Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Covid-19 vs. freedom and democracy: let us not sacrifice one to defeat the other

A primer: ‘The clairvoyant ruling class’

“The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.”

— John Steppling, Author, Playwright

“This report is crucial reading for anyone interested in creatively considering the multiple, divergent ways in which our world could evolve.”

— Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

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Scenario planning for corporate strategy was pioneered by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s. [Further reading on scenario planning: The Art of the Long View] The following excerpts are highlights from the May 2010 “Scenarios for the Future of Technology & International Development” report produced by The Rockefeller Foundation & Global Business Network.

Please note: The excerpts below are from the “Lock Step” scenario, but excerpts from all four scenarios are available in the original article published by Wrong Kind of Green.

“In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain — originating from wild geese — was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults. The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.” […]

“The pandemic blanketed the planet — though disproportionate numbers died in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where the virus spread like wildfire in the absence of official containment protocols. But even in developed countries, containment was a challenge. The United States’s initial policy of “strongly discouraging” citizens from flying proved deadly in its leniency, accelerating the spread of the virus not just within the U.S. but across borders. However, a few countries did fare better — China in particular. The Chinese government’s quick imposition and enforcement of mandatory quarantine for all citizens, as well as its instant and near-hermetic sealing off of all borders, saved millions of lives, stopping the spread of the virus far earlier than in other countries and enabling a swifter postpandemic recovery. [p 18]

“China’s government was not the only one that took extreme measures to protect its citizens from risk and exposure.  During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified. In order to protect themselves from the spread of increasingly global problems — from pandemics and transnational terrorism to environmental crises and rising poverty — leaders around the world took a firmer grip on power.” […]

“At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty — and their privacy — to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests. In many developed countries, enforced cooperation with a suite of new regulations and agreements slowly but steadily restored both order and, importantly, economic growth.” [p 19]

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Clairvoyant Ruling Class” published by Wrong Kind of Green.

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Fighting the invisible enemy today

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin 1

In the fight against Covid-19, the government of South Korea has arguably shown a way for other democracies to follow. First and foremost it established a comprehensive system of testing to confirm positive cases. This was backed up by contact tracing, targeted isolation and quarantine. Imposing sensible restrictions on travel also helped to slow and limit the spread of the outbreak. By acting promptly and enacting the precise measures called for by the scientists at the World Health Organisation, the Koreans managed to swiftly and effectively control the spread of Covid-19 infection and thereby averted a developing crisis.

One criticism of the South Korean approach surrounds its intrusive use of mobile phone technology to track movement and contacts. Though understandable perhaps (given cultural differences), such an infringement of privacy was non-essential, and there is really no need or justification whatsoever for western democracies to follow a similar course. That GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in America are already able to access and record private digital information including personal communications, metadata and location is actually an open secret. Of course, the opportunity now presents itself for such covert practices to be rolled out very publicly and given full legal sanction; moves that ought to be opposed. In other regards, however, the Korean model is surely exemplary.

The graph below is a snapshot of an interactive chart that you can access here.

Snapshot taken on March 28th

In stark contrast to Korean efficiency that halted the spread of infection, government responses across the western world have been comparatively slow to act, muddled, and in some respects negligent. The unfolding situation in Italy tragically illustrates a clear lack of preparedness on the part of the authorities there, where in spite of several weeks advantage over the Koreans, an initially lax approach allowed community-spread of the infection. It was not until a full-blown public health crisis emerged that increasingly draconian and sometimes overnight emergency measures were put in place.

On this Sky News report from March 11th, which was recorded prior to the full lockdown, many Italians were already asking why so little, so late:

Virtually all other European countries have failed to learn the lessons from Italy.

A fortnight later on March 27th, Sky News reported from Spain, where once again action to prevent and slow the spread of the virus came too late:

In France and Britain, where the clampdown has been more gradual and less severe up to now, the implementation of restrictions has been similarly confused and inexplicably overdue. Who knows how many more people became infected in the days and weeks leading up to the eventual (and inevitable) closure of sporting events, entertainment venues, gyms and pubs, let alone during the time lost as schools, offices and building sites continued to operate; the government’s preference for business as usual.

On the other hand, the overreach shown by North Derbyshire police who decided to fly their drones over The Peak District last week in order to shame anyone out walking the dog or just taking a quiet stroll was not just unwarranted, but entirely counterproductive. In a time of national crisis, you have to ask why our news media chose to broadcast this footage and reinforce such a stark police state message:

The situation facing America is set to be worse, with its lack of social safety nets and a system of healthcare provision that makes it a privilege millions simply cannot afford. Compounding these problems, the response so far has been more complacent and shambolic than our own governments in Europe; Trump theatrical as ever, recently telling everyone that it’ll all be over by Easter. Meanwhile, after weeks of non-intervention and exponential rates of infection (a terrible spike in numbers in New York especially) with other states like Florida taking no actions at all to check the spread of disease, one indication of the growing desperation is the panic-buying not just of toilet rolls, but of firearms.

On March 26th, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed New York City emergency room doctor Craig Spencer, a survivor of Ebola, which he contracted while fighting its outbreak in Africa. He says: “I think, in a week, we will be Italy. At least here in New York City, we’re already seeing that” [at 15:30 mins]:

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, dramatic moves are now being taken to tackle the pandemic, including ones that will sideline constitutional rights altogether. Indeed, there are clear parallels with actions taken during immediate aftermath of 9/11, its shadow lengthened by the coincidentally mysterious anthrax attacks, which enabled then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to fast-track the Patriot Acts. Likewise, today’s Justice Department is in the process of launching a raft of new legislation that further undermines civil liberties and chips away at fundamental human rights:

Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions. […]

In one of the documents, the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,” according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. […]

The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.

“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.” 2

Click here to read the full article published by Politico.

In an article published by Mint Press News a few days later, Whitney Webb picked up where Politico left off, highlighting plans for ‘Continuity of Government’ (COG) and the use of a controversial database known simply as ‘Main Core’ that lists American dissidents and “potential troublemakers”:

Though Main Core was reportedly in use after September 11 to target “unfriendly” individuals for increased domestic surveillance, concern that COG plans in the age of coronavirus could take a more drastic turn and involve the detention of Americans included in that database now seems more plausible than ever. On Saturday, Politico reported that the Department of Justice has demanded new “emergency powers” during the current pandemic and these powers include being able to indefinitely detain Americans without trial. Politico also noted that the DOJ’s controversial new requests “span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.” Per the DOJ’s requests, indefinite detention would emerge through a new ability whereby the Attorney General or a judge could pause court proceedings whenever courts are “fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

What Politico did not include in its report is that current Attorney General William Barr has spent the past several months fine-tuning and implementing a “pre-crime” program. Officially known as the “National Disruption and Early Engagement Program” (DEEP), it aims to “identify, assess and engage” potentially violent individuals “before they strike.” Barr first announced this program last October in an official memorandum and therein stated that the program was to be implemented sometime over the course of 2020 and would involve “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.”

Whitney Webb continues:

In his memorandum, Barr further notes that the program’s “early engagement tactics” were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats” following the September 11 attacks, essentially stating that this pre-crime program will utilize methods from the “War on Terror” domestically and on a massive scale.

Adding:

Furthermore, with the FBI having recently flagged “conspiracy theorists” (and by extension those who distrust or question government narratives of both past and present) as a “domestic terror threat,” the DOJ could even make the case that failure to blindly trust government narratives presents a threat to the public order. Given that the Main Core database in its current form contains bulk surveillance gathered from social media, phone conversations/messaging apps and even financial information (i.e. purchasing history, etc.) on Americans deemed unfriendly “often for the slightest and most trivial reason,” this unprecedented power grab by the DOJ has an authoritarian and Orwellian potential to target legitimate dissent like never before. 3

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’”.

Moreover, under the pretext of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Washington recently extended FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), and specifically the three Patriot Act provisions:

With the nation’s attention fixed on the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to extend FBI surveillance powers that were set to expire on March 15.

The bill, formally titled the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, cleared the House by a vote of 278 to 136, with 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting yes. View the full roll call here.

The legislation, strongly opposed by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, is the product of bipartisan negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.).

Attorney General William Barr voiced his support for the measure in a statement on Wednesday.

If passed by the Senate, advocacy group Free Press warned, legislation would “reauthorize abusive government surveillance powers.”

“The bill would reauthorize Section 215 powers Congress established under the USA Patriot Act in 2001,” Free Press noted. “Section 215 is the provision national security agencies cited in the past to support their unwarranted collection of phone records of hundreds of millions of people in the United States.” 4

Click here to read the full report published by Common Dreams.

There has been a terrible recent history when it comes to the emergency management of disasters in America. These legislative preparations and the tightening of lockdowns to tackle coronavirus recall not only the power grab after 9/11 but also, and just as alarmingly, the institution of de facto martial law when New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans poet Shelton Alexander to evacuate his home, he took his truck and video camera to the Superdome. He escaped the chaotic shelter a few days later with a truckload of people and video documentation of history:

It is rather too easy to take our rights and democratically enshrined freedoms for granted, when in fact these are constantly under attack. And during times of crisis, when an opportunistic executive is able to avoid scrutiny, when lawmakers can retreat into the shadows to begin reshaping long-held constitutional rights, democracy is especially vulnerable. In abandoning its democracy principles, all in the name of protecting its citizens from this new invisible enemy, America seems to be trailing the way as it did after 9/11 (Israel too – see the video below), and the rest of the world would do well to pay attention.

On March 25th, Greg Wilpert, host of ‘The Real News Network’, spoke with Antony Loewenstein, author of ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe’, about how the Israeli government’s state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic is being used to shut down political debate and the right to protest:

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Update: New coronavirus law ‘bestows unlimited powers’ on Orbán government

On the same day I posted this article [March 30th] Amnesty International issued the following press release:

Following a decision by the Hungarian parliament to pass a new law that will allow the Government to rule by decree – without a clear end date or periodic reviews – under an extended state of emergency, David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, said:

“This bill creates an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency, and gives Viktor Orbán and his Government carte blanche to restrict human rights.

“This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need strong safeguards to ensure that any measures to restrict human rights adopted under the state of emergency are strictly necessary and proportional in order to protect public health. This new law bestows unlimited powers to the government to rule by decree beyond the pandemic.

“During his years as Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán has overseen a rollback of human rights in Hungary, stoking up hostility towards marginalised groups and attempting to muzzle Hungary’s critical voices. Allowing his government to rule by decree is likely to speed up this rollback.”

Rule by decree

The new law will allow Hungary’s Government to rule by decree without a sunset clause or any other provision that would guarantee parliament can exercise proper oversight. It also creates two new crimes which would mean that anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful protection” of the public, or that “alarm or agitate” the public, could be punished by up to five years in prison. Anyone who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order could also face a prison sentence of up to five years, a punishment that increases to eight years if anyone dies as a result.

Amnesty is warning that these measures are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. Plans for the new law were criticised last week by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the International Press Institute, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Click here to read the same press release on the Amnesty International website.

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1 Quote originally used by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (November 11, 1755).

2 From an article entitled “DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic” written by Betsy Woodruff Swan, published in Politico on March 21, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/21/doj-coronavirus-emergency-powers-140023

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 23, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/coronavirus-what-newsweek-failed-mention-continuity-government/265954/ 

4 From an article entitled “152 House Democrats Join GOP to Reuathorize ‘Abusive Government Surveillence Powers’” written by Jake Johnson, published by Common Dreams on March 12, 2020. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/12/152-house-democrats-join-gop-reauthorize-abusive-government-surveillance-powers

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Europe, Hungary, Israel, Korea (North and South), mass surveillance, police state, USA

Julian Assange will face a show trial in the United States says UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer

[The current hearing is] about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

—  Nils MelzerUN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

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When Nils Melzer visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison during May last year, he afterwards reported that “Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma”, describing the evidence as “overwhelming and clear”. He also made an official appeal to the British Government not to extradite Assange directly to the United States or to any other State failing to provide reliable guarantees against his onward transfer to the United States.

Melzer concluded: “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” adding simply, “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

Embedded above is a short interview with Nils Melzer broadcast on today’s ‘Going Underground’. The full transcript below is mine:

Afshin Rattansi: Special Rapporteur welcome back to Going Underground. Before we get to issues around the court case at Woolwich Crown Court – the Belmarsh crown court – we are hearing from people from the Labour Party, pretty mainstream, now coming onboard to support Julian Assange. Is what you have been saying since your report into the alleged persecution of Julian Assange becoming more mainstream?

Nils Melzer: I think that’s a fair assessment, yes. I’m actually surprised to see, compared to last June, which is about a month after my visit when I tried to place an op-ed on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture [June 26th] in the mainstream press around the world, I was unable to place an op-ed demasking the torture of Julian Assange: after having visited and examined him with medical experts.

I contacted The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Australian mainstream media, the British mainstream media. It was impossible to place it.

Today what we see is really that the mainstream press starts to realise through publications in alternative media that they probably got it wrong. And so they get more interested in discovering the truth about the story.

AR: Less face saving and more they know that if Assange is convicted, the next people could be them?

NM: Well, we do have indicators of that and perhaps they start to, as we say, smell the coffee. After the raids on the ABC headquarters and after Glenn Greenwald was arrested in Brazil and is being accused, you know according to the same kind of playbook that we see playing out with Assange. And also public funds being cut from mainstream broadcasters. Perhaps they start realising that they really did first come for Assange, then for Greenwald, and now they may be coming for the BBC.

AR: Okay, but Boris Johnson is on the record for saying it is only right that Julian Assange finally faces justice. That was when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and thrown into jail here.

NM: I think we all agree it would be about time for him to face justice, it’s just that what he’s facing here in Britain is not justice. And what he would be facing in the US is not justice.

AR: Well, Johnson went on to say, “It was a credit to Foreign Office officials who worked tirelessly to secure this outcome” meaning the dragging of him [out of the embassy] the pictures of which were caught by Ruptly, the news agency. I mean are you saying every one of those Foreign Office officials has facilitated what could amount to torture and arbitrary detention?

NM: You see Julian Assange has been expelled from the embassy based on a decision made by the President perhaps even with the support of the parliament in Ecuador. But it was communicated to him on the morning that he had been deprived of asylum status and deprived of his citizenship, because the Ecuadorian Constitution does not allow the extradition and expulsion of nationals, without any due process. And the British police just went in and dragged him out without any…

AR: So what do you make of the now Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying ‘credit to foreign officials’ for that?

NM: Well he’s crediting that because he likes the outcome. It certainly has nothing to do with the rule of law.

AR: Well, Amnesty International, they’ve refused to make him a Prisoner of Conscience. Why do you think there are still other NGOs who refuse to take onboard the Julian Assange cause?

NM: I very much support Amnesty International when they try to protect people by declaring them Prisoners of Conscience. But when they use their worldwide influence to exclude individuals from that category, I think then it becomes very problematic. Especially when we are talking about a journalist who has been exposing grave violations of human rights, and who is prosecuted precisely because he has exposed violations of human rights.

AR: And this is political? I mean in your view you don’t think that if a whistleblower exposed alleged crimes say in the Russian government who had found asylum here, there would be no chance of extraditing them to Moscow?

NM: Well the first issue is the one of the whistleblower. There’s Snowden who’s now in Russia, or if you have an equivalent, let’s say a Russian whistleblower who has asylum in the West – and there are people like that. But Julian Assange is not a whistleblower. He did not leak information. It was leaked to him.

AR: Okay. You don’t think this anymore has anything to do with what you call ‘fabricated rape allegations’. In fact, you believe those allegations could be linked to the Afghan war logs: revelations of Anglo-American/Nato troops in Afghanistan.

NM: Yes, well, I’m not in a position to you know confirm or deny whether there has been some kind of a sexual offence at some point between the women and Julian Assange. All I can say [is] I have seen the original Swedish police documents where the women are not claiming to have been raped.

But you can see even the woman sitting in the police station sending a text message to her friend saying ‘I don’t want to accuse Assange of anything – I just want him to take an HIV test’. But the police wants to get their hands on him. So I mean who would write a message like that? Not a raped woman.

Then you see a consecutive series of grave violations of due process in the Swedish case. And all of this happens within a month of the publication of the Afghan leaks. So where the US has asked their allies to initiate prosecutions against Assange wherever possible.

So you know the choreography of this – how it plays out and how Sweden actually at no stage in the proceedings really tries to protect the women’s interests, refuses to question Assange when he is still in Sweden, and offers and actually demands to be questioned, but the day he leaves Sweden, and he receives written permission by the prosecutor to leave Sweden, they issue an arrest warrant against him for trying to evade justice.

So there is a series of contradictions that is clear.

AR: Which was acted upon by the now supposedly leading candidate to take over from Jeremy Corbyn in this country: the then- Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer.

NM: Yeah, I’m not aware of who exactly acted at the time, but clearly that plot then played to push Assange into corner where everybody had this image of him. And I was influenced by this image as well, beginning with this narrative of him being a suspected rapist, being a hacker, being a narcissist, being a spy. And as soon as you scratch the surface a bit of this case, you realise, there is nothing to back it up.

AR: Okay, you also discovered the trail that led to Swedish Justice Minister, Thomas Bodström, the former Justice Minister, who you claim effectively supervised a kind of rendition/torture that was perhaps documented by Wikileaks.

NM: Well, he was the Justice Minister when Sweden, and the security police of Sweden, kidnapped two people – who were registered asylum-seekers in Stockholm – and handed them over to CIA without any due process. And they were immediately ill-treated on the airport territory and then flown to Egypt where they were tortured and detained arbitrarily.

Of these two people we know because they survived. Both of them filed complaints with the United Nations, and Sweden was obliged to pay them, I think, each of them about half a million dollars in compensation.

AR: So you think that when the rape allegation was used to smear Assange, it was an admission of guilt on the part of Sweden when it dropped all the allegations?

NM: Well they admitted that they never had any evidence that was sufficient to even press charges against him. Five days later, the leading prosecutor of Stockholm closed the case saying ‘I believe these women, but nothing they said indicates a crime’.

There could be an explanation but when I asked Sweden formally in a formal letter as I am mandated to do by the United Nations – I submitted all the contradictory evidence to them and said please make sense of this; explain to me how this complies with human rights law before I draw my conclusions – and now the first response of Sweden was ‘you’re criticising the judiciary which is independent from us and we’re the government so we can’t comment of this’.

I wrote back to them and said please, you know, you’re my counterpart but please transmit my concerns to the judiciary and let them answer to me. On which they then responded in a one-page letter saying ‘we have no further observations’.

My experiences where states don’t want to respond to my questions, then probably they have something to hide.

AR: As the court case gets underway here in London in two parts – another part in May – Chelsea Manning, who was let out early by President Obama, a source for Wikileaks, has been virtually bankrupted by the United States for refusing to testify against Julian Assange. So UK authorities here, are they basically deciding on whether a show trial should go ahead?

NM: Absolutely, yes. It’s about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

AR: But you know we have a supposedly independent judiciary here. Having said that, the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, newly-elected Prime Minister, has previously expressed reservations about the conduct of the Iraq War and wars after 9/11. Can you even call on Boris Johnson to do anything in the case of Julian Assange?

NM: The Home Secretary of the previous government [Sajid Javid] signed the extradition request, and granted it. And that was now challenged at the court, and that’s why it’s with the court. If it had not been challenged he’d just be extradited.

AR: Although that tends to be just a formality when it’s the United States, one of Britain’s closest international partners.

NM: Well, I think to be fair there have been individuals that have not been extradited to the United States by Britain. Which I believe is one reason why they wanted to go through Sweden, because Sweden has a track record of extraditing just about anybody to the United States, with or without due process. Now that is obviously off-the-table with the case being closed in Sweden, and now they’ll just go through the British system.

AR: Special Rapporteur, thank you.

NM: Thank you.

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Additional:

Also broadcast to coincide with the start of this week’s hearing in London, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke with political satirist, broadcaster and a friend of Assange, Randy Credico, who issued a stark warning:

“The message is, if this were to work: if, in fact, he’s extradited here. That particular case leans into fascism; if they can bring a journalist over here and put him in jail. I mean you get to that point, that long reach of the US government where the laws internally don’t apply to the people externally. This is something like in Rome – the citizens of Rome, they enjoyed the laws that protected them, but nobody in Egypt did, in Mesopotamia did, nobody throughout their empire did except for the citizens in Rome.

“I mean if this happens, I’m telling you that it’s just put most of the nose inside the camel’s tent and people had better stand up for Julian Assange. You know, I’m not a Julian Assange fanatic, but I’m a free speech and First Amendment fanatic. This is bigger than Julian Assange. This is about protecting free speech and the First Amendment… This is the First Amendment at stake. The very core of this democracy, what’s left of it, really functions on a free press. Without a free press there is no chance, no hope of a democracy continuing.” [from 1:05 mins]

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And from Craig Murray’s latest post published on his official website yesterday and entitled “Roger Waters on Julian Assange”:

Roger Waters has become one of the most eloquent and persistent supporters of Julian Assange. He is prepared to challenge the propagandists of the mainstream media head-on in a way that many more people should do.

For yesterday’s rally for Assange Roger had prepared a talk putting Julian’s persecution in a global context. He did not have time to give the whole speech, and so I asked him if I could publish it:

WE ARE HERE TODAY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE.

But I have four names on this piece of paper.

The First and last of course is Julian Assange, A Journalist, a courageous shiner of light into the dark places from which the powers that be would dearly like to have us turn away.

Julian Assange. A name to be carved with pride into any monument to human progress.

Julian is why we are here today, but this is no parochial protest. We are today part of a global movement, a global movement that might be the beginning of the global enlightenment that this fragile planet so desperately needs.

Ok. Second Name. Sent to me by my friend VJ Prashad.

Second name is Aamir Aziz, Aamir is a young poet and activist in Delhi involved in the fight against Modi and his rascist Citizenship law.

Everything Will Be Remembered

Kill us, we will become ghosts and write
of your killings, with all the evidence.
You write jokes in court;
We will write ‘justice’ on the walls.
We will speak so loudly that even the deaf will hear.
We will write so clearly that even the blind will read.
You write ‘injustice’ on the earth;
We will write ‘revolution’ in the sky.
Everything will be remembered;
Everything recorded

This out pouring of the human spirit from India is taking place in a time of revolt, when the fetters of propriety are set aside.

As we meet here in London, across the Atlantic in Argentina thousands of women are taking to the streets to demand the legalization of abortion from President Fernandez.

It’s not just Argentina. This last year we have seen major protests erupt across the whole world against neoliberal/fascist regimes. In Chile, The Lebanon, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti,France and now, of course also in Bolivia fighting the new US imposed military dictatorship there.

When will we see the name of England appended to that noble list? I sense the scratching of heads in drawing rooms across the home counties, “What’s he talking about, the man’s a bloody pinko pervert, bloody antisemite, what’s he talking about? We don’t live in a dictatorship, this is a free country, a democracy, with all the finest traditions of fair play, pah!”

Well, I’ve got news for you Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells. We’d like to think this is a free country, but are we really free? Why, when Julian Assange is brought to the dock in the tiny magistrates court inside Belmarsh prison are so many seats occupied by anonymous American suits, whispering instructions into the attentive ear of the prosecution’s lead barrister, James Lewis QC?

Why?

Because we don’t live in a free country, we live in a glorified dog kennel and we bark and/or wag our tails at the bidding of our lords and masters across the pond.

I stand here today, in front of the Mother of Parliaments, and there she stands blushing in all her embarrassment. And just upstream from here is Runnemede, where in 1215, we, the English, laid out the rudiments of common law. Magna Carta, ratified in 1297 article 29 of which gave us Habeus Corpus. Or did it? It stated:

“The body of a free man is not to be arrested, or imprisoned, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined, nor is the king to go against him or send forcibly against him, except by judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Sadly, Article 29 is not enforceable in modern law. Magna Carta is only an idea, and in this propaganda driven modern world, it provides no check in principle to Parliament legislating against the rights of citizens.

We do however have an extradition treaty with the USA and in the first paragraph of article 4 of that treaty it states. “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” Julian Assange has committed no crime but he has committed a political act. He has spoken truth to power. He has angered some of our masters in Washington by telling the truth and in retribution for the act of telling the truth they want his blood.

Yesterday in front of Battersea Power Station I did a TV interview for SKY news to promote this event, there was no visual link, so my only contact with the lady asking me questions was via an ear bud on a curly wire. I learned something about telling truth in the phrasing of her questions to me. She came at me like some crazed Don Quixote every question laced, thick with the smears and innuendo and the false accusations with which the powers that be have been trying to blacken Julian Assange’s name. She rattled off the tired, but well prepared narrative, and then interrupted constantly when I made reply. I don’t know who she is, she may mean well. If she does, my advice would be to stop drinking the Kool-aid, and if she actually gives a fig for her chosen profession get her sorry ass down here and join us.

So England. I call upon our prime minister, Boris Johnson, to declare his colours, does he support the spirit of Magna Carta? Does he believe in, democracy, freedom, fair play, free speech, and especially the freedom of the press? If the answer to those questions is yes, then come on Prime Minister be the British Bulldog you would have us all believe you are? Stand up to the bluster of American hegemony, call off this show trial, this charade, this kangaroo court. “The evidence before the court is incontrovertible.” Julian Assange is an innocent man. A journalist doing very important work for “we the people” by exposing the crimes of powerful sociopaths in the corridors of power.

I call on you to free him today.

I cannot leave this stage without mention of Chelsea Manning, who provided some of the material that Julian published.

Chelsea has been in a federal prison for a year incarcerated by the Americans for refusing, on principle, to give evidence to a grand jury specifically convened to make an example of Julian Assange. What courage. They are also fining her $1,000 a day. Chelsea yours is another name to be carved in pride, I’ve been reading the latest on your case, it looks as if your legal team are finding light at the end of the tunnel, please god, you get out soon back to your loved ones, you are a true hero.You exemplify the bulldog spirit that I was talking about a few moments ago.

Also Daniel Hale

Daniel is a whistle-blower you may not know yet. He was in a great documentary movie National Bird, made by my good friend Sonia Kennebeck. He was part of the US drone program targeting Afghans in their own country from some mobile command center in Navada. When his stint in the USAF was over. Daniel’s good heart refused to edit out the burden of remorse he carried and he very bravely decided to tell his story. The FBI/CIA have pursued Daniel remorselessly ever since and he is now in prison awaiting trial. Daniel’s is another name to be carved in pride. Those of us who have never compromised our liberty in the cause of freedom, who have never picked up the burning torch and held it trembling over the crimes of their superior officers, can only wonder at the extraordinary courage of those who have.

There are other speakers here, so I will make way, I could stand here all day railing against the dying of the light should we not stand Bulldog like, with arms linked, ranks closed in front of our brother and comrade Julian Assange. And when the lackies of the American Empire come to take him, to destroy him and hang him in the hedge as a warning to frighten future journalists, we will look them in the eye and steadfast with one voice we will intone.

“Over our dead fucking bodies.”

Roger Waters Feb 22nd 2020

You can see Roger delivering the truncated version, with force but still self-deprecation, on this video of yesterday’s event. You can also see great speeches including by Yanis Varoufakis and Brian Eno.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece in full.

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, Sweden

“Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies” – Norman Finkelstein lambasts the international community for its blind spot on Israel

Following the announcement that Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, Democracy Now! invited Finkelstein into their studio to give an extended interview.

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

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Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. A leading scholar on Israel-Palestine and veteran political activist, Finkelstein is the author of many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. His latest book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

The full interview lasts more than 90 minutes and was broadcast in two parts [January 10th and 19th] – it is embedded below with all sections kept in the original sequence. For the purposes of clarity, however, I have decided to republish a selection of what Finkelstein said under three separate headings: criticisms of human rights organisations, of the UN and Ban Ki-moon in particular, and of recent US administrations. For the same reason, sections from the interview are cut and pasted not always in the original sequence. I very much encourage readers to watch to the full interview.

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

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The big lies

The Big Lie about Gaza is that it’s an aggressor, that Gaza is aggressing against Israel, and Israel is reacting in self-defense. It’s a double lie. The first lie is, most of the Israeli attacks on Gaza don’t even have anything to do with Gaza. So, if you take Operation Cast Lead, in 2008, ’09, why did Israel attack Gaza? Not because of Gaza. Not because of anything Gaza did. The Israelis were very honest. This is revenge for Lebanon. In 2006, Israel suffered a major defeat in Lebanon against the Hezbollah, the Party of God. And then Israelis began to panic. They’re losing what they call their deterrence capacity. And their deterrence capacity simply means—it’s a fancy, technical term for the Arabs’ fear of us. […]

The second big lie is, what does Gaza consist of. When you read the official reports, even when you read the human rights reports, they talk about this big arsenal of weapons that Hamas has accumulated. Number one, how do you know how many weapons they have? If you knew how many weapons they had—have, then you must know where they are. And if you know where they are, then Israel would preemptively strike. If it’s not preemptively struck, it’s because it doesn’t know anything about the weapons. Israel plucks numbers out of thin air, and then all the official media, and even the critical human rights organizations, repeat these numbers. They talk about Grad missiles and Fajr missiles.

What is Gaza? What are its weapons? What is its arsenal? Let’s take the last attack. We have exactly—we know exactly how much damage was done by these weapons. There were 5,000 so-called rockets and 2,000 mortars fired at—mortar shells fired at Israel. So, altogether, that’s 7,000 projectiles. You know the damage done? Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had a diary, listing all the damage done each day. Five thousands rockets, 2,000 mortar shells. One house was destroyed. One house. How is it possible that 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells can only destroy one house? Because they’re not rockets. They’re fireworks. They’re enhanced fireworks.

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

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On justifications for the 2014 military offensive

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu says two things: Number one, Israel had no option, and, number two, that it used the minimum amount of force. Well, let’s look quickly at those two points.

Point number one, everybody agreed that the reason they went—once the fighting began, Hamas had one goal. The goal was to end the siege of Gaza, to lift the siege. Under international law, that siege is illegal. It constitutes collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. The siege has been condemned by everybody in the international community. He had an option. He didn’t have to use force. He simply had to lift the siege. And then there wouldn’t have been a conflict with Gaza.

Number two, he claims he used minimum force. There’s a lot to say about that. You can decide for yourself whether it’s minimum force when Israel leveled 18,000 homes. How many Israeli homes were leveled? One. Israel killed 550 children. How many Israeli children were killed? One. Now, you might say, “Well, that’s because Israel has a sophisticated civil defense system, or Israel has Iron Dome.” I won’t go into that; I don’t have time now. But there’s a simple test. The test is: What did the Israeli combatants themselves see? What did they themselves say?

We have the documentation, a report put out by the Israeli ex-service—ex-combatant organization, Breaking the Silence. It’s about 110 pages. You couldn’t believe it. You know, I’ll tell you, Amy, I still remember when I was reading it. I was in Turkey. I was going to a book festival. I was sitting in the back of a car and reading these descriptions of what the soldiers did. My skin was crawling. I was like shaking. Soldier after soldier after soldier. Now, bear in mind, you want to say they’re partisan, the soldiers? Read the testimonies. They’re not contrite. They’re not remorseful. They’re just describing what happened. There’s no contrition. These aren’t lefties, supporters of BDS. What do they describe? One after another after another says, “Our orders were shoot to kill anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.” One after another after another says, “Israel used insane amounts of firepower in Gaza. Israel used lunatic amounts of firepower in Gaza.”

Click here to watch the final section of the first part of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Human rights organisations

In my opinion, Israel has a problem, has always had a problem. The problem is, it keeps getting bad press, because when it keeps carrying out these massacres or these shootings, it gets bad press. And so, obviously, what’s the solution? Eliminate the press, eliminate the witnesses. So, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, they prevented any reporters from coming in. So, for three weeks, it was a free-for-all. Then, after Operation Protective Edge, they didn’t let any human rights organizations in, so they couldn’t see what was the damage done. So, then the human rights organizations, what they did was, in my opinion, crazy. They said, “If Israel doesn’t let us in, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t commit the war crime.” But that just incentivizes Israel not to let human rights organizations in. You get an agnostic verdict rather than a guilty verdict. […]

There were no human rights reports. Human Rights Watch published—for Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, it published seven quite substantial reports. After Operation Protective Edge, it published one tiny report, one tiny report of 15 pages. Amnesty International was the only major human rights organization that published major reports, but they were all whitewashes of Israel. They were a disgrace. I go through them systematically. The Amnesty chapter is one of the longest chapters in the book. Just going through it, as I said, Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies.

Blame on both sides? Look at the numbers…

And the main propaganda, even—or especially by the human rights organizations, is the pretense that there’s blame on both sides, there’s blame—there’s death and destruction on both sides. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, it’s just ridiculous to put them in the same category. I gave you a chart, you know, to illustrate the numbers in Operation Protective Edge. Civilians killed, roughly 1,600—1,600 to six, civilians killed. Houses destroyed, 18,000 to one. Children killed, 550 to one. You go down the list. How can you create balance out of a balance sheet like that? You know? Out of a grotesquely imbalanced balance sheet like that? And what the human rights organizations do is they simply inflate what happened on the Israeli. So, for example, you take Amnesty International. One child was killed. One child was killed. They describe the child’s death over two pages. So, you say, “OK, you know, it’s a child’s death. What’s wrong with two pages?” Well, then let’s have balance. Five hundred fifty Palestinian children were killed. Did you give that 1,100 pages? […]

You take Operation Protective Edge. Again, there is no evidence. I’ve read through all the human rights reports. None of them finds any evidence of human shielding. What they do claim they find is—there’s a technical term under international law that when you’re engaging in a military combat, you have to take feasible precautions to protect civilians, and that if you fighting in the vicinity of civilians, you are then guilty of a violation of international law. It’s not a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They claim Hamas fired or attacked Israel in the vicinity of civilians, so is guilty of not taking all feasible precautions, which is different than human shielding, which is a conscious practice of, as it were, inserting a human being between you and the enemy, for which there’s no evidence. […]

But then, Amnesty says something outrageous—in my opinion, outrageous. You know what it says? It says that Hamas should go to open areas and fight in the open areas of Gaza. Now, on its face, that might sound reasonable, except for, number one, there are very few open areas in Gaza; number two, the law does not say you have to do that. The law does not say you have to relocate all your troops in an open area. But then, number three, Gaza is not occupied internally by Israel. Gaza is surrounded by Israel, and it’s an occupation that is executed externally. So, here’s the problem. […]

Now, international law—according to these human rights organizations, they all say all of Hamas’s weapons are illegal under international law, because they’re indiscriminate. The law is, you can’t use indiscriminate weapons. Hamas’s weapons are very primitive, to say the least. So, international law says its so-called rockets are illegal, its so-called mortar shells—its mortar shells are illegal. Now, what are you left with? Amnesty says to Hamas, “You have to go into an open space, but you can’t use any of your weapons.” But if you can’t use any of your weapons, because they’re indiscriminate, how do you defeat an externally controlled occupation? The only thing Amnesty didn’t tell them to do was to line up like ducks and let the Israeli airplane come in and mow them down.

Now, you might smile at that, but that’s literally—that’s where you’re left. That’s where you’re left, with what these human rights organizations are saying. It’s not to defend Hamas. It’s just to look at the law objectively, rationally, and ask yourself, “Is what—are what the human rights organizations saying fair? Is it true?” All the human rights organizations, they’ll always say Israel used disproportionate force. They’ll say Israel used indiscriminate force.

But there’s one thing they’ll never say. You know what they’ll never say? Israel targeted the civilians. Because that’s the no-no. You see, under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Disproportionate attacks are war crimes. Targeting civilians are war crimes. That’s the law. But then there’s public opinion. Public opinion, it’s willing to turn a blind eye to disproportionate attacks. Actually, how can you even prove an attack is disproportionate? It’s almost impossible. They’ll even say, yeah, indiscriminate attacks, because it’s hard to separate civilians from soldiers. The one thing public opinion won’t tolerate is the targeted attack on civilians. That’s exactly what Israel does in every one of its massacres, and that’s exactly the thing that the human rights organizations—now, not during Operation Cast Lead, now, after the Goldstone debacle—that’s the one thing they all shy away from. They don’t want to say Israel targets civilians. […]

Israel is always targeting children. You have so many cases, like you have children playing on a roof. Right? A drone comes in. Human Rights Watch says—its report was called “Precisely Wrong,” after Operation Protective Edge—excuse me, Operation Cast Lead. The drone comes in. Human rights report says the drone can see very clearly what it’s targeting. The drone, it could—up to the very last minute, very last minute, it could divert. Goes right for the kids.

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UN and Ban Ki-moon

In 2014 there was a more notorious incident when an Israeli gunboat targeted a group of children playing games on a beach. The murders were carried out directly in front of a hotel packed with reporters.

So, what does the U.N. Human Rights Council report say, the one by Mary McGowan Davis? “Israel didn’t take all feasible precautions.” All feasible precautions? There was no battle going on. There was no—there was no combat. There were only children there. “We don’t know why Israel mistook these children for militants.” […]

Yeah, when [Ban Ki-moon] was U.N. secretary-general, he does all the bidding for the United States when it comes to Israel-Palestine. I don’t want to go through—I can’t go through this whole sordid record, but the—Israel attacked seven U.N. shelters, which were housing civilians during Operation Protective Edge. And then, on August 3rd, finally, Ban Ki-moon has to say something. And he says, “This is a disgrace, this is outrageous, attacking civilian shelters.” August 3rd, Obama, he no longer has a fig leaf. Ban Ki-moon backed out.

And now—and now Obama is alone on the world stage. So, August 3rd, the same day, Obama attacks Israel for the shelters, bombing the shelters. And now, Netanyahu, the day before, August 2nd, he says, “I’m not leaving Gaza.” After Obama says, “You can’t do this,” he leaves. Same day, August 3rd. Now, it is true, it did go on for another three weeks. It went on for another three weeks because you entered into the negotiation period, where Israel always brings in its most force to try to extract the best terms.

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

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US administrations past and present

On the bipartisan support for Israel

Well, it’s a little complicated question, how U.S.-Israeli policy works. But in general, you could say, when major U.S. national interests are at stake, the Israel lobby has very little power. We saw that, for example, during the negotiations over the agreement with Iran. That was a major U.S. international interest. The lobby was dead set against it. Netanyahu was dead set against it. But the agreement went through. And many of Israel’s strongest supporters—Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, the whole gang—they supported the agreement.

But when a major U.S. interest is not at stake, the lobby is quite powerful. So you take, in this particular case, it was clear the Saudis, which is a U.S. major interest, didn’t care what the U.S. did with Jerusalem. They gave the green light: “If you want to give it to Israel, that’s fine with us. We don’t care.” So, no U.S. natural interest is at stake, and so Trump does what anybody does: He rewards his donors. In this case, it was Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who was strongly supporting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

But we have to bear in mind, it wasn’t just Trump. You know, sometimes the media wants to pile up on Trump. And they forget it’s not just Trump. Charles Schumer, the current Senate minority leader, Schumer was constantly attacking Trump, right after he got elected: “Why aren’t you recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital?” When Trump did recognize it, Schumer, Charles Schumer, he said, “He did it because of me. I was the one that urged him to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” So that’s the Senate minority leader speaking. And for the same reason—if you look at Schumer’s money, he gets it mostly from conservative, right-wing Jews and from Wall Street, the same sources of income as Trump, the same streams of income.

And on these questions, a lot of the Democrats, including Schumer—or especially Schumer, I should say—are worse than Trump. So, for example, after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israel killed the passengers aboard the humanitarian vessel, the Mavi Marmara, killed 10 passengers, Charles Schumer, he went before a group of Orthodox Jews, and he said, “The people of Gaza voted for Hamas. They voted for Hamas, and therefore economic strangulation is the way to go.” Now, bear in mind what that means. We’re talking about a population, more than half of which are children, who are living under a medieval siege. And what he’s effectively saying is we should continue starving them, until they vote or get rid of Hamas. Now, what do you say about something like that?

Under Obama

Look, the Obama administration was—played a really wretched role in all this. Let’s just take the obvious examples. Operation Cast Lead, it ends on January 17th. Now, remember, Obama was elected in November 2008. Operation Cast Lead ends January 17th, 2009. Obama didn’t say anything after he was elected. Do you know why it ends January 17th? Because Obama signals to the Israeli government, “Don’t mess up my inauguration, January 20th. I don’t want any distractions. You’ve got to end the operation.” That’s why they ended.

Now, you go to Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Every day, Obama or one of his officials said, “Israel has the right to protect itself. Israel has the right to protect itself,” as Israel is leveling Gaza. There was no—actually, there was no comparison between Protective Edge and Cast Lead. It was so much worse.

Under Trump

They’re using this moment—with Trump in power, they’re using this moment to try to eliminate as many witnesses as they can, keep everybody out. They want to do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza. It’s very hard for an outsider to get into Gaza. And now, the Israelis are carrying on in a very brazen way—the land grabs, the merciless killings of civilians, the brutal killings of civilians. And so, they want to clear the field of any witnesses. And they’re using the Trump presidency as a moment to seal off Gaza from any—excuse me, seal off the West Bank from any potentially hostile witnesses, to turn the West Bank into what they turned Gaza into. It’s hermetically sealed. There’s no way to witness the crimes as they unfold in real time.

And on the threat of the U.S. cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA

First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza—let’s just call them Gazans—70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be—it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American—the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all U.S. expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the U.N. expense—UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

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eleven Taser deaths in as many years – RIP Dalian Atkinson

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

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

[bold highlight added]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bold highlight as original]

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

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

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

R.I.P. Dalian.

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

Source: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

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

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

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

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

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this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #6. refugees and “The Jungle”

Update: Please note that the original article begins after the asterisk

On the same day I posted the article below, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) issued the following public statement:

The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has today announced that it will no longer accept funds from the European Union and Member States, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and continued attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores.

This decision will take effect immediately and will apply to MSF’s projects worldwide.

Continuing:

For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said Jerome Oberreit, International Secretary General of MSF. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”

Last week the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey logic across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

These deals would impose trade and development aid sanctions on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, rewarding those that do. Among these potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan – four of the top ten* refugee generating countries. [bold emphasis added]

Click here to read MSF’s full statement.

*

“The wind tears down our tents. Whenever there’s a storm, it blows our tents down,” said Mohammad, a 21-year-old man who fled Syria’s war. “This is how we live. Since when do people in modern Europe live like this? They put us in camps without decent food. We just sit around. We count the days. It’s a slow death.”

Mohammad says he is willing to risk his life by taking a ride in a refrigerated truck to Britain. “Maybe I’ll die, but I’m dying here anyway,” he said.

Photo: Malachy Browne licensed under CC BY 2.0

This comes from an article published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on February 25th. The same piece continues:

Now, with heightened tension in the Calais area, many asylum seekers believe that “the UK is closed”. It used to cost £5,000 to £6,000, but now, perhaps because of heightened security, it costs at least £10,000. Many people don’t have that much, and they are giving up.

But there are few options open to people living a life in limbo. They wonder whether the fact that the authorities fingerprint people who agree to live in the containers might affect a future request for asylum in Britain.

People are also reticent about moving to the containers because they know they won’t feel free there it is surrounded by a fence, and its residence live under constant surveillance, with rule upon rule marring their daily lives. The authorities have installed new toilets and running water there, but people want to be able to cook, and the fact that they need to register every time they return from the outside world makes it harder to move freely. Visitors, also, are not allowed.

“Look at that. It reminds me of a film I saw back in Sudan about the Nazi detention camps during World War II,” said Omar, a 22-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur. 1

So how did we come to this? Mud-drenched, rat-infested shanty towns only a hundred and fifty miles outside Paris – and closer to London. Places like “the Jungle” where ‘people of colour’, most often fleeing from conflicts initiated by western governments, rather than finding salvation are subjected instead to nonstop harassment by French state and local authorities:

Migrants flee war, repression or living conditions they believe are unacceptable. Their situation in the North of France represents France’s own part in the failure of European policies to welcome refugees; policies that rely on insecurity and the haggling between states as much as they rely on the building of physical and virtual walls to keep migrants at Europe’s borders.

Following the example of most European leaders and heads of states, France’s leaders today are ready to sacrifice and mistreat millions of lives in the vain hope of dissuading future asylum seekers. In Calais, this policy is fanning tensions just as it reinforces perceptions of an increasingly inhospitable France. 2

While the French goal is seemingly to push ‘the problem’ (as they see it) over to Britain, the British, in return, are eager to maintain the status quo – although in fact both governments are in cahoots:

“The French would love to pull out of the arrangement. We’ll be telling people, ‘if we leave the EU the Jungle camp in Calais will move to Folkestone’. That’s not something people want” – senior Downing Street source 3

This was first reported by The Telegraph in an article published on February 8th. It surrounds the government’s claim, subsequently expanded upon by Cameron in a press conference, that France may seize on the opportunity presented by a Brexit to renege on the current bilateral Le Touquet treaty that was signed between the UK and France in 2003 to allow the UK to conduct border controls on the French mainland:

The Prime Minister is to argue that a Brexit would also leave Britain vulnerable to terror attacks and that migrant camps will spring up across the South East of England.

However, fewer than usual were convinced by Cameron’s fevered bout of xenophobic scaremongering, and so the same article continues:

[Fellow Tory and Former Defence Secretary] Liam Fox told the World at One that David Cameron’s claim that leaving the EU could lead to the formation of “Jungle” camps in southern England is a “complete red herring” and “utterly untrue”.

“First of all, the treaty is nothing to do with the EU. This is a treaty that was signed between two sovereign governments because it was in both our interests to have this. And it’s not right to misquote the French interior minister, in fact if I tell you his exact words on 20th October last year, he said ‘calling for the border with the English to be opened is not a reasonable solution.

“It would send a signal to people smugglers and would lead migrants to come in far greater numbers. A humanitarian disaster would ensue, it is a foolhardy path and one the government will not pursue’. So the French government have already ruled this out. 4

Click here to read the full article in The Telegraph.

Of course, the “migrant crisis” (as the media prefers to call it) has many fronts, and relatively few people actually make it as far as Calais. The vast majority instead find themselves held up in rudimentary encampments close to the ports in Italy and Greece where they first landed, or else trapped by newly erected fences as they attempt to trek northwards. Greece, in particular, is the land where many of the victims of our wars (less than 50% are Syrian, others come from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere including Africa 5) are now forced to shelter.

More recently, we have seen the EU horse-trading with Turkey to swap Syrian “migrants” on a one-for-one basis. The deal, which is almost certainly illegal 6, will do little to remedy the situation and only serve to heighten the suffering of the victims. And yet this refugee crisis can be easily summed up in one image:

In other words, the crisis is not just an outcome of unprecedented (if avoidable) circumstances, but a catastrophic consequence of institutional failure to present a workable plan of action or organise a timely and commensurate response. A measure not only of incompetence, but of how disunited the EU now is. Merkel says come and then don’t come, Cameron responds not in my backyard, and although the Greek government has stayed resolute in its commitment to offer humanitarian assistance, East European partners instead slam the door shut.

Moreover, by supplying minimal assistance and practically no aid for what quickly became a second crisis for Greece, this sustained inaction has exacerbated the pre-existing financial crisis which was more dynamically of the EU’s making. Would it be cynical to conclude that Greece is being punished all over again?

Back in June 2012, non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International, former chairman of BP, former EU Commissioner and current UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, Peter Sutherland, was cross-examined by a House of Lords EU home affairs sub-committee investigating global migration. Sutherland, also a member of the Bilderberg steering committee, recommended that the EU should “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states. 7

In arguing for greater immigration, Sutherland feigns an internationalist standpoint and presents a case he knows will to appeal to progressives and those on the political left. However, it is a grave mistake to think that Sutherland is an internationalist when in reality he is a globalist. So his desire to “undermine” the “homogeneity” of member states conceals the deeper desire which is to abolish them altogether. To supplant national sovereignty with supranational governance, and in the process hollow out democracy and replace it with overarching technocracy.

To those like Sutherland, the so-called “migrant crisis” therefore represents another prime opportunity. Fresh grounds to empower EU institutions and to give them greater sway over national governments. Sutherland and likeminded globalists are keenly aware that our road to hell is paved with good intentions: good intentions they are happy to exploit.

*

Incidentally, for those who remain sceptical that this is actually how the Eurogarchs operate then I direct you to consider the views of British economist Bernard Connolly, who worked for many years inside the European Commission as head of the unit responsible for the European Monetary System and monetary policies. Connolly was sacked by the Commission in 1995 over disagreements about the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the lead up to the introduction of the single currency (criticisms expressed in his book The Rotten Heart of Europe: The Dirty War for Europe’s Money).

Afterwards, Connolly became global strategist at Banque AIG (the Paris-based financial arm of AIG) and it was during his eleven year stint working at AIG when in May 2008 he produced a document entitled “Europe – Driver or Driven?” The opening question of which addresses “What Europe Wants?” to which Connolly supplies the answer in the form of four bullet points:

To use global issues as excuses to extend its power:

  • environmental issues: increase control over member countries; advance idea of global governance

  • terrorism: use excuse for greater control over police and judicial issues; increase extent of surveillance

  • global financial crisis: kill two birds (free market; Anglo-Saxon economies) with one stone (Europe-wide regulator; attempts at global financial governance)

  • EMU: create a crisis to force introduction of “European economic government” 8

Here is Bernard Connolly speaking about the moral degeneracy at the heart of the European project:

And here is Connolly giving a more recent interview with Merryn Somerset Webb of MoneyWeek and explaining at greater length why he believes Britain should exit the EU:

*

Additional: The horrific plight of refugees in Turkish camps

Last month, Germany’s Angela Merkel urged EU support for Turkish refugee camps, saying her country intends providing its own.

She praised Turkey for “not only…provid(ing) a safe haven for millions of refugees, but also…provid(ing) them with opportunities and perspectives” – an outrageous perversion of truth.

Her photo-op with former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu was willful staged deception, covering up regime crimes against humanity against defenseless, largely Syrian, refugees.

European Council president Donald Tusk called “Turkey…the best example for the whole world for how we should treat refugees. Nobody should lecture Turkey on what to do.”

Amnesty International accused EU officials of ignoring horrific abuses refugees receive in Turkey – facilities more like concentration camps than safe havens, hellholes of mistreatment.

Turkish media reported about 30 boys, aged 8–14, were raped or sexually abused by a Nizip refugee camp worker – the country’s so-called model facility Merkel and Tusk were shown during their visit last month.

What they were allowed to see was polar opposite reality, an illusory snapshot unrelated to horrors refugees face. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Elif Dogan Turkman called child abuse in the camp the tip of the iceberg.

writes independent journalist and activist Steve Lendman in an article published on May 24th. (Please note that all links to related articles have been added.)

Lendman continues:

BirGun newspaper journalist Erik Acarer broke the story of mass rapes at Nizip by one camp worker identified only as “EE.” He was indicted and faces longterm imprisonment if convicted.

How many others like him remain to be outed perhaps in all Turkish camps?

On May 24, Fars News reported on Turkish refugee camps “turned into centers for raping children and selling refugees’ body organs.”

BirGun’s Ankara correspondent Yashar Idan reported on mass rapes and sexual abuse at Nizip, organs of a number of refugees sold for profit.

Ankara knows what’s going on in its “model” Nizip camp, yet does virtually nothing to stop it, EE’s indictment an exception proving the rule.

The Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) in charge of refugee camps turns a blind eye to rape and other crimes against defenseless refugees.

Brussels has no interest in protecting their rights, just keeping as many as possible out of Europe.

Click here to read Lendman’s full article entitled “Turkish Refugee Camps: Unsafe Havens, Children Raped, Organs Sold”.

*

1 From an article entitled “France: Refugees face ‘sow death’ in Calais’ Jungle” published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on February 25, 2016. http://www.msf.org/article/france-refugees-face-%E2%80%98slow-death%E2%80%99-calais-jungle

2 From an article entitled “The Calais “Jungle” today: France’s shame” written by Anne Chatelain, who was Deputy Programme Manager, MSF migration Projects and Michaël Neuman, the Director of Studies at MSF – Crash, published by Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet) on January 30, 2016. https://gramnet.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/the-calais-jungle-today-frances-shame/ 

The same article was originally published in French Slate Magazine on December 4, 2015 and is accessible here. It was translated into English by Teresa Piacentini. The original text read:

Les migrants fuient la guerre, la répression ou des conditions de vie qu’ils jugent inacceptables. Leur situation dans le Nord de la France n’est que la part hexagonale de l’échec des politiques européennes d’accueil des réfugiés, qui misent sur la précarité, sur le marchandage entre États comme sur l’érection de murs, physiques ou virtuels, pour maintenir les migrants aux frontières de l’Europe.

Aujourd’hui, les dirigeants français sont, à l’instar de la majorité des chefs d’États et de gouvernements de l’Union européenne, prêts à sacrifier et à maltraiter des milliers de vies dans le vain espoir de dissuader les futurs candidats à l’exil. À Calais même, cette politique accroît les tensions comme elle renforce la perception d’une France toujours plus inhospitalière.

Note that: MSF – Crash (The Centre de reflexion sur l’action et les savoirs humanitaires) was created by Médecins Sans Frontières in 1999. Its objective is to encourage debate and critical reflexion on the humanitarian practices of the association.

3 First reported in an article entitled “Britain ‘faces influx of 50,000 asylum seekers’ if it leaves the European Union” written by Peter Dominiczak and Michael Wilkinson, published in The Telegraph on February 8, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12145781/David-Cameron-warns-of-migrant-camps-in-southern-England-if-Brexit-vote.html

4

“This is a complete red herring, it is utterly untrue that the French are considering it, it would not lead to a major change and it’s a great pity that those who want to remain in the European Union are not making the case for project Europe, for supranational control that they presumably believe in and they are engaging in what I think are ridiculous scaremongering tactics.

“It is a treaty, which is signed between two sovereign nations who happen to be in the European Union at the time, but it was signed because it was in both countries’ interest.

Ibid.

5 

6 https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2016/04/turkey-illegal-mass-returns-of-syrian-refugees-expose-fatal-flaws-in-eu-turkey-deal/ 

7 From an article entitled “EU should ‘undermine national homogeneity’ says UN migration chief” written by Brian Wheeler, published by BBC news on June 21, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18519395

8 From a report entitled “Europe – Driver or Driven?” written by Bernard Connolly, published by Banque AIG for ACI Congress on May 30, 2008. https://www.scribd.com/doc/271676558/Bernard-Connolly-Europe#fullscreen

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, France, Turkey

why the world has forsaken the people of Yemen

No one really is paying attention to Yemen. It doesn’t get much attention in the media. And people, when you talk to them, they say, “Why has the world forsaken us?” — journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous

On November 18th, the United Nations reported:

[T]he ongoing conflict in Yemen has resulted in over 32,000 casualties, with people 5,700 killed, including 830 women and children, alongside a sharp rise in human rights violations – nearly 8,875 or an average of 43 violations occurring every day.

“The collapse of basic services in Yemen continues to accelerate,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Johannes Van der Klaauw, told reporters via videoconference from the Yemeni Capital Sana’a. […]

Mr. Van der Klaauw also said that the people of Yemen are now “grappling with a breakdown of essential services and forced displacement,” as nearly 21.2 million people, or a staggering 82 per cent of the population, are in need for some kind of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs or protect their fundamental rights, including protection of civilians and provision of essential services.

“We estimate that over 19 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation; over 14 million people are food insecure, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure; and nearly 320,000 children are acutely malnourished,” Mr. Mr. Van der Klaauw told another press briefing held at the UN Information Centre in Cairo via satellite.

An estimated 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes and an additional 120,000 have fled the country, he added. 1

Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous has personally witnessed the war on the ground. He says that in common with Libya and Syria, countries which “have completely fallen apart”, Yemen too is “on the brink”, adding:

Yemen is the poorest country in the region. This is a place where people were struggling to survive before the conflict. It imports 90 percent of its food and fuel. And now 21 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. I mean, if you think about that number, that’s more than double—or just under double the number of people who need aid in Syria.

You have just skyrocketing levels of malnutrition. Three million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry. And there’s been millions of people displaced, as well. I went to one camp where, you know, people were living on this sunwashed hill on these rocks, in these tents. They had no money even to buy wood to make fire to bake their bread. And so the children would go out and scavenge for plastic bottles. And they would pile them in the camp, and they’d burn the plastic bottles to make the fire to make this bread, and this toxic ooze would sludge out the bottom. And I said, “Don’t you know this is very bad for you?” And they said, “Yes, but otherwise we’ll starve. So this is the only way we can eat.”

This dire situation is enabling local terrorist militia to recruit new members, as Medea Benjamin, co-founder of peace activist group Code Pink and human rights organisation Global Exchange, explained in yesterday’s [Fri 18th] Counterpunch:

To make matters worse, the terrible conditions on the ground have led to the strengthening of extremist terrorist groups that will inevitably plague that nation for years to come. The local Al Qaeda branch, Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (also known as AQAP), formed in 2009, has exploited the present conflict and increased recruiting efforts. The current political and security vacuum has also opened the way for the appearance of a branch of ISIL, which has been carrying out deadly attacks on Shiite mosques and positioning itself as even more aggressive than AQAP. Some fear that AQAP and ISIL recruitment efforts might lead to competition between both radical groups, which could mean even more attacks around the country as the groups try to upstage one another. 2

However, most to blame for this social breakdown, Sharif Abdel Kouddous says, are the Americans and their Gulf partners:

Apart from sporadic drone strikes by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the coalition is the only air power above Yemen. This is a coalition made up of mostly Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is also very heavily involved. And they have been bombing since March 26 on Yemen.

What I think people also need to understand is the level of U.S. complicity in this war… Saudi Arabia is the most avid customer of U.S. weapons and has bought to the tune of $90 billion over the past five years U.S. arms. What I think many people don’t realize is that the United States is also providing crucial intelligence, logistics, targeting assistance, support to the Saudi coalition, provides vital aerial refuelling almost every day, with two sorties from tankers almost every day. And there’s something called a joint combined planning cell, which is based in Riyadh—this was approved by President Obama—where you have U.S. military personnel meeting on a daily basis with Saudi military leadership, helping to coordinate this war. And so, human rights workers that I talked to said that, you know, the United States is not just a backer of this war, but they are a party to this armed conflict. And that’s what people have to understand, is that the United States government is complicit in what is happening in Yemen.

All quotes by Sharif Abdel Kouddous are taken from an interview he gave on yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast, which is embedded below:

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

In an extended article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” published back in late November, Sharif Abdel Kouddous summarised the background to how this war on Yemen started:

Saudi Arabia launched its war in Yemen on March 26 to drive back a rebel group known as the Houthis. The Houthis arose in the late 1980s as a religious and cultural revivalist movement of Zaidism, a heterodox Shiite sect found almost exclusively in northern Yemen. The Houthis became more politically active in 2003, vocally opposing President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his backing of the US invasion of Iraq.

Saleh was an ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia. He was also an authoritarian ruler known for extravagant corruption. A UN study estimated the leader amassed up to $60 billion during his 33 years in power. Saleh managed to navigate his way through Yemen’s complex web of tribal, regional and geopolitical divides. It was a feat so delicate and dangerous he famously described it as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”

The Yemeni leader successfully positioned himself as an ally of the United States in the ongoing “war on terror” by allowing US forces to operate inside Yemen, and their Predator drones to target Al Qaeda militants based in the country.

Saleh used his Special Operations Forces, trained and equipped by the United States, in his own battles with the northern Houthis, against whom he fought six brutal wars between 2004 and 2010.

His vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, assumed office as interim president in a transition brokered by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia. It was backed by the United States.

Sidelined in the agreement, the Houthis positioned themselves as an opposition group, gaining support beyond their northern base for their criticisms of the transition, which was flawed and riddled with corruption. Saleh loyalists, incredibly, began forming alliances of convenience with the Houthis.

Last year the well-armed Houthis swept down from the north and took over large parts of the country, including Sanaa. In January 2015, they effectively ousted Hadi and his cabinet members, who fled to Saudi Arabia on March 25.

The next day, Saudi Arabia put together a coalition and began its military campaign with support from the United States. The Saudis and the Americans hoped to restore the friendly Yemeni government they knew. Saudi Arabia also hoped to counter what it perceives as a growing regional threat posed by Iran. Saudi Arabia believes Iran is backing the Houthis, although the level of that support is disputed. 3

While Medea Benjamin, who is calling for a complete re-evaluation of the “toxic” alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, writes:

The U.S. involvement in the Yemen crisis can be summed up in four words: allegiance to Saudi Arabia. The United States’ problematic relationship with Saudi Arabia goes all the way back to World War II, when U.S. officials started to see Saudi’s oil as a strategic advantage. Since then, the U.S. has blindly supported the Kingdom in almost every political and economic effort, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is an ultraconservative Islamic monarchy rife with human rights abuses.

When the Houthis, a Shia rebel group from northern Yemen, took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in January 2015 and forced Sunni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile, Saudi Arabia formed an Arab Gulf states coalition to fight against the Houthis. Naturally, the U.S. agreed to support its close ally in its endeavor to ‘reinstate order’ in Yemen by providing intelligence, weaponry and midair refueling, as well as sending U.S. warships to help enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea. The blockade was allegedly to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis, but it also stopped humanitarian aid shipments to beleaguered Yemeni citizens. The American CIA and military intelligence are also on the ground in Yemen, providing targeting and other logistical support, and Uncle Sam’s drones are constantly flying overhead, sending intel to the Saudis.

Since then, the coalition has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes and bombings throughout the country, often targeting highly populated civilian areas4

But then, as Sharif Abdel Kouddous points out, human rights abuses and the other violations of international law committed during the conflict are unlikely to ever be prosecuted. Any slim chance effectively extinguished once Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel 5 back in November 2013:

In September [2015], UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [of Jordan] released a report that detailed the heavy civilian toll in Yemen. He recommended establishing an independent international inquiry into human rights abuses and violations of international law in the conflict.

The Netherlands responded with a draft resolution that would have mandated a UN mission to document violations by all sides over the previous year. But in the face of stiff resistance from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, and little support from Western governments — including the United States — the Dutch withdrew the proposal.

Instead, the UN Human Rights Council passed by consensus a new resolution drafted by Saudi Arabia that made no reference to any independent international inquiry. The text only calls for the UN to provide “technical assistance” for a national commission of inquiry set up by the Yemeni government of President Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and a party to the war. 6

So the world has absolutely forsaken the people of Yemen. They were unlucky enough to get caught up in the spokes of our brutal war machine, and their suffering is now too much of an embarrassment for those in our governments or media to dwell on. For what is happening in Yemen exposes the hypocrisy of the Western powers and further highlights the cruelty of our despotic Gulf State partners. An alliance that has repeatedly voiced its demand for the fall of the government in Damascus, always on humanitarian grounds, when in Yemen, another war is being mercilessly waged with the goal of reinstating an ousted puppet regime. Realpolitik is a dirty business. Look away.

*

Update:

On January 30th 2016, Amnesty International Arms Programme Director, Olly Sprague was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground. He was asked about the leaked UN panel of experts report that investigated the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Yemen and uncovered “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets:

In one of the key findings, the report says: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.” […]

The panel could not obtain entry to Yemen but used satellite imagery to look at areas before and after bombings. “The imagery revealed extensive damage to residential areas and civilian objects as a result of internal fighting and coalition airstrikes,” the report says.

It adds: “Alongside ground-led obstructions to humanitarian distribution, the panel documented 10 coalition airstrikes on transportation routes (both sea and air routes), four road supply routes and five storage facilities for holding food aid (including two vehicles carrying aid and three warehouses and facilities storing food), along with airstrikes on an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the European Union in Sana’a. The panel also documented three coalition attacks on local food and agricultural production sites.”

From an article published by the Guardian on January 27, 2016.

Overall, the panel has documented 119 coalition sorties that appear to be in violation of international law.

Asked about these possible war crimes, Olly Sprague says that evidence on the ground that the Saudis are targeting schools and hospitals is incontrovertible. Amnesty International staff, he says, are indeed “at the receiving end of those bombs”.

And regarding British arms sales and other support for the Saudis, he says that he would like to ask David Cameron this question: “How much more evidence of crimes against humanity and serious violations of international law do you need to witness in Yemen for you to stop selling these arms?”

*

Correction and clarification:

“Britain had helped to elect Saudi Arabia to Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel back in November 2013” and not “back in September” as the article originally stated.

*

1 From a UN report entitled “Yemen: UN warns humanitarian situation has deteriorated ‘drastically’ as conflict claims 5,700 lives” published by UN News Centre on November 18, 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52588#.VnRhM17p-Ul

2 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

3 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

4 From an article entitled “Yemen Crisis: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.–Saudi Alliance written by Medea Benjamin, published in Counterpunch  on December 18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/yemen-crisis-one-more-reason-to-re-evaluate-the-toxic-u-s-saudi-alliance/ 

5

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The elevation of the Saudi kingdom to one of the UN’s most influential bodies in 2013 prompted fresh international criticism of its human rights record. […]

The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York. […]

The Saudi cables, dated January and February 2013, were translated separately by the Australian and UN Watch. One read: “The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York.

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Another cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. It was unclear where or how this money was spent.

From an article entitled “UK and Saudi Arabia ‘in secret deal’ over human rights council place” written by Owen Bowcott, published in the Guardian on September 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/29/uk-and-saudi-arabia-in-secret-deal-over-human-rights-council-place

6 From an article entitled “With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen” written by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published in GlobalPost on November 30, 2015. http://www.globalpost.com/article/6696395/2015/11/30/yemen-conflict-saudi-arabia-airstrikes-war-crimes-united-states

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Cockburn continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she explains:

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

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

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

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

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

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

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

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

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

*

Additional:

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

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it continues:

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

Further down we read that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US drone programme deemed unlawful by two major human rights groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

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

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50 days and counting: mass hunger strike at Guantánamo is being ignored and downplayed

It is a frankly staggering but barely reported fact that the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay – 86 of the 166 – have actually been cleared by the Obama administration to leave. Indeed, only a tiny fraction of the remaining “detainees” – as few as 34 – are ever likely to be charged by the US government. Yet, in spite of this, the more than fifty percent being held without any charge against them, still see little or no prospect of release after more than a decade of false imprisonment.

To highlight their continuing plight some of these inmates (and I will return to numbers in a moment) decided to go on hunger strike. A mass protest that started on February 6th and which is now into its eighth week. So far, however, the mainstream media has mostly ignored their protest altogether, with only Russia Today consistently reporting on the deteriorating situation at Guantánamo.

Democracy Now! also featured a report just over a fortnight ago on Wednesday March 13th, and this is what Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights as well as counsel for Ghaleb Al-Bihani, one of the hunger strikers, told us back then:

He [Ghaleb Al-Bihani] said what we’ve heard from every other detainee who has communicated with his lawyer since February, which is that there is a large-scale hunger strike in Camp 6, which is the largest of the facilities at Guantánamo. That prison holds about 130 men. He said that almost everyone, except for a few who are sick and elderly, are on strike.

He himself had lost over 20 pounds. He is a diabetic. His blood glucose levels are fluctuating wildly. He told me that medical staff at Guantánamo have told him his life is in danger. And he and others want us to get the word out about this.

At this time, the official version was that “only five or six” prisoners were involved in the hunger strike, but here’s Pardiss Kebriaei again:

They have downplayed the scale of the strikes and have said that there are only a handful on strike and only a handful being tube-fed. It may be a matter of semantics: the way that Guantánamo authorities define people on hunger strike is largely discretionary.

But what we have heard from every habeas counsel who has been down to the base or communicated with their clients since February is the same, which is that there is a large-scale strike, men are refusing food.

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

And here’s a more recent Russia Today article from Monday [March 25th]:

US officials initially denied that a strike was taking place at all.

“As you recall, they started off by saying, ‘no one is on hunger strike, just five or six people who have been on the hunger strike for many years’. Then that figure was revised up to 14 and now we are seeing the figure steadily increasing, but to nowhere near the extent that the prisoners’ lawyers are talking about,” investigative journalist and author of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ Andy Worthington told RT.

Currently the officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike has reached 26 people, according to the US Defense Department. Eight of them are being force-fed, which means they are administered food in the form of a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.1

Click here to read more from the same Russia Today report or to watch video of the report.

Hidden away on the BBC website, you can also find this report from yesterday:

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is urgently sending a doctor to Guantanamo Bay because of a growing hunger strike among detainees.

The ICRC says the doctor and another group member are flying to Guantanamo a week earlier than planned “because of the current tensions” there.2

The same BBC article also reports that officially 31 of the 166 prisoners are now on hunger strike. The official figures rising as news of the hunger strike slowly leaks out… but why so slowly. Here are the thoughts of outspoken British MP George Galloway talking on Russia Today (and published in the same article):

“Nobody else is talking about this subject. If this were happening in Russia, if people disappeared into an illegal black hole in Russia and were facing indefinite incarceration, without trial, without charge and without access of attorneys, we’d never hear the end of it. The Western media would be full of it. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they’d be screaming from the rooftops of Westminster.

But because this is an American crime, they’re allowed to get away with it. Because the people that control the so-called mainstream media are fully on side with the agenda of the Obama administration.”

Whatever you may think about Galloway, it is hard to deny the truth of much that he has to say. And the fact that during the past fifty days, our own media outlets have consistently declined to draw any serious attention to this important story ought to be a cause for concern for all of us.

Incidentally, I happen to be on the emailing lists of both Amnesty International and Avaaz and neither organisation has sent any news about the mass hunger strike taking place at Guantánamo, let alone any campaigns calling for action to be taken. Shame on both organisations.

*

The following is a Russia Today report from January last year, marking the tenth anniversary of the opening of Gitmo at Guantánamo Bay:

1 From an article entitled “’Nobody else talking about this’: Gitmo inmate hunger strike goes on” published by Russia Today on March 25, 2013. http://rt.com/news/guantanamo-hunger-strike-media-786/

2 From a BBC new report entitled “Guantanamo hunger strike prompts urgent Red Cross visit” published on Mnarch 27, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21958255

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John Kiriakou jailed after exposing CIA’s use of torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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