Bibi’s re-election makes the prospect of a third intifada more likely than ever. And when it does come it would take a surfeit of optimism to believe that it won’t be as widely supported among the Palestinians as the First Intifada (1987-1991) or as violent as the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
The so-called international community, consisting of Washington and its European allies, has failed the Palestinian people miserably over many years by now. Its unfailing and ignoble pandering to Israel that informs the West’s entire policy with regard to the Middle East has only succeeded in creating a monster in the shape of the intransigent, rejectionist, and brutal political culture that now holds sway there. It is a culture underpinned by a flagrant disregard for international law and the human rights of some 3 million people in the occupied West Bank and 1.8 million in Gaza, which at time of writing remains a pile of rubble after Israel’s summer 2014 air, land, and sea assault in which 2100 Palestinians were slaughtered – around 500 of them children – and up to 9000 injured or maimed, many of those permanently.
Gaza remains under siege, hermetically sealed from the outside world, its people and their suffering a symbol of the hypocrisy and indifference of an international order in which Palestinian blood is not only cheap it is worthless. Israel’s exceptionalism, meanwhile, remains sacrosanct.
Nobody should be fooled by talk of a rupture between the Obama administration and Netanyahu. The President, the world knows by now, holds Bibi somewhere between disdain and disgust in his feelings towards him. The studied insult delivered to the president by the Israeli Prime Minister when he addressed the US Congress a few weeks ago, where Netanyahu attempted to undermine talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Switzerland, couldn’t have been more wounding. It undermined both the President’s authority in Washington and his influence overseas.
The Israeli election that followed was marked by the new low Netanyahu went to in order to scoop up enough votes to win. Scaremongering, apocalyptic rhetoric, and out and out racism issued from his lips in the lead up to the polls, leaving no doubt that along with the so-called Islamic State, Benjamin Netanyahu poses the gravest threat to the stability of the region.
Yet despite this – despite the phone conversation reported to have taken place between Obama and Netanyahu after the Israeli Prime Minister’s re-election, during which Obama told him that he would have to “reassess” his administration’s policy towards Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s pre-election statements negating the prospects of a two state solution, US policy towards Israel isn’t about to undergo any meaningful reorientation anytime soon.
During an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama confirmed that despite his differences with Mr Netanyahu, US aid to Israel to the tune of £3 billion a year will not be affected. And therein lies the rub, for until there is willingness in Washington to punish Netanyahu’s and the Israeli right’s rejectionist policy with the threat to suspend aid, the chances of a shift in said policy are less than zero.
The impotence of the Obama administration has been laid bare over these past couple of weeks. The anti-Obama coalition comprising Congressional Republicans and the Likud Party knows that the worst-case scenario involves waiting out the remaining year of the first black president’s tenure. The best-case scenario, which is far more likely, will see Obama cave just as he’s caved when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Whether on settlements expansion, the continuing annexation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, or meaningful steps towards the realization of a two state solution, the president has been played like a violin by Netanyahu these past few years.
That said, the much vaunted two state solution is but a canard. There is no possibility of a two state solution, as Netanyahu knows full well. The idea of anything approaching a viable Palestinian state comprising what is left of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza is an insult to the collective intelligence of the Palestinian people. What we have now is a de facto single state in which 4.8 million people living in it are regarded and treated as Helots. As such, it is only when Israel is forced to comply with international law and human rights that any meaningful progress can hope to be made. That force must take the form of economic sanctions.
The only issue over which Obama will likely defeat the Israeli leader at present is Iran. The recent talks in Switzerland look to have made significant progress, which in conjunction with the unanimous aversion to the deployment of hard power against Tehran by the other nations involved in those talks, this has left Netanyahu and his Washington allies increasingly isolated as yesterday’s men.
This still leaves the Palestinians, who cannot be expected to continue to endure the injustice that defines their existence for much longer without there being an explosion. Yes, the international boycott campaign grows and has scored some notable successes over the past year, but nonetheless at this stage the Palestinians could be forgiven for considering themselves more or less abandoned to their fate.
A third intifada is heading down the track as a consequence – and when it comes neither Washington nor its allies should be in any doubt that it arrived as a direct result of their weakness, double standards, and perfidy.
The cause of the Palestinian people remains the cause of humanity in our time. All else is embroidery.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1
Israeli and American representatives were conspicuously absent from the UN Human Rights Council session on the Palestinian territories on Monday. The session aimed to look into the Gaza conflict which killed 2,200 people in 50 days in 2014.
“I note the representative of Israel is not present,” Council President Joachim Ruecher said as the session kicked off Monday in Geneva.
Tel Aviv refused to comment as to why its representatives did not take part.
The US, however, said that one of the points on the UN session agenda – concerning human rights violations against the Palestinians – lacked legitimacy.
“Our non-participation in this debate underscores our position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy, as it did last year when we also refrained from speaking. The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it,” Keith Harper, US ambassador to the Council, said in a statement.
He added that the United States remains “deeply troubled” by the item directed against Israel “and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item. No other nation has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it.”
The Monday session was initially scheduled to discuss the report on the 50-day war in Gaza last year, but the incoming United Nations Human Rights Council’s chairperson, Mary McGowan Davis, said investigators needed more time to finish their report on the conflict, as Israel impeded access to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“The commission has done its utmost to obtain access to Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We would very much have liked to meet face to face with victims and the authorities in these places,” she said.
Davis asked for a delay until June for the commission to complete its report, due to late-breaking testimonies from witnesses and changes in leadership.
Mary McGowan Davis – a former New York State Supreme Court Justice – replaced William Schabas, a Canadian international law expert, as the Council’s chairperson after Schabas quit last month under Israeli pressure. Israel had doubts about his objectiveness, as he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization while serving as a law professor in 2012.
Meanwhile, despite Schabas’ resignation, Israel continues to accuse the commission of bias against the Jewish state. Three years ago, Tel Aviv cut all ties with the Council after it began checks on how Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories could be violating human rights. Relations were partially restored last year.
Israel has been severely criticized for its political decisions amid the 2014 war in Gaza, which claimed the lives of more than 2,140 Palestinians – most of them civilians – and over 70 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers. The conflict ended with a truce between Israel and Hamas on August 26.
“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” Makarim Wibisono, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, told the Council. Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups were also accused of impunity against civilians and targeting Israeli civilians to inspire aggression from Tel Aviv.
“The actions of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian neighborhoods in Israel, firing from densely-populated areas, locating military objects in civilian buildings, and the execution of suspected collaborators, also constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said in remarks published on the UN’s website on Monday.
Relations between the Obama administration and Israel appeared to have cooled down after Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the US Congress with a speech criticizing Washington’s nuke talks with Iran. Netanyahu’s pre-election promise not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state did not help to improve the situation. After being re-elected, the PM tried to step back and said he still supported the concept of “two states.” However, White House press secretary Josh Earnest called his position “cynical” and accused him of “divisive election day tactics.”
US drone strikes on Pakistani soil over the past decade have claimed the lives of some 2,200 people, Press TV quotes Islamabad
According to figures presented in a report by Pakistani lawmakers, 2,199 people have been killed and 282 others injured in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.
Nearly 210 houses and 60 vehicles have also reportedly been damaged.
The families of 43 of the dead and seven of those injured have received compensation so far, according to the report.
However, rights activists say Islamabad has not revealed the actual number of deaths, which many say is more than 3,000 and possibly as many as 4,000.
“The majority of the people who got killed were the citizens of Pakistan and I don’t think that this [report] is a final truth. There are still numbers that are out there and I hope those numbers also come out and that will push this number of 2,200 to a much higher numerical level,” political analyst Tariq Pirzada said.
Islamabad has so far failed to provide accurate information regarding the identity of those killed in the drone strikes.
Although evidence on the ground indicates civilians are the main victims of the strikes over the years, the Pakistani government reports that most of those killed are militants.
Islamabad has also said it cannot determine the actual number of civilian deaths as a result of its ongoing ground and air offensives against the militants in the tribal areas.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for allowing the US to carry out its illegal drone strikes near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president, George W. Bush in 2004, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drones as “self-defense.” Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A New York-based federal judge has ordered the release of around 2,000 images showing the cruel treatment of detainees by the US military, despite White House efforts to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act.
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the US District Court in Manhattan handed the American Civil Liberties Union a major victory on Friday when he ruled that the US government must release photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners in US custody at military sites around the world, including the notorious Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq.
The order would not take effect for 60 days to allow the Pentagon an opportunity to appeal the decision.
The White House had sought to keep the photographs under wraps after US Congress passed a law in 2005 that any further public disclosures of the disturbing images would “endanger American soldiers.” The ACLU, however, filed a lawsuit in 2004 for the release of the photos, arguing they are “crucial to the public record.”
“They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies,” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a news release. “The Obama administration’s rationale for suppressing the photos is both illegitimate and dangerous.”
The Department of Defense has not yet responded to requests for comments, Reuters reported.
Last August, Hellerstein gave the government an extension to prove that the lives of military personnel would be threatened by the release of the photographs. Despite the rise of a number of new challenges facing the US military, including the battle against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), the judge apparently saw no reason to prevent the photos from reaching the public realm.
At that time, Hellerstein, who was privy to many of the images, said some were “relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration.”
The court had been seeking from US military officials an individual analysis on each photograph as to why it should be blocked from the mandates of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Instead, the Pentagon in 2009 and 2012 provided a single certification to block the photos from release.
“The Government’s refusal to individual certifications means that the 2012 Certification remains invalid and therefore cannot exempt the Government from responding to Plaintiffs FOIA requests,” the judge wrote in his court order on Friday.
Hellerstein said it appeared the government was looking to seriously delay the process thereby “tending to defeat FOIA’s purpose of prompt disclosure.”
In 2009, former Senator Joe Lieberman said there were nearly 2,100 photographs in the government’s possession that had not seen the light of day. In the event the photos are finally released, the identities of any individuals would be redacted, the court document said.
The photographs first received attention in late 2003 by Amnesty International, which provided shocking proof that members of the US Army and the Central Intelligence Agency carried out so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The photographs pointed to gross physical and sexual abuse, including torture, rape and murder. The report opened up a debate in the United States as to the definition of torture and if it is applicable in a time of war.
The Bush administration argued that international humanitarian laws, such as the Geneva Conventions, did not apply to US interrogators overseas. Later US Supreme Court decisions overturned Bush administration policy, ruling that international law applies to American soldiers overseas.
Nevertheless, President Obama has still not closed down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility where over 100 detainees – many of them innocent of their charges – continue to languish without appropriate legal representation amid hostile conditions.
Feds’ fight to withhold CIA torture photos may soon end
The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: email@example.com
The following is the Declaration of the Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of States and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Commerce Treaty (ALBA – TCP)
We, the heads of state and government, representatives of the member countries of ALBA, gathered on March 17, 2015 in Caracas, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, declare:
1. Our rejection of the Executive Order issued on March 9, 2015 by the Government of the United States of America, on the basis that this Executive Order is unjustified and unjust, which constitutes a threat of interference that runs counter to the principle of sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states.
2. Our commitment to the application of international law, a peaceful resolution to conflicts, and the principles of non-intervention that call on all governments to act within the framework of the universal principles and the Charter of the United Nations, in particular the necessity and willingness for governments to abstain from employing unilateral coercive measures that violate international law.
3. Our sovereign and sincere request that the government of the United States accept and engage in dialogue with the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as an alternative to conflict and confrontation, based on ongoing respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples of independent nation-states.
4. Our proposal to create a Facilitator’s Group comprised of institutions from our hemisphere (CELAC, UNASUR, ALBA-TCP, and CARICOM) in order to facilitate an earnest diplomacy between the governments of the United States of America and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to reduce tensions and guarantee a friendly solution.
As such, we decided to:
1. Ratify our commitment and unconditional support with the sister nation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in search of the mechanisms for dialogue with the government of the United States, so that the aggressions by that government against Venezuela cease.
2. Reaffirm that Latin America and the Caribbean is a Region of Peace, where nations are driving processes of integration and friendly relations, with the aim of continuing to guarantee that greatest amount of happiness for our peoples.
3. Emphasize that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not represent a threat to any country, being a country that practices solidarity, that has shown its spirit of cooperation with the people and governments of the whole region, becoming a guarantee of social peace and stability for our continent.
4. Demand that the government of the United States immediately cease the harassment and aggression against the government and people of Venezuela, as that policy encourages destabilization and the use of violence by a section of the Venezuelan opposition.
5. Highlight that the Executive Order approved by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, flagrantly ignores the “Declaration of Solidarity and Support for Democratic Institutions, Dialogue, and Peace in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” approved by the Permanent Council of the OAS on March 7, 2014.
6. Denounce the vicious international media campaign against the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its government, designed to discredit the Bolivarian Revolution, attempting to create the conditions for a larger scale intervention and counter to a peaceful solution of differences.
7. Reiterate the strongest support for the democratically-elected and legitimate government of the president of the sister Federative Republic of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, while contributing to the strengthening and consolidation of democratic values and principles of freedom and solidarity in Our America.
8. Express our deepest words of solidarity and support for the president of the Argentine Republic, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the rest of her government officials, who are being subjected to a campaign of personal and institutional discrediting by a section of the political and media right-wing in her country, at the same time as they are being attacked by vulture funds and international financial capital.
9. Applaud the constructive dialogue held during the 20th Meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), held in Antigua, Guatemala on March 10, 2015, which dealt with the disproportional Executive Order signed by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
10. Instruct the Ambassadors of the member countries of ALBA-TCP throughout the world to conduct an informational and publicity campaign covering the truth about what is happening in Venezuela, and the threats that loom over it and the region.
11. Urge social, worker, student, rural worker, indigenous, and women’s movements to mobilize in a permanent fashion and remain vigilante in order to inform the whole world and the people of Our America that Venezuela and the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro are not alone and that the peoples of the world categorically reject this new imperialist intervention in the Greater Homeland, whose consequences could be dire for peace and stability in the region.
12. Reaffirm that ALBA-TCP will continue promoting unity, integration, solidarity, and peaceful coexistence as an expression of the ideal and commitment of Latin America and the Caribbean for the building of a peaceful region and a world, as the foundation for the consolidation of relations between peoples.
In addition, we declare and reiterate, in the context of an effective commitment to avoiding confrontation, our support for the “Letter to the People of the United States: Venezuela is not a threat” issued by the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in particular where it refers to the following aspects:
a) The commitment of Venezuela to freedom, independence, and multilateralism
b) Venezuela’s fundamental belief in peace, national sovereignty, and international law
c) The reality of Venezuela as an open and democratic society according to its Constitution and the aspirations of its people
d) The long-standing friendship of Venezuela with the people of the United States
e) The false, unjust, unilateral, and disproportional action encompassed in the Executive Order of the government of the United States of America where Venezuela is declared to be a threat to the national security of the United States of America
f) The declaration by Venezuela that its sovereignty is sacred.
As a consequence, we the leaders of ALBA-TCP are in solidarity with Venezuela. We understand our fundamental freedoms and assert our rights. We unequivocally support Venezuela in the defense of its sovereignty and independence and the fact it does this standing tall and not on its knees.
To that effect, we ask the government of the United States of America, and specifically President Barack Obama, to repeal the Executive Order approved on March 9, 2015, which constitutes a threat to sovereignty and an intervention in the internal affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Approved in the city of Caracas, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, March 17, 2015
The White House is exempting one of its key offices from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations which allow for the full or partial disclosure of previously undisclosed information and documents controlled by the United States government.
The White House said the move to exempt the Office of Administration from the FOIA rules is consistent with court rulings according to which the office is not subject to the transparency law.
In 2009, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the office was exempt from the FOIA but made it obligatory for the White House to archive the e-mails to be released under the Presidential Records Act not until at least five years after the end of the administration.
The White House announces its decision in a notice to be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, saying it will no longer act in accordance with regulations on how the office complies with FOIA requests based on “well-settled legal interpretations.”
However, the timing of the decision raises a question among transparency advocates amid a national debate over the preservation of Obama administration records.
“It is completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency,” said Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail.”
White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails as well as other types of activities are handled by the Office of Administration. The office has been subjected to the FOIA regulations for about three decades.
“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act anymore,” said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.
Late in the Bush administration, CREW sued over about 22 million e-mails which were deleted by the White House. At first, the White House began to comply with that request, but then changed its course of action.
“The government made an argument in an effort to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the lawsuit in order to stop the archiving of White House e-mails,” said Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
The university has used analogous requests to help foreign policy decisions come to light.
Targeted killings have been a central part of U.S. national security strategy for more than a decade, but the American public still knows scandalously little about who the government kills, and why. Today we’re filing a new lawsuit in our continuing fight to fix that.
The CIA and the military use drones to target suspected “militants,” “insurgents,” and “terrorists” in at least half a dozen countries. American drone strikes have killed thousands of people abroad, many of them children. The program has engendered pervasive fear and anger against the United States in countries where the attacks frequently occur.
Our government’s deliberative and premeditated killings – and the many more civilian deaths from the strikes – raise profound legal and ethical questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. The Obama administration has made numerous promises of greater transparency and oversight on drones. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to make lethal targeting “more transparent to the American people and the world” because “in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way.”
But the administration has failed to follow through on these commitments to openness, and it is continuing to withhold basic information. When it has released anything – or been compelled to by lawsuits – discussion of crucial aspects of the program have been omitted or redacted. This lack of transparency makes the public reliant on the government’s self-serving and sometimes false representations about the targeted-killing program.
That’s why today the ACLU filed a new lawsuit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request asking for basic information on the program, including records on how the government picks targets, before-the-fact assessments of potential civilian casualties, and “after-action” investigations into who was actually killed.
The ACLU has made some headway for transparency. We are litigating two other FOIA lawsuits seeking information about targeted killings. One of them is about the strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen: Anwar al-Aulaqi, his 16-year old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan. Despite the public promises of openness, the government has continued to fight tooth-and-nail against releasing documents in those cases – or in some instances, even admitting that it has any documents at all.
In both cases we have won important rulings in federal appeals courts, forcing the government to release some documents, including a 41-page Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo addressing the legal theories that were the basis for the extrajudicial killing of Anwar al-Aualqi. The belated publication of the memo was an important victory for transparency, which led to a broad and long-overdue debate about the lawfulness of the government’s targeted-killing program and, in particular, of the lawfulness of the government’s deliberate and pre-meditated killing of a U.S. citizen. But the memo – almost a third of which was redacted – leaves many questions unanswered.
For example, the memo doesn’t explain the government’s definition of imminence, the circumstances that would make “capture infeasible” (and therefore, according to the government, lethal targeting permissible), or the reasons for the government’s targeting decisions. Worse, it points to a whole body of secret law that the administration continues to shield from the American public.
The administration’s subsequent gestures towards transparency are just as scant. The public summary of the secret Presidential Policy Guidance – which sets new standards for lethal targeting – relies on the same conclusory definitions as the Office of Legal Counsel memo. In a major speech at the National Defense University in 2013, the president asserted that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.” But multiple investigative reports contradict this assurance. The government could dispute these findings, but instead it chooses to keep nearly all the details about how the program works hidden from view.
We aren’t giving up. One of the most important aspects of our new lawsuit is that it covers more recent documents, including the Presidential Policy Guidance under which the targeted killing program likely now operates.
The government’s drone program lives far too deep in the shadows. As long as the government continues its campaign of secret, unacknowledged lethal strikes across the globe, we will fight to subject this policy to the scrutiny and debate it deserves.
In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.
The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:
“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”
The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed. One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)
Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)
More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies. As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.
The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.
Some rarely discussed truths shaping contemporary American democracy
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | March 12, 2015
Many people still think of the CIA as an agency designed to help American presidents make informed decisions about matters outside the United States. That was the basis for President Truman’s signing the legislation which created the agency, and indeed it does serve that role, generally rather inadequately, but it has become something far beyond that.
Information is certainly not something to which any reasonable person objects, but the CIA has two houses under its roof, and it is the operational side of the CIA which gives it a world-wide bad reputation. The scope of undercover operations has evolved to make the CIA into a kind of civilian army, one involving great secrecy, little accountability, and huge budgets – altogether a dangerous development indeed for any country which regards itself as a democracy and whose military is forbidden political activity. After all, the CIA’s secret operational army in practice is not curtailed by restrictions around politics, many of its tasks having been quite openly political. Yes, its charter forbids operations in the United States, but those restrictions have been ignored or bent countless times both in secret programs like Echelon (monitoring telephone communications by five English-speaking allies who then share the information obtained, a forerunner to the NSA’s recently-revealed collection of computer data) and years of mail-opening inside the United States or using substitutes to go around the rule, as was likely the case with the many Mossad agents trailing the eventual perpetrators of 9/11 inside the United States before the event.
As with all large, powerful institutions over time, the CIA constantly seeks expansion of its means and responsibilities, much like a growing child wanting ever more food and clothing and entertainment. This inherent tendency, the expansion of institutional empire, is difficult enough to control under normal circumstances, but when there are complex operations in many countries and tens of billions in spending and many levels of secrecy and secret multi-level files, the ability of any elected politicians – whose keenest attention is always directed towards re-election and acquiring enough funds to run a campaign – to exercise meaningful control and supervision becomes problematic at best. The larger and more complex the institution becomes, the truer this is.
Under Eisenhower, the CIA’s operational role first came to considerable prominence, which is hardly surprising considering Eisenhower was a former Supreme Commander in the military, the military having used many dark operations during WWII, operations still classified in some cases. In his farewell address, it is true, Eisenhower gave Americans a dark warning about the “military-industrial complex,” but as President he used CIA dark operations extensively, largely to protect American corporate interests in various parts of the world – everything from oil interests to banana monopolies in Central America. Perhaps, he viewed the approach as less destructive or dangerous or likely to tarnish America’s post-WWII reputation than “sending in the Marines,” America’s traditional gang of paid-muscle for such tasks, but, over the long term, he was wrong, and his extensive use of CIA operations would prove highly destructive and not just tarnish America’s image but totally shatter it. It set in motion a number of developments and problems which haunt America to this day.
In the 1950s, the CIA was involved in a number of operations whose success bred hubris and professional contempt for those not part of its secret cult, an attitude not unlike that of members of an elite fraternity or secret society at university. The toppling of disliked but democratic governments in Guatemala and Iran and other operations had, by about the time of President Kennedy’s coming to power in 1960, bred an arrogant and unwarranted belief in its ability to do almost anything it felt was needed. The case of Cuba became a watershed for the CIA and its relationship with Presidents of the United States, President Eisenhower and his CIA having come to believe that Castro, widely regarded by the public as a heroic figure at the time, had turned dangerous to American corporate and overseas interests and needed to be removed. Fairly elaborate preparations for doing so were put into place, and parts of the southern United States became large secret training grounds for would-be terrorists selected from the anti-Castro exile community by CIA officers in charge of a project which dwarfed Osama bin Laden’s later camp in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A just-elected President Kennedy was faced with a momentous decision: whether to permit and support the invasion of neighboring Cuba, great effort and expense having gone into the scheme. Kennedy supported it with limited reservations, reservations which became the source of the deepest resentment by the old boys at the CIA looking for someone to blame for the invasion’s embarrassing public failure. The truth is the CIA’s plans were ill-considered from the beginning, the product of those arrogant attitudes bred from “successes” such as Guatemala. Cuba was not Guatemala, it had a far larger population, fewer discontented elements to exploit, a cohort of soldiers freshly-experienced from the revolution against former dictator Batista, and Castro was widely regarded as a national hero. The Bay of Pigs invasion never had a chance of success, and the very fact that the CIA put so many resources into it and pressured the President to have it done shows how badly it had lost its way by that time.
That failure of the invasion, a highly public failure, created a serious rift between the President and the CIA. When the President, in an unprecedented act, fired three senior CIA figures, holding them responsible for the fiasco, we can only imagine the words which echoed in the halls of Langley. CIA plots against Castro nevertheless carried right on. America was an intensely hostile place on the matter of communism at that time, its press continuously beating the drums, and no President could afford politically to appear even slightly indifferent. Kennedy himself was not quite the peace-loving figure some of his later admirers would hold him to be. He was a work in progress, and he gave speeches often colored by strident martinet and jingo phrases. Secret attempts were made to assassinate Castro, and the Kennedys, at that time, undoubtedly would have been pleased had they succeeded.
Again, in some these attempts, the CIA went to great and genuinely weird lengths, including an arrangement with Mafia figures, something the public did not know until the 1975 Church Committee looking into illegality in CIA operations. Rumors and threats of another invasion, likely often fed by the CIA itself as psychological warfare against Cuba, led to the confrontation known as the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Here, more than ever, the President was ill-served by the CIA and the Pentagon. They wanted an immediate invasion of Cuba when U2 spy cameras detected what appeared to be missile installations under construction, utterly unaware that Russia already had battlefield-ready tactical nuclear weapons mounted on short-range missiles ready to repel an invasion.
The 1975 Church Senate Committee looking into earlier illegality came into being because a number of sources were suggesting the CIA had been engaged in assassination and other dark practices, matters which at that time quite upset the general public and some decent politicians. The names in rumors included Lumumba of Congo, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Diem of Vietnam, Schneider of Chile, and others, but since only part of the Church Report was released we cannot know the full extent of what had been going on. Another possible name is Dag Hammarskjöld of the UN. It is perhaps a key measure of how far things have deteriorated with the CIA that the Church Committee today appears almost naïve. Following the committee’s report, President Ford issued an Executive Order banning assassinations. This was replaced just a few years later by an Executive Order of Ronald Reagan’s, Reagan being a great fan of dark operations, having appointed one of the more dangerous men ever to hold the title of CIA Director, William Casey.
The CIA, of course, now runs a regular assassination air force which has killed thousands of innocent people apart from the intended targets, themselves individuals proved guilty of nothing under law. The CIA today thinks nothing of using mass killing to reach desired goals, the Maidan shootings of innocent people demonstrating in Kiev being an outstanding example, shootings which precipitated a coup last year in Ukraine against an elected government. And then there are the trained and armed maniacs which were set loose upon the people of Syria to do pretty much whatever they pleased.
Kennedy managed to resist demands for invasion in 1962, perhaps his one great achievement as President, and he took another path which eventually led to an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. That agreement, which included America’s pledge not to invade Cuba, made Kennedy a marked man. He was hated by the fanatical and well-armed Cuban émigré community, and he was hated by all the men who had devoted a fair part of their lives to eliminating Castro, the émigrés’ recruiters, trainers, handlers, and suppliers – members all of the CIA country club set whose commie-hatred was so intense it could make the veins in their foreheads pop. Some at the CIA were undoubtedly even further irked by backchannel communications which opened up between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and tentative efforts to open something of that nature with Castro. They weren’t supposed to know about these efforts, but they almost certainly did.
It is difficult today for people to grasp the intensity of anti-communist and anti-Castro feelings that pervaded America’s establishment in 1963, more resembling a religious hysteria than political views. One thing is absolutely clear, Kennedy’s assassination was about Cuba, and it was conceived out of a simmering conviction that Kennedy literally was not fit to be President. No important person who ever expressed a quiet opinion on the matter – including Mrs. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and some members of the Warren Commission – ever believed the fantasy story fashioned by the Warren Commission. Neither did informed observers abroad – the Russian and French governments for example later expressed their views – as well as a great many ordinary Americans.
Other facts about Kennedy undoubtedly added to the volatile reactions of the plotters, facts not known by the public until decades later, one fact in particular was his relatively long and intense affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer, a highly intelligent woman, socialite, and former wife of a senior CIA agent, Cord Meyer, who for a time ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Kennedy and Mary Meyer are said to have had long talks about world affairs and prospects for peace, and she also is said to have introduced Kennedy to marijuana and LSD, he, given his chronic back pain, willing to try almost anything. She kept a diary which was known to the CIA’s James Angleton because he was discovered searching for it after her mysterious, professional hit-style murder in 1964 (small calibre bullet by a gun held to the head). One can only imagine the raised eyebrows of CIA officials when they learned about drugs and Mary’s influence on Kennedy (could some of their numerous meetings possibly not have been bugged?). Double betrayal over Cuba, backchannel communications with Russia, and drugs and sex with an artistic, intellectual type – those surely would have made the men who decided the fates of leaders in much lesser places extremely uneasy about the future.
My focus is not the assassination, but I’ve gone into some length because I believe it was a defining event in relations between future Presidents and the CIA. After this, every President would work under its rather frightening shadow.
Lyndon Johnson was ready from day one to give the CIA anything it wanted. Whether Johnson was involved in the assassination as some plausibly believe, or whether he was just intimidated by those involved – after all, like all bullies, Johnson was at heart a coward as he demonstrated numerous times. He wasn’t long in launching the most vicious and pointless war since World War II with the cheap trick of a story about an attack upon American ships. The CIA got right into the fun in 1965 with its Operation Phoenix, which over some years involved tens of thousands of silent assassinations of village leaders and others by night-crawling Special Forces soldiers guided to their targets by CIA agents.
Like all the CIA’s more lunatic operations – this one just kept running until at least 1972 – chalking up a toll of murders estimated as high as 40,000 and proving a complete failure in its goal of securing America’s artificial rump-state of South Vietnam. It was madness to be involved in Vietnam, and it proved in the end infinitely more embarrassing and destructive to America’s morale and reputation than the Bay of Pigs invasion, but then more than a few people who knew and worked with Johnson have said that he was pretty much mad himself. The CIA fed Johnson the kind of things he wanted to hear, but the War in Vietnam was always characterized by poor intelligence, and when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the huge, surprise of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, Washington was hit by an earthquake, and a lot of people suddenly understood Vietnam was a lost cause. Johnson, always the coward, his party starting to split into factions over the matter, announced his resignation not long after.
Of course, the truth is that the information side of the CIA’s house has never been very good at its work. Apart from the abject failures of Vietnam, the CIA is said to have never once got the most critical assessments of the Cold War era, those of the Soviet Union’s economic and military strength, anywhere close to accurate. There were many reasons for that, but the perceived need to exaggerate your enemy’s strength to inflate the size of CIA budgets was an important one. Whether Big Intelligence ever really works in obtaining reliable information and reliable information which will be used by politicians is certainly a topic open for discussion. The most successful information-gathering intelligence service of the early Cold War, the KGB, often had its sometimes remarkable material questioned or cast aside by Stalin.
Richard Nixon’s demise in the Watergate scandal likely was served up by CIA dirty tricks. The Watergate break-in was in mid-1972, although it took more than two years before Nixon resigned. Some of the old CIA hands who worked for Nixon’s secret “plumber’s unit,” a private operations group which did jobs like breaking in to the Watergate Hotel offices of the Democrats, had a history going back to the assassination. They undoubtedly kept Langley informed of what steps they were being ordered to take. Nixon was a problem for some of the CIA’s darkest secrets: he was jealous and bitter towards the Kennedys for beating him in the 1960 election (he also knew election fraud was used), and he had an obsessive curiosity about the assassination, having made a number of attempts to ascertain just what happened for which he was rebuffed.
A possible second reason for the CIA’s wanting to dump Nixon was the deteriorated situation in Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords were signed early in 1973, however there is evidence that Nixon and Kissinger actually put forward their proposals in the hope that they would be rejected and Congress then would allow them a free hand in seeking a clearer victory. But by that time even the CIA recognized the war in Vietnam could not be won by conventional means and that the interests of the United States were being damaged by its continuation. Despite press blurbs about peace, Nixon always desperately wanted to triumph in Vietnam, having gone so far in secret as to discuss the possibility of using nuclear weapons on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Despite various speculations, we have never learned just what Nixon’s burglars were after at the Watergate, and the reason for that may just well be the CIA’s having baited him with false information about what might be discovered there. The job very likely was deliberately sabotaged when old CIA hands do things like sloppy door-taping. The neat little trick alerted a security guard and led to the whole long Watergate Affair and Nixon’s eventual resignation, just the kind of neat outcome operations-types love to chuckle over at expense account lunches.
George H. W. Bush senior, the man for whom the Langley headquarters is named was more than a short-term appointed CIA Director. He had a long but never acknowledged background in the CIA, a fact which has come to light from a few references in obscure documents obtained by assassination researchers over decades. He almost certainly was involved with the operations against Castro before the assassination. He was likely America’s first official CIA President. One of the regular activities of the CIA abroad is to pay secret pensions to likely future leaders in select countries so that they will be both beholden and in a position to be compromised. They do this in dozens of significant countries as part of an effort to control future relations with America. So why not take a similar approach to leadership inside the United States? The first clear example was George H. W. Bush whose single term as President gave the CIA several schemes abroad dear to their hearts, including setting up Saddam Hussein for invasion after his foolish invasion of Kuwait (done following the seeming approval of the United States’ ambassador to Iraq), and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Panama’s General Noriega had apparently done the unforgivable thing of setting up “honey traps” in which American diplomats and CIA officials were photographed having sex, giving Noriega a powerful weapon against Washington’s interference. So he was set up on drug charges – which may or may not have been true, but they were not the business of American justice – other provocations were arranged like a silly stunt about an American sailor being beaten up, and Noriega’s country promptly was invaded.
Of course George Bush Junior was not CIA, lacking the fundamental requirement of a decent brain. But his presidency was effectively America’s first dual presidency, with Dick Cheney serving as senior partner despite his lesser title, and Dick Cheney was CIA-connected, having served as Secretary of Defense under George Bush’s father, overseen such operations as Desert Storm, and after George H. W.’s election defeat, serving as Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, a gigantic oil services company which operates all over the globe. Such companies – in much the same fashion as large American news organizations such as Time-Life, CBS, or The New York Times – notoriously are well connected with the CIA. Because companies like Halliburton operate in scores of countries, deal with strategic resources, travel to remote sites, and often have access to important figures, they provide perfect cover for CIA agents and other intelligence assets. The Bush-Cheney period was certainly a golden one for the CIA in terms of institutional growth and new projects. Many ugly projects now making our world a less secure place were started in this period.
The CIA now is so firmly entrenched and so immensely well financed – much of it off the books, including everything from secret budget items to peddling drugs and weapons – that it is all but impossible for a president to oppose it the way Kennedy did. Obama, who has proved himself a fairly weak character from the start, certainly has given the CIA anything it wants. The dirty business of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is one project. The coup in Ukraine is another. The pushing of NATO’s face right against Russia’s borders is still another. Several attempted coups in Venezuela are still more. And the creation of a drone air force for extrajudicial killing in half a dozen countries is yet another. They don’t resemble projects we would expect from a smiley-faced, intelligent man who sometimes wore sandals and refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel during his first election campaign.
More than one observer has speculated about Obama’s being CIA, and there are significant holes in his resume which could be accounted for by his involvement. He would have been an attractive candidate for several reasons. Obama is bright, and the CIA employs few blacks in its important jobs. He also might have been viewed as a good political prospect for the future in just the way foreign politicians are selected for secret pensions. After all, before he was elected, there were stories about people meeting this smart and (superficially) charming man and remarking that they may just have met a future president.
If Obama is not actually CIA, then he is so intimidated that he pretty much rubber stamps their projects. A young, inexperienced President must always be mindful of that other young President whose head was half blown off in the streets of Dallas. Moreover, there are some shady areas in Obama’s background around drugs and perhaps other matters which could be politically compromising. The CIA is perfectly capable of using anything of that nature for political exposure while making it look as though it came from elsewhere.
So, when people write of America’s secret government or of its government within the government, it is far more than an exaggeration. It is actually hard to imagine now any possibility of someone’s being elected President and opposing what the CIA recommends, the presidency having come to resemble in more than superficial ways the Monarchy in Britain. The Queen is kept informed of what Her government is doing, but can do nothing herself to change directions. Yes, the President still has the power on paper to oppose any scheme, and then so does the Queen simply by refusing her signature, but she likely could exercise that power just once. In her case the consequence would be an abrupt end to the Monarchy. In a President’s case, it would be either a Nixonian or Kennedyesque end.
President Obama, who is currently engaged in multiple wars on both the African and Asian continents and is hell-bent on provoking a war in Europe with Russia, is now stepping to the very brink of war in South America, against Venezuela. On Monday, Obama declared a state of national emergency to justify freezing the assets of 7 Venezuelan officials that the U.S. claims are involved in human rights violations. In order to comply with U.S. law, Obama asserted that Venezuela represents a threat the national security of the United States. The White House pretended that the scary language was just a legal technicality, and does not mean that the president actually believes Venezuela is about to do harm to the United States. However, Obama is invoking the same language and law against Venezuela that was used against Syria and Iran, leading to Syria’s near destruction by the U.S. and its allies and proxies, and to vicious sanctions and a state of near-war with Iran. Venezuela has every reason to fear that Obama’s executive order might be a prelude to military attack.
Washington has been trying to topple the socialist government in Venezuela since at least 2002, when George Bush backed an unsuccessful coup against the late President Hugo Chavez. Since then, Venezuela has conducted more elections than any other nation in the hemisphere, all of them vouched for as free and fair by international observers. Unable to prevail at the polls, the rightwing, racist opposition hopes to come to power through another coup or direct military intervention by the United States. In that context, Obama’s assertion that Venezuela is a danger to U.S. national security ranks just short of a declaration of war.
Venezuelan President Maduro has thrown a few of the most brazen coup plotters in jail, which Obama ridiculously describes as a massive violation of human rights. However, the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere are Washington’s allies. Almost six million people, most of them Black and indigenous, have been displaced from their homes by political violence in Colombia, a U.S. client state. Mexico’s is a narco-state, as violent as Colombia. And Honduras, where the U.S. backed a military coup against the democratically elected government in 2009, is a place of lawlessness and state terror.
Luckily, the United States only has a few remaining allies left in Latin America. What unifies the southern part of the hemisphere is the common experience of the U.S. boot on one’s neck. CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes all of the nations of the western hemisphere except Canada and the U.S., has warned Washington to stop interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
So, if Obama thinks that he can get away with waging a phony “humanitarian” interventionist war against Venezuelan President Maduro, as he did against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, he will find himself opposed by an entire continent.
Caracas – U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order this Monday slapping Venezuela with new sanctions and declaring the Bolivarian nation an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security”.
The sanctions target seven individuals accused by the White House of alleged human rights violations and “public corruption”, freezing their assets and barring entry into the U.S.
The figures include Justo Jose Noguera Pietri, President of the state entity, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG) and Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, a national level prosecutor currently taking the lead in the trials of several Venezuelan political opposition leaders, including Leopoldo Lopez.
The executive order is the latest in a series of U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela over the past few months. On February 3, the Obama administration expanded the list of Venezuelan officials barred from entering the U.S., which now includes the Chief Prosecutor Luis Ortega Diaz.
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” announced White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The U.S. has failed thus far to disclose evidence that might bolster its claims of human rights violations, leading Venezuelan and other regional leaders to condemn what they regard as the arbitrary and political character of U.S. sanctions.
While regional bodies such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have called for dialogue, Washington has so far refused to support negotiations or to recognise the organisation’s stance.
“We will continue to work closely with others in the region to support greater political expression in Venezuela, and to encourage the Venezuelan government to live up to its shared commitment, as articulated in the OAS Charter, the Inter American Democratic Charter, and other relevant instruments related to democracy and human rights,” reads the latest White House statement.
The order goes on to call for the release of all “political prisoners” allegedly held by the Venezuelan government, including “dozens of students”.
The Venezuelan government, for its part, maintains that all of those arrested are in the process of facing trial for criminal offences linked to violent destabilization efforts spearheaded by the opposition.
Former Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested last month on charges of conspiracy and sedition related to the February 12 thwarted “Blue Coup” attempt. A Venezuelan judge found sufficient evidence linking the opposition figure to air force officials involved in the coup as well as to rightwing terrorist leaders such as Lorent Saleh, who was extradited by Colombian authorities to face charges last year.
The other high profile Venezuelan opposition leader currently facing trial is Leopoldo López, who was indicted for his role in leading several months of violent opposition protests last year with the aim of effecting the “exit”, or ouster, of the constitutional government. Known as the “guarimbas”, these violent protests and street barricades caused the death of 43 people, the majority of whom were security personnel or Chavistas.
Ledezma and López, together with far right leader Maria Corina Machado, were active in the 2002 coup against then president Hugo Chávez, which succeeded in temporarily ousting the Venezuelan leader until he was restored by a popular uprising.
All three opposition leaders also signed a “National Transition Agreement” released on the day prior to February’s “Blue Coup” attempt, describing the government of Nicolas Maduro as in its “terminal phase” and declaring the need to “name new authorities” without mentioning elections or other constitutional mechanisms. Many political commentators interpreted the document as an open call for a coup against the president.
The Venezuelan government has charged the U.S. government with hypocrisy on the issue of human rights, and in particular the mass repression and incarceration of Afrodescendent communities in the U.S.
On February 28, President Maduro announced new measures imposing a reciprocal travel visa requirements on U.S. citizens seeking to enter Venezuela as well as mandating a reduction in U.S. embassy staff to levels that match the number of Venezuelan personnel in Washington.
Maduro also announced the creation of an “anti-terrorist list” of individuals barred from entering Venezuela, which will include former U.S. officials such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have reportedly “committed human rights violations.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez, has confirmed that the Bolivarian government will soon issue an official response to the order.