In order to overcome massive US and world public opposition to new wars in the Middle East, Obama relied on the horrific internet broadcasts of ISIS slaughtering two American hostages, the journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff, by decapitation. These brutal murders were Obama’s main propaganda tool to set a new Middle East war agenda – his own casus belli bonanza!
This explains the US Administration’s threats of criminal prosecution against the families of Foley and Sotloff when they sought to ransom their captive sons from ISIS.
With the American mass media repeatedly showing the severed heads of these two helpless men, public indignation and disgust were aroused with calls for US military involvement to stop the terror. US and EU political leaders presented the decapitations of Western hostages by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) as a direct and mortal threat to the safety of civilians in the US and Europe. The imagery evoked was of black-clad faceless terrorists, armed to the teeth, invading Europe and the US and executing innocent families as they begged for rescue and mercy.
The problem with this propaganda ploy is not the villainy and brutal crimes celebrated by ISIS, but the fact that Obama’s closest ally in his seventh war in six years is Saudi Arabia, a repugnant kingdom which routinely decapitates its prisoners in public without any judicial process recognizable as fair by civilized standards – unless tortured ‘confessions’ are now a Western norm. During August 2014, when ISIS decapitated two American captives, Riyadh beheaded fourteen prisoners. Since the beginning of the year the Saudi monarchy has decapitated more than 46 prisoners and chopped off the arms and limbs of many more. During Obama and Kerry’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, horrendous decapitations were displayed in public. These atrocities did not dim the bright smile on Barak Obama’s face as he strolled with his genial royal Saudi executioners, in stark contrast to the US President’s stern and angry countenance as he presented the ISIS killing of two Americans as his pretext for bombing Syria.
The Western mass media are silent in the face of the Saudi Kingdom’s common practice of public decapitation. Not one among the major news corporations, the BBC, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS and NPR, have questioned the moral authority of a US President who engages in selective condemnation of ISIS while ignoring the official Saudi state beheadings and the amputations.
Decapitation and Dismemberment: By Dagger and Drones
The ISIS internet videos showing gaunt, orange-suited Western prisoners and their lopped-off heads have evoked widespread dismay and fear. We are repeatedly told: ‘ISIS is coming to get us!’ But ISIS is open and public about their criminal acts against helpless hostages. We cannot say the same about the decapitations and dismemberment of the hundreds of victims of US drone attacks. When a drone fires its missiles on a home, a school, wedding party or vehicle, the bodies of living people are dismembered, macerated, decapitated and burned beyond recognition – all by remote control. The carnage is not videoed or displayed for mass consumption by Obama’s high command. Indeed, civilian deaths, if even acknowledged, are brushed off as ‘collateral damage’ while the vaporized remnants of men, women and children have been described by US troops as ‘pink foam’.
If the brutal decapitation and dismemberment of innocent civilians is a capital crime that should be punished, as I believe it is, then both ISIS and the Obama regime with his allied leaders should face a people’s war crimes tribunal in the countries where the crimes occurred.
There are good reasons to view Washington’s close relation with the Saudi royal beheaders as part of a much broader alliance with terror-evoking brutality. For decades, the US drug agencies and banks have worked closely with criminal drug cartels in Mexico while glossing over their notorious practice of decapitating, dismembering and displaying their victims, be they local civilians, courageous journalists, captured police or migrants fleeing the terror of Central America. The notorious Zetas and the Knights Templar have penetrated the highest reaches of the Mexican federal and local governments, turning state officials and institutions into submissive and obedient clients. Over 100,000 Mexicans have lost their lives because of this ‘state within a state’, an ‘ISIS’ in Mexico – just ‘South of the Border’. And just like ISIS in the Middle East, the cartels get their weapons from the US imported right across the Texas and Arizona borders. Despite this gruesome terror on the US southern flank, the nation’s principle banks, including Bank of America, CitiBank, Wells Fargo and many others have laundered billions of dollars of drug profits for the cartels. For example, the discovery of 49 decapitated bodies in one mass in May 2014 did not prompt Washington to form a world-wide coalition to bomb Mexico, nor was it moved to arrest the Wall Street bankers laundering the ‘beheaders bloody booty’.
Obama’s hysterical and very selective presentation of ISIS crimes forms the pretext for launching another war against a predominantly Muslim country, Syria, while shielding his close ally, the royal Saudi decapitator from US public outrage. ISIS crimes have become another excuse to launch a campaign of ‘mass decapitation by drones and bombers’. The mass propaganda campaign over one crime against humanity becomes the basis for perpetrating even worse crimes against humanity. Many hundreds of innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq will be dismembered by ‘anti-terrorist’ bombs and drones unleashed by another of Obama’s ‘coalition’.
The localized savagery of ISIS will be multiplied, amplified and spread by the US-directed ‘coalition of the willing decapitators’. The terror of hooded beheaders on the ground will be answered and expanded by their faceless counterparts in the air, while delicately hiding the heads rolling through the public squares of Riyadh or the headless bodies displayed along the highways of Mexico … and especially ignoring the hidden victims of US-Saudi aggression in the towns and villages of Syria.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa criticized on Saturday a new U.S. government plan to intervene and weaken Latin American governments.
Correa said that Obama’s intention to create six innovation centers for educating new “leaders” in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, and Asia, was clearly intended to interfere with Latin American countries.
“What they want is to intervene in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, because they say we attack freedom of speech; but go and see for yourselves who are the owners of media in United States,” said Correa.
On Tuesday President Barrack Obama said that his government will support civil society in countries where freedom of speech and association are threatened by the governments.
“We’re creating new innovation centers to empower civil society groups around the world,” said Obama during his speech in a plenary session of the Clinton Open Initiative. “Oppressive governments are sharing worst practices to weaken civil society. We’re going to help you share the best practices to stay strong and vibrant.”
President Correa hit back “This is part of the conservative restoration: the insolent announcement of intervention in other countries.” He added “Let us live in peace and respect the sovereignty of our countries.”
Correa also responded that he will propose the creation of an innovation center in the United States to teach the country “something about human rights,” so they might learn about true democracy and freedom of speech, revoke the death penalty and end the blockade on Cuba.
Correa has accused opposition movements in the country of trying to destabilize his government.
Astounding events over the last several weeks have once again put U.S. torture in the spotlight. Evidence of spying by the CIA on Senate staffers investigating the Agency provoked an unprecedented apology from CIA director John Brennan, calls for his removal, and a response from President Obama at his August 1st press conference.
The backdrop is the long delayed but pending public release of the summary of the over 6000 page investigative report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture. The investigation was initiated over five years ago. The report was approved by the committee 20 months ago and approved for release 5 months ago. As we move into autumn, the date of its official release is still in question.
I. The CIA
The CIA has done everything possible to undermine any investigation into its secret rendition, detention and interrogation program. There have been several facets to the CIA’s defensive strategy:
The Senate report will purportedly accuse the CIA of lying to the public and to Congress. That will be unsurprising to anyone who knows the long history of the CIA, first revealed in detail by the Church Committee in 1975. Secrecy and lying have been an Agency hallmark. The pre-9/11 history of CIA involvement with torture in Latin America and Southeast Asia is just one example.
In 2005, the CIA destroyed videotape evidence of interrogations involving torture. In 2009, the it orchestrated a media campaign warning of the consequences for national security of a criminal investigation, capped by a letter to Obama from seven former directors of the CIA warning that the extremely limited, preliminary investigation of CIA personnel who went “beyond guidance” would severely compromise the Agency. (The investigation eventually closed with no criminal charges filed.)
When the Senate committee began its work, the CIA insisted investigators use a special CIA facility for the review of documents. It then monitored Senate staff computers, read staffers’ emails and removed a damning internal report. Brennan denied that the CIA had spied on the Senate staff, calling the allegations “beyond reason” but in late July the CIA’s Inspector General’s investigation confirmed it. In March, the CIA countered the charges of spying along with a referral to the Justice Department by asking the DOJ to open an investigation of illegal behavior of committee staff. In response, Diane Feinstein, the normally hawkish chair of the Senate committee, gave an unprecedented, angry speech on the Senate floor about CIA bullying.
Further, CIA officials have publicly accused the committee of bias and the Agency will write a dissent that will be appended to the report. Not least, the CIA can virtually dictate redactions. It is extraordinary that the very agency being investigated by the Senate has the power to redact the Senate’s report of its investigation. The CIA’s redaction review took months and has now moved to the center of a controversy between Feinstein and the White House (which coordinated, participated in and approved the redaction process). Feinstein asserted that the proposed redactions “eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions.” She further said that she will not make the report public “until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction.”
II. The President
At a news conference on August 1st, President Obama was asked about Brennan. First, Obama expressed “full confidence” in Brennan, referring to CIA spying on the Senate staff as a matter that “CIA personnel did not properly handle …” and “some very poor judgment was shown.” Given the enormous implications for a functioning democracy of the CIA’s unlawful misconduct, Obama’s language seems mild.
Second, the president acknowledged “we did some things that were wrong.” “We tortured some folks.” These comments were qualified by “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.” Some commentators laud the president for using the word “torture” but others point out that his language actually minimized what happened. From 2002 to 2009, hundreds of people were tortured and hundreds more subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. There have been over 100 deaths of people in detention, many likely to be a direct result of torture. The torture and abuse went on for years. (I leave aside here continuing accusations of U.S. personnel being involved in torture since 2009.)
Third, Obama then claimed to “understand what happened.” His explanation emphasized “how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell,” “people did not know whether more attacks were imminent,” and national security officials felt “enormous pressure.” He told us that we should “not … feel too sanctimonious in retrospect,” given that officials had a “tough job.” This framing is a version of the fall-back position accompanying the more assertive claims that “enhanced interrogation” kept America safe. Whether or not torture was ineffective; whether or not it was, as the president said, “contrary to our values”; and whether or not it was illegal, in the end it was, Obama is suggesting, understandable—that is, excusable under the circumstances.
After all, Obama asserted, the acts in question were committed by “real patriots”—i.e., right-minded people who simply acted out of love of country. The implication is that the torture is pardonable and that it would be ungrateful to criticize patriots for anything more than misjudgment under extraordinary circumstances. The logic of this nationalist rhetoric is to place off limits the harder questions about what happened and why: Why did state institutions routinely operate outside the law, lie to Congress, destroy evidence, and adopt a “by any means necessary,” “gloves-off” approach to problems of national security? Whether CIA operatives or presidents, patriots cannot be held accountable for committing war crimes. For love of country, let’s just move on. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “We tortured. It was wrong. Never mind.”
Next, Obama—again using the word “torture” and saying that “we crossed a line”–called on the country “to take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” Certainly. Yet, the president might have been more explicit that the line crossed was not only moral; it was legal—and no amount of Office of Legal Counsel “guidance” (based on radically distorted interpretations of what is legally permissible) or even immunities provided by Congress can alter that fact. Moreover, the “we” who “crossed a line” remains purposefully vague. After all, specific officials crossed that line, acting through the CIA, the military, the executive branch, and with possible complicity by individual members of Congress.
Finally, what does Obama mean when he urges the “country” to take responsibility? Remember it was the same Obama who in 2009 urged the country to “look forward rather than look backward,” who refused to pursue criminal accountability or even a bipartisan commission of inquiry. It is the same Obama who appears to be supporting a redaction process that Feinstein says undermines the conclusions of the report. Obama’s statement that the country should take responsibility is contradicted by his own actions.
Obama is right that Americans should grapple with their government’s use of torture. Too many Americans have chosen simply to look the other way. However, the president has not fulfilled his own responsibility to exercise moral leadership. The task of getting to the real truth of U.S. torture is difficult. To own up to the moral and criminal failure of our national leaders is even more challenging. Meaningful accountability is impossible without genuine soul-searching among leaders in government, media and in civil society. The Senate torture report is a necessary step in that direction.
III. The Report
I offer five reasons why the Senate report is important:
1) To date, there has been no official report focusing on the CIA’s central role in carrying out the Bush-Cheney administration’s adoption of torture post-9/11. Although the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report will be compromised by the continued suppression of the full report, by extensive redactions, and by an inevitably limited analysis, it will be the most significant government report to date on U.S. torture. Torture will once again be given national prominence in the media.
This has not happened since 2009, a pivotal year in “the torture debate” when a series of shocking revelations unsettled the normal timidity of the media establishment. Then, editors provided space for opinions highly critical of Bush and Cheney’s interrogation program along with views defending the policies. Anxieties swelled among perpetrators and their defenders about how far Obama might go in revealing the full scope of the torture program or who might be held accountable and how. In a highly charged partisan atmosphere, Republican hawks, led by Cheney, attacked the new president’s change of torture policy and warned of serious consequences that would follow attempts to hold perpetrators accountable.
As it turns out, perpetrators had little to worry about. After changing torture policy, Obama quickly signaled that accountability was off the table and he remained largely silent in face of the barrage of justifications from Cheney and conservative media commentators. This silence allowed Cheney and his supporters to shape the narrative. Since 2009, there have been only a few brief moments—at least within the U.S media–where the torture issue resurfaced, most prominently concerning continuing claims that “enhanced interrogation” was effective in keeping America safe from another terrorist attack. At the very least, the Senate report will provide a refutation of this argument, although the CIA and defenders of the Bush-Cheney program will mount a vigorous counter-attack. The debate over the efficacy of torture is crucial.
2) Torture is a high crime under international and domestic law. Whether or not the Senate report names the crime or recommends legal solutions (not likely; leaks suggest that the report doesn’t even use the word “torture”), the truth of government lawlessness will be laid before the public and will re-energize calls for legal accountability for officials at the top of the political, military and CIA chain of command. Human rights organizations will recall that the legal prohibition of torture as reaffirmed in the UN Convention Against Torture (ratified by the U.S.) permits no exceptions whatsoever.
They will also remind Americans that their government is under legal obligation to investigate and prosecute those who authorized and carried out torture. They will emphasize that failure to assign responsibility for past wrongful acts creates a climate of impunity and that the rule of law means nothing if state crimes are exempted.
3) The Senate torture report will also present an opportunity for commentators to ask critical questions about threats to liberal democracy inherent to a national security state. Already critics are making parallels between the rogue behavior of the CIA and the NSA’s Orwellian, “collect it all” surveillance. The truth is that post-9/11 was not the first time that the security agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, Special Forces, and other components of the secret state) have deliberately disregarded, or have been ordered by a president to disregard, legal and moral restraints. Open government groups are now citing the CIA’s conduct in relation to the Senate committee and its report as exhibit A in their case against unaccountable government agencies and how national security and presidential authority are used to justify the twin abuses of excessive secrecy and evasions of congressional or judicial oversight. Just as Watergate era revelations led to the Church Committee hearings and reforms, the renewal of the torture debate will raise fundamental questions about the dangers of unaccountable security agencies and the requirements for reassertion of democratic control.
4) Most commentators have focused on the substantial partisan differences over the use of torture and the struggle between those who are fighting for the release of the report with few redactions and those who want to bury it. These differences are politically significant. Which side prevails may shape public attitudes toward torture for years to come. However, I want to suggest another dimension. Powerful forces on both sides of the partisan divide want the torture issue to disappear altogether. Many military, security and political elites recognize that U.S. torture, approved at the highest levels of government, created an unsurpassed crisis of legitimacy for the country. Their foremost objective is to restore that legitimacy.
Arguably, this is the principal reason why Obama issued his executive order rejecting torture in 2009 (I believe that McCain would have likely done the same). It is why the new president counseled amnesia about torture and why he refused to initiate criminal investigations or even a commission of inquiry. It is why he has fallen mostly silent about the issue of torture. The U.S. relies on an image that it conducts its wars humanely and in accordance with international law. Brutality and illegality belong to the enemy. Occasionally, however, the brutal and unlawful exercise of state violence becomes public knowledge. The inhumanity of violence “shocks the conscience.” Legitimacy crises follow. For the U.S., the Abu Ghraib photos were a disaster but the disaster kept growing with a cascade of revelations that included documentation of torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and CIA kidnapping, renditions, and torture in secret prisons. The reverberations are still being felt.
In 2014, national security elites in both political parties, including those who disagree about the permissibility of “enhanced interrogation,” are worried that the Senate report will further aggravate the prolonged crisis of legitimacy caused by U.S. torture—a crisis made worse by the government’s refusal to undertake criminal proceedings and support civil suits, and partisan politics resulting in continuing indefinite detention at Guantanamo prison camp and military commission trials that admit torture as evidence. Most Americans are still unfamiliar with the grizzly details of what their government authorized and which high officials did the authorizing. Globally, especially in the Middle East, the report will likely reactivate multiple resentments; and it may reinforce dismay among allies.
National security elites will disagree about the efficacy of torture and other aspects of the report, but they will be united in wanting to forestall public disclosure and critical examination of America’s use of coercive power, past and present. Torture, after all, is not the only inhumane use of state violence; nor is U.S. torture solely an aberration of the Bush-Cheney years. For the national security elite as a whole, the history of state violence is better left buried or forgotten and dissident voices about current inhumane operations ignored. Above all, the use of violence as an instrument of policy must remain unencumbered.
For these reasons, even though the CIA will be rebuked by liberal Democrats and perhaps some legislative reforms will be attempted, calls for accountability will continue to be opposed. For national security elites, the release of the Senate report summary will be treated as the end of the story—time to turn the page to narratives more consistent with the myth of American Exceptionalism. This closure will be opposed by some, especially by those who understand that post-9/11 torture was not a one-off event and that torture shares characteristics with other forms of state violence.
5) If torture is not wrong, nothing is wrong. If torture is not wrong, any degradation of human beings in the name of national security is permitted. The logic of torture not only reflects but also promotes acceptance of a “whatever it takes” paradigm of military power. Once torture is accepted, anything goes.
Yet, the opposite is also possible. It is not a big jump from abhorrence of torture to revulsion to what other forms of military violence do to human beings. If the U.S. adoption of torture has shattered the myth of American humane warfare, other aspects of military policy that contravene that myth may come under greater scrutiny. I do not underestimate the power of nationalist blindness to the suffering of “enemy” others or the misleading language of “precision targeting,” “accidental” civilian casualties and “collateral damage;” but, there are simply too many examples of both global and domestic responses to the inhumane violence of war to be ignored. In fact, threats to legitimacy stemming from that violence, as I have contended, are a principal concern of national security elites.
If a “by any means necessary” paradigm of national power is the problem rather than officials working under “enormous pressure” in a terrorist emergency, the Senate report–in criticizing claims of efficacy and CIA malfeasance—will fall short. Nonetheless, the report will lay bare a core contradiction for any state that relies on violence as an instrument of foreign policy: the clash between an inhumane logic of war that resists moral and legal restraint and humane responses to the terrible consequences of that logic. The best hope for modifying unrestrained violence emerges directly from such a response.
Thus, with the release of the Senate report, human rights and other civic organizations, dissenting journalists, religious organizations, the newly radicalized legal profession, and humane people everywhere have an opportunity to work against the semi-coerced silencing of critical debate not only about torture but also about the link between torture, militarism and all inhumane acts of war.
Rob Crawford is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences University of Washington, Tacoma.
Congress has fled town to avoid voting for or against a new war. Many of the big donors to Congressional campaigns would want Yes votes. Many voters would want No votes, if not immediately, then as soon as the panic induced by the beheading videos wears off, which could be within the next month. Better to just avoid displeasing anyone — other than people who notice you running away.
The standard for legal-ish cosmopolitan respectability in the U.S. now has become getting five kings and dictators to say they are on your side as you start bombing a new country.
But the British Parliament is still at the level of believing an actual vote by a legislature is appropriate. Do Americans remember that their beloved founding fathers put war powers in the hands of the legislature because of the ugly history of royal wars in Britain? Times have changed.
But if we want to actually comply with the law, we have to admit that neither Parliament nor Congress has the power to legalize attacking Syria. This is because both the U.S. and the U.K. are parties to the United Nations Charter, which bans war with very narrow exceptions — exceptions that have not been in any way met.
And if you want to get really serious about laws, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has never been repealed, the U.S. and U.K. are parties to it, and it bans all war without exception.
Now, you can interpret the Kellogg-Briand Pact to allow self-defense because the right to military self-defense, even when it’s unlikely to actually work, is just so obvious to your way of thinking. And the U.N. Charter explicitly allows military self-defense. But here’s the problem: There’s nothing defensive about attacking Syria, and President Obama himself described it as “offense” in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC.
Another word for “offense” is aggression, which the Nuremberg tribunal called “essentially an evil thing . . . the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Asked about Congress’s responsibilities on Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine (D., Va.) claimed that presidents could fight defensive wars without Congress but needed Congressional authorizations for offensive ones. In fact, offensive wars are not legal by any common understanding. Asked, then, about international law, at an event at the Center for American Progress, Kaine reportedly said that bombing Syria, as distinct from Iraq, was “complicated” and that he was not sure “how they would do that, perhaps using principles of self-defense or defending Iraq against other threats. I think we’ll find out more about what the administration says about that after the UN General Assembly,” he said.
Only in America. Only the White House gets to invent legal rationale for blatant crimes, with the law makers and enforcers prepared to accept the rationale before they hear it.
Prior to the U.N. meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote to the U.N. arguing that it is legal for the United States to attack Syria because it is legal for Iraq to defend itself. By this logic, if Canada experienced a violent rebellion, it would be legal for China to attack the United States.
It’s fun to pretend that the rule of law doesn’t matter to you because you have all the weapons. It’s fun to take two-month vacations from Washington. Just don’t count on everyone voting you back next year.
Russia’s President Putin is reported to have said in a conversation a while back that he could be in Kiev in two weeks. In our press, this was reported as yet more evidence of aggressive intentions, but, given even a moment’s thought, that is a patently false interpretation. It is also further evidence, as if more were needed, of the level of desperation American propaganda around events in Ukraine has reached. It is almost as though America’s intelligence/news media alliance started mimicking the almost forgotten Soviet apparatchiks of decades ago.
Yes, undoubtedly, the Russian military could be in Kiev in a couple of weeks. The very fact that they are not only shows what nonsense we hear from America and the coup-installed government in Ukraine. Clearly, Putin’s words were to the effect, “I wouldn’t have to tolerate the mess on our borders in Ukraine if I truly had aggressive intentions. For goodness sakes, use your brains, I could be in Kiev in two weeks.”
This deliberate misinterpretation of a casual statement stands out for me as one of the most pathetic of many pathetic things coming from Western politicians and media. And it is deliberate, for if it were the truth that the intelligence service of a superpower could only interpret statements with such feeble understanding, the world would have entered a new era of extreme danger, with idiots advising the commander who has his finger on the launch button. But I know there’s no genuine danger of that. The interpretation is intended only to shape American public opinion, never very well informed at the best of times. It’s a sound bite not intended to provide real information, just a momentary association of something very negative with the name of Russia’s president, indeed one of a stream of sound bites broadcast recently as though they meant something, as though they were news.
It is a classic method of propaganda, closely related to the technique in advertising of repeating a phrase or slogan or jingle over and over, no matter how silly its actual content is on analysis, and like all the best propaganda, it starts with a truth no matter how insignificant, incompletely reported, and removed from context. But there are two deeply concerning aspects to what otherwise would just be garbage. First, it flows from the writers and editors of what is supposed to be a free and open press, not advertising agencies trying to sell personal hygiene products, and thus demonstrates once more how meaningless is the term, “free and open press.” When the American government has a point to make, even a point that is dishonest or silly, in supporting some ill-conceived and dangerous policy, the entire press instantly enlists to echo it across the land, offering saturation access to the public that could not be bought for millions of dollars. At least in matters of foreign affairs, American journalism does not exist outside the childish fantasies of young journalism students thinking they are going to dig for the truth and serve the right to know once they graduate. You know, the bilge about the press being the fourth branch of government, the tribune of the people, and keeping citizens informed.
But more worrying is why the government or the press in America wishes now to cast aspersions on one of the world’s most important leaders? It has been more than three decades since Russia and the United States were commonly understood as enemies, each capable of obliterating the other. Why would anyone want to look backward to that? And why would anyone deliberately attack a man who has proved himself a sophisticated statesman, one whose words and behaviors show more consistency than those of any of our Western leaders, and especially president Obama who has not spent a day of his time in the White House without killing someone somewhere and surely has matched George Bush for lack of character.
Such cheap propaganda is symptomatic of aggressive intent. I believe the United States’ establishment is starting to feel a new sense of its relative decline in the world, and it is desperate to shore things up by hurting new competitors. The so-called pivot towards China is one of its tactics, and the expansion of NATO right against the face of Russia is another. Both are provocative and risky. And I only wish the world could understand that the United States is not that far from being a de facto bankrupt. It has no money for anything except by the unsound and unethical practice of printing more of it, knowing its special position as a world reserve currency allows it to cheat holders of dollars around the entire planet with their devaluation. And devalue it will, sooner or later, effectively leaving most of the bill for its stupid wars to be paid by others.
Geography and many other factors, such as the distribution of energy and other natural resources, say that Russia and Europe are over the long term destined to be strong, natural economic partners. But the United States has been Europe’s partner – indeed, a good deal more than a mere partner since WWII – and it does not like the prospect of Russia in any way displacing it. It is utterly backward thinking, but we are discussing brains driven by hormones here, not by logic or good will. I recall at an energy conference I attended during the Reagan era meeting a representative from the American State Department whose main message was that we had to stop Russian gas pipelines into Europe. As a believer in people freely buying what they need from others freely selling what they have, I didn’t agree with him and said so, and the people of Europe clearly weren’t convinced because many pipelines exist and many billions of cubic feet of gas flow.
The United States has taken every effort to get some return for its costly investment in a half-failed scheme to destabilize Ukraine, and with each deft move of Russia, it has played the old “look out for the commies” theme, just tarted up a bit so it doesn’t seem laughably out of date. The combination of the expansion of NATO plus scare-mongering about Russia buys some time against what I believe is inevitable. And minds driven only by the hormonal impulse of being dominant – full-spectrum dominance is the grotesque Washington insider expression – are incapable of clearly analyzing a situation, regardless of their intelligence and technology and information resources. And they are certainly not capable of acting on behalf of the great basic principles of rights and freedoms with which they sloppily wallpaper their every public statement. They are blind to the chances they take, to the risks they expose all of us to, and to the damage they create for the happiness and prosperity of millions of people.
America’s elaborate dirty tricks in Ukraine were intended to make Russia considerably less secure. You can almost imagine the buzz-cut thugs at Langley having a good laugh over expense-account steaks and martinis when they first thought they had succeeded, the laughter one expects from sociopathic American frat-boys who’ve just played a very dirty joke on someone, as by drugging some poor girl’s drink at a party and raping her. Perhaps the intentions included a plan ultimately to base missiles in Ukraine near Russia’s border, which would be a tremendously provocative act. Certainly it was hoped that gradually Ukraine would become more western-oriented, although the prospect for a poor country like Ukraine, one with shaky democratic credentials and not a good record in human rights, becoming in our lifetime full members of Europe is simply not in the cards. After all, the U.S. keeps pushing for Israel to become part of major European organizations, but that is too much even for some of America’s yes-men in Europe to accept.
Accusing Russia of looking out for what’s happening on her borders isn’t an accusation, it’s what all states do everywhere. Goodness knows the case of Cuba should provide perspective and food for thought. The United States has needlessly hurt that country for half a century with its embargo, many of the chief traditional products of Cuba having been things to satisfy the American markets, such as sugar and tobacco. But an embargo alone was never enough to secure the desired dominance. The United States invaded Cuba with a proxy army of Cuban refugees it trained, supplied, and paid. It tried to assassinate Cuba’s leader, many, many times, and it periodically sent terrorist forces to blow or shoot up things in Cuba. Ships in ports were shot up, hotels were attacked, and an airliner full of people was bombed. When Cuba asked for the return of America’s base at Guantanamo, a base only leased from Cuba originally under duress, the United States simply refused and still illegally occupies the land half a century later.
Of course, America was quite ready to hurl the world into nuclear war when it discovered that the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba as a way both of protecting its ally against new invasions and as increased leverage in dealing with an often inflexible and aggressive United States. The missiles were provocative, but most thinking people felt they were not adequate cause for nuclear war. Fortunately, President Kennedy was able to stand up against the terrible pressures of the military-intelligence establishment and reach a negotiated settlement with Premier Khrushchev, an act which many believe, including this author, later cost him his life in Dallas. Well, all that gives you just some idea of how America responds to what it considers trouble or meddling, even a hundred miles from its border.
We hear the accusation that Russia arms the rebels in Ukraine, as well as the Assad government in Syria. My answer is that America, which spends as much on its military as all others on the planet combined, is also the world’s largest arms dealer as well as a ready covert supplier to groups anywhere it deems as serving its interests, whether extremist groups, including ISIS, set up to destroy Syria or the Nazi-like groups affiliated with Ukraine’s new government and employed in its coup. America runs a virtual conveyor belt of death machines and munitions to Israel to keep it well supplied in upsetting peace throughout the Mideast and suppressing millions of people it took prisoner half a century ago, a situation which has ranked in my view as the world’s most dangerous until now. A great deal of the aggression and repression of Israel have to do with the fact that their best minds recognize the unfavorable situation into which they are locked: no population growth versus high population growth for Arabs, the most highly subsidized national economy in the world affording poorer prospects for most residents than their native places would, an interminable series of wars and repressions and acts which the world sees as atrocities, early dreams all soured by a sense of no way out, and perhaps a sense of having committed a colossal blunder in starting it all.
So in a very real sense, both America and Israel, unwilling or unable to deal with their tremendous problems in a statesmanlike, realistic, and enduring way, dance a hideous danse macabre, with the entire world forced to watch in fear and horror.
When you compare Europe today to, say, Europe of fifty years ago, something more than a little disturbing becomes apparent. Then, despite the height of the Cold War presumably giving reason for greater solidarity with America, there were many independent voices in Europe. France had a consistently strong and decisive voice, and it was determined not to be subservient to NATO. Britain, today perhaps the worst example of subservience to America in all things, also showed independence at critical points, as when it refused to send troops to the holocaust of Vietnam despite great pressure from President Johnson. Today, there are no independent voices, and despite the clear, long-term interests of Europeans in having good relations with Russia, we see country after country acquiesce to America’s demands for destructive sanctions. Even Holland, a country we think of as fair and tough-minded, issued an interim report on the destruction of Malaysian Airlines’ MH17 which told us nothing we already didn’t know. That was clearly at the insistence of the United States, unwilling to see its proxy government in Ukraine revealed for the violent and incompetent operation that it is. NATO, an obsolete organization by any measure, has been expanded, serving primarily the interest of continued American hegemony in Europe, and America pushes the idea of every member spending more on its military. The United States also has Europeans committing to plainly idiotic purchases, as in buying the F-35, a plane one great American fighter jet designer called the worst ever conceived. The plane cannot ever do what it was supposed to do because it was foolishly commissioned to do a bit of almost everything, and the Pentagon wants as many others chipping in to subsidize the immense cost of salvaging something from the wreck. Perhaps the F-35 is emblematic of a conquered Europe, throwing away money on junk because America expects them to do so.
As we speak, Chuck Schumer is probably yelling into a phone trying to get President Obama to nominate Wall Street’s US Attorney Preet Bharara to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. “Barahck,” Schumer is probably yelling, “I can get Mitch to agree to push Preet through in the Lame Duck.”
That’s because Holder has just announced his resignation, pending confirmation of his successor.
The three most interesting details in Carrie Johnson’s scoop on Holder’s resignation are that he is likely to return to Covington and Burling, where — like former Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer before him — he will represent banks as they craft sweetheart deals with DOJ.
Friends and former colleagues say Holder has made no decisions about his next professional perch, but they say it would be no surprise if he returned to the law firm Covington & Burling, where he spent years representing corporate clients.
Nice to know a guy can still profit off of 6 years of overlooking rampant bank crime.
Johnson also reported that Holder plans to push through racial profiling guidelines that will protect African Americans but not Muslims.
Long-awaited racial profiling guidelines for federal agents will be released soon, too. Those guidelines will make clear that sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion are not legitimate bases for law enforcement suspicion, but controversial mapping of certain communities — including Muslim Americans — would still be allowed for national security investigations, one of the sources said.
That will soil the one real bright spot of Holder’s tenure at DOJ, his fight for civil rights.
Finally, Johnson reported that Don Verrilli — the guy who seemed to, but did not quite — lose the ObamaCare fight is the leading candidate to replace Holder.
The sources say a leading candidate for that job is Solicitor General Don Verrilli, the administration’s top representative to the Supreme Court and a lawyer whose judgment and discretion are prized in both DOJ and the White House.
By “judgement and discretion,” I wonder whether Johnson’s sources are referring to Verrilli’s stubbornness in not correcting the lies he told SCOTUS (wittingly or unwittingly) about DOJ’s implementation of FISA Amendments Act in the Amnesty v. Clapper case. By claiming, falsely, that DOJ gives defendants notice that they’ve been caught using Section 702, Verrilli successfully beat back the Justices’ concerns that no one would ever have standing to challenge these laws.
For what it’s worth, I think people are vastly overestimating the time it will take to replace Holder. After all, Republicans are on the record that they believe Holder to be contemptuous of Congress. While the House GOP that is suing him don’t actually get a vote on his replacement, surely they’ll convince their proxy Ted Cruz to represent their contempt.
Thus, for the right candidate, I suspect confirmation will happen quickly, just as Caroline Krass got confirmed in a landslide when the costs of leaving Robert Eatinger — who referred CIA’s overseers to DOJ for investigation — in place as Acting CIA General Counsel became clear.
I’m just not convinced Verrilli is that guy. And while Preet did lead the investigation into Alberto Gonzales’ politicization of the US Attorneys when he worked for Schumer, surely the GOP cares more about his diligent efforts to not investigate the banks in the interim.
Produced by Rinaldo Francesca.
For a full transcript with links please visit:
Music by Kevin McLeod, available at http://incompetech.com/
This US-engineered Coalition is in for some surprises. With few common goals, it has thrust itself into battle against the most determined players in the region and beyond.
The airwaves are still heaving with spin two days after US airstrikes against Syria.
Undoubtedly the attacks were timed to occur on the eve of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, so ‘Coalition’ partners could cluster behind the decision to bomb a sovereign state, uninvited.
The irony, of course, is that they are doing so at the UN – the global political body that pledges to uphold international law, peace and stability, and the sanctity of the nation-state unit.
The goal this week will be to keep the ‘momentum’ on a ‘narrative’ until it sinks in.
On day one, heads of state from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the UK and France were paraded onto the podium to drum in the urgency of American strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra and other militant groups inside Syria.
Every American official – past and present – in the White House rolodex was hooked up to a microphone to deliver canned sound bites and drive home those ‘messages.’ In between, video-game-quality footage of US strikes hitting their targets was aired on the hour; clips of sleek fighter jets refueling midair and the lone Arab female fighter pilot were dropped calculatingly into social media networks.
The global crew of journalists that descends annually on the UN for this star-studded political event, enthused over US President Barak Obama’s ability to forge a coalition that included five Arab Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE.
Few mentioned that these partners are a mere fig leaf for Obama, providing his Syria campaign with Arab and Muslim legitimacy where he otherwise would have none. Not that any of these five monarchies enjoy ‘legitimacy’ in their own kingdoms – kings and emirs aren’t elected after all – and two of these Wahhabi states are directly responsible for the growth and proliferation of the Wahhabi-style extremism targeted by US missiles.
Even fewer spent time dissecting the legality of US attacks on Syria or on details of the US ‘mission’ – as in, “what next?”
But with a mission this crippled at the outset, it didn’t take long for an alternative view to peek through the thick media fog.
On the ground in Syria, dead civilians – some of them children killed by US bombs – muddied the perfect script. Confused Syrian rebels – many who had called for foreign intervention to help crush the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – demanded to know how these airstrikes were meant to help them.
Sunni Arabs would be radicalized by these strikes, they warned, as ideologically sympathetic citizens of the Arab coalition states took to their information channels and swore revenge for airstrikes against ISIL and al-Nusra.
The Syrian government, for the most part, remained mute – whether to save face or because they could ‘smell’ the gains coming. Contrary to Washington’s prevailing narrative, privately the story was that the US had informed the Assad government of both the timing and targets of the attacks in advance.
Sources say that the US even provided ‘guarantees’ that no Syrian military or government interests would be targeted. A Reuters exclusive claiming that the US went so far as to provide assurances to Iran, suggests this version is closer to the truth. When US airstrikes against Syria were on the table a year ago, the various parties went through a similar game of footsies. Last September, the Americans backed off – allegedly because of communications from their adversaries that even a single US missile would trigger a warfront against Israel. This time, Washington needed to know that scenario was not going to be activated, and this week they offered the necessary guarantees to ensure it.
Although the Russians and Iranians have publicly lashed out at the illegality of US strikes, they do not seem too worried. Both know – like the Syrian government – that these air attacks could be a net gain for their ‘Axis.’
Firstly, the United States is now doing some useful heavy-lifting for Assad, at no real cost to him. The Syrian armed forces have spent little time on the ISIL threat because their focus has traditionally been on protecting their interests in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Hama – and the countryside in these areas – as well as towns and cities around the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. That changed when ISIL staged successful attacks on Mosul and created new geopolitical urgency for Assad’s allies – which triggered some major Syrian strikes against ISIL targets.
But to continue along this path, the Syrians would have to divert energy and resources from key battles, and so the American strikes have provided a convenient solution for the time being.
Secondly, the Syrians have spent three years unsuccessfully pushing their narrative that the terrorism threat they face internally is going to become a regional and global problem. The US campaign is a Godsend in this respect – Obama has managed to get the whole world singing from the same hymn sheet in just two months, including, and this is important, the three states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – most instrumental in financing, weaponizing and assisting ISIL and other extremist militias inside Syria.
Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and a host of like-minded emerging powers are pleased about this new laser focus on jihadi terror and for the accompanying resource shift to address the problem.
Thirdly, the US has now been placed in the hot seat and will be expected to match words with action. For three years, Washington has overlooked and even encouraged illegal and dangerous behaviors from its regional Sunni allies – all in service of defeating Assad. With all eyes on America and expectations that Obama will fail in his War on Terror just like his predecessors, the US is going to have to pull some impressive tricks from its sleeves.
Ideally, these would include the shutting down of key border crossings (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon); punishing financiers of terror and inhibiting the flow of funds and assistance from Washington’s regional allies; cutting off key revenue streams; tightening immigration policies to stem the flow of foreign fighters; disrupting communications networks of targeted terrorist groups; broader intelligence sharing with all regional players; and empowering existing armies and allied militias inside the ‘chaos zone’ to lead and execute ground operations.
Thus far, there are signs that some of these things are already happening, with possibly more to come.
Now for the fun part. The Syrians, Iranians and Russians do not fundamentally trust Washington or its intentions. The suspicion is that the US is on another one of its regime-change missions, displaying its usual rogue-state behavior by violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state under false pretenses, and that it will shortly revert to targeting the Syrian government.
While they can see clear gains from the current level of US intervention – as distasteful as they find it – they are watching carefully as events unfold.
If there is the slightest deviation from the ‘guarantees’ provided by the US, this trio has plenty of room to maneuver. Iran, for one, has dallied with the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan and they know how to cause some pain where it counts. The Russians, for that matter, have many playgrounds in which to thwart US ambitions – most urgently in Ukraine and in Afghanistan, from which the US hopes to withdraw billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment by the end of 2014.
All understand that Washington has just assumed a risky public posture and that many, many things can go wrong. The Sunni Arab fig leaf can disappear in a nano-second if domestic pressures mount or revenge attacks take place internally. Information could leak about continued assistance to terrorist militias from one or more of its coalition partners – a huge embarrassment for Washington and its wobbly Coalition. ISIL will almost certainly act against coalition partner soft-targets, like carrying out further kidnappings and executions. Continued airstrikes will almost definitely result in a growing civilian casualty count, turning those ‘hearts and minds’ to stone. Syrian rebels could swiftly turn against the US intervention and radicalize further. Massive displacement caused by airstrikes could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And as in all other past US military War-on-Terror adventures, terrorism could thrive and proliferate in quantum leaps.
As Moscow-based political analyst Vladimir Frolov noted to the Washington Post : “The United States has underestimated the complexity of the situation before, so let’s just wait until they run into problems.”
The idea that US military engagement could continue for the long-term is unlikely given the myriad things that can go wrong fast. Obama is going to be reluctant to have his last two years in office defined by the hazardous Syrian conflict – after all, he was to be the president who extracted America from unessential wars.
But the most compelling reason that this Coalition will not pass the first hurdle is that its key members have entirely different ambitions and strategic targets.
Over a decade ago, these US-engineered coalitions were wealthier, less-burdened and shared common goals. Today, many of the coalition members face domestic economic and political uncertainties – and several states are directly responsible for giving rise to ISIL. How can the Coalition fight ISIL and support it, all at once?
What’s missing is a formula, a strategy, a unified worldview that can be equally as determined as the ideological adversary it faces.
Down the road, we will discover that the only coalition able and willing to fight extremism does indeed come from inside the region, but importantly, from within the conflict zone itself: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. For starters, they are utterly vested in the outcome of their efforts – and would lead with political solutions alongside military ones. Those elusive boots-on-the-ground that everyone is seeking? They live it. Pit that group against Obama’s Coalition-of-the-Clueless any day and you know which side would win handily.
The question is, can this Coalition stomach a solution it is working so hard to avoid? Will it partner with vital regional players that were foes only a few months ago? It is doubtful. That would require a worldview shift that Washington is still too irrational to embrace.
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The White House’s relationship with the press is once again under fire upon publication this week of a Washington Post article containing allegations that administration staffers have censored and stifled the work of pool reporters.
Paul Farhl wrote for the Post on Tuesday this week that several journalists who have covered the administration of United States President Barack Obama as pool reporters for various papers and news services have experienced hardships firsthand with regards to getting the White House to approve their pieces ahead of distribution.
Although the White House regularly takes questions during the media briefings scheduled during most business days with press secretary Josh Earnest, a select group of journalists — pool reporters — are rotated into a smaller subset of writers who receive the privilege of attending events with Pres. Obama where access is otherwise largely restricted. Those pool reports are then circulated among thousands of recipients ranging from news outlets and agencies to congressional offices, Farhl wrote, but not before first being vetted by White House staffers ahead of release.
According to Farhl, pool journalists have been told by the White House to hold off on presenting information to the public that thusly goes unreported, raising new concerns about an administration that has already come under attack for its relationship with the press, as with a campaign last year that sought to ensure that photographers other than the official Obama-sanctioned shutterbug are offered access to the president.
Last November, a coalition of outlets including McClatchy newspapers and USA Today wrote the White House to say that they would not publish any images issued by the executive branch after their own photojournalists were finding themselves increasingly shunned from official events where Obama’s official photography team only was allowed to shoot.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” reads part of a letter sent to the White House at the time by the Associated Press, ABC News, the Washington Post and others.
Now according to the latest allegations to come from the Post, pool writers are also being stifled — not because they’re being barred from events, but rather as a result of the White House’s habit of saying what can and cannot be circulated among the thousands of recipients who receive those reports once their vetted.
One of those journalists — Anita Kumar of McClatchy — told Farhl that she reluctantly complied with the White House last year when she was told that her pool report concerning the president’s appearance on The Tonight Show television program was too long and needed to be trimmed.
“The worry is that when you send in a pool report, the White House is reading it and approving it,” she said.
In other instances cited by the Post, pool reporters were told on one occasion to nix a remark Pres. Obama made to a reporter about wanting to win re-election, and during another time were asked to erase references to a White House intern who fainted during a press briefing this past summer. During that ordeal, Farhl reported, the journalist and her editor complained to the White House that censoring that information wouldn’t be necessary since the intern was never named, and Josh Earnest — the president’s current press secretary — eventually allowed it.
“I don’t know why the White House tries to be an editor or middleman,” the reporter, Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post, told Farhl. “They’re just supposed to hit ‘forward’ ” to send the pool reports out.
According to Alexis Simendinger — who has written pool accounts going back two decades — the reach that pool reports have today thanks to the internet have likely left the White House wanting to more carefully keep information under their control lest it otherwise be unleashed on thousands of outlets and offices.
“It used to be a small and clubby readership,” she said of the pool reports. “Now it’s enormous. That has made each White House progressively more sensitive.”
Earnest, Farhl said, declined to comment for this week’s Washington Post piece. Deputy press secretary Eric Schultz did provide a statement, however, saying: “We value the role of the independent press pool, which provides timely, extensive, and important coverage of the president and his activities while at the White House and around the world. That is why, at the request of the White House Correspondents Association, the White House has distributed 20,000 pool reports in the past six years, and we will continue to offer that facilitation for journalists as they work to chronicle the presidency.”
Regardless of their response, the latest allegations concerning the White House’s workings with the press are only the most recent to cause concern among free press advocates — and last year’s ordeal with official photographers was hardly the first.
The Obama administration has routinely come under fire from activists who oppose of the president’s use of the World War One-era Espionage Act to time and time again prosecute individuals suspected of leaking information to the media, including most recently former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Furthermore, AP reporter Sally Buzbee wrote only last week that the Obama administration is routinely keeping information from escaping the White House and raised her own concerns about the office’s efforts.
“The public can’t see any of it,” Buzbee said of Washington’s latest military campaigns.“News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off – there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the [US] bombers fly from.”
The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression awarded both the White House Press Office and the US Department of Justice in April with its annual “Jefferson Muzzle” distinction for abridgments of free speech, and a 29-page report published by the Center to Protect Journalists last October determined that “Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press.” According to the group Reporters Without Borders, the US has dropped 13 places from 2013 to 2014 with respect to freedom of the press.
The Obama administration has devised an extraordinary legal justification for carrying out bombing attacks inside Syria – that the United States and its Persian Gulf allies have the right to defend Iraq against the Islamic State because the Syrian government is unable to stop the cross-border terror group.
“The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself,” said the U.S. letter delivered by Ambassador Samantha Power to United Nations officials. “Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL [Islamic State] threat to Iraq, including by protecting Iraqi citizens from further attacks and by enabling Iraqi forces to regain control of Iraq’s borders.”
Yet, beyond the danger to world order if such an expansive theory is embraced by the international community (does anyone remember how World War One got started?), there is the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and many of those same Gulf allies arming, training and funding Syrian rebels for the purpose of preventing the Syrian military from controlling its territory and then citing that lack of control as the rationale to ignore Syria’s sovereignty.
In other words, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other enemies of Syria covertly backed the rebels inside Syria and watched as many of them – including thousands of the U.S.-preferred “moderates” – took their newly acquired military skills to al-Qaeda affiliates and other terrorist organizations. Then, the U.S. and its allies have the audacity to point to the existence of those terror groups inside Syria as a rationale for flying bombing raids into Syria.
Another alarming part of the U.S. legal theory is that among this new “coalition of the willing” – the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan – only Jordan shares a border with Syria. So, this novel principle would mean that distant countries have the right to destabilize a country from afar and then claim the destabilization justifies mounting military attacks inside that country.
Such a theory – if accepted as a new standard of behavior – could wreak havoc on international order which is based on the principle of national sovereignty. The U.S. theory also stands in marked contrast to Washington’s pious embrace of strict readings of international law when denouncing Russia just this summer for trying to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from brutal assaults by the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev.
In Ukraine, the Obama administration rejected any and all mitigating circumstances, such as the overthrow of an elected president and the coup regime’s use of artillery, airstrikes and even neo-Nazi militias to suppress eastern Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population. In the Ukraine case, the Obama administration insisted that national sovereignty was inviolable despite the fact that the Feb. 22 coup had violated Ukraine’s constitutional order and had produced a human rights disaster.
An entirely different set of rules were applied to Syria, where President Barack Obama decided that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and where Obama authorized the CIA to provide arms, training and money for supposedly “moderate” rebels. Other U.S. “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, supported some of the more extreme anti-Assad groups.
Israel’s right-wing Likud government also was eager for “regime change” in Syria as were America’s influential neoconservatives who saw Assad’s overthrow as a continuation of their strategy of removing Middle East leaders regarded as hostile to Israel. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the first on the list with Syria and Iran to follow. In those cases, the application of international law was entirely optional.
Before President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government came up with another convenient argument, claiming the war was an act of American self-defense because otherwise Hussein might give his “weapons of mass destruction” to al-Qaeda for use against U.S. targets. As it turned out, Hussein had no WMDs and was a bitter enemy of al-Qaeda, which didn’t exist in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion.
The overthrow and subsequent execution of Hussein turned Iraq into a cauldron of bloody chaos, pitting Shiites against Sunnis and creating a fertile environment for a group of brutal Sunni extremists who took the name “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
But Official Washington is slow to learn lessons. In 2011, the Obama administration’s “liberal interventionists” threw their weight behind a Sunni-led uprising to oust Assad, who runs a harsh but largely secular government with key support from Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other minorities who feared Sunni extremism.
As with Iraq, Syria’s sectarian violence drew in many Sunni extremists, including jihadists associated with al-Qaeda, particularly the Nusra Front but also “al-Qaeda in Iraq” which rebranded itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or simply the Islamic State. Eventually, al-Qaeda leaders rejected the Islamic State because it had become a rival of the Nusra Front and because its brutality was too graphic even for al-Qaeda.
Despite the growing radicalism of Syrian rebels, Official Washington’s influential neocons and the “liberal interventionists” continued the drumbeat for ousting Assad, a position also shared by Israeli leaders who went so far as to indicate they would prefer Damascus to fall to al-Qaeda extremists rather than have Iranian ally Assad retain control. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Israel Sides with Syrian Jihadists.”]
Whenever there was a chance to push Obama into ordering a U.S. military assault on Assad’s government, “the Assad-must-go crowd” pressed the argument. For instance, a still-mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, was immediately blamed on Assad’s forces. The neocons and the ”liberal interventionists” demanded an air war to punish the Syrian government – and possibly open the way for a rebel victory.
This pressure on Obama mounted despite strong doubts within the U.S. intelligence community that Assad’s forces were responsible. Some evidence pointed to rebel extremists trying to create a provocation to bring the U.S. military into the war on their side.
Partly because of those doubts, President Obama backed away from a military strike at the last minute and accepted a compromise arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin to get Assad to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal. Since then, additional evidence has emerged raising doubts about the government’s complicity and pointing more toward the rebels. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]
Nevertheless, much of the mainstream U.S. news media, including the foreign-page editors of the New York Times who have increasingly fallen under the spell of neocon ideology, have taken to citing the Syrian government’s guilt for the Sarin gas attack as flat fact, rather than a point in serious dispute. It seems no journalism standards need apply when demonized figures, such as Assad or Putin, are facing accusations.
Yet, with al-Qaeda-connected terrorists controlling part of the Israeli border along the Golan Heights, the Israeli government began to reverse its position on demanding Assad’s removal. As the Israeli investigative Web site, Debka Files, reported on Sept. 9, citing military and intelligence sources:
“The Israeli government has radically changed tack on Syria, reversing a policy and military strategy that were long geared to opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad … This reversal has come about in the light of the growing preponderance of radical Islamists in the Syrian rebel force fighting Assad’s army in the Quneitra area since June. Al Qaeda’s Syrian Nusra front … is estimated to account by now for 40-50 percent – or roughly, 4,000-5,000 Islamists – of the rebel force deployed just across Israel’s Golan border. …
“Nusra Front jihadis fighting alongside insurgents on the various Syrian battlefronts made a practice of surreptitiously infiltrating their non-Islamist brothers-at-arms, a process which the latter’s foreign allies, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, either ignored or were unaware of. These tactics began to pay off in the past month, when large numbers of moderate rebels suddenly knocked on the Nusra Front’s door and asked to join.”
I have confirmed this Israeli shift with my own sourcing. But it’s unclear whether Israel’s change of heart will cause any second thoughts among U.S. neocons who typically conform their policy recommendations to Israeli interests. However, on the Syrian case, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” friends might be too dug in on ousting Assad to adjust.
Indeed, all of Official Washington seems incapable of admitting that its wishful thinking about Syrian “moderates” may have caused another major strategic error in the Mideast. The unrealistic “group think” about “moderates” contributed to a power vacuum in Syria that has pulled in some of the most vicious Islamic extremists on earth and turned parts of Syria into a new base of operation for international terrorism.
For his part, President Obama recognized the folly of training Syrian “moderates” – just last month he dismissed the notion as a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy – but he nevertheless resurrected it last week as a key part of his new Syrian initiative. He won solid congressional majorities in support of spending some $500 million on the training scheme.
The most charitable view of Obama’s strange flip-flop is that he feared being accused of aiding Assad if the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State indirectly strengthened Assad’s hold on Damascus. So, Obama tacked on what he knew to be a useless appendage, a tough-sounding plan to “ramp up” the “moderate” rebel forces.
Similarly, Obama’s harsh rhetoric about refusing to coordinate the airstrikes with the Syrian government may be more a concession to the sensibilities of the neocons and the “liberal interventionists” than a reality.
I was told last week that U.S. intelligence had used Russian government go-betweens to clear the airstrikes with the Syrian government which gave quiet permission for the bombing campaign in parts of Syria. I was further told on Monday that U.S. military officials and their Syrian counterparts have met face-to-face to ensure that the U.S.-led airstrikes would encounter no Syrian air defenses.
That tacit approval from the Syrian government could be a sound legal basis for the airstrikes, much as other governments, such as Yemen and Pakistan, have tolerated or even encouraged U.S. air attacks on domestic enemies associated with al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
Yet, Obama may find it politically impossible to state the truth – that a “realist” approach to foreign affairs sometimes requires working with disreputable governments. So, instead of simply saying that Syria has no objection to these bombing raids, Obama has invented a dangerous new legal theory to justify the violation of a country’s sovereignty.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The ever-shrinking “left” wing of the Congressional Black Caucus crumbled last week, an early casualty of the new phase of President Obama’s three-year war for regime in change in Syria. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, to which 24 of the Black lawmakers belong, also failed to rally against a Democratic president’s war plans.
The lop-sided House vote was not on whether to authorize Obama to launch attacks against targets in Syria; the White House claims the president is acting within his powers as commander-in-chief, and needs no OK from the Congress. Instead, the administration sought a general demonstration of approval for Obama’s scheme to train and arm so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. A vote on the $500 million price tag comes later, after the November elections.
In essence, Obama was asking for a do-over, to fix his previous policies in Syria. The United States and its Arab, Turkish, European and, reportedly, Israeli allies have, in fact, been arming and training rebels to bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad since at least 2011. They have failed, despite having spent mountains of money to subsidize a kaleidoscope of armed groups, each vying for Islamic fundamentalist authenticity and the privilege to slaughter Shiites, Christians, secularists, apostate Sunni Muslims and backsliders of all kinds. It also turned out – to the administration’s apparent surprise – that these jihadists don’t see themselves as mere foot soldiers under an American chain of command. In fact, the best fighters think of the United States as the “Great Satan” – an opinion widely shared in that part of the world. With the rise of the head-chopping champions of ISIS, Obama had no choice but to ask Congress to give him another chance to scour the region in search of that most elusive of men, the “moderate” Syrian rebel, and turn him into a killing machine that can defeat both the Syrian government and ISIS.
Blank Check for Expanded War
Back in 2006, after three years of failure in Iraq, George W. Bush agreed to a timetable for withdrawal from that country. He had little choice, because the Congress was in no mood to continue his war. But last week President Obama, by a vote of 273 to 156, was allowed a second throw of the dice in what may turn out to be an even larger war in Syria and Iraq and who knows where else. The reason that Obama’s wars have such longer shelf-life, is that Democrats will not oppose him, including such luminaries of the Caucus left wing as John Conyers and Maxine Waters, who were among the 23 Black members who gave the president a blank check, last week.
Barbara Lee, the California congresswoman who joined 16 other Black lawmakers in opposing Obama’s new-and-improved war in the Middle East, said, on the House floor: “The consequences of this vote, whether it’s written in the amendment or not, will be a further expansion of a war currently taking place and our further involvement in a sectarian war.” There is also another consequence: the total discrediting of a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have abandoned the historical Black consensus on social justice and peace.
Below is a breakdown of the CBC vote on September 17 on arming and training Syrian rebels.
- Karen Bass (CA)
- Joyce Beatty (OH)
- Sanford Bishop (GA)
- Corrine Brown (FL)
- G. K. Butterfield (NC)
- Andre Carson (IN)
- William Lacy Clay (MO)
- James Clyburn (SC)
- John Conyers, Jr. (MI)
- Keith Ellison (MN)
- Chaka Fattah (PA)
- Al Green (TX)
- Steven Horsford (NV)
- Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)
- Hank Johnson (GA)
- Gregory Meeks (NY)
- Cedric Richmond (LA)
- Robert Scott (VA)
- David Scott (GA)
- Terri Sewell (AL)
- Marc Veasey (TX)
- Maxine Waters (CA)
- Frederica Wilson (FL)
- Yvette Clarke (NY)
- Emanuel Cleaver (MO)
- Elijah Cummings (MD)
- Danny Davis (IL)
- Donna Edwards (MD)
- Marcia Fudge (OH)
- Alcee Hastings (FL)
- Hakeem Jeffries (NY)
- Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)
- Robin Kelly (IL)
- Barbara Lee (CA)
- John Lewis (GA)
- Gwen Moore (WI)
- Donald Payne Jr. (NJ)
- Charles Rangel (NY)
- Bobby Rush (IL)
- Bennie Thompson (MS)
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
The Obama administration has been far less aggressive about pursuing criminal prosecutions of environmental crimes than the George W. Bush administration, according to Justice Department figures.
Last year, there were 449 prosecutions for environmental crimes. That’s less than half the 927 prosecutions initiated in 2007, toward the end of the Bush administration. And the trend line is falling; there were 271 prosecutions in the first nine months of this fiscal year. If cases are filed at the current rate, that would result in only 361 for 2014, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Any violation of environmental laws can result in a criminal prosecution, but according to Graham Kates at The Crime Report, only one-half of one percent do. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they’re focusing on big cases, but fiscal considerations also play a part in deciding how many cases to prosecute. “The reality of budget cuts and staffing reductions make hard choices necessary across the board,” EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi told The Crime Report.
Criminal prosecutions, particularly of large corporations, are simply more difficult. Corporations hire teams of lawyers to fight prosecutors every step of the way and watch closely for government missteps that can give grounds for appeal, dragging out the case for years.
“I think a criminal prosecution will be defended much harder, corporations will take that very seriously, and investors take that very seriously,” Mark Roberts, an attorney and international policy advisor with the Environmental Investigation Agency, told The Crime Report. “If you’re in that tiny percentage that gets charged criminally, you want to win.”
A former EPA criminal investigator pointed out the effort involved in prosecuting a big company: “The typical corporate case can take two to three and a half years. But if you have ‘Joe Schlock the barrel hauler,’ you catch him red-handed and you’re out in two months,” David Wilma said.
Polluters aren’t even the biggest target of environmental prosecutions. Illegally taking fish and wildlife and illegal possession of migratory birds are the top two lead charges in the TRAC database. Water pollution is third and air pollution, ninth.
To Learn More:
Environment Prosecutions Decline Under Obama (TRAC Reports)
The Environmental Prosecution Gap (by Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest)
Environmental Crime: The Prosecution Gap (by Graham Kates, Crime Report)
When Companies Break Environmental Laws, Why are Responsible Individuals not Prosecuted? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)