Last Monday [Dec 10th] was an extremely interesting day for news stories. For one thing, it was the day when the New York Times disclosed the altogether astonishing decision made by US federal authorities not to indict British bank HSBC for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act:
HSBC’s actions stand out among the foreign banks caught up in the investigation, according to several law enforcement officials with knowledge of the inquiry. Unlike those of institutions that have previously settled, HSBC’s activities are said to have gone beyond claims that the bank flouted United States sanctions to transfer money on behalf of nations like Iran. Prosecutors also found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups.1
High crime indeed, and please keep in mind the last part: “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”. Could that mean al-Qaeda…?
HSBC was thrust into the spotlight in July after a Congressional committee outlined how the bank, between 2001 and 2010, “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks.” The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a subsequent hearing at which the bank’s compliance chief resigned amid mounting concerns that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity. For example, an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda, according to the Congressional report.
The message is that bankers have become entirely immune to prosecution for almost any kinds of racket imaginable. No prosecution because, as the New York Times reports, of “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system”, which is plainly ludicrous. Put simply, “too big to fail” has now slipped to become – and inevitably so, when you think about it – “too big to jail”:
Instead, HSBC announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with authorities.
Apparently the biggest settlement in history, but chickenfeed to HSBC nonetheless. The same article also going on to explain how:
Given the extent of the evidence against HSBC, some prosecutors saw the charge as a healthy compromise between a settlement and a harsher money-laundering indictment. While the charge would most likely tarnish the bank’s reputation, some officials argued that it would not set off a series of devastating consequences.
A money-laundering indictment, or a guilty plea over such charges, would essentially be a death sentence for the bank. Such actions could cut off the bank from certain investors like pension funds and ultimately cost it its charter to operate in the United States, officials said.
So, excuses in hand, the federal authorities have chosen put aside the law and apply something they euphemistically call a “deferred prosecution agreement” – a glossy title for what is really nothing more or less than a ‘get out of jail free’ card.2
Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.
You can also read and hear more about “deferred prosecution agreements” courtesy of William K Black in this previous article.
On Thursday, Democracy Now! invited Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of “Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.” Now you might be wondering how on earth an editor of Rolling Stone magazine became a serious fraud investigator, but seeing how others apparently better qualified and positioned were failing in that vital task, Taibbi eventually decided to jump in. He has since turned himself into one of leading experts on the current banking crisis (and its related scandals). And this is what Taibbi has to say regarding the latest cover-up:
Here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message, not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail.
It is unusual to see a news discussion in which all of the participants are at such a loss in trying to comprehend what they are describing, but here Taibbi and the others appear almost lost for words. Between all the raised eyebrows and the quizzical smiles, Taibbi put it this way:
[And] what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?”
What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.
Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.
On the very same day, Monday 10th, the New York Times was also running an editorial piece entitled simply “Al Qaeda in Syria”. An article that begins:
The presence of rebel fighters in Syria that were trained and supported by Al Qaeda poses a serious problem for the United States and Western allies. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has become one of the most effective forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.3
Not that news of al-Qaeda rebel fighters in Syria can really be called news at all any more – this latest development involving the Iraqi group known as Jabhat al Nusra having already surfaced in a report from McClatchy that was published a week prior to the more prominent New York Times version of events:
When the group Jabhat al Nusra first claimed responsibility for car and suicide bombings in Damascus that killed dozens last January, many of Syria’s revolutionaries claimed that the organization was a creation of the Syrian government, designed to discredit those who opposed the regime of President Bashar Assad and to hide the regime’s own brutal tactics.
Nearly a year later, however, Jabhat al Nusra, which U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaida, has become essential to the frontline operations of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.4
Click here to read the full report from McClatchy.
The steady assent of al-Qaeda amongst the Syrian rebels is a story that has slowly been leaking out for many, many months. It emerged in the Guardian back in late July, and as long ago as August, the BBC had also put together their own news report to show how one group of Syrian insurgents were forcing prisoners to become unwilling suicide bombers – a story that was quickly removed by the BBC – but one that you can find embedded below from youtube:
The video footage in the report was actually shot by New York Times reporters (NYT again) who had spent five days following a group known as the Lions of Tawhid. And you can read an accompanying New York Times article published August 20th here.
At this time, both the BBC and the New York Times were still avoiding any mention of al-Qaeda, or for that matter circumventing words like Islamist or Jihadist that might be used to describe some of the rebels, and so instead the writer, C.J. Chivers, makes what with hindsight appears to be a few hints at the kind of force they might be dealing with: mentions of thick beards and repeated quotes from the rebels saying “God is Great” or along the lines of “we will kneel only for God.” Reading down the New York Times article, you will also find a parallel account of the story of the unwitting ‘suicide’ bomber who features in the (subsequently censored) BBC news clip:
The rebels lacked the heavy weapons to take the checkpoint in a head-on fight. So several of them would dress as civilians, move the truck bomb near the checkpoint and set it off. This would be the signal for an assault over the ground.
There was one problem. The Lions of Tawhid said they did not believe in using their fighters as suicide bombers.
Two fighters poured fuel into the truck’s gas tank while Mr. Meldaoun, the nurse, snipped branches from shrubs and stacked them on the bomb, hiding it from view.
The real plan was beginning to emerge. It involved the prisoner, Abu Hilal. The assurances that he would be released had been a deception. The fighters intended to put him behind the wheel of the truck bomb near the checkpoint and tell him to drive forward in a prisoner exchange.
“We told Abu Hilal, ‘Go, drive that way, your father is waiting for you there, don’t do any bad things in the future,’” Hakim said. “And he was so happy, and he drove.”
Abu Hilal stopped the truck at the checkpoint. Abdul Hakim Yasin pushed the button on the remote detonator, ready for the flash and thunderclap of more than 650 pounds of explosives. It would be the signal for his fighters to move forward and mop up.
He pushed the button again.
The truck did not explode.5
If the bomb had detonated this would have been a much more terrible atrocity, although obviously even this failed attempt was a war crime. And the embedded New York Times reporters might have highlighted the barbaric nature of this incident (as the BBC report had done), but instead the main body of the article devotes itself to presenting the rebels as a band of ordinary guys caught in the crossfire. Portrayed as romantic heroes, here is how the same article ends:
But as the rockets struck, the Tawhid fighters were barely distracted. They were waiting for the government soldiers nearby to show themselves, certain that night by night their foes were growing weaker, and their uprising was gaining strength.
After each explosion, Mr. Yasin, an accountant leading a life and a role delivered to him by war, keyed his two-way radio, and checked on his men. All around him they crouched in the smoky darkness, weapons ready, waiting for orders or for more action against a government they consider already dead.
It reads more like pulp fiction than serious journalism. But the point I wish to make is that mainstream stories about Islamist terrorists in Syria were just beginning to trickle out around this time. Indeed, in the New York Times blog of the following day [Aug 21st], David D. Kirkpatrick actually wrote the following:
Reports from Western officials, militant Islamist Web sites [sic], neighboring countries and, to a limited extent, inside the Syrian opposition indicate that Al Qaeda and homegrown militants are joining the fight and competing for influence. And that poses a vexing question for American policy makers and politicians. So far, all sides of the debate in Washington have called for supporting the insurgency, and the only question is how much. The Obama administration talks of diplomacy and economic sanctions, while some Republicans push to provide weapons to the insurgents. Is the United States acting side by side with Al Qaeda?6
Kirkpatrick is then very quick to answer his own question:
The short answer is no. A group as numerically tiny as Al Qaeda could never by itself steer a movement as large as the Syrian revolt. And even if Al Qaeda or other anti-Western militants are seeking to exploit or direct the Syrian uprising — why wouldn’t they? — that merely makes them rivals to the West for influence over the course of the revolt.
The difference three months later is that Kirkpatrick’s snap judgment is entirely overturned. Not only are al-Qaeda more or less running the Syrian revolt, but we also know that the American government is well aware of the fact. Obama himself now trying to explain the case for supporting the rebels, as he did on ABC news on Tuesday:
Obama expressed caution today about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.
“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”
The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.7
Click here to read the full ABC news report and to watch the interview with Obama.
But did the situation in Syria really transform so rapidly and if so, how so…? I will leave the answers for others to fill in and move to the next part of Kirkpatrick’s rather remarkable article, as he candidly admits what many will have suspected all along:
The West, for its part, is eager to deprive Iran of its principal regional ally, the Assad government.
Yes, and lest we forget, this whole decade of war has consistently had as its long term objective some kind of military offensive against Iran. Meanwhile, and with regards to the developing crisis in Syria, these latest admissions make “Al Qaeda in Syria”, a more officially sanctioned story. With the ugly truth no longer plausibly deniable, the new hope of the American administration being that the press and the public won’t begin asking too many difficult but obvious questions. Questions like why does the US increasingly appear to be in cahoots with al-Qaeda – again?
So playing this whole story down has necessarily become the fall-back approach, and the New York Times helps the cause by reporting this latest episode (on Monday) with the same impartial tone as many of its earlier reports about the role and rise of the Syrian jihadists. Explaining to its readers that these al-Qaeda forces might “hijack the revolution”. And that “there are no easy answers.” And anyway, “[al-Qaeda’s] skilled fighters have been so effective.” Such a dilemma for any hawk…
The fear is that the group could hijack the revolution and emerge as the dominant force in Syria after Mr. Assad is ousted from power. […]
There are no easy answers, and no one believes that Washington, or any external power, can dictate the outcome. But President Obama still needs to provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.
These repeated statements are a measure of how dumb they actually think most of us are. After all, American administrations have spent more than half a trillion dollars8 fighting off al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in a war that is well into its twelfth year. Yet we discover that the current administration are simultaneously backing a different group of resistance fighters, whilst fully aware that these other rebels are thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda – and not just any old al-Qaeda, but a group that has established a foothold in another of the old war haunts, neighbouring Iraq. Asking us to believe that all of this has happened almost without them noticing truly beggars belief!
Mr. Obama has blacklisted the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, which would make it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with it. It makes sense to isolate the group and try to dry up its resources, but the designation by itself isn’t sufficient. American officials have to make a case directly to the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Click here to read the full report published in the New York Times.
Which means that as the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan grinds on and on into bloody stalemate, and through its horrors, helps in recruiting fresh militants ready to take up AK47s and plant IEDs against the imperialist infidels, there will be American officials “making a case” to favoured client states in the Middle East in efforts to persuade them not to supply “the weapons and other assistance” to this self-same enemy in a different place and under another name. Assistance that presumably includes all of that “tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”, laundered, so we now learn, by one of the world’s leading banks. A criminal enterprise that, in view of the laughable excuse for not seeking prosecution – remember those “concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system” – seems more than likely to continue. Such open corruption and such flagrant lies.
When Obama first came into office in 2008, the war in Afghanistan was already thought by many to be unwinnable. Obama might very easily (given the weight of public opinion) have begun the process of pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Instead of this, however, Obama brought in more troops and then covertly expanded operations across the border into Pakistan. This expansion being made possible thanks to a change in tactics; more specifically, by the use of secret and illegal drone strikes. Attacks that are officially unauthorised by the Pakistan government and illegal according to the United Nations.
The death toll from these cowardly and, by any proper understanding of the word, ‘terrorist’ drone strikes against the people of Pakistan is already estimated to be around 3000, of which, it is officially acknowledged9 that many hundreds are innocent civilians – deaths and injuries that the US continues to disregard as “collateral damage”.
All of which brings me to the third of the three reports from Monday 10th: a somewhat mixed but nonetheless worthwhile BBC Panorama investigation into “The Secret Drone War”. Reporter Jane Corbin interviewing members of families who have become victims of the drone attacks in Waziristan, a region inside Pakistan that the programme makers describe as “one of the most dangerous places in the world”.
Corbin also speaks with former cricketer and politician Imran Khan, who has helped to organise a mass anti-drone protest march across half the country, as well as to Medea Benjamin of CodePink and lawyer Clive Stafford Smith; just two of the many human rights activists who had joined in the march. And in the latter part of the programme, Corbin questions the use of so-called “signature strikes”: indiscriminate assassination where no named target has been located, but an attack is still launched against anyone unfortunate enough to be deemed involved in “an activity that looks suspicious”.
Click here to watch the Panorama episode “The Secret Drone War” which is available until Tuesday 10th December 2013.
It is now more than a decade since the then-US Under Secretary of State and prominent neo-con, John Bolton, (someone more recently spotted endorsing Mitt Romney during the presidential race) made an announcement in a speech that was entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” to the effect that:
… three nations [Cuba, Libya and Syria] could be grouped with other so-called “rogue states” – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – in actively attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.10
Of those original six nations making up Bolton’s extended “Axis of Evil”, two, Iraq and Libya, have since been subjected to American-led campaigns resulting in regime change; one under Bush and one under Obama. Certainly, Obama’s less sustained “kinetic action” against Libya was to some extent sanctioned by the UN Security Council, in contrast to Bush’s entirely illegal “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. But there are many similarities.
After the bombardment and with the old despotic rulers gone, oil contracts and reconstruction deals were quickly approved by the newly appointed representatives of the two countries. Both countries were then otherwise abandoned to the chaos that the war had brought, and, as a direct consequence of the war, both are now teeming with jihadi forces. Syria, which was another country on Bolton’s wish list, is now suffering from a similar influx of jihadists, whilst waiting its turn for yet another Nato “intervention”. Is all of this mere coincidence?
Of course, we don’t hear so much about the “war on terror” these days, even as it continues unabated in the Af-Pak conflict; and absolutely nothing at all about that loose-fitting alliance called the “Axis of Evil”. Instead, we have been hearing more again about “weapons of mass destruction”. Periodic reminders of the nuclear threat from Iran, and most recently, new rumours of chemical weapons about to be used in Syria. Rumours that rhyme with yellowcake uranium and those mobile chemical warfare laboratories of George W. Bush and Colin Powell’s vivid imaginations.
We see then that under Obama the methods have changed in some respects, but that the general trajectory remains unaltered. American foreign policy still following a course that was publicly outlined by the Project for the New American Century (or PNAC) as far back as 2000. Certainly the talk is less bellicose and more guarded, but the war profiteering goes on and even the list of target nations has remained significantly unaltered.
The battle over Libya was justified as humanitarian, and any full-scale intervention in Syria will most likely be presented the same way (unless, that is, the WMD card comes into play), and yet in other ways the cloak of humanitarianism has since been dropped altogether. So we learn, for instance, from “a despicable article in Military Times” that the US military has recently declared that children have become legitimate targets on the battlefield, at least when it comes to operations in Afghanistan. The following coming from an article published on Dec 4th in The Nation magazine and frankly entitled “The US Military Approves Bombing Children”:
When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.
It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”
But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.
Shockingly, the [Military Times] article quotes a senior officer saying that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:
“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”11
Click here to read the full article by Robert Dreyfuss.
I began writing this article because within these three different reports from last Monday there is a common thread. On one level that thread is simply al-Qaeda – bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, covertly supported in Libya and Syria, and all whilst the US government turns its blind eye to any financial assistance provided by banks like HSBC. All of which, for different reasons, makes a nonsense of the on-going “war on terror”. It makes no sense, that is, until one considers the underlying geo-strategy combined with the enormous profits to be made from all these wars. It makes no sense, in other words, unless you look at who the winners are – the private contractors alongside the global financiers. Because these wars are all very lucrative.
To understand just how profitable, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “Iraq for Sale” that was made by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Greenwald in 2006. It is embedded below:
You might also be interested in reading an extended pamphlet called “War is a Racket” (available online) that was written by Major General Smedley D. Butler and first published as long ago as 1935.
Butler, who was the most highly decorated soldier in American history, takes the case of war profiteering during WWI, and in a few short chapters he lays out the evidence with countless, very detailed examples. His research and considerable military experience leading him to the conclusion that, as he states in the very first paragraph:
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are recognised in dollars and the losses in lives.”
On another occasion12, Butler summarised his own part in that racket with these words:
“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. ”
Tragically, that same old war racket is now reaching a new apogee. So is there any appropriate and useful response to this never-ending carnage and human misery? Butler saw only one lasting solution:
“A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”
Ending the war profiteering won’t happen overnight, but it is definitely an objective we might practically and realistically aim for. It would mean reversing the last twelve years of American foreign policy, but this is not impossible. It will require America and the rest of the world to make genuine international attempts to stall this insane war machine once and for all. The journalists could even help to set the ball rolling by reporting promptly and honestly as the battles continue to rage. Later, the courts must bring to justice all of the criminals who were complicit. No more deferred prosecution agreements for anyone. If all of this requires little short of a revolution, then what’s the alternative? Doing nothing means only that this war racket will keep on growing unopposed, when already we find its shadow over everything.
In the meantime, and if you are an American citizen, you might like to add your name to a “We the People” petition to the White House that calls for a cease to “all funding and support for al-Qaeda terrorists and extremist rebels in Syria”:
Hillary Clinton has admitted that Al-Qaeda is supporting the Syrian rebels, who are backed by the Obama administration with $200 million dollars in aid. According to McClatchy Newspapers one of these groups, Al Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, is now conducting “the heaviest frontline fighting” in Syria and has been responsible for terrorist attacks. Impartial observers such as Dr. Jacques Beres say the majority of rebels in Syria are foreign extremists whose goal is to impose Sharia law. These rebels have also been filmed burning U.S. flags and chanting anti-American slogans. Funding terrorists is a crime under the National Defense Authorization Act. Such activity has had disastrous consequences in the past, such as 9/11. We demand all support direct or indirect to cease immediately.
To locate the petition click here.