Britain systematically destroyed documents in colonies that were about to gain independence, declassified Foreign Office files reveal. ‘Operation Legacy’ saw sensitive documents secretly burnt or dumped to cover up traces of British activities.
The latest National Archives publication made from a collection of 8,800 colonial-era files held by the Foreign Office for decades revealed deliberate document elimination by British authorities in former colonies.
The secret program dubbed ‘Operation Legacy’ was in force throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in at least 23 countries and territories under British rule that eventually gained independence after WWII. Among others these countries included: Belize, British Guiana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore, Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanzania, and Uganda.
In a telegram from the UK Colonial Office dispatched to British embassies on May 3, 1961, colonial secretary Iain Macleod instructed diplomats to withhold official documents from newly elected independent governments in those countries, and presented general guidance on what to do.
British diplomats were briefed on how exactly they were supposed to get rid of documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” or “might compromise sources of intelligence”, or could be put to ‘wrong’ use by incoming national authorities.
‘Operation Legacy’ also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias”.
The newly declassified files revealed that the Royal Navy base in Singapore was turned into the Asian region’s primary document destruction center. A special facility called a “splendid incinerator” was used to burn “lorry loads of files”, Agence France-Presse reported.
The “central incinerator” in Singapore was necessary to avoid a situation similar to that in India in 1947, when a “pall of smoke” from British officials burning their papers in Delhi, ahead of India proclaiming independence, filled the local press with critical reports. That diplomatic oversight was taken into account, as ‘Operation Legacy’ operatives were strictly instructed not to burn documents openly.
But not all the doomed archives could be shipped to Singapore. In some cases documents were eliminated on site, sometimes being dumped in the sea “at the maximum practicable distance from shore” and in deep, current-free areas, the National Archives publication claims.
The newly published collection of documents reveals that the British cleared out Kenyan intelligence files that contained information about abuse and torture of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s. A special committee formed in 1961 coordinated document elimination in Kenya. Yet some files were spared simply when an estimated 307 boxes of documents were evacuated to Britain, just months ahead of the country gaining independence in December 1963.
The existence of some remaining Mau Mau legal case documents was revealed in January 2011.
Even after eliminating important evidence half a century ago, earlier in 2013 the British government was forced to pay 23 million dollars in compensation to over 5,200 elderly Kenyans, who had suffered from Britain’s punitive measures during the Mau Mau uprising.
In another documented occasion, in April 1957, five lorries delivered tons of documents from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to the Royal Navy base in Singapore. Files were incinerated there; these contained details about British rule in Malaya, such as a massacre of 24 rubber plantation workers at the Malayan village of Batang Kali in 1948, who had allegedly been murdered by British soldiers.
Despite the mass document elimination, Britain’s Foreign Office still has some 1.2 million unpublished documents on British colonial policy, David Anderson, professor of African history at the University of Warwick, told AFP.
So Her Majesty’s government might still publish more valuable material that can shed more light on how one of the biggest empires in human history used to be governed. Overall, Britain had total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule, though most of them are self-governing and all have leaderships of their own.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “the world’s most influential Jew”, Bernard Henri Levy is number 45, according to an article published in the Israeli rightwing newspaper the Jerusalem Post, on May 21, 2010.
Levy, per the Post’s standards, came only two spots behind Irving Moskowitz, a “Florida-based tycoon (who) is considered the leading supporter of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and hands out a prize for Zionism to settler leaders.”
To claim that at best Levy is an intellectual fraud is to miss a clear logic that seems to unite much of the man’s activities, work and writings. He seems to be obsessed with ‘liberating’ Muslims from Bosnia to Pakistan, to Libya and elsewhere. However, it is not the kind that one could qualify as a healthy obsession, stemming from for instance, overt love and fascination of their religion, culture and myriad ways of life. It is unhealthy obsession. Throughout his oddly defined career, he has done so much harm, as he at times served the role of lackey for those in power, and at others, seemed to lead his own crusades. He is a big fan of military intervention, and his profile is dotted with references to Muslim countries and military intervention from Afghanistan to Sudan … and finally to Libya.
Writing in the New York Magazine on Dec 26, 2011, Benjamin Wallace-Wells spoke of the French ‘philosopher’ as if he were referencing a messiah that was not afraid to promote violence for the greater good of mankind. In “European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator,” Wallace-Wells wrote of the “philosopher (who) managed to goad the world into vanquishing an evil villain.” The ‘evil villain’ in question is, of course, Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader who was ousted and brutally murdered after reportedly being sodomized by rebels following his capture in October 2011. The detailed analysis by Global Post of the sexual assault of the leader of one of Africa’s most prominent countries was published in CBS news and other media. Cases of rape have sharply increased in Libya as 1,700 militia (per BBC estimation) groups now operate in that shattered Arab country.
Levy, who at times appeared to be the West’s most visible war-on-Libya advocate, has largely disappeared from view within the Libyan context. He is perhaps off stirring trouble in some other place in the name of his dubious philosophy. His mission in Libya, which is now in a much worse state than it has ever reached during the reign of Qaddafi, has been accomplished. ‘The evil dictator’ has been defeated, and that’s that. Never mind that the country is now divided between tribes and militias, and that the ‘post-democracy’ Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was recently kidnapped by one unruly militia to be freed by another.
In March 2011, Levy took it upon himself to fly to Benghazi to ‘engage’ Libya’s insurgents. It was a defining moment, for it was that type of mediation that empowered armed groups to transform a regional uprising into an all-out war involving NATO. Armed with what was a willful misinterpretation of UN resolution 1973, of March 17, 2011, NATO led a major military offensive on a country armed with primitive air-defensives and a poorly equipped army. Western countries channeled massive shipments of weapons to Libyan groups in the name of preventing massacres allegedly about to be carried out by Qaddafi’s loyalists. Massacres were indeed carried out but not in the way western ‘humanitarian interventionists’ suggested. The last of which was merely days ago (Nov 15) when 31 people were reportedly killed and 235 were wounded as trigger happy militiamen opened fire on peaceful protesters in Tripoli that were simply demanding Misrata militants leave their city.
These are the very people that Levy and his ilk spent numerous hours lobbying in support of. One of Levy’s greatest achievements in Libya was to muster international recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC). France and other countries lead a campaign to promote the NTC as an alternative to Qaddafi’s state institution, which NATO had systematically destroyed.
In his New York Magazine interview, Levy was quoted as saying “sometimes you are inhabited by intuitions that are not clear to you.” The statement was sourced in reference to the supposed epiphany the ‘philosopher’ had on Feb 23, 2011, watching TV images of Qaddafi’s forces threatening to drown Benghazi with ‘rivers of blood.’
Far from unclear intuitions, Levy’s agenda is that of the calculated politician-ideologue, more like a French version of the US’s neoconservatives who packaged their country’s devastating war on Iraq with all sorts of moral, philosophical and other fraudulent reasoning. For them, it was first and foremost a war for Israel’s ‘security’, with supposed other practical perks, little of which has actualized. Levy’s legacy is indeed loaded with unmistakable references to that same agenda.
Israel’s right-wingers are fascinated with Levy. The Post’s celebration of his global influence was summed up in this quote: “A French philosopher and one of the leaders of the Nouvelle Philosophie movement who said that Jews ought to provide a unique moral voice in the world.” But morality has nothing to do with it. The man’s philosophical exploits seem to exclusively target Muslims and their cultures. “The veil is an invitation to rape”, he told the Jewish Chronicle in 2006.
Philosophy for Levy seems to be perfectly tailored to fit a political agenda promoting military interventions. His advocacy helped destroy Libya, but still didn’t stop him from writing a book on Libya’s ‘spring.’ He spoke of the veil as an invitation for rape, while saying nothing of the numerous cases of rape reported in Libya after the NATO war. In May 2011, he was one of few people who defended IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, when the latter was accused of raping a chambermaid in New York City. It was a ‘conspiracy’ he said, in which the maid was taking part.
One could perhaps understand Levy’s hate for dictators and war criminals; after all, Qaddafi was no human rights champion. But Levy is no philosopher. A fundamental element of any genuine philosophy is moral consistency. Levy has none. A week after the Jerusalem Post celebrated Levy’s world influence, the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote of his support of the Israeli army.
“Bernard Henri Levy: I have never seen an army as democratic as the IDF” was the title of an article on May 30, 2010, reporting on the “Democracy and Its Challenges” Conference in Tel Aviv. “I have never seen such a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions. There is something unusually vital about Israeli democracy.” Considering the wars and massacres conducted by the Israeli army against Gaza in 2008-9 and 2012, one cannot find appropriate phrases to describe Levy’s moral blindness and misguided philosophy. In fact, it is safe to argue that neither morality nor philosophy has much to do with Levy and his unending quest for war.
After 17 years and the death of six million Congolese, the United States has finally shifted gears in its efforts to dominate central Africa. Earlier this year, Washington cut off military aid to Rwanda, which, along with Uganda, another U.S. ally, has been looting and terrorizing the mineral-rich eastern Congo since 1996. All those years, U.S. Democratic and Republican administrations have lavished arms and money on the two client states, and protected them from sanction by international forums and courts. The genocide in the Congo was central to U.S. policy in the region. While 8 percent of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s population was dying, Rwanda and Ugandan soldiers and thugs got rich acting as middlemen, funneling Congo’s precious minerals to multinational corporations. Meanwhile, both Rwanda and Uganda supplied soldiers to every U.S.-approved military mission on the continent, acting as America’s mercenaries in Africa.
So, why did the U.S. alter its policy? First, international pressure finally made it untenable for Washington to continue deploying its Black henchmen to destabilize central Africa. President Obama appointed former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal by American standards, as his emissary to the Great Lakes region of Africa, and halted delivery of weapons to Rwanda. The Americans allowed the United Nations to form a special, 3,000-man intervention brigade empowered to use force against the so-called rebel group M23, which is actually led by the Tutsi-dominated government of Rwanda. This week, UN intervention forces backed up the Congolese army defeated the M23, sending its remnants fleeing across the Rwandan and Ugandan borders. The “rebels” announced they would end their insurgency.
However, Rwanda has pulled these tricks before, and has never acknowledged that M23 is its own creation, or that many of the fighters’ top officers are, in fact, members of the Rwandan armed forces. According to Friends of Congo, the Washington-based advocacy group, there is only one way to ensure that M23 will not resurface by some other name, and that is to bring these genocidal criminals to trial. However, this would require that Rwanda turn them over to the Democratic Republic of Congo or some international authority. Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame cannot be expected to turn on his own men, and the United States would not relish a series of trials in which its own role in the slaughter of millions would be revealed in embarrassing detail.
Therefore, although Washington has put distance between itself and Rwanda, the U.S. has no intention of allowing anything approximating justice to break out in central Africa. The U.S. military command, AFRICOM, has grown by leaps and bounds under President Obama – who has permanently stationed a brigade of U.S. troops in Africa – and the reinforced United Nations military presence in the region does exactly what the United States tells it to. And finally, at the end of the day, the Rwandan and Ugandan regimes understand that they are only cogs in the imperial machine, and must do as they are told. The U.S. empire is alive and growing in central Africa.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Empire Under Obama: Part 3
By Andrew Gavin Marshall | The Hampton Institute | October 17, 2013
Obama’s global terror campaign is not only dependent upon his drone assassination program, but increasingly it has come to rely upon the deployment of Special Operations forces in countries all over the world, reportedly between 70 and 120 countries at any one time. As Obama has sought to draw down the large-scale ground invasions of countries (as Bush pursued in Afghanistan and Iraq), he has escalated the world of ‘covert warfare,’ largely outside the oversight of Congress and the public. One of the most important agencies in this global “secret war” is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC for short.
JSOC was established in 1980 following the failed rescue of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran as “an obscure and secretive corner of the military’s hierarchy,” noted the Atlantic. It experienced a “rapid expansion” under the Bush administration, and since Obama came to power, “appears to be playing an increasingly prominent role in national security” and “counterterrorism,” in areas which were “traditionally covered by the CIA.”One of the most important differences between these covert warfare operations being conducted by JSOC instead of the CIA is that the CIA has to report to Congress, whereas JSOC only reports its most important activities to the President’s National Security Council.
During the Bush administration, JSOC “reported directly” to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (of the New Yorker), who explained that, “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.” He added: “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
In 2005, Dick Cheney referred to U.S. Special Forces as “the silent professionals” representing “the kind of force we want to build for the future… a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.” And without a hint of irony, Cheney stated: “None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror.”Not unless those “fanatics” happen to be wearing U.S. military uniforms, of course, in which case “committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror” is not an issue.
The commander of JSOC during the Bush administration – when it served as Cheney’s “executive assassination ring” – was General Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama appointed as the top military commander in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, JSOC began to play a much larger role in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.In early 2009, the new head of JSOC, Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, ordered a two-week ‘halt’ to Special Operations missions inside Afghanistan, after several JSOC raids in previous months killed several women and children, adding to the growing “outrage” within Afghanistan about civilian deaths caused by US raids and airstrikes, which contributed to a surge in civilian deaths over 2008.
JSOC has also been involved in running a “secret war” inside of Pakistan, beginning in 2006 but accelerating rapidly under the Obama administration. The “secret war” was waged in cooperation with the CIA and the infamous private military contractor, Blackwater, made infamous for its massacre of Iraqi civilians, after which it was banned from operating in the country.
Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, was recruited as a CIA asset in 2004, and in subsequent years acquired over $1.5 billion in contracts from the Pentagon and CIA, and included among its leadership several former top-level CIA officials. Blackwater, which primarily hires former Special Forces soldiers, has largely functioned “as an overseas Praetorian guard for the CIA and State Department officials,” who were also “helping to craft, fund, and execute operations,” including “assembling hit teams,” all outside of any Congressional or public oversight (since it was technically a private corporation).
The CIA hired Blackwater to aid in a secret assassination program which was hidden from Congress for seven years.These operations would be overseen by the CIA or Special Forces personnel. Blackwater has also been contracted to arm drones at secret bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Obama’s assassination program, overseen by the CIA. The lines dividing the military, the CIA and Blackwater had become “blurred,” as one former CIA official commented, “It became a very brotherly relationship… There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually become an extension of the agency.”
The “secret war” in Pakistan may have begun under Bush, but it had rapidly expanded in the following years of the Obama administration. Wikileaks cables confirmed the operation of JSOC forces inside of Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani telling the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson (who would later be appointed as ambassador to Egypt), that, “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”
Within the first five months of Obama’s presidency in 2009, he authorized “a massive expansion of clandestine military and intelligence operations worldwide,” granting the Pentagon’s regional combatant commanders “significant new authority” over such covert operations.The directive came from General Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, authorizing Special Forces soldiers to be sent into “both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.” The deployment of highly trained killers into dozens of countries was to become “systemic and long term,” designed to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” enemies of the State, beyond the rule of law, no trial or pretenses of accountability. They also “prepare the environment” for larger attacks that the U.S. or NATO countries may have planned. Unlike with the CIA, these operations do not report to Congress, or even need “the President’s approval.” But for the big operations, they get the approval of the National Security Council (NSC), which includes the president, as well as most other major cabinet heads, of the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc.
The new orders gave regional commanders – such as Petraeus who headed CENTCOM, or General Ward of the newly-created Africa Command (AFRICOM) – authority over special operations forces in the area of their command, institutionalizing the authority to send trained killers into dozens of countries around the world to conduct secret operations with no oversight whatsoever; and this new ‘authority’ is given to multiple top military officials, who have risen to the top of an institution with absolutely no ‘democratic’ pretenses. Regardless of who is president, this “authority” remains institutionalized in the “combatant commands.”
The combatant commands include: AFRICOM over Africa (est. 2007), CENTCOM over the Middle East and Central Asia (est. 1983), EUCOM over Europe (est. 1947), NORTHCOM over North America (est. 2002), PACOM over the Pacific rim and Asia (est. 1947), SOUTHCOM over Central and South America and the Caribbean (est. 1963), SOCOM as Special Operations Command (est. 1987), STRATCOM as Strategic Command over military operations to do with outer space, intelligence, and weapons (est. 1992), and TRANSCOM handling all transportation for the Department of Defense. The State Department was given “oversight” to clear the operations from each embassy,just to make sure everyone was ‘in the loop,’ unlike during the Bush years when it was run out of Cheney’s office without telling anyone else.
In 2010, it was reported by the Washington Post that the U.S. has expanded the operations of its Special Forces around the world, from being deployed in roughly 60 countries under Bush to about 75 countries in 2010 under Obama, operating in notable spots such as the Philippines and Colombia, as well as Yemen, across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. The global deployment of Special Forces – alongside the CIA’s global drone warfare program – were two facets of Obama’s “national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values,” in the words of the Washington Post, though the article was unclear on which aspect of waging “secret wars” in 75 countries constituted Obama’s “values.” Commanders for Special Operations forces have become “a far more regular presence at the White House” under Obama than George Bush, with one such commander commenting, “We have a lot more access… They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.” Such Special Operations forces deployments “go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them.”
So not only are U.S. forces conducting secret wars within dozens of countries around the world, but they are training the domestic military forces of many of these countries to undertake secret wars internally, and in the interests of the United States Mafia empire.
One military official even “set up a network” of private military corporations that hired former Special Forces and CIA operations to gather intelligence and conduct secret operations in foreign countries to support “lethal action”: publicly subsidized, privatized ‘accountability.’ Such a network was “generally considered illegal” and was “improperly financed.”When the news of these networks emerged, the Pentagon said it shut them down and opened a “criminal investigation.” Turns out, they found nothing “criminal,” because two months later, the operations were continuing and had “become an important source of intelligence.” The networks of covert-ops corporations were being “managed” by Lockheed Martin, one of the largest military contractors in the world, while being “supervised” by the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.
Admiral Eric T. Olson had been the head of Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011, and in that year, Olson led a successful initiative – endorsed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – to encourage the promotion of top special operations officials to higher positions in the whole military command structure. The “trend” was to continue under the following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA from 2009 to 2011.When Olson left his position as head of Special Operations Command, he was replaced with Admiral William McRaven, who served as the head of JSOC from 2008 to 2011, having followed Stanley McChrystal.
By January of 2012, Obama was continuing with seeking to move further away from large-scale ground wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and refocus on “a smaller, more agile force across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.” Surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in full uniforms adorned with medals, along with other top Pentagon officials, President Obama delivered a rare press briefing at the Pentagon where he said that, “our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.” The priorities in this strategy would be “financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
In February of 2012, Admiral William H. McRaven, the head of the Special Operations Command, was “pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy,” advocating a plan that “would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed,” notably with expansions in mind for Asia, Africa and Latin America. McRaven stated that, “It’s not really about Socom [Special Operations Command] running the global war on terrorism… I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the major regional military command structures.
In the previous decade, roughly 80% of US Special Operations forces were deployed in the Middle East, but McRaven wanted them to spread to other regions, as well as to be able to “quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments.” The Special Operations Command numbered around 66,000 people, double the number since 2001, and its budget had reached $10.5 billion, from $4.2 billion in 2001.
In March of 2012, a Special Forces commander, Admiral William H. McRaven, developed plans to expand special operations units, making them “the force of choice” against “emerging threats” over the following decade. McRaven’s Special Operations Command oversees more than 60,000 military personnel and civilians, saying in a draft paper circulated at the Pentagon that: “We are in a generational struggle… For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to deal with various manifestations of inflamed violent extremism. In order to conduct sustained operations around the globe, our special operations must adapt.” McRaven stated that Special Forces were operating in over 71 countries around the world.
The expansion of global special forces operations was largely in reaction to the increasingly difficult challenge of positioning large military forces around the world, and carrying out large scale wars and occupations, for which there is very little public support at home or abroad. In 2013, the Special Operations Command had forces operating in 92 different countries around the world, with one Congressional critic accusing McRaven of engaging in “empire building.”The expanded presence of these operations is a major factor contributing to “destabilization” around the world, especially in major war zones like Pakistan.
In 2013, McRaven’s Special Operations Command gained new authorities and an expanded budget, with McRaven testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “On any day of the year you will find special operations forces [in] somewhere between 70 and 90 countries around the world.”In 2012, it was reported that such forces would be operating in 120 different countries by the end of the year.
In December of 2012, it was announced that the U.S. was sending 4,000 soldiers to 35 different African countries as “part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge,” operating under the Pentagon’s newest regional command, AFRICOM, established in 2007.
By September of 2013, the U.S. military had been involved in various activities in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, among others, constructing bases, undertaking “security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network.”
In short, Obama’s global ‘war of terror’ has expanded to roughly 100 countries around the world, winding down the large-scale military invasions and occupations such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and increasing the “small-scale” warfare operations of Special Forces, beyond the rule of law, outside Congressional and public oversight, conducting “snatch and grab” operations, training domestic repressive military forces in nations largely run by dictatorships to undertake their own operations on behalf of the ‘Global Godfather.’
Make no mistake: this is global warfare. Imagine for a moment the international outcry that would result from news of China or Russia conducting secret warfare operations in roughly 100 countries around the world. But when America does it, there’s barely a mention, save for the passing comments in the New York Times or the Washington Post portraying an unprecedented global campaign of terror as representative of Obama’s “values.” Well, indeed it is representative of Obama’s values, by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t have any.
Indeed, America has long been the Global Godfather applying the ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations, lock-in-step with its Western lackey organized crime ‘Capo’ states such as Great Britain and France. Yet, under Obama, the president who had won public relations industry awards for his well-managed presidential advertising campaign promising “hope” and “change,” the empire has found itself waging war in roughly one hundred nations, conducting an unprecedented global terror campaign, increasing its abuses of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, all under the aegis of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama.
Whether the president is Clinton, Bush, or Obama, the Empire of Terror wages on its global campaign of domination and subjugation, to the detriment of all humanity, save those interests that sit atop the constructed global hierarchy. It is in the interests of the ruling elite that America protects and projects its global imperial designs. It is in the interests of all humanity, then, that the Empire be opposed – and ultimately, deconstructed – no matter who sits in office, no matter who holds the title of the ‘high priest of hypocrisy’ (aka: President of the United States). It is the Empire that rules, and the Empire that destroys, and the Empire that must, in turn, be demolished.
The world at large – across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America – suffers the greatest hardships of the Western Mafia imperial system: entrenched poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation, war and destruction. The struggle against the Empire cannot be waged and won from the outside alone. The rest of the world has been struggling to survive against the Western Empire for decades, and, in truth, hundreds of years. For the struggle to succeed (and it can succeed), a strong anti-Empire movement must develop within the imperial powers themselves, and most especially within the United States. The future of humanity depends upon it.
Or… we could all just keep shopping and watching TV, blissfully blind to the global campaign of terror and war being waged in our names around the world. Certainly, such an option may be appealing, but ultimately, wars abroad come home to roost. As George Orwell once wrote: “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
- Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2009
- Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, 24 May 2010
- Eric Black, “Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring‘,” Minnesota Post, 11 March 2009
- John D. Danusiewicz, “Cheney Praises ‘Silent Professionals’ of Special Operations,” American Forces Press Service, 11 June 2005
- Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, December 1, 2009
- Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Halted Some Raids in Afghanistan,” The New York Times, 9 March 2009
- Jeremy Scahill, The Secret US War in Pakistan, The Nation: November 23, 2009
- Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy,” Vanity Fair, January 2010
- Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help to Kill Jihadists,” The New York Times, 19 August 2009
- R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, “Blackwater tied to clandestine CIA raids,” The Washington Post, 11 December 2009
- James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Said to Use Outsiders to Put Bombs on Drones,” The New York Times, 20 August 2009
- James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret C.I.A. Raids,” The New York Times, 10 December 2009
- Jeremy Scahill, “The (Not So) Secret (Anymore) US War in Pakistan,” The Nation, 1 December 2010
- March Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” The Atlantic, 25 May 2010
- Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, May 24, 2010
- Marc Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” May 25, 2010
- Max Fisher, “The End of Dick Cheney’s Kill Squads,” The Atlantic, 4 June 2010
- Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010
- Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants,” The New York Times, 14 March 2010
- Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Still Using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts,” The New York Times, 15 May 2010
- Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Special Operations Veterans Rise in Hierarchy,” The New York Times, 8 August 2011
- Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “Obama Puts His Stamp on Strategy for a Leaner Military,” The New York Times, 5 January 2012
- Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces,” The New York Times, 12 February 2012
- David S. Cloud, “U.S. special forces commander seeks to expand operations,” Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2012
- Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations,” The New York Times, 1 May 2013
- Nick Turse, “How Obama’s destabilizing the world,” Salon, 19 September 2011
- Walter Pincus, “Special Operations wins in 2014 budget,” The Washington Post, 11 April 2013
- David Isenberg, “The Globalisation of U.S. Special Operations Forces,” IPS News, 24 May 2012
- Tom Bowman, “U.S. Military Builds Up Its Presence In Africa,” NPR, 25 December 2012; and Lolita C. Baldor, “Army teams going to Africa as terror threat grows,” Yahoo! News, 24 December 2012
- Nick Turse, “The Startling Size of US Military Operations in Africa,” Mother Jones, 6 September 2013
US troops join Dutch, Spanish, British and Senegalese forces during patrols and amphibious landings in Dakar, Senegal, in September of 2013.
The Pentagon has begun a surge of spending in Africa through expanding its main base on the continent and making investments in various fields there.
The Pentagon is currently increasing investments in air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades in the African continent, The Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT) reports.
According to unclassified federal documents, hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into Africa, indicating the importance the US is attaching to the continent.
Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, on the cost of Gulf of Aden north of Somalia, is the place where the Pentagon is expanding its activities the most.
The camp has been the Pentagon’s main facility in the continent for nearly 10 years now. It currently houses approximately 4,000 US military personnel and civilian contractors.
The Pentagon views the base as the constellation center of US military sites across Africa, including facilities in Manda Bay, Kenya; Entebbe, Uganda; and the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
Last month, $200 million was awarded in contracts to revamp the power plants at the base and construct a multistory operations center, an aircraft hangar, living quarters, gyms and other facilities.
The project is just part of $1.2 billion which is projected to be spent there for improvement purposes during the next 25 year.
The US is also training regional militaries in the continent, increasing air strikes and conducting drone surveillance.
Thousands of US soldiers are now gearing up for missions in Africa as part of a new Pentagon strategy to train and advise indigenous forces, the New York Times reports.
In addition to training African militaries, the US has been launching a massive build-up of troops into Italy, putting 13,000 troops in the nation to be able to launch raids into Africa, particularly northern Africa, at a moment’s notice.
There is also a growing constellation of small US drone outposts in countries like Niger, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, strategically placed on the Gulf of Aden.
A new UN report warns that the use of armed drones threatens global security and encourages more states to acquire unmanned weapons.
The report, which has been submitted to UN General Assembly by Christof Heyns — the organization’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions — called for states that operate armed drones to be more transparent and publicly disclose how they use them, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
“The expansive use of armed drones by the first states to acquire them, if not challenged, can do structural damage to the cornerstones of international security and set precedents that undermine the protection of life across the globe in the longer term,” the report said.
“The use of drones by states to exercise essentially a global policing function to counter potential threats presents a danger to the protection of life, because the tools of domestic policing (such as capture) are not available, and the more permissive targeting framework of the laws of war is often used instead,” it pointed out.
The report also called for international laws to be respected rather than ignored.
“The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable, even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack, distorts the requirements established in international human rights law,” stated the report.
Countries cannot consent “to the violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law or international human rights law,” it added.
Heyns noted that “drones come from the sky but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities they target.”
“The claims that drones are more precise in targeting cannot be accepted uncritically, not least because terms such as ‘terrorist’ or ‘militant’ are sometimes used to describe people who are in truth protected civilians,” he said.
The report is the first of two major papers on drone strikes due to be debated at the UN General Assembly on October25. The second, by Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, will be published next week.
Although no state is identified in the report, the comments are clearly directed at the legal problems raised by the US program of aerial attacks against what it describes as militants in other countries.
Emmerson said that drone strikes have killed far more civilians than US officials have publicly acknowledged.
He said on Thursday that at least 400 in Pakistan and as many as 58 in Yemen have been killed by the CIA drone strikes, and censured the US for failing to aid the investigation by disclosing its own figures.
The report was welcomed by the London-based human rights group Reprieve, which represents several civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
“This report rightly states that the US’s secretive drone war is a danger not only to innocent civilians on the ground but also to international security as a whole.
“The CIA’s campaign must be brought out of the shadows: we need to see real accountability for the hundreds of civilians who have been killed – and justice for their relatives. Among Reprieve’s clients are young Pakistani children who saw their grandmother killed in front of them – the CIA must not be allowed to continue to smear these people as ‘terrorists’,” said its legal director, Kat Craig.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists”. According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.
The African Union is on a collision course with the International Criminal Court, a tribunal that has indicted only Africans since its founding in 2002. In an extraordinary meeting of the African Union at it headquarters in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, the AU took the position that no sitting head of state should be prosecuted by the ICC while still in office. In the immediate term, the AU calls for the postponement of the trial of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, scheduled to begin in the The Hague, next month. Kenyatta and his deputy president are charged with crimes against humanity stemming from election violence in 2007. Last weekend, President Kenyatta told the African Union that the International Criminal Court “stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers” – a clear reference to the United States and Britain.
And that is the heart of the matter. It is a travesty of justice that the ICC only indicts Africans, but even more importantly, the International Criminal Court also only indicts those politicians that get on the wrong side of the United States and the former colonial powers in Africa. The ICC is a tool of U.S. foreign policy, an instrument of neocolonialism.
Among the apologists for the ICC is South African former archbishop Desmond Tutu, who says African leaders are “effectively looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence.” Tutu says it all boils down to a question of “who should represent the interests of the victims?” However, in the real world of imperial power, Desmond Tutu’s reasoning is specious, shallow. He might just as well argue for the return of colonial rule, which established its own kind of law and order in Africa. The question is, whose law and whose order? The ICC represents U.S. foreign policy masquerading as law.
Tutu maintains that, without the deterrence of the ICC, African “countries could and would attack their neighbors, or minorities in their own countries, with impunity.” Well, that is, in fact, the case right now in Africa, and it has occurred with the complicity of the ICC, which has sanctioned and morally assisted mass murder and outright genocide by American allies on the continent.
And here lies the great irony. The very nations that most strongly oppose the ICC – Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia – have the blood of millions on their hands. Rwanda and Uganda are principally responsible for the death of six million Congolese over the past 17 years, an ongoing genocide armed and financed by the United States and Britain. The Ethiopian regime’s brutality toward its Somali and Omoro ethnic groups has also been described as genocidal. But, because the United States is also deeply complicit in these crimes, there is no threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The court is only deployed against those countries and leaders targeted by the United States.
So, why are Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda worried? Clearly, they understand that, if the United States can give impunity, it can also take it away. They remember that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein used to be a U.S. ally, and that Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad cooperated with the U.S. war on terror – until the U.S. turned against them. The worst purveyor of crimes against humanity in Africa and the world is U.S. imperialism. The ICC is a cog in the imperial machinery, which recognizes no law, but only its own interests. You can’t fight U.S. Empire and its crimes and, at the same time, defend the International Criminal Court. They are one and the same.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
The Pentagon Is Using Your Tax Dollars to Turn Italy into a Launching Pad for the Wars of Today and Tomorrow
The Pentagon has spent the last two decades plowing hundreds of millions of tax dollars into military bases in Italy, turning the country into an increasingly important center for U.S. military power. Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.
At bases in Naples, Aviano, Sicily, Pisa, and Vicenza, among others, the military has spent more than $2 billion on construction alone since the end of the Cold War—and that figure doesn’t include billions more on classified construction projects and everyday operating and personnel costs. While the number of troops in Germany has fallen from 250,000 when the Soviet Union collapsed to about 50,000 today, the roughly 13,000 U.S. troops (plus 16,000 family members) stationed in Italy match the numbers at the height of the Cold War. That, in turn, means that the percentage of U.S. forces in Europe based in Italy has tripled since 1991 from around 5 percent to more than 15 percent.
Last month, I had a chance to visit the newest U.S. base in Italy, a three-month-old garrison in Vicenza, near Venice. Home to a rapid reaction intervention force, the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), and the Army’s component of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the base extends for a mile, north to south, dwarfing everything else in the small city. In fact, at over 145 acres, the base is almost exactly the size of Washington’s National Mall or the equivalent of around 110 American football fields. The price tag for the base and related construction in a city that already hosted at least six installations: upwards of $600 million since fiscal year 2007.
There are still more bases, and so more U.S. military spending, in Germany than in any other foreign country (save, until recently, Afghanistan). Nonetheless, Italy has grown increasingly important as the Pentagon works to change the make-up of its global collection of 800 or more bases abroad, generally shifting its basing focus south and east from Europe’s center. Base expert Alexander Cooley explains: “U.S. defense officials acknowledge that Italy’s strategic positioning on the Mediterranean and near North Africa, the Italian military’s anti-terrorism doctrine, as well as the country’s favorable political disposition toward U.S. forces are important factors in the Pentagon’s decision to retain” a large base and troop presence there. About the only people who have been paying attention to this build-up are the Italians in local opposition movements like those in Vicenza who are concerned that their city will become a platform for future U.S. wars.
Most tourists think of Italy as the land of Renaissance art, Roman antiquities, and of course great pizza, pasta, and wine. Few think of it as a land of U.S. bases. But Italy’s 59 Pentagon-identified “base sites” top that of any country except Germany (179), Japan (103), Afghanistan (100 and declining), and South Korea (89).
Publicly, U.S. officials say there are no U.S. military bases in Italy. They insist that our garrisons, with all their infrastructure, equipment, and weaponry, are simply guests on what officially remain “Italian” bases designated for NATO use. Of course, everyone knows that this is largely a legal nicety.
No one visiting the new base in Vicenza could doubt that it’s a U.S. installation all the way. The garrison occupies a former Italian air force base called Dal Molin. (In late 2011, Italian officials re-branded it “Caserma Del Din,” evidently to try to shed memories of the massive opposition the base has generated.) From the outside, it might be mistaken for a giant hospital complex or a university campus. Thirty one box-like peach-and-cream-colored buildings with light red rooftops dominate the horizon with only the foothills of the Southern Alps as a backdrop. A chain link fence topped by razor wire surrounds the perimeter, with green mesh screens obscuring views into the base.
If you manage to get inside, however, you find two barracks for up to 600 soldiers each. (Off base, the Army is contracting to lease up to 240 newly built homes in surrounding communities.) Two six-floor parking garages that can hold 850 vehicles, and a series of large office complexes, some small training areas, including an indoor shooting range still under construction, as well as a gym with a heated swimming pool, a “Warrior Zone” entertainment center, a small PX, an Italian-style café, and a large dining facility. These amenities are actually rather modest for a large U.S. base. Most of the newly built or upgraded housing, schools, medical facilities, shopping, and other amenities for soldiers and their families are across town on Viale della Pace (Peace Boulevard) at the Caserma Ederle base and at the nearby Villaggio della Pace (Peace Village).
A Pentagon Spending Spree
Beyond Vicenza, the military has been spending mightily to upgrade its Italian bases. Until the early 1990s, the U.S. air base at Aviano, northeast of Vicenza, was a small site known as “Sleepy Hollow.” Beginning with the transfer of F-16s from Spain in 1992, the Air Force turned it into a major staging area for every significant wartime operation since the first Gulf War. In the process, it has spent at least $610 million on more than 300 construction projects (Washington convinced NATO to provide more than half these funds, and Italy ceded 210 acres of land for free.) Beyond these “Aviano 2000” projects, the Air Force has spent an additional $115 million on construction since fiscal year 2004.
Not to be outdone, the Navy laid out more than $300 million beginning in 1996 to construct a major new operations base at the Naples airport. Nearby, it has a 30-year lease on an estimated $400 million “support site” that looks like a big-box shopping mall surrounded by expansive, well-manicured lawns. (The base is located in the Neapolitan mafia’s heartland and was built by a company that has been linked to the Camorra.) In 2005, the Navy moved its European headquarters from London to Naples as it shifted its attention from the North Atlantic to Africa, the Middle East, and the Black Sea. With the creation of AFRICOM, whose main headquarters remain in Germany, Naples is now home to a combined U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa. Tellingly, its website prominently displays the time in Naples, Djibouti, Liberia, and Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, Sicily has become increasingly significant in the Global War on Terror era, as the Pentagon has been turning it into a major node of U.S. military operations for Africa, which is less than 100 miles away across the Mediterranean. Since fiscal year 2001, the Pentagon has spent more on construction at the Sigonella Naval Air Station—almost $300 million—than at any Italian base other than Vicenza. Now the second busiest naval air station in Europe, Sigonella was first used to launch Global Hawk surveillance drones in 2002. In 2008, U.S. and Italian officials signed a secret agreement formally permitting the basing of drones there. Since then, the Pentagon has put out at least $31 million to build a Global Hawk maintenance and operations complex. The drones provide the foundation for NATO’s $1.7 billion Alliance Ground Surveillance system, which gives NATO surveillance capabilities as far as10,000 miles from Sigonella.
Beginning in 2003, “Joint Task Force Aztec Silence” has used P-3 surveillance planes based at Sigonella to monitor insurgent groups in North and West Africa. And since 2011, AFRICOM has deployed a task force of around 180 marines and two aircraft to the base to provide counterterrorism training to African military personnel in Botswana, Liberia, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Tunisia, and Senegal.
Sigonella also hosts one of three Global Broadcast Service satellite communications facilities and will soon be home to a NATO Joint Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance deployment base and a data analysis and training center. In June, a U.S. Senate subcommittee recommended moving special operations forces and CV-22 Ospreys from Britain to Sicily, since “Sigonella has become a key launch pad for missions related to Libya, and given the ongoing turmoil in that nation as well as the emergence of terrorist training activities in northern Africa.” In nearby Niscemi, the Navy hopes to build an ultra high frequency satellite communications installation, despite growing opposition from Sicilians and other Italians concerned about the effects of the station and its electromagnetic radiation on humans and a surrounding nature reserve.
Amid the build-up, the Pentagon has actually closed some bases in Italy as well, including those in Comiso, Brindisi, and La Maddalena. While the Army has cut some personnel at Camp Darby, a massive underground weapons and equipment storage installation along Tuscany’s coast, the base remains a critical logistics and pre-positioning center enabling the global deployment of troops, weapons, and supplies from Italy by sea. Since fiscal year 2005, it’s seen almost $60 million in new construction.
And what are all these bases doing in Italy? Here’s the way one U.S. military official in Italy (who asked not to be named) explained the matter to me: “I’m sorry, Italy, but this is not the Cold War. They’re not here to defend Vicenza from a [Soviet] attack. They’re here because we agreed they need to be here to do other things, whether that’s the Middle East or the Balkans or Africa.”
Location, Location, Location
Bases in Italy have played an increasingly important role in the Pentagon’s global garrisoning strategy in no small part because of the country’s place on the map. During the Cold War, West Germany was the heart of U.S. and NATO defenses in Europe because of its positioning along the most likely routes of any Soviet attack into Western Europe. Once the Cold War ended, Germany’s geographic significance declined markedly. In fact, U.S. bases and troops at Europe’s heart looked increasingly hemmed in by their geography, with U.S. ground forces there facing longer deployment times outside the continent and the Air Force needing to gain overflight rights from neighboring countries to get almost anywhere.
Troops based in Italy, by contrast, have direct access to the international waters and airspace of the Mediterranean. This allows them to deploy rapidly by sea or air. As Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith Eastin told Congress in 2006, positioning the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Dal Molin “strategically positions the unit south of the Alps with ready access to international airspace for rapid deployment and forced entry/early entry operations.”
And we’ve seen the Pentagon take advantage of Italy’s location since the 1990s, when Aviano Air Base played an important role in the first Gulf War and in U.S. and NATO interventions in the Balkans (a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). The Bush administration, in turn, made bases in Italy some of its “enduring” European outposts in its global garrisoning shift south and east from Germany. In the Obama years, a growing military involvement in Africa has made Italy an even more attractive basing option.
“Sufficient Operational Flexibility”
Beyond its location, U.S. officials love Italy because, as the same military official told me, it’s a “country that offers sufficient operational flexibility.” In other words, it provides the freedom to do what you want with minimal restrictions and hassle.
Especially in comparison to Germany, Italy offers this flexibility for reasons that reflect a broader move away from basing in two of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations, Germany and Japan, toward basing in relatively poorer and less powerful ones. In addition to offering lower operating costs, such hosts are generally more susceptible to Washington’s political and economic pressure. They also tend to sign “status of forces agreements”—which govern the presence of U.S. troops and bases abroad—that are less restrictive for the U.S. military. Such agreements often offer more permissive settings when it comes to environmental and labor regulations or give the Pentagon more freedom to pursue unilateral military action with minimal host country consultation.
While hardly one of the world’s weaker nations, Italy is the second most heavily indebted country in Europe, and its economic and political power pales in comparison to Germany’s. Not surprisingly, then, as that Pentagon official in Italy pointed out to me, the status of forces agreement with Germany is long and detailed, while the foundational agreement with Italy remains the short (and still classified) 1954 Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement. Germans also tend to be rather exacting when it comes to following rules, while the Italians, he said, “are more interpretive of guidance.”
War + Bases = $
The freedom with which the U.S. military used its Italian bases in the Iraq War is a case in point. As a start, the Italian government allowed U.S. forces to employ them even though their use for a war pursued outside the context of NATO may violate the terms of the 1954 basing agreement. A classified May 2003 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler and released by WikiLeaks shows that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government gave the Pentagon “virtually everything” it wanted. “We got what we asked for,” wrote Sembler, “on base access, transit, and overflights, ensuring that forces… could flow smoothly through Italy to get to the fight.”
For its part, Italy appears to have benefited directly from this cooperation. (Some say that shifting bases from Germany to Italy was also meant as a way to punish Germany for its lack of support for the Iraq War.) According to a 2010 report from Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, “Italy’s role in the war in Iraq, providing 3,000 troops to the U.S.-led effort, opened up Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Italian firms, as well as cementing relations between the two allies.” Its role in the Afghan War surely offered similar benefits. Such opportunities came amid deepening economic troubles, and at a moment when the Italian government was turning to arms production as a major way to revive its economy. According to Jane’s, Italian weapons manufacturers like Finmeccanica have aggressively tried to enter the U.S. and other markets. In 2009, Italian arms exports were up more than 60 percent.
In October 2008, the two countries renewed a Reciprocal Defense Procurement Memorandum of Understanding (a “most favored nation” agreement for military sales). It has been suggested that the Italian government may have turned Dal Molin over to the U.S. military—for free—in part to ensure itself a prominent role in the production of “the most expensive weapon ever built,” the F-35 fighter jet, among other military deals. Another glowing 2009 cable, this time from the Rome embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Dibble, called the countries’ military cooperation “an enduring partnership.” It noted pointedly how Finmeccanica (which is 30 percent state-owned) “sold USD 2.3 billion in defense equipment to the U.S. in 2008 [and] has a strong stake in the solidity of the U.S.-Italy relationship.”
Of course, there’s another relevant factor in the Pentagon’s Italian build-up. For the same reasons American tourists flock to the country, U.S. troops have long enjoyed la dolce vita there. In addition to the comfortable living on suburban-style bases, around 40,000 military visitors a year from across Europe and beyond come to Camp Darby’s military resort and “American beach” on the Italian Riviera, making the country even more attractive.
The Costs of the Pentagon’s Pivots
Italy is not about to take Germany’s place as the foundation of U.S. military power in Europe. Germany has long been deeply integrated into the U.S. military system, and military planners have designed it to stay that way. In fact, remember how the Pentagon convinced Congress to hand over $600 million for a new base and related construction in Vicenza? The Pentagon’s justification for the new base was the Army’s need to bring troops from Germany to Vicenza to consolidate the 173rd brigade in one place.
And then, last March, one week after getting access to the first completed building at Dal Molin and with construction nearly finished, the Army announced that it wouldn’t be consolidating the brigade after all. One-third of the brigade would remain in Germany. At a time when budget cuts, unemployment, and economic stagnation for all but the wealthiest have left vast unmet needs in communities around the United States, for our $600 million investment, a mere 1,000 troops will move to Vicenza.
Even with those troops staying in Germany, Italy is fast becoming one of several new pivot points for U.S. warmaking powers globally. While much attention has been focused on President Obama’s “Asia pivot,” the Pentagon is concentrating its forces at bases that represent a series of pivots in places like Djibouti on the horn of Africa and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Bahrain and Qatar in the Persian Gulf, Bulgaria and Romania in Eastern Europe, Australia, Guam, and Hawai’i in the Pacific, and Honduras in Central America.
Our bases in Italy are making it easier to pursue new wars and military interventions in conflicts about which we know little, from Africa to the Middle East. Unless we question why we still have bases in Italy and dozens more countries like it worldwide—as, encouragingly, growing numbers of politicians, journalists, and others are doing—those bases will help lead us, in the name of American “security,” down a path of perpetual violence, perpetual war, and perpetual insecurity.
Copyright 2013 David Vine
Two Lebanese nationals, who are on trial in Nigeria, have told a court that they were subjected to torture by Israeli Mossad agents after being arrested.
Mustapha Fawaz and Abdallah Thahini together with another Lebanese national Talal Ahmad Roda were arrested in May after an arms cache was discovered in a residence in the Nigerian city of Kano.
The three Lebanese men reportedly own a supermarket and an amusement park in Abuja, which have been closed since their arrests.
Fawaz told the court on Monday that after he was arrested in Abuja, a security official told him that some “European friends” wanted to ask him some questions.
“I was taken to an interrogation room where I met three Israeli Mossad agents,” he said.
Fawaz also said the interrogators handcuffed his hands behind his back for days, noting he “lost count because they did not allow me to sleep for several days.”
He went on saying, “During the 14 days of interrogation, I was interrogated by six Israeli Mossad agents and one masked white man.”
“I was interrogated in Arabic. I asked to be interrogated in English, but they refused. Most of them are weak in English. They are not Europeans, but Israelis,” he also said, adding no Nigerian official was present during the interrogations.
Thahini gave similar account to the court, saying he collapsed five days after the interrogators did not allow him to sleep.
- Israel Targets “Hezbollah Cells” in Nigeria (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Thirty years ago, the international development community was abuzz with excitement. This was because it appeared that the perfect solution to poverty, exclusion and under-development had finally been found in the form of microcredit. As originally conceived, microcredit is the provision of micro-loans to the poor to allow them to establish a range of income-generating activities, supposedly facilitating an escape from poverty through individual entrepreneurship and self-help. Perhaps nowhere more than in Latin America was the excitement so intense. Stoked by the uplifting claims of Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto , that a vastly expanded informal economy would prove to be the economic salvation of the continent, the U.S. government through the World Bank and its own aid arm, USAID, along with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), led the charge to establish the microcredit movement as the dominant local intervention to address poverty.
However, the sour reality that Latin America faces today is that all the excitement over microcredit was fundamentally misplaced. As I argue in a recent article [PDF] published in the Mexican journal Ola Financiera, the microcredit movement has likely proved to be one of the most destructive interventions brought to Latin America over the last 30 years. A growing number of Latin American governments and international development agencies are now finally reconsidering their once unconditional support for the microcredit model. So what went wrong? Let me point to a few of the most important problems.
First, the overarching outcome of the microcredit model in Latin America has been an increase in the supply of “poverty-push” informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures. Yet rather than creating a De Soto-esque foundation for rapid growth and poverty reduction, the very worst possible foundation for promoting long-term poverty reduction and sustainable development was created. As economists such as Alice Amsden, Robert Wade and Ha-Joon Chang have convincingly shown, the now wealthy developed countries and the East Asian “miracle” economies found that what is really needed to escape poverty is for the state to engineer an entirely different constellation of the “right” enterprises: that is, enterprises that are formalized, large enough to reap important economies of scale, can innovate, can use new technology, are willing to train their workers, can supply larger enterprises with quality inputs, can facilitate new organizational routines and capabilities, and can eventually export. Economic history shows, too, that financing the expansion of the “wrong” sort of informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures will simply not lead to sustainable development. As Ha-Joon Chang brilliantly points out, Africa has more individual entrepreneurs than perhaps any other location on the planet, and many more are being created all the time thanks to rafts of microcredit programs backed by the developed countries, yet Africa remains in poverty precisely because of this fact. Likewise in Latin America: by programmatically channelling its scarce financial resources (savings and remittances) into informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures, and so away from virtually all other higher-value uses, the continent has actually been progressively destroying its economic base.
Mexico exemplifies the microcredit trap created in Latin America. Its financial institutions have all proved to be adept at channelling their funds into hugely unproductive and all too often temporary informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures – so-called “changarros” – leaving the bulk of potentially growth-oriented, but low profit and high risk, small and medium industrial enterprise projects increasingly without financial support. Over the last two decades this “crowding out” trend has undoubtedly undermined Mexico’s once powerful industrial and technological base.
A very similar story emerged in Bolivia since the 1980s, where the U.S. government-supported push for microcredit has played a not-unimportant role in gradually destroying an economy that was once slowly industrializing under Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies. Essentially, Bolivia’s carefully built-up raft of efficient industrial small and medium-sized enterprises was starved of funding and left to collapse. Resources were instead shifted into promoting the hugely unproductive and no-growth informal microenterprise and self-employment sector, which has, not surprisingly, dramatically expanded in recent years. Today, with nearly 40 percent of Bolivia’s financial resources now independently intermediated into these “wrong” sort of (micro)enterprises, the Bolivian government has its work cut out to try to stop the damaging de-industrialization trajectory underway in the country.
The second key problem with the microcredit model in Latin America arises from the fact that in the neoliberal 1990s it was aggressively commercialized and extensively deregulated. The primary motive for this move was to eradicate all government and international development community subsidies from the world of microcredit. The use of subsidies (typically to maintain low interest rates) was felt to be ideologically suspect by the main U.S.-based international development agencies, and it was also thought to unjustifiably add to the tax burden on business elites. With extensive advice and financial support provided by USAID, Bolivia was turned into the “best practice” example of commercialised microcredit, thanks mainly to BancoSol, the world’s first dedicated commercially-driven microcredit bank. Yet turning microcredit into a for-profit business under minimal regulation has proved to be a singular disaster: spectacularly damaging levels of Wall Street-style greed, profiteering and financial market chaos soon ensued. Microcredit effectively became the developing world’s very own version of the USA ’s sub-prime lending crisis.
In Bolivia, the commercialization of microcredit has been a major development disaster for the poor. First, Bolivia’s scarce financial resources were disastrously shifted into the “wrong” enterprises, as I just pointed out. Commercialization also directly precipitated the “microcredit meltdown” that Bolivia experienced across 1999-2000, an event that inflicted very serious long-term damage on the Bolivian economy. Crucially, however, commercialization has been a massive success for those managing and investing in Bolivia’s microcredit institutions. The elite group of individuals involved in running Bolivia’s main microcredit institutions, famously including BancoSol and its predecessor, PRODEM, have all become very rich indeed. High salaries, bonuses and dividends have been important to those most closely associated with the management and ownership of BancoSol. The first employees in PRODEM, an institution that has its origins as an NGO funded by the international community to “help the local community,” eventually made millions of dollars after they gradually took control of PRODEM and then brazenly sold it off to a Venezuelan bank. We should, of course, not be surprised to find that little trust, respect or solidarity exists between Bolivia’s poor and the microcredit sector supposedly established at great expense to help them.
Mexico’s experience also exemplifies the tremendous damage wrought by the commercialization of microcredit in Latin America. Even more so than in Bolivia , it is not the poor that have been benefitting from the increased supply of microcredit, but a small financial elite that has been quietly profiteering to a simply stupendous extent. Probably the best/worst example here is that of Banco Compartamos, an organization founded in 1990 as an NGO and making extensive use of international donor grant funding. Even with laudable goals written into its founding articles, very early on it became clear that the main intended beneficiaries of Compartamos’s operations were going to be its senior staff. After 2000, for example, the senior staff began to reward themselves with Wall Street-style salaries, bonus packages and cheap internal loans which allowed them to buy shares in Compartamos. Then in 2007, when Compartamos underwent the inevitable IPO, key senior staff really hit the big-time, with a number of them pocketing several tens of millions of dollars when they off-loaded their shares into the market. A number of external investors also made vast fortunes from their shareholdings in Compartamos, notably the Boston-based microcredit advocacy and investor body ACCIÓN, which saw an initial $1 million stake in Compartamos (of which $800,000 was actually a grant to ACCIÓN) rise in value to nearly $270 million. Note also that Compartamos generates the revenues to support such high financial rewards to senior staff by charging as much as 195 percent real interest rates on its microloans to mainly poor Mexican women.
Inevitably, the supply of microcredit has begun to reach its saturation point in Mexico. Compartamos’s growth has been nothing short of dramatic, while many other domestic microcredit institutions have also grown very rapidly. Compartamos has been the world’s most profitable microcredit institution for five of the past six years, and its nearly $100 million dividend payout to investors is now larger than the balance sheets of most other microcredit institutions. With such huge financial rewards made possible by lending to Mexico’s poor, the big profit-hungry international banks, such as Citigroup, have entered the market, clearly adding to the lending frenzy underway. However, real fears exist that Mexico cannot now avoid a destructive sub-prime-like “microcredit meltdown” episode not unlike the one that hit the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 2010. Indeed, it is well known that multiple lending to households has begun to reach epidemic proportions in many parts of Mexico, especially in the massively over-supplied state of Chiapas.
Nevertheless, the question remains: has microcredit in Latin America in general, and Compartamos specifically, been helping the poor to escape their poverty? If the answer is broadly positive, then the spectacular financial rewards accruing to the providers of microcredit might be justified to an extent if meaningful benefits are accruing to the recipients – the poor. However, the unpalatable answer to this question is a resoundingly negative one: there is not a shred of real evidence to support the claim that Compartamos’s microcredit activities have played a role in resolving poverty. First consider that a U.K. government-funded study of virtually all previous impact evaluations of microcredit dramatically showed there is no empirical evidence anywhere [PDF] to show that microcredit has had a positive impact on poverty. Even long-standing supporters of microcredit now accept this extremely unpalatable fact.
More specifically, consider the findings of a just-released impact evaluation of Compartamos [PDF], financed by Compartamos itself and centrally involving one of the most high-profile microcredit supporters, professor Dean Karlan, who is based at Yale University in the U.S. In spite of Comapartamos’s huge presence in poor communities across Mexico, and its previous claims to be greatly helping Mexico’s poor, the impact evaluation team could only come up with a tiny amount of evidence of any positive impact arising from its activities. This was bad enough. But this tepid conclusion actually hides a much more disturbing fact, which is that the research team could only manage to arrive at this sliver of good news by effectively refusing to adopt/adapt an evaluation methodology that would capture the most important downsides to the microcredit model. One can only presume that this was felt necessary in order to ensure that they could come up with the required (very limited) positive impact result they later disingenuously claimed to have found, and which allowed Compartamos and other institutions involved to inevitably spin into the specious claim that Compartamos “generally benefits (its) borrowers”.”
Notably, the research team entirely overlooked so-called “displacement” effects – that is, the negative impact on incumbent microenterprises in the same community that lost business and income thanks to waves of new Compartamos-supported microenterprises. With most Mexican communities for a long time adequately served by simple informal microenterprises providing retail and other services to the poor, the arrival of rafts of new microenterprises operating in exactly the same sub-sector will inevitably have precipitated very large displacement effects. But these downside impacts were ignored. The team also failed to factor in the impact of exits, which is when a microenterprise fails – which the vast majority actually do, and usually very quickly – and the hapless individuals involved then have to either divert other funds (pensions, remittances, savings, etc.) to continue to repay their microloan, or else they lose assets lodged as collateral when they are forced into outright default.
But perhaps the most egregious downside impact ignored by the research team relates to the fact that they also chose to examine a very short and unrepresentative time period – introducing microcredit into a community where before there was none. This then allowed them to simply aggregate the short-term results in such virgin territory into a generally upbeat assessment of the longer-term impact. This is utter nonsense. By doing this, the research team chose to ignore, first, the fact that Compartamos has contributed to further inflating Mexico’s already over-blown and massively unproductive “changarros” sector, which a growing number of analysts now accept is creating an existential threat to the Mexican economy. Second, there was also no comment on the huge opportunity cost involved when scarce funds are gradually diverted away from the “right” enterprises. This silence prevailed in spite of the fact that even the neoliberal-oriented IDB had the guts to publicly admit in 2010 that this “crowding out” issue actually lies at the heart of Latin America’s recent history of poverty and exclusion. Third, you will find nothing in this impact evaluation that discusses the over-indebtedness problems that are clearly looming on the horizon for Mexico’s poor communities, and particularly for many of Compartamos’s long-standing clients.
The Latin American economies have all been ill-served by the microcredit model, which has provided, and continues to provide, a serious headwind to those governments in Latin America hoping to escape once and for all from poverty, exclusion and primitivizing development trajectories. That microcredit continues to attract such support today thus needs some explanation. I would argue it is down to two factors. First, the politics and ideology; principally the need by the U.S.-led international development community to ensure that individual entrepreneurship and self-help remain the only potential paths out of poverty for the poor in Latin America, and not the exercise of any form of “collective capabilities” through social movements, trade unions, pro-poor governments, or any other similarly “subversive” intervention that the poor might wish to collectively deploy to escape their poverty, and might even have voted for as part of the “pink tide” of leftist governments. Second, there is the issue of the massive wealth that a tiny financial elite has been able to generate for itself thanks to (over)lending to the poor, and which it is now, quite predictably, unwilling to forego. This wealth has allowed, among other things, for the microcredit industry to aggressively lobby governments, mount massive PR campaigns and effortlessly finance deliberately dodgy impact evaluations, all in order to persuade the key actors in Latin America to continue to support the microcredit model.
All told, Latin American governments urgently need to disentangle themselves from the egregious myths and neoliberal-inspired fantasies surrounding microcredit, and begin to completely re-think their (often imposed) allegiance to what has proved to be an ultimately destructive poverty reduction and local development model.
 Hernando de Soto (1986): El otro sendero: la revolución informal. Lima: ILD
Milford Bateman is a freelance consultant on local economic development and also, since 2005, a Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila at Pula University in Croatia.
- Are Microcredits really the Rock Stars of International Aid? (tablenumbersix.wordpress.com)
Centuries of oppression have made black people particularly susceptible to the tempting siren song which comes with the image of black success. It is harmless to want a black person to win some coveted acclaim like a Pulitzer prize or even an Oscar, but quite another to be rendered stupid by the sight. Our history teaches us that we must be wary lest we be carried away by emotion that is without substance.
Barack Obama is the most obvious example of this phenomenon and its pernicious influence. A black man being elected as president of the United States was long hoped for but seemingly impossible. The realization of what had long been imagined and the often racist attacks against this dream create common cause with Obama and intense personal happiness on his behalf. Yet what seems inspirational is in fact anything but. The feelings of affection for Obama have been a negative force which impede rational thought and political common sense. The people who most epitomized the American search for true democracy have given it up completely because they love seeing a black man wearing a POTUS jacket and get angry when white people don’t like seeing it.
That history of struggle and the group identity it creates have not been limited to the American experience. The decades long fight against the racist apartheid system in South Africa was supported by millions of people in this country too. Jim Crow was America’s own apartheid. It is only logical that the sight of black people being treated cruelly in the name of white supremacy would elicit feelings of affinity in this country and around the world.
Nelson Mandela’s release from 27 years of imprisonment and his subsequent election as president created a surge of pride and joy among black people everywhere. Unfortunately we did not truly understand what we were witnessing. These events came about as a result of forces unacknowledged in America and they also came with a very high price.
The name of the Angolan town Cuito Cuanavale means little to all but a handful of Americans but it lies at the heart of the story of apartheid’s end. At Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 Cuban troops defeated the South African army and in so doing sealed apartheid’s fate.
It is important to know how apartheid ended, lest useless stories about a miraculously changed system and a peaceful grandfatherly figure confuse us and warp our consciousness. Mandela was freed because of armed struggle and not out of benevolence. He was also freed because the African National Congress miscalculated and made concessions which have since resulted in terrible poverty and powerlessness for black people in South Africa. By their own admission, some of his comrades concede that they were unprepared for the determination of the white majority to hold the purse strings even as they gave up political power.
Now the masses of black South Africans are as poor as they were during the time of political terror. The Sharpeville massacre of 1960 which galvanized the world against South Africa was repeated in 2012 when 34 striking miners were killed by police at Marikana. The Marikana massacre made a mockery of the hope which millions of people had for the ANC and its political success.
Obama’s recent visit to South Africa when the 94 year old Mandela was hospitalized created a golden opportunity for analysis and a questioning of long held assumptions about both men but the irrefutable fact is this. The personal triumphs of these two individuals have not translated into success for black people in either of their countries.
The victory of international finance capital wreaks havoc on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. In the U.S. black people have reached their political and economic low point during the Obama years. The gains won 50 years ago have been reversed while unemployment, mass incarceration, and Obama supported austerity measures have all conspired to undo the progress which was so dearly paid for.
Obama’s visit to Africa as Mandela lay critically ill brought very sincere but very deeply misled people to remember all of the wrong things. It isn’t true that black people benefit from the political success of certain individuals. It isn’t true that role models undo systemic cruelty or that racism ends because of their presence or that white people see or treat the masses of black people any differently when one black person reaches a high office.
The maudlin sentiment was all built on lies. Mandela fought the good fight for many years and is worthy of respect for that reason alone. But his passing should be a moment to reflect on his mistakes and on how they can be avoided by people struggling to break free from injustice. Obama’s career is a story of ambition and high cynicism which met opportunity. There is little to learn from his story except how to spot the next evil doer following in his footsteps.
It is high time that myths were called what they are. They are stories which may help explain our feelings but they are stories nonetheless and they do us no good.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. She can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Obama Visits Mandela’s Old Cell, But Won’t Free His Own Political Prisoners (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama Falsely Asserts He Is Mandela Follower (alethonews.wordpress.com)