Macron and his ministers silent about the role of the far right, besides the fact that this discredits their claim that the “yellow vests” and those who support them—some 70 percent of the French population—are responsible for the violence? 9

Click here to read the full report entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday ‘yellow vest’ clashes”.

On Saturday 23rd, ‘We Are Change’ released an extended interview with an anonymous Gilets Jaunes spokesman “Bob” who spoke to Luke Rudkowski about the violence of the previous weekend’s “18th Act”; the psychological problems suffered by police officers; the use of a new type of unknown ‘teargas’ agent; the deployment of troops; and the callous manipulation of the narrative by Macron. Both parts of the interview are embedded below [warning: the introductory music is unnecessarily loud]:

In short, fighting against what have been, for the most part, peaceful protests is in the long run a losing strategy, so it has been essential to denigrate the entire ‘Yellow Vest’ movement by tarnishing its reputation, whether by means agents provocateurs (Vanessa Beeley reported on this in early February) or else by branding its supporters as racists, or more specifically, accusing them of antisemitism – an increasingly prevalent trend which usefully serves also to reverse an otherwise defensive posture needed to protect Israel. As independent journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in an excellent piece entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism”:

Macron’s sleight of hand [“his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism”] has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief. 10

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

There are few satirists who puncture the convoluted pomposity of today’s febrile political climate quite so astutely as playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins. Lately he has gone to town on the virulence of what he calls the “Anti-Semitic Pandemic” and in his most recent piece, wryly retraces its spread from latent seeds within British Labour Party out to the streets of Paris:

Emergency measures are now in effect. A full-scale Labour Party lockdown is imminent. Anyone not already infected is being advised to flee the party, denounce anyone who hasn’t done so as “a Hitler-loving Corbyn-sympathizer,” and prophylactically apologize for any critical statements they might have made about Israel, or “elites,” or “global capitalism,” or “bankers,” or anything else that anyone can construe as anti-Semitism (preferably in the pages of The Guardian).

Nor has the Continent been spared! What at first appeared to be a series of spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron, economic austerity, and global capitalism by the so-called “Yellow Vests” in France has now been officially diagnosed as a nationwide anti-Semitism outbreak. In a heroic attempt to contain the outbreak, Macron has dispatched his security forces to shoot the eyes out of unarmed women, pepper spray paraplegics in wheelchairs, and just generally beat bloody hell out of everyone.

Strangely, none of these tactics have worked, so France has decided to join the USA, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the empire in defining anti-Zionism as form of anti-Semitism, such that anyone implying that Israel is in any way inherently racist, or a quasi-fascist Apartheid state, or making jokes about “elites” or “bankers,” can be detained and prosecuted for committing a “hate-crime.” 11

Click here to read CJ Hopkin’s complete essay.

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Avaaz

On March 12th, Avaaz released a lengthy report entitled “Yellow Vests Flooded By Fake News: Over 100M Views of Disinformation on Facebook”. The cover page features the image below:

What this image is depicting is not entirely clear, however I suggest that we try to dissect it to see if we can uncover an underlying message. To begin then, who are the two screaming victims meant to represent and why are they in the throes of such extreme agony? Moreover, what is the unseen agency pulling at their strings? To my eyes the torment and the envisaged tormenter are conflated, deliberately so given how there is no other visible cause for their trauma. Presumably then the subliminal message is that the pain that is felt and expressed by the Yellows Vests is both the outcome and an expression of one source: ‘fake news’. Of course the main purveyor of this dread ‘fake news’ is then made clear in the accompanying caption:

“Avaaz calls on Facebook to Correct the Record ahead of EU Elections – with an in-depth study showing how fake news surrounding the Yellow Vests reached over 100 million views, and how Russia fueled the divide.”

[bold highlight added]

In short, Russia is to blame, and not just for somehow orchestrating mass demonstrations across France that have been ongoing since November, but for bringing such grief to the French people by generating and stoking their rage. You see the people who go out on the streets in their tens of thousands are actually dupes of the Kremlin – empty-headed pawns in a game that goes on entirely above their heads:

Yes, the image above is another one lifted from the pages of Avaaz’s report, and as if their message isn’t plain enough, there is a further accompanying statement that clarifies:

This new in-depth study by the global citizens’ movement Avaaz shows for the first time the unprecedented scale at which the Yellow Vest movement has been impacted by disinformation. According to its findings, fake news surrounding the French Yellow Vest movement has reached an estimated 105 million views on Facebook alone, in a country with just over 35 million Facebook monthly active users. 12

The report then highlights three prime examples of the kinds of disinformation inflaming the French protests:

• a post with images including bleeding ‘Yellow Vest protesters,’ which media and government allegedly hid from the public – when some of the photos were actually taken at different protests near Madrid or in Catalonia (136,818 shares, 3,511,456 est. views)

• a video of French President Macron dancing in the Middle East “while France suffers,” when the video was actually taken over a month before, during the Summit for the Francophonie in Armenia (183,390 shares, 5,700,000 views)

• an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere; Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted (349,403 shares, 8,967,432 est. Views 13

I wish to consider each of these items in turn, starting with the photo of an injured protester who is mistakenly identified as a victim of the recent violence in France when in fact she was a previous victim of police brutality in Madrid. It was late February when Avaaz launched their initial campaign on the back of this deception. The email they sent reads (and bold highlights are preserved from the original):

“This shocking photo of a young woman, left beaten and bleeding by police at a protest, went viral on social media in France.

It’s the sort of thing Avaaz might launch an urgent campaign on.

So let’s pause there, if only to bookmark this first claim before continuing…

“But there’s just one problem – the image has nothing to do with France. It was taken in Madrid, years ago. It’s fake. Untrue. A lie.

And it’s dangerous.

Where to begin? Well surely the first point is that the image is not in any literal sense fake at all. Indeed, no-one is actually claiming that the image has been photoshopped. All that is ‘fake’ is that it happened in a different place and another time when evidently – and in spite of all their frantic virtue signalling – Avaaz did not bother to launch a campaign in response to it. No, they waited. And it was not until they could reuse the image to push a new agenda when they finally decided to direct the world’s attention to it.

Now it might be the case that they simply hadn’t seen this image before, although if so, then one wonders how they so promptly identified it as “fake” upon its re-emergence. Although none of this really matters. The fact is, as Avaaz know full well, the Gilet’s Jaunes protesters have also been repeatedly “beaten, bloody and terrified” in staggering numbers by French police; many left permanently blinded or as amputees. I have covered this above, however, the following extract is taken from a mainstream article that published by the New Statesman as early as January 30th, and thus a whole month prior to the Avaaz email:

In the video that has stunned France, Paris’s Place de la Bastille is relatively calm, with gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters scattered around the square. Jérôme Rodrigues, a pacifist yellow vest figure, is filming 26 January’s “Act XI” on Facebook Live, greeting fellow yellow vests as his “family”, reminding them that they are “authorised” to be there (unlike previous ones, this march had been declared to the authorities) and regretting reports of violence elsewhere. At the nine-minute mark, police start closing in. An explosion goes off. Seconds later, Rodrigues falls to the ground, badly hurt in the eye as his friends call for help. The video has been watched more than 2.2 million times in less than a week.

Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye, is among dozens of protesters who have been severely injured by the French police since the start of the yellow vests movement last autumn. Unlike violence against the police, which has been sharply condemned by the government in several speeches — including president Emmanuel Macron’s new year’s address, in which he described protesters as a “hateful crowd” — police brutality against protesters went largely ignored by the authorities for months. Rodrigues’s footage, and his prominent standing within the movement, has shone a light on police violence and the horrific injuries their weapons have caused since the first protests in November. 14

Click here to read the full article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied”.

A similar report entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” was published by the New Internationalist literally one day before the Avaaz email arrived. It begins:

Since that now infamous Act 2 protest in Paris on the 24th of November in which the first riots erupted on the Champs Elysee, the gilets jaunes, or ‘yellow vests’, have been met by an increasingly heavy handed police response. The 15th of December in Paris saw this reach an absurd peak when there were 2,200 protestors on the streets and over 8,000 police. They were ubiquitous. On the 15th they were so numerous that they could consistently split groups of gilets jaunes from merging to form a bigger mass. Ironically, this was one of the calmer weekends in terms of crowd numbers, police violence and casseur presence. Other times though the police response was devastating.

Jacques Pezet, fact-checking Journalist for the CheckNews division of Liberation had, as of the 30th of January counted 144 verifiable cases of gilets jaunes and journalists severely injured by the riot police. At least 14 victims have lost an eye and 92 of the 144 have been shot by flashballs. Flashballs are rubber bullets fired from a tube like weapon with the stopping power of a .38 calibre handgun. At close range, as the French CRS (riot police) have used them, they can be particularly damaging. This violent misconduct by the CRS has sparked a wave of activism and created a new movement against police brutality within the gilets jaunes. 15

Click here to read the full New Internationalist article.

So when Christoph Schott at Avaaz warns us that “Disinformation like this has the power to turn protest violent…” I know that he is being duplicitous. That what he is saying is fake, untrue, a lie… and that it’s dangerous. Because that genuinely “shocking photo of a young woman” in Madrid was really nothing more than a decoy to draw attention from the horrific violence of the French police and the hundreds of victims like these:

Record of injuries from police use of disproportionate force against unarmed civilians during GJ protests. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Now let us turn to Avaaz’s second example of “dangerous” disinformation: a video which purportedly shows Macron dancing “while France suffers”, but as Avaaz rightly contends, was in fact filmed during an event which took place on October 11th, and so roughly one month prior to the GJ protests. Here’s an upload for anyone who’s remotely interested in watching Macron strut his stuff:

The implication Avaaz makes here is that news of Macron’s detachment from the plight of the ordinary French citizen has been at best exaggerated and at worst fabricated. Yet once again this seriously and knowingly misses the essential point. So try this instead. Type into Google the words, “Macron let them eat cake” and then count the hits yourself. I will merely present a sample of the various tweets and articles you will instantly be linked to:

Instead of the confident leader, lecturing and preening on the global stage, he is barricaded in his palace, a sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. French people can’t afford diesel? Let them buy Teslas. Others might compare him to Nero, fiddling with emission targets while Paris burns. 16

From an article published by The Spectator in December appropriately entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising”.

Also back in December, The Economist weighed in with this tweet:

And meanwhile the Guardian published:

It is feasible – indeed, desirable – to use the tax system to tackle climate change, but only if the hit to living standards is fully offset by cuts in other taxes. Otherwise it is simply more of the austerity that voters everywhere are rejecting. And it is politically suicidal to be known as the president of the wealthy and then tell voters angry about rising fuel prices to car share or take public transport. That’s not De Gaulle, that’s Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”.17

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable.”

The backlash was indeed inevitable, and is nothing to do with the sorts of shadowy puppetry that are alluded to by Avaaz. Furthermore, Macron may or may not have been dancing during the protest, however, as Paris burned last weekend, he was most definitely in the Alps skiing:

Mr Macron was forced to cut short a skiing holiday and return to the capital as an 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations by the gilets jaunes or yellow vests turned into a riot on the Champs-Elysées. 18

Let them eat, drink and après-ski!

*

Macron

Nominally anti-fascist, in reality, Avaaz is more straightforwardly pro-establishment globalist. While on the one hand it actively manufactures consent for pro-western regime change operations, on the other, it quietly supports neoliberal “centrism”. As its co-founding President and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, told the euobserver in an interview given last July:

“I think the people of Europe stand with Merkel. That doesn’t mean that every right-wing voter in Bavaria stands with Merkel’s positions, but the majority of people in Germany, and the majority people in Europe, stand behind her and she needs to lead with confidence, and with boldness, and with creativity to execute the solutions she is offering, because the other side is not offering any solutions.”

“They are offering fantasies and unworkable solutions and things that would destroy the laws and the values of the European project and liberal democracy. And I think she should continue to lead boldly.” 19

As with Merkel, so with Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, here is a campaign Avaaz ran in the lead up to the French presidential elections in 2017:

In less than 4 weeks, France will have a new President, and he or she will have an immense impact on how we work together to build the world most of us want to see.

We’re figuring out our next steps for engaging the 4 million-strong Avaaz community across France, and we need your help. If the election was held tomorrow, would you vote for Emmanuel Macron? If yes, sign the form!

Avaaz then released this video on its facebook page:

But the meddling in foreign elections doesn’t end here, because there is also Avaaz’s army of ‘elves’, who, as I discussed in a previous post, are in reality simply Cass Sunstein’s unwitting little helpers:

*

Facebook

This brings me to Avaaz’s third and final highlighted instance of “disinformation” that is purportedly fuelling the current outrage in France. It takes the form of “an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere”. According to Avaaz, “Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted”. Now, rather than delving into this specific allegation which I see little reason to doubt, it is more worthwhile to consider this allegation in fuller context.

Firstly it is vital to understand how this entire Avaaz campaign is absolutely intent on lessening the impact of political content distributed on Facebook, and thus rather blatantly guilty of the kind of censorship it here alleges didn’t happen. It is important to stress therefore that Facebook is already charged with helping to silence political dissent, and that there is an abundance of available evidence to find the company fully guilty on that count.

In fact, it is nearly a year since Facebook first revealed its previously secret rules for censoring posts. As Forbes reported:

The company has come in for a fair amount of criticism over the years for taking down perfectly innocuous content – everything from photos of classical statues to the famous picture of a napalmed child in Vietnam.

Now, users whose content has been taken down will be notified and given the chance to ask for a review; reviews will normally be carried out within 24 hours.

The policy will initially apply only to nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, says [VP of global product management Monika] Bickert.

But, she adds, “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up.” 20

In response to Facebook’s announcement of its censorship policy, the ACLU cautioned against what it saw as a clampdown on free speech:

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook.

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 21

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

More recently, and as it transpires immediately prior to the Gilets Jaunes protests, Facebook then announced a fresh censorship drive:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

The statement was made last October and continues:

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 22

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages.

“Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.” 23

The same article, which entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” , interviewed Matt Mountain, the pseudonym of a disabled veteran who operated six leftwing pages subsequently purged, and Brian Kolfage, another disabled veteran who administered the Right Wing News page as well as three other conservative pages that were also removed. Kolfage said:

“I’ve talked with Facebook maybe 50 times in the last few months… Not once did they ever say we broke any rules or did something wrong. If they had an issue, they could have brought it up. We had a really close working relationship. That’s why this whole thing is a complete shock.”

‘Mountain’ told the Guardian:

“I don’t think Facebook wants to fix this… I think they just want politics out, unless it’s coming from the mainstream media.”

Predictably, the piece ends:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full Guardian article

*

Real ‘fake news’

Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).

This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

Writes Glenn Greenwald at the top of a very detailed exposé of the latest US government lies to bring about a regime change. The truth was finally admitted by The New York Times a fortnight later – by which time the official story was deeply lodged in people’s minds – and you will find a video and accompanying article about it behind their paywall. Here is their belated headline:

The NYT piece gives proof that the convoys were in fact torched by anti-Maduro protesters, exactly as many independent reporters including Max Blumenthal were reporting on the day, however, as with the disclosure of other fake news stories perpetuated in the mainstream media, and unlike the original lies, the NYT retraction did not grab the wider headlines.  Although CNN, The Telegraph and the BBC all ran the original fake news story, they left NYT alone to publicly retract it.

As Greenwald points out in reference to the evidence for what really happened:

Those last two tweets [embedded below] – using video footage to debunk the lies spread by Marco Rubio, CNN and the U.S. Government – happen to be from a correspondent with RT America. Please tell me: who was acting here as lying propagandists and agents of State TV, and who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth?

So everything the New York Times so proudly reported last night has been known for weeks, and was already reported in great detail, using extensive evidence, by a large number of people. But because those people are generally skeptical of the U.S. Government’s claims and critical of its foreign policy, they were ignored and mocked and are generally barred from appearing on television, while the liars from the U.S. Government and their allies in the corporate media were, as usual, given a platform to spread their lies without any challenge or dissent, just like the manual for how to maintain State TV instructs. 24

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda”.

*

Final thoughts

Barring the singular exception of the West’s most unconscionable war, the Saudi-led genocide of Yemen, Avaaz has never seen an imperialist intervention, ‘colour revolution’, or other regime change operation it didn’t approve of. It campaigned vigorously for the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – this, the weasel word euphemism for airstrikes – and soon after Libya was bombed backed into the dark ages, demanded a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria (read more here and here).

Less well-advertised, Avaaz was also deeply involved in Iran’s failed ‘Green Revolution’:

During the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran, for example, Avaaz set up a network of proxy servers to allow protesters to post videos from the streets. 25

Then in 2017, Avaaz went a step further when it financially backed its own candidate in the race for Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. The candidate in question happened to be none other than former congressman Tom Perriello, one of Avaaz’s original founders, who, it was divulged, received a donation from Avaaz of $230,000. As the Washington Post reported:

As a 501(c)(4) charity, Avaaz is not required to disclose its individual donors, which it says come from among nearly 45 million members in 194 countries. The organization says it accepts no money from governments or corporations and itemizes any donations greater than $5,000 on its tax filing; in 2016, 26 such donations were reported, representing 0.7 percent of Avaaz’s total revenue.

Perriello co-founded Avaaz with two colleagues who had helped him start an earlier nonprofit called Res Publica, which was aimed at promoting international justice on behalf of the religious left, as Perriello told the National Catholic Reporter in 2004. One of those colleagues, Ricken Patel, a Canadian, is now Avaaz’s executive director. The organization was formed in collaboration with MoveOn.org, the Democratic online activist group that has received funding from billionaire George Soros — who also is a major Perriello campaign contributor. 26

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post.

Today Avaaz is fully in league with Bush-era hawk John Bolton, the unapologetic cheerleader for the Iraq War, and Elliot Abrahams, who aided death squads throughout Latin America and was afterwards convicted following his involvement in the Iran-Contra Scandal. In unison with “like-minded leaders” (in the words of John Bolton 27), President Ivan Duque of Colombia, and Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, Avaaz is assisting in the attempted overthrow of the elected government of Venezuela. The empire has seldom been more brazen when it comes to singling out its latest “axis of evil” (i.e., Bolton’s “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua), yet this self-proclaimed non-partisan people’s movement is eager to lend support in the guise of faux-humanitarianism that distracts from US imperialism and bolsters the neo-con cause:

The image is captured from a translation of its Spanish campaign but you can also find the same campaign in English here:

It is also backing baseless claims that last year’s presidential elections were invalid.

Meanwhile, Avaaz is once again meddling closer to home. In the name of stemming the tide of ‘fake news’ it is preparing the way for greater internet censorship. As they concede in the report:

RT France has massively invested in coverage of the Yellow Vest protests, including hour-long live coverage videos, and as a result, dominated the debate about Yellow Vests on YouTube in France more than any other YouTube channel, let alone mainstream media.

If you imagined that “a global citizens movement” (as Avaaz markets itself) would be in favour of more rather than less coverage of the mass demonstrations across France and so would applaud RT or any other media outlet for providing it, you would be wrong. The fact is that they wish to bury any news of a popular uprising, smothering the truth with overblown allegations of ‘fake news’. So if you still haven’t figured it out, then allow me to spell it out instead: in contrast to the Gilets Jaunes themselves, Avaaz is not and never has been a grassroots movement. It was astroturfed from the get-go to provide controlled opposition, whilst its newest departure into ‘fake news’ surveillance represents a more sinister turn. Once again, I encourage every person of goodwill to unsubscribe from the Avaaz mailing list. I shall remain nominally affiliated just to keep an eye on future machinations – just so that you won’t have to.

*

1

France’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have vowed to continue their high-profile protest campaign after forcing the French government into a U-turn on a controversial rise in fuel tax.

The movement behind three weeks of increasingly violent protests across the country declared it wanted more concessions from France’s leaders and would not accept “crumbs”.

From an article entitled “Gilets Jaunes protests in France to continue despite fuel tax U-turn” written by Kim Willsher, published in the Guardian on December 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/french-government-to-suspend-fuel-tax-increase-say-reports 

2 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

3 From an article entitled “Dr. Jean Bricmont: ‘Yellow Vests Ask Such Fundamental Questions that No European Government Could Answer Them” written by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, published in American Herald Tribune on February 22, 2019. https://ahtribune.com/interview/2903-jean-bricmont.html

4 From an article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up” written by Serge Halimi, translated by George Miller, published in Counterpunch on January 8, 2019.. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/08/forgotten-france-rises-up/  

5 From an article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.” written by Max Parry, published in Counterpunch on January 4, 2019.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/04/why-frances-yellow-vest-protests-are-ignored-by-the-resistance-in-the-u-s/

6 Although in fact like so many of the best known quotes it is probably misattributed.

7

During her visit the Commissioner noted in particular that the validity of the use of rubber bullet launchers (LBDs) during demonstrations was contested by most of the people she met, who highlighted their unsuitability for the purposes of maintaining public order and the danger they posed in such contexts. In his report of December 2017 on maintaining public order with due regard for professional rules of conduct, the Defender of Rights recommended that a multidisciplinary study be carried out on the use of intermediate weapons and that LBDs should be removed from the range of equipment available to law enforcement agencies. The Commissioner notes that the Defender of Rights reiterated his recommendation for LBDs to be withdrawn in January 2019 and that many health professionals support him because of the sometimes irreversible injuries that can be caused by these weapons. Laurent Thines, Head of Neurosurgery at the University Hospital of Besançon, has even talked of the “extreme danger” of these launchers which he considers to have “all the features of weapons of war”. […]

The Commissioner notes that according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds, 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye. The Commissioner notes that many head wound victims attribute their injuries to intermediate weapons, particularly LBDs, whereas according to instructions reiterated by the Director General of the national police force on 16 January 2019, the use of LBDs must be “targeted”, with users aiming “only at the torso or the lower or upper limbs”. […]

[T]he Commissioner is concerned about the allegations of police violence targeting journalists which have been brought to her attention by professional journalists’ organisations and human rights groups and which are echoed by those of three photographers who claim that they were “deliberately” targeted by the police in Toulouse at a demonstration on 9 February 2019.

From a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe published on February 26, 2019. https://rm.coe.int/commdh-2019-8-memorandum-france-en/1680932f57

8 From an article entitled “French police accused of stealing PSG jerseys during Yellow Vest lootings”, written by Pierre Hamdi, published in France 24: The Observers on March 19. 2019. https://observers.france24.com/en/20190319-france-social-media-accuse-police-stealing-psg-jerseys-yellow-vests

9 From an article entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday’s ‘yellow vest’ clashes” written by Anthony Torres and Alex Lantier, published in wsws.org on March 21, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/03/21/fran-m21.html

10 From an article entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Mondoweiss on February 27, 2019. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2019-02-27/france-macron-zionism-antisemitism/

11 From an article entitled “Anti-Semitism Pandemic!” written by CJ Hopkins, reprinted in OffGuardian on March 12, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/03/12/anti-semitism-pandemic/

12 From an Avaaz report entitled “Yellow Vest Flooded By Fake News” published on March 12, 2019. https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/AVAAZ_YellowVests_100miofake.pdf.pdf.pdf

13 Ibid.

14 From an article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied” written by Pauline Bock, published in the New Statesman on January 30, 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2019/01/french-police-s-brutality-against-gilets-jaunes-can-no-longer-be-denied

15 From an article entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” written by Oliver Haynes, published in the New Internationalist on February 27, 2019. https://newint.org/features/2019/02/27/police-violence-against-gilets-jaunes-sparks-broad-backlash

16 From an article published entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising” written by Jonathan Miller, published in The Spectator on December 8, 2018. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/12/let-them-buy-teslas-how-macron-became-the-enemy-of-the-french/ 

17 From an article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable” written by Larry Elliott, published in the Guardian on Decmeber 6, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/06/macron-clinton-blair-backlash

18 From an article entitled “Macron under renewed pressure after another weekend of violence” written by Harriet Agnew, published in the Financial Times on March 17, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/b774a756-48a7-11e9-8b7f-d49067e0f50d

19 From an article entitled “EU populists not actually that ‘popular’, says global activist” written by Lisbeth Kirk, published in the euobserver on July 3, 2018. https://euobserver.com/political/142242

20 From an article entitled “Facebook Reveals Its Secret Rules For Censoring Posts” written by Emma Woollacott, published in Forbes magazine on April 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2018/04/24/facebook-reveals-its-secret-rules-for-censoring-posts/#40a453b56da4

21 From an article entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech” written by Vera Eidelman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, published by ACLU on July 20, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/facebook-shouldnt-censor-offensive-speech

22 From a Facebook announcement entitled “Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook” written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, posted by Facebook on October 11, 2018. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/10/removing-inauthentic-activity/

23 From an article entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” written by Dan Tynan, published in the Guardian on October 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/16/facebook-political-activism-pages-inauthentic-behavior-censorship

24 From an article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on March 10, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/03/10/nyts-expose-on-the-lies-about-burning-humanitarian-trucks-in-venezuela-shows-how-us-govt-and-media-spread-fake-news/

25 From an article entitled “How a New York City-Based Activist Group Became a Player in Syria”, written by Vivienne Walt, published in Time magazine on March 15, 2012. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2109212,00.html

26 From an article entitled “‘Dark money’ vs. Corporate cash: Virginia Democratic rivals clash over funding” written by Gregory S. Schneider, published in the Washington Post on April 22, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/dark-money-vs-corporate-cash-democratic-rivals-clash-over-funding/2017/04/21/cc91253c-25d7-11e7-a1b3-faff0034e2de_story.html?utm_term=.6d47c0cae4ab

27

“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance,” Bolton said in his speech at Miami-Dade College.

From an article entitled “Bolton praises Bolsonaro while declaring ‘troika of tyranny’ in Latin America” written by Julian Borger, published in the Guardian on November 1, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/01/trump-admin-bolsonaro-praise-john-bolton-troika-tyranny-latin-america

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free Edward Pinkney, an American prisoner of conscience

Why is Rev. Pinkney in prison? Too many reasons to count. The timeline below hits some highlights, but still doesn’t paint a full picture of what he does that makes his resistance and leadership so dangerous to the master planners of the establishment.

So writes Jackie Miller in a thoroughgoing review of the case entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another Case of Political Persecution”.

Miller continues:

For over a decade, he spent nearly every day that Berrien County court was in session court-watching, taking notes, and helping defendants understand their rights. Each week for years he led a group of community activists from Benton Harbor to march on the courthouse in St. Joseph wearing the famous “Berrien County’s Most Wanted” T-shirts, listing the most corrupt and racist judges and other county officials. 1

Benton Harbor is one of the poorest cities in America. It is 94% black, 90% poor, and 70% unemployed (figures as of 2007 2). A place where “the criminal justice system operates to arrest, imprison, intimidate, control and marginalize” the citizens and where “governmental and educational institutions are characterized by infighting and petty corruption”:

In the fall of 2003, in a notorious incident, the Benton Harbor Chief of Police (who was not a certified law enforcement officer nor licensed to carry a gun), fired into the air in order to disperse a group of black youths who had gathered on a corner. Despite the fact that both the possession and the use of the gun were illegal under state and local law, nothing was done. 3

In this struggle for political and social justice, Edward Pinkney, in cooperation with his wife, Dorothy, founded the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO). But this was a battle that also meant locking horns with powerful Fortune 500 corporation Whirlpool – the largest manufacturer of home appliances in the world – which is headquartered in the city, and their “yes-man”, Mayor James Hightower:

Instead of supporting a tax that would make Whirlpool pay its fair share for city services and employees, the mayor signed a $3.2 million loan that the residents of Benton Harbor, one of the poorest cities per capita in the United States, would now have to pay. Meanwhile, Whirlpool pays absolutely no income taxes to the federal government or to Michigan. 4

In response, Pinkney organised a petition to unseat Hightower. The new Benton Harbor authority’s retaliation was as swift as it was high-handed:

On December 15 [2014], Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader in the struggle for social and economic justice for the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison, on the basis of thin circumstantial evidence that a few dates had been altered on a recall petition against the city’s mayor, James Hightower. The recall was prompted by the mayor’s continued support for tax evasion by the Whirlpool Corporation, the Fortune 500 company and $19 billion global appliance manufacturer, headquartered in Benton Harbor.

Click here to read the full article published by truthout back in December 2014.

Pinkney’s imprisonment for this misdemeanour is manifestly politically motivated and has since been legally challenged by the ACLU (further details below). Pinkney’s case is also supported by Judge Ferdinando Imposimato, Honorary President of the Supreme Court of Italy and a leading prosecutor in a number of high profile cases against the Mafia. Imposimato writes:

Whirlpool represents the largest appliance company in the Western world. Pinkney was indicted with the accusation of having forged the dates of a few signatures on petitions circulated to recall Mayor Hightower, a Whirlpool ally, and force him to justify his behavior in office before the voters through the device of calling an early election. Pinkney was sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment, despite the absolute absence of any proof against him. Normally, according to Michigan law, this entire matter would have been considered a misdemeanor, but in order to take down Pinkney, the head of the opposition in the city, this charge was inflated to the level of being an extremely serious felony. In addition, Pinkney’s trial was polluted by so many intrigues among the judge, the sheriff, the county officials, and a member of the jury who committed perjury, all of which makes Pinkney’s conviction invalid, and requires that it be struck down, in my opinion.

And Imposimato draws attention to the similarly “arrogant” approach taken by Whirlpool after it expanded its operations into Italy:

In recent years, Whirlpool has bought up large chunks of our splendid Italian appliance industry, including especially the appliance manufacturer Indesit. Now, Whirlpool executives have issued a proclamation from Benton Harbor announcing with absolute arrogance that they intend to wipe out about 2,000 jobs, which means more than a third of the current personnel of the Italian branch of Whirlpool. This mass firing would be a devastating blow for Varese, Caserta, Turin, Naples, Siena, and the other Italian cities which Whirlpool is targeting.

We have to ask ourselves if Whirlpool is trying to drive these Italian cities down to the same level of plantations of despair which we observe today in Benton Harbor. God forbid!

Click here to read Ferdinando Imposimato’s full statement made in June.

So why is Pinkney in prison? Well, to better understand the current situation in Benton Harbor we need to go back a few years to the introduction of so-called Financial Emergency Managers:

There is no place in the United States that more cruelly illustrates the intensifying conflict between corporate power and democracy than Benton Harbor, Mich., the first city to be placed under what some Michiganders call “financial martial law.”

In March [2011], Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder won approval of Public Act 4 (i.e., the Emergency Manager law), which permits him to declare that a city is in fiscal crisis and then to appoint an overseer with unlimited powers including the elimination of existing union contracts. Significantly, chief sponsors of Public Act 4 were State Rep. Al Pscholka, who was a former aide to Whirlpool heir U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, and also “a former vice president for one of the major entities involved in building the luxury golf development,” The Rachel Maddow Show reported last week.

That comes from an article written by Roger Bybee published nearly half a decade ago in April 2011. Bybee continues:

This month Harris [the Emergency Financial Manager appointed in early 2010] used the new powers granted to him by the newly passed law, declaring that elected bodies like the Benton Harbor City Council and School Board can meet but cannot make any decisions. The votes of elected bodies and Benton Harbor voters no longer count; the sole decider is Harris, who makes all decisions unilaterally.

State Rep. Fred Dunhal, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, views the takeover legislation as part of a national drive by a new crop of fiercely right-wing governors, exemplified by Snyder, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich.

Their goal is to virtually eliminate any forces that counter corporate domination of state and local government. “This is part of a national agenda,” said Rep. Dunhal. “It involves breaking the contracts of unions and interfering with the ability of cities to make their own decisions.” 5

Click here to read Roger Bybee’s full article.

To read more about the appointment of Financial Emergency Managers and the role of far-right governors, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker – who is a current candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for 2016 – I direct readers to an earlier post on the same topic also published nearly five years ago and entitled “the corporate take-over of America – state by state”

You can also hear more about the scandal surrounding Michigan’s Emergency Managers, Mayor James Hightower and Whirlpool, as well as further details in the case of Rev. Pinkney from this interview with Pinkney’s spokesperson Larry Pinkney (no relation) on Abby Martin’s RT show Breaking the Set broadcast last January:

Today as Edward Pinkney languishes inside Lakeland Correctional Facility located in the well-named city of Coldwater, Michigan, he refuses to be silenced. Indeed, he is determined to turn his own incarceration to the advantage of others, using it as a platform to speak out against the inhuman conditions he and fellow inmates face on a daily basis.

And for how long will Pinkney remain imprisoned?

On August 5, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids ruled 2-1 against Pinkney’s motion for bond pending appeal. Perhaps most insulting, the prosecution argued that Pinkney’s release would “undermine public confidence not only in the electoral process…but also in the justice system itself.” Of course, the truth is that the “justice system itself” is being used to subvert the electoral process. Interpreting the prosecution and judge’s arguments becomes an Orwellian word game.

ACLU of Michigan filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the bond motion stating that the conviction is “almost certain” to be reversed. Pinkney has already spent over seven months removed from his family and community. It could be many months more by the time the appeal is heard and decided. Pinkney will have “paid a debt to society he didn’t owe.” 6

Click here to read a copy of the ACLU’s amicus brief in support of the motion for bond.

As his friend Jackie Miller sums up at the end of his piece  in Counterpunch:

We owe a debt to Pinkney. His courage and leadership have slowed, though not yet prevented, the wholesale destruction of a community of 11,000. The people of Benton Harbor need him back, and we need him out of prison where he can remain healthy and continue his warrior work.

*

The timeline and links are all reprinted from Jackie Miller’s Counterpunch article:

Free Rev. Pinkney Petition

Boycott: Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, and Kitchen Aid

Send letters: Rev. Edward Pinkney, No. 294671, Lakeland C.F., 141 First St., Coldwater, MI 49036

Donations: BANCO

Timeline of the Pinkney Case

2001: Pinkney begins court watching, leading weekly marches on Berrien County courthouse, and speaking out against police brutality and wrongful arrests.

June 2003: Benton Harbor uprising, after police break up a peaceful vigil for Terrance Shurn, killed in a police chase. BANCO organizes marches and protests.

Fall 2004 – 2005: Pinkney leads successful campaign to recall pro-Whirlpool city commissioner Glen Yarbrough. Boycott Whirlpool campaign begins.

April 2005: Prosecutor sues City Clerk Jean Nesbitt to set aside the recall. Nesbitt loses her job and Pinkney is arrested, charged with improperly possessing four absentee ballots (a felony). A second recall election is held and Yarbrough wins.

2006: Trial with mixed-race jury results in a mistrial due to hung jury.

2007: Pinkney retried, this time with an all-white jury, found guilty, sentenced to house arrest and probation. Key prosecution witness avoids prosecution on unrelated criminal charges. Pinkney begins appeal.

2008: Pinkney criticizes the trial judge in an article, quoting Deuteronomy; another judge rules that he threatened the trial judge by virtue of his special relationship with God and violated probation; Pinkney sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison.

2008: From prison, Pinkney runs for U.S. Congress on the Green Party ticket, challenging Republican Rep. Fred Upton, heir to the Whirlpool dynasty.

June 2009: ACLU helps secure his release on bond, but he is prohibited from attending his own appeal hearing when unable to immediately raise $10,000 and Judge Wiley keeps him under house arrest. Pinkney’s parole violation conviction is overturned on appeal, but he is denied a new trial for the election fraud charges and completes his probation on electronic tether at a personal cost of $105/week.

March 2010: Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appoints Michigan’s first Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) to rule Benton Harbor.

2008-2010: Whirlpool’s front group takes Benton Harbor’s lakefront Jean Klock Park for a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, part of the Harbor Shores multi-million dollar development. Planning for the takeover began as early as 1992. Harbor Shores also steals water without permit while EFM raises household water rates.

May 2012: BANCO organizes “Occupy the PGA” protest at Harbor Shores Senior PGA Championship.

November 2013: Pinkney and another petitioner turn in signatures in favor of holding an election to recall Mayor James Hightower. Hightower opposed a city income tax which would have brought in much-needed revenue from Whirlpool, Inc., to Benton Harbor. Whirlpool pays no federal or state tax, instead receives federal tax credits.

April 2014: SWAT team and 30 officers surround Pinkney’s home to deliver arrest warrant.

May 2014: Protest of Harbor Shores Senior PGA Championship carries on, despite Pinkney under house arrest on $105/wk electronic tether, prohibited from computer use.

April-Sep. 2014: Court stays the vote to recall Mayor Hightower due to questions about signatures. Later another judge allows the vote to proceed as there are sufficient signatures. Then Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court stay the election anyway.

Aug. 2014: Pinkney files to recall County Clerk Sharon Tyler who illegally turned over petitions to sheriff’s deputy.

Oct. 2014: Pinkney convicted by an all-white jury on charges of altering dates on the Hightower recall petition. No evidence, direct or circumstantial, that a crime was committed was presented, much less that Pinkney committed any. (Defense request for a venue other than the one Pinkney has protested since 2001 denied.)

Dec. 2014: Judge Schrock sentences Pinkney to 2½ to 10 years. Over 130 letters of support are ignored. For 30 days, Pinkney is quarantined in deplorable conditions.

Feb. and April 2015: Schrock twice denies bond pending appeal and orders Pinkney to pay $1,736.17 in restitution to Mayor Hightower for “economic and psychological damage.”

Aug. 2015: Court of Appeals rules 2-1 against motion for bond pending appeal. Decision will be appealed to Michigan Supreme Court.

Additional reading:

Benton Harbor BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization) Blog.

Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan,” by BANCO, April 2007.

Whirlpool — The Gentrifier Of Benton Harbor,” by Dorothy Pinkney, March 2009.

Democracy vs. Profit is Central Issue in Takeover of Benton Harbor, Mich.,” by Roger Bybee, April 2011.

Rev. Pinkney: Why I’m charged with election fraud,” by Rev. Edward Pinkney, Oct. 2014.

Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan,” by Abayomi Azikiwe, November 2014.

Rev. Edward Pinkney Imprisoned for Fighting the Whirlpool Corporation,” by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, Dec. 2014.

National defense campaign building for Rev. Edward Pinkney,” by Abayomi Azikiwe, Dec. 2014.

Free Political Prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney, Convicted with no evidence by an All White Jury,” by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, Feb. 2015.

Civil rights activist denied appeal bond,” by Abayome Azikiwe, March 2015.

Racism and Police Misconduct: African-American Michigan Community Leader Rev. Pinkney Denied Appeal Bond,” by Abayomi Azikiwe, March 2015.

Berrien County Court Continues Racist Campaign Against Rev. Edward Pinkney,” by Abayomi Azikiwe, April 2015.

From Varese, Italy to Benton Harbor, Michigan: The Same Struggle Against Whirlpool,” by Webster G. Tarpley, June 2015.

Letter From Political Prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney,” by Rev. Edward Pinkney, July 2015

*

1 From an article entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another case of Political Persecution” written by Jackie Miller, published in Counterpunch on August 13, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/13/why-is-rev-edward-pinkney-in-prison-another-case-of-political-persecution/ 

2 Figures taken from an article entitled “Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan” written by BANCO, published in Counterpunch on April 21, 2007. http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/04/21/travesties-of-justice-in-a-black-city-in-michigan/  

3 Ibid.

4 From an article entitled “Rev. Edward Pinkney Imprisoned for Fighting the Whirlpool Corporation” written by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, published in Truthout on Decmeber 16, 2014. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28050-whirlpool-corporation-sentences-edward-pinkney-to-prison-with-no-evidence

5 From an article entitled “Democracy vs. Profit is Central Issue in Takeover of Benton Harbor, Mich.” Written by Roger Bybee, published in InTheseTimes.com on April 26, 2011. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/7237/democracy_vs._profit_central_issue_in_benton_harbor_takeover

6 From an article entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another case of Political Persecution” written by Jackie Miller, published in Counterpunch on August 13, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/13/why-is-rev-edward-pinkney-in-prison-another-case-of-political-persecution/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article.

Likewise, The Atlantic then reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romero writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Additional:

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

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

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

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

Murray continues later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full statement.

 *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CISPA: the latest attack on freedom in America

A few months ago many were worrying about PIPA and SOPA, two US bills drafted ostensibly to protect intellectual property rights, but blocked thanks to widespread protests including the blackout of many internet sites – most notably wikipedia. Meantime, we have also seen the European Union attempting to ratify the international ‘anti-piracy’ ACTA treaty, this time ignoring not only public opinion, but the advice of two of their own appointed rapporteurs.1 So there has never been such a conspicuous rush by governments to take control of the internet, and to limit the free sharing of information, as we have seen during the last few months.

Combined with this, we also recently learned that the NSA are constructing a massive new centre for the purpose of the interception and storage of all email and other personal data passing through the United States. Finally, we see how this unlawful intrusion on personal privacy is to be legitimised, by, of course, yet another draft of internet regulation: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed yesterday in the House of Representatives:

On a bipartisan vote of 248-168, the Republican-controlled House backed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which would encourage companies and the federal government to share information collected on the internet to prevent electronic attacks from cybercriminals, foreign governments and terrorists.2

Taken from a report in today’s Guardian.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Michelle Richardson has since made the following statement:

“CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”3

The ACLU is also holding out hope that the Obama administration will now veto the bill as it is threatening to do. The Guardian also reports that The House of Representatives “ignored objections from Barack Obama’s administration” by approving the legislation. But now let us rewind just a little. This is taken from another Guardian article published in December last year:

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law [NDAA 2012] that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.4

The same article goes on to say:

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing.

Returning to CISPA, and in contrast to the outcry over SOPA and PIPA, it is interesting to note that all of the major corporations involved with the internet have been supporting the bill. No blackout of wikipedia, or any other major sites. What do these companies have to gain? Here’s Michelle Richardson speaking on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

[And] frankly, they’re going to make out like bandits. Under this bill, if they share our private information, they get complete protection from liability. Consumers will no longer be able to assert their privacy rights that exist under current law and hold them accountable in court. They can’t be prosecuted by the government like they currently can for illegal wiretapping or sharing information. They’re getting FOIA exemptions, so that no one will ever know about these breaches or the things that they share with the government. They’re really walking away here with maximum flexibility to share our personal information with minimum accountability and no enforcement to make sure that they are not oversharing and infringing on our privacy.5

Click here to watch video and read the full transcript of the Democracy Now! interview

Asked what the prospects are of the legislation passing, Richardson replies:

Well, we were very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat yesterday and said, in very clear terms, that they believe that control of the internet needs to remain civilian, and the military shouldn’t be routinely collecting information on innocent people.

Very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat… Why so pleased? Can it be that Richardson and the rest of ACLU are suffering some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten that Obama reneged on his promise not to authorise the NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ act less than four months ago? Are they also oblivious to the fact that the necessary facilities for such widespread domestic surveillance is now being constructed in a heavily fortified centre in Bluffdale, Utah at a cost of $2 billion? So Obama isn’t fighting the same corner. Surely by now that’s obvious, isn’t it?

“But why did he do it?” a friend said to me, soon after Obama had given the go-ahead for indefinite detention without trial. This common response simply reminds me of the question the drowning frog asks the scorpion in the fable.6 The answer being, if you remember, “I couldn’t help it – I’m a scorpion”.

1 Kader Arif resigned in protest on January 26 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

The newly appointed rapporteur, British MEP David Martin, also recommended against the treaty, stating “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.

2 From an article entitled “Cispa cybersecurity bill passed by House of Representatives”, from Associated Press, published in the Guardian on April 27, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/27/cispa-cybersecurity-bill-passed-senate

4 From an article entitled “Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill”, written by Chris McGreal, published in the Guardian on December 15, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/americans-face-guantanamo-detention-obama

6 A frog and a scorpion are trying to cross a river. “Hello Mr. Frog!” says the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog.

Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

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is America moving towards the brink of martial law?

On December 19th, Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at the George Washington University, was speaking on C-Span about the loss of privacy taking place in America. This included responding to questions from callers. One went as follows:

Caller [15 minutes in]: One question about the President’s expanded powers… I can’t believe that the President can come, pull me out of my house in the dark of the night, and whisk me away, and I have no actions that I can take, I mean, what is that…?

Turley: It’s actually worse than they’re coming into your house – I hate to ruin your day – but President Obama just stated that he is going to maintain a policy that he can have any American citizen killed – without any charge, without any review except his own… If he is satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world, including the United States. Two of his aides were just at a panel a couple of weeks ago and they reaffirmed they believe that American citizens can be killed on the order of the President, anywhere including the United States. That has left civil libertarian’s, you know, heads exploding because what is amazing is that you’ve got a President who now says that he can kill you on his own discretion, he can jail you indefinitely on his own discretion, and the response of the American people is one big, collective shrug and yawn.

Click here to watch the video on C-Span website.

In part, Turley was highlighting the dangerous precedent set by Obama’s order for a drone attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn, both American citizens, who were travelling in Yemen in late September. Here is an Associated Press report:

Anwar al-Awlaki, the target of the U.S. drone attack, was one of the best-known al-Qaida figures after Osama bin Laden. American intelligence officials had linked him to two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes, an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year. The second American killed in the drone attack, Samir Kahn, was the editor of Inspire, a slick online magazine aimed at al-Qaida sympathizers in the West.

“Al-Qaida and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said in announcing al-Awlaki’s death. “Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans.”

Republicans and Democrats alike applauded the decision to launch the fatal assault on the convoy in Yemen.

Whereas the killing of Samir Kahn was justified as ‘collateral damage’, it transpires that target, al-Awlaki, who has been described variously as “the leader” of al-Qaida [FBI Director Robert Mueller]; “a leader of al-Qaida in Yemen” [The Treasury Department]; “a regional commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” [White House spokesman Robert Gibbs]; “the leader of external operations” [Obama after his assassination] had been added to ‘the kill-or-capture list’ in April 2010:

Before al-Awlaki, no American had been on the list.

But the legal process that led to his death was set in motion years a decade ago. On Sept. 17, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a presidential order authorizing the CIA to hunt down terrorists worldwide. The authority was rooted in his power as commander in chief, leading a nation at war with al-Qaida.

The order made no distinction between foreigners and U.S. citizens. If they posed a “continuing and imminent threat” to the United States, they were eligible to be killed, former intelligence officials said.

That Anwar al-Awlaki was a radical Islamist is surely without question, “his sermons in English are posted all over the Internet and his name has been associated with several attempted terrorist attacks”, although his alleged involvement in such plots as the underwear bomber’s failed attempt on Christmas Day will almost certainly never be finally established now that he is dead. By assassinating him, the case is effectively closed and he is thus presumed guilty unless proved innocent:

[But] In taking this step, the Obama administration raised questions about whom else the president has the authority to kill. In principle, such an attack could probably not happen inside the United States because the CIA is forbidden from operating here and the military is limited in what operations it can carry out domestically. But civil rights groups have questioned whether the government has opened the door to that possibility.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney refused to even acknowledge the government’s direct role in killing al-Awlaki. He repeatedly ducked questions about the extent of Obama’s authority and said only that al-Awlaki had been an operational leader for al-Qaida.1

But the killing of al-Awlaki also means closure on any investigation into why, in the months immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki had been invited to a luncheon at The Pentagon:

Anwar Al-Awlaki may be the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture list, but he was also a lunch guest of military brass at the Pentagon within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Fox News has learned.

According to officials, al-Awlaki had been vetted and, at that time, “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community”. That such an alleged high-ranking figure in al-Qaida had been welcomed at The Pentagon during an extraordinarily sensitive period is astonishing enough, and doubly suspicious given that:

Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., was interviewed at least four times by the FBI in the first week after the attacks because of his ties to the three hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour. The three hijackers were all onboard Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon.2

And if you’re thinking that any report from Fox News can’t be trusted, then obviously you’re not alone, however, al-Awlaki’s visit to the Pentagon was reported in other places and has never been officially denied. We can be certain too, that the authorities were aware of suspected terrorist links prior to his invitation to dinner. Here is the New York Times:

In fact, the F.B.I. had first taken an interest in Mr. Awlaki in 1999, concerned about brushes with militants that to this day remain difficult to interpret. In 1998 and 1999, he was a vice president of a small Islamic charity that an F.B.I. agent later testified was “a front organization to funnel money to terrorists.” He had been visited by Ziyad Khaleel, a Qaeda operative who purchased a battery for Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, as well as by an associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheik, who was serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks. […]

The F.B.I., whose agents interviewed Mr. Awlaki four times in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, concluded that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals were random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America. But records of the 9/11 commission at the National Archives make clear that not all investigators agreed.

One detective, whose name has been redacted, told the commission he believed Mr. Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” An F.B.I. agent, also unidentified, said that “if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been” the cleric, since “someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused.”3

Click here to read the full New York Times article.

Following the assassination of al-Awlaki, ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state.”4

Nevertheless, and as Jonathan Turley alludes on C-Span, the precedent is now set that: “If [the President] is satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world, including the United States.”

So what of Turley’s other assertion that the President “can jail you indefinitely on his own discretion”? Well, Turley was speaking just a few days after The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 had been approved by the Senate on December 15th. What Turley says is now causing ‘civil libertarian’s heads to explode’ are the following Sections: 1021, which permits indefinite detention without trial; and 1022, which requires that the detained are held by the Armed Forces. Not merely unconstitutional, but more evidence that America is galloping down a dangerous path which is leading towards the implementation of martial law.

On December 16th, Jason Leopold, deputy managing editor for TruthOut.Org, discussed on Russia Today, the murky and ‘disturbing provisions’ in the latest bill, explaining how they are not only in contravention of civil liberties, but of human rights:

Additional — The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on December 31, 2011 (the day after I posted this article).

Here are the Democracy Now! headlines for January 3, 2012:

Obama Signs Defense Bill Allowing for Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Without Trial

President Barack Obama has signed into law a $662 billion military spending bill that authorizes the government to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial. In a signing statement attached to the bill, Obama said he was signing the bill even though he had “serious reservations” with parts of the bill dealing with detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch: “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.”

Chris Anders, American Civil Liberties Union: “This is so broadly written, it would become a permanent feature of United States law, so that 10 years, 20 years down the road, any president could still use this power to have the military pick up people and indefinitely detain them without charge or trial, potentially for years, potentially for life.”

Controversial Defense Bill Tightens Sanctions on Iran

The newly approved military spending bill also includes a provision to tighten sanctions on Iran by denying access to the U.S. financial system to any foreign bank that conducts business with the Central Bank of Iran. Last week, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a key Gulf passageway, if new sanctions are enacted. Earlier today, Iran also threatened to take action if an unnamed U.S. aircraft carrier returns to Persian Gulf.

1 From an article entitled “US on uncharted ground as drone kills 2 Americans”, written by Matt Apuzzo for Associated Press, published in the Guardian on September 30, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9873705

2 From an article entitled “EXCLUSIVE: Al Qaeda Leader Dined at the Pentagon Just Months After 9/11” written by Catherine Herridge, published by Fox News on October 20, 2010. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/10/20/al-qaeda-terror-leader-dined-pentagon-months/

3 From an article entitled “Imam’s Path From Condemning Terror to Preaching Jihad”, written by Scott Shane and Souad Mekhennet, published in the New York Times on May 8, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/world/09awlaki.html?pagewanted=4

4 From “US on uncharted ground as drone kills 2 Americans” (see above) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9873705

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12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

*

Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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worldwide war resolution could grant US president “dictatorial powers”

House Votes to Authorize Worldwide War
You read that right: Yesterday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision to authorize worldwide war, which has no expiration date and will allow this president — and any future president — to go to war anywhere in the world, at any time, without further congressional authorization. While this was a loss, we’re confident that the momentum against this provision is on our side.

That was the headline story from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “Blog of Rights” posted on Friday 27th May. Click here to read more.

On Tuesday 24th May, Democrat Congressman Dennis Kucinich also challenged the extraordinary new provisions granted by the latest amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would open the way for permanent and global war, whilst also reauthorising the Orwellian provisions of the Patriot Act:

“The annual re-authorization contains unprecedented and dangerous language which gives the President virtually unchecked power to take this country to war and to keep us there. The bill substantially undermines the Constitution, the institution that the Constitution set up that is Congress, and sets the United States on a path to permanent war.”

Kucinich also spoke against the escalating use of force in Libya:

“I am offering an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill which would defund the war in Libya.

“The war is unconstitutional. The President did not come to this Congress, he went to the U.N. Security Council, he went to a number of international bodies, but he didn’t come to the United States Congress. Last week, the President did not observe the tolling of the War Powers Act, so he’s in violation of the statute.

“The action over in Libya has already exceeded the U.N. mandate; it’s in violation of the U.N. mandate and there have been violations of international law. […]

“People are saying it’s not the United States, it’s NATO. The Guardian in the U.K. did a study which showed that 90% of the cruise missiles are paid for by the U.S. Sixty-six percent of the personnel working against Libya are from the U.S., 50% of aircraft, 50% of all ships – and our government is saying this is a NATO operation? We have to recognize what’s going on here, which is an expansion of the war power by the Executive and it’s time we challenge that.”

Here is Kucinich’s full address to the House:

Then, on Wednesday 25th May, in another speech to Congress, Republican Ron Paul detailed the authoritarian powers already held by the President and described the new bill as “the last nail” in the coffin of the American Republic:

“Our Presidents can now, on their own:
1. Order assassinations, including American citizens,
2. Operate secret military tribunals,
3. Engage in torture,
4. Enforce indefinite imprisonment without due process,
5. Order searches and seizures without proper warrants, gutting the 4th Amendment,
6. Ignore the 60 day rule for reporting to the Congress the nature of any military operations as required by the War Power Resolution,
7. Continue the Patriot Act abuses without oversight,
8. Wage war at will,
9. Treat all Americans as suspected terrorists at airports with TSA groping and nude x-raying.

And the Federal Reserve accommodates by counterfeiting the funds needed and not paid for by taxation and borrowing, permitting runaway spending, endless debt, and special interest bail-outs. And all of this is not enough.

The abuses and usurpations of the war power are soon to be codified in the National Defense Authorization Act now rapidly moving its way through the Congress. Instead of repealing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), as we should, now that bin Laden is dead and gone, Congress is planning to massively increase the war power of the President.

Though an opportunity presents itself to end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Congress, with bipartisan support, obsesses on how to expand the unconstitutional war power the President already holds. The current proposal would allow a President to pursue war any time, any place, for any reason, without Congressional approval. Many believe this would even permit military activity against American suspects here at home.”

“Characteristic of this epic event is the casual acceptance by the people and political leaders of the unitary presidency, which is equivalent to granting dictatorial powers to the President. The proposed authority does not reference the 9/11 attacks. It would be expanded to include the Taliban and “associated” forces—a dangerously vague and expansive definition of our potential enemies.

“And now the final nail is placed in the coffin of Congressional responsibility for the war power, delivering this power completely to the President—a sharp and huge blow to the concept of our Republic. In my view, it appears that the fate of the American Republic is now sealed—unless these recent trends are quickly reversed.”

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