“I am the least popular guy in Washington.” Thus spoke Rand Paul at a stopover rally in Massachusetts on his way to New Hampshire on June 7. Who can doubt that claim after the events of the last few weeks.
When you have Barack Obama, John McCain, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell all arrayed against you, you are bound to get the award for least popular guy in Empire’s capital city. An accolade of this magnitude also means that you must be doing something right. And that something right was Paul’s filibuster against the PATRIOT Act in the Senate in defiance of his own Party, an act that killed the Section 215 and the other ugly provisions of the PATRIOT Act dead.
Now here is the strange thing about Senator Paul’s acts of courage and defiance. Those who wish to see respect for privacy and the Bill of Rights withhold their praise from Paul! Is that not strange on the face of it? It is great to have sympathizers who are also critical when the occasion demands it — and Paul has these in abundance. But when a political figure like Rand Paul does something right, he also deserves praise. To withhold such praise will in the end weaken an ally and perhaps lead to his political demise.
So let’s get to the overdue praise right now. One loud full-throated cheer for Rand Paul – for his courageous stance opposing the PATRIOT Act and also for opposing Obama’s fake reform USA FREEDOM Act which has replaced it.1 Virtually all the Democratic Senators who stood against PATRIOT embraced the USA FREEDOM Act. Paul opposed both.
At the Massachusetts rally Paul launched into an impressive and detailed defense of the Bill of Rights, a theme this writer heard him pursue last Fall, at the Liberty Political Action Conference (LPAC) in Virginia. And this time, as then, there was emphasis on the toll that violations of the Bill of Rights took on Blacks, Latinos and other minorities. He put it this way, that violations of the Bill would most affect the “least among us,” those discriminated against based on the color of their skin or other minority status. Of course that is a phrase echoing Matthew 29:40 which would be convincing to the many Christians in the audience. And Paul reminded the audience that one could take on minority status based on what one thinks or believes, another strong appeal to contrarians and libertarians among the listeners. Paul went on to appeal to the audience to turn the Republican Party into one that represents and recruits Blacks, Latinos and other minorities, adding that this was not only an ethical imperative but also a winning strategy. It is easy to imagine the appeal of the Rand Paul libertarians in those communities that are subjected to the New Jim Crow, victimized in the “war” on drugs, hunted and often killed by brutal, militarized police. Rand Paul has stood against all these things openly and vigorously
It is a pity that only the rare progressive will hear such a speech by Paul. For in these matters he is their ally. Unfortunately, most progressives do not feel a need to do this since, as they will tell you, they “already know” what Rand Paul stands for.
So let a second thunderous cheer go up for Rand Paul’s opposition to the war on drugs with its mandatory minimums, to police militarization and brutality and to other manifestations of the New Jim Crow.
While we are at it, let us look at a stance of Paul’s that has attracted less attention but may be one of the most important. He has called attention to the disaster unfolding as a result of the War on Libya, and quite correctly called it Hillary’s War since she was the driving force for it. It has destroyed Libya, which before the war had the highest rating in all of African on the UN’s Human Development Index. It has launched a wave of immigrants to Europe, many of them perishing at sea along the way. And to get approval for the Western intervention, the US lied to the UN Security council, claiming that there would be no bombing but only a no-fly zone for “humanitarian” reasons. Instead the West became the air force for the opposition to Gaddafi, bombing Libya mercilessly. That lie has had grave consequences for world peace, with Vladimir Putin stating that lie was the last straw in terms of believing or trusting the U.S.
So let us add a third and final rousing cheer for Paul in bringing the War on Libya to the forefront where its ugly significance can be seen by one and all. This conflict was no inheritance from Bush but the Obama administration’s very own war from day one.
To return to the issue of mass surveillance, the cause of the first cheer, and those who regret that Rand Paul was unable to stop the USA FREEDOM Act as he did the PATRIOT Act, they should recognize he did what he could. With a bigger base and some more cheers, there is little doubt that much more could be done to stop the Spy State and the other atrocities Paul has opposed.
- If you have any doubts that the USA FREEDOM Act is a sham reform, the PATRIOT Act in disguise, here is what the ACLU’s director Jameel Jaffer had to say about the “USA FREEDOM Act”:
This bill would make only incremental improvements, and at least one provision—the material-support provision—would represent a significant step backwards. The disclosures of the last two years make clear that we need wholesale reform.
For more detail and a hint of how bad the USA FREEDOM Act really is, read what Jaffer said to Glenn Greenwald here.
If that does not convince you, think about this. Obama has been making love to the PATRIOT Act since he has been in office, advocating and winning its extension in 2011. But after Snowden’s revelations burst on the scene in 2013, the widespread anger made it impossible for PATRIOT’s ugly provisions like Section 215 to survive. So Obama offered a “reform.” It would have been very surprising, given Obama’s record, if that reform were anything other than the fig leaf it turned out to be. And a pathetic fig leaf it is, woefully inadequate at providing cover for our clothes-less, spying Emperor.
By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | June 25, 2015
“States Confront Cavernous Holes In Their Budgets” The New York Times headlined in a front page report June 8, 2015.
Reporter Julie Bosman described the exasperation of governors unable to provide traditional public services: Wisconsin, short by $280 million; Kansas, short by $400 million; Alabama, short by $702 million; Louisiana, short by $1.6 billion; Illinois, short by $3 billion; and Alaska, short by $4 billion.
Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin Republican, “has proposed closing the gap by decreasing funding to the public schools, the state’s university system, public workers’ health benefits and state parks,” Bosman writes.
While state budgets may be busted, and American taxpayers sink ever deeper into credit card debt, “defense” contractors are dining lavishly at the public trough.
“Defense” is in quotes because the U.S., with 900 overseas bases (so says Ron Paul, former Texas congressman) and a history of making wars may now be indisputably labeled an aggressor nation. In his “Rogue State,” Washington journalist Bill Bloom documents how the U.S. has overthrown scores of countries by force and violence around the world from Chile to Iran. The stance of America today—that it is being threatened everywhere by nations large and small–reminds very much of what economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote about ancient Rome:
There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, the allies would be invented…The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. …The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies.
The eminent international legal authority Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois, Champaign, agrees. Boyle says that it is Obama who is beating the war drums. Boyle notes Obama funded the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine, and is now working “with neo-Nazis (there) and literally threatening Russia.” (Look for yourself: Are Russian troops taking up positions along America’s borders in Mexico and Canada or are American troops and their NATO allies taking up positions along Russia’s frontiers?)
According to Business Insider, Pentagon’s outlay of $682 billion for arms last year, was greater than the next 10 countries combined—China, Russia, UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil. That may sound like “defense,” but it smells like aggression. Prior to WWII, dictators Hitler and Stalin also built huge war machines [not to mention the UK and US, powers which sought and achieved war as a means to consolidating or expanding their dominance].
Christian Davenport reported in The Washington Post (April 30, 2014) that “The costs of the Pentagon’s major weapons systems have ballooned nearly half a trillion dollars over their initial price tags…”
He pointed to a report by the Government Accountability Office published during a congressional hearing “in which senators from both parties vented about continued cost overruns, billions of dollars wasted when contracts are canceled and a system that is plagued by a high level of turnover that prevents anyone from being held accountable.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) listed a series of failed programs, The Post said, including an attempt to replace the White House helicopters’ fleet. McCain called them examples of “really unacceptable cost overruns we’ve seen in the past, and apparently a failure to get a lot of it still under control.” Wild spending is what you get when you exempt the Pentagon from close audits. Abroad, it is running amok.
24/7 Wall Street’s Samuel Weigley wrote that, in recent year 2011, the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services to the Pentagon. Of that sum, the top 10 “defense” contractors sold $208 billion. Much of that sum was paid to the contractors without competitive bidding, inflating costs.
The Big Ten, and their sales figures, are: (1) Lockheed-Martin, $36 billion; (2) Boeing, $32 billion; (3) BAE Systems, $29 billion; (4) General Dynamics, $24 billion; (5) Raytheon, $23 billion; (6) Northrop Grumman, $21 billion; (7) EADS, $16 billion; (8) Finmeccanica, $15 billion; (9) L-3 Communications, $13 billion; and (10) United Technologies, $12 billion.
In 2011, for example, the Pentagon with outlays of $878 billion, topped America’s spending charts, showing again that the chief business of America is w-a-r. The Washington Post termed the U.S. “defense” budget “staggering.” And this is no idle choice of words.
Economically, the country is staggering. America has the largest army, the largest air force, and the largest navy in the world. In most categories it is stronger than the next five or 10 nations combined. Meanwhile, American states and cities are going broke and public works—from highways to water pipes to bridges—are crumbling.
In round numbers, the U.S. is short $1.6 trillion for unmet public works—water mains, highways, bridges, etc.—95 million Americans have housing problems, including 3.5 million homeless (a third of them families with children); 46 million people are on food stamps; 30 million people are unemployed or underemployed; 44 million people lack medical insurance; one in six Americans goes to bed hungry; etc., etc. Yet, the Military-Industrial Complex is awash in prosperity.
When President Obama attacked Libya in 2011, he justified his crime by stating there are times “when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.” Here’s an admission in his own words that he is attacking nations that do not directly threaten America! And doing so in flagrant violation of Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution, which confers the right to make war only on Congress, not the White House. Usurping that power is the act of a dictator.
As for the cost, The Los Angeles Times on June 16, 2011, reported, “The Obama administration is spending almost $9.5 million every single day to blow things up in Libya because the president has determined that is in the country’s national interest, this country’s national interest, not Libya’s.” Might that money have been better spent in Camden, N.J. or Vallejo, Calif, two of our many hard-pressed cities?
And the billions devoted to blowing apart Libya in the first six months of that war is nothing compared to what Obama is quietly spending on nuclear weapons.
Obama, who pledged in 2009 “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” is upgrading the lethality of an atomic arsenal already so deadly it can destroy all life on Earth! Price tag: (says one Federal study) $1-trillion. And he perpetuated a war he inherited in Iraq, helping build up a $3 trillion price tag.
But Mr. Obama’s secretive war-making, (all of it illegal), goes far beyond what is reported in the press. As Kevin Gosztola wrote in Firedoglake on May 16, 2013, “The reality is current US wars are not limited to the one winding down in Afghanistan and the other one that recently ended in Iraq. There are numerous wars going on unannounced, undeclared and in secret. The world is literally a battlefield with conflicts being waged by the US (or with the “help” of the US). And, no country is off-limits to US military forces.”
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D.-Wis.) speaking at the time of the Libya attack, declared, “Our troops must be brought home safely and soon from Afghanistan and Iraq; and Congress must return its focus to creating jobs, educating our children, and ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.” (Somebody’s got it right!)
On July 10, 2010, reporter Bob Woodward was told by President Obama, “To quote a famous American (Civil War General Sherman) ‘War is hell.’ And once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don’t know where it’s going to lead.” By no stretch of the human imagination can it be said that Mr. Obama is taking General Sherman’s warning to heart. He has unleashed the dogs of war over and again–actions that justify his impeachment.
Another warning Mr. Obama is also disregarding comes from founder James Madison, who in 1795 famously wrote, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” And this nation hasn’t—or haven’t you noticed?
© 2015 Sherwood Ross
By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | June 20, 2015
President Obama was, of course, right to denounce the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and to call for an end to such violence.
But this begs the question of whether he will stop his own illegal drone strikes in the Middle East that are just as deadly and a hundred times more numerous than the attack in South Carolina.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism(BIJ), London, just since Mr. Obama came to power, at least several thousand innocent persons (all are presumed innocent unless proven guilty by trial) in Pakistan alone have been murdered by his agents in the CIA and Pentagon. Among the dead are several hundred children. Here are BIJ’s distressing figures for that nation:
All actions 2004 – January 31 2015
Total Obama strikes: 362
Total US strikes since 2004: 413
Total reported killed: 2,438-3,942
Civilians reported killed: 416-959
Children reported killed: 168-204
Total reported injured: 1,142
The Bureau’s reports regarding covert US drone attacks cover both the missions of the CIA and the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
If nothing else, the horror of Charleston should inform the American public of the shock and awe their president is inflicting with grim regularity in the Middle East. His is a campaign that, to our shame and sorrow, is creating immense blowback against America.
Mr. Obama has maintained U.S. forces take great care that only terrorists are killed but an April 26th article in The Wall Street Journal by Adam Entous reports “he secretly approved a waiver giving the Central Intelligence Agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants…”
Entous continued, “The rules were designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Mr. Obama also required that proposed targets pose an imminent threat to the U.S.—but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.” Why, you ask?
Mr. Obama, (who is reputed to be a former CIA employee,) according to RealClearPolitics is “In Thrall to CIA Killing Machine.” Writer Toby Harnden wrote of him on April 16, 2013: “The man who ran as a liberal, anti-war candidate has brushed away concerns about the (drone) attacks. During one meeting he responded to a request for an expansion of America’s drone fleet by saying: ‘The CIA gets what the CIA wants!'”
In his comments about the church murders, Mr. Obama said, “once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” (Much less directing America’s trillion-dollar-a-year killing machine!)
Mr. Obama said further, “let’s be clear… It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency, and it is in our power to do something about it.” (Oh, yes it does! It happens far more often in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, among other places, and the man who is responsible for them and who can do something about it is the same man wearing the long face in the White House.)
With reference to this article, the eminent Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, commented:
As the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior said a generation ago, the United States government is ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.’
It is a terrible tragedy and a great shame that nothing has changed today under our first African American President and my fellow graduate of the Harvard Law School who knows better. The massive violence that America perpetrates abroad brutalizes the American People at home. President Obama has taught the world that in his opinion ‘violence works.’ Doctor King is now crying in Heaven.
By Sherwood Ross | Aletho News | June 17, 2015
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has charged in the London Review of Books that the White House narrative of the May 2, 2011, killing of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is largely “false.”
In a 10,000-word account, Hersh wrote that when bin Laden was slain by U.S. Navy Seals he had been a prisoner of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency(ISI) since 2006 and that top Pakistani military officials knew of the raid in advance and were complicit in bin Laden’s execution by removing their guards from his compound and ensuring airspace access for attacking U.S. helicopters.
President Obama said bin Laden and two of his men were killed in the firefight during the raid, as well as a bin Laden wife used as a human shield. He added that “no Americans were harmed.” (It’s a rather strange “firefight” when all the dead and wounded are on one side.)
Moreover, the idea that bin Laden was killed when he resisted the assault force, suggests that the ISI guards allowed their prisoner and his aides to have weapons, also dubious. And the U.S. claim that Obama was not an ISI captive is undercut by the location of bin Laden’s compound, in a Pakistan military and intelligence community.
ISI was holding bin Laden hostage, threatening Taliban and al-Qaida leadership with turning him over to the U.S. if they ran operations contrary to ISI interests, Hersh said.
“Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defense,” a Hersh source told him. “Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defense?” the source scoffed.
Hersh pointed out that “The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama’s announcement that the death of bin Laden was ‘the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work,'” when, in fact, the U.S. learned of his whereabouts from a walk-in informer. This man was an ex-Pakistani intelligence officer “who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the U.S…”
Then there’s the matter of Obama’s alleged burial at sea. Although Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette said the funeral service followed “traditional procedures for Islamic burial,” Hersh pointed out “there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.”
What’s more, the Navy refused to make the carrier’s log of daily events available to reporters and skipper Bruce Lindsey told them he was unable to discuss the burial. And Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the carrier group’s strike force, told reporters “the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial.” Sound a bit fishy? Maybe that’s because two “longtime consultants” to Special Operations Command(SOC) told Hersh,”the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place.”
Over and again, we find the Administration ordering its officials not to talk about the raid. As Hersh pointed out, every member of the Seals hit team and some members of the Joint SOC leadership “were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private.”
Readers attempting to decide which account of bin Laden’s death to believe might also consider that the Administration shifted its story on key points.
“Within days (of the raid),” Hersh said, “some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield.” The fact that bin Laden had no weapons adds strength to the argument he was an ISI prisoner, not a free man shielded by guards bristling with guns.
White House National Security spokesman Ned Price, brushed off the Hersh article with, “There are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece to fact check each one.” (So how many did he fact check?) And a CIA official dismissed the Hersh account as “utter nonsense.” (This from an agency with a track record for lying stretching from Viet Nam to Iraq.)
In point of fact, while Obama has built a reputation for lying and breaking his promises, Hersh has a reputation for honesty and repertorial excellence. He won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking the My Lai massacre story in 1969. He’s also won two National Magazine awards and five coveted Polk awards. Plus UK’s prestigious George Orwell Award for political writing.
By contrast, numerous observers have concluded that President Obama lies systematically to the public. Attorney John Whitehead, President of the non-profit Rutherford Institute, of Charlottesville, Va., a defender of civil liberties, writes:
“When it comes to the NSA, Obama has been lying to the American people for quite some time now. There was the time he claimed the secret FISA court is ‘transparent.’ Then he insisted that ‘we don’t have a domestic spying program.’ And then, to top it all off, he actually insisted there was no evidence the NSA was ‘actually abusing’ its power.”
Pacifist writer David Swanson, author of “War No More: The Case for Abolition,” found no fewer than “45 lies” in Obama’s September 24, 2013, speech to the United Nations. Just one example: Obama said, “we have … worked to end a decade of war.”
To the contrary, Swanson says, “Obama expanded the war on Afghanistan. Obama expanded… drone wars. Obama has increased global U.S. troop presence, global U.S. weapons sales, and the size of the world’s largest military. He’s put ‘special’ forces into many countries, waged a war on Libya, and pushed for an attack on Syria. How does all of this ‘end a decade of war’?”
We also need to consider how much Obama had to gain if he could show voters he could “get” bin Laden. In his 2012 re-election bid, the Obama campaign milked the bin Laden slaying for all it was worth, even making a video narrated by actor Tom Hanks about it. The Huffington Post’s Ben Feller at the time wrote an article headlined, “Obama Campaign Using Osama Bin Laden Killing As 2012 Campaign Tool.”
If the Hersh account is accurate, and bin Laden was unarmed, it begs the larger question of why the Pentagon ordered an elite unit to assault his compound with guns blazing when he could have been taken prisoner? Isn’t there a question or two the American people might have liked to ask bin Laden about the 9/11 massacre?
In retrospect, the Obama White House achieved its goals. President Obama improved his re-election chances by killing bin Laden rather than bringing him to justice, even if he had to stamp out the truth to do it. In the process, he fixed things so the Seals can’t talk, the sailors can’t talk, the admirals can’t talk and, above all, Osama bin Laden can’t talk.
When thinking about the protection of human rights, Saudi Arabia doesn’t immediately come to mind. After all, this year the Saudis are on course to break their own record of 87 decapitations in 2014. It is only June and the Saudi leaders have already chopped off their 84th head. Religious apostasy is a leading offense resulting in decapitation and last year half of all such killings were carried out for non-lethal offenses. According to a news report last year, bringing Christian bibles into the country is considered a capital offense.
In addition, it is illegal to build a Christian church in Saudi Arabia.
That is why it seems so strange that Saudi Arabia last week hosted an international conference “on combating religious discrimination” backed by the United Nations and attended by the president of the UN Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia, considered one of the planet’s worst human rights abusers, is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and will take over as chair of the Council next year.
Saudi Arabia’s unique view of human rights extends beyond its borders as well. For the past three months Saudi Arabia has been bombing neighboring Yemen in retaliation for the overthrow of the Saudi-favored Yemeni leader. Yemen did not attack or commit aggression against Saudi Arabia, but thus far Saudi bombs have killed thousands of innocent Yemeni citizens. Just this week one raid killed more than 40 civilians, including women and children.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia has likely spent billions financing terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra — and even ISIS.
How ironic that a US government that seems to go out of its way to see the splinter in the eye of other nations seems to consistently turn a blind eye to the log in the eye of the Saudi royals (and in our own too, it must be said).
Of course this is not to say that the United States should attack or even sanction Saudi Arabia. But should we promise to defend them? Just last month President Obama pledged that he would use the US military to defend Saudi Arabia and the other US “allies” in the Gulf.
Said the president:
The United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack and will deepen and extend the cooperation that we have when it comes to the many challenges that exist in the region.
It is all about shared values and human rights.
Senator McCain and friends have a new push on to once again ban torture (except for exceptions in the Army Field Manual) that is being presented as an effort to preempt future Republican presidents’ torturing. This reinforces two false beliefs. One is that torture is not ongoing today under President Peace Prize. The other is that torture wasn’t banned before George W. Bush was ever selected by the Supreme Court.
Last December, Senator Ron Wyden had a petition up at MoveOn.org that read “Right now, torture is banned because of President Obama’s executive order. It’s time for Congress to pass a law banning torture, by all agencies, so that a future president can never revoke the ban.” This is the same mythology being pushed by McCain yet again. Wyden went on to explain:
“We live in a dangerous world. But when CIA operatives and contractors torture terrorist suspects, it doesn’t make us safer — and it doesn’t work. The recent CIA torture report made that abundantly clear. Right now, the federal law that bans torture only applies to the U.S. military — not our intelligence agencies. President Obama’s executive order barring all agencies from using torture could be reversed, even in secret, by a future president. That’s why it’s critical that Congress act swiftly to pass a law barring all agencies of the U.S. government, and contractors acting on our behalf, from engaging in torture. Without legislation, the door on torture is still open. It’s time for Congress to slam that door shut once and for all.”
Why in the world would anybody object to this unless they supported torture? Well, let me explain.
Torture and complicity in torture were felonies under U.S. law before George W. Bush moved into the White House, under both the torture statute and the war crimes statute. Nothing has fundamentally changed about that, other than the blatant lack of enforcement for several years running. Nothing in those two sections of the U.S. code limits the law to members of the U.S. military or excludes employees or contractors or subcontractors of so-called intelligence agencies. I emailed a dozen legal experts about that claim in the above petition. Michael Ratner replied “I don’t see where they get that from.” Kevin Zeese said simply “They’re wrong.” If anyone replies to me with any explanation, I’ll post it as an update at the top of this article on davidswanson.org — where I can be contacted if you have an explanation.
For the past several years, the U.S. Congress, White House, Justice Department, and media have gone out of their way to ignore the existence of U.S. laws banning torture. When silence hasn’t worked, the primary technique has been proposing over and over and over again to ban torture, as if it were not already banned. In fact, Congress has followed through and banned it a number of times, and done so with new exceptions that by some interpretations have in fact weakened the war crimes statute. This is my best guess where the nonsense about applying only to “intelligence agencies” comes from: laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that claimed to pick and choose which types of torture to ban for whom.
When President Obama took President Bush’s place he produced an executive order purporting to ban torture (again), even while publicly telling the Justice Department not to enforce any existing laws. But an executive order, as Wyden seems to recognize, is not a law. Neither can it ban torture, nor can it give legal weight to the pretense that torture wasn’t already banned. In fact the order itself states: “Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441 . . . .”
Senator Wyden said he would introduce yet another bill to “ban torture.” Here’s how the Washington Post was spinning, and explaining, that:
“Torture is already illegal, but Wyden notes that protections can be strengthened. To oversimplify, the U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in which participating states agreed to outlaw intentionally inflicting severe pain for specific purposes. The Bush administration obviously found a (supposedly) legal route around that.”
In other words, because it was done by a president, it was legal — the worldview of the Post’s old buddy Richard Nixon.
“After the Abu Graib revelations, John McCain helped pass a 2005 amendment that would restrict the military from using specific brutal interrogation tactics — those not in the Army Field Manual. (This didn’t preclude intel services from using these techniques, which might explain why CIA director John Brennan felt free to say the other day that future policymakers might revert to using them). In 2008, Congress passed a measure specifically applying those restrictions to intelligence services, too, but then-President Bush vetoed it. Senator Wyden would revive a version of that 2008 bill as a starting point, with the goal of codifying in law President Obama’s executive order banning the use of those specific techniques for all government employees, those in intelligence services included.”
But let’s back up a minute. When a president violates a law, that president — at least once out of office — should be prosecuted for violating the law. The law can’t be declared void because it was violated. Loopholes can’t be created for the CIA. Reliance on the Army Field Manual can’t sneak into law the loopholes built into that document. Presidents can’t order and un-order things illegal. Here’s how the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson responded to the release of the Senate’s report summary:
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the U.S. Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the U.S. Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.”
Now, one could try to spin the endless re-banning of torture as part of the process of enforcing an international treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. But banning a practice going forward, even when you ban it better, or ban it more emphatically for the 8th time, does absolutely nothing to fulfill the legal obligation to prosecute those crimes already committed. And here we are dealing with crimes openly confessed to by past officials who assert that they would “do it again” — crimes that resulted in deaths, thus eliminating any attempt at an argument that statutes of limitations have run out.
Here’s a different sort of petition that we’ve set up at RootsAction.org along with Witness Against Torture and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: ” We call on President Obama to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce our laws, and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor. As torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, we call on any willing court system in the world to enforce our laws if our own courts will not do so.”
The purpose of such a petition is not vengeance or partisanship or a fetish with history. The purpose is to end torture, which is not done by looking forward or even by pardoning the crimes, as the ACLU has proposed — to its credit recognizing that the crimes exist. That should be a first step for anyone confused by the endless drumbeat to “ban torture.”
The Obama administration is trying to tack 20 years onto a Florida man’s tax fraud sentence for the supposed crime of possessing books the government doesn’t like. The Intercept reports:
Now, to demonstrate that Robertson’s tax charges merit a terrorism enhancement, the government has cited a number of books owned by Robertson that allegedly extol extremist beliefs. Robertson, who is recognized as an Islamic scholar, owned a library which included roughly 10,000 e-books, a small number of which are alleged by the government to have contained passages deemed controversial.
The government hasn’t provided any evidence to demonstrate that Robertson endorsed, let alone acted upon, any of the passages cited in these books, the defense counters. “There is nothing contained in the prosecution’s memorandum which connects Mr. Robertson to any actual conspiracy to commit terrorism,” Robertson’s attorney, Daniel Broderson, said. “He is an Islamic scholar who owned thousands of books, and they are trying to pull select passages from a handful of books he owned to try and make the case that he’s an extremist.”
Robertson, who says he’s worked for the FBI and CIA as an asset in the past, alleges that the government is retaliating against him for “refusing to conduct an overseas operation requested by the CIA.”
“The government is trying to use my case to establish a legal precedent, where even if a person is not charged with actual terrorism offenses they can still try them as a ‘terrorist’ using the sentencing adjustment,” Robertson told The Intercept. “This is not just about prosecuting my case specifically, it’s about creating a precedent whereby the government can simply go through the books you own and use them to frighten people into believing that you’re a terrorist.”
Despite US military dominance, Obama accuses Russian leader of attempting to ‘recreate Soviet empire’
Responding to ongoing brinkmanship between the United States and his country, Russian President Vladimir Putin dared reporters to publish a map of the two nations’ global military footprints and then “see the difference.”
The comments came over the weekend as G7 leaders assembled in Bavaria, Germany—a meeting which, prior to the recent upheaval in Ukraine, would have also included Russia. On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama closed the summit by saying that the Russian leader was aiming to “recreate the Soviet empire.”
G7 leaders stood united in their threat to increase sanctions against Russia if the conflict in Ukraine escalates.
“Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire?” Obama asked in his closing remarks. “Or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”
However, Obama’s accusations of Russia violating the “sovereignty of other countries” are striking in light of the United States’ own military strategy, which Putin highlighted days earlier in a Saturday interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“U.S. military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together,” Putin said. “The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is 10 times, note—10 times higher than that of the Russian Federation.”
Outside of what he described as the “remnants” of Soviet-era armed forces in Tajikistan, Armenia, and zones with high terrorist threat such as the Afghanistan border and Kyrgyzstan, Putin said that “Russia has virtually no bases abroad.”
“We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on,” he said.
And despite statements about Russian aggression, this draw-down highlights a policy that “in this respect is not global, offensive or aggressive.”
“I invite you to publish the world map in your newspaper and to mark all the U.S. military bases on it,” Putin continued. “You will see the difference.”
Amid the verbal sparring match, the U.S. military also took steps to increase pressure on the ground.
On Friday, U.S. Strategic Command announced that three nuclear-capable B52 bombers were being deployed in addition to two B2 bombers to the United Kingdom for exercises to demonstrate “the United States’ ability to project its flexible, long-range global strike capability” in training missions over the Baltic states and Poland.
A lack of integrity can be seen in Obama’s recent comments about Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
On June 7, President Obama told the G7 gathering in Schloss Elmau Krün, Germany that the world must “stay focused on the importance of upholding the principles of territorial integrity” regarding Ukraine.
Like Obama, most casual Western observers seem to have their own ideas about what is and is not integral to Ukraine. Not everyone’s ideas on this match the facts, though.
I describe the related misconceptions in detail in my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs. But let me give you a brief synopsis.
In early 2014, Ukraine experienced a complete collapse of constitutional authority. You wouldn’t know that from the Western headlines. They claimed that the democratically-elected president Yanukovych had been impeached. But, truth be told, he was not impeached. Those who told you that he was were either misinformed or lying. The facts are clearly documented in my book.
Even the US government at first admitted that Yanukovych was not impeached. US sponsored international broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty early-on revealed that he was not. In a story titled “Was Yanukovych’s Ouster Constitutional?” the US international broadcaster documented that the efforts to impeach him fell short of the constitutionally required vote.
I personally asked the Ukrainian mission to the United Nations about this. A spokesperson admitted that Yanukovych had not been successfully impeached.
Once the story got out about the media impeachment fraud, however, the initiators of the American and Ukrainian fabrication changed their story. Now they were saying that Yanukovych had abandoned his office.
But the new regime did not respect the constitution when they wanted to replace him. Impeachment and resignation were the only constitutional options. Neither was followed. So then, the Maidanists conveniently threw out the constitution.
By no stretch of any reasonable imagination can it be considered that the imposition of new leadership in Kyiv was either democratic or constitutional.
So if there was not a legal transition, what happened?
If you examine the facts you will find it hard to disagree that a complete constitutional collapse occurred. The president was forced under threat of death to leave the country, and the democratically installed constitution was nullified.
In the wake of all this, three entities stepped in to fill the vacuum. On one hand there were the Maidanist revolutionaries who forced their way into control in Kyiv. Most of the former-Ukraine accepted the revolutionary control. Yanukovych had been a very unpopular leader.
This transition was not accepted by the leaders in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. And they seem to have had the support of most of their people. They declared their own claim to the territories in which they lived. They never voted for the Maidanist revolutionaries, nor did they support the revolution. The Maidanist revolutionaries never had control over Crimea or eastern Ukraine. The people there had decided to go their own way. If ever there was a clear example of the UN principle of self-determination it was here.
The Maidanists had no legitimate right to force themselves upon the eastern part of the former Ukraine, nor on Crimea. The invasion by Kyiv of eastern Ukraine was without provocation. The Maidanist revolutionary claims to those territories were not superior to the claims of the people who were living in those regions.
And this shows exactly the absence of integrity in Obama’s argument. There was no violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity at a time when the former-Ukraine lacked any legally identifiable territorial integrity. Basically, there were three separate claims to parts of the territory of the former Ukraine. Surely Obama and his crew must have studied the situation carefully enough to realize that.
However, now Obama seems to be trying to put one over on the EU and the rest of the world on this situation. What principle of territorial integrity is he talking about? Where is his own integrity when it comes to Ukraine?
If Obama can’t be honest with the EU and with his own people on this matter, what personal integrity does he have left?
William Dunkerley is author of Ukraine in the Crosshairs. He is a media business analyst, principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, and a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.
NORTH VERNON, IN – While the media was focused on Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn Jenner last week they missed the further transformation of the Indiana State Police into a militarized police Force.
Together with the Indiana National Guard they weren’t practicing solving crimes, they were practicing Fast Rope techniques from a Blackhawk helicopter.
The above video contains actual footage which the Free Thought Project secured from the department of Defense, of the exercises.
Unlike in the recent special forces exercise that just occurred in Michigan, using live ordinance at an abandoned public school, this exercise took place at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.
Discarding their traditional police uniforms they adorned military fatigues and we’re fully equipped to kill.
This clearly contradicts Obama’s declaration of last month to crack down on the militarization of local police.
Even while Obama claims a crackdown is occurring, the local police can still use military equipment because through a loophole that equipment doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to the military.
All around us we are witnessing a military buildup enslave a free people while the media fixates on issues of no consequence to liberty.
The only way around it is to bypass them altogether. Use the power in your hands right now to inform others. Without an informed and activated citizenry can we ever be free.
So join Next News in the New Media Coalition with the Free Thought Project and share this to your social networks.
If you’d like to see what military equipment your local department has acquired through the Fed’s 1033 program, you can do so at this link.
Vladimir Putin said this weekend that “Russia would attack NATO only in a mad person’s dream.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of mad people working in western politics and media.
If the G7 were based on GDP, adjusted for purchasing power, it would be comprised of the USA, China, India, Japan, Russia, Germany and Brazil. Such a lineup would have remarkable clout. Members would boast 53% of the globe’s entire GDP and the planet’s 3 genuine military superpowers would be represented.
The problem for Washington is that this putative G7 might actually be a forum for a real debate about the world order.
Instead of a real G7, we have a farce. An American dominated talking shop where the US President allows ‘friendly’ foreign leaders to tickle his belly for a couple of days. There is no dissent. Washington’s dominance goes unquestioned and everyone has a jolly time. Especially since they kicked out Russia last year – Vladimir Putin was the only guest who challenged the consensus.
However, the problem is that this ‘convenient’ G7 is way past its sell-by-date. The days when its members could claim to rule the world economically are as distant as the era of Grunge and Britpop. Today, the G7 can claim a mere 32% of the global GDP pie. Instead of heavyweights like China and India, we have middling nations such as Canada and Italy, the latter an economic basket case. Canada’s GDP is barely more than that of crisis-ridden Spain and below that of Mexico and Indonesia.
Yet, the Prime Minister of this relative non-entity, Stephen Harper, was strutting around Bavaria all weekend with the confidence of a man who believed his opinion mattered a great deal. Of course, Harper won’t pressure Obama. Rather, he prefers to – metaphorically – kiss the ring and croon from the same hymn sheet as his southern master.
NATO and the G7 – 2 sides of 1 coin?
There was lots of talk of “Russian aggression” at the G7. This was hardly a surprise given that 6 of the 7 are also members of NATO, another body at which they can tug Washington’s forelock with gay abandon. Obama was at it, David Cameron parroted his guru’s feelings and Harper was effectively calling for regime change in Russia. It apparently never occurred to the trio that resolving their issues with Russia might be easier if Putin had been in Bavaria? The knee-jerk reaction to remove Russia from the club was hardly conducive to dialogue.
Meanwhile, Matteo Renzi stayed fairly quiet. It has been widely reported that the Italian Prime Minister privately opposes the EU’s anti-Russia sanctions due to the effects on Italy’s struggling economy. Also, Renzi’s next task after the G7 summit is to welcome Putin to Rome.
With that visit in mind, Putin gave an interview to Italy’s Il Corriere della Sera where he essentially answered the questions that Obama, Cameron and Harper could have asked him if they hadn’t thrown their toys out of the pram and excluded Russia from the old G8. Putin stressed that one should not take the ongoing “Russian aggression” scaremongering in the West seriously, as a global military conflict is unimaginable in the modern world. The Russian President also, fairly bluntly, stated that “we have better things to be doing” (than starting World War 3).
Putin also touched on a point many rational commentators have continuously made. “Certain countries could be deliberately nurturing such fears,” he added, saying that hypothetically the US could need an external threat to maintain its leadership in the Atlantic community. “Iran is clearly not very scary or big enough” for this, Putin noted with irony.
A world of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’
For Washington to maintain its huge military spending, it has to keep its citizens in a state of high alarm. Otherwise, they might insist that some of the armed forces’ cash is diverted to more productive things like hospitals and schools. These services, of course, are not very profitable for weapons manufacturers or useful for newspaper and TV editors looking for an intimidating narrative.
Following the collapse of the USSR, Russia was too weak and troubled to be a plausible enemy. Aside from its nuclear arsenal – the deployment of which would only mean mutual destruction – the bear’s humbled military was not a credible threat. Instead, the focus of warmonger’s venom shifted to the Middle East and the Balkans, where Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Slobodan Milosevic and Osama Bin Laden kept the general public’s attention occupied for roughly a decade and a half. However, they are now all dead and pro-war propaganda needs a new bad guy to play the Joker to America’s Batman.
Kim Jong-un looked promising for a while. Nevertheless, the problem here is that North Korea is too unpredictable and could very feasibly retaliate to provocations. Such a reaction could lead to a nuclear attack on Seoul, for instance, or draw Washington into a conflict with China. Even for neocons, this is too risky. Another candidate was Syria’s Basher Al-Assad. Unfortunately, for the sabre rattlers, just as they imagined they had Damascus in their sights, Putin kyboshed their plan. This made Putin the devil as far as neocons are concerned and they duly trained their guns in his direction.
Russia – a Middle East/North Africa battleground?
In the media, it is noticeable how many neocon hacks have suddenly metamorphosed from Syria ‘experts’ into Russia analysts in the past 2 years. Panda’s Mark Ames (formerly of Moscow’s eXILE ) highlighted this strange phenomenon in an excellent recent piece. Ames focused on the strange case of Michael Weiss, a New York activist who edits the anti-Russia Interpreter magazine (which is actually a blog). The Interpreter is allegedly controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a shadowy foundation called Herzen (not the original Amsterdam-based Herzen) of which no information is publicly available.
Weiss was a long-time Middle East analyst, who promoted US intervention to oust Assad. Suddenly, shortly before the initial Maidan disturbances in Kiev, he re-invented himself as a Russia and Ukraine ‘expert,’ appearing all over the US media (from CNN to Politico and The Daily Beast ) to deliver his ‘wisdom.’ This is despite the fact that he appears to know very little about Russia and has never lived there. The managing editor of The Interpreter is a gentleman named James Miller, who uses the Twitter handle @millerMENA (MENA means Middle East, North Africa). Having been to both, I can assure you that Russia and North Africa have very little in common.
Weiss and Miller are by no means unusual. Pro-War, neocon activists have made Russia their bete noir since their Syria dreams were strangled in infancy. While most are harmless enough, this pair wields considerable influence in the US media. Naturally, this is dressed up as concern for Ukraine. In reality, they care about Ukraine to about the same extent that a carnivore worries about hurting the feelings of his dinner.
Russia’s military policy is “not global, offensive, or aggressive,” Putin stressed, adding that Russia has “virtually no bases abroad,” and the few that do exist are remnants of its Soviet past. Meanwhile, it would take only 17 minutes for missiles launched from US submarines on permanent alert off Norway’s coast to reach Moscow, Putin said, noting that this fact is somehow not labeled as “aggression” in the media.
Decline of the Balts
Another ongoing problem is the Baltic States. These 3 countries have been unmitigated disasters since independence, shedding people at alarming rates. Estonia’s population has fallen by 16% in the past 25 years, Latvia’s by 25% and Lithuania’s by an astonishing 32%. Political leaders in these nations use the imaginary ‘Russian threat’ as a means to distract from their own economic failings and corruption. They constantly badger America for military support which further antagonizes the Kremlin, which in turn perceives that NATO is increasing its presence on Russia’s western border. This is the same frontier from which both Napoleon and Hitler invaded and Russians are, understandably, paranoid about it.
The simple fact is that Russia has no need for the Baltic States. Also, even if Moscow did harbor dreams of invading them, the cost of subduing them would be too great. As Russia and the US learned in Afghanistan and America in Iraq also, in the 21st century it is more-or-less impossible to occupy a population who don’t want to be occupied. The notion that Russia would sacrifice its hard-won economic and social progress to invade Kaunas is, frankly, absurd.
The reunification of Crimea with Russia is often used as a ‘sign’ that the Kremlin wishes to restore the Soviet/Tsarist Empire. This is nonsense. The vast majority of Crimean people wished to return to Russia and revoke Nikita Khrushchev’s harebrained transfer of the territory to Ukraine. Not even the craziest Russian nationalist believes that most denizens of Riga or Tallinn wish to become Russian citizens.
Putin recalled that it was French President Charles de Gaulle who first voiced the need to establish a “common economic space stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” As NATO doubles down on its campaign against Moscow, that dream has never looked as far off.
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish writer and commentator focusing on Russia and its hinterlands and international geo-politics. Follow him on Facebook
The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.
Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step” — and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”
That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants. Drake is a former senior executive of the National Security Agency — and a whistleblower who endured prosecution and faced decades in prison for daring to speak truthfully about NSA activities. He ran afoul of vindictive authorities because he refused to go along with the NSA’s massive surveillance program after 9/11.
Drake understands how the NSA operates from the highest strategic levels. He notes a telling fact that has gone virtually unacknowledged by anti-surveillance boosters of the USA Freedom Act: “NSA approved.” So, of course, did the top purveyor of mendacious claims about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs — President Barack Obama — who eagerly signed the “USA Freedom” bill into law just hours after the Senate passed it.
A comparable guardian of our rights, House Speaker John Boehner, crowed: “This legislation is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”
While some organizations with civil-liberties credentials have responded to the USA Freedom Act by popping open champagne bottles at various decibels, more sober assessments have also been heard. Just after senators approved the bill and sent it to the president, Demand Progress issued a statement pointing out: “The Senate just voted to reinstitute certain lapsed surveillance authorities — and that means that USA Freedom actually made Americans less free.”
Another astute assessment came from CREDO, saying that Congress had just created “sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans.”
As it happened, the President signed the USA Freedom Act into law while four U.S. “national security” whistleblowers — Drake as well as Coleen Rowley (FBI), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department) and Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) — were partway through a “Stand Up For Truth” speaking tour from London to Oslo toStockholm to Berlin. Traveling as part of the tour, I’ve been struck by the intensity of interest from audiences in the countries we’ve already visited — Great Britain and Norway — where governments have moved to worsen repressive policies for mass surveillance.
Photo of (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter
Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States: to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish, seeking to roll back a dangerous accumulation of power by an ostensibly democratic government. Let’s not unwittingly deceive them — or ourselves — about how much ground the U.S. surveillance state has lost so far.