This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”
Countries in the “developing world” have, since the end of formal colonialism, seen their ability to act autonomously systematically constrained by a variety of factors. These include, but are not limited to, macroeconomic policy conditions attached to World Bank and IMF loans, poor terms of trade with the Global North, lack of effective agency in international organizations, and the actions of multinational corporations operating in their territory.
Venezuela’s regionally oriented foreign policy during the Chávez era counteracted each of these dynamics, and in doing so opened up autonomous policy space for other states in Latin America and the Caribbean. The concrete achievements of a number of mechanisms, including counter-trading and credit provision within the PetroCaribe framework, and the recent establishment of a virtual regional currency, the SUCRE, all played a part in this process.
The first crucial action undertaken by Hugo Chávez as Venezuelan President in protecting regional economies was to vociferously oppose the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the third summit of the Americas, held in Quebec in 2000. The proposal represented the perfect consolidation of U.S. economic power, and was designed, in the words of General Colin Powell, to “guarantee control for North American businesses…over the entire hemisphere.”1 After Chávez voiced concerns, the Mercosur countries followed suit, stopping the FTAA conclusively at the subsequent Mar del Plata summit in 2005. If the FTAA had gone ahead, it would have resulted in the substantial economic subordination of Latin America to U.S. corporate interests. Agricultural sectors in particular would have suffered from an influx of low-cost subsidized U.S. products. In addition, areas of the public sphere that had previously avoided commoditization or privatization would have been fair game for trans-national corporations. Under the FTAA, Amanothep Zambrano, ALBA Executive Secretary, told me last August that states would not have been able to “lead any aspect of economic policy, and therefore their political capacity to solve social problems” would have been heavily constrained.
Their shared opposition to these proposals encouraged Cuba and Venezuela to form an alternative regional integration framework, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004. This quickly matured from a bilateral socio-centric cooperation agreement to a nascent regional bloc, or alliance, with the addition of Bolivia in 2006. Bolivia’s newly elected president, Evo Morales, brought with him the idea of a “Peoples Trade Treaty” (TCP), which extended the ALBA’s self-identified principles of solidarity, complementarity between economies, and respect for sovereignty, into a 23-point agreement that systematically opposed the tenets of orthodox free trade agreements. The TCP opened the possibility of pursuing economic policies outside of the market fundamentalist approach of the neoliberal era, for example by stating that people’s right to access healthcare should be prioritized above protecting pharmaceuticals’ corporate profitability. In the following three years, membership of the ALBA-TCP grew to nine countries encompassing much of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
During this time, the Venezuelan government also constructed PetroCaribe, a framework designed to facilitate the supply of its oil products to neighboring Caribbean states under preferential conditions, which at the time of writing had 18 members. Through these two channels the Venezuelan government has opened up autonomous policy space in the region, to some extent overcoming the constraints identified above. Venezuela has, largely through ALBA and PetroCaribe, become an important source of funding in the region. Oil supply agreements, signed between Venezuela and several members of both frameworks, permit countries to defer payment on set portions of their oil bill and use the capital obtained for government spending. Crucially this capital is obtained without the macroeconomic conditionality and policy prescriptions associated with World Bank or IMF loans. PetroCaribe agreements, for example, state that “member nations of the group are allowed to defer payment of 60% of their oil bills to Venezuela for 25 years, at 1% interest, in addition to a 90-day grace period on all payments, and a two year initial grace period on the credit facility.”2
This credit facility offers an alternative to IFI loans, while maintaining small Caribbean nations’ ability for autonomous decision making, which is considered critical in the post-colonial context. Specifically, credit provision has enabled Jamaica and Antigua to delay recourse to IMF loans, and put them in a better negotiating position so, I was told in August 2011 by Norman Girvan, former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, “they were able to make an easier deal.” Venezuela, under the current administration, has also purchased billions of dollars’ worth of bonds issued by the Argentine government, enabling the country’s early exit from all of its IMF debts and associated policy prescriptions.
As a result of this mechanism, PetroCaribe funding to the Caribbean now exceeds both EU and U.S. aid by a wide margin, with only remittances from the Caribbean diaspora exceeding it in funding to the signatory states.3 For Dominica, Venezuela is now the “single largest creditor…surpassing traditional sources of credit such as regional development banks and the IMF.” Venezuela is owed 27.7% of the country’s total debt, which grew 12.6% in 2011 alone, to $8.8 billion.4 Such figures inevitably raise concerns that the agreement is increasing debt levels in the region and developing dependence on Venezuelan largesse. Barbados’s Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, has stated that his country would not join because he “would not permit the present generation of Barbadians to consume oil now to be paid for by succeeding generations of Barbadians.”5 However, the deferred portion of the bill does not constitute debt in the orthodox sense, as it is kept by the Caribbean partners and can be spent as capital towards any project deemed socio-productive, or saved to accrue interest to offset the bill, as has been the case in Guyana. The domestic opposition sees the PetroCaribe scheme as Chávez “giving away” oil irresponsibly. However, the amount is relatively small and sustainable. Supply to PetroCaribe members, including Cuba, peaked in 2009 at an average of 196.4 thousand barrels daily, which constituted only 7% of total Venezuelan oil exports that year, and operates under market prices in accordance with Venezuela’s OPEC membership.6
Due to a high level of dependence on imports, Venezuela has also been uniquely able to position itself as a regional alternative to North American and European markets. This dynamic has, again, been apparent within both ALBA-TCP and PetroCaribe. In 2008, the PetroCaribe framework was augmented with a “compensatory exchange mechanism” via which oil bills from Venezuela could be offset by the export of domestically produced goods and services. The Venezuelan market is particularly important for Caribbean countries who suffer from poor terms of trade with the North due to dependence on primary commodity exports, the continued use of tariff and non-tariff barriers by developed nations, and the erosion of colonial trade preferences. For example, up to 90% of Guyanese rice exports per annum were going to EU countries when, in 2000, the Overseas Territories (OCT) loophole was closed, resulting, I was told by the Guyanese Ambassador to Venezuela, in a “50-60%” drop in prices. When the compensation mechanism was announced, the then-president of Guyana, Jagdeo Bharrat, actively sought a better deal with Venezuela through the PetroCaribe framework. The resultant export of both rice and unprocessed paddy has seen Venezuela become the single largest importer of Guyanese rice, replacing Portugal.7
In the case of ALBA countries, a strategic reorientation towards intra-regional trade, and particularly export to Venezuela, has reduced dependence on the United States and subsequently its ability to constrain autonomous action. For example, when Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008 following his alleged involvement in separatist actions in the Santa Cruz Department, Washington retaliated by excluding Bolivia from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Agreement (ATPDEA). Bolivia lost its U.S. tariff advantages, which was a particularly painful blow to its textile industry. Chávez immediately offered them a market under “the same or better conditions” that Bolivia had enjoyed with the United States. As a result, says the Bolivian Ambassador to Venezuela, in 2010 Venezuela “imported almost 50 million dollars in textiles alone, or nearly double that which [Bolivia] used to export to the USA” annually.
The purchase agreement was supported by initiatives by both governments to facilitate small and medium sized businesses’ entry into the regional market. A fund was established in the Bank of ALBA to provide short-term interest-free credit to Venezuelan importers in order to purchase Bolivian textiles, paired with a fund in the Bolivian national development bank to provide small textile producers credit to purchase raw materials. This agreement therefore not only minimized the impact that U.S. market sanctions could have over autonomous decision making by the Bolivian government, but also created direct relations between regional producers and consumers.
These patterns are part of a wider renewed focus on South-South trade, both within the region and with extra-hemispheric partners. However, the United States remains the region’s single most important trading partner. The objective is not to be “anti-American,” rather to reduce the U.S. ability to exert controlling influence over its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors by creating alternatives to the dollar in international trade. One way in which this was achieved was through the PetroCaribe mechanism and similar counter-purchase agreements with other regional allies. As direct non-market transactions, they circumvented the use of the dollar, thereby avoiding its automatic privileging in international trade, and avoiding the transaction costs associated with its use.
This concept was extended by the ALBA’s virtual common currency, the Unified Regional System for Economic Compensation (SUCRE). The SUCRE is essentially a series of clearing accounts between Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador that allow the countries to trade freely without transaction costs. Accounts are balanced every six months with one hard currency transfer. The value of trade conducted via the SUCRE in its first year of operations, 2010, was just over $8 million. It grew exponentially, to almost 100 times that the following year ($172,905,344).8 Though the SUCRE’s value was originally set against the dollar ($1 to XSU1.25), and it is typically used as the convertible currency to make balancing payments, in the long term the intention is to no longer use the dollar at all. The direct and deliberate countering of U.S. economic hegemony that the SUCRE represents has been of particular importance to Ecuador, whose macroeconomic policy options have been constrained by a prior administration’s decision to dollarize the economy in 2001. In fact, the mechanism was largely designed by Ecuadoran economists, and of the $170 million traded in 2011, $140 million was for Venezuelan purchases from Ecuador (mainly tuna).9
As we have seen, Chávez’s time in office saw an unequivocal reassertion of the state as economic actor throughout the region. This dynamic was particularly felt in the crucial energy sector. In Venezuela, governmental control of the state oil industry was consolidated, while both Bolivia and Argentina nationalized hydrocarbons with investment and technical assistance from Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), via agreements with YPFB and Enarsa, state owned gas and oil companies in Bolivia and Argentina respectively. Even in centrist or center-right Caribbean nations, Venezuelan investment has enabled state-owned oil companies and agencies to supply oil products directly to their population, “to effectively intervene in their markets to minimize retail prices” in the energy sector which had previously been “dominated by foreign companies.”10
Where state energy companies or agencies did not exist prior to PetroCaribe, they have been formed to facilitate the direct import of oil products from PDVSA. These can take the form of joint ventures with the PDVSA subsidiary PDV Caribe. Venezuelan credit and grants have also been used to fund improvements in energy infrastructure; that is namely the capacity of the member countries to store and refine oil, and in turn to generate and distribute energy. Central to this scheme has been investment in the Cienfuegos refinery in Cuba and at the Kingston refinery which now almost exclusively refines Venezuelan crude. The refinery is run by Petrojam Ltd, a mixed state enterprise in which Jamaica Oil Company owns a 51% stake and PDV Caribe 49%. This reassertion of state control over energy resources is seen as a fundamental facet of PetroCaribe’s “new oil geopolitics…at the services of our peoples not at the service of imperialism and big capital.”11
The right and power of multinationals to dictate domestic policy has been systematically undermined, both through a reassertion of the state as economic actor and in the tenets of the TCP which we briefly touched on earlier. This offers a stark contrast to the World Trade Organization’s policies such as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which consistently privilege corporate interests, and/or offer beneficial “loopholes” for developed nations. This has been possible through the creation of new regional forums in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which members’ interests are not subordinate to those of more powerful nations. For example, in the TCP, economic asymmetries between members are recognised and therefore tariff reductions do not have to be reciprocal, disregarding the “most favored nation” principle. In addition, ALBA has no supranationality; it is best described as a framework for cooperation rather than an integration body in the orthodox sense. All programs and agreements are optional, flexible, and voluntary, thereby protecting the national autonomy of members.
Though statist in its organization, ALBA facilitates continual dialogue through presidential and ministerial summits, which have also been attended by international observers. Non-member countries are also represented in the council for social movements, whose proponents include groups such as the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement. ALBA proved to be the first in a series of new regional spaces, catalysed by massive rejection of the FTAA proposal—a rejection led by Chávez—and culminating in the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was put together as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), and includes all the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada. In this way, lessened economic dependence has resulted in increased diplomatic autonomy from the United States.
There are those who argue that Venezuelan projects in the region created new constraints, replaced one set of dependencies with another. But this is not the case. Though he was a catalyst for and investor in regional development, Chávez avoided constructing a position of power or privilege for Venezuela. This is evident in the lack of conditionality attached to credit mechanisms and the fact that the controlling stake of each mixed state enterprise was maintained by the partner country. Though oil wealth put Chávez in a unique position to invest in regional projects, these were not unilaterally devised or constructed; the TCP came from Bolivia, SUCRE is an Ecuadoran concept, and of course ALBA social programs were exported from Cuba. However, these ideas were made a reality by the capacity for rapid implementation that oil largesse afforded. Such apparently altruistic actions led many to question Chávez’s motives. It is important to point out that these frameworks and counter-purchase agreements have also helped reduce Venezuela’s dependence on the United States as a market and refining destination for oil. The volume of Venezuelan oil exported to the United States decreased from 1,500,000 barrels per day in 2008, to 1,166,000 bpd in 2011, a drop of 334,000 barrels per day. This can, in part, be attributed to the diversification of markets in Latin America (190 bpd to PetroCaribe, plus supply agreements with Argentina among others). This is in addition to securing crucial imports without financial outlay, specifically agricultural commodities, which are often then provided to the Venezuelan population at low cost through state owned agencies such as the supermarket chain Mercal.
Under the last ten years of Hugo Chávez’s Presidency, Venezuela’s foreign policies resulted in an opening up of autonomous policy space in Latin America and the Caribbean. What was begun in 2004 with the rejection of the proposed FTAA continued into the post-crisis conjuncture, when Chávez was instrumental in creating a new regional financial architecture to limit the power exerted by Washington-based IFIs. PetroCaribe credit provided funds for capital expenditure, without imposing macroeconomic conditionality. In addition, guaranteed oil supplies allowed the small and energy dependent nations that made up its membership to move beyond reactive policies and look to longer term socio-productive investment.
Venezuela’s concurrent strategy of sourcing imports from the region offered primary-commodity-dependent economies some opportunity to diversify their markets and baskets, with better terms of trade than offered by the United States or ex-colonial metropoles in Europe. Chávez also took the bite out of attempted control via market sanctions, as was clearly demonstrated in the Bolivian example.
These regional imports often took the form of non-market exchanges and counter-purchase agreements within PetroCaribe, ALBA, and beyond. Combined, they arguably represented a strategic de-linking from international trade and finance systems, specifically from the U.S. dollar. As such, these frameworks have lessened both the dependence on, and influence of, the United States in the region, protecting countries’ ability to act autonomously and not follow the dictates of Washington. Chávez effectively undermined U.S. economic power by offering alternatives to the hegemony of the dollar, with the SUCRE in particular offering a concerted challenge. Lessened economic dependence in turn allowed for greater diplomatic autonomy from Washington, demonstrated in its strategic exclusion from the newly formed CELAC. The various new regional initiatives provide space to build development strategies and devise economic policies, beyond the constraints of “market-friendly” logic. This allows for a reassertion of the state as an economic actor and service provider, within a culture of regional cooperation. Though the Venezuelan state is not operating outside of capitalism per se, from the initial rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2001 the Chávez government demonstrated that there are alternatives beyond the policy prescriptions of the neoliberal era, and what’s more, facilitated their use throughout the region to mutually beneficial ends.
1. Colin Powell cited in Katharine Ainger, “Trading Away the Americas,” New Internationalist, Issue 351, November 1, 2002, available at newint.org
2. “Venezuela: Two Countries Hold Out Against Cheap Loans and Barters,” Countertrade & Offset, 26:15 (2008)7
3. Sir Ronald Sanders, “The Chavez Effect: A life belt for the Caribbean,” Kaieteur news online, July 27, 2008, available at kaieteurnewsonline.com
4. Andrés Rojas Jiménez “Deuda dominicana con PDVSA aumentó durante 201,” El Nacional, February 16, 2012, available at elnacional.com
5. Wendell Mottley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Industrial Policy 1959-2008 Kingston. (Randle, 2008) 157.
6. This data, and all data not otherwise cited, elaborated from PDVSA annual reports, 2009-2011.
7. Guyana Rice Development Board, “Guyana Rice Development Board Annual Report 2010,” 2011.
8. Consejo Monetario Regional del SUCRE, “SUCRE Informe de Gestión 2011,” 2012.
10. Curtis Williams, “Venezuela Urged to Fast-track Petrocaribe Initiative,” Oil and Gas Journal, 102 (2004):26.
11. Hugo Chávez Frías, Petrocaribe, Towards A New Order in Our America, (Colecciones Discursos, Ministerio de Poder Popular para Comunicación.)
Stephanie Pearce is a doctoral candidate at the School of Politics & International Relations, Queen Mary College, University of London. Her research focuses on the role of countertrade in Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”
Read the rest of NACLA’s Summer 2013 issue: “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”
Media Roots presents American Anthrax, a documentary comprised of news footage that establishes, by history’s own narration, how everything you’ve been told about the Anthrax Attacks is a lie. Conceptualized, edited and produced by Robbie Martin, co-host of Media Roots Radio.
September 11, 2001, shook the United States to the core, a country that had been nearly untouchable since its democratic inception. However, immediately following this horrific tragedy, another equally as impactful ‘terrorist attack’ occurred when weaponized anthrax was sent to multiple Congressman and journalists through the U.S. Postal Service.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were both one-time events that happened in two prominent cities. Unlike 9/11, the Anthrax Attacks localized terrorism and spread fear to every corner of American life, where the simple act of getting your mail could prove to be fatal. Five people died as a result of breathing in the deadly anthrax spores, including postal workers and one NY Post reporter. Countless others were infected.
The Bush administration initially tried to link this ‘second wave of terrorism’ to al-Qaeda with zero proof. Once that talking point out-lived its usefulness, the official narrative began leaning towards Saddam Hussein and his mythological biological weapons program.
Establishment propagandists like John Mccaine and ABC news reporters intentionally spread disinformation to plant the seed in the public mind that the anthrax came from Iraq, which eventually lead to Colin Powell’s infamous 2003 WMD speech at the UN. All the while, the U.S. government was fully aware that the anthrax did not come from an external source, because the strain showed tell-tale signs of being a specific anthrax strain that was weaponized and manufactured by the U.S. military.
Regardless, the idea of the Anthrax Attacks being executed by an external terrorist organization remained conventional wisdom the public was conditioned into believing in the aftermath of 9/11. Eventually, two men were accused of being the perpetrators behind the attacks, yet no charges were ever brought to either of them. The first accused individual, Steven Hatfill, ended up being rewarded a multimillion dollar settlement from the government for being wrongly accused before any evidence was presented against him. The subsequent accused individual, Bruce Ivins, allegedly committed suicide while the FBI was trying to break him into confessing.
Ultimately, the FBI asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to verify its evidence pointing to Ivins as the main suspect. Instead, the NAS concluded that the DNA in the anthrax sent in the mail was in fact not a match to the anthrax Ivins worked with. Before the National Academy of Sciences finished their independent investigation, the FBI rushed its preestablished conclusions about Ivins’s guilt to the press, and the case was closed. To this day, the FBI has never commented on the many glaring contradictions in the official government narrative about the Anthrax Attacks.
Follow Robbie at @fluorescentgrey
On the 12th anniversary of 9/11, everyone is talking about false-flag operations.
Pat Buchanan, a leading American conservative, says that the Syria chemical weapons incident “reeks of a false flag operation.” Buchanan says he cannot believe that Syrian President Assad would be so stupid as to order a chemical strike with no military purpose except to invite the US to bomb his country.
Assad’s opponents, on the other hand, would have every reason to launch such a strike and blame it on Assad.
Ron Paul agrees, saying: “I think it’s a false-flag.” His son Rand Paul adds: “There is a great incentive for this to actually have been launched by rebels, not the Syrian army.”
Rush Limbaugh suspects a false-flag with Obama’s complicity. Limbaugh cites Yossef Bodansky: “The rebels nerve gassed themselves in order to engineer a response that takes out Bashar, putting the US on the side of Al-Qaeda.”
Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, went one step further. Citing sources in the intelligence community, Wilkerson said the chemical weapons attack was an Israeli false-flag operation. Wilkerson explained that “Israel is in a very, very dangerous situation right now. Netanyahu is clueless as to this. I hope that President Obama gave him a lecture into geo-strategic realities.”
Wilkerson’s statement that Israel is in a “very, very dangerous situation” seemed on the surface to refer to the turmoil in the Middle East. But Wilkerson may have been conveying another message as well: By orchestrating a barely-disguised chemical weapons false flag designed to force Obama to attack Syria on or around the 9/11 anniversary, Netanyahu showed he is “clueless” about one very important fact: More and more senior members the US military and intelligence establishments, including Wilkerson, know that Israel also orchestrated the 9/11 false flag operation. And they are ready to push back.
These senior US decision-makers are unhappy that Israel orchestrated the murder of almost 3,000 Americans on 9/11 in order to drag the US into endless wars against Israel’s enemies. They are seething about Israel’s continuing deception of the American public through its domination of the mainstream media. They are furious about the Israel lobby’s influence over Congress via bribery and threats. They are disgusted at the way Israel’s false-flag attack on 9/11 led to the evisceration of both the Constitution and the national treasury, drowning America in debt to the international bankers and destroying the nation’s economic future.
Wilkerson was saying (between-the-lines) that if Netanyahu thinks he can drag the US into yet another major war for Israel, by staging a transparently obvious false-flag attack close to the 9/11 anniversary, he is treading on very dangerous ground.
Dr. Alan Sabrosky, an ex-Marine and former Director for Strategic Studies at the US Army War College, is more forthright than Wilkerson: “I have had long conversations over the last two weeks with contacts at the Army War College and the headquarters, Marine Corps, and I’ve made it absolutely clear in both cases that it is 100% certain that 9/11 was a Mossad operation. Period. The Zionists are playing this as an all-or-nothing exercise. If they lose this one, they’re done.”
Dr. Sabrosky, who says he expresses his Jewish identity through cuisine not foreign policy, explains what he means by “they’re done”:
“If these Americans and those like them ever fully understand just how much of their suffering – and the suffering we have inflicted on others – is properly laid on the doorsteps of Israel and its advocates in America, they will sweep aside those in politics, the press and the pulpits alike whose lies and disloyalty brought this about and concealed it from them. They may well leave Israel looking like Carthage after the Romans finished with it. It will be Israel’s own great fault.”
This is what Wilkerson means when he says Netanyahu was “naïve” to launch the Syrian false flag chemical attack: Naïve Netanyahu imagines he can keep on fooling the Americans forever. He thinks he can get away with rubbing Israeli false-flags in America’s face just in time for September 11th. He is putting Israel in a “very, very dangerous” position.
Naturally, Israel’s American fifth column is trying to save Netanyahu from the consequences of his own folly. They are pushing back hard against the rapidly-rising awareness of false-flags.
Example: Netanyahu’s American megaphone for liberals, the Daily Beast, has published an article attacking the false-flag “conspiracy theories” about Syria.
The Daily Beast is owned by Jane Harmon – who while in Congress was caught by the FBI spying for Israel – and Hollywood Zionist mogul Barry Diller. The Daily Beast’s latest attempt to nip false-flag awareness in the bud is headlined “Enough Already: Syria Wasn’t a False Flag Operation.”
Author Jamelle Bouie admits “there’s no hard confirmation that Assad gave the order to use sarin gas against civilians.” Since there is no evidence implicating Assad, Bouie conjures up “the logistical complexity of setting up the attack and a subsequent cover-up.”
But this “logistical complexity” implicates Israel, not Syria. Israel’s spy service, the ruthless and reckless Mossad, has as its motto: “By way of deception thou shalt do war.” The Mossad is undoubtedly the world’s most experienced intelligence service in the field of logistically-complex false flag deceptions.
Playing dumb, Bouie pretends that Wilkerson cannot explain why Israel would stage such a false flag attack. Since Israel has no motive, Bouie claims, it cannot have perpetrated the attack. But wait a minute – a few paragraphs earlier, Bouie ridiculed those who said Assad had no motive, so he probably didn’t do it!
In fact, Israel does have a motive. Netanyahu has been working overtime in his efforts to drag Obama into war against Syria and Iran. AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby are the only significant political force in the US that wants an attack on Syria. And that attack could not possibly happen without a chemical weapons incident attributed to Assad. Obviously, Israel is the prime beneficiary – and the likely culprit.
When someone like Lawrence Wilkerson warns Israel to stop using false-flag atrocities to drag America into ill-advised wars, the Israelis had better listen. When the American people finally wake up to these deceptions – especially 9/11 – Israel could end up, as Dr. Sabrosky suggests, as a smoking pile of rubble.
The Film Hollywood Should Make is About al-Libi’s Torture Helping Lead to Iraq War Disaster
Ten years ago, Colin Powell made the case for invading Iraq before the United Nations Security Council. Many aspects of his case were clearly dubious at the time, but one notorious aspect desperately needs to be truly understood: Some of Powell’s argument for an Iraq link to al-Qaeda came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was tortured into giving such “evidence” — that is, he told the torturers what they wanted to hear so that the torture would stop.
This is particularly noteworthy as the movie Zero Dark Thirty has many liberals screaming “torture doesn’t work” — which, in a sense is totally true and at the same time exactly misses the point. Torture does work. It just doesn’t work in so far as its stated purpose (catching criminals, stopping evil plots) is concerned.
Former long-time CIA analyst Ray McGovern, has written that the al-Libi case was central to Powell keeping the alleged al-Qaeda link to Iraq in his UN speech:
Al-Libi’s stories misinformed Colin Powell’s U.N. speech, which sought to establish a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda to justify invading Iraq.
Al-Libi recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the CIA, a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission. …
The al-Libi case might help you understand why, even though information from torture is notoriously unreliable, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the sycophants running U.S. intelligence ordered it anyway.
In short, if it is untruthful information you are after, torture can work just fine!
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s own former chief of staff, similarly wrote:
“What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.
“So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qaeda-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
“There in fact were no such contacts.” [Wilkerson elaborated on this on Democracy Now Wednesday morning, should be posted here. He notes he and Powell agreed to drop the accusation of an al-Qaeda link to Iraq until they were given the "evidence" from al-Libi's interrogation.]
I asked Powell about this in 2009 and he seemed remarkably defensive and uninterested in finding out if the words he uttered on the world stage were based on misinformation from torture:
Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.
SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?
CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.
SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
CP: So what? [inaudible]
SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.
CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.
But my questioning was based on statements by Wilkerson, who was in the room. Presumably Powell is waiting for the CIA to call him and tell him directly that torture was used to extract some of the information he used.
This problem of torture yielding useful but false information was not unforeseeable. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil appeared on a news release I assembled the day after Powell’s notorious UN speech: “The Arab media is reporting that the Zakawi story was provided by Jordanian intelligence, which has a record of torture and inaccuracy.”
But the al-Libi story gets even worse. First off, al-Libi had initially cooperated with FBI officials when he was first questioned by them, giving them true and useful information without being tortured. Secondly, he was tortured by chief Egyptian spymaster Omar Suleiman, widely seen and the CIA’s man in Cairo, who attempted to take over from Mubarak when the longtime dictator finally stepped down because of the uprising in 2011 (Suleiman himself died in a Cleveland hospital in 2012).
After al-Libi recanted to the CIA, he was eventually shipped off to Libya where he died in a prison cell. The newspaper of one of Qaddafi’s son’s claimed it was a suicide. As Juan Cole wrote at the time: “The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison.”
Before his death, Human Rights Watch “briefly met with al-Libi on April 27 during a research mission to Libya. He refused to be interviewed, and would say nothing more than: ‘Where were you when I was being tortured in American jails.’”
After al-Libi’s death Human Right Watch stated: “The death of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi means that the world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced. So now it is up to Libya and the United States to reveal the full story of what they know, including its impact on his mental health.” Right after Al Capone investigates his own dealings.
Note that al-Libi died in Libyan custody when relations were quite chummy between Qaddafi and the U.S. It’s hard not to think this was part of a quid pro quo — the Qaddafi regime offs al-Libi to help the U.S. cover up the torture-war link and in exchange Qaddafi got (rather short-lived acceptance from part of the U.S. establishment.
If Hollywood — or any media for that matter — had any interest in communicating the realities of the modern Mideast and U.S. policy there, the story of al-Libi should be front and center.
- “Pregnant, Chained to a Wall and Starved”, One of 136 Terror War Stories (ipsnews.net)
- Dark side of the moon (thehindu.com)
Ten years ago today, Colin Powell made the Bush administration’s case for going to war against Iraq. Much of what he said about Iraq’s threats to the United States was false. But the media coverage gave the opposite impression, and most of the pundits and journalists who promoted the justifications for the war paid no price for their failures.
As FAIR reported at the time, even before the Powell address there were reasons to be skeptical of the administration’s claims. On February 4, 2003, FAIR published “Iraq’s Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact,” which made the point that “it has not been demonstrated that Iraq continues to hold unconventional weapons.” FAIR criticized coverage like that of the New York Times (2/2/03), which asserted that “nobody seriously expected Mr. Hussein to lead inspectors to his stash of illegal poisons or rockets, or to let his scientists tell all.”
As the FAIR release concluded:
The media convey to the public the impression that the alleged banned weapons on which the Bush administration rests its case for war are known to exist, and that the question is simply whether inspectors are skillful enough to find them.
Powell’s address was instrumental in pushing a faulty media line on Iraq’s WMDs further. That much was clear in the coverage right after his appearance at the United Nations, as FAIR documented on February 10 in “A Failure of Skepticism in Powell Coverage.”
In Andrea Mitchell‘s report on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03), Powell’s allegations became actual capabilities of the Iraqi military: “Powell played a tape of a Mirage jet retrofitted to spray simulated anthrax, and a model of Iraq’s unmanned drones, capable of spraying chemical or germ weapons within a radius of at least 550 miles.”
Dan Rather, introducing an interview with Powell (60 Minutes II, 2/5/03), shifted from reporting allegations to describing allegations as facts: “Holding a vial of anthrax-like powder, Powell said Saddam might have tens of thousands of liters of anthrax. He showed how Iraqi jets could spray that anthrax and how mobile laboratories are being used to concoct new weapons.” The anthrax supply is appropriately attributed as a claim by Powell, but the mobile laboratories were something that Powell “showed” to be actually operating.
Commentator William Schneider on CNN Live Today (2/6/03) dismissed the possibility that Powell could be doubted: “No one disputes the findings Powell presented at the U.N. that Iraq is essentially guilty of failing to disarm.” When CNN‘s Paula Zahn (2/5/03) interviewed Jamie Rubin, former State Department spokesperson, she prefaced a discussion of Iraq’s response to Powell’s speech thusly: “You’ve got to understand that most Americans watching this were either probably laughing out loud or got sick to their stomach. Which was it for you?”
If you turn to FAIR’s “Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline” (3/19/07), you see that February 6 Washington Post op-ed page had Mary McGrory writing: “I don’t know how the United Nations felt about Colin Powell’s ‘J’accuse’ speech against Saddam Hussein. I can only say that he persuaded me, and I was as tough as France to convince.” She added that she “heard enough to know that Saddam Hussein, with his stockpiles of nerve gas and death-dealing chemicals, is more of a menace than I had thought.”
And Richard Cohen (2/6/03) announced that the debate was over:
The evidence he presented to the United Nations–some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail–had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool–or possibly a Frenchman–could conclude otherwise.
Obviously, the fools and Frenchmen were correct. And as FAIR documented, independent-minded journalists were reporting that some of the administration’s claims did not stand up to scrutiny. The Associated Press had a detailed look at the state of Iraq intelligence on January 18. The skepticism and good judgment of those reporters (and others) should have been the rule, not the exception, if journalists had been doing their jobs.
But most journalists did a different job. And most of them faced no consequences whatsoever for being so disastrously wrong.
Why does it matter if Susan Rice serves as secretary of state?
That is a trick question, because in fact, it doesn’t matter at all. American foreign policy will be unchanged regardless of who the next secretary may be. The full force of imperialism will be brought to bear against the people of the world under the Obama administration. The democratic president has made real the goals of the neo-con Project for a New American Century, a 21st century version of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States should rule the world and do so with a vengeance.
Rice’s nomination is a non-issue but is treated as an important one for many black people because of the words of right wing racists. The sight of the embittered sore loser John McCain calling Rice “unqualified” and “not very smart” reminds black people of the slights they are personally subjected to in their lives every day. It is especially galling for the insult to come from McCain, the quintessential entitlement baby. He was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy because his father and grandfather were admirals. The legacy leg up didn’t help much because the mediocre young McCain still graduated at the bottom of his class. McCain’s insistence that the obviously sub-par Sarah Palin was a qualified vice presidential candidate makes the racist slaps at Rice all the more offensive.
The yearning to see a black face in one of the highest and most rarefied places is a very deep one and not to be easily dismissed, but it is crucial to note that Rice is no different from John McCain in her beliefs of how the United States should conduct itself in the world. The facts against Rice and her predecessors are obscured by a corporate media which hides all the atrocities committed by the United States government, making the Rice story appear like nothing more than that of a high achieving black woman being slandered by evil racists.
The case against Rice or whomever is nominated by the president should be a case made against United States foreign policy and all of the people who now or ever were in charge of carrying it out. The presidents, secretaries of state, United Nations ambassadors, national security advisers and their ilk are held up as paragons of virtue, intelligence and moral rectitude. They emerge from elite institutions and are held up as the “best and the brightest” the country has to offer.
A secretary of state not only has a prestigious position, but is considered an elder statesman or woman for life. Of course, he or she also can walk into positions of great wealth after their public service has ended. Corporate speeches, book deals and lucrative board positions await every living secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Condoleezza Rice.
The true horror is that the people who hold these supposedly august positions are in fact no better than criminal enforcers in organized crime families. American secretaries of state have plotted invasions and assassinations, occupied countries, destroyed economies, fomented coups and in a myriad of other ways laid waste to sovereign nations. Countries which try to bring about their own democracies are thwarted if their plans are seen as a threat to American interests.
No secretary of state should be lionized and there is nothing wonderful about black people having the right to perform the evil acts which were once the reserve of whites.The Dulleses and Kissingers and their predecessors and successors made wars on huge swaths of the planet and did in fact crush attempts at democracy so that American businesses might be able to harvest bananas at cheap prices.
The appearance of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as part of the Bush administration foreign policy team ended the white monopoly on American state terror. Colin Powell went to the United Nations with his power point presentation full of lies in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. He also removed Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s democratically elected president, from office. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice covered up her own incompetence and the still murky facts which brought the September 11th terrorist attacks onto American soil.
It was during the Bush administration that the black face in the high place joined in committing the worst kinds of dirty work to be carried out by the United States around the globe. It was also the first time that black Americans began to look the other way and excuse their government’s inhumanity. Defending Colin and Condi became substitutes for analysis and the ideology that once made black Americans the group least supportive of their government’s acts of aggression.
The ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency accelerated this grotesque delusion of racial uplift. Not only are NDAA, kill lists, and naked imperialism to be overlooked, but the black man who destroyed Libya and Somalia and who is on the road to destroying Syria will have another terrorist of color by his side. In a perverse way this terrible duo will increase the joy of a people who a mere five years ago recoiled at the very behavior which Obama and Rice have exhibited toward the rest of the world.
America is and will continue to pose terrible threats to the rest of the world, whether the next secretary of state if Susan Rice or John Kerry or an unknown player to be named later. That should be the crux of any debates about who should serve in these positions. Anything else is just drama playing out while the world burns because the United States keeps lighting the match.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Susan “Genocide” Rice: Is Susan Rice “Bad for Congo” (disquietreservations.blogspot.com)