Honduran military police on patrol in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo: Karen Spring)
The 1980s saw widespread political violence and countless forced disappearances in many countries in Latin America, and Honduras was no exception.
Hundreds of political opponents of the 1980s U.S.-backed regime were kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated by the CIA-trained secret army unit Battalion 316, while at the same time Honduras served as a military base and training ground for U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in the region, especially in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua.
With the Reagan Administration turning a blind eye to the brutality of Battalion 316, intentionally downplaying or denying its violence in order to continue backing Honduras financially and using the country as a key U.S. military outpost, the details of this death squad’s operations did not become clear until years later. A historic expose published in the Baltimore Sun in 1995, which included interviews with ex-Battalion 316 torturers and details from declassified U.S. government documents, revealed the full extent of the secret unit’s atrocities and its close links to Washington.
However, torture and disappearances aren’t just a tragic reality of the past in Honduras. Human rights defenders have drawn disturbing parallels between Battalion 316 and the present day situation in Honduras, saying the current level of human rights abuses and political repression is just as bad, if not worse than the era of forced disappearances in the 1980s.
In the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup ousting democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, forced disappearance, torture, and targeted assassinations re-emerged as state terror tactics to intimidate and repress a broad-based resistance. Conspicuous and even conscious links to 1980s tactics since the 2009 coup, as well as ongoing U.S. complicity, show a continuity of state sponsored terror, with new elements for the post-coup context.
Cold War Anti-Communism, Battalion 316, and Spreading Terror with U.S. Support
As U.S. President Ronald Reagan took office in January 1980, the Sandinista revolutionary government was in power in Nicaragua and revolutionary forces were struggling for political control in El Salvador. Honduras was undergoing its so-called transition to democracy with a return to civilian rule. The U.S., already supporting the Guatemalan military’s bloody counterinsurgency efforts for over a decade, played a key role in backing the counter-revolutionary factions of the political struggles gripping the region in civil war, namely Salvadoran government forces and the Nicaraguan Contras.
While Honduras did not have a mass revolutionary guerrilla movement like its neighboring Central American countries, political opposition was criminalized to contain the threat of an armed, popular uprising. Much of this violent work was carried out through forced disappearances by the death squad Battalion 316, the special unit of the Honduran military responsible for political torture and assassinations, with the collaboration of other military branches, special forces, and police.
According to the Honduran human rights organization COFADEH, formed in the 1980s by family members of the disappeared, Battalion 316 was responsible over 180 forced disappearances between 1980 and 1988, and many more were kidnapped and tortured.
Forced disappearance refers to the practice of secretly abducting and murdering victims, making them disappear from society without a trace. Bodies of the disappeared are often carefully hidden, or rendered unrecognizable, to instil fear without the identity of the victim or the perpetrator becoming known..
Battalion 316’s terror was simultaneously covert and public, carried out by disguised agents at times in broad daylight, intended to instill fear and make an example of their victims. Suspected political dissidents were kidnapped, detained in secret jails, and tortured. Sometimes remains of victims were found in ditches. According to the Baltimore Sun expose, torture techniques included electric shock, suffocation, freezing temperatures, and psychological torture as part of interrogation, which sometimes involved CIA agents. Berta Oliva, director of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), has said that at least one prisoner was skinned alive in a clandestine Battalion 316 jail.
While the numbers of people disappeared in Honduras was considerably less than in many other Latin American countries during the same period, the hundreds killed and disappeared created a broader fear and terror campaign that had the intended outcome of disempowering the Honduran left.
According to Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology at American University, it’s hard to overstate Battalion 316’s impact.
“The highly publicized disappearance, torture and murder of just under 200 activists, students, journalists and professors in the early 1980s created an atmosphere of terror, effectively crushing any possibility for civic or democratic engagement in Honduras,” she told teleSUR. “As such, it laid the groundwork for the implementation of U.S.-led neoliberal economic policies, of which the Honduran military itself was a primary beneficiary.”
Battalion 316, led in its most brutal years from 1982-1984 by School of the Americas and Argentine-trained head of the Honduran armed forces General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, was a right-wing project designed to aid the Cold War fight against the alleged threat of communism in the region. Many Battalion agents were graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas (renamed in 2001 to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) military training center for U.S. allies in Latin America, specializing in Cold War counterinsurgency training. The Battalion itself was trained and financed by the CIA. Meanwhile, Honduras received tens of millions of dollars in U.S. funding throughout the decade, reaching its height of US$77.4 million in 1984.
The secret military unit also received training in Chile under dictator General Augusto Pinochet, as well as from Argentine counterinsurgency forces, at the time deep in their own dirty war against leftist dissidents that claimed some 30,000 victims in Argentina by early the 1980s.
U.S. Ambassador under the Reagan Administration, John Negroponte, is documented to have met frequently with Battalion 316 leader Alvarez Martinez. However, the violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by Alvarez Martinez’s forces are conspicuously absent from the hundreds of cables of records of their correspondence. In 1983, the U.S. awarded Alvarez Martinez the Legion of Merit for “encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras,” exposing the true face of U.S. hypocrisy.
U.S. denial of the violent situation in Honduras enabled the ongoing use of the country as a strategic U.S. military base from which to execute counterinsurgency strategy in the region, while the supposed threat of an armed insurgency in Honduras justified the existence of Battalion 316 and its terror.
State Terror Returns: Post-Coup Fear Tactics and Forced Disappearances
After the 2009 military coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president said in an exclusive interview with Democracy Now! that Battalion 316 was “already operating” in Honduras under a different name and using “torture to create fear.”
“There was a tremendous resurgence (after the coup) of death squad activity and assassinations of human rights defenders, trade unionists, campesinos, activists of the resistance of all sorts including journalists, lawyers,” Dana Frank, professor of History at the University of California Santa Cruz, told teleSUR. “It was very rare in the 20 years before the coup for these kinds of assassinations to happen … but it shot up dramatically after the coup.”
The post-coup links to Battalion 316 terror were palpable, both in the vast increase in human rights abuses, including torture, assassinations, and forced disappearances, as well as the direct connections of Battalion 316 personnel offering their expertise to the coup regime.
Former head of the Battalion 316, School of the Americas graduate Billy Joya, became a prominent coup regime spokesperson, advisor, and aide to de facto president Roberto Micheletti. According to COFADEH, many other retired Battalion 316 agents also became government advisors.
Pine, author of “Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras,” said that the numbers of state-sponsored disappearances, tortures, and extrajudicial killings since the coup have far exceeded those of the 1980s.
With striking similarity to the fear campaign of the 1980s, COFADEH documented in 2010, along with dozens of other death threats and assassinations, that a former Battalion 316 agent publicly threatened resistance activist Candelario Reyes with forced disappearance and death, saying that killing such a “communist dog” would make the “best example” for other resistance activists.
“You can see the continuity with some of these individuals including the references to the 80s that are conscious references,” said Frank. “It’s terror, it’s deliberately spreading terror.”
Harkening back to 1980s terror was a deliberate strategy to instil fear in perceived political threats. In 2012, COFADEH human rights defender Dina Meza received a series of threats of death and sexual violence by text message signed with the initials CAM, standing for Comando Alvarez Martinez, early 1980s head of Battalion 316 responsible for grave human rights abuses. According to Amnesty International, CAM was used as a pseudonym in numerous death threats against journalists and activists in the wake of the coup.
According to Frank, an expert on human rights and U.S. foreign policy in Honduras, the clearest and most alarming examples of post-coup strategies that follow the model of Battalion 316 are the TIGRES special units of the police force and FUSINA inter-agency task forces that bring together military, police, military police, prosecutors, and other government officials under military control.
FUSINA was initially headed by School of the Americas graduate Colonel German Alfaro, former commander of Battalion 15, the military unit in the Aguan Valley region implicated in dozens of post-coup murders of campesino activists. Trained by the FBI, DEA, and U.S. Marines, FUSINA is not only troubling for its conglomeration of agency functions under a military mandate, but also for its U.S.-enhanced intelligence capacities.
COFADEH denounced TIGRES as a “crude resurrection” of Battalion 316’s political disappearances, murder, and “criminal behaviour.”
These new constellations of state and military power, designed and deployed to create fear and contain political dissent, have again had a deep social and political impact in Honduras.
“A combination of the ‘soft power’ of USAID and NED-funded (so-called pro-democracy) programs on the one hand, and death squads within the police, the military, and now the military police have succeeded in destroying the post-coup resistance movement,” explained Pine. “This is what makes possible the neoliberal plunder of the country currently underway.”
A Different Pretext for Familiar Terror Tactics
But while there are clear continuities between the 1980s and post-coup strategies, there are also important differences.
Despite the fact that the armed left was a very small faction in Honduras, particularly in comparison to the revolutionary uprising in neighboring countries, Battalion 316’s violence was committed in the name of counterinsurgency. As Frank explains, the broad based nature of the post-coup popular resistance means that the victims of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances have been from a more diverse cross-section of society than the 1980s campaign against suspected revolutionary leftists.
Now, with the pretext of an alleged communist armed struggle no longer relevant, post-coup repression, including use of these historical counterinsurgency tactics, and U.S.-backing of a violent regime is framed in different terms.
“The pretext now is drug trafficking,” said Frank. “The drug war has been the frame within which the United States government has legitimated support for repression by state security forces in Honduras and increased funding for them.”
And while the U.S. goal of maintaining a regional base of power amidst the threat of emerging or consolidating leftist alternatives remains much the same, the political context in the region has significantly changed.
“The larger context is the many democratically elected center and center-left governments all over Latin America that the United States is threatened by because they aren’t going to pay obeisance to United States power,” said Frank. “The United States wanted to lock down its power in Honduras so that it can maintain what has long been the most captive nation in Latin America.”
In the process, the U.S. also promotes the interests of transnational corporations that are making a killing from state-sponsored death squads that suppress resistance and pave the way for capitalist exploitation of land, labor, and indigenous and campesino resources.
“With the consolidation of neoliberal corporate capital, Honduran and U.S. politicians are more beholden to their sponsors than they were three decades ago,” explained Pine. “Hondurans today suffer not just from the terror of death squads but from the ravages of three decades of the implementation of neoliberal policy made possible by death squads, which makes them that much more vulnerable.”
COFADEH: Seeking Justice, Truth, and Respect for Human Rights
Bertha Oliva, director of COFADEH, lost her husband Tomas Nativi to forced disappearance by Battalion 316. Nativi was taken from their home by masked agents in 1981 and has never been seen again.
Over the year after Nativi’s disappearance, Oliva came to realize that she was not alone, and others had similar experiences of family members being disappeared. In 1982, 12 of these families came together to form COFADEH with the clear objective of bringing back alive family members who had been disappeared. In the majority of cases throughout the 1980s while Battalion 316 was operating, COFADEH did not succeed in their goal.
After the 1980s, COFADEH broadened its scope as an organization not only committed to seeking justice for the families of the disappeared and truth for Honduran society, but also representing and defending victims of human rights abuses, documenting cases, and providing training to raise awareness about human rights.
The creation of COFADEH was, in its own words, a “concrete action” in the face of the inactivity of the state to ensure “the right of victims to live and to have due process, among other rights that have been violated.”
COFADEH has continued to play a key role in documenting and denouncing human rights abuses and demanding justice, particularly once again in the years since the coup.
Every moment of every day, all of humanity is held hostage by the nuclear nine. The nine nuclear nations are made up of the P5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and their illegitimate nuclear wannabes Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, spawned by the mythological theory of deterrence. This theory has fueled the nuclear arms race since its inception wherein if one nation has one nuclear weapon, its adversary needs two and so on to the point that the world now has 15,700 nuclear weapons wired for immediate use and planetary destruction with no end in sight. This inaction continues despite the 45-year legal commitment of the nuclear nations to work toward complete nuclear abolition. In fact just the opposite is happening with the U.S. proposing to spend $1 Trillion on nuclear weapons “modernization” over the next 30 years, fueling the “deterrent” response of every other nuclear state to do likewise.
This critical state of affairs comes as the 189 signatory nations to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded the month long Review Conference at the U.N. in New York. The conference was officially a failure due to the refusal of the nuclear weapons states to present or even support real steps toward disarmament. The nuclear gang demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize the peril that the planet faces at the end of their nuclear gun; they continue to gamble on the future of humanity. Presenting a charade of concern, they blamed each other and bogged down in discussions over a glossary of terms while the hand of the nuclear Armageddon clock continues to move ever forward.
The nuclear weapons states have chosen to live in a vacuum, one void of leadership. They hoard suicidal nuclear weapons stockpiles and ignore recent scientific evidence of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that we now realize makes these weapons even more dangerous than we thought before. They fail to recognize that this evidence must be the basis for prohibiting and eliminating them.
Fortunately there is one powerful and positive response coming out of the NPT Review Conference. The Non-Nuclear Weapons States, representing a majority of people living on the planet, frustrated and threatened by the nuclear nations, have come together and demanded a legal ban on nuclear weapons like the ban on every other weapon of mass destruction from chemical to biologic and landmines. Their voices are rising up. Following a pledge by Austria in December 2014 to fill the legal gap necessary to ban these weapons, 107 nations have joined them at the U.N. this month. That commitment means finding a legal instrument that would prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Such a ban will make these weapons illegal and will stigmatize any nation that continues to have these weapons as being outside of international law.
Costa Rica’s closing NPT remarks noted, ”Democracy has not come to the NPT but Democracy has come to nuclear weapons disarmament.” The nuclear weapons states have failed to demonstrate any leadership toward total disarmament and in fact have no intention of doing so. They must now step aside and allow the majority of the nations to come together and work collectively for their future and the future of humanity. John Loretz of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said, “The nuclear-armed states are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality, and the wrong side of the future. The ban treaty is coming, and then they will be indisputably on the wrong side of the law. And they have no one to blame but themselves.”
“History honors only the brave,” declared Costa Rica. “Now is the time to work for what is to come, the world we want and deserve.”
Ray Acheson of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom says, “Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice.”
Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician, writes for PeaceVoice, and serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.
A senior Iranian official has described as “successful” negotiations on the delivery of Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran.
“Negotiations on the delivery of the S-300 [missile system] to Iran has been successful”, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Monday during a press conference after a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in the Russian capital, Moscow.
Amir-Abdollahian also stressed that all issues surrounding the delivery of the system to Iran are progressing well.
He further noted that the delivery of S-300 to Iran will happen at the soonest opportunity possible.
On April 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree paving the way for the long-overdue delivery of the missile system to Iran.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The decision to deliver the missile system came after Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – reached a mutual understanding on Tehran’s nuclear program in the Swiss city of Lausanne on April 2.
Moscow had banned the delivery of the S-300 system to Tehran in 2010 under the pretext that the agreement it signed with Iran in 2007 was covered by the fourth round of the Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. The resolution bars hi-tech weapons sales to the Islamic Republic.
The Russian president defended Moscow’s decision on S-300 supply to Iran, saying the system is meant for deterrence amid ongoing developments in war-torn Yemen.
The UN says since March, nearly 2,000 people have been killed and 7,330 others injured due to the conflict in Yemen. However, according to Yemen’s Freedom House Foundation, the Saudi airstrikes have claimed the lives of about 4,000 Yemeni people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Russia over its decision to lift the ban on the delivery of S-300 missile system to Iran, saying Tel Aviv sees the plan with “utmost gravity.”
Canada bars Russian delegation from international meeting in Ottawa discussing weapons of mass destruction proliferation
The government of Canada has barred a delegation from Russia from attending a meeting in Ottawa May 26-28 purportedly devoted to restricting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The meeting in question is the Operational Experts Group of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is a global effort that aims to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. Launched by United States President George W. Bush in May 2003 at a meeting in Kraków, Poland, the PSI has now grown to include the endorsement of 103 nations around the world, including Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Norway. Despite the support of over half of the Members of the United Nations, a number of countries have expressed opposition to the initiative, including India, China and Indonesia.
Commentary by the Information and Press Department concerning Canada’s refusal of entry to Russian delegation for PSI working group meeting
The Canadian authorities’ decision to deny visas to a Russian delegation at the Proliferation Security Initiative Operational Experts Group meeting was an openly unfriendly move that contradicts the normal practice of multilateral events.
It is regrettable that Ottawa, which has been fanning anti-Russian hysterics for domestic political considerations, has acted contrary to common sense, expropriating the right to decide who can attend an important multilateral event that happens to be held on its territory.
We would like to remind the international community that Russia, being a key partner in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and a full member of the PSI, is not seeking any favours from Canada.
Non-proliferation is a highly important aspect of international cooperation. Squaring political accounts in a narrow-minded manner, which has recently become a favourite hobby for Stephen Harper’s government, is inappropriate and counterproductive.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on May 12th, responding to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s assertions that Ukraine will retake Crimea and will conquer Donbass:
“I have not had a chance – I have not read the speech. I haven’t seen any context. I have simply heard about it in the course of today. But if indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, as communicated by the U.S. State Department’s Press Office on May 15th, reiterating Poroshenko’s view:
“Assistant Secretary Nuland’s ongoing visit to Kyiv and her discussions with Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatseniuk and President [Petro] Poroshenko reaffirm the United States’ full and unbreakable support for Ukraine’s government, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and reiterate our deep commitment to a single Ukrainian nation, including Crimea, and all the other regions of Ukraine.”
Will John Kerry reprimand his subordinate for her contradicting what he, her boss, had said three days earlier? If not, then will President Barack Obama fire his Secretary of State John Kerry? If not, then will Victoria Nuland be fired? If not, then who is to trust anything that comes from the U.S. State Department, when the Secretary of State can be contradicted three days later by his subordinate, and both remain in their respective jobs?
Republicans are already preparing to weaken Kerry over this. The far-right news-site Frontpage Mag headlined on May 21st, John Kerry’s Seven Hours of Weakness in Russia, and condemned the “attempt by Kerry to re-set the ‘re-set’ button [on U.S. policy toward Russia] first pushed by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.” The special subject of their ire: “The promise of ‘rolling back’ the mild sanctions regime the West imposed on Russia on account of Putin’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels was bandied about, if only Russia would behave in the future.” But winning changes in behavior is what international diplomacy is supposed to be all about — otherwise the State Department wouldn’t even be needed, and only the Pentagon would handle America’s foreign relations.
If Victoria Nuland stays in her job, then John Kerry will be neutered even if he’s not fired.
The only person with the power to fire Nuland is actually U.S. President Barack Obama. Perhaps the request for him to do that is already on his desk. If it’s not, then Kerry’s job is in jeopardy, because his diplomatic efforts can be obliterated by a subordinate and that subordinate will suffer no penalty for doing this. Nobody then would respect anything that the U.S. Secretary of State says, because it wouldn’t necessarily represent the President’s policies. If the Secretary of State isn’t backed up by the President, then the Secretary of State has no real power at all.
The head of Russia’s Security Council has promised that the authorities will adjust the nation’s security doctrine after learning the lessons of the latest political crises in the Middle East and Ukraine.
“In order to update the basic concepts of national securitythe council has ordered to begin the work on making corrections to the main strategic plans – the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to year 2020 and the Informational Security Strategy,” Nikolai Patrushev said in an article published Wednesday in the Defense Ministry’s daily newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star).
He added that the necessity of such actions has arisen after the so-called Arab Spring (a wave of violent mass protests that led to overthrowing of governments and leaders in several Middle East countries in 2011-12), the wars in Syria and Iraq and also the situation in and around Ukraine.
Patrushev said that these events demonstrated the tendency for security threats to shift from the military sphere into the informational space. “As leading nations of the world fight for their interests they typically use ‘non-direct action,’ the population’s protest potential, radical and extremist groups and also private military contractors,” Patrushev wrote.
He also noted the increasing aggressiveness of the United States and NATO toward Russia, embodied in the beefing up of military potential near Russian borders and the continuing deployment of the global missile defense system.
The Security Council is Russia’s top consultative body on national security, and Nikolai Patrushev has headed the council since 2008. Before that, he was the director of the Federal Security Service for nine years.
In October 2014, Patrushev openly accused the United States of playing a role in the current turmoil in Ukraine and the military conflicts in Georgia and the Caucasus, saying these were direct results of the anti-Russian policy of the US administration. He also revealed in a press interview that intelligence analysts established that American special services were executing an anti-Russian program that dates back to the 1970s, and is based on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “strategy of weak spots,” the policy of turning the opponent’s potential problems into full-scale crises.
In September 2014, President Vladimir Putin tasked senior military and state officials with developing an updated military doctrine that would meet the needs of changing global politics and modern military challenges and the new dangers and threats, in particular those manifested in the so-called Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
An updated version of the doctrine was adopted in late December.
The Russian president has repealed the ban prohibiting the delivery of S-300 missile air defense systems to Iran, according to the Kremlin’s press service. The ban was introduced by former President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.
“[The presidential] decree lifts the ban on transit through Russian territory, including airlift, and the export from the Russian Federation to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also the transfer to the Islamic Republic of Iran outside the territory of the Russian Federation, both by sea and by air, of air defense missile systems S-300,” says the information note accompanying the document, RIA Novosti reported.
The decree enters into force upon the president’s signature.
The contract for supplying S-300 missile systems to Iran was signed in 2007 and implied the delivery of five S-300 squadrons worth $800 million. But in 2010 the contract was put on hold due to the UN imposing sanctions on Iran.
Tehran answered with filing a nearly $4 billion lawsuit against Russia’s Rosoboronexport arms dealer company to a Geneva arbitration tribunal.
The question of S-300 supply to Tehran remained unsettled for years.
After years of negotiation, in February 2015, Moscow offered Tehran the chance to buy its latest Antey-2500 anti-aircraft and ballistic missile system, instead of the older S-300 system. Iran replied that it would consider the offer.
The last time Russia supplied S-300 systems abroad was in 2010, when 15 squadrons were delivered to China.
Since then production of S-300 systems has been suspended as the main producer of the Russian air defenses, concern Almaz-Antey, has launched production of the next generation systems, S-400. China has become the first country allowed to buy S-400 systems, Rosoboronexport chief Anatoly Isaykin told the Russian media.
As of today, S-300 systems have been operable in a number of countries, including Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. There is a valid contract to deliver S-300 systems to Syria, but it was put on hold after the beginning of the civil war in the country.
The foreign policy quandary facing President Barack Obama is that America’s traditional allies in the Middle East – Israel and Saudi Arabia – along with Official Washington’s powerful neocons have effectively sided with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State out of a belief that Iran represents a greater threat to Israeli and Saudi interests.
But what that means for U.S. interests is potentially catastrophic. If the Islamic State continues its penetration toward Damascus in league with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and topples the Syrian government, the resulting slaughter of Christians, Shiites and other religious minorities – as well as the risk of a major new terrorist base in the heart of the Middle East – could force the United States into a hopeless new war that could drain the U.S. Treasury and drive the nation into a chaotic and dangerous decline.
To avoid this calamity, Obama would have to throw U.S. support fully behind the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, precipitate a break with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and withstand a chorus of condemnations from influential neocon pundits, Republican politicians and hawkish Democrats. Influenced by Israeli propaganda, all have pushed for ousting Assad in a “regime change.”
But the world has already had a grim peek at what an Islamic State/Al-Qaeda victory would look like. The Islamic State has reveled in its ability to provoke Western outrage through acts of shocking brutality, such as beheadings, incinerations, stonings, burning of ancient books and destruction of religious sites that the group deems offensive to its fundamentalist version of Islam.
Over the Easter holiday, there were reports of the Islamic State destroying a Christian Church in northeastern Syria and taking scores of Christians as prisoners. An Islamic State victory in Syria would likely mean atrocities on a massive scale. And, there are signs that Al-Qaeda might bring the Islamic State back into the fold if it achieves this success, which would let Al-Qaeda resume its plotting for its own outrages through terrorist attacks on European and U.S. targets.
Though Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State have been estranged in recent months, the groups were reported to be collaborating in an assault on the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus. United Nations spokesman Chris Gunness told the Associated Press, “The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane.”
The AP also reported that “Palestinian officials and Syrian activists say the Islamic State militants fighting in Yarmouk were working with rivals from the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk.”
Syria has become a frontline in the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam, with Saudi Arabia a longtime funder of the Sunni fundamentalist Wahhabism, which gave rise to Al-Qaeda under the direction of Saudi Osama bin Laden. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals, and elements of the Saudi royal family and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been identified as Al-Qaeda’s financiers. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
The Israeli-Saudi Alliance
In seeking “regime change” in Syria, Saudi Arabia has been joined by Israel whose leaders have cited Syria as the “keystone” in the pro-Iranian Shiite “strategic arc” from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut. In making that point in September 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites.
“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren expanded on this Israeli position. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
On March 3, in the speech to a cheering U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also argued that the danger from Iran was much greater than from the Islamic State (or ISIS). Netanyahu dismissed ISIS as a relatively minor annoyance with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.
He claimed “Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. … We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”
Netanyahu’s rhetoric was clearly hyperbole – Iran’s troops have not invaded any country for centuries; Iran did come to the aid of the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq in its fight with the Islamic State, but the “regime change” in Baghdad was implemented not by Iran but by President George W. Bush and the U.S. military; and it’s preposterous to say that Iran “dominates” Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa – though Iran is allied with elements in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
But hyperbole or not, Netanyahu’s claims became marching orders for the American neocons, the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party. Republicans and some Democrats denounced President Obama’s support for international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program while some prominent neocons were granted space on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and New York Times to advocate bombing Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Publishes Call to Bomb Iran.”]
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia – with U.S. logistical and intelligence help – began bombing the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been fighting a long civil war and had captured several major cities. The Houthis, who practice an offshoot of Shiite Islam called Zaydism, deny that they are proxies of Iran although some analysts say the Iranians have given some money and possibly some weapons to the Houthis.
However, by attacking the Houthis, the Saudis have helped Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula regain its footing, including creating an opportunity to free scores of Al-Qaeda militants in a prison break and expanding Al-Qaeda’s territory in the east.
Increasingly, the choice facing Obama is whether to protect the old alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia – and risk victories by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – or expand on the diplomatic opening from the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program to side with Shiite forces as the primary bulwark against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
For such a seismic shift in U.S. foreign policy, President Obama could use the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who assisted in brokering agreements in 2013 in which Syria’s Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons and in which Iranian leaders signed an interim agreement on their nuclear program that laid the groundwork for the April 2 framework deal.
In 2013, those moves by Putin infuriated Official Washington’s neoconservatives who were quick to identify Ukraine as a possible flashpoint between the United States and Russia. With Putin and Obama both distracted by other responsibilities, neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland teamed up with neocon National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and neocon Sen. John McCain to help fund and coordinate the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych. The resulting civil war and Russian intervention in Crimea drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin.
The mainstream U.S. news media got fully behind the demonization of Putin, making a rapprochement over Ukraine nearly impossible. Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to broker a settlement of the conflict in February – known as Minsk-2 – the right-wing government in charge in Kiev, reflecting Nuland’s hard-line position, sabotaged the deal by inserting a poison pill that effectively required the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine to surrender before Kiev would conduct elections under its control. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Poison Pill for Peace Talks.”]
The Kiev regime is also incorporating some of its neo-Nazi militias into the regular army while putting neo-Nazi extremists into key military advisory positions. Though the U.S. media has put on blinders so as not to notice the Swastikas and SS symbols festooning the Azov and other battalions, the reality has been that the neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists have been the fiercest fighters in killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Wretched US Journalism on Ukraine.”]
On Saturday, German Economic News reported that the Ukrainian army appointed right-wing extremist Dimitri Jarosch as an official adviser to the army leadership as the Kiev regime – now bolstered by U.S. military equipment and training and receiving billions of dollars in Western aid – prepares for renewed fighting with eastern Ukraine.
The problem with Obama has been that – although he himself may be a “closet realist” willing to work with adversarial countries like Iran and Russia – he has not consistently challenged the neocons and their junior partners, the liberal interventionists. The liberals are particularly susceptible to propaganda campaigns involving non-governmental organizations that claim to promote “human rights” or “democracy” but have their salaries paid by the congressionally financed and neocon-run National Endowment for Democracy or by self-interested billionaires like financier George Soros.
The effectiveness of these NGOs in using social media and other forums to demonize targeted governments, as happened in Ukraine during the winter of 2013-14, makes it hard for honest journalists and serious analysts to put these crises in perspective without endangering their careers and reputations. Over the past year, anyone who questioned the demonization of Putin was denounced as a “Putin apologist” or a “Putin bootlicker.” Thus, many people not wanting to face such slurs either went along with the propagandistic “group think” or kept quiet.
Obama is one person who knows better but hasn’t been willing to contest Official Washington’s narratives portraying Putin or Assad or the Iranians or the Houthis as the devils incarnate. Obama has generally gone with the flow, joining the condemnations, but then resisting at key moments and refusing to implement some of the most extreme neocon ideas – such as bombing the Syrian army or shipping lethal weapons to Ukraine’s right-wing regime or forsaking negotiations and bombing Iran.
Pandering to Israel and Saudi Arabia
In other words, Obama has invested huge amounts of time and energy in trying to maintain positive relations with Netanyahu and the Saudi royals while not fully joining in their regional war against Iran and other Shiite-related governments and movements. Obama understands the enormous risk of allowing Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State to gain firm control of a major Middle Eastern country.
Of course, if that happens in, say, Syria, Obama would be blamed for not overthrowing the Assad regime earlier, as if there actually was a “moderate opposition” that could have withstood the pressure of the Sunni extremists. Though the neocons and liberal interventionists have pretended that this “moderate” force existed, it was always marginal when it came to applying real power.
Whether one likes it or not, the only real force that can stop an Al-Qaeda or Islamic State victory is the Syrian army and the Assad regime. But Obama chose to play the game of demanding that “Assad must go” – to appease the neocons and liberal interventionists – while recognizing that the notion of a “moderate” alternative was never realistic.
As Obama told the New York Times Thomas L. Friedman in August 2014, the idea that the U.S. arming the “moderate” rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Behind Obama’s Chaotic Foreign Policy.”]
But Obama may be running out of time in his halfway strategy of half-heartedly addressing the real danger that lies ahead if the Islamic State and/or Al-Qaeda ride the support of Saudi Arabia and Israel to a victory in Syria or Iraq or Yemen.
If the United States has to recommit a major military force in the Middle East, the war would have little hope of succeeding but it would drain American resources – and eviscerate what’s left of the constitutional principles that founded the American Republic.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Russia supports the proposed withdrawal of weapons of less than 100-millimeter caliber from the front line in eastern Ukraine, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“The possibility of withdrawing weapons of less than 100-millimeter caliber is under discussion now, and we are supporting it,” Lavrov told a media conference during his visit to Slovakia on Saturday.
“We will try to help the sides to reach an agreement, which would increase mutual confidence,” he added.
Kiev made a similar statement last week, saying arms not covered by the Minsk agreements, such as tanks and 80-millimeter mortars and other weapons of up to 100-millimeter caliber could be pulled back.
The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine brokered the latest Ukraine peace deal, dubbed the Minsk-2 agreement, in the Belarusian capital on February 12. It was agreed the sides in the conflict would pull heavy weapons back from the frontline and establish a security zone separating them. According to the document, the zone separating the warring parties must be at least 50 kilometers wide for artillery over 100-millimeter caliber, 70 kilometers for regular multiple rocket launchers and 100 kilometers for heavier long-range weapons.
A final resolution of the Ukrainian crisis will be possible if the conflicting parties are kept to their commitments under the Minsk-2 deal, Lavrov believes.
“It’s important to keep telling them that, to make sure they comply with the agreements,” he said.
International monitors have said the truce is generally holding, but there are still sporadic incidents of violence.
Lavrov noted such incidents happen on both sides, and that it’s necessary to “enforce monitoring of the situation in Ukraine.”
The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) discovered military equipment belonging to both warring sides in an area near Shirokyno, according to the mission’s report on Friday. Shirokyno is near the front line, and under the Minsk-2 agreements weapons have to be pulled back from this area.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) “observed one Ukrainian Armed Forces armored personnel carrier near Shirokyno that is under government control, and 15 DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] main battle tanks in areas around Shirokyno under ‘DPR’ control. In addition, to the north of Zaichenko (DPR-controlled), the SMM observed two destroyed main battle tanks,” the report said.
A Ukrainian military spokesman Andrey Lysenko told reporters on Saturday that three Kiev military men were killed and two more wounded in eastern Ukraine when a bomb exploded near Avdeevka.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic spokesman, Eduard Basurin, told Interfax on Saturday that the Ukrainian military has violated the ceasefire many times in the past 24 hours, mainly in the Donetsk airport area. He said that from the 27 violations, 12 were monitored at the airport. The Ukrainian military used cannon artillery, tank weapons, 82-millimeter and 120-millimeter caliber mortars, he added.
During his visit to Slovakia on Saturday, Lavrov once again expressed hope that the law, recently passed by Kiev granting the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk special self-rule status, will receive a proper response from the international community.
On March 17, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), passed a law granting the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk special self-rule status. However, it has postponed the introduction of the new status until the regions hold new elections under Ukrainian laws. Ukrainian MPs said the two republics will be recognized as ‘temporary occupied territories’ and voted this status should remain until the Ukrainian military fully restores control.
The leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics have slammed the decisions as “shameful” and blamed Kiev for not having negotiated the law with them.
The law “contravenes the Minsk agreements,” Lavrov said on Saturday. Moscow hopes “this will not provoke the undermining of these important accords,” he added.
By Doug E. Steil | Aletho News | March 28, 2015
Adverse side effects related to taking anti-depressant pharmaceutical drugs are well known. Numerous mass murders in conjunction with suicides were attributable to people who were under the influence of these drugs, which are being over-prescribed due to industry marketing pressure. (At least one in four women in the US are purportedly taking psychiatric medication.)
Nonetheless, according to Federal Aviation Authority regulations, pilots are not permitted to fly under the influence of such medication due to the harmful and potentially dangerous effects they can cause, including abnormal, self destructive, and violent behavior. This is simply a basic issue of public safety.
Today information has emerged that the co-pilot of Lufthansa’s German Wings subsidiary, Andreas Günther Lubitz, who had intentionally caused this crash in an act of mass murder, thereby killing 149 people in addition to himself, was suffering from severe depression and had prescriptions for various medications. He was under treatment and had been seen by neurologists and psychiatrists. They had written sickness notes that were subsequently found, according to which he was to have been on sick leave during the past week.
According to German law confidentiality between doctor and patient is not absolute but subject to exceptions, in which case there is a mandatory duty to inform authorities, including in instances when there is an overriding public interest, such as potentially impending danger of inflicted harm to others by the patient.
It ought to be assumed that they were aware of Lubitz’s occupation as an airline pilot. They had an obligation to notify appropriate authorities to ensure that Lubitz would not be permitted to fly and thereby pose a threat to passengers due to his mental condition and the effects of any medication they prescribed. Though the matter is still under investigation, it appears that the University Clinic in Dusseldorf, where he was undergoing “treatment”, may have acted as an accessory to mass murder by having willfully neglected their notification duty.
If it turns out that this was the case the physicians may be subject to criminal prosecution, and in any case the Dusseldorf University Clinic would need to prepare for a substantial class action civil suit for negligence, as will Lufthansa, for its own negligent behavior, namely having hired Lubitz while knowing of his past mental instability and then continuing to employ him under the special conditions of seeking continual medical supervision. In a press conference two days ago Lufthansa’s CEO thus misled the public in claiming that the co-pilot had been “100% fit to fly”.
The German media, many of which have protected the perpetrator’s privacy by refusing to publish his surname or obscuring the details of his face in published images, have been stalling on seeking answers to the key question: “How could this have happened?” Other media have also been stalling on getting to the heart of the matter, namely causes and proximate culpability. However, the general public does have a right to know the answers to these four questions now:
* Were the treating physicians, including at the Dusseldorf University Clinic, aware that Lubitz was working as an airline pilot?
* Did he ever suggest to physicians, however cryptically, to carry out some spectacular event for the sake of infamy, as he confided to a stewardess?
* Exactly which medications did the physicians prescribe to him in what doses and ingestion frequency during his “treatments”, especially most recently?
* Are pilots in Europe (and specifically at Lufthansa and affiliate airlines) strictly forbidden to fly under the influence of anti-depressant medication?
An Argentinean appeals court has dismissed charges against the country’s president and foreign minister over an alleged cover-up said to have taken place with regards to a 1994 bombing.
In July 1994, a car bomb exploded at the building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, also known as AMIA, in the capital, Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and some 300 were injured.
The Israeli regime accuses Tehran of masterminding the terrorist attack. The Islamic Republic of Iran has strongly denied any involvement in the incident.
The prosecutor had accused a number of high-ranking Argentinean officials, including President Fernandez de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, and lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroqu of trying to “protect Iranians” in the case.
The government has staunchly denied the allegations and insisted that “there is no evidence whatsoever, not even circumstantial in nature,” that Fernandez de Kirchner or her aides committed any crimes.
On February 26, Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas said likewise that there were no elements to justify the continuation of an investigation into an alleged political effort by Kirchner to cover up the role claimed to have been played by Iran in the bombing.
The documents against Kirchner failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation,” the judge had said.
Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in Buenos Aires on January 18. The initial police report said he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Nisman’s death came hours before he was to testify in a congressional hearing about the AMIA attack.
The Buenos Aires Herald quoted Kirchner as saying on January 22 that the “real move against the government was the prosecutor’s death…. They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead. It is that sad and terrible.”
Prosecutor German Moldes can still file another appeal against the ruling by the Federal Chamber.
The Iranian foreign minister has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately cease its military aggression against Yemen.
“We demand an immediate stop to the Saudi military operations in Yemen,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with Iran’s Arabic-language al-Alam news network on Thursday.
Zarif said the military operations constitute a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and will only lead to bloodshed.
“We will spare no effort to contain the crisis in Yemen,” Zarif said.
He pointed out that the act of aggression will benefit no country, adding that the military campaign will further escalate the tensions in the region.
The Iranian foreign minister also urged the regional and western countries to avoid playing into the hands of terrorists such as al-Qaeda and ISIL in Yemen.
Strikes will fuel flames
Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham also strongly condemned the Saudi military campaign against members of the Ansarullah movement in neighboring Yemen, stressing that the move will create an insecure atmosphere in the Middle East.
“Resorting to military actions against Yemen, which is already engaged in internal conflict and fighting terrorism, will further complicate the situation, spread the extent of the crisis and squander opportunities to peacefully resolve internal disputes in Yemen,” Afkham said.
She also called for the immediate implementation of agreements struck between Yemeni factions, and a quick cessation of Saudi air strikes and operations against Yemen and its nation.
Afkham further noted that the ongoing onslaught against Yemen will have no outcome other than the spread of terrorism and extremism, and will undermine security in the Middle East.
Saudi strikes to backfire
Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s Parliament Alaeddin Boroujerdi also denounced the Saudi attacks against Yemen, stating that such an action would eventually backfire.
“The fact that Saudi Arabia has waged a new war in the region attests to its disregard and irresponsibility towards issues in the Muslim world. The outcomes of this crisis will boomerang on Saudi Arabia as war is not confined to the borders of one particular region,” Boroujerdi pointed out.
He also criticized the United States for fomenting instability in the Middle East, stating that Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies have had Washington’s carte blanche in order to launch attacks against Yemen.
The ongoing Saudi air strikes on Yemen have so far claimed the lives of 13 civilians with more deaths feared, according to Yemeni sources.
“Thirteen civilians, including women and children, were killed in the Saudi raids overnight,” a civil defense source said on Thursday.
According to witnesses, residents are helping civil defense authorities in the search for any more victims under the rubble of houses damaged in the air raids.
Following the attacks, forces loyal to fugitive Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi seized control of the international airport in the southern port city of Aden.
Troops of the 39th Armored Brigade, who are allied to the Houthi Ansarullah movement, had earlier seized the facility.
The Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Thursday that Saudi Arabia has deployed “100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units” for the military campaign in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Yemeni sources say parachutists of Saudi forces have already landed in Aden, located approximately 420 kilometers (260 miles) south of the capital, Sana’a.