As reflected in a recent NATO conference in Latvia and in the Pentagon’s new “Law of War” manual, the U.S. government has come to view the control and manipulation of information as a “soft power” weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase “strategic communications.”
This attitude has led to treating psy-ops – manipulative techniques for influencing a target population’s state of mind and surreptitiously shaping people’s perceptions – as just a normal part of U.S. and NATO’s information policy.
Dr. Stephen Badsey, Professor of Conflict studies, Wolverhampton University, U.K.
“The NATO case and argument is that NATO’s approach to psy-ops is to treat it as an essentially open, truthful and benign activity and that, plus the elimination of any meaningful distinctions between domestic and foreign media institutions and social media, means that psy-ops and public affairs have effectively fused,” said British military historian, Dr. Stephen Badsey, one of the world’s leading authorities on war and the media.
Badsey said NATO has largely abandoned the notion that there should be a clear distinction between psy-ops and public affairs, although NATO officially rules out the dissemination of “black propaganda,” knowingly false information designed to discredit an adversary.
“The long argument as to whether a firewall should be maintained between psy-ops and information activities and public affairs has now largely ended, and in my view the wrong side won,” Badsey added.
And, as part of this Brave New World of “strategic communications,” the U.S. military and NATO have now gone on the offensive against news organizations that present journalism which is deemed to undermine the perceptions that the U.S. government seeks to convey to the world.
That attitude led to the Pentagon’s new “Law of War” manual which suggests journalists in wartime may be considered “spies” or “unprivileged belligerents,” creating the possibility that reporters could be subject to indefinite incarceration, military tribunals and extrajudicial execution – the same treatment applied to Al Qaeda terrorists who are also called “unprivileged belligerents.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Pentagon Manual Calls Some Reporters Spies.”]
The revised “Law of War” manual has come under sharp criticism from representatives of both mainstream and independent media, including The New York Times’ editors and the Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as academics such as Dr. Badsey.
“The attitude toward the media expressed in the 2015 Pentagon manual is a violation of the international laws of war to which the USA is a signatory, going back to the 1907 Hague Convention, and including the Geneva Conventions,” said Badsey, a professor of conflict studies at Wolverhampton University in the United Kingdom and a long-time contact of mine who is often critical of U.S. military information tactics.
“But [the manual] is a reflection of the attitude fully displayed more than a decade ago in Iraq where the Pentagon decided that some media outlets, notably Al Jazeera, were enemies to be destroyed rather than legitimate news sources.”
The Vietnam Debate
The Pentagon’s hostility toward journalists whose reporting undermines U.S. government propaganda goes back even further, becoming a tendentious issue during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s when the war’s supporters accused American journalists of behaving treasonously by reporting critically about the U.S. military’s strategies and tactics, including exposure of atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.
In the 1980s, conservatives in the Reagan administration – embracing as an article of faith that “liberal” reporters contributed to the U.S. defeat in Vietnam – moved aggressively to discredit journalists who wrote about human rights violations by U.S.-backed forces in Central America. In line with those hostile attitudes, news coverage of President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 was barred, and in 1990-91, President George H.W. Bush tightly controlled journalists trying to report on the Persian Gulf War. By keeping out – or keeping a close eye on – reporters, the U.S. military acted with fewer constraints and abuses went largely unreported.
This so-called “weaponizing of information” turned even more lethal during the presidency of Bill Clinton and the war over Kosovo when NATO identified Serb TV as an enemy “propaganda center” and dispatched warplanes to destroy its studios in Belgrade. In April 1999, acting under orders from U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, American bombers fired two cruise missiles that reduced Radio Televizija Srbija to a pile of rubble and killed 16 civilian Serb journalists working for the government station.
Despite this willful slaughter of unarmed journalists, the reaction from most U.S. news organizations was muted. However, an independent association of electronic media in Yugoslavia condemned the attack.
“History has shown that no form of repression, particularly the organized and premeditated murder of journalists, can prevent the flow of information, nor can it prevent the public from choosing its own sources of information,” the group said.
The (London) Independent’s Robert Fisk remarked at the time, “once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you change the rules of war.” Now, the Pentagon is doing exactly that, literally rewriting its “Law of War” manual to allow for the no-holds-barred treatment of “enemy” journalists as “unprivileged belligerents.”
Despite the 1999 targeting of a news outlet in order to silence its reporting, a case for war crimes was never pursued against the U.S. and NATO officials responsible, and retired General Clark is still a frequent guest on CNN and other American news programs.
Targeting Al Jazeera
During the presidency of George W. Bush, the Arab network Al Jazeera was depicted as “enemy media” deserving of destruction rather than being respected as a legitimate news organization – and the news network’s offices were struck by American bombs. On Nov. 13, 2001, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, a U.S. missile hit Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul, destroying the building and damaging the homes of some employees.
On April 8, 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a U.S. missile hit an electricity generator at Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, touching off a fire that killed reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding a colleague. The Bush administration insisted that the attacks on Al Jazeera offices were “accidents.”
However, in 2004, as the U.S. occupation of Iraq encountered increased resistance and U.S. forces mounted a major offensive in the city of Fallujah, Al Jazeera’s video of the assault graphically depicted the devastation – and on April 15, 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld decried Al Jazeera’s coverage as “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”
According to a British published report on the minutes of a meeting the next day between President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush suggested bombing Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar but was talked out of the idea by Blair who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.
During the Iraq War, Dr. Badsey wrote the following observation which I cited in my book on military/media relations, Inappropriate Conduct: “The claim that in 2004 at the first battle of Fallujah the U.S. Marine Corps ‘weren’t beaten by the terrorists and insurgents, they were beaten by Al Jazeera television’ rather than that they [U.S. forces] employed inappropriate tactics for the political environment of their mission, is recognizable as yet another variant on the long-discredited claim that the Vietnam War was lost on the television screens of America.”
Although the notion of Vietnam-era journalists for U.S. media acting as a fifth column rather than a Fourth Estate is widely accepted among conservatives, the reality was always much different, with most of the early Vietnam War coverage largely favorable, even flattering, before journalists became more skeptical as the war dragged on.
In a recent interview on NPR radio, Charles Adams, a senior editor of the new “Law of War” manual, was unable to cite examples of journalists jeopardizing operations in the last five wars – and that may be because there were so few examples of journalistic misconduct and the handful of cases involved either confusion about rules or resistance to news embargoes that were considered unreasonable.
Examining the history of reporters dis-accredited during the Vietnam War, William Hammond, author of a two-volume history of U.S. Army relations with the media in Vietnam, found only eight dis-accreditations, according to military files.
Arguably the most serious case involved the Baltimore Sun’s John Carroll, an Army veteran himself who believed strongly that it was important that the American people be as thoroughly informed about the controversial war as possible. He got in trouble for reporting that the U.S. Marines were about to abandon their base at Khe Sahn. He was accused of violating an embargo and was stripped of his credentials, though he argued that the North Vietnamese surrounding the base were well aware of the troop movement.
Toward the end of the war, some reporters also considered the South Vietnamese government so penetrated by the communists that there were no secrets anyway. Prime Minister Nguyen van Thieu’s principal aide was a spy and everyone knew it except the American people.
During his long career, which included the editorship of the Los Angeles Times, Carroll came to view journalists “almost as public servants and a free press as essential to a self-governing nation,” according to his obituary in The New York Times after his death on June 14, 2015.
During the Obama administration, the concept of “strategic communication” – managing the perceptions of the world’s public – has grown more and more expansive and the crackdown on the flow of information unprecedented. More than any of his predecessors, President Barack Obama has authorized harsh legal action against government “leakers” who have exposed inconvenient truths about U.S. foreign policy and intelligence practices.
And Obama’s State Department has mounted a fierce public campaign against the Russian network, RT, that is reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s hostility toward Serb TV and Bush-43’s anger toward Al Jazeera.
Since RT doesn’t use the State Department’s preferred language regarding the Ukraine crisis and doesn’t show the requisite respect for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev, the network is denounced for its “propaganda,” but this finger-pointing is really just part of the playbook for “information warfare,” raising doubts about the information coming from your adversary while creating a more favorable environment for your own propaganda. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s the Propagandist? US or RT?”]
This growing fascination with “strategic communication” has given rise to NATO’s new temple to information technology, called “The NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence” or STRATCOM, located in Latvia, a former Soviet republic that is now on the front lines of the tensions with Russia.
On Aug. 20, some of the most influential minds from the world of “strategic communications” gathered in Latvia’s capital of Riga for a two-day conference entitled “Perception Matters.” A quotation headlined in all its communications read: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” – noble sentiments perhaps but not always reflected in the remarks by more than 200 defense and communications experts, many of whom viewed information not as some neutral factor necessary for enlightening the public and nourishing democracy, but as a “soft power” weapon to be wielded against an adversary.
Hawkish Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, led a delegation of U.S. senators and said STRATCOM was needed to combat Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. “This Center will help spread the truth,” said McCain – although “the truth” in the world of “strategic communications” can be a matter of perception.
Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of a new book, Inappropriate Conduct, the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.
The US is playing games with public trust by passing different versions of the same intrusive surveillance system, a modern day Panopticon. Any alleged changes to the bulk collection program are purely cosmetic, according to ex-MI5 agent Annie Machon.
The recently passed USA Freedom Act was hailed as a stepping stone on the way to renewed public trust after the highly controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired in May. Under the new law, the practice of bulk data collection on US citizens will be entrusted to telecom companies, and the NSA will be able to obtain the records through seeking a warrant from the FISA court.
So what does this recent decision mean with regards to the NSA’s bulk collection program, and can Americans feel more at ease about the security of their phone data with the introduction of the new Freedom Act? RT asked the former MI5 agent-turned-whistleblower for her take.
RT: Firstly, what’s your take on this? It’s an isolated court case, you could say, but does it have any big impact, do you think, on the NSA spying program.
Annie Machon: It’s business as usual for them. I’m sure they’re very happy to be told what they’re doing is legal, now. I mean, there have been a number of challenges, where different levels of courts in the US have said bulk metadata collection is legal; it’s illegal; it’s legal again. But, actually, what they’ve been doing is just business as usual under the 215 Section of the Patriot Act, which I think Congress was due to re-ratify at the beginning of June, but it became a bit gridlocked in the whole system. So, you know, they will be very happy with this result.
RT: Certainly, President Obama seems very happy. You know, the White House has hailed the ruling. But earlier in the year, we did hear Obama saying “We’re promising to reform things, too.” Do you think there’s been a significant change in attitude in the White House?
AM: I think they’ve passed the buck, basically, to the judiciary to take the hard decisions. So, now they’ve got this ruling, they don’t need to make the hard political decisions. They’ll just say, “Well, the judge just said its constitutional; that’s fine,” which is bad enough for the American citizens, within America, who will continue to be spied on extensively in the face of this nebulous and ever-changing terrorist threat. However, of course, none of this, whatsoever, had any relevance to the rest of us around the world, where the NSA could merrily go on spying on us all, to every degree they want to, because we’re not American citizens. So, it’s a bit of a back step for privacy advocates in America, but it’s no change for the rest of us.
RT: Yeah, you say no change, Annie, but you know, we’ve got the new Freedom Act to look forward to, too. You know, the one that will replace the Patriot Act. Surely, that’s a step forward, though, isn’t it?
AM: That’s one for Orwellian Newsspeak, I think. “You’re free.” No you’re not. It’s not a freedom act; it’s a surveillance act. They’re trying to recast it to make it sound good, but it’s not. And even if that’s the case in America, even if the NSA were reigned in, and they were not allowed to spy on American citizens, all they have to do is ask their buddies in the Five Eyes group, which would be Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or the UK, to do the spying for them, which would be perfectly legal under any of those countries’ oversight systems, and then just pass the information to the Americans. So, it is, as I said, very much business as usual. They will always find a way to subvert any notional political oversight within their own countries by sharing this information between themselves, and spying on everyone else’s systems. So, we are all still, very much, living under a global Panopticon.
And none of this has any real impact on protecting us from terrorism. We’ve seen this time, and time again. An NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, senior staff, said that, actually, there was a lot of information the NSA had in the run up to 9/11, and yet it was not communicated or acted upon appropriately, so the attack occurred. And then we see current and very recent intelligence chiefs in America saying, for example, you know, “Well it stopped all these terrorism attacks.” And they’ve been caught lying under oath to Congress about this. This bulk metadata creates a huge haystack from which no needles have, effectively, been found.
A US MQ-9 Reaper assassination drone
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking Democratic nomination for the 2016 US presidential election, says he will continue the Pentagon’s assassination drone program.
In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Sanders said that he would limit the use of US terror drones, but said that he would not end the targeted killing campaign.
“I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case,” Sanders said.
“What you can argue is that there are times and places where drone attacks have been effective,” he added.
“There are times and places where they have been absolutely counter-effective and have caused more problems than they have solved. When you kill innocent people, what the end result is that people in the region become anti-American who otherwise would not have been,” said the junior senator from Vermont.
Since 2001, the United States has been carrying out drone attacks in several countries, including Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The aerial attacks were initiated by former US President George W. Bush but have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Former US drone operator Brandon Bryant, who was involved in the killing of more than 1,600 people, revealed earlier this year that aerial strikes are conducted with complete uncertainty.
Bryant, who worked for almost five years in America’s secret drone program bombing targets in Afghanistan and other countries, such as Pakistan and Iraq, said operators lacked visibility and were not sure about the identity of the people they were shooting at.
“We see silhouette, shadows of people, and we kill those shadows,” he said.
The hysterical campaign launched against the Iran nuclear deal by the flag-waving militarist partisans in and around the US congress has terribly obfuscated the issues included in the deal. Not surprisingly, the campaign has created a number of misconceptions regarding both the actual contents of the deal and the main disagreements between the advocates and opponents of the deal.
One such misconception is that the deal is, or must be, more advantageous to Iran than the US and Israel; otherwise, the simple logic goes, there would not be so much opposition to it. Such impressions, created simply by all the hue and cry on the part of the opponents of the deal are patently false. Even a cursory reading of the nuclear agreement reveals that, as I pointed out in a recent article on the issue, it is highly skewed against Iran. Not only does the agreement downgrade and freeze Iran’s peaceful nuclear technology, it also limits the scope of the county’s scientific research and development, jeopardizes its national security or defense capabilities and, perhaps most importantly, undermines its national sovereignty.
So, considering the fact the deal represents a big win for the US and its allies and, by the same token, a major loss for Iran, why all the uproar against it?
A number of reasons can be thought of for all the war party’s feverish hullabaloo. The main reason, however, seems to be that while the deal obviously represents a fantastic victory for the US and its allies, it nonetheless falls short of what the war party projected and fought for, that is, devastating regime change by military means, similar to what was done to Iraq and Libya.
The second misconception that the war party’s vehement opposition to the nuclear deal has created is that their ultimate goal vis-à-vis Iran is significantly different from that of the Obama administration and other proponents of the deal. In reality, however, the difference between the opponents and proponents of the deal is largely tactical; strategically, both factions pursue the same objective: regime change in Iran.
While the advocates of the deal have in recent years switched their tactics from direct military intervention and regime change from without to soft-power methods of regime change from within, the opponents of the deal continue to insist that overwhelming military force and escalating economic strangulation are the more effective means of regime change in Tehran, that is, regime change from outside.
This does not mean that the advocates of the nuclear deal have ruled out the military option altogether—by no means. As President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials have frequently pointed out, the military option is on the table when/if needed, that is, if Iran fails to carry out all the punishing obligations under the nuclear deal.
The tactical switch by the proponents of the deal from military to soft-power methods of regime change did not come about overnight, or by an epiphany. For over thirty years since the 1979 revolution in Iran, which significantly undermined the U.S. influence in that country and elsewhere in the region, these proponents, like their counterparts in the war party, pursued policies of regime change from outside. These included instigation of and support for Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, training and supporting destabilizing terrorist organizations to attack Iran from all corners of the country, constant war and military threats, efforts to sabotage the 2009 presidential election through the so-called “green revolution,” and systematic escalation of economic sanctions.
Not only did these evil schemes fall short of their nefarious goal of “regime change” in Iran, they in fact drove the country to become a major power in the region.
In the face of the brutal economic sanctions and constant military threats, Iran embarked on a relatively radical path of a public/state-guided economy that successfully provided both for the war mobilization to defend its territorial integrity and for respectable living conditions of its population. By taking control of the commanding heights of the national economy, and effectively utilizing the revolutionary energy and dedication of their people, Iranian policy makers at the time also succeeded in taking significant steps toward economic self-reliance, which further thwarted the geopolitical plans of the US and its allies to bring Iran to its knees, or to overthrow its government.
Having thus failed at its plots of “regime change” from without, a major faction of the US ruling class, headed by the Obama administration, now seems to have opted for regime change (or reform) from within; that is, through political and economic rapprochement with Iran—using the nuclear negotiations as a starting point, or transitional channel.
What has made this option more promising in recent years is the rise of a well-organized, Western-oriented neoliberal capitalist class in Iran whose chief priority seems to be the ability to do business with their counterparts in the West.
Many of the once revolutionary leaders who successfully managed the 1980-88 war economy have now become business entrepreneurs and prosperous capitalists. Having effectively enriched themselves in the shadow of the public sector economy, these folks are now ready to do business American style, that is, follow the neoliberal/austerity model of economics.
It is thus understandable why major factions within Iran’s ruling circles, represented largely by the Rouhani administration, have no stomach for a regimented, war-like economy; and why they support the highly disgraceful compromises made by Iran’s nuclear negotiators to the United States and its allies. For the rich and powerful elites of these circles issues such as nuclear technology or national sovereignty are of secondary importance to self-enrichment, or profit motive.
It follows that the Obama administration and other US advocates of the nuclear deal opted for negotiation with Iran only after they came to the realization that (a) continuing on the path of regime change from outside tended to be ineffective, or even counterproductive, and (b) the rise of a pro-US, collaborationist capitalist class in Iran increasingly promised to be a more effective vehicle of spreading the US influence in Iran and, ultimately, of regime change from within.
Indeed, the Obama administration’s recent approach of relying primarily on business/market forces of regime change, or modification, without ruling out the military option is likely to be more effective in achieving its goal than the war party’s reckless insistence on escalating sanctions and military threats.
The effectiveness of this approach lies in the fact that, as pointed out earlier, the nuclear deal would significantly limit Iran’s military and defense capabilities. The deal would also avail the US extensive knowledge of Iran’s economic, technological, security, and military capabilities and, therefore, vulnerabilities. This means that if at any time in the future Iran defies or resists the heavy-handed imperialistic designs of the United States, the US can then employ its war machine more effectively as it would have the necessary information on strategic places or targets to be attacked or bombarded.
This is no speculation or conspiracy theory. It is, indeed, a scenario projected by the Obama administration officials and other advocates of the nuclear deal as they promote it ahead of the next month’s critical vote in Congress. “In meetings on Capitol Hill and with influential policy analysts, administration officials argue that inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities under the deal will reveal important details that can be used for better targeting should the U.S. decide to attack Iran” .
Commenting on this ominous depraved scheme, Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Michael Crowley of Politico, “It’s certainly an argument I’ve heard made. . . . We’ll be better off with the agreement were we to need to use force” .
To see how this menacing projection is not simply an abstract or partisan argument, suffice it to remember the fact that this is exactly what was done to Iraq and Libya. In both cases, the United States and its allies used disingenuous negotiations with Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qaddafi as pretexts to collect information about their military/defense capabilities and, then, used the information thus acquired for targeted bombardment and effective invasion.
 Michael Crowley, The ultimate argument in favor of the Iran deal: The agreement would make it easier to bomb Iran, administration officials have told lawmakers.
Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics (Drake University). He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2014), and The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave–Macmillan 2007).
Washington is committed to be fully engaged in the talks aimed at settling the Transnistria conflict, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated in a statement on Wednesday.
“You may be sure that America will remain unwavering in its support for Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will continue to play an active role in the 5+2 negotiations aimed at peacefully resolving the Transnistria dispute,” Kerry said.
Kerry issued his statement on the occasion of Moldova’s National Day. The secretary stressed the US support for Moldova government’s efforts to undertake reforms.
Transnistria, a region with a predominantly Russian and Ukrainian population broke away from the Soviet republic of Moldova in 1990, fearing its government could seek reintegration with neighboring Romania. The initiative triggered Moldova’s offensive on the region in 1992, after which it lost control over the Dniester River’s left bank.
The region is now striving for international recognition, while Moldova offers Transnistria autonomy within a unitary state.
The 5+2 format negotiators include Russia, Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine, the OSCE and observers from the European Union and the United States.
State Department is hobbled by identity politics
The pending normalization of full diplomatic relations with Cuba is long overdue and it is to be hoped that the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program will survive a congressional onslaught next month. That is all to the good and the administration of President Barack Obama deserves full credit for persevering in spite of nearly incessant attacks from the Israeli and Cuban lobbies both in congress and the media.
But even as the dust begins to settle the New York Times is reporting on a new existential crisis: same-sex marriages in the Foreign Service explored in an article entitled “State Department Fights for Rights of Gay Envoys.” Not that the Gray Lady is opposed to same-sex marriages for diplomats, quite the contrary. Its concern is that many highly qualified diplomats are turning down assignments because some benighted countries do not recognize same-sex unions and therefore do not accept that a man plus man or woman plus woman relationship actually qualifies as a diplomatic family. Which means that some Foreign Ministries are denying visas or accreditation for same-sex spouses. Worse still, as many countries regard homosexual behavior as a criminal offense, it suggests the possibility that some categories of Embassy and Consular family members not covered by full diplomatic immunity might find themselves arrested.
The Obama Administration is predictably outraged and is reported to be frantically working on the problem with the State Department making “securing the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world a priority” (my emphasis). But to my mind the fundamental problem is not same-sex marriage per se, which most Americans now no longer oppose, but the failure to comprehend what Embassies and Consular posts are supposed to do coupled with a characteristic inability to understand that American principles and rules, such as they are, do not have universal applicability. This is particularly true in the case of gay marriage, which impacts on sincerely held religious views and which is still a bone of contention even in the relatively tolerant United States and Western Europe.
Government at the White House level frequently does not understand how the great federal bureaucracies actually work. Contrary to the Times headline, being part of a diplomatic mission is a privilege, not a universal right, and both by law and convention the host country pretty much sets the rules on who may enter and under what conditions.
The article quotes Michael Guest, a gay former ambassador to Romania, who said “It’s increasingly a problem, as some countries have wanted to take a stand on the issue of marriage equality that isn’t really theirs to take.” He is wrong. The Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations stipulates that any country can expel or refuse to accept the presence of a foreign diplomat without providing any reasons whatsoever. Article 9 includes “The receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable.” This is an option that the United States has exercised frequently in espionage cases as well as more recently in refusing to issue a visa to a proposed Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, for which the U.S. is the host nation.
The United States has also somewhat more questionably taken steps to restrict the travels of accredited diplomats with whom it is uncomfortable. Soviet era dips from Eastern Europe and Russia were generally required to get approval for traveling more than 25 miles outside of New York City or Washington and there have been similar restrictions on the movement of both Palestinian and Iranian representatives. So the host country is not obligated to accept anyone else’s standards and can in many respects set whatever rules it wishes within its sovereign territory.
Past U.S. determinations of who or what was acceptable were based on what were deemed to be security issues but the same sex marriage problem is something quite different. To be sure there have been homosexuals in government since the time of Pharaoh Khufu, and the United States Department of State has long had considerably more than its share with the once-upon-a-time understanding that it was best to stay in the closet. This was the rule in post-World War 2 America, both for diplomats and intelligence personnel, and it was largely justified by the danger of blackmail or the creation of diplomatic “incidents” as homosexual activity was illegal almost everywhere. When I served in the Rome Embassy in the 1970s one particularly flamboyant political officer who was almost but not quite out of the closet was generally accepted until he was observed regularly cruising at odd hours in the nearby Villa Borghese Park, leading to his being warned to cool his jets lest he come to the attention of the Carabinieri, who at that time staged regular roundups at gay gatherings to target what was then regarded as public indecency.
But one’s sexual preferences were rarely a problem in Italy back then and even less so now as homosexual relations have been legal since 1890. Civil unions that guarantee property rights, pensions or inheritance without regard to gender do not, however, exist in law, which means there are no same-sex marriages. One imagines that same-sex couples who go to diplomatic posts in Italy do so with a wink and a nod from the authorities at the Foreign Ministry, who are not likely to make an issue out of it. But Italian deliberate ambiguity about what constitutes a marriage is not the norm everywhere else. By one estimate 50% of all Foreign Service posts do not recognize or accept same-sex diplomatic or official couples.
The State Department sensibly insists that all of its employees should be free to accept assignments anywhere in the world, but not so sensibly it has appointed a Special Envoy for the Rights of Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, both politicizing the issue and turning American diplomats into promoters of personal choices that many foreigners consider immoral as well as illegal. And Congress has predictably jumped on the band wagon with 100 Congressmen (99 Democrats and one Republican) calling on State to reciprocate by denying visas for families of diplomats from countries that discriminate against homosexuals.
In tackling the LGBT issue as a global crusade while also making it a major concern for U.S. embassies the White House and Democrats in Congress are not really doing anyone any favors. Overseas diplomatic missions exist to benefit broad American national interests, not to promote specific group agendas or to confront the host country on its laws and customs. Ambassadors traditionally enabled dialogue and established communications channels among nations while the consular services provided a mechanism to help ensure that American travelers and businessmen would be treated fairly by the local authorities. Having an embassy did not mean that Americans should not be subject to local laws, nor did it serve as a blunt instrument to demand that the foreigners be required to accept American values and customs.
But that vision of diplomacy was all before “democracy promotion,” much loved by Democratic presidents enamored of social engineering, for whom LGBT is almost certainly seen as a subset of democracy. And if past experience of government is anything to go by, this Obama initiative will probably morph into a War on Homophobia under President Hillary Clinton complete with a Czar and a substantial budget to pay for lots of first class travel to hotspots like Copenhagen to participate in conferences convened by gay rights activists.
In truth, the democracy cum human rights agenda has undeniably done a great deal of damage to the United States. It is still falsely cited as the one benefit that came out of the invasion of Iraq and is also used to justify the continued presence in Afghanistan. It led to the unfortunate intervention in Libya, fueled the drive to “do something” in Syria, overthrew an elected government in Ukraine and it is also behind much of the criticism of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. In reality all the frenetic activity to turn the world into Peoria has produced little beyond trillions of dollars of debt, thousands of dead Americans and quite likely millions of dead foreigners.
And the focus on cultural and social issues is frequently a perversion of diplomacy. Some recent Ambassadorial appointees, to include Michael McFaul in Russia and Robert Ford in Syria, were intended to confront the domestic policies of local governments that Washington disapproved of rather than to engage with them in dialogue. Beyond that, America’s roving mischief makers to include the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and various Senators named McCain and Graham showed up regularly in troubled regions to harass the local authorities. To put it mildly, that is not what diplomacy is all about. Diplomacy is a process whereby no one wins everything while no one loses completely producing a result that everyone can live with. It is not about “We are right. Take it or leave it.”
It is indeed acceptable for a national government to urge greater tolerance as President Obama did on his recent trip to Africa but creating a bureaucracy to assert the global primacy of American values to include what constitutes a marriage benefits no one, least of all those being “protected,” as in many countries that would only serve to enable labeling the sexual dissidents as American agents. And the idea of punishing the families of diplomats from countries that see marriage differently is completely absurd as it will produce retaliation, damaging to genuine American interests and potentially threatening the security of U.S. diplomats overseas.
The entire feel good process of instructing others how to live derives from a peculiar American sense that we somehow understand important things better than anyone else and everyone should follow our lead. It is a dangerous conceit as it breeds resentment and inevitably leads to tit-for-tat responses that serve no purpose. The United States is already viewed negatively by a large part of the world. Adding fuel to the fire by complaining about others’ values while promoting marginal causes that inevitably will be controversial is not what most American citizens should expect from their government. Unfortunately it is all too often what we wind up getting.
The US Air Force said its F-22 Raptor stealth fighters will be sent to Europe to show “commitment to the security and stability” of its allies. The Air Force Secretary tied the move to the US’ “approach to Russia,” linking it to the crisis in Ukraine.
The deployment, slated to occur “very soon,” was described as part of the “European Reassurance Initiative,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a Pentagon briefing on Monday. She added that it was “to support combatant commander requirements” in the region.
James said Russia’s “military activity” in Ukraine continued to be of great concern to the US and its European allies, and that the deployment of the F-22s was “certainly on the strong side of the coin.” She also quoted Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who said last week, “Our approach to Russia needs to be strong and it needs to be balanced.”
James told reporters that, for operational security reasons, “we cannot share with you the exact dates or locations of this deployment.”
The F-22 stealth fighter is a fifth generation aircraft capable of dropping precision bombs on targets from up to 15 miles away.
A reporter asked if the announcement was a message the Air Force was delivering to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
General Mark Welsh said the deployment to Europe was “just a continuation of deploying the F-22s everywhere we can to train with our partners,” and that it “was primarily for a major exercise, training with our European partners.” However, he added that the deployment would put F-22s “into facilities that we would potentially use in a conflict in Europe.”
The F-22 fighter’s deployment in Europe was first floated in June, when Secretary James listed Russia as the “biggest threat on my mind” when asked about the greatest threat faced by the US Air Force by a reporter at a Paris Air Show.
In February and March, the Air Force sent two units of A-10 and F-15C jets to Europe along with about 300 airmen to spend six months flying missions across the continent, according to airforcetimes.com. The US currently has 65,000 active-duty service members stationed in Europe, with the majority made up of airmen and soldiers.
News of the deployment comes as the US military is engaged with 11 NATO member states in a month-long war game. About 5,000 soldiers are participating in simultaneous airborne operations. One of the most anticipated drills will take place on August 26, when NATO planes will drop more than 1,000 paratroopers in the Hohenfels training area in Germany.
In Moscow, a member of the Russian Duma’s defense committee, Franz Klintsevich, said the Russian military is “closely monitoring” the situation and is ready to react in the case of any aggression. He said Moscow has been taking note of NATO’s buildup up of forces, as well as all of the West’s rhetoric concerning “Russian aggression.”
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, told The National Interest in an interview last week that “breaking Russia has become an objective [for US officials]; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.”
“If we treat Russia seriously as a great power, we need at an early stage to determine whether their concerns can be reconciled with our necessities,” he said.
Kissinger laid blame for sparking the Ukrainian conflict at the door of the EU, which he said had proposed a trade deal in 2013 without considering how it would alienate Moscow and divide the Ukrainian people.
Shaker Aamer © Wikipedia
American authorities are “shamefully” refusing to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident detained at Guantanamo Bay, despite calls from Prime Minister David Cameron for the prisoner to be freed, a lawyer has claimed.
Aamer’s legal counsel Ramzi Kassem called on the British government to pressure the White House further after President Barack Obama promised to “prioritize” his case in January.
Kassem also blasted the US government for refusing to allow Aamer access to independent doctors, despite concerns over the neutrality of army medical personnel.
The New York-based lawyer said the physical condition of Aamer, who has been imprisoned without trial for 14 years, “deteriorates with each passing day.”
Kassem filed a 26-page motion at a court in Washington calling for the British resident to be examined by two independent doctors and an army doctor to gauge how Aamer is coping with post-traumatic stress.
The Department of Defense has rejected the request, claiming it is too “difficult.”
Aamer’s last independent assessment took place in October 2013, when Californian psychiatrist Dr. Emily Keram described he had been mentally “destroyed” by interrogators, who allegedly subjected him to sleep deprivation and beatings.
Law professor Kassem expressed dismay at the reluctance of US authorities to release Aamer.
“It is truly shameful that we have to litigate every step of the way despite the prime minister’s demand and the president’s pledge to prioritize Shaker’s case,” he said.
“The UK government must press the White House to make good on its promise. The only thing more shameful are the arguments the US government is making in court to prevent Shaker’s examination.”
Cameron raised the issue with Obama on his official visit to the US earlier this year.
Obama promised to “prioritize” the case in January, but Aamer’s legal team claim nothing has been done to progress his case.
Writing in the Guardian last Friday, Aamer’s UK lawyer Clive Stafford Smith claimed the US military has deliberately ignored Obama’s order in breach of the constitution.
“President Obama, it seems, has personally ordered Aamer’s release, and his subordinates have ignored and thwarted his order,” Smith wrote.
“The contravention of the president’s orders indicates that there is a profound problem with the state of democracy in America.”
Kassem slammed the US government for not taking Aamer’s physical and mental health seriously.
He condemned the United States’ “self-servingly attempts to dismiss Mr. Aamer’s reliably-diagnosed and grave ailments as only ‘minor long-term impairments.’”
Aamer has never been charged with a crime or faced trial since he arrived at the high security prison in Cuba.
In describing his treatment at Guantanamo Bay, Aamer said he was stripped of his pride.
“I was not a human being any more. I meant nothing to them. I lost my dignity, my pride,” he said.
“I had to take off my underwear and hand it to them. I had sleep deprivation for 11 days. That made me crazy. They poured cold water over me. They kept me standing for 20 hours a day. I had to hold my hands and arms out.
“All of the statements I made at Bagram were during the sleep deprivation. I would have said anything. I told them, ‘I will tell you I am Bin Laden if you want me to,’” he said.
Aamer was arrested in 2001 in Afghanistan and subsequently moved to Guantanamo Bay, where in 2007 the US military claimed he was a “close associate” of Osama Bin Laden and a “recruiter, financier, and facilitator” for Al-Qaeda.
The Saudi citizen has always insisted he was only in the country to perform charitable work and said he confessed to being a jihadist while being tortured at the hands of the CIA.
Right before Congress left for its annual summer vacation the Obama Administration endorsed the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). EFF opposes the bill because its vague definitions, broad legal immunity, and new spying powers allow for a tremendous amount of unnecessary damage to users’ privacy. Just last week the Department of Homeland Security agreed and criticized CISPA for its lack of privacy protections. More importantly, CISA fails to address the causes of the recent highly publicized data breaches.
The Obama administration’s endorsement is a complete reversal from its previous stance on privacy-invasive cybersecurity bills. In 2012, the White House published a detailed two-page veto threat against CISA’s antecedent, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). In the letter the Administration noted CISPA:
lacks sufficient limitations on the sharing of personally identifiable information between private entities
and that it would
inappropriately shield companies from any suits where a company’s actions are based on cyber threat information identified, obtained, or shared under this bill, regardless of whether that action otherwise violated Federal criminal law or results in damage or loss of life.
The same is true of CISA, which is why the Administration should’ve vetoed the bill. Like CISPA, CISA
- Adds a new authority for companies to monitor information systems to protect an entity’s hardware or software.
- Fails to mandate companies and the government remove unrelated personal information before sharing it with government agencies like the NSA.
- Grants broad legal immunity to companies for sharing more private information with the government than they’re currently permitted to do.
Lastly, CISA, like CISPA, doesn’t address problems identified by recent data breaches like unencrypted files, poor computer architecture, un-updated servers, and employees (or contractors) clicking malware links.
The administration has invested immense capital into looking strong on cybersecurity since January. And instead of publishing another veto threat, the White House Press Secretary urged the Senate to pass CISA. There was no deep analysis as in 2012. There was no explanation about CISA’s own privacy problems. And there was no acknowledgement about the White House’s sudden change in position.
Even though the President wants to sign the bill, the Senate must pass CISA first. Privacy advocates have defeated these “cybersecurity bills” five times in the past five years. In July, users and privacy advocates postponed a vote on CISA after sending over 6 million faxes opposing CISA to Senators during a Week of Action. Unfortunately, the vote was only postponed to mid-September when Congress gets back from vacation.
We must continue the pressure on the Senate to stop this bill. Please join us in continuing to tell our Senators to say no to CISA.
The United States has more than doubled the number of its military staff “providing intelligence, munitions and midair refueling” for Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes on Yemen.
The number of so-called American advisors working at joint military operations centers in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has risen from 20 to 45, The Los Angeles Times reports.
In addition, US warships have also helped enforce a naval blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea.
US officials stress the sea cordon is intended to prevent weapons shipments to Ansarullah fighters.
However, human rights groups say the blockade has hindered imports of basic commodities, including food and fuel, to the impoverished nation.
Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26 – without a UN mandate – in an effort to undermine Yemen’s popular Houthi Ansarullah movement, whose fighters had forced the US-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, into exile.
A US special operations team was deployed at al-Anad, the country’s largest airbase, to collect intelligence and launch drone strikes in southern Yemen, until it was driven out in March as Ansarullah fighters advanced.
American officials said last week that they will not deploy the team back to Yemen until Hadi, the fugitive former president, is restored to power.
The humanitarian situation has become critical in Yemen, with many international aid organizations seeking a safe passage into the country to supply medical and humanitarian supplies to the most affected people.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a report that the Saudi airstrikes have mostly pounded populated areas with no identifiable military targets nearby, leaving a “bloody trail of civilian death.”
The onslaught has claimed more than 4,300 lives and forced more than 1.3 million others from their homes since March, according to United Nations agencies.
During a recent interview, I was asked to express my conclusions about the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, prompting me to take another hard look at Official Washington’s dubious claims – pointing the finger of blame at eastern Ukrainian rebels and Moscow – based on shaky evidence regarding who was responsible for this terrible tragedy.
Unlike serious professional investigative reporters, intelligence analysts often are required by policymakers to reach rapid judgments without the twin luxuries of enough time and conclusive evidence. Having spent almost 30 years in the business of intelligence analysis, I have faced that uncomfortable challenge more times than I wish to remember.
So, I know what it feels like to confront issues of considerable consequence like the shoot-down of MH-17 and the killing of 298 passengers and crew amid intense pressure to choreograph the judgments to the propagandistic music favored by senior officials who want the U.S. “enemy” – in this case, nuclear-armed Russia and its Western-demonized President Vladimir Putin – to somehow be responsible. In such situations, the easiest and safest (career-wise) move is to twirl your analysis to the preferred tune or at least sit this jig out.
But the trust-us-it-was-Putin marathon dance has now run for 13 months – and it’s getting tiresome to hear the P.R. people in the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper still claiming that the U.S. intelligence community has not revised or updated its analysis of the incident since July 22, 2014, just five days after the crash.
Back then, Clapper’s office, trying to back up Secretary of State John Kerry’s anti-Russian rush to judgment, cited very sketchy evidence – in both senses of the word – drawn heavily from “social media” accounts. Obviously, the high-priced and high-caliber U.S. intelligence community has learned much more about this very sensitive case since that time, but the administration won’t tell the American people and the world. The DNI’s office still refers inquiring reporters back to the outdated report from more than a year ago.
None of this behavior would make much sense if the later U.S. intelligence data supported the hasty finger-pointing toward Putin and the rebels. If more solid and persuasive intelligence corroborated those initial assumptions, you’d think U.S. government officials would be falling over themselves to leak the evidence and declare “we told you so.” And the DNI office’s claim that it doesn’t want to prejudice the MH-17 investigation doesn’t hold water either – since the initial rush to judgment did exactly that.
So, despite the discomfort attached to making judgments with little reliable evidence – and at the risk of sounding like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – it seems high time to address what we know, what we don’t know, and why it may be that we don’t know what we don’t know.
Those caveats notwithstanding I would say it is a safe bet that the hard technical intelligence evidence upon which professional intelligence analysts prefer to rely does not support Secretary of State Kerry’s unseemly rush to judgment in blaming the Russian side just three days after the shoot-down.
‘An Extraordinary Tool’?
When the tragedy occurred U.S. intelligence collection assets were focused laser-like on the Ukraine-Russia border region where the passenger plane crashed. Besides collection from overhead imagery and sensors, U.S. intelligence presumably would have electronic intercepts of communications as well as information from human sources inside many of the various factions.
That would mean that hundreds of intelligence analysts are likely to have precise knowledge regarding how MH-17 was shot down and by whom. Though there may be some difference of opinion among analysts about how to read the evidence – as there often is – it is out of the question that the intelligence community would withhold this data from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and other top officials.
Thus, it is a virtual certainty that the Obama administration has far more conclusive evidence than the “social media” cited by Kerry in casting suspicions on the rebels and Moscow when he made the rounds of Sunday talk shows just three days after the crash. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kerry told David Gregory that “social media” is an “extraordinary tool.” The question is, a tool for what?
The DNI report two days later rehashed many of the “social media” references that Kerry cited and added some circumstantial evidence about Russia providing other forms of military equipment to the rebels. But the DNI report contains no mention of Russia supplying a Buk anti-aircraft missile system that Kerry and the DNI cited as the suspected weapon that downed the plane.
So, why does the administration continue refusing to go beyond such dubious sources and shaky information in attributing blame for the shoot-down? Why not fill in the many blanks with actual and hard U.S. intelligence data that would have been available and examined over the following days and weeks? Did the Russians supply a Buk or other missile battery that would be capable of hitting MH-17 flying at 33,000 feet? Yes or no.
If not supplied by the Russians, did the rebels capture a Buk or similar missile battery from the Ukrainians who had them in their own inventory? Or did some element of the Ukrainian government – possibly associated with one of Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs – fire the missile, either mistaking the Malaysian plane for a Russian one or calculating how the tragedy could be played for propaganda purposes? Or was it some other sinister motive?
Without doubt, the U.S. government has evidence that could support or refute any one of those possibilities, but it won’t tell you even in some declassified summary form. Why? Is it somehow unpatriotic to speculate that John Kerry, with his checkered reputation for truth-telling regarding Syria and other foreign crises, chose right off the bat to turn the MH-17 tragedy to Washington’s propaganda advantage, an exercise in “soft power” to throw Putin on the defensive and rally Europe behind U.S. economic sanctions to punish Russia for supporting ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine resisting the new U.S.-arranged political order in Kiev?
By taking a leaf out of the Bush-Cheney-Tony-Blair playbook, Kerry could “fix the intelligence around the policy” of Putin-bashing. Given the anti-Putin bias rampant in the mainstream Western media, that wouldn’t be a hard sell. And, it wasn’t. The “mainstream” stenographers/journalists quickly accepted that “social media” was indeed a dandy source to rely on – and have never pressed the U.S. government to release any of its intelligence data.
Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the MH-17 shoot-down, there were signs that honest intelligence analysts were not comfortable letting themselves be used as they and other colleagues had been before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
To buttress Kerry’s shaky case, DNI Clapper arranged a flimsy “Government Assessment” – reprising many of Kerry’s references to “social media” – that was briefed to a few hand-picked Establishment reporters two days after Kerry starred on Sunday TV. The little-noticed distinction was that this report was not the customary “Intelligence Assessment” (the genre that has been de rigueur in such circumstances in the past).
The key difference between the traditional “Intelligence Assessment” and this relatively new creation, a “Government Assessment,” is that the latter genre is put together by senior White House bureaucrats or other political appointees, not senior intelligence analysts. Another significant difference is that an “Intelligence Assessment” often includes alternative views, either in the text or in footnotes, detailing disagreements among intelligence analysts, thus revealing where the case may be weak or in dispute.
The absence of an “Intelligence Assessment” suggested that honest intelligence analysts were resisting a knee-jerk indictment of Russia – just as they did after the first time Kerry pulled this “Government Assessment” arrow out of his quiver trying to stick the blame for an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus on the Syrian government.
Kerry cited this pseudo-intelligence product, which contained not a single verifiable fact, to take the United States to the brink of war against President Bashar al-Assad’s military, a fateful decision that was only headed off at the last minute after President Barack Obama was made aware of grave doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts about whodunit. Kerry’s sarin case has since collapsed. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case”]
The sarin and MH-17 cases reveal the continuing struggles between opportunistic political operatives and professional intelligence analysts over how to deal with geopolitical information that can either inform U.S. foreign policy objectively or be exploited to advance some propaganda agenda. Clearly, this struggle did not end after CIA analysts were pressured into giving President George W. Bush the fraudulent – not “mistaken” – evidence that he used to make the case for invading Iraq in 2003.
But so soon after that disgraceful episode, the White House and State Department run the risk that some honest intelligence analysts would blow the whistle, especially given the dangerously blasé attitude in Establishment Washington toward the dangers of escalating the Ukraine confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. Given the very high stakes, perhaps an intelligence professional or two will summon the courage to step up to this challenge.
Falling in Line
For now, the rest of us are told to be satisfied with the Sunday media circus orchestrated by Kerry on July 20, 2014, with the able assistance of eager-to-please pundits. A review of the transcripts of the CBS, NBC, and ABC Sunday follies reveals a remarkable – if not unprecedented — consistency in approach by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, NBC’s David Gregory (ably egged on by Andrea Mitchell), and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, all of whom hewed faithfully to a script apparently given them with two main talking points: (1) blame Putin; and (2) frame the shoot-down as a “wake-up call” (Kerry used the words repeatedly) for European governments to impose tight economic sanctions on Russia.
If the U.S. government’s hope was that the combination of Kerry’s hasty judgment and the DNI’s supportive “Government Assessment” would pin the P.R. blame for MH-17 on Putin and Russia, the gambit clearly worked. The U.S. had imposed serious economic sanctions on Russia the day before the shoot-down – but the Europeans were hesitant. Yet, in the MH-17 aftermath, both U.S. and European media were filled with outrage against Putin for supposedly murdering 298 innocents.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders, who had been resisting imposing strong economic sanctions because of Germany’s and the European Union’s lucrative trade with Russia, let themselves be bulldozed, just two weeks after the shoot-down, into going along with mutually harmful sanctions that have hurt Russia but also have shaken the EU’s fragile economic recovery.
Thus started a new, noxious phase in the burgeoning confrontation between Russia and the West, a crisis that was originally precipitated by a Western-orchestrated coup d’état in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, ousting Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and touching off the current civil war that has witnessed some of the worst bloodshed inside Europe in decades.
It may seem odd that those European leaders allowed themselves to be snookered so swiftly. Did their own intelligence services not caution them against acquiescing over “intelligence” from social media? But the tidal wave of anti-Putin fury in the MH-17 aftermath was hard if not impossible for any Western politician to resist.
Just One Specific Question?
Yet, can the U.S. concealment of its MH-17 intelligence continue indefinitely? Some points beg for answers. For instance, besides describing social media as “an extraordinary tool,” Kerry told David Gregory on July 20, 2014: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
Odd that neither Gregory nor other “mainstream” stenographers have thought to ask Kerry, then or since, to share what he says he “knows” with the American people and the world – if only out of, well, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. If Kerry has sources beyond “social media” for what he claims to “know” and they support his instant claims of Russian culpability, then the importance of his accusations dictates that he describe exactly what he pretends to know and how. But Kerry has been silent on this topic.
If, on the other hand, the real intelligence does not support the brief that Kerry argued right after the shoot-down, well, the truth will ultimately be hard to suppress. Angela Merkel and other leaders with damaged trade ties with Russia may ultimately demand an explanation. Can it be that it will take current European leaders a couple of years to realize they’ve been had — again?
The U.S. government also is likely to face growing public skepticism for using social media to pin the blame on Moscow for the downing of MH-17 – not only to justify imposing economic sanctions, but also to stoke increased hostility toward Russia.
The Obama administration and the mainstream media may try to pretend that no doubt exists – that the “group think” on Russia’s guilt is ironclad. And it seems likely that the official investigations now being conducted by the U.S.-propped-up government in Ukraine and other close U.S. allies will struggle to build a circumstantial case keeping the Putin-did-it narrative alive.
But chickens have a way of coming home to roost.
A prisoner of US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay may soon starve to death, as after more than eight years of force-feeding his body is said to be unable to take the nutrients he is pumped with. The DoD opposed the ailing man’s release.
Tariq Ba Odah, a Saudi resident of Yemeni descent, was captured in Pakistan and held in Guantanamo facility since 2002. In 2009 he was cleared for release by the Obama administration, but remains in US custody. In 2007 he went on a hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without charges. After more than eight years without taking food voluntarily, he weighs less than 34 kilograms and may soon die, his lawyer says.
“Common sense dictates that Mr. Ba Odah is starving because his body is failing to properly absorb and process the liquid calories and nutrients he is being force fed. No other conclusion is viable unless one presumes the government intends to maintain him at just 56 percent of his ideal body weight while he is on hunger strike,” Omar Farah, his lawyer provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), wrote in a legal memorandum.
The CCR sought to secure Ba Odah’s transfer on humanitarian grounds through a US federal court. But the habeas corpus petition has been opposed by the Department of Justice, which late on Friday submitted a filing opposing it. The filing was kept under seal, which is “rare and unnecessary,” as CCR’s Wells Dixon told the Guardian newspaper
Ba Odah’s lawyer Farah said the rights group was “deeply disappointed by this secret filing.”
“It is a transparent attempt to hide the fact that the Obama administration’s interagency process for closing Guantánamo is an incoherent mess, and it is plainly intended to conceal the inconsistency between the administration’s stated intention to close Guantánamo and the steps taken to transfer cleared men. The administration simply wants to avoid public criticism and accountability,” he said.
An anonymous US official confirmed the assessment to the British newspaper, saying the government wants to avoid embarrassment rather than protect classified information by sealing the motion. The source added that hardliners in the Pentagon, who consider hunger striking a form of warfare, would not allow Ba Odah’s struggle for release to be unchallenged. Otherwise it would encourage other hunger strikers and make the DoD appear suffering a substantive defeat, the reasoning goes.
The US mishandles the hunger strike issue at Guantanamo bay, a problem that is far from being unique to that facility, RT was told by Scott Allen, professor of medicine at the University of California, who was part of a task force that examined force feeding procedures that are carried out at detention centers.
“The key mistake that the Department of Defense has made in its approach to hunger strikes is that it thinks of them too often collectively,” he said. “If they are concerned about the life of this individual, which is what they had stated the goal was all along, they need to focus on his case and his case alone and develop a plan that would preserve his life and his dignity.”
President Barack Obama made shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison a campaign issue during his first campaign, but failed to deliver on the promise. The latest move by his administration is to speed up transfer of roughly half of the prison’s 116 inmate population to other countries and have the rest relocated into high security prisons on US soil.
The plan was criticized by rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it fails to address the wider issue with keeping people detained for decades without charges in a denial of core western values.