Professing one’s love for Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II, is shorthand in U.S. politics for: “I think killing Nazis was good.” Churchill is a pugnacious old man with a cigar in his mouth, more an inspirational poster—”Never Give In”—than a real human being, with all our human flaws. Still, it was nonetheless a little strange to hear Bernie Sanders, the social democrat campaigning to be the presidential nominee of the Democrat Party, describing the symbol of giving-it-your-all as one of his two “heroes” at the last debate.
“Winston Churchill’s politics were not my politics,” Sanders began. “He was kind of a conservative guy in many respects,” having been the head of the Conservative Party, “But nobody can deny that as a wartime leader, he rallied the British people when they stood virtually alone against the Nazi juggernaut and rallied them and eventually won.” Along with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the former U.S. president who also killed Nazis, “These are two leaders that I admire very much.”
That the Vermont senator did not name Hugo Chavez or Karl Marx, or even U.S. socialist leader Eugene Debs, is not surprising: Sanders is on the radical left only in relation to the center-right politics of the United States in 2016. Naming Churchill, in this center-right country, is playing it safe, akin to—and another way of—coming out against Adolf Hitler.
But if, as Sanders contends, the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is a vile war criminal responsible for an illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia that aided the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge (“Not my kind of guy,” the senator said), then he should be made aware: Winston Churchill, too, was responsible for many crimes as a wartime leader, beyond just what he himself described as the Allies’ “terror bombing” of German civilians in Dresden.
“I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” Churchill declared in a 1919 memo, referring to the unlucky people of occupied India. Using chemical weapons “would spread a lively terror,” said Churchil—ever the humanitarian, he maintained that the “moral effect” of terrorizing the “natives” would ultimately reduce the loss of life, or so he claimed to believe. As a young man, he gladly took part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples”; as a white supremacist, he believed these people had a “propensity to kill” those attempting to steal their land, thus justifying the civilized white man’s efforts to kill them.
As secretary of state for war in the summer of 1919, Churchill would in fact authorize the use of toxic gas, planning and executing “a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia,” according to The Guardian, in an attempt to terrorize the Bolshevik government into collapse.
Despite his confidence in the humaneness of the weapon—”Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?”—contemporary accounts suggest it was devastatingly lethal. Historian Gles Milton, the author of a book on the matter, noted in an interview with The Telegraph that “one soldier said that all 50 of his comrades were wiped out. It’s difficult to know how many fatalities there were but they dropped thousands of these things on various villages.”
Just as carpet bombing Cambodia did not aid the cause of moderation, dropping toxic gas all over revolutionary Russia did no favors to those revolutionaries who preferred the direct democracy of the soviets to the top-down, and decidedly more austere Stalinism that unsurprisingly prevailed with the help of a bloody civil war fueled by imperialism that left millions of people dead.
At the debate, Sanders said it was “rather amazing” that his rival, Hillary Clinton, would accept the advice of a man like Henry Kissinger, cast today as a round and cuddly figure but in fact “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country,” with the blood of tens of thousands of people on his hands. “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” said Bernie, and bully for him. But if Kissinger’s crimes still matter, so should Winston’s.
Bernie may have just been fishing for a name that wouldn’t peg him as a no-good commie, falling back on an anti-communist that most are unaware was also a criminal white supremacist. But just as Hillary could use better advisers, Bernie should be reminded that he can find much better heroes. Clinton did, playing it safe and less problematic: She went with Nelson Mandela.
The UK must renew its submarine-borne Trident nuclear weapons system if it is to maintain its “outsized” role in the world affairs, said US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
He went on stating that the deterrent allowed Britain to “continue to play that outsized role on the global stage that it does because of its moral standing and its historical standing.”
Carter said the submarine fleet helped the “special relationship” Britain enjoyed with the United States.
The statements come as a decision on replacing the aging fleet of four submarines which carry nuclear warheads is due to be made this year. While Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to renewal, the issue has caused deep divisions in the opposition Labour Party.
The Conservative government has said replacing the submarines will cost 31 billion pounds while media reports put the overall cost of renewing and maintaining a successor to Trident at more than 167 billion pounds over 32 years.
“It’s important that the military power matches that standing and so we’re very supportive of it. We depend upon the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom depends on us, that’s part of the special relationship,” the US official added.
While most lawmakers in Cameron’s party support keeping nuclear weapons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supports unilateral disarmament and is holding a review of the party’s policy.
That has led to deep divisions among its lawmakers and earlier this week Labour’s home affairs spokesman Andy Burnham said it might be impossible for the party to agree a position.
On December 31, 2015, President Vladimir Putin signed the update to Russia’s National Security Strategy 2016, a key strategic planning document that fully meets the needs of the current situation.
In contrast to the recently published National Security Strategy of the United States, which defines military supremacy as the main tool for maintaining their “global leadership,” the Russian Strategy emphasizes the importance of strategic stability and mutually beneficial partnerships based on the principles of international law. It reflects the objective process of a new multi-polar world order taking shape, and of global and regional instability on the rise.
The strategy confirms the continuity of Russian foreign policy, based on the respect for independence and sovereignty, on pragmatism, transparency, a multi-vector policy and a non-confrontational protection of national interests. The use of military force to protect national interests is only possible if all other means have been exhausted.
Russia attaches great importance to ensuring sustainable global development, which requires collective leadership, coupled with the central and coordinating role of the UN. To these ends, Russia will actively support further economic integration within the Eurasian Economic Union, enhance its participation in such forums as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, strengthen bilateral relations with China and India, and with other countries of the Asia-Pacific region, Latin America and Africa.
The document acknowledges the complex environment in which Russia is determined to protect and promote its interests and security. The anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West under a false pretext and attempts to put pressure upon us on international affairs are part of this. It is worth mentioning the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine supported by the US and EU, which led to a deep schism in Ukrainian society and an armed conflict in the East. The consolidation of an extreme right-wing nationalist ideology and the vilification of Russia as an enemy turned Ukraine into a long-term source of European instability, right next to Russia’s borders.
Despite some speculation in the Western media that Russia considers NATO a threat, it is the actions by NATO, not the worn-out alliance itself, that could directly or indirectly harm Russia’s national interests. The buildup of NATO’s military potential, increased military activity and continued expansion to the East, and the deployment of its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders are the threat to our security. Our assessments are based on real NATO moves and military planning aimed at changing the current European balance of powers. To mention just a few examples: additional troops and military equipment are deployed from NATO member-countries to regions bordering with Russia to conduct military exercises; forward-based command and staff units continue to be established; naval formations patrolling the Baltic Sea have been beefed up; and NATO member-states maintain their permanent naval presence in the Black Sea.
On the contrary, Russia, according to the Strategy, is ready to build a relationship with NATO on the basis of equality and common interests in strengthening the security in the Euro-Atlantic region. That’s why we have always spoken in favor of strengthening the arms control regimes, the cooperation in the fight against terrorism and promoting confidence-building measures and settlement of regional conflicts. Of course, the depth and content of these relations will depend on the alliance’s reciprocal readiness to take Russia’s legitimate interests into account while respecting the norms of international law.
Russia’s approach to national security is based on the principle of equal and indivisible security for all, regardless of the political and ideological affiliation of the states. Regrettably, the West forgot the Russian proposal to create a pan-European security zone by adopting a European Security Treaty, which is on the table.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
See also this interview on February 12, 2016:
April 16, 2015
In INHUMAN KIND, Motherboard gains exclusive access to a small fleet of US Army bomb disposal robots—the same platforms the military has weaponized—and to a pair of DARPA’s six-foot-tall bipedal humanoid robots. We also meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, renowned physicist Max Tegmark, and others who grapple with the specter of artificial intelligence, killer robots, and a technological precedent forged in the atomic age. It’s a story about the evolving relationship between humans and robots, and what AI in machines bodes for the future of war and the human race.
Read: The Evil ‘Star Wars’ Robot Who Owns the Term ‘Meatbag’ – http://bit.ly/1Hy6KLU
Subscribe to Motherboard Radio: http://apple.co/1DWdc9d
The publication on 21 January 2016 of the report by British Judge Sir Robert Owen on the death of Alexander Litvinenko was predictably seized upon by anti-Russian elements as confirmation of their conviction that Russia in general and President Putin in particular were the personification of modern day evil.
Almost completely absent amidst the anti-Russian hysteria was any perspective on the history of Mr Litvinenko1; the circumstances leading up to his death; and any understanding of what a totally flawed exercise Owen’s inquiry actually was.
Who Was Alexander Litvinenko?
Litvinenko was generally described in the western media as a Russian defector, vehement critic of Vladimir Putin, and the victim of polonium 210 poisoning delivered to him while taking tea at an upmarket London hotel by his teatime companions Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitry Kovtun.
The motive for his killing was generally portrayed as the removal of a critic by the Russian power structure in general, and President Putin in particular, via the use of the two Russian agents.
The actual evidence to support any of these contentions was never better than murky at best. That murkiness was not resolved by the publication of Sir Robert Owen’s report, which in many respects, sets a new low in inquiry procedures and the reports that flow from them.
Litvinenko was formerly a low level KGB officer whose main tasks seem to have been in the investigation of organized crime. There was much to be investigated in Yeltsin’s Russia in the 1990s.
Litvinenko resigned from the KGB and through most of the 1990s he worked for private security firms. The frequent media descriptions of Litvinenko as a “spy” therefore seem somewhat fanciful.
Litvinenko fell foul of the Russian authorities and spent some time in jail. He fled to the United Kingdom in 2000 (having had his asylum application turned down by the Americans). Again, the description of Litvinenko as a “defector” is also somewhat fanciful. He was, in fact, a fugitive from the Russian justice system.
Between his flight in 2000 and 23 November 2006 when he died, presumably by poisoning from Polonium 210, Litvinenko lived in London. During this time he had contact with, and worked for, a number of people and organisations. The persons who feature most prominently in this history are the aforementioned Lugovoi and Kovtun with whom he had numerous dealings; convicted felon Mario Scaramella (of whom more below), and fellow Russian émigré Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky was also a notable critic of Mr Putin.
Berezovsky was also Litvinenko’s employer for several years in London although precisely in what capacity remains unclear. Litvinenko also had business dealings with Lugovoi, Kovtun and Scaramella. Significantly, after years of denial by his widow Marina, it was acknowledged that Litvinenko was also working for the British Security Services MI5 and MI6, although the details remain suppressed by Judge Owen.
Evidence given to the Owen inquiry by both MI5 and MI6 were given in closed session, and the report merely says that it cannot publish the details of that evidence. The suppression orders were made pursuant to a directive from the Home Secretary Therese May. The western media saw no reason to comment on this direct interference in a judicial proceeding by a member of the executive branch of government.
Because of these suppression orders we do not know what the MI5 and MI6 witnesses said or whether they were cross-examined by counsel assisting the inquiry. It is only one of the many unsatisfactory aspects of the inquiry.
How did Litvinenko Die?
Even the exact details of Litvinenko’s death are classified. We are told it was from polonium 210, but the autopsy report itself remains classified. This is an extraordinary situation, given that Owen used the alleged fact of polonium poisoning to attribute responsibility to Russia and its alleged agents. It is also extraordinary given the propaganda purposes to which the Owen’s report has been put.2
If, in fact, Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning, diagnosed only two hours before he died and three weeks after it was ingested, the obvious question is how was that polonium ingested? That in turn would be strong evidence as to who was responsible for causing the ingestion, assuming for the moment that Litvinenko did not poison himself, either deliberately or accidentally as has been frequently suggested.3
The popular version much liked by the western media and duly reported by Owen himself as to causality, was that the polonium was somehow slipped into his pot of tea at the Millennium Hotel where he was with Lugovoi and Kovtun. Despite the presence of video cameras at the Millennium there is no evidence available to show how this was actually done.
This hypothesis of polonium in the teapot is a good example of the fantastical nature of the Owen Report. Polonium is a rare, hugely expensive and highly dangerous substance. It glows blue when exposed to the air which would itself presumably excite curiosity. It cannot be handled with bare hands and even exposure to the air creates a danger for the perpetrator.
A measure of its dangerousness is that later investigators, when examining possible sites associated with Litvinenko’s presence, wore protective clothing with the utmost security. That was weeks after the ingestion, which one will recall, was only diagnosed two hours before death and hence three weeks after it as ingested.
There are other problems with the alleged scenario presented by Owen. The teapot, into which the polonium was allegedly slipped, was not examined until several weeks after the alleged poisoning, at which time we are told that it had readings “off the charts”. This is in spite of multiple washings in the intervening six weeks, and not a single case of a staff member at the Millennium being affected. That alone would be a fruitful area for cross-examination in a proper inquiry.
The problems do not end there. Litvinenko had been overseas prior to the meetings with Scaramella in the early afternoon and later Lugovoi and Kovtun at the Pine Bar of the Millennium on 1 November 2006. He arrived at Heathrow at approximately 11.30 am. The plane tested negative for polonium, which would appear to rule out Litvinenko carrying it into the country.
Litvinenko then went to the Itsu sushi bar for a lunch meeting with Mario Scaramella. This sushi bar tested positive for polonium. This is hours before Litvinenko had contact with Lugovoi and Kovtun. I will come back to this point.
Precisely where Litvinenko spent the hours between his meeting with Scaramella and his later date at the Pine Bar is unclear. There is some evidence to suggest that he was at Berezovsky’s office, which was nearby. Litvinenko was known to use Berezovsky’s photocopying facilities. That office also tested positive for polonium, which again raises a number of possibilities other than the scenario that Owen was determined to portray.
This evidence strongly suggests that Litvinenko was, in fact, contaminated prior to his tea meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun at the Pine Bar. In a proper inquiry this fact alone, if established, would be of huge significance and utterly destroy the Owen scenario.
Immediately prior to his death it was initially reported that Litvinenko had made a death bed statement in which he accused Mr Putin of being responsible. Litvinenko had a track record of making bizarre allegations against Mr Putin, unhindered by any need to produce actual evidence.
That death bed allegation, made to an employee of Berezovsky, was later admitted to be completely fabricated. In the interim, however, it became fodder for the hysterical anti-Putin, anti-Russia campaigns of the tabloid press and those of Rupert Murdoch in particular.4
Part of the media disinformation at the time following Litvinenko’s death was that polonium was exceedingly rare and produced only in Russia. This is simply untrue. Any country with a nuclear reactor can produce polonium. Among the countries that had nuclear reactors in 2006 but were not subject to IAEA inspections, were South Africa, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
Russia is a producer of polonium, as are France and the United Kingdom. A fact not mentioned by the western media at the time was that Russia exported polonium to the United States at a cost of $2 million per gram.
That raises another obvious question. Why would an assassin use such an inherently dangerous and highly expensive substance when a bullet through the head is quicker, highly effective immediately, does not leave the same scientific trail and can be done well away from the world of closed circuit cameras that are ubiquitous in London?
Although there has never been an inquest into Litvinenko’s death that reached a conclusion the British government leapt to the conclusion that Lugovoi and Kovtun had been responsible and filed an application for their extradition with the Russian authorities.5
The most reasonable inference open on this evidence is that the purpose of the extradition request was to set the scene for further denunciation of the Russian government for “not co-operating” when the extradition request was denied as it was bound to be.
The reason for the refusal was not because of any lack of willingness to co-operate by the Russian authorities, but because there was no legal basis upon which the request could be granted. Article 61 of the Russian constitution prohibits the extradition of any Russian citizen, as the British surely knew.
Even without the constitutional prohibition it is doubtful that the extradition request would have been granted. In order to persuade a court to grant an extradition request, the requesting authority must adduce sufficient evidence that there is at least a prima facie case against the accused.
In a homicide case, one of the essential documents required is the autopsy report showing exactly how the victim died. The British request did not enclose such a report, and even today it has still not been released.
One of the prime reasons for the continued suppression of this vital document is reported in the Daily Telegraph (hardly a supporter of modern Russia). It was reported that there were two separate polonium “spikes” in Litvinenko’s body.
The compelling inference from that evidence is that Litvinenko was exposed to polonium 210 at two different times. That immediately undermines Owen’s case of the poisonous teapot and the culpability of Lugovoi and Kovtun.
It is not only the timing of the ingestion that is crucial. The ancillary question is how the polonium was ingested. For that, one needs at a minimum the autopsy slides from the forensic examination of Litvinenko’s vital organs. That information was also absent from the British extradition request. Neither is it to be found in the Owen report.
On that basis a Russian Judge would be entirely justified in asking the obvious question: where is your evidence for your allegation that Litvinenko was fatally poisoned at the Pine Bar by polonium 210 administered to him by Lugovoi and/or Kovtun?
The Coronial Process
In all cases where a person’s death is unusual in any way a coronial inquest is held to determine the circumstances under which the person died. The coroner is specifically prohibited from establishing criminal liability for the death.
The original coroner did not reach a conclusion of any description. Sir Robert Owen replaced him. It was clear that Owen sought to circumvent the legal limits placed on the coronial inquiry. He began to carry out what amounted to a criminal investigation. As the American writer William Dunkerley makes clear in his two books6 on the subject, Owen was acting outside his jurisdiction to such an extent that he was officially reprimanded by the Home Secretary Therese May in July 2013.
Again according to Dunkerley, May was resisting Owen’s request that the coronial inquiry be converted into a “public” inquiry, which would have given him vastly greater powers as to the taking of evidence and other matters.
The British government maintained their opposition to a public inquiry until July 2014 when the government did a volte-face and authorised a public inquiry. Rather astonishingly, Owen was appointed the inquiry head, notwithstanding his manifest bias as what Dunkerley describes as a “man on a mission” to pin the blame on Russia.
What brought about this sudden change of heart by the British government, nearly eight years after Litvinenko had died? It is probably a fair inference that the shooting down of MH17 over Eastern Ukraine on 14 July 2014 gave rise to a fresh outburst of anti-Russian hysteria. That hysteria was assiduously cultivated by the same elements of the western media that had promoted the notion of Russian responsibility for Litvinenko’s death.
The Inquiry Report
The UK government passed the Inquiries Act in 2005. This Act permits the setting up of an Inquiry in lieu of a coronial inquest. The Act has been used on other occasions where inquiries into well-publicized deaths were preferred to be kept hidden from too close a public scrutiny.7
Where the Litvinenko case differed was that there had been a coronial inquiry in existence from the time of Litvinenko’s death in 2006 right up until July 2014 when the inquiry was set up.
A British coronial inquest has a number of advantages. The evidence is given in public. Relevant witnesses can be cross-examined by counsel for all legally interested parties. A jury gives the verdict. Apportioning guilt is specifically unavailable to a jury. The available verdicts are natural causes; suicide; misadventure (which includes murder but also accidents); or an open verdict where the evidence is insufficient to point to a cause.
The public inquiry has none of these advantages or safeguards. The term “public” is itself a misnomer. It can, and in this case certainly did, hear evidence in secret, hear it from unidentified witnesses, and have evidence suppressed. Further, the evidence is not open to cross-examination from counsel for persons potentially subject to an adverse finding. Even when cross-examination occurs, that in turn can be suppressed.
In the present case neither Lugovoi nor Kovtun were present at the hearings, nor did counsel represent them. Their initial willingness to attend and give evidence in addition to the statements they had already given to the Police disappeared when the nature of the inquiry was changed in July 2014.
They were refused the right to know the nature of the evidence against them (as was the case with the extradition request). This was a fact the Judge omitted to mention when criticizing them for their non-attendance. They were not permitted to be represented by counsel in their absence, something that is permissible under the rules.
In many respects an Inquiry is akin to the infamous Star Chamber Courts in the UK from the late 15th century until the middle of the 17th century. Witnesses and defendants were examined in secret, although they did have notice of the charges against them. They also had the right to be legally represented. Over time the Star Chamber evolved into an instrument of repression and abuse of power by the monarchy and the Courts. Juries that returned unfavourable verdicts (from the executive’s point of view) were punished. The Habeas Corpus Act of 1640 abolished them. They have now returned in modern form.
The Inquiries Act removed the possibility of inconvenient jury verdicts by abolishing them in the case of inquiries.
Even given the latitude of a public inquiry to conduct its proceedings in secret, if its findings are to have any credibility it must nonetheless observe some basic legal principles.
Under British law an accused person has as a minimum:
- The right to know the evidence against them beforehand.
- The right to challenge by cross-examination the witnesses for the prosecution.
- The right to be legally represented.
- The right to challenge the admissibility of evidence on the grounds, for example, that is irrelevant, inadmissible opinion, hearsay or otherwise contrary to the rules of evidence.
- The right to a finding that is only open on the admissible evidence to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
- To begin the trial with the presumption of innocence that is only rebutted by the weight of evidence to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
- The onus of discharging that burden of proof rests with the prosecution from beginning to end.
It is not an overstatement to say that the Owen Inquiry violated each and every one of those basic principles. As such, this was not so much an inquiry to establish the truth, but a travesty of what was once favourably known as “British justice”. Alexander Mercouris rightly called it an absurd show trial.8
I also agree with Mercouris’ analysis when he says that the inquiry was a farce, and just the latest twist in a long running smear campaign against Russia and its President. Cunningham reached a similar conclusion.9
One aspect alone illustrates many of these points. The Judge concluded that the murder was “probably” carried out by Lugovoi and Kovtun; was “probably” ordered by the head of the FSB; who in turn “probably” took his orders from President Putin.
“Probably” is not a word that belongs in a finding of criminal liability. Either it is proven beyond reasonable doubt or it is not, in which case the presumption of innocence prevails.
And the evidence Owen presented for this remarkable conclusion? If there is any, Owen did not cite it other than by reference to secret evidence that we are not allowed to know about. There is no possible reasonable basis upon which one can test the veracity of claims such as these.
In order for Nikolai Patrushev (the head of the FSB) and Mr Putin to be held liable as the principals for the crimes allegedly committed by Lugovoi and Kovtun there has to be evidence that they were acting on the instructions of, or on behalf of, the former. There is no such evidence. Assertions of “probability” are in this context farcical.
On the other hand there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Lugovoi and Kovtun were two of the most unlikely assassins. Neither had any known training in carrying out such a dangerous task. Neither had any links to the FSB although Lugovoi had been with its predecessor the KGB until the mid-1990s in what appears to have been a bodyguard role.10
Nor could any plausible motive be attributed to the Russian State for eliminating Litvinenko. During the six years Litvinenko lived in London prior to his death he had made a number of allegations against Mr Putin, but then so had a lot of other people who are alive to this day.
If Russia had wanted to eliminate Mr Litvinenko, there were vastly better ways to do it rather than use two amateurs with a volatile, highly dangerous and expensive substance to carry out the task.
There was, in fact, evidence of motive before the inquiry. It came from Dr Yulia Svetlichnaya, a London based post-graduate scholar, who gave evidence that the Judge accepted. That evidence was to the effect that Litvinenko had been talking about blackmailing persons before his death.11
Those persons included criminal elements that Litvinenko had been investigating (also his task with the KGB) who have a well-documented propensity for eliminating people who threaten their activities. Yet the Judge considered none of this worthy of further examination.
The Judge did, however, place considerable weight on the evidence of Boris Berezovsky. Quite why he should do so remains a mystery. Berezovsky himself is now dead, allegedly by suicide, so he is not around to enlighten us as to his change of character.
The Judge did have the benefit of previous judicial views on Mr Berezovsky. In the case of Berezovsky v Abramovich Her Honour Mrs Justice Gloster had this to say about Mr Berezovsky:
An unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept which could be moulded to suit his purposes.
This less than flattering assessment did not seem to deter Justice Owen.
Mr Litvinenko lingered painfully for three weeks before dying, the medical staff inexplicably unable to identify polonium as the cause of his illness. Had they done so in a timely fashion he might have been saved.
Before he died, however, Litvinenko did nominate his killer and I am not referring to the manifestly false allegation referred to above.12 The man he pointed to was Mario Scaramella, a convicted felon who also happened to be an expert in nuclear waste.
Litvinenko had lunch with Scaramella at a sushi bar before his evening meeting with Lugovoi and Kovtun at the Pine Bar. Scaramella apparently did not eat or drink anything at that lunch, but he did require hospital treatment shortly thereafter for a mild case of polonium poisoning.13
Disregarding the wildly improbable, the logical possibilities therefore seem to be:
- Litvinenko was himself carrying the plutonium, which was shown to Scaramella thereby causing Scaramella’s later symptoms. This does not explain why Litvinenko would ingest the substance voluntarily. Recall also Litvinenko pointing the finger at Scaramella as the source of his illness and there seems no other plausible explanation for that accusation.
- Litvinenko was already infected when he met Scaramella. This would be consistent with the twin “spikes” of polonium poisoning said to have been found in Litvinenko’s body.
- Litvinenko deliberately ingested the polonium himself. This seems the least likely hypothesis.
- Litvinenko was known to be trading in nuclear materials (but ignored by the media) accidentally poisoned himself. This was the hypothesis most favoured by Epstein in his 2008 article and it still best fits the known facts.
- Scaramella poisoned Litvinenko at some stage through the course of the sushi lunch (which he himself did not partake of). Scaramella’s abstinence from food or drink is odd to say the least.
This is not to accuse Scaramella of doing the deed, but it is a logical possibility that the Judge did not seem to consider despite the supporting evidence, including Scaramella’s own illness that is otherwise difficult to explain.
Instead the Judge relied upon a series of bizarre conclusions that paid scant regard to logic, the evidence, or even the most basic principles of criminal procedure. As such the real victims here are not only the unfortunate Mr Litvinenko but also to what was once known as “British justice.” In the light of this travesty of a report, that term now seem to be an oxymoron.
- For a details background analysis an excellent source is the series of articles written by David Habakkuk and others found on the Euro Tribune site, 1 August 2008, and 5th, 11th and 19th December 2012
- T. Bancroft-Hinchley. “Litvinenko: The Russophobia Show Must Go On”, Pravda.ru, 22 January 2016.
- E. J. Epstein. “The Specter that Haunts the Death of Litvinenko”, The Sun (NY) 19 March 2008.
- Habakkuk op cit
- Epstein op cit.
- W. Dunkerley. The Phony Litvinenko Murder, Omnicom Press (2011); W. Dunkerley. Litvinenko Murder Case Solved, Omnicom Press (2015).
- Among the better-known examples are the deaths of Princess Diana and Dr David Kelly, officially “accident” and “suicide” respectively.
- A. Mercouris . “The Litvinenko Inquiry: London’s Absurd Show Trial”, The Saker, 26 January 2016.
- F. Cunningham. Information Clearing House, article 44010, 21 January 2016.
- Habakkuk op cit. [
- M. Marjonovich. “Litvinenko: London has Dreamed up the Craziest Conspiracy Theory Yet”, Russia Insider, 25.1.16
- Dunkerley (2011) op cit.
- Washington’s Blog. Global Research, 23 January 2016.
So, superstar Yanis Varoufakis is inaugurating his new outfit, DiEM25, the other day in Berlin, at the Volksbühne theatre, calling for the democratization of the European Union. What?, you say. Isn’t the EU already democratic?
It is if you think the United States is a democracy. The US was one of the prime movers behind the creation of the EU. And if you don’t believe me, read Circus Politicus (Deloire and Dubois, Albin Michel, 2012).
Post WW II, the US didn’t like the idea of all those foreigners experimenting with communism and socialism, getting the idea that unbridled capitalism maybe wasn’t in their best interests. Best to gather all those idiosyncratic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, difficult-to-control tendencies under one big homogenized tent in Brussels, far from the prying eyes of the “people ,” and under the control of obedient, willing proxies taking their orders from thousands of Anglo-American lobbyists. This is one time that the mission was pretty much accomplished.
If you don’t believe me, just look at Greece. Or the EU’s support of the illegal interventions in the Middle East or Africa.
If you go to DiEM25’s web site and read the Manifesto, you’ll probably say to yourself that what they’re saying seems reasonable and just. And I would tend to agree if it were not for the idea that reforming the EU is like trying to reform capitalism. And trying to do it within the confines of the labyrinthine hazards of the system in place in Brussels by creating yet another layer of commissions and representatives will only hinder the process of liberation.
What happened to the idea that independent, sovereign countries can get along? Given our present means of communications, do we still need a separate, distant overlord to settle disputes of whatever nature? A distant collective of officials subject to the same pressures that exist in Brussels today? Whatever happened to the saying, “Think globally, act locally”?
I rather doubt that, without the propaganda of the globalized media, or their captive NGOs, we would have had all the conflicts that are tearing so many countries apart. How many Greeks really want to go around the world bombing other countries into democracy?
Plus, take a look at the outfits that are promoting the Varoufakis initiative. The European University Institute, sponsor of ROAR magazine. Or another outfit, European Alternatives, and take a look at their funders. Seems to be a lot of corporate, lords and ladies types there, and I doubt Jeremy Corbyn is their favorite politician. Reminds me of USAID or NED (or NPR, for that matter), or any of the other so-called democracy advocacy groups that go around funding and provoking “liberation” movements like what happened in the Ukraine.
Does that sound like fun?
Steve Church is a former teacher, skipper, and sheep herder living in France. Email him at: email@example.com.
One could hardly find a person both within the UK or outside it that would look positively at the steps that have been taken by David Cameron and his government if, of course, we’re not talking about members of the Conservative Party and certain military circles. The reasons are plenty, but the most obvious ones are the crimes against humanity committed by this government, along with a total disregard for the social needs of UK citizens and the revanchist policies it pursued in the Middle East and Africa.
It will suffice to note that Cameron’s government is going to cut its social spending to the lowest possible level to be able to carry on foreign military campaigns. The Guardian notes:
Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the all-party Commons select committee on health, is calling for the government to act, saying that social care providers are reeling from rising costs and declining fees from cash-strapped local authorities.
As a direct result of the steps that are being taken by British government, those citizens that are facing retirement today will lose all means to pay their expenses in the next 10 years.
The benefits cuts on sheltered housing that have been recently announced by the UK government will literally make tens of thousands of those in dire need homeless. Those that are forced to experience the consequences of the shortsighted policies of London are to be the most vulnerable, namely older residents, domestic violence victims and people with mental illness. Those caps were first announced last autumn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
However, the Guardian refuses to mention that the army is still enjoying substantial budgets just as it always has, to the benefit of countless military contractors and those politicians who represent them in the parliament. It is therefore not surprising that these lobbyists are among the most ardent supporters of David Cameron’s plan of the possible British military engagement in Syria, despite attempts of some sane politicians to put an end to airstrikes that the UK is carrying out in this Arab country, calling them “infanticide“
The above mentioned activities predictably result in an ever growing body count that British troops are producing with their “fire and sword” across the world in the name of vague “democratic principles”, while actually protecting the interests of the City of London.
Therefore, the British political elite are putting every effort into a bid to prevent the investigation of their criminal policies in the Middle East, Africa and other regions around the world. For instance every possible step has been taken to derail an inquiry of the commission headed by Sir John Chilcot that was entrusted back in 2009 to give an answer on how justified Tony Blair’s decision was to go to war against Iraq, which resulted in 179 British soldiers killed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left suffering in lawlessness and bitter misery to this date. Moreover, a few days ago it was announced that the British Ministry of Defense was going to close the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) that was created in 2010 to study at least 58 allegations against British servicemen allegedly involved in murder cases in Iraq. And although the IHAT was investigating the deaths of 1,500 possible victims, out of which 280 were allegedly unlawfully killed, there’s every reason to believe that it won’t be funded up to 2019 as originally intended.
David Cameron is anticipating complete impunity for his actions, therefore refusing to launch an investigation of war crimes that were carried out with the use of British weapons, especially those supplied by the British to Saudi Arabia. Cameron excused himself for this decision by announcing that arms exports are being “closely monitored”.
Lately Amnesty International has been vocal in condemning the UK role in the Yemeni conflict, while directly pointing to the shameful support of routine brutality that the Saudi regime has been exhibiting. At the same time The Independent published an article that stated a member of the British government, while staying in Riyadh, praised Saudi authorities for the “remarkable progress” in the field of human rights, a month after the public execution of 47 people!
As for the British responsibility in the massive civilian killings in Yemen, it is necessary to recall that during the first nine months of 2015 the United Kingdom supplied Saudi Arabia with 2.95 billion pounds worth of arms, which were used to launch airstrikes against heavily populated urban areas. The total worth of weapons sold to Saudi Arabia throughout all of Cameron’s premiership amounts to 7 billion pounds, including a contract to supply the regime with 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. Numerous media sources have been calling repeatedly to bring to justice those responsible in the bloody conflict in Yemen. So there’s little wonder that the UN Security Council decided to form a special committee to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law by all the parties of the Yemeni conflict to identify those responsible. And the UK is not particularly happy about that fact.
As it was reported by The Independent :
An influential joint committee of MPs is set to investigate claims that British-made weapons may have been used for strikes against civilian targets. The Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), made up of members of the Foreign Affairs, International Development, Defence and Business select committees, has not sat so far this Parliament, but will be re-established.
Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Stephen Twigg, chair of the International Development committee, have both indicated that they want the CAEC to investigate whether UK arms have been used for military strikes against civilians, and also to scrutinise the role of UK personnel working in Saudi command and control centres orchestrating airstrikes.
Taking into account the steps that David Cameron has made to hide numerous crimes committed by him and his government both in the UK and abroad, it’s about time for the international community to take such investigations into its own hands, to ensure that no felon, whether a politician or not, escapes justice.
Martin Berger is a Czech-based freelance journalist and analyst.
Benjamin Netanyahu pets his dog Kaia, a biter, at the Prime Minster’s residence in Jerusalem. (Credit: Facebook)
“Anyone who approaches the Zionist problem in a moral aspect is not a Zionist.” – Moshe Dayan, quoting David Ben-Gurion
Ha’aretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported yesterday:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a tour to the construction site of a barrier on the eastern border on Tuesday that he wishes to surround the country with fences and barriers “to defend ourselves against wild beasts” that surround Israel.
Dehumanization of one’s real or perceived adversaries, often in the form of animalization, has long been a hallmark of propaganda. As Netanyahu reinforces Israel’s garrison mentality, he continues building a literal fortress by extending the apartheid wall further around the Zionist state, promising more division, segregation, discrimination, and violence.
“For most human beings, it takes an awful lot to allow them to kill another human being,” Anthony Pratkanis, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told ABC News back in 2003, as the United States was gearing up to invade Iraq. “The only way to do it is to justify the killing, to make the enemy look as evil as possible.”
The report also quoted Hayward communications professor James Forsher, an expert on propaganda films. “The secret in propaganda is that when you demonize, you dehumanize,” Forsher explained. “When you dehumanize, it allows you to kill your enemy and no longer feel guilty about it. That is why during World War II, a lot of caricatures became animals… You can kill a monkey a lot more easily than you can kill a neighbor.”
Nazi dehumanization of Jews as “vermin” to be exterminated and American anti-Japanese caricatures of rats and snakes from the 1940s are especially grotesque, but the phenomenon was around long before that. Anti-Tsarist and, subsequently, anti-Soviet propaganda often employed the image of an octopus, spreading its imperial tentacles across the globe. During World War I, Germany was depicted a crazed, club-wielding gorilla in a U.S. Army poster encouraging enlistment.
In their 1994 book, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam note that the common colonial/racist trope of “animalization” was “rooted in a religious and philosophical tradition which drew sharp boundaries between the animal and the human” and “renders the colonized as wild beasts… projected as body rather than mind.”
Zionist colonists and Israeli officials have for years employed this type of rhetoric to dehumanize those they seek to forcibly displace, dispossess, disenfranchise, oppress, occupy and subjugate. The Zionist project is always presented as a bulwark of civilization against the savagery and barbarism of the brutish Eastern, Arab, and/or Muslim hordes; the settlement on the hill; the light amidst the darkness; the “villa in the jungle,” as Ehud Barak once said.
“At the end, in the State of Israel, as I see it, there will be a fence that spans it all,” Netanyahu fantasized yesterday. “I’ll be told, ‘this is what you want, to protect the villa?’ The answer is yes. Will we surround all of the State of Israel with fences and barriers? The answer is yes. In the area that we live in, we must defend ourselves against the wild beasts.”
The animalization of Palestinians, and other perceived enemies, in Israeli rhetoric goes back decades.
Dogs, Animals, Roaches, Grasshoppers and Worms
Shortly after Israel seized military control over the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan told officials in his center-left political party, Rafi, that unless Palestinians in the newly-occupied territories make “peace” with Israel, they “shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”
On June 8, 1982, two days after the Israel invaded Lebanon, Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivered remarks before the Knesset justifying the military assault as a defense of Jewish lives worldwide. Begin insisted that the widespread rallying cry of terrorists around the globe was that “there is no innocent Jew. Every Jew is doomed – he must be killed.” In response, he declared, “This terror must be eradicated.” Setting Jewish people apart from the rest of humanity, Begin said:
The fate of a million and half a million Jewish children has been different from all the children of the world throughout the generations. No more. We will defend our children. If the hand of any two-footed animal is raised against them, that hand will be cut off, and our children will grow up in joy in the homes of their parents.
In April 1983, outgoing Israeli Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan (who was losing his post due to his responsibility for the 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre) reportedly told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “The Arabs will never win over us by throwing stones. Our response must be a nationalist Zionist response. For every stone that’’s thrown, we will build ten settlements. If 100 settlements will exist, and they will, between Nablus and Jerusalem, stones will not be thrown. If this will be the situation, then the Arabs will only be able to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.”
During the First Intifada, on March 31, 1988, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told reporters at the ruins of an ancient Herodian fortress in the occupied West Bank, “Anybody who wants to damage this fortress and other fortresses we are establishing will have his head smashed against the boulders and walls,” adding that Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation “are like grasshoppers compared to us.”
In late 2004, Yehiel Hazan, a Likud minister and leader of the biggest settler lobbying group, declared on the floor of the Knesset, “The Arabs are worms. You find them everywhere like worms, underground as well as above,” adding, “Until we understand that we’re doing business with a nation of assassins and terrorists who don’t want us here, there will be no let up. These worms have not stopped attacking Jews for a century.”
On June 30, 2012, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party posted a Facebook message that identified “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and calling for the total elimination of Palestine, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” The post, alleged written years ago by now-deceased settler leader Uri Elitzur, added that Palestinian mothers should be executed for giving birth to “little snakes,” that is, Palestinian children. Less than a year later, Netanyahu appointed Shaked to be Israel’s Minister of Justice.
Netanyahu, too, has a penchant for animal allusions when speaking about those he despises most, be they Palestinians, Iranians, or Muslims, in general.
While a possibly apocryphal quote has then-Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak saying in August 2000, “The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more,” Netanyahu brought the reptilian analogy up to date when, during a typically verbose and combative speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2011, he said:
[Israel’s] critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel’s security. They praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam as bold statesmen. They cast as enemies of peace those of us who insist that we must first erect a sturdy barrier to keep the crocodile out, or at the very least jam an iron bar between its gaping jaws.
Netanyahu probably didn’t realize he was channeling his fellow apartheid champion, P.W. Botha, who led South Africa from 1978 to 1989, and is credited with complaining that “the free world wants to feed South Africa to the red crocodile [Communism], to appease its hunger.” Botha, incidentally, was widely known by the Afrikaans nickname Die Groot Krokodil, or “The Big Crocodile.”
The following March, in one of his most tedious diatribes about the non-existent threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu told attendees at AIPAC’s annual conference that Iran’s fully safeguarded uranium enrichment facilities and medical research reactor were actually a cover for a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck – but this duck is a nuclear duck. And it’s time the world started calling a duck a duck.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Appearing on Face The Nation on July 14, 2013, Netanyahu decried Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” whose devious Persian strategy is to “smile and build a bomb.” He repeated this description to a group of U.S. lawmakers the following month.
On October 1, 2013, Netanyahu returned to the UN General Assembly and accused Rouhani of being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu wailed. “But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes — the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
Seeing the government in Damascus as too far to the left, Washington has been trying to orchestrate a regime change in Syria since at least 2003
Documents prepared by US Congress researchers as early as 2005 revealed that the US government was actively weighing regime change in Syria long before the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, challenging the view that US support for the Syrian rebels is based on allegiance to a “democratic uprising” and showing that it is simply an extension of a long-standing policy of seeking to topple the government in Damascus. Indeed, the researchers made clear that the US government’s motivation to overthrow the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is unrelated to democracy promotion in the Middle East. In point of fact, they noted that Washington’s preference is for secular dictatorships (Egypt) and monarchies (Jordan and Saudi Arabia.)  The impetus for pursuing regime change, according to the researchers, was a desire to sweep away an impediment to the achievement of US goals in the Middle East related to strengthening Israel, consolidating US domination of Iraq, and fostering free-market, free enterprise economies. Democracy was never a consideration.
The researchers revealed further that an invasion of Syria by US forces was contemplated following the US-led aggression against Iraq in 2003, but that the unanticipated heavy burden of pacifying Iraq militated against an additional expenditure of blood and treasure in Syria.  As an alternative to direct military intervention to topple the Syrian government, the United States chose to pressure Damascus through sanctions and support for the internal Syrian opposition.
The documents also revealed that nearly a decade before the rise of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra that the US government recognized that Islamic fundamentalists were the main opposition to the secular Assad government and worried about the re-emergence of an Islamist insurgency that could lead Sunni fundamentalists to power in Damascus. A more recent document from the Congress’s researchers describes a US strategy that seeks to eclipse an Islamist take-over by forcing a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria in which the policing, military, judicial and administrative functions of the Syrian state are preserved, while Assad and his fellow Arab nationalists are forced to leave office. The likelihood is that if this scenario plays out that Assad and his colleagues will be replaced by biddable US surrogates willing to facilitate the achievement of US goals.
In 2005, Congress’s researchers reported that a consensus had developed in Washington that change in Syria needed to be brought about, but that there remained divisions on the means by which change could be effected. “Some call for a process of internal reform in Syria or alternatively for the replacement of the current Syrian regime,” the report said.  Whichever course Washington would settle on, it was clear that the US government was determined to shift the policy framework in Damascus.
The document described the Assad government as an impediment “to the achievement of US goals in the region.”  These goals were listed as: resolving “the Arab-Israeli conflict;” fighting “international terrorism;” reducing “weapons proliferation;” inaugurating “a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Iraqi state;” and fostering market-based, free enterprise economies. 
Stripped of their elegant words, the US objectives for the Middle East amounted to a demand that Damascus capitulate to the military hegemony of Israel and the economic hegemony of Wall Street. To be clear, what this meant was that in order to remove itself as an impediment to the achievement of US goals—and hence as an object of US hostility—Syria would have to:
o Accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on territory seized from Palestinians, and quite possibly also Syrians and Lebanese, possibly within borders that include the Golan Heights, annexed from Syria by Israel in 1987 and occupied by Israel since 1967.
o End its support for militant groups seeking Palestinian self-determination and sever its connections with the resistance organization Hezbollah, the main bulwark against Israeli expansion into Lebanon.
o Leave itself effectively defenceless against the aggressions of the United States and its Middle East allies, including Israel, by abandoning even the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction (while conceding a right to Israel and the United States to maintain vast arsenals of WMD.)
o Terminate its opposition to US domination of neighboring Iraq.
o Transform what the US Congress’s researchers called Syria’s mainly publicly-owned economy, “still based largely on Soviet models,”  into a sphere of exploitation for US corporations and investors.
US government objections to Syrian policy, then, can be organized under three US-defined headings:
o Economic reform.
These headings translate into:
o Support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups.
o Economic sovereignty.
Terrorism (support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups)
The researchers noted that while Syria had “not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986” that “Syria has continued to provide support and safe haven for Palestinian groups” seeking self-determination, allowing “them to maintain offices in Damascus.” This was enough for the US government to label Syria a state sponsor of terrorism. The researchers went on to note that on top of supporting Palestinian “terrorists” that Damascus also supported Lebanese “terrorists” by permitting “Iranian resupply via Damascus of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah in Lebanon.” 
US Secretary of State Colin Powell travelled to Damascus on May 3, 2003 to personally issue a demand to the Syrian government that it sever its connections with militant organizations pursuing Palestinian self-determination and to stop providing them a base in Damascus from which to operate. In “testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 12, 2004, Powel complained that ‘Syria has not done what we demanded of it with respect to closing permanently of these offices and getting these individuals out of Damascus’.”
The Syrian government rejected the characterization of Hezbollah and Palestinian militants as “terrorists,” noting that the actions of these groups represented legitimate resistance.  Clearly, Washington had attempted to discredit the pursuit of Palestinian self-determination and Lebanese sovereignty by labelling the champions of these causes as terrorists.
“In a speech to the Heritage Foundation on May 6, 2002, then US Under Secretary (of State John) Bolton grouped Syria with Libya and Cuba as rogue states that… are pursuing the development of WMD.”  Later that year, Bolton echoed his earlier accusation, telling the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration was very concerned about Syrian nuclear and missile programs. By September 2003, Bolton was warning of a “range of Syrian WMD programs.” 
Syria clearly had chemical weapons (now destroyed), though hardly in the same quantities as the much larger arsenals of the United States, Russia and (likely) its regional nemesis, Israel.  Citing the Washington Post, Congress’s researchers noted that Syria had “sought to build up its CW and missile capabilities as a ‘force equalizer’ to counter Israeli nuclear capabilities.”  It should be noted, however, that the idea that chemical weapons can act as a force equalizer to nuclear weapons is not only untenable, but risible. In WWI it took 70,000 tons of gas to produce as many fatalities as were produced at Hiroshima by a single US atom bomb.  To have any meaning at all, the concept of WMD must include weapons that kill massive numbers of people (nuclear weapons) and exclude those that don’t (chemical weapons.) Otherwise, it is a propaganda term used to magnify the non-threat posed by countries seeking independence outside the US orbit which have CW and biological weapons, but which weapons are no match for the United States’ nuclear weapons and are dwarfed by the Pentagon’s own CW and BW arsenals. Deceptively labelling these weapons as WMD, makes a non-threat a large threat that must be dealt with through military intervention and thereby provides a public relations rationale for a war of aggression.
As to the substance of Bolton’s assertion that Syria had a wide range of WMD programs, the CIA was unable to produce any evidence to corroborate his claim. Alfred Prados, author of a 2005 Congressional Research Service report titled “Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues,” listed CIA assessments of Syrian nuclear and BW programs but none of the assessments contained any concrete evidence that Syria actually had such programs. For example, the CIA noted that it was “monitoring Syrian nuclear intentions with concern” but offered nothing beyond “intentions” to show that Damascus was working to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Prados also noted that Syria had “probably also continued to develop a BW capability,” this based on the fact that Damascus had “signed, but not ratified, the Biological Weapons Convention.” Prados conceded that “Little information is available on Syrian biological programs.”
US president George H.W. Bush is responsible for rendering the concept of WMD meaningless by expanding it to include chemical agents. Before Bush, WMD was a term to denote nuclear weapons or weapons of similar destructive capacity that might be developed in the future. Bush debased the definition in order to go to war with Iraq. He needed to transform the oil-rich Arab country from being seen accurately as a comparatively weak country militarily to being seen inaccurately as a significant threat because it possessed weapons now dishonestly rebranded as being capable of producing mass destruction. It was an exercise in war propaganda.
In 1989, Bush pledged to eliminate the United States’ chemical weapons by 1999. Seventeen years later, the Pentagon is still sitting on the world’s largest stockpile of militarized chemical agents. US allies Israel and Egypt also have chemical weapons. In 2003, Syria proposed to the United Nations Security Council that the Middle East become a chemical weapons-free zone. The proposal was blocked by the United States, likely in order to shelter Israel from having to give up its store of chemical arms. Numerous calls to declare the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone have also been blocked by Washington to shelter Israel from having to give up its nuclear arsenal.
Bolton, it will be recalled, was among the velociraptors of the Bush administration to infamously and falsely accuse Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of holding on to WMD that the UN Security Council had demanded it dismantle. In effect, Iraq was ordered to disarm itself, and when it did, was falsely accused by the United States of still being armed as a pretext for US forces to invade the now defenceless country. Bolton may have chosen to play the same WMD card against Syria for the same reason: to manufacture consent for an invasion. But as Congress’s researchers pointed out, “Although some officials… advocated a ‘regime change strategy’ in Syria” through military means, “military operations in Iraq… forced US policy makers to explore additional options,”  rendering Bolton’s false accusations academic.
Since the only legitimate WMD are nuclear weapons, and since there is no evidence that Syria has even the untapped capability of producing them, much less possesses them, Syria has never been a WMD-state or a threat to the US goal of reducing WMD proliferation. What’s more, the claim that Washington holds this as a genuine goal is contestable, since it has blocked efforts to make the Middle East a chemical- and nuclear-weapons-free zone, in order to spare its protégé, Israel. It would be more accurate to say that the United States has a goal of reducing weapons proliferation among countries it may one day invade, in order to make the invasion easier. Moreover, there’s an egregious US double-standard here. Washington maintains the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but demands that countries it opposes should abandon their own, or forswear their development. This is obviously self-serving and has nothing whatever to do with fostering peace and everything to do with promoting US world domination. One US grievance with Assad’s Syria, then, is that it refused to accept the international dictatorship of the United States.
Economic reform (economic sovereignty)
In connection with Syria impeding the achievement of US goals in the Middle East, the Congressional Research Service made the following points in 2005 about the Syrian economy: It is “largely state-controlled;” it is “dominated by… (the) public sector, which employs 73% of the labour force;” and it is “still based largely on Soviet models.”  These departures from the preferred Wall Street paradigm of free markets and free enterprise appear, from the perspective of Congress’s researchers, to be valid reasons for the US government to attempt to bring about “reform” in Syria. Indeed, no one should be under the illusion that the US government is prepared to allow foreign governments to exercise sovereignty in setting their own direction economically. That this is the case is evidenced by the existence of a raft of US sanctions legislation against “non-market states.” (See the Congressional Research Service 2016 report, “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” for a detailed list of sanctions imposed on North Korea for having a “Marxist-Leninist” economy.)
To recapitulate the respective positions of Syria and the United States on issues of bilateral concern to the two countries:
On Israel. To accept Israel’s right to exist as a settler state on land illegitimately acquired through violence and military conquest from Palestinians, Lebanese (the Shebaa Farms) and Syrians (Golan), would be to collude in the denial of the fundamental right of self-determination. Damascus has refused to collude in the negation of this right. Washington demands it.
On Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the principal deterrent against Israeli territorial expansion into Lebanon and Israeli aspirations to turn the country into a client state. Damascus’s support for the Lebanese resistance organization, and Washington’s opposition to it, places the Assad government on the right side of the principle of self-determination and successive US governments on the wrong side.
On WMD. Syria has a right to self-defense through means of its own choosing and the demand that it abandon its right is not worthy of discussion. The right to self-defense is a principle the United States and its allies accept as self-evident and non-negotiable. It is not a principle that is valid only for the United States and its satellites.
On opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. The 2003 US-led aggression against Iraq was an international crime on a colossal scale, based on an illegitimate casus belli, and a fabricated one at that, and which engendered massive destruction and loss of life. It was the supreme international crime by the standards of the Nuremberg trials. Applying the Nuremberg principles, the perpetrators would be hanged. US aggression against Iraq, including the deployment of “sanctions of mass destruction” through the 1990s, which led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and was blithely accepted by then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “worth it,” was undertaken despite the absence of any threat to the United States. The deliberate creation of humanitarian calamities in the absence of a threat, as a matter of choice and not necessity, in pursuit of economic gain, is an iniquity on a signal scale. What, then, are we to think of a government in Damascus that opposed this iniquity, and a government in Washington that demands that Damascus reverse its opposition and accept the crime as legitimate?
Whatever its failings, the Assad government has unambiguously adopted positions that have traditionally been understood to be concerns of the political left: support for self-determination; public ownership and planning of the economy; opposition to wars of aggression; and anti-imperialism. This is not to say that on a spectrum from right to left that the Assad government occupies a position near the left extreme; far from it. But from Washington’s point of view, Damascus is far enough to the left to be unacceptable. Indeed, it is the Syrian government’s embrace of traditional leftist positions that accounts for why it is in the cross-hairs of the world’s major champion of reactionary causes, the United States, even if it isn’t the kind of government that is acceptable to Trotskyists and anarchists.
In 2003, the Bush administration listed Syria as part of a junior varsity axis of evil, along with Cuba and Libya, citing support in Damascus for Hezbollah and groups engaged in armed struggle to achieve Palestinian self-determination.  An invasion of Syria following the US take-over of Iraq in 2003 was contemplated, but was called off after the Pentagon discovered its hands were full quelling resistance to its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As an alternative to direct military intervention to topple the Syrian government, the United States chose to pressure Assad through sanctions and by strengthening the opposition in Syria, hoping either to force Assad to accept Israel’s territorial gains, end support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups, and to remake the economy—or to yield power. However, as Congress’s researchers reveal, there were concerns in Washington that if efforts to bolster the opposition went too far, Assad would fall to “a successor regime (which) could be led by Islamic fundamentalists who might adopt policies even more inimical to the United States.” 
On December 12, 2003, US president George W. Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed sanctions on Syria unless, among other things, Damascus halted its support for Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance groups and ceased “development of weapons of mass destruction.” The sanctions included bans on exports of military equipment and civilian goods that could be used for military purposes (in other words, practically anything.) This was reinforced with an additional (and largely superfluous) ban on US exports to Syria other than food and medicine, as well as a prohibition against Syrian aircraft landing in or overflying the United States. 
On top of these sanctions, Bush imposed two more. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the US Treasury Department ordered US financial institutions to sever connections with the Commercial Bank of Syria.  And under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the US president froze the assets of Syrians involved in supporting policies hostile to the United States, which is to say, supporting Hezbollah and groups fighting for Palestinian self-determination, refusing to accept as valid territorial gains which Israel had made through wars of aggression, and operating a largely publicly-owned, state-planned economy, based on Soviet models. 
In order to strengthen internal opposition to the Syrian government, Bush signed the Foreign Operations Appropriation Act. This act required that a minimum of $6.6 million “be made available for programs supporting democracy in Syria… as well as unspecified amounts of additional funds (emphasis added).” 
By 2006, Time was reporting that the Bush administration had “been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad.” Part of the effort was being run through the National Salvation Front. The Front included “the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government.” Front representatives “were accorded at least two meetings” at the White House in 2006. Hence, the US government, at its highest level, was colluding with Islamists to bring down the Syrian government at least five years before the eruption of protests in 2011. This is a development that seems to have escaped the notice of some who believe that violent Islamist organizations emerged only after March 2011. In point of fact, the major internal opposition to secular Syrian governments, both before and after March 2011, were and are militant Sunni Islamists. Syria expert Joshua Landis told Time that White House support for the Syrian opposition was “apparently an effort to gin up the Syrian opposition under the rubric of ‘democracy promotion’ and ‘election monitoring,’ but it’s really just an attempt to pressure the Syrian government into doing what the United States wants.” 
The US Congress researchers noted that despite “US calls for democracy in the Middle East, historically speaking, US policymakers” have tended to favor “secular Arab republics (Egypt) and Arab monarchies (Jordan and Saudi Arabia.)”  They noted too that since “the rise of political Islam as an opposition vehicle in the Middle East decades ago, culminating in the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, US policymakers have been concerned that secular Arab dictatorships like Syria would face rising opposition from Islamist groups seeking their overthrow.”  “The religiously fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood,” which the Bush administration enlisted to pressure the Assad government, had long been at odds with the secular Syrian government, the researchers noted. 
Today, Islamic State operates as one of the largest, if not the largest, rebel groups in Syria. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report cited an “unnamed senior State Department official” who observed:
[W]e’ve never seen something like this. We’ve never seen a terrorist organization with 22,000 foreign fighters from a hundred countries all around the world. To put it in context—again, the numbers are fuzzy—but it’s about double of what went into Afghanistan over 10 years in the war against the Soviet Union. Those Jihadi fighters were from a handful of countries.” 
Islamic State differs from other militant Islamist opponents of the Syrian government in seeking to control territory, not only in Syria, but in Iraq and beyond. As such, it constitutes a threat to US domination of Iraq and influence throughout the Middle East and north Africa. In contrast, ideologically similar groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, limit the scope of their operations to Syria. They, therefore, constitute a threat to the Syrian government alone, and have proved, as a consequence, to be more acceptable to Washington.
The US government has publicly drawn a distinction between Islamic State and the confined-to-Syria-therefore-acceptable rebels, seeking to portray the former as terrorists and the latter as moderates, regardless of the methods they use and their views on Islam and democracy. The deception is echoed by the US mass media, which often complain that when Russian warplanes target non-Islamic State rebels that they’re striking “moderates,” as if all rebels apart from Islamic State are moderates, by definition. US Director of Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that “moderate” means little more than “not Islamic State.” He told the Council on Foreign Relations that “Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who’s not affiliated with” Islamic State. 
The rebels are useful to the US government. By putting military pressure on Damascus to exhaust the Syrian army, they facilitate the achievement of the immediate US goal of “forcing a negotiated settlement to the conflict that will see President Assad and some his supporters leave office while preserving the institutions and security structures of the Syrian state,”  as Congress’s researchers summarize US strategy. Hence, Islamic State exists both as a useful instrument of US policy, and as a threat to US domination and control of Iraq and the broader Middle East. To Washington, the terrorist organization is a double-edged sword, and is treated accordingly. US airstrikes on Islamic State appear calculated to weaken the terrorist group enough that it doesn’t gain more territory in Iraq, but not so much that pressure is taken off Damascus. A tepid approach to fighting the hyper-sectarian terrorist group fits with US president Barack Obama’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying Islamic State, which appears to mean destroying it only after it has served its purpose of exhausting the Syrian army. In the meantime, the anti-Shiite cut-throats are given enough latitude to maintain pressure on Syrian loyalists.
Congress’s researchers concur with this view. They conclude that “US officials may be concerned that a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State may take military pressure off the” Syrian government.  This means that the US president is moderating efforts to destroy Islamic State to allow a group he decries as “simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations”  continue their work of brutalizing local populations. If he truly believed Islamic State was a scourge that needed to be destroyed, the US president would work with the Syrian government to expunge it. Instead, he has chosen to wield Islamic State as a weapon to expunge the Syrian government, in the service of building up Israel and fostering free market and free enterprise economies in the Middle East to accommodate US foreign investment and exports on behalf of his Wall Street sponsors. 
1. Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.
2. Prados and Sharp.
7. Alfred B. Prados, “Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 13, 2006.
11. Israel signed the global treaty banning the production and use of chemical weapons, but never ratified it.
13. Stephen Gowans, “Rethinking Chemical Weapons,” what’s left, August 14, 2015.
14. Prados and Sharp.
16. Steve R. Weisman, “US threatens to impose penalties against Syrians,” The New York Times, April 14, 2003.
17. Prados and Sharp.
22. Adam Zagorin, “Syria in Bush’s cross hairs,” Time, December 19, 2006.
23. Prados and Sharp.
26. Christopher M. Blanchard and Carla E. Humud, “The Islamic State and U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service, December 28, 2015.
27. James Clapper: US Director of Intelligence: http://www.cfr.org/homeland-security/james-clapper-global-intelligence-challenges/p36195
28. Blanchard and Humud.
29. Christopher M. Blanchard, Carla E. Humud Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response,”Congressional Research Service,” October 9, 2015.
30. Blanchard and Humud.
31. Virtually every member of the Obama administration, past and present, is a member of the Wall Street-dominated Council on Foreign Relations, or additionally, has spent part of his or her career on Wall Street. Wall Street was a major source of Obama’s election campaign funding. The strong interlock between Wall Street and the executive branch of the US government is not unique to the Obama administration. See my “Aspiring to Rule the World: US Capital and the Battle for Syria,” what’s left, December 15, 2015.
The Obama administration is pushing ahead with its plans to slash pension benefits for up to one million participants in “underfunded” multi-employer pension funds as part of its drive to make defined-benefit pensions a thing of the past for all US workers.
The White House campaign, carried out in a conspiracy with the major trade unions and multinational corporations, takes place in the wake of the 2013–2014 bankruptcy of Detroit, which set a precedent for slashing the legally protected pension benefits of retirees.
Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s appointee to oversee the pension cuts, held a hearing on behalf of the Treasury Department in Detroit Monday to hear objections to the plan to slash the pension benefits of some 270,000 retired truck drivers, package handlers and other members of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.
The hearing, which took place at Wayne State University, drew an overflow crowd at a 500-seat lecture hall, with up to 1,000 people participating in total. With the exception of the World Socialist Web Site, the media ignored the event, with no US video crews present.
Although retirees had initially been told that the cuts to their benefits would average less than 30 percent, nearly all of those who spoke at the hearing said they had been notified over the Christmas holiday that they would lose between 50 and 80 percent of their pension benefits.
During the two-hour hearing, not a single one of some two dozen pre-selected speakers spoke in favor of the plan to slash pensions. Instead, retirees voiced scathing denunciations of the managers of the Central States Pension Fund, who have received six-figure annual payouts even as they have moved to impose massive benefit cuts. Many made pointed criticisms of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union that jointly administers the fund.
“I suffered the loss of my first marriage, twisted ankles, and a damaged back, 21 dog bites, and all for that pension,” said one retired UPS delivery driver.
This overwhelming opposition by pensioners does not matter, according to Feinberg. When asked by the World Socialist Web Site after the hearing what would happen if workers voted down the proposed pension cuts, Feinberg said he had the prerogative to impose pension cuts regardless.
“The law says that I must impose it over their objections” Feinberg said. “So if I accept the plan and it’s rejected by a vote, the law requires me in that situation to overrule the vote.”
The law Feinberg was referring to is the Multi-employer Pension Reform Act of 2014, passed by Congress in December 2014 with virtually no public discussion as part of an omnibus appropriations bill. Acting on this law, in October 2015 the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund unveiled its plans to cut the benefits of workers it covers.
That law is itself the outcome of a February 2013 proposal, entitled “Solutions not Bailouts,” from the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, composed of major corporations and unions. The document lists among its signatories the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), both of which have since sought to publicly distance themselves from the pension-cutting bill.
Workers denounced the Teamsters’ lobbying on behalf of the bill, as well as the decision by the union to allow shipping company United Parcel Service (UPS) to exit the fund in 2007. This removed the largest base of active employees in the fund in exchange for allowing the Teamsters to extract union dues from the company’s freight division workers. As a result, UPS retirees said at the meeting that they are facing pension cuts of more than 50 percent, despite the fact that UPS earned record profits in the fourth quarter of 2015.
“Why on Earth would you let UPS leave the fund?” asked Debra Bakus, the daughter of Dennis Siecienski, a member of Teamsters Local 51 who worked for Entenmann’s for 41 years. She added, “I find it appalling that the trustees of this fund would pay millions to lobbyists out of your fund to get [the Multi-employer Pension Reform Act] passed.”
“I have to move in with my daughter if they cut my pension,” said Mr. Siecienski, who faces a reduction of 51 percent. “His employer is still contributing to the fund,” added Ms. Bakus.
Nationwide, there are some 10 million beneficiaries of multi-employer pension funds, of whom about 1 million receive benefits from “underfunded” plans.
As the Obama administration’s “special master” of executive compensation during the 2008 bank bailout, Feinberg rubber-stamped multi-million-dollar bonuses for executives at companies whose activities helped cause the financial crash.
Now, as the official responsible for imposing sweeping benefit cuts on hundreds of thousands of workers, Feinberg is working diligently to ensure that the transfer of social resources from working people to Wall Street continues unimpeded.
In 2009, the Obama administration justified giving multi-million-dollar bonuses to executives at American International Group, which had received a $185 billion bailout from the federal government, on the grounds that contractual obligations were sacrosanct and could not be abridged by the government.
Asked by the World Socialist Web Site whether he would use a similar approach with regard to workers’ pensions, Feinberg declared that he never approved multi-million-dollar bonuses to Wall Street executives.
Retiree Richard Fairley asked Feinberg, “can you fix my ignition switch?” in reference to his kid glove treatment of General Motors in the deaths of over a hundred people due to defective ignition switches.
But a 2012 report by Neil Barofsky, the inspector general for the TARP bank bailout, exposes Feinberg’s statement as a lie. Barofsky found that Feinberg “approved total compensation packages in the millions” and did not “effectively rein in excessive compensation.”
Barofsky’s report added, “In 2009, OSM [Office of the Special Master, i.e., Feinberg] approved total compensation of cash and stock of more than $1 million each for five AIG employees including a $10.5 million pay package for AIG’s new CEO that included a $3 million cash salary.” Barofsky added that Feinberg “approved compensation ranging from $4.3 million to $7.1 million each for four AIG employees who that year were also scheduled to receive cash retention awards of up to $2.4 million.”
At the hearing, speaker after speaker described how the proposed pension cuts would financially devastate them and their families. They appealed for Feinberg to see reason and deny the proposal by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.
But far from being an independent arbiter, Feinberg is a bag-man for Wall Street and its representatives in the Obama administration. His role is not to arbitrate an equitable solution to the chronic de-funding of employee pensions in the United States, but rather to facilitate the outcome most favorable to the banks and major corporations.
Monday’s meeting took place in the context of a growing resistance and opposition by the working class. Over the past month, Detroit teachers and students have defied the Detroit Federation of Teachers to stage sick-outs at over eighty schools. Teachers in Chicago, Illinois have launched protests against efforts to further starve public schools and slash wages and benefits.
Meanwhile, protests in Flint, Michigan have made the lead poisoning of residents by officials at the state, local, and federal level a national and international issue. These actions follow the eruption of opposition among US autoworkers last year against efforts by the United Auto Workers to ram through contracts that further undermine jobs and benefits.
In each case, workers are being drawn into conflict with both big business parties, along with the trade unions, which defend the capitalist system and are collaborating with the corporations in driving down the conditions of the working class.
The task now is to unify these struggles in a common working class movement, armed with a socialist perspective of breaking the power of the financial oligarchy and reorganizing society in the interest of social need, not private profit.
February 10, 2016
SHOW NOTES AND MP3: https://www.corbettreport.com/?p=17810
Although it gets short shrift in the history textbooks, in many ways the modern American empire can find its origins in the Spanish-American War. Today we talk to James Perloff of JamesPerloff.com about his article on the war, “Trial Run for Interventionism,” and how the bankers used their media and political connections to launch the war and introduce foreign interventionism to the American psyche.
Ahead of a February 12 visit by Pope Francis to Mexico, around 30 indigenous communities in Michoacan, Mexico, have released a statement demanding that he apologize for killings of some 24 million aboriginal inhabitants, committed with the complicity of the Catholic Church during the colonization of the Americas.
The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan, Mexico, accused the Catholic Church of being involved in mass genocide, which started with the Spaniards’ arrival to the Central American region in the 16th century.
The statement noted that, by the beginning of the 17th century, there were less than 700,000 native inhabitants left alive, from an original population of about 25.2 million, which makes the Spanish intervention and invasion of the Americas one of the largest acts of genocide in history.
“For over 500 years, the original people of the Americas have been ransacked, robbed, murdered, exploited, discriminated and persecuted,” the statement reads. “Within this framework, the Catholic Church has historically been complicit and allies of those who invaded our land.”
The communities also emphasized that colonizers’ abuses included the forcing of European culture, language and Catholicism on the native peoples of Central America, and using the Bible as an “ideological weapon.”
“The arrival of the Europeans meant the interruption and destruction of various original civilizations, which had their unique ideas and concepts of the world, our own government, writings, languages, education, religion and philosophy,” they said.
Various Purepechas communities from Michoacan demanded that the Pope officially apologize for the church’s role in the genocide of some 95 percent of the indigenous population of Central America within about a century following the beginning of the “European invasion.”
During his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis will issue a decree authorizing the use of indigenous languages in mass celebrations. The controversial move is aimed at protecting the rights of native people in the country.
In 2015, the Pope apologized for “grave sins” committed against the native people of the Americas during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and in the presence of Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.