Reprieve – February 10, 2016
The Egyptian Foreign Minister has defended his government’s mass imprisonment of political activists, and the use of lengthy pre-trial detention periods, during a visit to Washington DC to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry among other officials.
In an interview with NPR that aired today, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry defended the detention without trial of activists and others arrested at protests in 2013, saying that arrests only took place where protestors didn’t have ‘permits’. Asked why many protestors were still imprisoned and awaiting trial two years later, he said: “It is a long time, but I believe justice has to be given the opportunity, within the impartiality of the judicial system, to ascertain all of the facts and to pass a verdict”.
Mr Shoukry added that “no country” has a perfect human rights record, and that “there will always be ups and downs.” He said that “it is our intention to do everything possible to live up to those [human rights] standards and provide the rights of all individuals.”
Since taking power in July 2013, the Sisi government has overseen thousands of arrests of protestors, journalists and others, many of whom have been put through mass trials that fail to meet international standards. International human rights group Reprieve, which assists several prisoners in Egypt, recently established that between 2014 and the end of 2015, nearly 600 death sentences were handed down, the majority in relation to political charges.
Hundreds of other prisoners are enduring lengthy periods of pre-trial imprisonment; one trial involving 494 people has been postponed 12 times since it began in 2014. The defendants, including Ibrahim Halawa – an Irish student, who is being assisted by Reprieve – are currently understood to be undergoing torture, including forms of ‘crucifixion’ and electrocution. Mr Halawa is one of several prisoners in the trial who were arrested as juveniles, and who are being tried as adults in violation of Egypt’s Child Law.
Reprieve has previously written to Secretary Kerry, asking him to press the Egyptian government to end the use of mass trials and release prisoners who were arrested as juveniles.
In an interview with RT, Russian military analyst Alexander Zhilin said that US media allegations that Russia is pursuing its own interests in Syria are “absolute nonsense”, given that Moscow “cooperates there with the legitimately elected president.”
He also pointed to Washington’s hypocritical statements about the necessity of fighting terrorism, saying they came as the White House continued to use terrorism as a major mechanism of its foreign policy.
“Just think about it: if a country with a military budget exceeding the consolidated budget of all the countries in the world uses terrorism as the main instrument of its foreign policy, fighting terrorism is almost impossible”, Zhilin said.
“My question is: who are you to make such calls? It means Obama who bombed out half the world’s territory must not step down, while Assad must step down, right? It is the wrong approach,” he said.
According to him, Washington currently wages so-called network-centric warfare against Moscow, a military doctrine pioneered by the US Department of Defense in the 1990s. The goal is to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive advantage through the robust computer networking of a well-informed, geographically decentralized force.
“The United States has started a propaganda [war] against Russia, which is why it is creating an anti-Russian coalition with the participation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US private military companies,” he pointed out.
Zhilin expressed regret about foreign media outlets, including CNN and the BBC, being involved in this war and misinforming their readers about Russia’s air campaign in Syria. He recalled that Russia’s “participation in Syria suggests the support of the legitimately elected president,” and that “it was Washington which started the invasion without getting the UN’s go-ahead.”
“You know, I’m very sorry that the BBC and CNN, once respected media outlets, have turned into primitive propaganda and disinformation news agencies,” he said.
Zhilin’s remarks came shortly after CNN reported that the Russian air support had allowed the Syrian Army to begin liberating the strategic city of Aleppo, which was seized by militants several years ago. At the same time, CNN alleged that in Syria, Russia does not only struggle with Daesh militants but also pursues its own interests.
Syrian peace talks have already stalled. The opposition refused to be in the same room as the government delegation, while the latter blamed opposition ‘preconditions’ and the organizers’ inability to produce a ‘list of designated terrorists’.
The UN’s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has now promised talks will reconvene on February 25, but how will he achieve this?
So much has shifted on the global political stage and in the Syrian military theater since this negotiation process first began gaining steam.
In just the past few weeks, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have recaptured key areas in Latakia, Idlib, Daraa, Homs and Aleppo, and are making their way up to the Turkish border, cutting off supply lines and exits for opposition militants along the way.
While analysts and politicians on both sides of the fence have warned that a ‘military solution’ to the Syrian crisis is not feasible, the SAA’s gains are starting to look very much like one. And with each subsequent victory, the ability for the opposition to raise demands looks to be diminished.
Already, western sponsors of the talks have as much as conceded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will continue to play a role in any future government – a slap in the face to the foreign-backed Syrian opposition that have demanded his exit.
And the long list of deliverables in peace talks yet to come – transitional governance, ceasefires, constitutional reform, and elections – are broad concepts, vague enough to be shaped to advantage by the dominant military power on the ground.
The shaping of post-conflict political landscapes invariably falls to the victor – not the vanquished. And right now, Geneva looks to be the place where this may happen, under the watch of many of the states that once threw their weight – weapons, money, training, support – behind the Syrian ‘opposition.’
So here’s a question: As the military landscape inside Syria continues to move in the government’s favor, will a final deal look very much different than the 2011 reforms package offered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
Assad’s 2011 reforms
In early 2011, the Syrian government launched a series of potentially far-reaching reforms, some of these unprecedented since the ascendance of the Baath party to power in 1963.
Arriving in Damascus in early January 2012 – my third trip to Syria, and my first since the crisis began – I was surprised to find restrictions on Twitter and Facebook already lifted, and a space for more open political discourse underway.
That January, less than ten months into the crisis, around 5,000 Syrians were dead, checkpoints and security crackdowns abounded, while themes such as “the dictator is killing his own people” and “the protests are peaceful” still dominated western headlines.
Four years later, with the benefit of hindsight, many of these things can be contextualized. The ‘protests’ were not all ‘peaceful’ – and casualties were racking up equally on both sides. We see this armed opposition more clearly now that they are named Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIS. But back in early 2012, these faces were obfuscated – they were all called “peaceful protestors forced to take up arms against a repressive government.”
Nevertheless, in early 2011, the Syrian government began launching its reforms – some say only to placate restive populations; others saw it as an opportunity for Assad to shrug off the anti-reform elements in his government and finish what he intended to start in 2000’s ‘Damascus Spring.’
Either way, the reforms came hard and fast – some big, some small: decrees suspending almost five decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings, the establishment of a multi-party political system and terms limits for the presidency, the removal of Article 8 of the constitution that assigned the Baath party as “the leader of state and society,” citizenship approval for tens of thousands of Kurds, the suspension of state security courts, the removal of laws prohibiting the niquab, the release of prisoners, the granting of general amnesty for criminals, the granting of financial autonomy to local authorities, the removal of controversial governors and cabinet members, new media laws that prohibited the arrest of journalists and provided for more freedom of expression, dissolution of the cabinet, reducing the price of diesel, increasing pension funds, allocating housing, investment in infrastructure, opening up direct citizen access to provincial leaders and cabinet members, the establishment of a presidential committee for dialogue with the opposition – and so forth.
But almost immediately, push back came from many quarters, usually accompanied by the ‘Arab Spring’ refrain: “it’s too late.”
But was it?
Western governments complained about reforms not being implemented. But where was the time – and according to whose time-frame? When the Assad government forged ahead with constitutional reforms and called for a nationally-held referendum to gain citizen buy-in, oppositionists sought a boycott and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the referendum “phony” and “a cynical ploy.”
Instead, just two days earlier, at a meeting in Tunis, Clinton threw her significant weight behind the unelected, unrepresentative, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC): “We do view the Syrian National Council as a leading legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change.”
And when, in May 2012, Syria held parliamentary elections – the first since the constitution revamp – the US State Department called the polls: “bordering on ludicrous.”
But most insidious of all the catch-phrases and slogans employed to undermine the Syrian state, was the insistence that reforms were “too late” and “Assad must go.” When, in the evolution of a political system, is it too late to try to reform it? When, in the evolution of a political system, do external voices, from foreign capitals, get to weigh in on a head of state more loudly than its own citizens?
According to statements made by two former US policymakers to McClatchy News : “The goal had been to ‘ratchet up’ the Syria response incrementally, starting with U.S. condemnation of the violence and eventually suggesting that Assad had lost legitimacy.”
“The White House and the State Department both – and I include myself in this – were guilty of high-faluting rhetoric without any kind of hard policy tools to make the rhetoric stick,” confessed Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria.
An analysis penned by veteran Middle East correspondent Michael Jansen at the onset of the talks in Geneva last week ponders the point: “The Syrian crisis might have been resolved in 2011 if US president Barack Obama had not declared on August 18th that year that his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad had to ‘step aside.’”
Were the additional 250,000 Syrian deaths worth those empty slogans? Or might reforms, in Syrian hands, have been worth a try?
Domestic dissent, Assad and reforms
The story inside Syria, within the dissident community, still varied greatly during my January 2012 trip. But with the exception of one, Fayez Sara, who went on to eventually leave the country and join the SNC, Syrian dissidents with whom I met unanimously opposed sanctions, foreign intervention and the militarization of the conflict.
Did they embrace the reforms offered up in 2011? Mostly not – the majority thought reforms would be “cosmetic” and meaningless without further fundamental changes, much of this halted by the growing political violence. When Assad invited them to participate in his constitutional reform deliberations, did these dissidents step up? No – many refused to engage directly with the government, probably calculating that “Assad would go” and reluctant to shoulder the stigma of association.
But were these reforms not a valuable starting point, at least? Political systems don’t evolve overnight – they require give-and-take and years of uphill struggle.
Aref Dalila, one of the leaders of the ‘Damascus Spring’ who spent eight years in prison, told me: “The regime consulted with me and others between March and May and asked our opinion. I told them there has to be very serious reforms immediately and not just for show, but they preferred to go by other solutions.”
Bassam al-Kadi, who was imprisoned for seven years in the 1990s, managed to find one upside to reforms:
Speaking about the abolishment of the state security courts in early 2011, Kadi said: “Since 1973 until last May, it was actually a court outside of any laws and it was the strong arm of the regime. All trials held after abolishing this court have taken place in civilian courts. Sometimes the intelligence apparatus intervenes but in most cases the judge behaves according to his or her opinion. Hundreds of my friends who were arrested in the past few months, most were released within one or two weeks.”
This reform, by the way, took place a mere few months before Jordan’s constitutional reforms added another security layer – the state military courts – for which it was promptly lauded.
Hassan Abdel Azim, head of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) which included 15 opposition parties, took a different view: “Our point of view is that such reforms can only take place when violence stops against protestors… But since the regime tries to enforce its reforms, the result will only be partial reforms that enhances its image but not lead to real change.”
The NCC went on to have a short-lived alliance with the foreign-based SNC which fell apart over disagreements on “non-Arab foreign intervention.”
Louay Hussein who headed the Tayyar movement and spent seven years in prison when he was 22 (and recently as well), told me that January: “We consider Assad responsible for everything that’s happened but we are not prepared to put the country in trouble… In March, we wanted what the regime is giving now (reforms). But when the system started using live bullets we wanted to change it and change it quickly. But after all this time we have to reconsider our strategy.”
And the list goes on. The views ranged from dissidents who “like Assad, but hate the system” to those who wanted a wholesale change that was arrived at through a consultative process – but definitely not foreign intervention. Eighteen months later when I revisited some of these people, their views had transformed quite dramatically in light of the escalation of political violence. Even the ones who blamed the government for this escalation seemed to put their arms around the state, as nationalists first and foremost.
Had the conflict not taken on this stark foreign-backed dimension and become so heavily militarized, they may have expended their energies on pushing at the limits of reforms already on the table.
How can Geneva transform Syria?
First on the table in Geneva is the establishment of a transitional process that gets the two sides working on common governance. On a parallel track, demilitarization is on the menu – which basically consists of organizing ceasefires throughout Syria. The transitional team will then work on hammering out a new constitution, with elections to be held within 18 months.
That sounds a bit like the process already underway in Syria in 2011 and 2012.
Certainly, the opposition believes it has a stronger hand today than back in 2011, supported as it is by the UN-sponsored Geneva process. But the difficulties will start the moment decisions need to be made about which opposition participates in the transitional body, if they can even manage to convince the Syrian government – now racking up military victories every week – that it needs to relinquish a chunk of its authority to this new entity.
It is the kind of ‘opposition’ that eventually enters the transitional process that will help ultimately determine its outcome. Look for some Riyadh- and Turkish-backed opponents to be tossed by the wayside during this process.
With the introduction of Russian air power and qualitative military hardware last autumn, the Syrian army and its allies have gained critical momentum in the field.
So why would the Syrian state backtrack on that momentum to give up authority in Geneva? Even the expectation of this is illogical.
There is a growing consensus among Syria analysts that the Americans have ceded the Syrian theater to the Russians and Moscow’s allies. Washington has barely registered any meaningful objections to Russian airstrikes over the past months, apart from some sound bites about hitting ‘moderate rebels’ and not focusing enough on ISIS.
Part of the US problem is that, without any clear cut Syria strategy, it has found itself neck-deep in this crisis without any means to extricate itself from the uncomfortable dependencies of thousands of rebel militants, and the demands of increasingly belligerent allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
They Russians offer that opportunity – like they did in 2013 by taking the Syrian chemical weapons program off the table – and it looks like Washington is grabbing it with both hands right now. It is likely that Moscow waited to intervene in the Syrian quagmire only when it was absolutely sure the US needed an exit – any earlier, and the Americans were still playing both sides and all cards.
For Geneva to move forward, the participants are going to have to make some awkward commitments. Firstly, the batch of Islamists-for-hire that currently makes up the opposition will need to be finessed – or torn apart – to include a broad swathe of Syrian ethnic groups, sects, political viewpoints and… women.
Secondly, all parties to the talks need to agree on which militants in the Syrian theater are going to make that “terrorist list.” This was a clear deliverable outlined in Vienna, and it hasn’t been done. This all-important list will make clear which militants are to be part of a future ceasefire, and which ones will be ‘fair game.’
After all, there can be NO ceasefires until we know who is a designated terrorist and who can be a party to ground negotiations.
I suspect, however, that this terrorist list has been neglected for good reason. It has spared western rebel-sponsors the discomfort of having to face the wrath of their militants, while allowing time for the Russians and Syrians to mow these groups into the ground. Hence the stream of recent victories – and the accompanying timid reaction from Washington.
As the balance of power shifts further on the ground, we may see a much-altered ‘Geneva.’ Will it genuinely beget a political process, will the players at the table change, will the ‘political solution’ be entirely manufactured behind the curtains… only to be offered up to an unsuspecting public as a victory wrenched from a ‘bad regime?’
Because, right now, Syria would be fortunate to have those 2011 reforms on that table, the rapt attention of the global community encouraging them forward, weapons at rest. A quarter million Syrians could have been spared, hundreds of towns, cities and villages still intact, millions of displaced families in their own homes.
Perhaps Geneva can bring those reforms back, wrapped in a prettier package this time, so we can clap our hands and declare ourselves satisfied.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani
The U.S. has announced funding for a new Plan Colombia as the country moves towards a resolution to its civil war. What is its real purpose?
Colombia’s peace process has entered its final phase. Agreements have been reached on land reform, political participation, and the rights of victims. The discussions are now focused on ending the conflict and implementation and verification of the accords. The deadline for a final agreement is March 23, and it might be met.
In this last phase of negotiations, Colombia’s president reached out to the US for aid. On February 4, a new initiative was unveiled in Washington by presidents Santos and Obama: the new version of Plan Colombia, which they called “Paz Colombia”. Obama began by commemorating the success of Plan Colombia, a plan that brought military helicopters and escalated aerial fumigation to the country. “We were proud to support Colombia and its people as you strengthened your security forces, as you reformed land laws, and bolstered democratic institutions,” he said. “And after 15 years of sacrifice and determination, a tipping point has been reached. The tide has turned.”
Santos elaborated on the successes since Plan Colombia was rolled out in 2000: “Today we can say without a doubt that the goals that we had in 2000 — such as fighting the drug war, strengthening institutions, and imposing the rule of law, and to take social programs to great parts of remote Colombian territory — those objectives have been met.”
The history of Plan Colombia is slightly different than that presented by Obama and Santos. As lawyer Dan Kovalik outlined in this article for teleSUR English, the problems the president’s claim Plan Colombia solved were mostly made worse by it.
Take Santos’s objectives, which Plan Colombia supposedly met: The drug war? There may be a peace agreement between the government and FARC, but the drug war promises to go on and on. The rule of law and the strengthening of institutions? These were certainly areas of struggle over the past 15 years, but any gains made there were fought for by the people, not flown in by the military helicopters of Plan Colombia. Social programs and protections? Many have been lost under neoliberalism – some have been preserved by struggle by Colombia’s movements.
What about Obama’s list? Security forces were strengthened, to be sure. New equipment was introduced and soldiers were trained in its use. But the Plan Colombia years were years of collaboration between the military and the paramilitaries, who were responsible for the most horrific violence. Reformed land laws? The 15 years of Plan Colombia were a time of losses of land and of rights to land. Colombia’s 1991 Constitution was one of the most progressive in Latin America when it came into force. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian territorial rights were enshrined. Paramilitary violence escalated after this constitution, as elites deployed their forces to create facts on the ground: specifically, to use terror and massacre to force people to flee the territories they had just won legal rights to. Millions of people were displaced from their lands in this way. Legal changes under the 15 years of Plan Colombia, the “reformed land laws”, attempted to retroactively legalize this loss of land. As for the bolstering of democratic institutions, it was in the Plan Colombia years that the “para-politica” or “para-Uribe” scandal occurred – evidence of signed contracts between politicians and paramilitaries to kill and displace local people.
There were other scandals too, in the Plan Colombia years. The Colombian security services wiretapping politicians involved in the peace process. The Colombian military entrapping and murdering completely innocent peasants, dressing them up as guerrillas, and using the deaths to inflate the numbers of casualties their units were inflicting (“false positives”).
At the announcement of the Paz Colombia plan, Obama said that the US would support the peace the same way it had supported the war. If this is the plan, it is frightening. When Plan Colombia started in 2000, there was actually a peace process underway between the FARC and the government. It had begun just a year before, in 1999. There is little question that Plan Colombia helped to derail it, steering the Colombian government towards a military solution.
At $450 million USD, the scale of Paz Colombia was reportedly disappointing to President Santos. The original Plan Colombia was announced at $1.3 billion USD, most of which paid for US-manufactured attack helicopters. Colombia paid several times that amount out of its own budget for Plan Colombia. Colombians paid for Plan Colombia, and they will be paying for Paz Colombia.
Those were not the only costs Colombians paid. The environmental and health costs of the spraying are difficult to calculate. In 2008, Ecuador took Colombia to court over the ecological and health damage caused by aerial fumigation on the Colombia-Ecuador border. In 2013, the lawsuit was settled for $15 million, which environmentalists argued was an extreme undervaluation of the damage. The true damages might be in the billions.
Many problems remain. Neither the peace accords nor Paz Colombia deal with the bigger cause of violence over the decades: the paramilitaries. Implementation will be fraught with difficulties. When previous guerrilla groups disarmed and joined politics (Union Patriotica and M-19), they were devastated by state-backed paramilitary assassination campaigns. Unarmed social movements have struggled during the talks, as they did during the war, to get their voices heard and their sacrifices recognized.
But a negotiated end to the armed conflict has long been a demand of these movements, and its realization is to be celebrated. The movements will be the ones fighting to prevent Colombia’s post-war reality from being “mired in structural poverty and violence and endemic corruption”, as Hector Perla wrote in teleSUR last week.
It is not accurate to say that the US is standing with Colombia in peace as it did in war. It might be more accurate to say that the US is trying to control the peace as it controlled the war. If the history of Plan Colombia is a guide, an independent path might yield a better peace.
‘The politics of deflection’ (shoot the messenger, ignore the message) exposed
With obvious relish Richard Falk, former professor of international law at Princeton and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Occupied Palestine, has issued a well deserved slap on the wrist to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his naivety. It follows Israel’s furious reaction to Ban’s remark to the Security Council that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half-century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process”.
The usually timid Ban, suddenly emboldened, also called Israel’s illegal settlement building “an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community”. He added: “Security measures alone will not stop the violence. They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians – especially young people.” Whereupon Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu, fresh from approving another 150 squatter homes on stolen Palestinian land, accused the Secretary General of giving a “tailwind to terror”.
Falk penned an open letter to Ban reminding him of his earlier attempts to get Falk dismissed from his UN job for speaking the same truths. “Having read of the vicious attacks on you for venturing some moderate, incontestable criticisms of Israel’s behaviour, I understand well the discomfort you clearly feel. What intrigues and appals me is that while I was Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine during the period 2008-2014, you chose to attack me personally in public on several occasions, joining with US and Israel diplomats calling for my dismissal and doing the utmost to undermine my credibility while discharging this unpaid UN job under difficult conditions.
“At the time, I was doing my best to bear witness to some of the same truths about Israel’s unlawful and immoral behavior that recently got you in similar hot water. My UN mandate was to report upon the reality of Israeli violations of international law while sustaining their apartheid regime of oppressive control over the Palestinian people.”
Referring to Ban’s concern that we are reaching “a point of no return” for the two-state solution and his reminder to the Security Council that the UN will “continue to uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination”, Falk warns that, given present realities, self-determination must be understood as something more than just “another delusionary embrace of a diplomatically negotiated two-state solution”.
He points out that Israel’s leaders want the idea of a Palestinian state abandoned altogether and that reliance on such a discredited diplomatic path [a two-state solution] has resulted over and over again in severe encroachments on occupied Palestine and intense suffering for its people. “Clinging to the two-state mantra is not neutral. Delay benefits Israel, harms Palestine. There is every reason to believe that this pattern will continue as long as Israel is not seriously challenged diplomatically and by the sorts of growing pressures mounted by the international solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.”
Jessica Reznicek, 34, an Iowa peace activist, was arraigned yesterday and charged with two felonies for breaking three windows with a sledgehammer at the Northrup Grumman facility outside the Omaha Nebraska Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force base. After her court appearance she was returned to the Sarpy County Jail where she has remained on $100,000 bond since her action on December 27. Reznicek, who has no plans to post a cash bond, is facing up to twenty years in prison if convicted on both counts. Her trial is set for May 24.
Writing from her jail cell, Reznicek, who has lived and worked at the Des Moines Catholic Worker for years, said she broke the windows as an act of conscience “in an effort to expose the details of the defense contracts currently held by Northrup Grumman with U.S. Strategic Air Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base. Over the years, billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the hands of these money-hungry, bomb-building, and computer geek space war criminals.”
Her letter continued, “Yes, glass did shatter. It shattered like the illusion that Northrop Grumman holds human life in any way in its best interest. It shattered like the illusion Iraq ever possessed weapons of mass destruction. It shattered like the illusion Iraqis were involved in 9/11. It shattered like the lie that perpetual war will ever bring peace. Glass shattered in the name of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives taken when Northrop Grumman/STRATCOM’s direct bombs from space rained down upon them from space. I destroyed two windows and a door, yes! STRATCOM with its cooperate partner Northrop Grumman destroys life in the tens of thousands.”
“My intention was to be on the property and to do property destruction, that’s what I wanted to do,” Reznicek told a local television reporter via a jailhouse phone interview. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I didn’t want to scare anybody.”
Why Northrup Grumman? Northrup Grumman has been manufacturing weapons and weapon systems for profit for the US government for decades. Its primary customer is the US government which accounts for about 85 percent of its total sales every year. The massive corporation spends $10 to $20 million each year lobbying Congress according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In return it is one of the very top recipients of federal contracts year after year.
In October 2015 Northrup Grumman received the biggest prize of all, a $55 billion contract from the US to build 21 long range strike bombers. According to the Secretary of the Air Force, these bombers will “allow the Air Force to launch an airstrike from the continental US to anywhere in the world.”
USA Today included Northrup Grumman in its list of the ten companies profiting the most from war. The corporation recently reported it generated $2.6 billion in income and earned a profit of 12.9%. Its CEO makes more than $21 million a year. Board members are paid over $250,000 each per year and include several who passed through the revolving door of government like one high-ranking twenty year Democratic member of Congress, a General who was appointed by President Bush to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an Admiral who was Chief of Naval Operations under President Bush.
Even in jail, Reznicek remains hopeful. “I want to say now that I truly believe that the American people are done with war – done funding, killing and dying in U.S.-led wars and terrorism – and are ready to pave a path to peace.”
“I acted in accordance with my conscience and my spirit and that my property destruction was a useful form of nonviolent direct action. I do not stand in judgment of folks who feel uncomfortable using such methods. Nonetheless, I want to stand beside them, asking them to develop and apply their own means to expose the lies of Northrop Grumman & STRATCOM be it through education, research, writing letters, public discussions, public vigils, rallies and marches and yes, even civil disobedience.
“We all have our part to play. Here in the heartland of America we who seek peace must make efforts to dismantle the U.S. military dominance of space from the top down, by publicly and nonviolently resisting the joint Northrup Grumman and STRATCOM missions.
“This is why I acted. You do not have to act as radically or dramatically as I did, but please make a statement in your own way against government funded companies which focus on war and destruction.
“I’ll sit in jail for as long as I need to if it gets people talking.”
Fran Quigley is clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
“Unfortunately today, these neoconservatives whose philosophy is that intellectuals should be in the service of tyrants who rule using big lies and mass murder, have taken over the academy and they don’t belong in the academy,” said Kevin Barrett, who has a Ph.D in Arab and Islamic studies and is one of America’s best-known critics of the so-called war on terror.
“Transparency and freedom are the ideals of the academy; because the neoconservatives reject these ideals, they have no business in the academy” Barrett told Press TV on Monday.
On Saturday, an American female professor at a Christian university who got in trouble after wearing the hijab and saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has agreed to leave the school.
Wheaton College, located near Chicago, Illinois, and political science professor Larycia Hawkins have reached a confidential agreement in which they will “part ways,” the college said in a statement.
“This seems to be a very strange kind of phenomenon that a professor should not be allowed to teach at a university,” said Barret, who himself was fired from the University of Wisconsin for accusing the US government of being involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“The whole idea is ludicrous but apparently not in Wheaton College, where Islamophobia appears to be mandatory,” he added. “Anyone who doesn’t hate Muslims with all their heart and soul apparently is not welcome to teach at Wheaton College.”
“It’s a disgrace and an outrage and travesty and anybody who cares about freedom in America should head straight to Chicago to protest, to go and occupy the offices of the administration [of Wheaton College] there.”
The Saudi plan to send ground troops into Syria appears to be just a ruse. But this is precisely the kind of reckless saber-rattling that could ignite an all-out war, one that could embroil the United States and Russia.
Saudi rulers have reportedly amassed a 150,000-strong army to invade Syria on the alleged pretext “to fight against terrorism” and to defeat the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS/ISIL). Saudi officials told CNN that in addition to Saudi troops there are ground forces from Egypt, Turkey, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a categorical response, saying the move would be seen as an act of aggression and that any invasion force regardless of its stated reasons for entering Syria will be sent back in “wooden coffins”.
Nevertheless, US President Barack Obama has welcomed the Saudi plan to intervene in Syria.
Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is this week due to meet in Brussels with counterparts from the US-led so-called “anti-terror” coalition to make a decision on the whether to activate the Saudi plan. A Saudi military spokesman has already said that if the US-led coalition gives its consent then his country will proceed with the intervention.
In recent weeks, Carter and other senior US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have been calling for increased regional Arab military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Carter and Biden have also said the US is prepared to send in its own ground troops en masse if the Geneva peace talks collapse.
Now, those talks appear to be floundering. So, does that mean that a large-scale invasion of US-led foreign armies in Syria is on the way?
Let’s step back a moment and assess what is really going on. The Saudi warning – or more accurately “threat” – of military intervention in Syria is not the first time that this has been adverted to. Back in mid-December, when Riyadh announced the formation of a 34-Islamic nation alliance to “fight terrorism”, the Saudis said that the military alliance reserved the right to invade any country where there was deemed to be a terror threat – including Syria.
Another factor is that the House of Saud is not pleased with US-led diplomatic efforts on Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s bustling to organize the Geneva negotiations – supposedly to find a peace settlement to the five-year conflict – is seen by the Saudis as giving too many concessions to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and his foreign allies, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The Geneva talks – which came unstuck last week – can be arguably assessed as not a genuine internal Syria process to resolve the war – but rather they are a cynical political attempt by Washington and its allies to undermine the Syrian government for their long-held objective of regime change. The inclusion among the political opposition at Geneva of Al Qaeda-linked militants, Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, with Western backing, illustrates the ulterior purpose.
The Washington Post gave the game away when it reported at the weekend: “The Obama administration has found itself increasingly backed into a corner by Russian bombing in Syria that its diplomacy has so far appeared powerless to stop.”
In other words, the Geneva diplomacy, mounted in large part by Kerry, was really aimed at halting the blistering Russian aerial campaign. The four-month intervention ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned the tide of the entire Syrian war, allowing the Syrian Arab Army to win back strategically important terrain.
That the Russian military operations have not stopped, indeed have stepped up, has caused much consternation in Washington and its allies.
Russia and Syria can reasonably argue that the UN resolutions passed in November and December give them the prerogative to continue their campaign to defeat ISIS and all other Al Qaeda-linked terror groups. But it seems clear now that Kerry was counting on the Geneva talks as a way of stalling the Russian-Syrian assaults on the regime-change mercenaries.
Kerry told reporters over the weekend that he is making a last-gasp attempt to persuade Russia to call a ceasefire in Syria. Indicating the fraught nature of his discussions with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said: “The modalities of a ceasefire itself are also being discussed… But if it’s just talks for the sake of talks in order to continue the bombing, nobody is going to accept that, and we will know that in the course of the next days.”
Moscow last week was adamant that it would not stop its bombing operations until “all terrorists” in Syria have been defeated. Syria’s Foreign Minister al-Muallem reiterated this weekend that there would be no ceasefire while illegally armed groups remain in Syria.
What we can surmise is that because the US-led covert military means for regime change in Syria is being thwarted and at the same time the alternative political means for regime change are also not gaining any traction – due to Russia and Syria’s astuteness on the ulterior agenda – the Washington axis is now reacting out of frustration.
Part of this frustrated reaction are the threats from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional regimes – with US tacit approval – to go-ahead with a direct military intervention.
In short, it’s a bluff aimed at pressuring Syria and Russia to accommodate the ceasefire demands, which in reality are to serve as a breathing space for the foreign-backed terrorist proxies.
From a military point of view, the Saudi troop invasion cannot be taken remotely serious as an effective deployment. We only have to look at how the Saudi regime has been battered in Yemen over the past 10 months – in the Arab region’s poorest country – to appreciate that the Saudis have not the capability of carrying out a campaign in Syria.
As American professor Colin Cavell noted to this author: “Saudi intervention in Syria will have as much success as its intervention in Yemen. History has clearly shown that mercenary forces will never fight external wars with any success or elan, and no Saudi soldier in his right mind truly supports the Saudi monarchy. Everyone in Saudi Arabia knows that the House of Saud has no legitimacy, is based solely on force and manipulation, propped up by the US and the UK, and – if it did not have so much money – is a joke, run by fools.”
Thus, while a military gambit is decidedly unrealistic, the real danger is that the Saudi rulers and their American patrons have become so unhinged from reality that they could miscalculate and go into Syria. That would be like a spark in a powder keg. It will be seen as an act of war on Syria and its allies, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The US would inevitably be drawn fully into the spiral of a world war.
History has illustrated that wars are often the result not of a single, willful decision – but instead as the result of an ever-quickening process of folly.
Syria is just one potential cataclysm.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
A private service that banks, employers, and government agencies use to screen customers and clients is blacklisting thousands of people as terrorists, sometimes based on nothing more than inaccurate and bigoted materials online, according to a VICE News article.
Thomson-Reuters’ “World-Check” database slaps a “terrorism” designation — and a picture of a red balaclava — on the profiles of individuals, charities, and religious institutions. Many of them are Muslims who have never been charged or even accused of terrorism-related offenses. The results are far-reaching and can include closure of the blacklisted individuals’ bank accounts, inability to get a job, or denial of government benefits. (And World-Check isn’t the only company chasing billions of dollars in the risk mitigation industry.)
Blacklisting by private companies isn’t new. Banks and insurance companies have long “redlined” neighborhoods in order to deny services to racial or ethnic minorities. The entertainment industry used the infamous Hollywood blacklist to deny employment to actors, writers, and directors with suspected communist sympathies.
World-Check, however, appears particularly zealous in its effort to cash in on widespread fear of terrorism and a regulatory system that raises the stakes for banks and other companies desperate not to be accused of financing terrorism. Its confidential database includes more than 2.7 million individuals and entities, over 93,000 of whom it has designated as terrorists. According to a World-Check fact sheet, the company contracts with “49 of the world’s 50 top banks,” over 300 government agencies, and “9 of the top ten global law firms.” The Department of Homeland Security uses World-Check, as does HireRight, an employment screening company that conducts background checks for more than 40,000 organizations in 240 countries.
This kind of blacklisting for profit raises serious concerns about discrimination and the lack of meaningful appeal process that parallel our longstanding criticisms of government blacklisting. Just as the U.S. government uses a low, exception-ridden standard for its master watchlist — indeed, a single Facebook post or Tweet can provide all the “reasonable suspicion” necessary to watchlist someone — World-Check apparently labels people “terrorists” based solely on allegations from anti-Muslim zealots like Steve Emerson, who, according to the Center for American Progress, has “a history of fabricating evidence that perpetuates conspiracies of radical Islam infiltrating America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.”
Like the government, which blacklists people even after acquittal or closure of a terrorism-related investigation, World-Check uses its “terrorism” designation for people who have not been charged with a crime but may be accused, questioned, or investigated for terrorism offenses — a vast body of innocent people. And World-Check apparently shares the government’s lack of concern about stale information. Just as the government has used decades-old, unproven allegations to place some of our clients on the No Fly List, VICE reports that World-Check has failed to update some of its terror-designated profiles for as long as eight years.
Both World-Check and government watchlists also impose severe consequences on the people they label as terrorists. Inclusion on a government watchlist can cause detention at the border, harassment, and inability to travel by air or sea — to say nothing of the shame and fear that comes with being a terrorism suspect. World-Check’s terrorism designation can prompt banks to close people’s accounts, convince prospective employers not to hire a candidate, and cause funding sources for organizations or contractors to dry up.
There’s even the alarming possibility of a growing feedback loop between government and private blacklists. The Department of Homeland Security’s Analytic Framework for Intelligence, a massive data-mining project, uses “commercial data aggregators” like World-Check to analyze “individuals of interest” and identify “non-obvious relationships” with others. That not only broadens the government’s lens of suspicion, but it could also intensify the focus on affected individuals, potentially leading to more and more blacklisting — both public and private.
World-Check is similar to the government in another way that compounds all the other problems: lack of a meaningful process to challenge inclusion. The government has steadfastly refused to inform people why they’ve been watchlisted and stigmatized as terrorists, denying them a viable way to challenge wrongful watchlisting and clear their names. People erroneously blacklisted by the government can now turn up in private blacklists like World-Check’s. And World-Check, too, offers no means of redress. In fact, VICE reports that senior World-Check employees have never seen someone successfully challenge inclusion in its database.
The government is already aware of the unfairness and discrimination that databases like World-Check can cause. In a May 2014 report on big data, the Executive Office of the President wrote, “Because of this lack of transparency and accountability, individuals have little recourse to understand or contest the information that has been gathered about them or what that data, after analysis, suggests.”
It shouldn’t be a controversial proposition that any information private companies sell to others that could damage people’s lives and reputations must be accurate, timely, and fairly contestable. And the government must apply those same principles to itself.
An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council early Monday has “strongly condemned” North Korea’s launch of a satellite into space, but China and the US differed on the type of response debated among world powers.
North Korea says the satellite launch was for peaceful and scientific research purposes, but global powers fear that the launch was a part of Pyongyang’s development of its ballistic missile program.
United States ambassador Samantha Powers called for robust responses to “violations” committed by the North Koreans.
It is likely the Security Council will draft a number of measures to increase and deepen economic sanctions already in place on North Korea.
However, North Korea’s only ally in the Security Council – China – fears that too severe a sanctions regimen will destabilize North Korea and the region.
It is likely that Washington will lean on Beijing to exert all its diplomatic efforts to rein in its weapons programs.
In the meantime, South Korea and the US said they will hold talks to possibly deploy an anti-missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on the peninsula – a move that Beijing says will harm regional peace.
While China summoned North Korea’s ambassador to protest Pyongyang’s satellite launch on Sunday, it also summoned the South Korean ambassador to protest THAAD’s deployment.
“China holds a consistent and clear stance on the anti-missile issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Monday.
“When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair the security interests of others,” Hua added.
China says that the deployment of such advanced anti-missile weaponry will not help in deescalating tensions in the Korean peninsula.
What can I say that I have not said before? I guess I can start by saying see you later to all of those who have passed in the last year. We Natives don’t like to mention their names. We believe that if we speak their names it disrupts their journey. They may loose their way and their spirits wander forever. If too many call out to them, they will try to come back. But their spirits know we are thinking about them, so all I will say is safe journey and I hope to see you soon.
On February 6th, I will have been imprisoned for 40 years! I’m 71 years old and still in a maximum security penitentiary. At my age, I’m not sure I have much time left.
I have earned about 4-5 years good time that no one seems to want to recognize. It doesn’t count, I guess? And when I was indicted the average time served on a life sentence before being given parole was 7 years. So that means I’ve served nearly 6 life sentences and I should have been released on parole a very long time ago. Then there’s mandatory release after serving 30 years. I’m 10 years past that. The government isn’t supposed to change the laws to keep you in prison — EXCEPT if you’re Leonard Peltier, it seems.
Now, I’m told I’ll be kept at USP Coleman I until 2017 when they’ll decide if I can go to a medium security facility — or NOT. But, check this out, I have been classified as a medium security prisoner now for at least 15 years, and BOP regulations say elders shall be kept in a less dangerous facility/environment. But NOT if you’re Leonard Peltier, I guess.
As you’ll remember, the history of my bid for clemency is long. My first app was with Jimmy Carter. He denied it. Ronald Reagan promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that he would release me if the Soviet Union released a prisoner, but Reagan reneged. George H.W. Bush did nothing. The next app was with Bill Clinton. He left office without taking action even though the Pardon Attorney did an 11-month investigation (it usually takes 9 months) and we were told she had recommended clemency. George W. Bush denied that petition in 2009. And in all of the applications for clemency, the FBI has interfered with an executive order. That’s illegal as hell!
Today, I’m facing another dilemma — an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). It’s the size of an AAA battery. The doctor told me if it bursts, I can bleed to death. It’s also close to my spine and I could end up paralyzed. The good news is that it’s treatable and the operation has a 96-98 percent success rate. BUT I’m in a max security prison. We don’t get sent for treatment until it is terminal.
As President Obama completes the final year of his term, I hope that he will continue to fight to fulfill his promises, and further the progress his Administration has made towards working in partnership with First Peoples. It gives me hope that this President has worked hard to affirm the trust relationship with the Tribal Nations. With YOUR encouragement, I believe Obama will have the courage and conviction to commute my sentence and send me home to my family.
Looking back on the 40 years of efforts on my behalf, I am overwhelmed and humbled. I would like to say thank you to all the supporters who have believed in me over the years. Some of you have been supporters since the beginning. You made sure I had books to read and commissary funds to buy what I may need to be as comfortable as one can be in this place. You made donations to the defense committee so we could continue fighting for my freedom, too. You all worked hard — are still working hard — to spread the word about what is now being called the most outrageous conviction in U.S. history. There are good-hearted people in this world, and you’re among them. I’m sorry I cannot keep up with answering all of your letters. But thanks for the love you have shown me. Without it, I could never have made it this long. I’m sure of it.
I believe that my incarceration, the constitutional violations in my case, and the government misconduct in prosecuting my case are issues far more important than just my life or freedom. I feel that each of you who have fought for my freedom have been a part of the greater struggle of Native Peoples — for Treaty rights, sovereignty, and our very survival. If I should be called home, please don’t give up on our struggle.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse…
Donations can be made on Leonard’s behalf to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, PO Box 24, Hillsboro, OR 97123.
Russia says the United States and its western allies rejected Moscow’s proposal to form an advisory center in Jordan for coordinating actions in Syria.
“Our minister proposed holding a telephone conversation with (US Defense Secretary) Ashton Carter on Jan. 19, but we were given to understand that such a talk was not expedient,” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by Interfax as saying on Friday.
Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg criticized Russia’s military campaign against terrorists in Syria, saying the air raids were “undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.”
The UN-brokered peace talks between delegates from the Syrian government and divided opposition were suspended on Wednesday only three days after their shaky start. The talks are not expected to resume until February 25.
The Geneva negotiations were halted after the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Saudi-backed anti-Damascus opposition group, failed to show up at a meeting.
The Syrian government delegation blamed the opposition for the failure of the peace talks, accusing it of pulling out because it was losing the fight on the ground.
The HNC’s pullout came as Syrian armed forces, backed by Russian air cover, made significant gains against Takfiri militant groups on several fronts. Moscow began pounding terror groups in Syria last September upon a request by Damascus.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow supports diplomatic measures to end the conflict in Syria while continuing its military assistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russia is consistently making efforts within the general international framework of seeking a peaceful and political settlement to the situation in Syria. At the same time, Russia is providing support to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic in its fight against terror,” he said.