16 or 17 and want to be a soldier? Watch this first.
Army training is ‘traumatic’ for young recruits and damages the adolescent mind, according to British infantry veteran Wayne Sharrocks, who features in a series of short films released today by Child Soldiers International (child-soldiers.org/dontenlistat16). The films offer young people and their parents a frank alternative to army recruitment materials which, say many veterans, present a sanitised and unrealistic impression of military life. In particular, Wayne wants young people to know that the psychological effects of training can be harmful and permanent.
The films describe Wayne’s journey through the army, from training to deployment and his struggle to adjust to civilian life afterwards. They present a picture of army life that is unrecognisable from recruitment brochures: of routine bullying; ‘traumatic’ training that indoctrinated him as ‘a mindless, robotic killer’; and the often ‘really, really, dull and boring’ life on operations. He recalls seeing his colleagues maimed and killed right in front of him, and talks about his own injury from an IED explosion.
Other British armed forces veterans share Wayne’s concern. Today, Veterans for Peace[i] will deliver a letter to the Ministry of Defence appealing for an end to recruiting from age 16. The letter argues that adolescents should not be put through training whose central goal is to make them capable of killing on demand and without hesitation. In Wayne’s experience, this psychological conditioning produces ‘an insane amount of aggression’ and is ‘massively psychologically damaging’ after leaving the army as it cannot simply be ‘switched off’.
In the films, Wayne describes the lead-up to bayonet drill, which begins with sleep deprivation:
‘So they keep you up all night and make you really angry, then you’ll [have to] run and be put through physical punishments. You’re crawling through mud and [are] screamed at, kicked, punched while you’re on the floor, anything to get you angry… enough to stab another man on the flick of a switch. For a young person at 16 that’s pretty traumatic.’
The army makes use of a gang mentality to force recruits to conform, he says:
‘You either conform, or you don’t and you’re separated from the pack and you’re going to be preyed on. So you can either be the person that’s preying on people or the person that’s preyed on, it’s like survival of the fittest, basically. So these people that aren’t the fittest or mentally the fittest, they’re going to get preyed on and people are going to take advantage of that.’
Wayne’s testimony echoes statistics which show younger recruits are at higher risk of bullying and harassment in the army. In 2015, recruits at the Army training centre for minors (AFC Harrogate) filed 20 formal complaints of inappropriate conduct by army staff, up from ten cases in 2014, ten in 2013, and five in 2012. 15 cases remain unresolved to date.[ii]
‘Before deciding to enlist, young people and their parents deserve the full picture, but the army’s brochures only tell one side of the story. These films give another side, including the frightening and the mundane,’ said Rachel Taylor, Programme Manager at Child Soldiers International. ‘People need to know that basic training involves intense psychological conditioning which doesn’t switch off when you leave the army. Adolescents, whose brains are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of this.’
Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now Coordinator for Veterans for Peace UK, agrees. ‘The purpose of infantry training is to fundamentally alter the way your mind works, leaving the army in control of what you value and how you react. These values and reactions are very difficult to switch off and cause all sorts of problems in civilian life. No other country in Europe subjects 16 year olds to this process, it’s time this country caught up.’
The four Children’s Commissioners for the UK also believe that raising the enlistment age would be in the best interests of young people,[iii] as do the major child rights groups,[iv] health professionals,[v] teachers,[vi] faith groups,[vii] parliamentarians,[viii] the Equality and Human Rights Commission,[ix] and three-quarters of the British public, according to a 2014 poll.[x] The British army’s arrangements for gaining the informed consent of recruits and their parents are ‘insufficient’, the UN has said.[xi]
An article in last month’s RUSI Journal argues that the army could enlist only adults and still fill the ranks, since 16 year olds are more expensive than adults to train and one-third are discharged before they finish the course (child-soldiers.org/shop/is-it-counterproductive-to). Despite the growing controversy around the British army’s recruitment age, last year it increased its intake of minors, who account for a quarter of new recruits, recent figures reveal.[xii]
- Wayne Sharrocks enlisted into the British infantry in 2006, aged 17, and left seven years later. He was deployed to Afghanistan twice. The second time he was deployed he was injured by an IED. The same explosion blew the legs off a colleague in front of him. He is now making a full length film about the difficulties veterans face in returning to civilian life: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1236839879/life-after-war.
- Child Soldiers International is an international human rights research and advocacy organisation seeking to end the military recruitment of any person under the age of 18. Our research on child recruits in the British armed forces is available at https://www.child-soldiers.org/uk.
- The large majority of countries worldwide now recruit only from age 18 or above. The UK is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council or EU member state still recruiting 16-year-olds. In the United States the minimum recruitment age is 17 years, but minors only account for around 6 per cent of annual intake; in the UK, they account for one-quarter of the British army’s intake. (Full figures available on request).
- The Defence Select Committee (2005, 2013, 2014), the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2009, 2010) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2002, 2008, 2016) have all called on the MoD to review the minimum recruitment age with a view to raising it to 18 years.
- Supporters of the campaign to raise the UK enlistment age to 18 include: the Children’s Commissioners for the four jurisdictions of the UK, Child Soldiers International, Veterans for Peace, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Medact, Liberty, ForcesWatch, Amnesty International UK, British Institute of Human Rights, The Who Cares? Trust, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, Plaid Youth, SNP Youth, Children in Scotland, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), Children in Wales, Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group, Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People, Children England, Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE), Northern Ireland Children’s Law Centre, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Methodist Peace Fellowship, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and Pax Christi.
- Army policy ensures that 16 and 17 year olds who enlist are drawn into the infantry in particular, as Wayne was.[xiii] [xiv] The infantry carries the highest risks once recruits turn 18 and can be sent to war. In 2015/16, 41 per cent of minors joining the army were enlisted for the infantry, versus 32 per cent of their adult counterparts.[xv]. The British infantry’s fatality rate in Afghanistan was six times that in the rest of the army.[xvi]
- In November the health professionals charity Medact argued that underage enlistment is a public health problem carrying a range of risks to young people.[xvii]
- Films produced by Global Stories,https://globalstoriesalsomakefilms.wordpress.com, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] For details of today’s letter hand-in, see http://vfpuk.org/2017/end-the-brutalisation-of-children/ or contact email@example.com.
[ii] 2015 is the most recent full year for which figures are available. House of Commons, Written answers to questions: Army Foundation College (no. 56008), 13 December 2016, http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-12-02/56008.
[iii] For references, see Child Soldiers International, Press release: Stop recruiting children, rights groups tell MoD, 2016, http://www.child-soldiers.org/News/press-release-stop-recruiting-children-rights-groups-tell-ministry-of-defence.
[iv] For example, see UNICEF, Ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, 2016, p. 10, http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/UnicefChildSoldiersbriefing_UKweb.pdf. See also Children’s Rights Alliance for England, www.crae.org.uk, and Together: Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, http://www.togetherscotland.org.uk.
[v] Medact, The recruitment of children by the UK armed forces: A critique from health professionals, 2016, http://s234523623453.medact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/medact_childrecruitment_17-oct_WEB.pdf.
[vi] The National Union Teachers has communicated its support for raising the enlistment age to 18 directly to Child Soldiers International.
[vii] Refer to Child Soldiers International, Bishops attack army on recruitment of minors; teen enlistment figures plummet, 2013, https://www.child-soldiers.org/Shop/bishops-attach-army-on-recruitment-of-minor-while-teen-enlistment-figures-plummet-1.
[viii] Joint Committee on Human Rights, Children’s Rights (Twenty-fifth Report of Session 2008-09), 2009.
[ix] Equality and Human Rights Commission, UK Government UPR Mid-term Report: Report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010, p. 5, http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/humanrights/hrc13_midterm_report.pdf
[x] Ipsos MORI, Nationwide poll conducted in July 2014 by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, http://forceswatch.net//sites/default/files/IPSOSsurvey2014-Forces_age.pdf. Poll question: ‘In your opinion, what should be the minimum age to join the British army? Please answer regardless of whatever you believe the minimum age is at the moment.’
[xi] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (CRC/C/GBR/CO/5), 2016, pp. 23-24, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/149/88/PDF/G1614988.pdf.
[xii] For sources and detail, see Child Soldiers International, Press Release: Army defies child rights campaigners, intensifies intake of 16-year-olds for riskiest roles, November 2016, https://www.child-soldiers.org/news/army-defies-child-rights-campaigners-intensifies-intake-of-16-year-olds-for-riskiest-roles.
[xiii] According to the MoD, Junior Entry recruitment (aged 16-17.5 years) ‘presents an opportunity to mitigate Standard Entry (SE) shortfalls, particularly for the Infantry’. ‘SE’ refers to recruits aged 17.5 years and above. MoD, Policy on recruiting Under-18s (U18), 2013, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Ref. FOI2015/00618, 12 February 2015, p. 2, https://www.child-soldiers.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=5328771a-5ff2-4b15-89ab-ff454339c782.
[xiv] Recruiters’ instructions state that recruits aged between 16 and 16½ must be given jobs in combat roles (or join as drivers in the logistics corps) and that those under 16¼ must only be given combat roles. British army (Recruiting Group), Eligibility Quick Reference Guide, 2015, p. 8, http://www.child-soldiers.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=5e0a7b26-2af3-4d29-b26d-f21aefeede97.
[xv] In 2015-16, 41 per cent (730) of army recruits aged under 18 were enlisted for the infantry, versus 32 per cent (1,960) of adult recruits. House of Commons, Written questions: Armed Forces: Young People, 25 May 2016, no. 38550; MoD, UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics, 1 April 2016 (Table 8a), 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-armed-forces-biannual-diversity-statistics-2016.
[xvi] Refer to D Gee, The Last Ambush: Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces, 2013 (London: ForcesWatch), p. 57-58, http://www.forceswatch.net/sites/default/files/The_Last_Ambush_web.pdf.
[xvii] Medact, The recruitment of children by the UK armed forces: A critique from health professionals, 2016, http://s234523623453.medact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/medact_childrecruitment_17-oct_WEB.pdf.
January 8, 2017
“If I want to send (a message to French politicians) I would say the self evident thing, that we have to work for the interests of the Syrian citizens, and for the last six years the situation is going in the opposite direction. The French politics harmed the French interests. For the French people, I would say the mainstream media has failed in most of the west, the narrative has been debunked because of the reality and you have the alternative media, you have to look for the truth.
Truth was the main victim of the events in the Middle East, including Syria.
I would ask any citizen in France, please search for the reality, for the real information, through the alternative media. When they search for this information, they can be more effective, in dealing with their government, or at least not allowing some politicians to base their politics on lies.” – Syrian President Bashar Al Assad
Few in Europe expected Donald Trump to win the U.S. Presidential elections last November. The picture painted by the media and political class was convincing: despite the pent-up anger being expressed through protest candidates, Hillary Clinton was headed towards a decisive victory, as the majority of Americans couldn’t stomach someone as outrageous and unconventional as the reality TV star turned politician.
That’s not what happened, of course, as Trump earned an Electoral College victory by winning enough votes in key Midwestern states that have suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs in recent decades. His victory has shaken the Western world to its core, making it clear that business as usual is no longer possible in terms of both economic and foreign policy.
In Europe the signs of the anti-establishment sentiment that dominated the U.S. election campaign have been present for some time. The most obvious example was the Brexit vote in June 2016, in which the population of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. But protest movements have actually been on the rise for several years now, driven by the same basic issues as in the United States: a sense of economic and social insecurity – accompanied by a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment – driven by an economic policy that has made life harder for the middle class while enriching those at the top.
The growing anger against the institutions of the European Union, considered the main culprit for the failed economic policies, has made the élites desperate for some sense of stability, to help them weather the storm. As a result, a potential Clinton victory was openly welcomed by most political leaders.
After Trump’s victory, there were numerous press reports of worries among European governments regarding the incoming Administration’s foreign policy. Trump is understandably seen as unpredictable, but the key point revolves around his attitude towards Russia, the same issue that is currently dominating the institutional fight in the United States right now.
Just after the election The New York Times ran a story entitled “For Europe, Trump’s Election is a Terrifying Disaster,” suggesting that under the new President, the United States may embrace authoritarianism and no longer defend democracy. It was a theme that other mainstream news outlets also pushed.
On Nov. 17, The Associated Press wrote: “NATO members and other European countries are worried that under Trump, the U.S. will stop trying to police Russia’s behavior the way it has under Obama. Most concerning to U.S. allies are Trump’s effusive comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of the first world leaders he spoke to after winning the election.”
While it is true that former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland and Latvia would prefer to maintain the current hardline position towards Russia, the reality is that the largest E.U. members – France, Italy and Germany – actually stand to benefit from the diplomatic approach promised by President-elect Trump.
This doesn’t mean they supported his candidacy, though. First of all, they were told that he couldn’t win; and second, a Trump victory would seem to encourage the anti-establishment movements already on the rise in Europe, which threaten both the E.U.’s status quo and the jobs of key leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hillary Clinton was seen as representing continuity, and for the many politicians who seek to curry favor with the transatlantic elites, it was best to show their Clinton bona fides in view of the upcoming change in power. For example, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi – now out of office due to a stinging anti-establishment vote in a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms – repeatedly broke diplomatic protocol and publicly criticized Trump during the election campaign.
However, over the course of 2016 it became clear that Clinton’s foreign policy was far more aggressive than Barack Obama’s, as the President had actually been seeking collaboration with Russia for several years on issues, such as constraining Iran’s nuclear program and negotiating an end to the Syrian conflict, despite heavy opposition from within his own administration.
Indeed Trump’s openness towards Vladimir Putin seems even more heretical now because most have chosen to forget that Obama himself had sought close cooperation with Putin on several key issues. For instance, Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomacy last year on Syria almost succeeded in implementing intelligence sharing and joint airstrikes by the two powers, before being effectively thwarted by the Pentagon and other U.S. institutional opposition in September 2016.
Now Obama seems to have forgotten his former position, and decided to fully toe the anti-Russian line, apparently convinced that he must do his part in the campaign to weaken Trump and prevent him from being an effective president, even in areas where their positions are not far apart.
It is possible that Trump will accelerate the timid attempts of his predecessor to abandon the “regime change” policies that have led to numerous disasters in the Middle East, and heightened tensions with Russia. The President-elect seems determined to pursue this path more openly than Obama, who worked slowly towards this goal while seeking to placate his critics with more bellicose language in his public statements.
Doubts About the U.S. Hardline
Although European nations have been heavily involved in recent regime change adventures (the U.K. in Iraq and France in Libya, for example), there is a widespread preference in Western Europe for avoiding further conflict with Russia. The U.S. position on the events in Ukraine, for example, is often seen as one-sided, and the notion of NATO expansion to Russia’s borders seems like an unnecessary and dangerous provocation that can only makes things worse.
Western sanctions against Russia, and Russia’s retaliatory sanctions on food imports, have cost European economies over $100 billion in trade, according to some estimates, hitting the agricultural sector especially hard. In addition, Russia has been concluding more economic agreements with countries such as China, leading to fears of permanent consequences for Europe.
For this reason, France, Italy and Germany have all repeatedly stated their desire to reduce or remove the sanctions altogether. The hope is that an agreement can be reached to defuse tensions in Ukraine, based on support for the Kiev government but broad autonomy for the ethnic Russian areas in eastern Ukraine.
Despite this desire to head off further conflict, European governments are usually careful not to openly break with U.S. policy; they are key members of NATO and have no desire to distance themselves from the leader of the alliance. However, if Donald Trump follows through on his stated goal of working “together with Russia,” the countries of Western Europe in particular may welcome the opportunity to advance their own economic interests and avoid finding themselves in the middle of a new Cold War.
Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.
As we enter the last full week of Barack Obama’s eight year tenure as President of the United States of America, dozens of political prisoners still sit in cages across the nation’s prisons, rotting away as Obama consciously chooses not to exercise the power to simply free them with the stroke of a pen. Many activists for Puerto Rican independence, Native American and African American rights, and other causes were targeted by the political police’s illegal COINTELPRO program and convicted in sham trials. Now elderly, some in poor health, they may effectively be facing death sentences unless Obama’s decides within the next two weeks to grant their appeals for clemency.
Among the most well known political prisoners are Oscar López Rivera, Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, who have all been locked up for at least three and a half decades. Many others including The Move 9 and The Holy Land Five have spent years or decades in jail for their political action and views. Many, like Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Sterling, have been denied their freedom for their roles in exposing government crimes and misdeeds.
But you won’t ever hear this in the mainstream media. The corporate media hypocrisy is best demonstrated by the debate regarding political prisoners during Obama’s trip to Cuba in March 2016.
The U.S. government pretends that it always promotes human rights around the world and opposes human rights violations by other countries it considers adversaries. Hence, part of the propaganda narrative on Cuba is that it unjustly holds political prisoners as part of its campaign to repress the Cuban people – something that would never occur in the United States itself.
During a joint press conference with Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Castro why the Cuban government held political prisoners and whether he would release them. Castro responded by asking for the names of people Acosta was referring to, and said that if he was given a list, they would be free by that evening. The headlines from some of the most popular US new organizations declared that Castro “skirts question on political prisoners” and “President Obama and Cuban President Clash on Political Prisoners in Cuba.” The New York Times challenged Castro’s claim by citing Twitter responses naming Cubans purportedly imprisoned for their political beliefs and quoting a U.S. spokesman saying the U.S. had previously shared lists with the Cuban government.
The press coverage treated it as self-evident that only the Cuban government should have to defend itself against allegations of human rights abuses. That the U.S. President would not have to answer the same question was taken for granted.
But by the time the meeting between Obama and Castro took place in Cuba, all prisoners considered by Amnesty International prisoners of conscience had already been released. Meanwhile, Amnesty has directly called on Obama to free Leonard Peltier and produced multiple reports about his case.
However, no news organization questioned why an American reporter who covers the U.S. President every single day had never bothered asking Obama – before or during the press conference in Cuba – about U.S. political prisoners.
When I asked Acosta via Twitter why he was silent about U.S. political prisoners and whether he would call on Obama to free Peltier, he did not respond. In the following months, he has not responded a single time when questioned about his refusal to ask the same questions of his own President that he does of leaders of foreign (enemy) countries. It is easy to see why.
Journalists working in the American mainstream media see themselves as being on the same team as their own government, safely staying on the side of U.S. power by acting as a mouthpiece to promote the government’s own narrative and opposing those countries and leaders that the U.S. government does.
As the American press refuses to acknowledge that the U.S. has political prisoners, it is left to grassroots groups to demand justice. Recently, separate petitions calling for clemency for López and Peltier were created through the White House’s We the People web site, where citizen petitions that receive 100,000 signatures receive a response from the White House.
Both petitions exceeded the threshold and received the same dismissive response, passing the buck to the Department of Justice’s Pardon Attorney and refusing to comment on the individual cases:
“The President takes his constitutional power to grant clemency very seriously, and recommendations from the Department of Justice are carefully considered before decisions are made. The White House does not comment, however, on individual pardon applications. In accordance with this policy and the We the People Terms of Participation – which explain that the White House may sometimes choose not to respond to petitions addressing certain matters – the White House declines to comment on the specific case addressed in this petition.”
Translation: The President doesn’t actually respect citizens’ right to participate in decision making, and feels free to ignore them whenever he chooses. The We the People web site is merely a propaganda tool to give the illusion that the president is responsive to the citizens he purportedly serves.
Indeed, Obama has closed his eyes and ears and shut out the voices of millions of people who have spent his entire presidency calling on him to show basic human decency and stop the perpetration of historic injustices against López, Peltier, Abu-Jamal and the many other political prisoners.
Throughout his term, Obama has been called on by fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, foreign leaders, Puerto Rican politicians and others to free López Rivera. The case has become perhaps the most important political issue on the island, as well as among Puerto Ricans and allies in the diaspora.
Former President Jimmy Carter, who commuted the prison sentences of four Puerto Rican nationalists, including Lolita Lebron and Rafael Cancel Miranda, who participated in attacks on the Blair House and the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1950s, asked Obama to free López Rivera, as he himself had done for Puerto Rican prisoners convicted of more serious charges. (Carter’s Dec. 13 letter to Obama was not reported in any American corporate media, only in the Puerto Rican press such as the island’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia.)
Despite years of being ignored, the people of Puerto Rico, who are denied their right to self-determination by the U.S. government and relegated to second-class citizenship without the democratic right to representation in federal government, have been unrelenting in continuing to demand Obama grant López Rivera his freedom.
Massive rallies have been held annually in San Juan and across the island on the anniversary of López Rivera’s incarceration each May. The group 35 Mujeres por Oscar (35 Women for Oscar) holds regular gatherings, the most recent on Jan. 6 for López’s birthday.
In a demonstration in October in front of the White House, in which nearly 1,000 people – many who took buses from Philadelphia and New York City – rallied for López Rivera, Puerto Rican recording artist René Pérez (AKA Residente of the band Calle 13), summed up the view of many people that it should be the government of the United States itself that be seeking forgiveness from Oscar López and the people of Puerto Rico. His speech is worth quoting at length:
“We’re here in the United States of America, in front of the government that has enslaved us for more than 100 years. The government that in exchange for a passport took our families to its wars. The government that experimented with our people, since they came implanting its language by force. The government that performed medical experiments on our grandparents injecting them with cancerous cells. The government that experimented with anticonceptive pills on our island. We, who understand [López Rivera’s] fight, are here to tell this government – the only government in the history of humanity to fire atomic bombs – that they have in prison a hero much braver than Washington. That this hero has been imprisoned longer than Mandela. That this hero became a hero without hoping for anything in return. We, who understand the fight of Oscar López are in front of the White House to tell this government that every additional second Oscar López spends in prison converts him in a hero much bigger than any of the heroes the United States has had. We are here to tell this government that even though the history books don’t tell us the real history that includes heroes like Oscar López, we will take charge of telling it. We, who understand the fight of Oscar López, are here to tell this government that we will never ask forgiveness for defending our right to be free. So we don’t ask them to forgive Oscar, but that they recognize the true history of the world, that they recognize the history of Puerto Rico, and maybe some day, after they free Oscar, we will forgive them.”
Obama has chosen to ignore the massive injustice committed against political prisoners in American gulags, likely because he refuses to acknowledge that the system he leads can – and often does – seek to silence and intimidate people into submission, using the legal system as a weapon to destroy the lives of those whose resistance of government power most threatens its perpetuation of the status quo. As Pérez said, perhaps someday people will forgive him.
Moscow has slammed the recent ODNI report which claims Russia hacked the US elections. The Kremlin spokesman said it was “reminiscent of a witch hunt,” adding that Moscow is “tired” of “amateurish” US hacking intelligence.
Moscow is “seriously tired of these accusations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. “It truly is reminiscent of a witch hunt.”
“This publication has not added any substance for comment. From our point of view, groundless accusations backed by nothing sound, fairly amateur, on an emotional level, which can hardly apply to highly-professional work of truly highly-qualified intelligence agencies,” Peskov told reporters.
Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a report titled ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.’ The unclassified version of the report did not provide any concrete evidence of Russian interference.
The US intelligence community has accused Russia of aiding the victory of Donald Trump, at the same time acknowledging that “Russian intervention” did not in the end affect the outcome of the elections.
“We understand that our American counterparts throughout different stages of history went through such phases of ‘witch hunting.’ We remember those periods of history. We know also that they are replaced by more sober experts, a more sober approach, based on dialogue rather than emotional fits,” he concluded.
German politicians have raised concern about thousands of NATO troops and equipment, along with hundreds of tanks, that have been sent to Poland and countries bordering Russia in what has been touted by Washington as “defense against Russian aggression.”
“It does not help us if tanks will be going up and down on both sides of the border,” Brandenburg’s leader and SPD party member, Dietmar Woidke, told RBB. “I hope everyone will keep calm.”
“I believe that despite all the difficulties, we should seek dialogue with Russia,” he added on Thursday, warning that relations with Moscow could worsen even further.
Germany’s ruling CDU party called Woidke’s standpoint “strange,” with parliamentary faction leader Ingo Senftleben saying the operation “takes place within the framework of the contractual arrangements of NATO and at the explicit request of Poland.”
NATO’s buildup in Europe also came under fire from Germany’s Die Linke party. “Tanks do not create peace, anywhere,” Christian Görke stressed in a statement, RBB reported.
Tobias Pflueger of Die Linke slammed the stationing of US tanks and military equipment in Poland, saying this will trigger an arms race and lead to an “escalation in relations with Russia,” Focus Online reported.
Washington says the shipload of American military hardware that has recently arrived in the northern German port of Bremerhaven is meant to boost its commitment to its allies against a perceived Russian threat, and ensure that Europe remains “whole, free, prosperous, and at peace.”
Crowds of people marched through Bremerhaven on Saturday to protest the deployment and transport of NATO troops and weapons through the city. Hundreds of American tanks, trucks, and other military equipment bound for Poland, said to be the largest arms shipment since the fall of the Soviet Union, arrived at the German port on Friday to be transferred to Eastern Europe.
The protesters marched through the city holding signs and banners reading, “No NATO deployments! End the militaristic march against Russia!” and “Out of NATO.”
“There is, starting from Washington DC, a major push to do everything possible in the next two weeks to create unending hostility between the West and Russia that can’t be undone by Donald Trump or anyone else. Even at the risk of open violence, rather than simply Cold War hostility.
“This is highly preferable to weapons profiteers as against actual peace breaking out, which is their greatest fear,” author and journalist David Swanson told RT on Monday.
“It is clearly an escalation that involves numerous facets including propaganda about Russian crimes in the US media; that includes shipping troops and equipment to the border; that includes expanding NATO and pushing hard on other NATO members to join in this escalation where you have serious protests in Germany by those who want peace [and are] against sending Germans or Americans from Germany eastward, as they should. There are not enough of us in the US similarly protesting,” he added.
Over the last few days, some 2,800 pieces of military hardware and 4,000 troops have arrived at the port in Bremerhaven. The new forces will first be moved to Poland, where they will take part in military drills at the end of the month. They will later be deployed across seven countries, including the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, and Germany. A headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany.
The delivery of US Abrams tanks, Paladin artillery, and Bradley fighting vehicles marks a new phase of America’s continuous presence in Europe, which will now be based on a nine-month rotation.
“Let me be clear: This is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure the territorial integrity of our allies, and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous, and at peace,” US Air Force Lieutenant General Timothy M. Ray declared on Sunday, as quoted by Reuters.
Operation Atlantic Resolve, a large-scale military venture officially touted by Washington as a demonstration of “continued US commitment to the collective security of Europe,” began in April of 2014 after Crimea voted to split from coup-stricken Ukraine and rejoin Russia in a referendum.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has described North Korea’s ballistic missiles program as a “serious threat” to the United States, threatening to shoot down any such missiles aimed at targets in the country.
The Pentagon chief said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday that North Korean missiles would be shot down if they approach American territory, after Pyongyang said it could test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at any time from any location set by the country’s leader Kim Jong-un.
The United States would be prepared to shoot down a North Korean missile launch or test “if it were coming towards our territory, or the territory of our friends and allies,” Carter said.
North Korea announced on Sunday it could test-launch an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland, saying Washington’s “hostile” policy towards the country forced Pyongyang to develop such missiles.
“The US is wholly to blame for pushing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to have developed (an) ICBM as it has desperately resorted to anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights,” North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA reported.
“Anyone who wants to deal with the DPRK would be well advised to secure a new way of thinking after having clear understanding of it,” it said, using the acronym for the country’s official name.
Despite sanctions and international pressure, Pyongyang has been attempting to strengthen its military capability to protect itself from the threat posed by the presence of US forces in the region.
North Korea says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward Pyongyang and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.
According to the US military’s recent declaration, the United States has 806 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missile), and heavy bombers as well as 1,722 deployed nuclear warheads.
The Pentagon is also equipped with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), a highly advanced version of the intercontinental nuclear missile carrying several independent warheads.
The South Korean Defense Ministry on Monday called North Korea’s statement a “provocative announcement.”
However, instead of issuing a fresh statement on North Korea’s announcement, the Obama administration on Sunday referred to the January 3rd comments by White House spokesman Josh Earnest in which he said the US military could protect the country against threats coming from North Korea.
If North Korea could fully develop an ICBM, it could target the United States. The shortest distance between the two countries is about 9,000 km. ICBMs can travel up to 10,000 km or farther.
US President-elect Donald Trump said last week that North Korea would not be able to build a nuclear missile that can reach the United States.
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US,” Trump tweeted on January 2. “It won’t happen!”
Despite recent allegations against Russia, the FBI never actually accessed the allegedly hacked DNC servers. Cyber security expert John McAfee joins ‘News With Ed’ to discuss evidence in the report which supposedly pointed to Russian involvement, which according to McAfee actually vindicates Moscow.
Al Jazeera is to be congratulated on an undercover investigation exposing something most of us could probably have guessed: that some Israeli embassy staff in the UK – let’s not pussy around, Mossad agents – are working with senior political activists and politicians in the Conservative and Labour parties to subvert their own parties from within, and skew British foreign policy so that it benefits Israeli, rather than British, interests.
One cannot really blame Israel for doing this. Most states promote their interests as best they can. But one can and should expose and shame the British politicians who are collaborating with Israel in further harming Britain’s representative democracy.
It is not as though these people cannot be easily identified. They even advertise what they are up to. They are members of the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel. They dominate both parliamentary parties, but especially the Conservatives. According to the CFI’s figures, fully 80 per cent of Tory MPs belong to the party’s Friends of Israel group.
Once, no one would have hesitated to call British politicians acting in the interests of a foreign power, and very possibly taking financial benefits for doing so, “traitors”. And yet, as Al Jazeera’s secretly filmed footage shows, Israeli spies like Shai Masot can readily meet and conspire with a Tory MP’s much-trusted aide to discuss how best to “take down” the deputy foreign minister, Alan Duncan, over his criticisms of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Maria Strizzolo, MP Robert Halfon’s assistant, suggests engineering a “little scandal” to damage Duncan.
Masot and Israel’s intelligence services cannot infuence British foreign policy through the opposition Labour party, but that doesn’t prevent them from also taking a keen interest in Labour MPs. Masot is filmed talking to Labour Friends of Israel’s chair, Joan Ryan, about “lots of money” – more than £1 million – he has received from the Israeli government to send yet another batch of Labour MPs on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, where they will be wined and dined, and primed by top officials to adopt even more extreme pro-Israel positions. LFI is known for sending the largest proportion of MPs to Israel on these kinds of trips.
Does that have an effect on British domestic politics. You bet it does! Israel isn’t a charity.
A large number of those who have been making Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s life a misery belong to Labour Friends of Israel. They are the same MPs who have been talking up an “anti-semitism crisis” in the Labour party – based on zero tangible evidence – since Corbyn became party leader. Were they following the dictates of their conscience? Did they really fear an anti-semitism plague had suddenly beset their party? Or were they playing deeply cynical politics to oust a leader who supports justice for the Palestinian people and is considered by Israel’s right wing government, which has no interest in making peace with the Palestinians, to be bad news for Israel?
Al Jazeera’s investigation has not been shown yet, so we can only rely on the snippets released so far, either by Al Jazeera itself or additional leaks of the investigation provided by the Mail on Sunday.
It is worth listening to a Tory minister in the government of recently departed David Cameron, who writes anonymously in the Mail on Sunday. S/he warns of a double whammy to British politics caused by Israel and its British partisans – one that is starting to approach the damage done to the US political system by Israel.
The British government skews its foreign policy to avoid upsetting Jewish donors, s/he says. MPs, meanwhile, act like agents of a foreign power – s/he generously assumes unwittingly – rather than representatives of the British people. Forget international law, these politicians are not even promoting British interests.
Here is what the minister writes:
British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.
For years the CFI and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), have worked with – even for – the Israeli government and their London embassy to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK Government policy and the actions of Ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights.
Lots of countries try to force their views on others, but what is scandalous in the UK is that instead of resisting it, successive Governments have submitted to it, taken donors’ money, and allowed Israeli influence-peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of Ministers.
Even now, if I were to reveal who I am, I would be subjected to a relentless barrage of abuse and character assassination. …
It now seems clear people in the Conservative and Labour Parties have been working with the Israeli embassy, which has used them to demonise and trash MPs who criticise Israel; an army of Israel’s useful idiots in Parliament.
This is politically corrupt, and diplomatically indefensible. The conduct of certain MPs needs to be exposed as the poisonous and deceitful infiltration of our politics by the unwitting agents of another country …
We need a full inquiry into the Israeli Embassy, the links, access and funding of the CFI and LFI.
It is rare that I agree with a Tory government minister, but such an inquiry cannot come too soon.
Note too that it is an indictment of the UK media that Al-Jazeera, rather than the British fourth estate, has exposed Israel’s moves to subvert the British political system. It is not as though reporters from the BBC, Guardian, Times and the Mail haven’t had ministers like the one above complaining to them for years about interference from Israel. So why did they not long ago send in undercover teams to expose this collaboration between Israel and British MPs?
We have had weeks of stories about the supposed efforts of Russia and Putin to subvert the US election, without a hint yet of any evidence, and based on a central allegation against the Russians that they damaged the election by releasing truthful information about wrongdoing in the Democratic party. Russian diplomats have been expelled based on these evidence-free claims, and President Obama has vowed to take other, covert action against Russia.
Here we have documented evidence of the Israeli government secretly plotting with “friendly” British MPs to oust a British government minister. If that isn’t interference in the British political system, I don’t know what is. Will we similarly have weeks of coverage of this story in the UK media, or will it be quickly filed away and forgotten?
And will any action beyond the removal of Masot be demanded by the British government? It seems unlikely. The Foreign Office has already issued a statement saying that, following Masot’s dismissal, it considers the matter closed.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has in his latest remarks warned of Britain’s plots against Iran and the entire Middle East, including schemes to partition regional countries. Press TV has asked two experts to share their opinion with us on the UK’s for the Middle East.
Ibrahim Mousawi, a political commentator from Beirut, said Britain in particular, and the West in general, is trying to partition countries in the Middle East and North Africa to prepare them for imperialistic systems.
The Western powers, he said, have blueprints for the dismemberment of the Middle East in a bid to make regional states “manageable,” adding they care the least about violations of democratic principles and human rights in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.
Western scenarios basically focus on the partitioning of the whole region, be it Libya, Syria, or even Saudi Arabia, on certain occasions.
He said the ‘divide and conquer’ scenario has been going on for a long time, noting that Western powers like the US, Britain and France have been seeking some kind of demographical and geographical shuffling in the region through territorial changes.
Mousawi stated that certain Western governments have been supporting Takfiri groups to wreak havoc in Syria and turn it into a war zone so they can pursue their plots.
The analyst exclaimed about the West’s failure to stop Saudi Arabia’s military aggression against Yemen and the rights violations in Bahrain, and the overall reluctance to put pressure on the Persian Gulf dictatorships.
“We (Arabs and Muslims) in this part of the world are being victimized by the Western governments. They are preparing schemes and plots in order to partition and divide these countries and [pit their] people against each other,” he said.
Mousawi called on regional leaders and people to stand against the conspiracies hatched by Western powers to divide them.
Meanwhile, Richard Millet, a journalist and political commentator from London, dismissed the notion that “Britain wants to divide up any country,” claiming that the United Kingdom, like the rest of the West, has been trying to “bring peace to the region,” which has failed.
Still he suggested that it might be more reasonable “to divide up certain countries into regions, which are more manageable, more governable.”
He further noted that Britain has a large number of Muslim citizens who have been able to participate in general elections. British officials “do not want to upset their Muslim population” by making them think that their own government may go after the destabilization of Muslim countries in the Middle East, Millet added.
He touched on the crisis is Syria, noting that the Arab country “is divided so there is more control for the various regions and elections for those various regions and they can be governed by the people of those regions.”
Comparing Saudi Arabia and Syria, he said, the West sees no emergency to carry out its partitioning policy in the Saudi kingdom because “there is no civil war” there, whereas the conflict in Syria has left thousands of people dead.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside” – Barack Obama, speaking in August 2011.
When the US President made his first explicit call for the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power in August 2011, who would have thought that the Syrian leader would have outlasted Barack Obama in office. Even for the most optimistic supporter of the territorial integrity of the Syrian state, there must have been moments when they felt that the US/NATO war machine would topple Assad and completely Balkanize the Syrian state (I know I did). And yet here we are, more than five years later, watching Obama conclude his shambolic reign with a final frenzy of anti-Russian attacks, as Assad still stands in Damascus.
Outside of any last gasp strike or invasion of Syria by the US or its allies, it seems that Assad’s presidency will outlast that of Obama’s. Despite all the media propaganda and demonization; the hordes of foreign mercenaries armed to the teeth by the US and their allies; the false flag attacks to justify a full-scale invasion of the country (the Ghouta sarin attack for instance); the sanctions against Assad and other high-level Syrian officials; and the countless other assaults on the country: the Syrian people refused to be bullied or swayed by outside powers.
Although the war is still ongoing and far from over, the recent liberation of eastern Aleppo by the Syrian Arab Army illustrates which side has the momentum in the conflict. The move led by Moscow to forge closer ties between Russia, Iran and Turkey in relation to Syria is also a significant development, considering the role that Turkey has played in supporting the opposition during the conflict. A Turkey that is committed to ending the conflict and stopping the flow of arms and mercenaries across the border is a major step towards the stabilization of Syria.
Obama vs. The US Military
The West has been unable to force Libyan-style regime change in Syria due to a variety of reasons, with the support of regional and international allies one of the most significant factors. Iran, Hezbollah, China and most notably Russia, have been crucial players in supporting the Syrian government, a fact that has been well documented in the media. What has been less well documented however, is the role that certain elements within the US military have played in stopping the neoconservatives, the CIA and other factions close to Obama forcing regime change in Syria.
Despite many elements within the US military being far from perfect, there has been a core of high-ranking military officers who have resisted the Syrian strategy advocated by many in Washington. As the award-winning journalist, Seymour M. Hersh, wrote in his article for the London Review of Books in January 2016, titled: Military to Military, numerous individuals in the US military were concerned over the nature of many of the opposition groups that would have been empowered if Assad was ousted from power, and so they began to secretly share US intelligence with other militaries around the world, intelligence that was intended to help the Syrian military in their fight against extremists:
“In the autumn of 2013, they [(the Joint Chiefs)] decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.”
One of the individuals in the US military that has been a vocal critic of Obama’s Syrian strategy is the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn. The former DIA head has been consistently warning over the dangers of overthrowing Assad, and in 2015 he lambasted the Obama administration for taking the “willful decision” to support the rise of extremists in Syria. Flynn, who has been appointed as Trump’s National Security Adviser, is well aware of the situation on the ground in Syria, with an August 2012 intelligence document from the DIA stating that:
“The Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria… Opposition forces are trying to control the Eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighbouring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts… If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
Flynn was not alone in opposing the Syrian policy of the Obama administration however, although he was perhaps the most vocal in public. Retired General Martin Dempsey for instance, who served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff between October 2011 and September 2015, was fairly consistent at emphasising the costs of military action in Syria, including during the debate over whether to directly strike Syria after the Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013. Dempsey’s general position on using overt military force in Syria against Assad can be seen in a July 2013 letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, Senator Carl Levin. The overall tone of the letter is cautious and thoughtful, with Dempsey warning that the US “could inadvertently empower extremists” by ousting Assad:
“It is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control… Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid. We should also act in accordance with the law.”
If Obama had got his wish in 2011, and Assad was removed from power in Damascus, the political vacuum left by Assad would have been filled by a plethora of ‘moderate rebels’ (i.e. hardcore terrorists). After eight years of carnage and broken promises, many people in the US and around the world will be delighted to see Obama leave office.
Last week, as the mainstream media continued to obsess over the CIA’s evidence-free claim that the Russians hacked the presidential election, President Obama quietly sent 300 US Marines back into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. This is the first time in three years that the US military has been sent into that conflict zone, and it represents a final failure of Obama’s Afghanistan policy. The outgoing president promised that by the end of his second term, the US military would only be present in small numbers and only on embassy duty. But more than 8,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan as he leaves office.
When President Obama was first elected he swore that he would end the US presence in Iraq (the “bad” war) and increase US presence in Afghanistan (the “good” war). He ended up increasing troops to both wars, while the situation in each country continued to deteriorate.
Why are the Marines needed in the Helmand Province? Because although the foolish and counterproductive 15-year US war in Afghanistan was long ago lost, Washington cannot face this fact. Last year the Taliban controlled 20 percent of the province. This year they control 85 percent of the province. So billions more must be spent and many more lives will be lost.
Will these 300 Marines somehow achieve what the 2011 peak of 100,000 US soldiers was not able to achieve? Will this last push “win” the war? Hardly! The more the president orders military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worse it gets. In 2016, for example, President Obama dropped 1,337 bombs on Afghanistan, a 40 percent increase from 2015. According to the United Nations, in 2016 there were 2,562 conflict-related civilian deaths and 5,835 injuries. And the Taliban continues to score victories over the Afghan puppet government.
The interventionists in Washington continue to run our foreign policy regardless of who is elected. They push for wars, they push for regime change, then they push for billions to reconstruct the bombed-out countries. When the “liberated” country ends up in worse shape, they claim it was because we just didn’t do enough of what ruined the country in the first place. It’s completely illogical, but the presidents who keep seeking the neocons’ advice don’t seem to notice. Obama – the “peace” candidate and president – has proven himself no different than his predecessors.
What will a President Trump do about the 15 year failed nation-building experiment in Afghanistan? He has criticized the long-standing US policy of “regime-change” and “nation-building” while on the campaign trail, and I would like to think he would just bring the troops home. However, I would not be surprised if he accelerates US military action in Afghanistan to “win the war” once and for all. He will not succeed if he does so, as the war is not winnable – no one even knows what “winning” looks like! We may well see even more US troops killing and being killed in Afghanistan a year from now if that is the case. That would be a terrible tragedy.