Acting IRS chief Steven Miller on Friday said he did not believe agency officials did anything illegal when giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Miller, who was forced to resign this week by President Obama, said he didn’t believe the scrutiny was illegal even as he apologized for the IRS’s actions, which have turned into a political storm for the White House.
He also admitted under questioning from House Ways and Means Committee members that facts could emerge that might change whether he thinks anyone in the agency committed a crime, and he said one staffer involved in the extra scrutiny was reassigned and another received counseling.
Facing tense, and at times hostile, questions from GOP lawmakers at the first congressional hearing on the IRS controversy, Miller said the screening process the IRS used was “obnoxious” and called the customer service the agency offered “horrible.”
Miller stressed that the extra attention happened because IRS officials faced an avalanche of applications for tax-exempt status.
But he also pushed back on GOP lawmakers who said the IRS was targeting conservatives, calling that a “loaded” statement.
“When you talk about targeting, that’s a pejorative term,” Miller said.
Asked if the IRS’s actions had been illegal, he responded: “I don’t believe it is.”
He then added of the behavior: “I don’t believe it should happen.”
Miller’s answers did not sit well with GOP lawmakers throughout Friday’s hearing, and his comments fly in the face of top Republicans like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who have said that agency staffers should be jailed.
Republicans on Friday accused the acting IRS chief of lying to them about the extra scrutiny given to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Miller found out about that special attention more than a year ago but declined to tell lawmakers.
At the start of Friday’s committee hearing, Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) rattled off several different violations he believes the IRS committed.
Camp also linked the IRS uproar to what he called a “culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration,” an apparent reference to last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the Justice Department’s subpoena of reporter records.
“This systemic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation,” Camp said. “And, as much as I expect more people need to go, the reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers.”
But Republicans on the panel have also expressed frustration throughout the hearing at Miller’s sometimes feisty answers, with the acting chief maintaining that he did not lie to them.
“You’re not going to cooperate with me, Mr. Miller, and you’ve been uncooperative in this hearing,” Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) told the IRS official.
Democrats acknowledged that the IRS had made serious mistakes and generally agreed with Miller’s statements that agency officials did not target Tea Party and conservative groups for political reasons.
“What I’m trying to point out, and basically to debunk, is the notion or idea the political statements — and, I believe, nonfactual statements by Chairman Camp — to link these scandals to the White House,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a member of House Democratic leadership.
Democrats also stressed repeatedly that the Doug Shulman, who was IRS commissioner when the targeting took place, was nominated by former President George W. Bush. And several said that the major issue was the cloudy regulations guiding which groups should be granted tax-exempt status.
Miller is testifying along with Russell George, the Treasury inspector general whose report details what he called “ineffective management” at the agency.
George’s report found that the IRS asked for excessive information from conservative groups, including donor lists and whether group leaders wanted to run for public office. The IRS also applied inconsistent principles when deciding which groups to give extra screening, the report said, leading some groups to wait months or years for approval.
According to the inspector general’s report, Lois Lerner, the IRS official who first disclosed the targeting, found out in June 2011. Lerner pushed for the screening guidelines to be changed, but other IRS officials eventually went around her to change them again.
George’s report also says that IRS staffers assert that lower-level employees crafted the screening process and that they were not influenced by any outside group.
Miller on Friday acknowledged that Lerner’s disclosure of the IRS targeting last Friday came from a planted question.
Camp had said in his opening statement that he was interested in hearing why the IRS targeting occurred and why the agency kept it secret for so long, who started the extra scrutiny, and when President Obama and his administration found out.
But in a hearing break, he told The Hill that he wasn’t satisfied with the answers the panel was getting from Miller, a feeling shared by other Republicans.
“On the one hand, you’re arguing today that the IRS is not corrupt,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). “But the subtext of that is you say, ‘Look, we’re just incompetent.’ And I think it is a perilous pathway to go down.”
By Karl Grossman | May 16, 2013
President Barack Obama got it right and wrong Monday when he stated, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”
He was right in declaring it was “outrageous” for the IRS to target conservative organizations for tough tax treatment. But he was incorrect in saying “it is contrary to our traditions.”
For the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has for decades gone after organizations and individuals that take stands in conflict with the federal government at the time. This has been a tradition, an outrageous tradition.
It is exposed in detail by David Burnham, longtime New York Times investigative reporter, in his 1991 book A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power. He relates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely “set the stage for the use of the tax agency for political purposes by most subsequent presidents.” Burnham writes about how a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, banker Andrew Mellon, was a special IRS target under FDR. During the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, he recounts, the focus of the IRS’s efforts “at political control” were civil rights organizations and those against the U.S. engaging in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s “enemies list” and his scheme to use the IRS against those on it is what the current IRS scandal is being most compared.
History Professor John A. Andrew III in his 2002 book Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon—its title drawn from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy”—focuses further on this tradition. He tells of how John F. Kennedy administration’s “Ideological Organizations Project” investigated, intimidated and challenged the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups including the John Birch Society. Then, with a turn of the White House to the right with Nixon came investigations, he writes, of such entities as the Jerry Rubin Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Corporate Responsibility.
During the Reagan administration, I had my own experience with the IRS—ostensibly
because of a book I wrote. Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? involved reporting from what was then a war zone in Nicaragua and in Florida—where I interviewed leaders of the contras who were working with the CIA to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government—and Honduras, being set up as a tarmac for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. I visited a U.S. military base there. The book warned against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua (subsequently decided against by the Reagan White House after the Iran-contra scandal). The book was published in 1985 and soon afterwards I was hit with an IRS audit. It would be more, I was informed, than my showing up at an IRS office. The IRS was to come to my house for a “field audit.”
The investigator sat on one side of our dining room table and on the other side was me and my accountant, Peter Berger of Shelter Island. What would be an all-day event started with the investigator asking me to detail how much my family spent on food each week and then, slowly, methodically, going through other expenses. Then he went through income. He obviously was seeking to determine on this fishing expedition whether income exceeded expenses. He went through receipts for business expenses including restaurant receipts, asking who I ate with. He sorted through receipts for office supplies. By mid-afternoon, he had gotten nowhere. At that point, having been hours together, a somewhat weird relationship had been formed. And he began to tell me how his dream in college was to become a journalist. He expanded on that, and then asked: “Have you ever faced retaliation?”
“What do you think this is?” I responded.
He was taken back—insisting my name had come up “at random.”
In the end, all he did was trim some of what was listed as business use of my home phone.
Was I being retaliated against for the book I had written? One would never know. Recently, I ran into accountant Berger, now retired, and he commented about how that day at my house was the strangest IRS audit he had ever been involved in.
The IRS has been beyond reform. Burnham writes in A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power that a “political imperative of not messing with the IRS” has become “close to being a law of nature almost as unbending as the force of gravity.” It is “rarely examined by Congress.”
President Obama announced yesterday that the acting commissioner of the IRS was asked and agreed to tender his resignation as a result of the scandal. That’s a small start. Far more important is somehow ending the tradition of IRS political tyranny. Fundamental change in the IRS is called for.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
Although the president’s press secretary noted yesterday then-Senator Obama’s support for a federal shield law to protect reporters from having to disclose their sources, he failed to mention how the White House deep-sixed a comprehensive shield bill back in 2009. That bill could have prevented the extraordinary Associated Press subpoena, which was disclosed this week.
Back in 2009, various stakeholders—including Republicans in the House, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), and a broad coalition of free press and public interest groups—came together to support the Free Flow of Information Act. Although not perfect, the original bill contained express safeguards requiring the administration to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information sought and to tailor subpoenas narrowly, along with other safeguards to preserve source anonymity.
While initially backing the legislation, the administration abruptly reversed course in late 2009, demanding that the bill contain what amounted to an exemption for national security leak cases and severely limiting judicial discretion under the measure. The bill died and has yet to be resurrected.
If there ever were a time to resurrect the federal shield law, it is now.
Although the details are still trickling out, it’s clear that a Justice Department leak investigation sought the dial-out records of 20 phone lines belonging to the AP and its reporters. The request covered both the personal mobile and home phones of targeted journalists, as well as office numbers for the AP in New York, Washington, Hartford, and the House of Representatives’ press gallery. More than 100 reporters work at the offices subject to the subpoenas, and the information pulled covered two months. Perhaps most striking, notice of the subpoena was delayed—meaning that the AP had no opportunity to go to court to contest it before the DOJ secured the records.
I haven’t been able to find any cases of similar sweep. In one of the more recent cases involving a leak subpoena for phone records (involving a tip to The New York Times that the offices of two Islamic charities suspected of funding terrorism were about to be raided), the government notified the news outlet in advance, negotiated with the Times at length, and only sought a subpoena as a last resort. The scope of the subpoena was modest compared to the AP request, covering only a couple of weeks of records and only two journalists. That’s a far cry from what happened here.
The notion of a reporter shield or privilege isn’t to protect journalists; it’s to protect the public. When the Bill of Rights was being drafted, America had a vibrant mass media. Indeed, it even had the 18th century equivalent of the blogger (the proverbial “lonely pamphleteer”). The drafters were well aware of the power of a free media to restrain government excess and to undermine the authoritarian impulse. Many recalled, for instance, the case of John Zenger, the colonial printer charged with libel for printing a periodical critical of the New York governor. That prosecution led in part to calls for express protection for freedoms of press and speech in the Constitution.
An essential element of the journalist’s toolkit is the anonymous source, and this is doubly true in the context of national security reporting. As the government itself acknowledges, the current classification system for sensitive national security information is deeply flawed. Not only is there little incentive not to classify something, too often national security is used as an excuse to prevent disclosure of information about embarrassing or illegal activities.
Absent “leaks,” we would never have learned about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its use of CIA “black sites,” and the unlawful torture of detainees in the Iraq War and the so-called “war on terror.” In more recent days, “leaks” have been instrumental in the public disclosure of the Obama administration’s cyberattacks against Iran and its targeted killing program.
And yet, despite the clear public interest in revealing this government misconduct, the Obama administration—the “most transparent administration in history“—will have as one of its legacies an unprecedented crackdown on the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It has prosecuted many more leakers (twice as many as all previous administrations combined), and pursued leak investigations more aggressively than anyone else. The time is ripe for a federal law that would protect reporters from having to disclose their sources (with limited exceptions to ensure due process for criminal defendants and to prevent actual and imminent harm).
The AP scandal casts this need in stark relief.
The administration has asked Sen. Schumer to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) just announced that he will do so in the House, and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced a similar bill today. The administration should certainly be commended for taking proactive steps to prevent this from happening again. That said, the administration can’t get in the way this time. The demand in 2009 for a broad exception for national security leaks cases delayed the bill, and tempered enthusiasm among Democrats for the bill in the face of strong opposition by certain Republicans. The 2013 bill must protect against what happened here with the AP, and it’s not clear that the 2009 White House compromise would have done so.
Over the last several years I have watched the rise of an important new intellect on the American scene. Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative, has demonstrated time and again the extraordinary ability to reexamine settled issues and show that the accepted conclusion was incorrect.
One of his early achievements was to dispose of the myth of immigrant crime by demonstrating that “Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age and gender.” You can imagine the uproar, but Unz won the debate.
Unz provoked and prevailed in another controversy when he concluded that Mexican-Americans have approximately the same innate intelligence as whites, with their lower IQs being due to transitory socio-economic deprivation.
He next surprised by showing the connection between the declining real value of the minimum wage (about one-third less than in the 1960s) and immigration. Americans cannot survive on one-third less minimum income than four decades ago, and the unfilled jobs are taken by Hispanics who live many to the room. A higher minimum wage, Unz pointed out, would cure the illegal immigration problem as American citizens would fill the jobs.
I wrote about some of Unz’s remarkable findings. One of my favorites is his comparison of the responsiveness of the Chinese and US governments to their publics. I found his conclusion convincing that the authoritarian one-party Chinese government was more responsive to the Chinese people than democratic two-party Washington is to the American people.
The person is rare who can take on such controversial issues in such a professional way that he wins the admiration even of his critics. In my opinion, Ron Unz is a national resource. He has established online libraries of important periodicals and magazines from the pre-Internet era, information that otherwise essentially would be lost. I have not met him, but he donates to this site and is an independent thinker free of The Matrix.
Unz’s latest article, “Our American Pravda,” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/our-american-pravda/ is a striking account of the failure of media, regulatory, and national security organizations and subsequent coverups that leave the public deceived. Unz uses the Iraq war as one example:
“The circumstances surrounding our Iraq War demonstrate this, certainly ranking it among the strangest military conflicts of modern times. The 2001 attacks in America were quickly ascribed to the radical Islamists of al-Qaeda, whose bitterest enemy in the Middle East had always been Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist regime in Iraq. Yet through misleading public statements, false press leaks, and even forged evidence such as the “yellowcake” documents, the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies utilized the compliant American media to persuade our citizens that Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs posed a deadly national threat and required elimination by war and invasion. Indeed, for several years national polls showed that a large majority of conservatives and Republicans actually believed that Saddam was the mastermind behind 9/11 and the Iraq War was being fought as retribution. Consider how bizarre the history of the 1940s would seem if America had attacked China in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.
“True facts were easily available to anyone paying attention in the years after 2001, but most Americans do not bother and simply draw their understanding of the world from what they are told by the major media, which overwhelmingly—almost uniformly—backed the case for war with Iraq; the talking heads on TV created our reality. Prominent journalists across the liberal and conservative spectrum eagerly published the most ridiculous lies and distortions passed on to them by anonymous sources, and stampeded Congress down the path to war.
“The result was what my late friend Lt. Gen. Bill Odom rightly called the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history.” American forces suffered tens of thousands of needless deaths and injuries, while our country took a huge step toward national bankruptcy [and a police state]. Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and others have estimated that with interest the total long-term cost of our two recent wars may reach as high as $5 or $6 trillion, or as much as $50,000 per American household, mostly still unpaid. Meanwhile, economist Edward Wolff has calculated that the Great Recession and its aftermath cut the personal net worth of the median American household to $57,000 in 2010 from a figure nearly twice as high three years earlier. Comparing these assets and liabilities, we see that the American middle class now hovers on the brink of insolvency, with the cost of our foreign wars being a leading cause.
“But no one involved in the debacle ultimately suffered any serious consequences, and most of the same prominent politicians and highly paid media figures who were responsible remain just as prominent and highly paid today. For most Americans, reality is whatever our media organs tell us, and since these have largely ignored the facts and adverse consequences of our wars in recent years, the American people have similarly forgotten. Recent polls show that only half the public today believes that the Iraq War was a mistake.”
Unz covers a number of cases of criminality, treason, and coverups at high levels of government and points out that “these dramatic, well-documented accounts have been ignored by our national media.” One reason for “this wall of uninterest” is that both parties are complicit and thus equally eager to bury the facts.
Unz is raising the question of the efficacy of democracy. Does the way democracy works in America provide any more self-rule than in undemocratic regimes? He offers this example:
“Most of the Americans who elected Barack Obama in 2008 intended their vote as a total repudiation of the policies and personnel of the preceding George W. Bush administration. Yet once in office, Obama’s crucial selections—Robert Gates at Defense, Timothy Geither at Treasury, and Ben Bernake at the Federal Reserve—were all top Bush officials, and they seamlessly continued the unpopular financial bailouts and foreign wars begun by his predecessor, producing what amounted to a third Bush term.”
In an article not long ago, I raised the issue whether Americans live in The Matrix with their perceptions and thoughts controlled by disinformation as in George Orwell’s 1984.
Unz adds to this perspective. He tells the story of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s plan to transform Russia into a make-believe two-party state complete with heated battles fought on divisive and symbolic issues. Behind the scenes the political elites would orchestrate the political battles between the parties with the purpose of keeping the population divided and funneling popular dissatisfaction into meaningless dead-end issues. In such a system, self-serving power prevails. After describing Berezovsky’s plot, Unz asks if Berezovsky got his idea from observing the American political scene.
Thinking further about the propagandistic nature of the US media, Unz writes:
“Individuals from less trusting societies are often surprised at the extent to which so many educated Americans tend to believe whatever the media tells them and ignore whatever it does not, placing few constraints on even the most ridiculous propaganda. For example, a commentator on my article described the East German media propaganda he had experienced prior to Reunification as being in many respects more factual and less totally ridiculous than what he now saw on American cable news shows. One obvious difference was that Western media was so globally dominant during that era that the inhabitants of the German Democratic Republic inevitably had reasonable access to a contrasting second source of information, forcing their media to be much more cautious in its dishonesty, while today almost any nonsense uniformly supported by the MSNBC-to-FoxNews spectrum of acceptable opinion remains almost totally unquestioned by most Americans.” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/american-pravda-reality-television/
Unz’s view of the US media as propagandists for power is consistent with that of John Pilger, one of the last remaining real journalists who refuses to serve power, and with Gerald Celente, who sums up the sordid American media in one word–”presstitutes.” I know from my own media experience that an independent print and TV media no longer exists in the West. The American media is a tightly controlled disinformation ministry.
Those few Americans who are free of the constraints imposed by dogmas on their ability to think and to process information have a huge responsibility for their small number. The assault on the rule of law began in the last years of the Clinton regime, but the real destruction of the US Constitution, the basis for the United States, was achieved by the neoconservative George W. Bush and Obama regimes. Wars without declarations by Congress, torture in violation of both US and international law, war crimes in violation of the Nuremberg standard, indefinite detention and assassination of US citizens without due process of law, universal spying on US citizens without warrants, federalization of state and local police now armed with military weapons and uniforms, detention centers, “your papers, please” (without the Gestapo “please”) not only at airports but also on highways, streets, bus terminals, train stations, and at sporting events.
On May 5 Obama gave the commencement address at Ohio State University. No doubt that the graduates thought that they were being honored by being addressed by the world’s greatest tyrant.
Obama told the graduating class, to applause, that their obligation as citizens is to trust the government. Outdoing George Orwell’s Big Brother, Obama said in public to a graduating class of a great university without shame: “You have grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as . . . some sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”
Listen to my propaganda, not to those constitutional experts, legal authorities, and critics of me, the First Black President, who tell you to beware of unaccountable government. Due process is decided by the demands of the war on terror. If there is a war on terror, do you want a fair trial or do you want to be safe? I am going to make you safe by not giving defendants accused of terrorism, who some liberal-pinko-commie judge would set free, a fair trial.
Making you safe by enveloping you in a police state is a nonpartisan undertaking. Just listen to Lindsay Graham and Peter King and John McCain. These Republican leaders are demanding the police state that I am providing.
As my own legal department, The US Department Of Justice, decided, the Dictator, I mean, elected president, has the power to save the country from domestic and foreign terrorists by abrogating the US Constitution, an out-of-date document that binds our hands and prevents us from keeping you, our serfs and minions, I mean our cherished citizens, safe.
Trust me. That is your obligation as a US citizen. Trust me and I will make you free, happy, employed sometime later in this century when the Amerikan Empire controls the world.
The US Constitution was written by people who opposed Empire. These people were misguided, just like the Roman Republicans who did not understand the need for a Caesar. The American Empire, as the neoconservatives have made clear, is what keeps you free from terrorism. We have to kill them over there before they come over here. And those who are over here will be killed too. We tolerate no dissent. That part of the Constitution is gone, along with the rest of it.
Now give me my honorary doctorate, another sign of approval of my usurpation.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is now available.
President Barack Obama is currently blocking the release—or allowing the CIA to block the release—of a comprehensive Senate report on the use of torture by the George W. Bush administration CIA that is said to conclude that torture was not an effective or reliable method of interrogation and that the agency repeatedly misled the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress about its interrogation efforts.
Initiated by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and continued by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) when she succeeded him in 2009, the Senate torture probe entailed about six years of work and the review of 6 million pages of documents. In December 2012, the committee voted out the report on a mostly party line vote. Since that time, the report has been stuck in limbo at the CIA, with Director John Brennan refusing to state when his review will be complete, and reports indicating that the agency intends to write a rebuttal and oppose public release of the report.
Although the report validates anti-torture positions taken by Democrats, including President Obama, during the Bush years, Obama may be delaying its release over concerns about shedding negative light on his own, related, anti-terror policies that offend human rights, such as the continued use of torture at Guantánamo Bay or the predator drone assassination program. Further, the deep involvement of Obama’s hand-picked CIA Director, John Brennan, in the Bush-era torture and kidnapping programs may call Obama’s judgment about Brennan into question.
On the issue of torture at Guantánamo, the Obama White House claimed in 2009 that the President had canceled all Bush-era legal memos purporting to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual. The President did not, however, cancel an April 13, 2006, memo regarding the 2006 revision of the Army Field Manual and its controversial Appendix M on interrogation. That memo justifies the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and forms of sensory deprivation that have been denounced as torture or abuse by a number of human rights and legal groups—and which sparked the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo.
Obama may be concerned about the impact release of the report might have on his predator drone targeted assassination program. In 2009, the Obama administration successfully persuaded the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to overrule a trial judge’s ruling ordering release of a September 17, 2001, presidential directive that established a wide range of anti-terror efforts, including the use of torture. Why Obama went to such great lengths to keep the directive secret may have been revealed by the appeals court opinion, which stated that “the withheld information pertains to intelligence activities unrelated to the discontinued [torture] program,” including targeted killings of suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
- Obama Administration Keeps Report On Secret Terms (salon.com)
- The Absurdity of Letting the CIA Vet the Torture Report (theatlantic.com)
- Criminal Government (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Russia Bars Bush-Era Torture Lawyers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On page A12 of the May 8, 2013 edition of The New York Times is Steven Lee Myers and Rick Gladstone’s article “U.S. and Russia Plan Conference Aimed at Ending Syrian War,” which opens by stating that, “Russia and the United States announced on Tuesday that they would seek to convene an international conference within weeks aimed at ending the civil war in Syria, jointly intensifying their diplomatic pressure on the combatants to peacefully settle a conflict that has taken more than 70,000 lives and left millions displaced and desperate.” This is a most welcoming turn of events, especially for the people of Syria who have taken the brunt of the civil war, and hopefully the conference bears fruit quickly.
But—and there is one of these stubborn conjunctions—it is important for the purpose of history to note that for two years now the United States has blocked any peaceful resolution, and has instead pushed the conflict further and deeper into violence and war.
It is Russia who has long pushed for a political reconciliation.
In October 2011 RIA Novosti reported that “Moscow calls on the UN Security Council to continue the search for a balanced approach toward the political crisis in Syria based on a draft resolution prepared by Russia and China, Russia’s envoy to the UN said,” with the phrase “balanced” being a jab at how Washington and its allies have put all the requirements on the Syrian government to end violence, and not the rebel forces whom they have been backing.
Writing in December of 2011, Egypt Independent reported that, “Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on Monday emphasized the need for dialogue and reconciliation in Syria.”
Even in December of 2012 Voice of America reported that, “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has echoed a call from an international peace envoy to resolve Syria’s civil war through a government-backed national dialogue and political process.”
The New York Times also reported on Russian efforts that same month when they informed readers that, “Moscow has made a muscular push for a political solution in recent days.”
While it is inaccurate to imply that Russia’s search for “a political solution” was “in recent days,” it is more disturbing that phrases like “muscular push” are used to describe such an effort, while the “paper of record” has routinely tried to make a case for war (see here and here).
A month ago today (May 8, 2013) the Syrian rebels detonated a car bomb near a school in Damascus, killing 14, and wounding dozens of others. According to Reuters, “State television said the explosion had occurred near a school in Sabaa Bahrat, a heavily populated area that also houses the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. It said 53 people were wounded.”
Washington failed to condemn the act of terror.
Likewise when Daily Mail ran an article last December with this headline: “Syria rebels ‘beheaded a Christian and fed him to the dogs’ as fears grow over Islamist atrocities.” Apparently there is no “red line” for the rebels to cross.
And there are dozens and dozens of similar incidents. Not once has Washington put pressure on the rebels to stop their senseless violence, or argued for an international force to intervene and defend the Syrian people from the terrorists. Nor have Western establishment pundits like Bill Keller argued for such things. And even though al Qaeda is active in the country, beheading so-called infidels, or that the Syrian rebels are likely using chemical weapons, Washington and its media parrots have instead favored escalation. Just over a week ago The New York Times reported that “The White House is once again considering supplying weapons to Syria’s armed opposition.” This comes after the car bombing across the street from a children’s school.
And now Washington wants peace, as Myers and Gladstone tell us that “The announcement appeared to signal a strong desire by both countries to halt what has been a dangerous escalation in the conflict.”
Perhaps it has become clear that the rebels cannot win this war on their own, and the only reasonable way Bashar Assad will be brought down is another U.S. war which will elevate the jihadis into power. Perhaps President Obama is imagining one of these rebel jihadis attacking an American embassy in Damascus, and the Republicans foaming at the mouth for another politicized inquiry into how such an attack could happen, as they currently are over the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya last year.
Whatever the reasons for the turnaround it is gladly welcomed. The people of Syria deserve a rescue from the terror Washington, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others, have unleashed on them. Though we should remain sober and note that the “conflict that has taken more than 70,000 lives and left millions displaced and desperate” is largely of Washington’s doings, and could have been avoided years ago if Uncle Sam followed the lead of Moscow and Bejing, both of whom had the “strong desire . . . to halt what has been a dangerous escalation in the conflict.”
We should also recall that The New York Times derided Russia for their “strong desire” and even went so far as to equate it with “effectively toss[ing] a life preserver to President Bashar al-Assad, seemingly unwilling to see a pivotal ally and once stalwart member of the socialist bloc sink beneath the waves of the Arab Spring.” Russia was just as clear then as they are now: they did not want to go along with efforts that would worsen the situation, but now that the situation has gotten considerably worse, and Washington is warming to the idea of a political solution, now The New York Times is presenting this as a positive development.
A high court in Pakistan has ruled that US drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt should be considered war crimes, since the attacks resulted in the deaths of innocent people.
The Peshawar High Court has recommended the Pakistani government advance a resolution against the attacks in the United Nations. The court issued its verdict on the CIA-run air strikes in response to four petitions charging the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage.”
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan heard the petitions, and ruled that drone strikes on sovereign Pakistani territory were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights.
“The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future,” the court said on Thursday, according to the Press Trust of India.
The court also recommended that if the US rejects these findings in the UN, Pakistan should break off relations with Washington: “If the US vetoes the resolution, then the country should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US.”
The Pakistani case was filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a charity based in Islamabad, on behalf of the families of victims killed in a drone attack on a tribal jirga, including more than 50 tribal elders and a number of government officials.
According to a report submitted by political officials of North Waziristan Agency, 896 Pakistani residents of the region were killed in the last five years ending December 2012, and 209 were seriously injured. A report by the South Waziristan Agency showed that 70 drone strikes were carried out in the last five years ending June 2012, in which 553 people were killed and 126 injured.
“In view of the established facts, undeniable in nature, under the UN Charter and Conventions, the people of Pakistan have every right to ask the security forces either to prevent such strikes by force or to shoot down intruding drones,” the court verdict said.
Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer for victims in the case, hailed this as a “landmark” judgment: “Drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This judgment will also prove to be a test for the new government: If drone strikes continue and the government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court,” he said, according to the website of legal action charity Reprieve.
The United States regularly targets Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal regions accused of carrying out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Washington claims the operations are done in cooperation with Pakistan’s military.
Human rights groups, however, criticize the “collateral damage” of innocent civilian deaths caused by the attacks, and point to the shroud of secrecy surrounding drone use.
“Drone attacks on northwest Pakistan, which commenced under former US President George W. Bush in 2004, have increased sevenfold under Obama and have caused the deaths of thousands of suspected terrorists and at least hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen,” Bloomberg reported in April.
Even some of America’s leading commanders fear blowback over the indiscriminate use of this new military technology.
“The resentment created” by Washington’s newfound reliance on drone strikes “is much greater than the average American appreciates,” General Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, told Reuters in January. The use of drones adds to “the perception of American arrogance that says, ‘We can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.”’
At the same time, America’s foreign critics seem to be gaining ground as Washington continues to pursue drone warfare.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party is considered the favorite in this Saturday’s election, recently vowed that he would not permit drone attacks on Pakistani soil.
“Drone attacks are against the national sovereignty and a challenge for the country’s autonomy and independence,” he said.
Clive Stafford Smith of the London-based group Reprieve said the court’s ruling is a step toward greater transparency in Washington’s use of drone technology: “Today’s momentous decision by the Peshawar High Court shines the first rays of accountability onto the CIA’s secret drone war,” the Independent quoted him as saying.
The innocent people killed by American drone strikes are civilian victims of US war crimes, he added.
United States President Barack Obama is likely to endorse a Federal Bureau of Investigation effort that would ensure all Internet companies in the US provide a way for the government to conduct undetected, backdoor surveillance.
The FBI has been considering solutions to their so-called “Going Dark” problem as intricate methods of encryption and advances in technology have made it increasingly difficult for the federal government and law enforcement to gain access to online communications conducted in the shadows of the Web. Should the latest efforts of the FBI move forward, though, Internet companies that act as any conduit for correspondence of any kind would be heavily fined if they don’t include in their infrastructure a way for the government to eavesdrop on that dialogue in real time.
At a press conference in Washington, DC in March, FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann said the Department of Justice was determined to have the means to wiretap any online communication by 2014 and called it “a huge priority for the FBI.” Further developments last month revealed that the FBI was considering a fine-based model under which Internet companies would be forced to comply or risk being penalized beyond repair.
On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage cited Obama administration officials as saying the president “is on the verge of backing” that very plan.
Savage explained that while companies would be allowed to operate without giving the government backdoor access, the fees would likely limit the number of entities willing to challenge the order. As RT reported last month, a company that doesn’t comply with the FBI’s orders would be fined $25,000 after 90 days. Additional penalties would then be tacked on every day an Internet service provider, website or other company fails to comply — with the price of the penalty doubling each day they don’t assist investigators.
“While the FBI’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders,” wrote Savage. “The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.”
Savage quoted a statement in his article from Weissmann in which the FBI attorney said, “This doesn’t create any new legal surveillance authority.” Instead, said Weissman, “None of the ‘going dark’ solutions would do anything except update the law given means of modern communications.”
“This always requires a court order,” he said.
Coincidently, that same issue has had major developments in its own right this week. On Wednesday morning, CNET reporter Declan McCullagh wrote that the Justice Department circulated memos in which they insisted that obtaining a search warrant isn’t necessary to eavesdrop on Internet communication of any sort.
“The US Department of Justice and the FBI believe they don’t need a search warrant to review Americans’ e-mails, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages and other private files, internal documents reveal,” wrote McCullagh, citing a government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and provided to CNET.
According to McCullagh, those documents include very specific instructions from high-importance officials that demonstrate the Justice Department’s disinterest in applying established law when it comes to eavesdropping on Americans. While Weissmann made the argument that the FBI plan reportedly backed by the president won’t change what rules the DoJ operates by, the memos obtained by McCullagh paints the Obama White House as an administration unwilling to work with the already broad surveillance powers provided to it.
In one memo unearthed by the ACLU, McCullagh said the US attorney for Manhattan instructed his office that an easy-to-obtain legal paper that requires no judicial oversight is all that’s needed to obtain personal correspondence.
“[A] subpoena — a piece of paper signed by a prosecutor, not a judge — is sufficient to obtain nearly ‘all records from an ISP,’” McCullagh wrote.
In another instance, McCullagh said the US attorney in Houston, Texas obtained the “contents of stored communications” from another ISP without getting a judge to sign a warrant.
One current law that limits how and when authorities can obtain a suspect’s email pursuant to a criminal investigation, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, provides that while a warrant is needed for relatively recent correspondence, a comparably easier to get administrative subpoena is all that’s required to get communication older than 180 days. Provisions of the ECPA have been largely unchanged since it was passed in the mid-1980s, but last month a Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amendment that would require a warrant in all instances.
In advocating for fewer restrictions when obtaining store communication, the FBI’s Wessmann said in April that another law, 1994’s Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, needs to be expanded so investigators can leap over current hurdles that keep them from conducting real time wiretaps of online discussions.
“You do have laws that say you need to keep things for a certain amount of time, but in the cyber realm you can have companies that keep things for five minutes,” he said. “You can imagine totally legitimate reasons for that, but you can also imagine how enticing that ability is for people who are up to no good because the evidence comes and it goes.”
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, renewed calls across the country have been made to make it easier for investigators to quickly conduct surveillance — in and off the Web. A recent poll found that roughly two-thirds of Americans favored more surveillance cameras in public places, and now the nation’s top law officials are asking for increased spy power not just on the streets but on the Web.
Earlier this month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said at a discussion in Washington, “When you come across an advocate for one thing — an advocate for security, and advocate for privacy — they’re often arguing from a position without understanding that it’s a two-edged sword.”
“For example, very strong encryption would allow you and I to have a very, very secure communication: If we were criminals, if we were dissidents, if we were martyrs or if we were just doing a little business,” he said. “If you could figure out a way to ban very strong encryption from evil people and only allow good people…then this would be easy,” he said.
- Obama administration bypasses CISPA by secretly allowing Internet surveillance (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Spy, or pay up: FBI-backed bill would fine US firms for refusing wiretaps (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- To Ease Internet Snooping, Feds Promise To Ignore Privacy Violations (reason.com)
In doubling the bounty on former Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur’s head, the Obama administration is announcing that Black radicals are candidates for his Kill List. The message is as unmistakable and dramatic as the billboards that have been erected in Newark, New Jersey, and elsewhere screaming for the exiled freedom fighter’s blood.
One does not wind up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list based on the number of murders committed or millions of dollars stolen. The Most Wanted list is among the nation’s most political documents, in which individuals are meant to personify the scope and type of offenses that the U.S. government considers most in need of stamping out. The list is a kind of propaganda, a symbolic display of what the state considers dangerous behavior.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the two Black men who are most responsible for making Assata Shakur the face of domestic terror in the United States, are fully conversant in the language of symbolism. They are publicly defining the Black liberation movement – or what’s left of it, or those who might attempt to revive it – as a priority domestic target for repression. Shakur, a 65-year old grandmother who has not left Cuba for the past 29 years, poses no physical danger to the American state. She represents a political threat, through her “ideology,” as brazenly stated by the FBI. The Bureau has marked Shakur for priority assassination on the basis of, in the FBI’s words, her “anti-U.S. government speeches espousing the Black Liberation Army message.” “Terrorism” is somehow inherent in the message of Black liberation. Advocacy of Black liberation, is the threat. The reward of $2 million is meant to silence Assata Shakur’s political speech, and remove her as a symbol of resistance to the U.S government.
For the National Security State, “terror” is a powerful word, with vast legal ramifications. The Obama administration is informing Americans and Cubans that Assata is as much fair game for assassination by drone as the late Anwar al-Awlaki. Barack Obama and Eric Holder are serving notice that those who share Assata’s ideology – as understood by the FBI – are subject to eradication as well, because it is an ideology of terror. And they are telling those who give “substantial support” to Assata that they are subject to detention by the U.S. military without trial or charge, for the duration of the war against “terror.”
The Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations will hold a demonstration on Thursday, May 9, from 5 to 7pm, in front of the Harlem State Office Building in New York City, to give substantial and unwavering support to the safety and freedom of Assata Shakur; Freedom for Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga, Black Liberation Army members held in U.S. prisons; and Freedom for All Political Prisoners.
They tried to kill Assata in 1973, and their still trying. They tried to kill the Black liberation movement, but its not dead yet. Join the Black is Back Coalition and a host of other concerned organizations at the Harlem State Office Building, on 125th Street, at 5pm, on Thursday. Tell the real terrorists what you think about them, their austerity, their mass incarceration, and their wars.
Glen Ford can be contacted at GlenFord@BlackAgendaReport.com.
For more information, go to Black Is Back Coalition event Facebook page:
With neoconservatives and neoliberals amplifying calls for US military intervention in Syria, it is worthwhile to take a moment and consider all the places in the world, where the US currently has forces engaged in daily operations.
Secrecy, the reality that a substantial portion of US military or espionage operations with troops are likely happening covertly, may mean it is impossible to truly get a complete picture of where America is projecting power and targeting and killing people. But, Linda J. Bilmes and Michael D. Intriligator, ask in a recent paper, “How many wars is the US fighting today?”
Today US military operations are involved in scores of countries across all the five continents. The US military is the world’s largest landlord, with significant military facilities in nations around the world, and with a significant presence in Bahrain, Djibouti,Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzstan, in addition to long-established bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and the UK.1 Some of these are vast, such as the Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar, the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command, which has recently been expanded to accommodate up to 10,000 troops and 120 aircraft.
Citing a page at US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) website, they highlight the “areas of responsibility” publicly lists:
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) is active in 20 countries across the Middle Eastern region, and is actively ramping-up military training, counterterrorism programs, logistical support, and funding to the military in various nations. At this point, the US has some kind of military presence in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, U.A.E., Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM), according to the paper, “supports military-to-military relationships with 54 African nations.”
Altogether, that makes 74 nations where the US is fighting or “helping” some force in some proxy struggle that has been deemed beneficial by the nation’s masters of war.
Beyond that, there are Special Operations forces in countries. Jeremy Scahill in Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, writes, “By mid-2010, the Obama administration had increased the presence of Special Operations forces from sixty countries to seventy-five countries. SOCOM had about 4,000 people deployed around the world in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The forces were deployed, as the Washington Post reported, to “go beyond unilateral strikes” and train “local counterterrorism forces” and engage in “joint operations with them.” Plans for both “preemptive” and “retaliator strikes” existed in “numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot” was identified or “after an attack linked to a specific group.”
Scahill also reports, based on his own “well-placed special operations sources”:
…[A]mong the countries where [Joint Special Operations Command] teams had been deployed under the Obama administration were: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Baluchistan) and the Philippines. These teams also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC was also supporting US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico…
Since President Barack Obama has been willing to give the go ahead to operations that President George W. Bush would not have approved, operations have been much more aggressive and, presumably, JSOC has been able to fan out and work in far more countries than ever expected.
Global assassinations have been embraced by the current administration, opening the door to night raids, drone strikes, missile attacks where cluster bombs are used, etc. Each of these operations, as witnessed or experienced by the civilian populations of countries, potentially inflame and increase the number of areas in the world where there are conflict zones.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides an accounting of all the publicly acknowledged deployments of US military forces. It indicated that, as many Americans may not be aware, in February of this year, 100 military personnel were deployed to Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection” and to “facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region,” according to President Obama.
Also, according to the report, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel ordered American troops to be deployed to Jordan. Hagel told the Senate Armed Serivces in a statement on Syria that they would be there to “work alongside Jordanian forces to ‘improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios.’” Up to 200 troops would be deployed.
In 2012, Obama reported to Congress that “US combat-equipped military personnel” had been deployed to Uganda “to serve as advisors to regional forces” that were “working to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and other senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leaders from the battlefield and to protect local populations.” About 90 US military personnel were deployed and “elements” were sent to “forward locations in the LRA-affected areas of the Republic of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.” President Obama stated US forces were not to engage LRA forces “except in self-defense.”
Approximately 817 military personnel were contributed to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), presumably to “stop the ‘movement, arming, and financing of certain international terrorist groups,’ as well as the “proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction and related materials.’” there were continued operations in Libya as well as operations in Yemen that were acknowledged. [By the way, it takes thirty-three pages for CRS to list all "notable deployments of military forces overseas" since 1798.]
Obama administration officials might argue that none of these operations in various different countries represent different conflicts or wars. All are connected to the “Global War on Terrorism” and the Authorized Use for Military Force (AUMF) after the 9/11 attacks give the president the executive authority to have forces in all parts of the world conducting whatever operations are deemed necessary to fight “terrorism.” Or, they might claim the US is technically not “involved” in wars if they are merely operating as advisors, who help facilitate military operations of other allied or proxy forces.
Any number of games with semantics or euphemism can be played by officials authorizing these operations. Undoubtedly, there are probably countries where the US has forces that have gone unmentioned in this post.
The reality is current US wars are not limited to the one winding down in Afghanistan and the other one that recently ended in Iraq. There are numerous wars going on unannounced, undeclared and in secret. The world is literally a battlefield with conflicts being waged by the US (or with the “help” of the US). And, no country is off-limits to US military forces.
Made in the USA. (Photo: Julie Webb-Pullman)
While the United States peddled the threat of chemical weapon use to justify its arming of the ‘opposition’ in Syria, Israel destroyed a chemical research facility near Damascus which was allegedly developing such weapons – thus unleashing every single potentially-poisonous particle on the Syrian public.
Thus guaranteeing that regardless of whether there actually were chemical weapons being developed or manufactured, regardless of whether the Assad regime actually was intending to use them against the Syrian people, the Syrian people now HAVE been exposed – and in a totally uncontrolled fashion – to not only the known toxic effects of whatever was in the facility, but also to the unknown effects of the random mixing of such chemicals under conditions of extreme heat, and their dissemination who knows how far, causing who knows what extent of environmental and health damage.
Assad mustn’t be permitted to do it – but Israel can – and with US blessing.
Israel’s “right to defend its interests,” Obama immediately called it.
Others would call it a cold-blooded murderous attack on the Syrian civilian population.
Others would call it terrorism.
Since the Twin Towers attacks in 2001, the use of pre-emptive strikes by both the US and Israel to ‘counter terrorism’ or ‘defend security interests’ have escalated to become the single most potent military threat to civilians anywhere on the planet.
Massacre after massacre of civilians by drones, by rockets, by misguided ‘targeted assassinations’ in Afghanistan, Gaza, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan – the list goes on. The list of perpetrators, however, is short – only two. The United States and Israel.
Are such peremptory attacks permissible in international law?
No – international law is very clear on this. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter only allows military actions in self-defence when under direct attack.
Did Syria attack Israel?
Did Syria make any kind of threatening military action towards Israel?
Israel carried out an indefensible-in-international-law military strike in Syria causing direct – and very real – harm to a large civilian population.
A more clear – and potent – case of state terrorism would be hard to find.
Did the US condemn this act, which exposed Syrians to the very harm Obama was trumpeting around the world his intention to protect them from?
He defended Israel’s attack.
A more clear – and potent – case of abject hypocrUSAy would be hard to find.
If the world is not to degenerate into a complete USraeli military dictatorship, the international community must act immediately to curtail this latest slide down the slippery slope of human rights derogation, where notions such as international law and due process are merely quaint antiquities, and self-determination a notion reserved solely for Yanqui and Zionist imperialists – or it won’t just be the end of the alphabet we have reached.
And for those in the US who doubt your country’s role in Israeli military activities, take a look at where your tax-dollars are going. Take a look at this photograph (above) of the remains of the rocket fired by an Israeli military plane at a building housing media agencies in Gaza in November 2012, destroying civilian property and persons. YOU are financing these atrocities. Yes, YOU.
You – and the United Nations – should be reminded of the UN General Assembly’s Measures to prevent and combat terrorism contained in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006, where it stated its resolve to “… find, deny safe haven and bring to justice, on the basis of the principle of extradite or prosecute, any person who supports, facilitates, participates or attempts to participate in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts…”
The world is waiting – especially all the Syrians just exposed to the cocktail of chemicals the US was claiming to protect them from, while defending Israel’s right to toast them.
- Julie Webb-Pullman is a New Zealand activist and writer currently based in Gaza. She has written on social and political justice issues for New Zealand Independent News website SCOOP since 2003, as well as for websites in Australia, Canada, the US, and Latin America, and participated in several human rights observation missions.