Long before Edward Snowden’s claims or revelations that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency were monitoring and tracking the Internet, cell phones, e-mails and any other electronic communication they could get their hands on using a program known as PRISM, there existed PROMIS [Prosecutors Management Information Systems].
PROMIS was designed in the late 1970s and ‘80s to bring Department of Justice criminal case management from the dark ages into the light of the computer age. In the spring of 1981, the Reagan Administration hailed PROMIS as one of law enforcements greatest assets. By 1983, PROMIS had morphed into the behemoth of intelligence gathering. It was not state of the art – it was the art.
Over the ensuing decades PROMIS is reported to have been used by the DOJ, CIA, NSA, and several foreign intelligence agencies including Israel’s Mossad. The ownership of PROMIS has been the subject of federal court hearings and a congressional investigation.
The capabilities of PROMIS as a data collection and tracking program have never been a secret. But the only discussion of PROMIS has been about theft and black-market sales. Neither the courts nor Congress have ever inquired as to privacy issues or the ethics of the program. There has been no rending of political robes as seen with the Snowden case. In fact, the function of PROMIS has been discussed in open court and various public arenas.
PROMIS is a tracking program with enhancements by Washington, DC-based Inslaw Inc., owned by Bill and Nancy Hamilton. PROMIS was developed under a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration [LEAA] grant. Bill Hamilton was employed by NSA for six years. He left the agency in 1966.
PROMIS was designed to track the vast amount of criminal cases piling up in DOJ offices across the country. Bill Hamilton, in an interview for this story, recounted, “It was always a tracking program. It was designed to keep track of cases in local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, which means street crimes, keep track of the scheduled events in court, what actually takes place, who’s there, witnesses, police officers, conclusions, convictions, acquittals, whatever.”
As the LEAA dissolved in the late days of the Carter Administration, the Hamiltons formed Inslaw and began to make modifications to the public domain PROMIS. The short version of the story: As originally designed, PROMIS ran only on 16-bit computers, but using their own funds, INSLAW converted the program to run on 32-bit VAX computers which were massive for their time.
The Reagan administration was very taken with the Inslaw version of PROMIS. In March 1982 Inslaw was awarded $9.6 million to install the program in 20 U.S. Attorney’s offices, with further installations in the remaining 74 offices, if successful. This would be the last government contact the Hamiltons would receive, not because the system failed – quite the contrary, it was too successful.
Hamilton explained, “We developed it originally just for prosecutors. But some of our users wanted to have it shared with the courts and the police. So, the software was engineered to make it adaptable. In making it highly adaptable, a byproduct was to make it useable for non-prosecutor tracking and that made it adaptable totally outside the criminal justice system.”
It became obvious with the latest round of modifications any data system could be integrated into PROMIS. And those data systems could interact – that is, combine – with each other forming a massive tracking data base of people via government documents such as birth and death certificates, licenses, mortgages, lawsuits or anything else kept in a data base. PROMIS could also track banking transactions, arms shipments, communications, airplane parts – again, anything kept in a data base.
With the discovery of these new capabilities Inslaw’s problems began. Unknowingly, the Hamiltons had embarked on an odyssey winding from the White House and the heart of the Reagan inner circle, bankruptcy court, a congressional investigation, secret informants, the CIA, NSA, and the Mossad.
The odyssey began in February 1983 when Dr. Ben Orr, an Israeli prosecutor, came to Hamilton’s office for a demonstration. He left, never placed an order and was never seen again. This was just one of the many demonstrations the company provided potential customers and the press. There was no shroud of secrecy about PROMIS or its capabilities.
Shortly after Dr. Orr’s visit, DOJ terminated payments to Inslaw, but refused to return the software. The company soon [June 1986] found its way into bankruptcy court. Inslaw put forth the claim that DOJ had stolen their software and made a concerted effort to drive them out of business. Bankruptcy Judge George Bason agreed.
In a 216-page opinion delivered in 1987, Judge Bason wrote that DOJ used “trickery, fraud and deceit” to steal PROMIS. He was later overruled by the DC District Court of Appeals on jurisdictional grounds. A previous district court supported his findings that PROMIS had been stolen. Bason became one of the very few Bankruptcy judges to not be re-appointed.
As the PROMIS odyssey continued, information began to surface that DOJ had provided the NSA and CIA with the enhanced 32-bit PROMIS. Stories began to circulate that friends of the Reagan Administration were selling black-market versions of PROMIS to anyone willing to pay the price.
Time and time again the veracity of government employees was called into question. In 1989, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas, launched what would become a three-year investigation into the theft of PROMIS and DOJ efforts to drive INSLAW out of business.
The Brooks report – dated Aug. 11, 1992 – not only agreed with Bason’s findings but went further: “High government officials were involved … individuals testified under oath that Inslaw’s PROMIS software was stolen and distributed internationally in order to provide financial gain and to further intelligence and foreign policy objectives.”
The report includes scathing comments about former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and several ranking DOJ staffers. Brooks recommended a settlement of Inslaw claims for damages and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Neither happened. Brooks said in an interview at the time, “[Inslaw] was ravaged by the Justice Department.” They were, he said, “treated like dogs.”
By this time nothing in the report surprised the Hamiltons. Seven months earlier they had discovered that their 1983 visitor, Dr. Ben Orr, was in fact Rafi Eitan, chief of the Israeli Defense Force’s [IDF] anti-terrorism intelligence unit. They further learned he left Washington carrying a copy of PROMIS.
The DOJ explanation was that he was given the 16-bit version, not the new improved 32-bit VAX version. The question would be: why the subterfuge? And why show off the superior 32-bit VAX version and then only provide the cheaper model? DOJ has never answered the question.
Through all this, Inslaw survived; Ireland installed PROMIS for case management, to track land records and in the bank credit system. Hamilton noted that every credit card transaction is tracked by PROMIS. The Netherlands uses the program to keep track of all the inmates in their prison system. The city of Rome has PROMIS for use in their tax office. In fact PROMIS is being legally used in several countries around the world.
Illegally? Who knows. The Canadian government once wrote Inslaw asking for an operating manual. Inslaw never sold PROMIS to Canada. A similar event popped up with Lithuania when a member of its parliament asked for help with its PROMIS program. In each case, when told they may have a bootleg version, the reply was, it must be a different PROMIS. To date, Inslaw has never received a dime for any government recommended settlements, some as high as $50 million.
Hamilton has declined to suggest that PROMIS was the frontrunner to PRISM. He said flatly in the interview for this article that his only information about PRISM is from news accounts.
Regardless of the Inslaw affair, PROMIS is still out there, still tracking whatever its masters require. And still, to this day, no one in government or otherwise has inquired, not about what PROMIS can do, but rather what is PROMIS doing, for whom and why.
PROMIS has been toiling in the intelligence caverns for nearly 30 years – that’s a lot of data consumption, that’s a lot of tracking. Where is the PROMIS data? Compared to 30 years of information gathering and tracking by PROMIS, PRISM could be considered the equivalent of digital binge drinking.
Richard L. Fricker was based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His last book, The Last Day of the War, is available at https://www.createspace.com/3804081.
The Obama administration has been far less aggressive about pursuing criminal prosecutions of environmental crimes than the George W. Bush administration, according to Justice Department figures.
Last year, there were 449 prosecutions for environmental crimes. That’s less than half the 927 prosecutions initiated in 2007, toward the end of the Bush administration. And the trend line is falling; there were 271 prosecutions in the first nine months of this fiscal year. If cases are filed at the current rate, that would result in only 361 for 2014, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Any violation of environmental laws can result in a criminal prosecution, but according to Graham Kates at The Crime Report, only one-half of one percent do. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they’re focusing on big cases, but fiscal considerations also play a part in deciding how many cases to prosecute. “The reality of budget cuts and staffing reductions make hard choices necessary across the board,” EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi told The Crime Report.
Criminal prosecutions, particularly of large corporations, are simply more difficult. Corporations hire teams of lawyers to fight prosecutors every step of the way and watch closely for government missteps that can give grounds for appeal, dragging out the case for years.
“I think a criminal prosecution will be defended much harder, corporations will take that very seriously, and investors take that very seriously,” Mark Roberts, an attorney and international policy advisor with the Environmental Investigation Agency, told The Crime Report. “If you’re in that tiny percentage that gets charged criminally, you want to win.”
A former EPA criminal investigator pointed out the effort involved in prosecuting a big company: “The typical corporate case can take two to three and a half years. But if you have ‘Joe Schlock the barrel hauler,’ you catch him red-handed and you’re out in two months,” David Wilma said.
Polluters aren’t even the biggest target of environmental prosecutions. Illegally taking fish and wildlife and illegal possession of migratory birds are the top two lead charges in the TRAC database. Water pollution is third and air pollution, ninth.
To Learn More:
Environment Prosecutions Decline Under Obama (TRAC Reports)
The Environmental Prosecution Gap (by Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest)
Environmental Crime: The Prosecution Gap (by Graham Kates, Crime Report)
When Companies Break Environmental Laws, Why are Responsible Individuals not Prosecuted? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)
September 21, 2014
50 years after the US military intervention in the Vietnam War, the weapons it used continue to harm the local population. Unexploded mines still take lives and the consequences of “Agent Orange” claim new victims. A defoliant used by the US Air Force to destroy forests where Vietcong guerrilla fighters were taking cover, “Agent Orange” is highly toxic to humans. The chemical not only severely harmed the health of those immediately exposed to it, but also led to birth defects in subsequent generations. Its impact is still being felt in Vietnam, where it is estimated that around 5 million people are suffering from its damaging effects. They call it their “orange pain.”
Last week, the House and Senate voted to rubber stamp President Obama’s war plans for the Middle East. Both bodies, on a bipartisan basis, authorized the US to begin openly training and arming the rebels who have been fighting for three years to overthrow the Assad government in Syria.
Although the Syrian government has also been fighting ISIS and related extremist groups for three years, the US refuses to speak to the Syrians and has warned Assad not to interfere with the coming US attack on sovereign Syrian territory
President Obama promised that airstrikes alone would “degrade and destroy” ISIS, telling the US military in a speech last week that:
“The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission… I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”
But of course any US troops sent into a war zone are “combat” troops. And more are on their way.
While the president was swearing that there would be no boots on the ground, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, was in open disagreement. General Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that US forces would need to embed with Iraqi or Kurdish troops in combat situations under certain circumstances.
The limited mission the president promised just weeks ago has already greatly escalated, and now threatens to become another major regional war. In reality, however, this is just a continuation of the 24 year US war on Iraq that President George Bush began in 1990 and candidate Obama promised to end as President.
Under last week’s authorization bill, the president would have authority to train 5,000 fighters in Saudi Arabia for insertion into the civil war in Syria. This is in effect a re-arrangement of the deck chairs. To this point the training was carried out by the CIA in Jordan and Turkey. Now, the program will be moved to the Pentagon and to Saudi Arabia.
The CIA training of the rebels thus far has resulted in a direct pipeline of weapons from “vetted moderates” to the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and to the very ISIS that the administration claims to be fighting. In July, a full brigade of 1,000 fighters affiliated with the US-backed Free Syrian Army joined ISIS! Of course they took their US-provided weapons and training with them, some of which will certainly be used against the rapidly increasing US military personnel in the region.
That Saudi Arabia is considered a suitable place to train Syria’s future leaders must be some kind of sick joke. While ISIS was beheading two American journalists – as horrific as that is – the repressive Saudi theocracy was beheading dozens of its own citizens, often for relatively minor or religious crimes.
If we want to stop radical terrorists from operating in Syria and Iraq, how about telling our ally Saudi Arabia to stop funding and training them? For that matter, how about the US government stops arming and training the various rebel groups in Syria and finally ends its 24 year US war on Iraq.
There are 200 million people bordering the countries where ISIS is currently operating. They are the ones facing the threat of ISIS activity and expansion. Let them fight their own war, rather than turning the US military into the mercenary army of wealthy Gulf states.
What follows is an approximate transcription of an interview with Ken O’Keefe, a peace activist from London.
Press TV: Do you see this as a project that the United States really wants to stop this terrorist group or not?
O’Keefe: Absolutely not, and I find it laughable that anybody would even consider the United States to be seriously interested in ending terrorism.
We have had over 13 years of this farcical war on terror, all of it built on lies, from the false-flag of 9/11 to the non-prosecution of Osama bin Laden because the FBI admitted that there was no evidence linking him to 9/11, from every policy since the invasion, occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq; the attack on Libya, destroying that country; attempting to fully destroy Syria, all of this is terrorism – terrorism on a grand scale!
Let’s throw in Israel and its genocide against the Palestinians, the use of white phosphorus, depleted uranium and all sorts of other weapons of mass destruction against a civilian population in Gaza, which is comprised of over 900,000 children, and you find that the United States is without question the number one terrorist of the 20th and 21st century.
How in the world can anyone seriously believe that the United States has any interest in ending terrorism?
It is the ultimate terrorist.
Its little boogeyman creations of al-Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL – whatever the hell they call themselves tomorrow – is nothing more than the boogeyman necessary to justify this military industrial complex which is running roughshod over the world.
Press TV: Does the killing of an American citizen always trigger a specific type of a reaction from the United States?
O’Keefe: These beheadings have largely been debunked.
At the very least the people that are being executed in these videos are not alive.
We know when you execute somebody by cutting off their head when their heart is still beating blood will pour forth very profusely. This is not the case with these videos.
It also is one massive manipulation to suggest that the life of one or two Americans somehow justifies yet another invasion and occupation in which we have destroyed three countries at the very minimum in terms of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
We have largely caused the breeding grounds for so-called terrorism all around the region.
It beggars’ belief that anyone would be manipulated in yet another policy in which invasion, bombing, occupation and ultimately destruction of entire areas is somehow going to make the world a better place.
We have seen this all before and the United States is repeating its same role as it has been and it will make for more blood and more guts and more misery, and ultimately a breeding ground for those who see the West for what it is: absolutely hypocritical.
The West has no moral authority whatsoever.
It is in no position at all to discuss any issue regarding morality because it is the most corrupt and most violent of all peoples on this planet.
The West is the problem, not the rest of the world.
Our little boogeyman that we create will stop once we stop having the power through the global reserve currency of the US dollar to be able to pay these psychopaths to run around and behead and so on and so forth.
Press TV: What kind of precedent does this send? – Because US President Barack Obama has basically sent a message to the Syria government that if the Syrian government attacks any of their airplanes that they will take out their anti-aircraft system, basically that they would be under attack.
What does this mean when you’re talking about a sovereign country that another country has the right to go in and do whatever they want? – Whether they agree or disagree with the way that government does this business. What type of precedent does this set?
O’Keefe: It is not a precedent at all.
We have already been bombing Pakistan, Yemen. We have been running around the world and basically in a lawless kind of way have been carrying out policies including executions of anyone anywhere anytime based on the so-called president of the United States having a meeting and declaring somebody to be a terrorist.
This even includes American citizens. There is no sovereignty of nations. There is no international law.
This so-called intelligence analyst, this intelligence analyst seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that it was the United States which supported the Mujahideen which became al-Qaeda, which morphed into the al-Nusra Front, then ISIS, ISIL, IS – whatever the hell you want to call it – has been funding these people, training these people, providing bases, training in Jordan and also in Turkey, their little proxies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait have been funneling money and arms.
And now we’re being told that they are going to be training these so-called moderate factions of resistance in Syria in Saudi Arabia. That bastion of moderate behavior, the Wahabi Saudi Arabia regime, one of the most offensive – if not the most offensive regimes – on the planet, a place that we give weapons and we give cover to, political cover, media cover.
The idea that an intelligence analyst could be so oblivious and so completely incompetent at its own field that he does not recognize that the United States having supported, armed, trained, coddled and protected all these terrorists for decades now is beyond belief.
He cannot be so stupid, surely, not to know that the United States has an inherent interest in propping up continuously one boogeyman after another to justify what I said earlier, the military industrial complex, the goal of full spectrum dominance, military bases all around the world, and people with half a brain know this.
Press TV: We are looking at this type of scenario that it seems to repeat itself time and time again, especially if we are looking at a post-9/11 world. As you have said, we see boogeyman after boogeyman sort of being created.
I want to look at then the American people and do you think that this time they had to take it or it appears that the extremist nature that ISIL is presenting itself was something that it had to be that extreme in order to shake the American people up, who are extremely war-weary but because of the extent of the violence that they’re seeing that actually they will get on the bandwagon for another war in the region?
O’Keefe: What we have really is an amazing point in human history in which the sleeping masses that are literally mind-controlled through many different mechanisms from childhood in schools are brainwashed with all sorts of rubbish.
Even the pledge of allegiance which I said, along with every other school kid, ends with “liberty and justice for all”.
We have been indoctrinated with such incredible insanity that it becomes a reality for us, and many Americans are still caught up in that as are many people around the world.
But we also have at this time a growing number of people who are recapturing the ability to think for themselves and to recognize the history of both the United States and the West in general, and also the crimes of others – let us not be oblivious to the crimes of others.
But at the end of the day I come from the West and what we can see is that my birth nation, the United States, is the number one terrorist. This is simply not debatable.
I understand that many people are still being conned into believing this nonsense, the latest boogeyman creation, but ever-growing numbers of people are not buying it. They are not. And this is extremely promising and a necessary step for us to create a better world.
If we really wanted to end ISIS we would cut off their funding. And if we wanted to we could help the Iraqi government and the military and they could wipe them out in no time with a little bit of genuine financial support to be able to do what they need to do.
Iran would be an excellent partner in this. I would encourage Iraq to invite Iran in to help them wipe them out, because Iran definitely has an interest in ending real terrorism. That is why the foreign minister all too rightly said we are not all too convinced that America is serious about it. I think he is way too diplomatic, quite frankly.
But at the end of the day the United States is not serious about ending terrorism. It thrives on terrorism. Many Americans are growing to understand this.
Press TV: What scenario is this setting up, Ken, if we are looking at on the one hand, as you said that the United States does not really want to end terrorism, and on the other hand they are directly once again involved in the region, not that they were not in the region but now more directly in Iraq and again Syria.
What is this setting up? Tell me, how do you see this basically? How are you reading what is going to happen with the United States getting involved with this situation with ISIL? What is it? Do you think that they really want to destroy them because perhaps they have served their purpose or no, do they just want to see this chaos continue in the region?
O’Keefe: Chaos in the region is extremely advantageous.
The Project for a New American Century and Clean Break is an important document to read also.
Also, Oded Yinon’s strategy for Israel in the 1980s made it very clear that Iraq was target number one because of its strong Arab nationalist dictatorship.
Ultimately in the overall scheme you have this fantasy agenda of greater Israel: Israel expanding as the next great empire into Iraq, into Syria, Lebanon, also in part of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. This is their goal and it is a psychopath’s goal.
Right now all of this chaos that you see in that region fits perfectly in line with strategy papers. The policy is being carried out exactly as it was written. And the seeds of sectarian hatred and divide, which are necessary to fracture the people of the region so that they will be in a weakened state and therefore be subject to the real intention and goal, is again to expand the Israeli empire.
Ultimately this is all going to fall flat on its face but right now the chaos that is being sown is extremely advantageous for the powers that be.
Florida sheriff’s deputies, under the guise of checking professional licenses, raided an Orlando-area barbershop using SWAT-like tactics back in 2010 and now a federal appeals court has ruled that the search was illegal.
In a ruling that allows a lawsuit against the department to proceed, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals strongly criticized the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for storming the Strictly Skillz barbershop four years ago. “With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants—and demanded to see their barbers’ licenses,” the court wrote. The raid was one of several deputies carried out against minority-owned barbershops and salons in 2010.
The justices said the deputies went too far in using a SWAT-like approach just to check whether barbers were licensed. In fact, inspectors from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) had inspected Strictly Skillz only two days prior to the raid and found everything in order.
Describing the raid as a “scene right out of a Hollywood movie,” the panel of judges wrote: “Unlike previous inspections of Strictly Skillz…the August 21  search was executed with a tremendous and disproportionate show of force, and no evidence exists that such force was justified.” The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported that “no illegal or unlicensed activity was found” at the Pine Hills barbershop.
Working with DBPR, the deputy sheriffs claimed they suspected unlawful activity had taken place at the shop, which caters to minority customers, and others like it.
Tuesday’s ruling was a result of two deputies, Keith Vidler and Travis Leslie, petitioning that they should be immune from any civil litigation brought against them for doing their jobs. But the judges rejected their position, noting that they had twice before ruled in other cases that those participating in a warrantless criminal raid were not entitled to immunity. “Today, we repeat that same message once again,” the court wrote. “We hope that the third time will be the charm.”
Both the DBPR and the Sheriff’s Office launched internal investigations following a report by the Orlando Sentinel exposing the raids.
The DBPR terminated several employees and settled out of court with barbers. But the Sheriff’s Office concluded deputies did nothing wrong.
To Learn More:
Excessive Force Used in 2010 Barbershop Raid, Appeal Court Says (by Jeff Weiner, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)
SWAT-Style Barbershop Raid Nets Harsh Rebuke (by Lorraine Bailey, Courthouse News Service)
Brian Berry v. Travis Leslie (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)
Uncovering information that should be available to the public has become increasingly difficult under the presidency of Barack Obama, an Associated Press bureau chief says. In some cases, it surpasses the secrecy of the George W. Bush administration.
The White House’s penchant for secrecy does not just apply to the federal government, according to AP’s Washington bureau chief, Sally Buzbee. During a joint meeting of news editors, she stated that the same kind of behavior is starting to appear in state and local governments.
Buzbee pointed out eight ways that the Obama administration is stifling public access to information – including keeping reporters away from witnessing any military action the United States takes as it battles Islamic State extremists in the Middle East.
“The public can’t see any of it,” Buzbee said, referring to the military campaign. “News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off – there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the [US] bombers fly from.”
She also expressed frustration with the government’s handling of the upcoming 9/11 trial, during which journalists are prohibited from looking at even non-classified court filings in real time.
“We don’t know what prosecutors are asking for, or what defense attorneys are arguing,” she said.
Meanwhile, basic information about the prison complex in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is being withheld from the public, despite the fact that the Bush administration freely shared this data. The media is unable to learn how many inmates are on hunger strike in the infamous prison, or how frequently assaults on guards take place.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have become harder than ever to process, Buzbee added. Government officials often fail to do so unless media outlets bring a lawsuit to bear.
At the same time, federal officials have begun pressuring state and local agencies to keep quiet.
“The FBI has directed local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology the police departments use to sweep up cellphone data,” Buzbee said. “In some cases, federal officials have formally intervened in state open records cases, arguing for secrecy.”
The Ukrainian conflict was just a trigger for the sanctions, which demonstrated the failure of all previous efforts to set up healthy relations between Russia and the West, Russian tycoon and head of Rusal, Oleg Deripaska, told RT in Sochi.
“I think the sanctions have nothing to do with Ukraine. Ukraine was just a reason. [The sanctions] were a failure of any attempt which was taken in the past to build normal relations between Europe and Russia – from both sides,” Deripaska told RT at the Investment Forum in Sochi.
Oleg Deripaska said the West started pressing Russia before the first sanctions were imposed – just ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
“We should give a lot of credit to Sochi, [as it showed] a different world, [despite] whatever appeared in the Western press,” he said.
Asked if people across the globe are more anti-Russia than ever, Deripaska answered that “it’s not people, it’s [about] various lobbying groups and various interests.”
“You remember all the complaints before the Olympics. They’ve been intentionally stopping any efforts from the Russian side to be normal, to look normal in the West. My view is we should go down as deep as possible, as quick as possible, and then touch the bottom and go up, and think what’s actually common between us, if there is any chance to have this Portugal-Vladivostok trade zone and opportunities to live together.”
Raúl Castro, President of Cuba, said that he wants to start relations with the U.S., but first the U.S. must provide health insurance to all 46 million people who lack it; stop extrajudicial assassinations in sovereign countries through drone attacks; make higher education affordable for all; reform the prison system which has by far the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, with a drastically disproportionate amount of prisoners being minorities; grant Puerto Rico its sovereignty as required by the U.N. Charter, U.N. Declaration on Decolonization, and the popular referendum in Puerto Rico in 2012; halt the economic blockade, which has been ruled illegal for 22 straight years in the U.N.; close the detention facility and return the land to Cuba; turn over terrorists living freely in Miami who have bombed Cuban civilian airplanes, hotels and fishing boats; and free the three political prisoners who were investigating these groups to prevent further attacks.
Actually, he said: “We don’t demand that the U.S. change its political or social system and we don’t accept negotiations over ours. If we really want to move our bilateral relations forward, we’ll have to learn to respect our differences, if not, we’re ready to take another 55 years in the same situation.”
President Barack Obama has said Cuba: ”Has not yet observed basic human rights … I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions.” But he added: “We haven’t gotten there yet.”
Presumably Obama means when Cuba agrees to relinquish their right to self-determination, as guaranteed in the U.N. Charter, to join the U.S.-imposed neoliberal order. When Cuba agrees to gives up state control over industries like banking and telecommunications and opens them up to foreign investment, so more money can be shipped off the island instead of staying in the local economy and invested in the Cuban people. When Cuba agrees to “free trade” agreements, which would prevent labor and environmental safeguards while forcing local businesses to compete on an uneven playing field with multinational corporations that receive government subsidies, allowing them to undercut the price of local products. In short, when Cuba decides to respect private profit over the social welfare of its population.
U.S. calls for “democracy” and “human rights” in Cuba have an important historical connotation, which in reality has nothing to do with representative government nor human rights. The term is nothing more than a propaganda tool, instantly elevating the accuser to a superior moral status and subjecting the accused to an indefensible position regardless of the real facts, history and context.
The U.S. is not suggesting that Cuba should be judged by established human rights and international humanitarian laws — The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which the U.S. has never ratified); and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the U.S. took more than 20 years to ratify); the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the U.S. has never ratified; and many others. It is suggesting Cuba abide by the criteria the U.S. sets out for them and sees fit to interpret itself.
The reality is that the United States does not get to serve as judge and jury for other countries’ internal affairs, just as they would laugh in the face of anyone who tried to do the same to them. To pretend that your demands are more important than the law that governs the international system is beyond condescending.
Incidentally, there is a United Nations Committee that impartially reviews compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the few treaties which the U.S. has both signed and ratified. The committee, in its most recent annual report, found the U.S. non-compliant in many areas.
To start, they found that the U.S. “has only limited avenues to ensure that state and local governments respect and implement the Covenant, and that its provisions have been declared to be non-self-executing at the time of ratification,” which serves to “limit the legal reach and practical relevance of the Covenant.”
Among the many matters of concern is accountability for “unlawful killings during its international operations, the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in United States custody.”
The committee also noted numerous domestic problems, including “racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” “racial profiling,” “excessive use of force by law enforcement officials,” “criminalization of homelessness,” “National Security Agency surveillance,” and even “voting rights.”
Obama’s sanctimonious remarks about Cuba demonstrate his disregard for the law that applies to both countries equally, and his unwillingness to be held to the same standard that he preaches to others.
Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy, and Latin America. You can follow him on twitter.
The militarization of American police forces hasn’t been paid for by just the federal government. Pro-Israel groups in the U.S. have also played a role by financing trips for hundreds of law enforcement officers to travel to the Middle East for counterterrorism training, according to Ali Winston, a contributor to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).
Monies provided by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have made it possible for “at least 300 high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small – from New York and Maine to Orange County and Oakland, California” to attend privately funded seminars in Israel since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Winston discovered.
There, they have learned how Israeli security forces deal with demonstrators and armed threats by terrorists. The seminars include field trips to such sites as military installations, surveillance outposts, and checkpoints at the West Bank and the Israeli-Egyptian border. The training includes spending time observing operations conducted by Israel’s Border Patrol, Defense Forces, national police and intelligence services.
U.S. police officials who have undergone such training have come from the Los Angeles and New York police departments, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association. The fact that the former chief of Missouri’s St. Louis County Police Department trained in Israel in 2011 recently came to light following the well-armed police response to protestors in St. Louis-based Ferguson.
Israeli training of U.S. police has also influenced the type of equipment being used. Security forces from both countries are now using some identical gear, including stun and tear gas grenades manufactured by the same U.S. companies—Combined Systems Inc. and Defense Technology Corp. A long-range “sound rifle” that emits ear-shattering noise to disperse crowds, which was used against 2005 West Bank protestors, was also used in the recent police action against protestors in Ferguson.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, told CIR that American police are often copying what Israel does in terms of crowd control and other techniques.
“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” Syed said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”
Israel’s security forces have also trained police in Mexico since 1994, originally in response to the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.
Now that the dust has settled on the mutilated bodies of Palestinian men, women and children, the world seems able to ignore the desperate plight of those that survived. Apartheid Israel has accomplished its periodic ‘mowing of the grass’, the leveling of Gaza’s infrastructure, the destruction of schools, hospitals and mosques, and the killing of over 2,000 innocent, unarmed and defenseless Palestinians. Business for Israel now continues as usual, with IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) terrorists focusing their murders on innocent Palestinians in the West Bank. There, with complete impunity, they bulldoze homes, shoot unarmed teenagers, arrest and detain children, establish arbitrary checkpoints and steal land, all in violation of international law, law the international community doesn’t seem particularly interested in enforcing.
This is not meant to imply that Israel is ignoring Gaza. No, in violation of the cease-fire agreement, an agreement that apparently only the Palestinians have to abide by, IDF terrorists shoot Palestinian fishermen fishing within the very limited zone that Israel, again in violation of international law, permits them.
Not all countries of the world seem oblivious to Palestinian suffering. Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey have all sent aid to assist people deprived of food, water and shelter. But the U.S., which traditionally showers all kinds of aid on countries that do its bidding, but ignores or terrorizes those, such as Palestine, that don’t, has not responded.
A recent quotation by U.S. President Barack Obama is interesting: “… we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us.” This seems to fit the situation in Palestine. At least hundreds of thousands, and, realistically, millions of people have been affected by Israel’s most recent genocidal activities, and the continued financial aid to that apartheid, racist nation has ‘economic, political and security implications’ for the U.S. A total of $3 billion is sent to Israel annually; Detroit, in bankruptcy, is scrambling to find one third of that amount to get through the year. Yet it receives no taxpayer money from the Federal government, as Israel gets $3 billion.
The political implications are beginning to be felt; more and more of the U.S.’s elected officials (this writer simply cannot bring himself to refer to them as ‘representatives’) are being pressured to look away from the money the Israel lobby grants them for their re-elections campaigns, and focus instead on human rights. This is not easy for these officials to do; such a view does not come naturally to them. Yet the political reverberations are beginning to be felt, and can only increase.
In terms of security implications, hatred for and hostility towards the U.S. grows with every bomb Israel drops on Palestine, with every home demolished, with every checkpoint established, with every unarmed youth shot to death. The U.S.’s elected officials ignore this at their peril.
Unfortunately, the quotation shown above was not said by Mr. Obama in reference to Palestine; it was said about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The president is right on top of this, because doing so in no way offends a powerful U.S. lobby. One can always take the high road when the bottom line isn’t negatively impacted.
Why, one might reasonably ask, does the U.S. ignore the political, economic and security implications of financing a regime that makes South Africa of a generation ago look almost benign? Why ignore some of the most horrific human rights violations being committed on the planet today? What benefit is there in parroting the blatant lie that Israeli oppression of a nation it illegally and brutally occupies is done for its ‘national security’?
The U.S. continues to proclaim that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. This is not surprising, since the U.S. has a very skewed idea of democracy, a concept it has never actually practiced. Yet it is a favorite buzz word, along with ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’ and a few others that officials love to toss around, knowing the lemming-citizens go wild for it. Say them in front of an American flag, with the hand on the heart, and the jingoistic tears will flow. Never mind looking at reality. Ignore the abject poverty in many parts of the U.S.; the suicides (an average of 22 per day) of veterans who have, ostensibly, fought for that ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ (what they were actually fighting for is a topic for another essay); the racism that is so obvious, and occasionally cannot be completely ignored, as in Ferguson, Missouri. Forget about the poor performance of U.S. students compared with those of any other industrialized nation, as schools struggle to hold onto qualified teachers in the face of increasing class sizes and reduced budgets, as military contractors make billions by producing more powerful tools to kill.
So, let us summarize. Israel, a country born through genocide, continues to commit this horrific crime, financed mainly by the U.S., the world’s self-proclaimed beacon of peace and freedom. With one of the most powerful military systems on the planet, it periodically bombs, in the name of its ‘national security’, a nation it occupies, that has no army, navy or air force. When this happens, elected officials of its main financier, the U.S., all echo Israeli talking points, disregarding completely the horrific human rights violations that are perpetrated on a daily basis, and those that are exponentially worse with carpet bombing. Additionally, the U.S. press, with few exceptions, ignores Palestinian suffering and focuses on Israeli inconvenience.
This is the work of the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ as financed by the largest pseudo-democracy operating in the west. Both are criminal regimes, looking only for power and wealth, at the expense of common decency. Both must be stopped, and it won’t be their governments, the United Nations or other governments that will stop them. As with all movements for human rights, it will be the will of the people around the world that, eventually, will no longer be able to be ignored.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).
President Obama has announced that he is seeking a coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS in Iraq, Syria and wherever else it may be. That coalition, however, will apparently be neither a NATO coalition nor a United Nations coalition. Why not?
Part of the problem is that NATO member Turkey is refusing to allow air strikes against ISIS to be launched from its territory. Does this have anything to do with the fact that Turkey has been providing safe passage, safe haven, arms and other support for ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and – oh yes – buying stolen oil at cut rate prices from them?
To be fair, Britain, France, Germany and other NATO countries have also balked at violating the sovereign air space of Syria. They undoubtedly remember that Syrian forces shot down a Turkish aircraft that entered Syrian air space in 2012 and that Syria is equipped with some of the most advanced and effective antiaircraft systems in the world, the Russian S-300 (and possibly S-400) series. They also might care about their own sovereignty.
On the other hand, the Syrian government is willing and has actually offered to cooperate. ISIS is their arch-enemy, and Syria has said that it would welcome US participation in the fight, as long as Syrian sovereignty is respected through coordination with the Syrian armed forces.
However, the US might not be needed in Syria. Chances are that the Syrians might be able to bring along their Russian and Iranian allies, and perhaps China, too. If the objective is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, there’s no faster and more effective way to do it than to create a “coalition of the willing” that includes nearly everyone.
Of course, the US might not like to work with these countries, but so what? If they are willing, the plan removes a burden from the US and also eliminates the issue of violating Syrian sovereignty. They will get the job done, which allows the US and its allies to concentrate on ISIS forces in Iraq. A UN resolution to this effect is likely to be a shoo-in if it has US backing. No need to thank them.
Of course, such a plan is much too logical. It makes the assumption that the US actually wants to get rid of ISIS. In fact, that’s not the case at all. Most ISIS weapons come from the US via Saudi Arabia, Turkey (NATO), Libya, Qatar, and the “moderate Syrian rebels”, who are “moderate” only by stretching the term to include some of the most intolerant Takfiri Islamists. Many are also not Syrian, but have been recruited from all over the world. They are also not rebels, but rather mercenaries that commute to the battle zones from safe havens in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.
Who supports ISIS, anyway, if not the countries committed to “degrade and destroy” it? These include the US, European NATO countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others. ISIS is a convenient way of dividing, weakening and sometimes overthrowing all the societies in the region.
All except one.
Is it a coincidence that the countries in question are all in Israel’s neighborhood? That they were named in Israel’s Clean Break plan as early as 1996? That the authors of the Clean Break plan, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, became top advisers in the G.W. Bush administration?
The plan is at least half implemented. Having coopted the Jordanian monarchy, overthrown the first freely elected civilian Egyptian government, destroyed the Libyan government and society, prevented a popular takeover of the Yemeni dictatorship, bribed and protected the Saudi and Gulf monarchies and laid waste to Iraq, there remain the northern tier of Lebanon, Syria and Iran, as well as the ongoing destruction of Iraq. Is it a coincidence that, with the exception of Iran, this is exactly where ISIS operates?
For whose benefit is this if not Israel’s? Certainly not for the US. We are exhausting our resources and manpower and creating more enemies for ourselves, not less. Granted, the weapons manufacturers and oil companies are doing great, but the rest of US society is paying a heavy price, as funds to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, educate our children, provide health care, increase home ownership and otherwise preserve and build upon the gains of our society over the last century are diverted to costly military adventures on behalf of Israel.
If we want to dispose of ISIS, we have no need to drop our bombs, only our hypocrisy. Not a single country in the world admits to supporting ISIS. We have only to use the end user terms of our arms sales to NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other recipients of US arms to prevent those arms from reaching ISIS. We can use our influence with Turkey to shut down the sale of oil from ISIS-held territory. We can also end the practice of providing arms to forces fighting the Syrian government. Most of those arms end up in ISIS hands.
ISIS began as a small insurgency in Iraq, but we and our regional allies are responsible for making it the problem that exists today. Our purpose was to use ISIS to weaken and divide all the countries in the region (except Israel). Now we are trying to use it as a pretext for direct US intervention in Syria, which the American people rejected last year.
If the US is serious about getting rid of ISIS, there are better ways to do it than sending our combat aircraft into Syria without the permission of the Syrian government, the UN, or even NATO. Let’s stop trying to deceive the American public, the Congress and the world about our intentions. The Obama plan doesn’t pass the smell test.
Paul Larudee is one of the founders of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements and an organizer in the International Solidarity Movement.