It seems hard to fathom but the evidence is now overwhelming: if someone repeats the word “terrorist” often enough their brain will become functionally useless.
Consider the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday in support of the Obama administration’s sweeping definition of “material support” as applied to so-called Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) — a designation applied by the State Department.
If an NGO such as the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) wants to train a group such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes, then the HLP risks criminal prosecution. Why? Such training could help legitimize the PKK and also free up resources that it can dedicate to its terrorist activities.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan (who is nominated to become a Supreme Court Justice) argued the case for the Obama administration.
The Court ruled that even though pure speech is entitled to a high level of constitutional scrutiny, it would forgo such scrutiny and defer to Congress and the executive branch, which asserted unsupported, theoretical findings that support aimed at countering violence can somehow indirectly support violence. The Court’s reasoning was that the matter involves national security.
With its overly deferential approach, the Court failed to fulfill its responsibilities in the checks-and-balances system that keeps our democracy healthy. If it had looked behind the broad generalizations cited by the government, it would have seen there are no facts either in the Congressional Record or elsewhere that support the Congressional or State Department “findings.” And even if there are some circumstances where conflict mediation and human rights training can be co-opted to support violence, it is not inevitable that it will happen in all cases.
For an obvious example of the fault in the findings, one need look no further than the Good Friday Accords that brought a lasting peace to Northern Ireland for the first time in more than eight centuries. For years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had worked to bring violent factions of Catholics and Protestants to the bargaining table. Their work behind the scenes was instrumental in persuading those groups — “terrorists” in the eyes of most of their captive civilian populations, as well as the governments seeking to disarm them — to put down their weapons and negotiate a peaceful resolution to 850 years of violence.
If the “material support” law had been in place, as authorized by the Supreme Court today, those organizations would have been criminals. And the people of Northern Ireland would likely still be victims of sectarian violence that only a very few supported.
“Orwellian” doesn’t begin to describe a law that makes it a crime to promote peaceful conflict resolution.
If the administration actually intends to uphold the law in the way they argue it should be applied, then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be expected to continue forever.
There is a rather broad consensus among foreign policy analysts in the US and Europe, that Hamas, a designated FTO, has far too much grassroots political support among ordinary Palestinians for the organization to be destroyed. Neither Israel’s war on Gaza nor it’s internationally supported siege of Gaza, succeeded in bringing the Islamist organization and democratically-elected government to its knees.
If the Obama administration wants to revive the Middle East peace process, sooner or later Hamas will have to be involved. It’s hard if not impossible to anticipate that those involved in the initial efforts to open dialogue with Hamas can avoid falling foul of the broad definition of “material support” that the Supreme Court has just upheld.
The Obama administration told the Supreme Court that the United States is engaged in an effort to “delegitimize and weaken” groups such as Hamas, yet it would behoove Washington and democratic governments everywhere to remember where political legitimacy springs from: not idiotic Supreme Court rulings, but the will of the people — and that includes the Palestinians.
The first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords are missing from Israeli history textbooks, Haaretz has learned, while more recent events, such as the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan, are included.
The Education Ministry said in response that “naturally, not all historic events could be included in the curriculum.”
Some 10 days ago, public school history teachers received a handbook sent by the director of history education at the Education Ministry, Michael Yaron. The handbook, titled “Subjects for the High School History Curriculum” sets down the topics history teachers are expected to cover over the three years of high school.
History lessons in high school are divided into two units, both mandatory for all students. The second unit is further divided into the following two groupings: Nazism, anti-Semitism, World War II and the Holocaust; and building the State of Israel in the Middle East. The latter grouping includes all Israeli conflicts from the struggle for statehood to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, followed by a section on the “peace agreements between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.”
In the past, the Education Ministry generally avoided teaching recent history, arguing that it takes 20 to 30 years to arrive at a historical perspective suitable for teaching young people. However, skipping over the first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords, but including the peace accords with Jordan as well as “Jewish immigration into Israel during the last 30 years of the 20th century,” appears to represent a deviation from the rule.
“The Education Ministry doesn’t like [to address] controversial issues like the first Lebanon war or the Oslo Accords,” a veteran history teacher told Haaretz. “It’s not necessarily political, it’s more of a desire to avoid confrontation and keep things quiet.”
“This is wrong, even pedagogically,” the teacher continued. “The so-called sensitive subjects are the most relevant ones and the most interesting to students.”
‘Mapping out reality’
“Professionally speaking, this is a ridiculous and unreasonable decision,” said professor Hannah Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University, who chairs the ministry’s advisory committee on history education. “The peace agreement with Jordan didn’t appear in a vacuum, but as a result of the Oslo Accords. But it’s more than that, these issues are existentially important. Students need to know what the Palestinian Authority is. This is part of mapping out reality.”
As for the Lebanon war, she said, “28 years offers enough perspective on this particular event, especially if later events are taught in schools. There’s no professional justification for these decisions.”
An Education Ministry official rejected the claims that the decision to exclude these subjects was political. “A professional external committee staffed comprised of the best historians put together the curriculum from which these guidelines are derived, and which was published two years ago,” he said. “There were plenty of arguments and deliberations within the committee before they agreed on a program that took into account not just historic events, but the fewer number of teaching hours allocated to history lessons.”
The chairman of the committee, Professor Yisrael Bartal of the Hebrew University, could not be reached for comment.
The Education Ministry also released a statement in which it said that “naturally, the curriculum cannot include all historical subjects and events. The program includes the formative historic events of the Jewish people, which have led to the establishment of the Jewish Zionist state and which continue to remain relevant today.”
BBC | June 24, 2010
Kenneth O’Keefe talks about the israeli terrorist attack on the MV Mavi Marmara which killed 9 humanitarian activists.
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TSA’s War on the Bill of Rights
If you are planning to fly over the 4th of July holiday, be aware of your rights at airport security checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has mandated that passengers can opt out of going through a whole body scanning machine in favor of a physical pat down. Unfortunately, opting for the pat down requires passengers to be assertive since TSA screeners do not tell travelers about their right to refuse a scan. Harried passengers must spot the TSA signs posted at hectic security checkpoints to inform themselves of their rights before they move to a body scanning security line.
Since the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by a passenger hiding explosives in his underwear, TSA has accelerated its program of deploying whole body scanning machines, including x-ray scanners, at airport security checkpoints throughout the United States. Scanning machines peak beneath passengers’ clothing looking for concealed weapons and explosives that can elude airport metal detectors. So far, TSA has placed 111 scanners at 32 airports. They expect to have 450 scanners deployed by the end of the year at an estimated cost of $170,000 each.
Privacy, civil rights and religious groups object to whole body scanning machines as uniquely intrusive. Naked images of passengers’ bodies are captured by these machines that can reveal very personal medical conditions such as prosthetics, colostomy bags and mastectomy scars. The TSA responded by setting the scanners to blur the facial features of travelers, placing TSA employees who view the images in a separate room and assuring the public that the images are deleted after initial viewing.
Yet, a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uncovered documents showing that the scanning machines’ procurement specifications include the ability to store, record and transfer revealing digital images of passengers. The specifications allow TSA to disable any privacy filters permitting the exporting of raw images, contrary to TSA assurances.
It begs logic that the TSA would not retain their ability to store images particularly in the event of a terrorist getting through the scan and later attacking an aircraft. One of the first searches by the TSA would be to review images taken by the scanners to identify the attacker.
The Amsterdam airport is using a less intrusive security device called “auto detection” scanning which generates stick figures instead of the real image of the person and avoids exposing passengers to radiation. Three United States Senators recently wrote to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to consider these devices.
More pointedly, security experts, such as Edward Luttwak from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have come forward questioning the effectiveness of whole body scanners since they can be defeated by hiding explosives in body cavities. The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, has stated that it is unclear whether scanners would have spotted the kind of explosives carried by the “Christmas Day” bomber.
About one-half of these body scanning machines use low dose x-rays to scan passengers. Last May, a group of esteemed scientists from the University of California, San Francisco wrote to John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, voicing their concerns about the rapid roll out of scanners without a rigorous safety review by an impartial panel of experts. The scientists caution that the TSA has miscalculated the radiation dose to the skin from scanners and that there is “good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.”
David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, has also voiced caution about x-raying millions of air travelers. He was a member of the government committee that set the safety guidelines for the x-ray scanners, and he now says he would not have signed onto the report had he known that TSA wanted to scan almost every air traveler.
Passenger complaints to TSA and newspaper accounts of passenger experiences with scanners contradict TSA assurances that checkpoint signs provide adequate notice to travelers about the scanning procedure and the pat down option. Travelers, who reported that they were not fully aware what the scanning procedure involved, said they were not made aware of alternative search options.
Many travelers complained about their privacy, and their families’ privacy, being invaded. Some were concerned about the radiation risk, particularly to pregnant women and children. Some travelers felt bullied by rude TSA screeners. The Wall Street Journal reported that one woman who refused to go through the body scanner was called “unpatriotic” by the TSA screener.
Expensive state-of-the-art security technology that poses potentially serious health risks to vulnerable passengers, invades privacy, and provides questionable security is neither smart nor safe. For the White House it is a political embarrassment waiting to happen.
President Obama should suspend the body scanning program and appoint an independent panel of experts to review the issues of privacy, health and effectiveness. After such a review, should the DHS and TSA still want to deploy body scanners at airports, they should initiate a public rulemaking, which they have refused thus far, so that the public can have their say in the matter.
If you experience any push-back from TSA screeners when you assert your right to refuse to go through a whole body scanner and request a pat down security search instead, please write to email@example.com.
A revealing report published in May 2010 by the FRIDE Institute, a Spanish think tank, prepared with funding from the World Movement for Democracy (a project of the National Endowment for Democracy-NED), has disclosed that international agencies are funding the Venezuelan opposition with a whopping US$40-50 million annually.
This exorbitant amount of financing well exceeds the approximately $15 million previously believed to have been channelled to Venezuelan opposition groups via the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the NED.
According to the FRIDE report, which analyzes the impact of this funding in Venezuela, and concludes that more donations are necessary to support the “democratic opposition” to President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the multi-million dollar funds are exclusively directed towards political activities in the polarized South American nation. A large majority of the $40-50 million donated by US and European agencies and foundations is given to the right wing opposition political parties, Primero Justicia (First Justice), Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time) and COPEI (Christian Democrat ultra-conservative party), as well as to a dozen or so NGOs, student groups and media organizations.
In the FRIDE report, the Venezuelan government is classified as “semi-authoritarian,” which is a term used frequently by the NED and another US donor to Venezuelan opposition groups, Freedom House, to describe the Chavez administration. The report even goes so far as to indicate that in Venezuela, “Elections are the main link between democracy and dictatorship.” As a result, the international funds provided to political groups in Venezuela are destined to fight against the government of Hugo Chavez in order to “restore representative democracy” and return a more US-friendly government to power.
The authors of the revealing report recognize that “international assistance” for political groups in Venezuela did not begin until 2002, after the Chavez government began implementing a series of major reforms. “The presence of large international donors engaged in democracy promotion, particularly the donors based in the US (including the Carter Center, the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Open Society Institute (OSI), the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and multilateral institutions (OAS and EC) is closely linked to the Chavez presidency … their political engagement began in the aftermath of the new Bolivarian Constitution, approved by popular consultation in 1999, which was the starting point of Chavez’ Revolution and Socialism of the 21st Century … many civil society organizations emerged in 2002 — the year of the attempted coup…”
According to the FRIDE document, “Foreign democracy assistance is mainly channelled through 10-12 small institutions, all of them with offices in Caracas. New political actors, such as the students’ movement or other groups, have rather sporadically been addressed by donors, mainly from the US.” In recent years, an opposition movement has emerged from the universities, backed by Washington primarily, but also by some European foundations, particularly from Spain. These student and youth groups have attempted to project a “fresh” image of the tarred traditional political parties that ruled the country throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and were largely viewed as corrupt and elitist.
But by receiving mass amounts of foreign funding and aid for their anti-Chavez political activities, the student and youth groups have demonstrated that their priorities and actions are directed by external forces, which in turn has caused for a loss of their credibility and has confirmed accusations that they are “agents” of the US government.
US: MAIN DONOR
US agencies are the principal donors to political groups in Venezuela, with annual funds of about $6 million. The FRIDE report confirms that this multi-million dollar aid is a result of US efforts to undermine the Chavez presidency. “Until very recently, the United States did not have a prominent role in democracy assistance to Venezuela. When US engagement began under the Chavez government, its political profile consisted of supporting democratic NGOs and opposition parties.”
US funds are channelled to opposition groups in Venezuela through the following organizations, Development Alternatives, Inc DAI (since 2002), the Pan-American Development Foundation PADF (since 2005), the International Republican Institute IRI (since 2002), the National Democratic Institute NDI (since 2002), Freedom House (since 2004), USAID (since 2002), NED and the Open Society Institute (since 2006).
Declassified documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding the activities of these agencies in Venezuela have revealed that their multi-million dollar funding has largely gone towards promoting anti-democratic activities, such as the April 2002 coup d’etat against the Chavez government, and subsequent strikes, destabilization attempts and economic sabotage. The foreign funding has also gone to support the opposition electoral campaigns over the past eight years, including in-kind aid to train and strengthen political parties, help design elections and communications strategies and even to develop political platforms and agendas for opposition groups. This level of support goes well beyond mere donations and evidences a direct meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.
But, not only are US agencies providing the millions to keep the Venezuelan opposition alive and feed the political conflict in Venezuela. The FRIDE report reveals that the European Commission is channelling between 6-7 million Euros annually to opposition political parties and NGOs in the South American nation. Although some of the EC’s work is done with Venezuelan government entities on a local level (infrastructure development), the majority is going to “civil society organizations” and “human rights” NGOs.
Additionally, the FRIDE report exposes the EC for serving as a “channel” for the “triangularization” of US funding to groups in Venezuela, in order to avoid the stain of Washington on the Venezuelan organizations receiving foreign aid for political activities.
Several German foundations, including the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation (ILDIS-FES) are providing direct funding to political parties in Venezuela. Konrad Adenauer invests about 500,000 Euros annually in projects with the right-wing parties COPEI and Primero Justicia, and has a 70,000 Euros annual commitment to fund programs at the conservative Catholic University Andres Bello (UCAB), a hotbed of opposition student groups.
The governments of Canada and Spain are also funding political opposition groups and programs in Venezuela, though with a much lower profile, so as not to affect diplomatic relations.
The FRIDE report, which admits that a majority of the NGO’s receiving the multi-million dollar funding are actually “virtual organizations with no offices or staff,” also reveals that the international funders are evading and violating Venezuelan laws.
Because Venezuela has currency controls, so as to prevent large amounts of capital flight, there are restrictions on the flow of foreign currency in and out of the country. Additionally, the Venezuelan currency, the Bolívar has a fixed rate set by the State, although a large parallel, or “black market” exists for illegal trading.
The FRIDE report confirms that several international agencies, particularly those from the US, are exchanging currency on the illegal market, in clear violation of Venezuelan law.
“…An additional problem for civil society organizations has been the ‘double currency’: even after the devaluation of the Bolívar, the unofficial exchange rate is higher than the official one…Some donors have solved this problem by paying in hard currency, by using foreign bank accounts, or by applying a semi-official exchange rate…”
The FRIDE report, titled, “Assessing Democracy Assistance: Venezuela,” is part of a series of studies conducted in 14 nations where international agencies are actively involved in funding political groups favorable to US policies.
In addition to Venezuela, other case studies were conducted in Belarus, China, Georgia, Egypt, Ukraine, Nigeria, Bosnia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mysteriously, the report on Venezuela, and any evidence of its existence, disappeared from the FRIDE website after this author referred to it in a prior Spanish-language article.