Neocons Babble Over Syria Crisis

Exclusive: America’s neocons are so wedded to their “regime change” plans for Syria that they even flirted with embracing Al Qaeda. They are now furious over Russia’s expanded engagement in support of Syria’s secular government because it frustrates long-held neocon desires, reports Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Typical of the incoherence now common among U.S. foreign policy pundits discussing the Syrian crisis is Jeffrey Lewis, who took to the pages of the prestigious journal Foreign Policy to venture his opinion. He started out reciting the usual “group think” narrative about the need to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and denounced Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for stepping up support for the Syrian military in the face of gains by Sunni terror groups.

But Lewis, who is billed as an arms-control specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, then admitted that he doesn’t have a clue what to do, which at least is an improvement over all the other “experts” who say the U.S. must do something anything! to counter Russian intervention.

Lewis begins his article with a lot of scary talk about satellite photos confirming that Russia is expanding an air base near Latakia with the goal of increasing military aid to the evil Bashar al-Assad so as to give his doddering regime another lease on life.

“The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station,” Lewis observed. “It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and [which] may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces.”

U.S. officials, he said, “believe Russia will base combat aircraft at the site.” The photos show that “construction crews have completed a taxiway that connects the runway to the construction area,” which in turn “means aircraft shelters for Russian aircraft.” Bottom line: “Russia is substantially expanding its involvement.”

In other words, the Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! After all, alarmism and drumbeating are de rigueur nowadays for U.S. pundits, so Lewis was doing what he had to do to remain in good standing with an increasingly bellicose and delusional foreign-policy establishment.

Lewis then accused Moscow of preventing a U.S.-favored regime change that would somehow please “moderate” Syrians so much that they would rally and defeat Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. That notion of an easy and seamless “regime change” is one of the favorite fantasies of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who were equally confident that they could neatly transform Iraq by installing think-tank favorite Ahmed Chalabi to replace Saddam Hussein.

But now with the Russian intervention in Syria, at least Lewis and his fellow pundits have an excuse for why their best-laid plans didn’t work out this time. It’s Putin’s fault!

“What Russia has done,” Lewis wrote, “is make it clear that it will not let Assad fall. He can’t win, but Russia won’t let him lose. That dooms Syria to what looks like endless war. So this column does not have a neat and tidy ending. And that is because I am not sure that it is now possible to save Syria. There is no path to resurrect a state that is failing, not so long as Putin has decided to do whatever it takes to preserve Assad’s awful regime and condemn Syria to endless conflict.

“We can, of course, make it difficult for Russia to resupply its forces in Syria.   But these measures won’t replace Bashar al-Assad with a figure who could rally moderate Syrians to restore a stable government, let alone stop the bloodshed.”

In Lewis’s view, Putin’s insertion of Russian forces to defend the Syrian government and fight Al Qaeda and the Islamic State has checkmated U.S. plans for overthrowing Assad and neutralizing his military.

Lewis wrote: “There is now little hope of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria unless Washington wants to be in the business of shooting down Russian aircraft. From a broader perspective, U.S. efforts to arm the opposition to Assad mean fighting a proxy war with Moscow either by trying to down the Russian planes or helping Syrian opposition forces kill Russian combat troops on the ground.”

World War III, Anyone?

Unless President Obama thinks that Syria is a good place to start World War III, he has no choice but to back off. But Lewis’s conclusion rests of two dubious claims that he makes no effort to prove. The first is that Assad is uninterested in fighting the Islamic State and is indeed happy to see ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh as it is also know) open up a “second front” against rebel groups with whom his troops are engaged.

The second claim is that Assad is weak and unpopular yet at the same time so Machiavellian as to foster the growth of an ultra-violent Salafist group that scares the pants off the West and encourages ordinary Syrians to seek shelter in areas under his control.

But these assertions are a variation on the right-wing conspiracy theory that the evil genius in Damascus encouraged the growth of ISIS by springing jihadi elements from prison in the belief that they would rush out to join the opposition and thus bring discredit on the rebels. If you believe this, then you might as well believe that the CIA wired the World Trade Center with explosives in order to provide George W. Bush with a pretext for the War on Terror.

The facts in Syria are otherwise. According to no less an authority than Vice President Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab gulf states “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world,” groups that eventually morphed into ISIS.

As early as August 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency noted that Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other such groups were driving the anti-Assad movement, that they were seeking to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria as part of an international anti-Shi‘ite crusade, and that their backers in the U.S., Turkey, and the gulf states were all comfortable with such an outcome. [See’s “On Syria, Incoherence, Squared.”]

So it wasn’t Assad and the Baathists who fostered the growth of ISIS, but their enemies in the super-rich oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. Needless to say, the gulf states declared war on Assad not because he is undemocratic the totalitarians in Riyadh couldn’t care less about anything so trivial but because he is an Alawite, which is to say a member of the Shi‘ite branch of Islam that the Saudis, as even The New York Times recognizes, are obsessed with fighting.

Consequently, the Saudis, Qataris and other gulf state sheikdoms are sponsoring a reign of terror in Syria for the same reason they are imprisoning democratic protesters in Bahrain and conducting nightly bombing raids in Yemen because they are engaged in a growing all-Sunni jihad against a “Shi‘ite crescent” that is supposedly enveloping their countries.

As for Assad’s weakness and lack of popular support, the case is not as proven as Lewis wants us to believe. As the French geographer Fabrice Balanche notes, anywhere from 55 to 72 percent of the Syrian population lives in areas under government control, which suggests that the majority has voted with its feet in favor of the Baathist regime in Damascus.

Moreover, Assad received 88.7 percent of the vote in June 2014 in multi-party elections that the State Department predictably denounced as a “disgrace,” but which 30 other countries certified as “free, fair, and transparent.” These include not just Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela, but also India and South Africa, whose opinion the U.S. usually takes more seriously.

This is not to say that the results would not be different under more normal circumstances. But it strongly suggests that the mass of ordinary Syrians prefer Assad to either ISIS, the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria), or any of the “moderate” rebels backed by the U.S. So Assad’s unpopularity is at best unproven.

How to Restore Stability 

As for Lewis’s contention that “Assad must leave” for Syrian unity to be restored, it is a pure non-sequitur. The only thing that Assad’s departure would create under present circumstances is a power vacuum that only ISIS and other jihadists could fill. The result would be unity all right, but unity under a black banner of religious obscurantism that would send millions more refugees fleeing to Europe.

If that’s what President Obama wants, then he should by all means continue with the present policy of ousting Assad at all costs. If not, then he should think very carefully about heeding a U.S. foreign-policy establishment that unanimously backed the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Still, Lewis’s conclusion is telling in a backwards sort of way. As he puts it: “Moscow’s apparent commitment to Damascus raises fundamental questions about what U.S. strategy, if any, can succeed.   There are those who see Syria as a quagmire for Putin, a kind of matched pair to our own folly in Iraq; just as Washington collectively saw Afghanistan as payback for Vietnam.

“While Charlie Wilson’s war [in Afghanistan] helped popularize the idea of bleeding Moscow, I don’t think that can be the basis of U.S. policy either. The moral cost is far too high. Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy whose corpse washed up on a Turkish beach, was fleeing Syria’s civil war, as are hundreds of thousands of the refugees now in Europe. More than half of Syria’s 17 million people have been displaced. Bleeding Moscow means bleeding these people. It may sound strategic in a Pentagon war room, but not when children’s bodies wash up on shore.”

According to this thinking, Obama can’t let Moscow prevail in bolstering the Syrian government since that would mean prolonging Syria’s agony. But Obama can’t prevent it either, so the only thing that Lewis foresees is an endless vista of washed-up bodies and desperate refugees. It’s a vision of hell straight out of Hieronymus Bosch.

But if we were to turn Lewis’s argument upside-down or, rather, right side up given his skewed viewpoint it might go something like this:

If true, Moscow’s decision to step up support for Assad means that America and its Arab gulf partners will now have a harder time removing him after all. This raises fundamental questions about what U.S. strategy, if any, can succeed. Conceivably, America and its allies could admit defeat and go home. But “surrender” is not in the imperial lexicon.

Or the West could cooperate with Russia and Iran in organizing a power-sharing “unity government” in Damascus that would allow Assad to remain in office for the time being while adopting democratic reforms. Obama could also put the squeeze on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states to stop the flow of money and weapons to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and ISIS. That multinational cooperation might reestablish at least some stability inside Syria.

But that would require Washington’s foreign policy establishment both the neocons and the liberal interventionists to get down off their high horses and admit their “regime change” approach was wrongheaded and destructive. Instead, they will almost certainly respond by demanding that Obama match Moscow’s move and raise it one higher, more support for the anti-Assad rebels, up to and including Al Qaeda and perhaps even secretly aiding ISIS as well. [See’s “Neocons Urge Embrace of Al Qaeda.”]

The aim will not only be to topple Assad and the Baathists, but to bleed Russia the same way that U.S. and Saudi-backed mujahedeen bled the Soviets in Afghanistan (a strategy that destroyed a pro-Moscow secular regime in Kabul but also led to the rise of the Taliban and the formation of Al Qaeda). Likewise, in Syria, the human cost for upping the ante will be immense, but Washington’s vast corps of laptop bombardiers will tell themselves that it’s all Assad and Putin’s fault. These foreign policy pundits will feel good about themselves and more bellicose toward Russia.

No one knows where it will end, though one can bet that there will be many more dead Syrian children along the way as well as worsening instability reaching into Europe. But the U.S. attempts to counter the Russians will sound strategic both in Pentagon war rooms and Washington think tanks. As Madeleine Albright once said about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S. sanctions, the price in terms of toppling Assad will be “worth it.”

[For more on this topic, see’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?

From the Archive: As Washington pundits again demand Syrian President Assad’s ouster, a top talking point is that he “gassed his own people” in a Sarin attack in 2013. But that rush to judgment was picked apart by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and others, as Robert Parry reported in spring 2014.

By Robert Parry (First published on April 6, 2014)

In late August 2013, the Obama administration lurched to the brink of invading Syria after blaming a Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but evidence reported by investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh implicates Turkish intelligence and extremist Syrian rebels instead.

The significance of Hersh’s report is twofold: first, it shows how Official Washington’s hawks and neocons almost stampeded the United States into another Mideast war under false pretenses, and second, the story’s publication in the London Review of Books reveals how hostile the mainstream U.S. media remains toward information that doesn’t comport with its neocon-dominated conventional wisdom.

In other words, it appears that Official Washington and its mainstream press have absorbed few lessons from the disastrous Iraq War, which was launched in 2003 under the false claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was planning to share hidden stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda, when there was no WMD nor any association between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

A decade later in August and September 2013, as a new war hysteria broke out over Assad allegedly crossing President Barack Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons, it fell to a few Internet sites, including our own, to raise questions about the administration’s allegations that pinned the Aug. 21 attack on the Syrian government.

Not only did the U.S. government fail to provide a single piece of verifiable evidence to support its claims, a much-touted “vector analysis” by Human Rights Watch and The New York Times supposedly tracing the flight paths of two rockets back to a Syrian military base northwest of Damascus collapsed when it became clear that only one rocket carried Sarin and its range was less than one-third the distance between the army base and the point of impact. That meant the rocket carrying the Sarin appeared to have originated in rebel territory.

There were other reasons to doubt the Obama administration’s casus belli, including the irrationality of Assad ordering a chemical weapons strike outside Damascus just as United Nations inspectors were unpacking at a local hotel with plans to investigate an earlier attack that the Syrian government blamed on the rebels.

Assad would have known that a chemical attack would have diverted the inspectors (as it did) and would force President Obama to declare that his “red line” had been crossed, possibly prompting a massive U.S. retaliatory strike (as it almost did).

Plans for War

Hersh’s article describes how devastating the U.S. aerial bombardment was supposed to be, seeking to destroy Assad’s military capability, which, in turn, could have cleared the way to victory for the Syrian rebels, whose fortunes had been declining.

Hersh wrote: “Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed.

“‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’

“The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.”

According to Hersh, the administration’s war plans were disrupted by U.S. and British intelligence analysts who uncovered evidence that the Sarin was likely not released by the Assad government and indications that Turkey’s intelligence services may have collaborated with radical rebels to deploy the Sarin as a false-flag operation.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep ErdoÄŸan sided with the Syrian opposition early in the civil conflict and provided a vital supply line to the al-Nusra Front, a violent group of Sunni extremists with ties to al-Qaeda and increasingly the dominant rebel fighting force. By 2012, however, internecine conflicts among rebel factions had contributed to Assad’s forces gaining the upper hand.

The role of Islamic radicals and the fear that advanced U.S. weapons might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists unnerved President Obama who pulled back on U.S. covert support for the rebels. That frustrated ErdoÄŸan who pressed Obama to expand U.S. involvement, according to Hersh’s account.

Hersh wrote: “By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘ErdoÄŸan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the [U.S] cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’”

‘Red Line’ Worries

Recognizing Obama’s political sensitivity over his “red line” pledge, the Turkish government and Syrian rebels saw chemical weapons as the way to force the President’s hand, Hersh reported, writing:

“In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability.

“‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. ErdoÄŸan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. ErdoÄŸan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond [to small chemical weapons attacks] in March and April.’”

The dispute between ErdoÄŸan and Obama came to a head at a White House meeting on May 16, 2013, when ErdoÄŸan unsuccessfully lobbied for a broader U.S. military commitment to the rebels, Hersh reported.

Three months later, in the early hours of Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious missile delivered a lethal load of Sarin into a suburb east of Damascus. The Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. press corps immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Syrian government had launched the attack, which the U.S. government claimed killed at least “1,429” people although the number of victims cited by doctors and other witnesses on the scene was much lower.

Yet, with the media stampede underway, anyone who questioned the U.S. government’s case was trampled under charges of being an “Assad apologist.” But we few skeptics continued to point out the lack of evidence to support the rush to war. Obama also encountered political resistance in both the British Parliament and U.S. Congress, but hawks in the U.S. State Department were itching for a new war.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, amid expectations that the U.S. bombs would start flying within days. But Obama hesitated, first referring the war issue to Congress and later accepting a compromise brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to have Assad surrender all of his chemical weapons even as Assad continued denying any role in the Aug. 21 attacks.

Obama took the deal but continued asserting publicly that Assad was guilty and disparaging anyone who thought otherwise. In a formal address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, Obama declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”

Suspicions of Turkey

However, by autumn 2013, U.S. intelligence analysts were among those who had joined in the “insult to human reason” as their doubts about Assad’s guilt grew. Hersh cited an ex-intelligence official saying: “the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

“As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by ErdoÄŸan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular.

“‘Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’

“Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’”

According to the thinking of Turkish intelligence, Hersh reported, “ErdoÄŸan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’”

Hersh added that the U.S. intelligence community has been reluctant to pass on to Obama the information contradicting the Assad-did-it scenario. Hersh wrote:

“The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame ErdoÄŸan.’”

Like the bloody U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the near U.S. air war against Syria in 2013 is a cautionary tale for Americans regarding the dangers that result when the U.S. government and mainstream media dance off hand in hand, leaping to conclusions and laughing at doubters.

The key difference between the war in Iraq and the averted war on Syria was that President Obama was not as eager as his predecessor, George W. Bush, to dress himself up as a “war president.” Another factor was that Obama had the timely assistance of Russian President Putin to chart a course that skirted the abyss.

Given how close the U.S. neocons came to maneuvering a reluctant Obama into another “regime change” war on a Mideast adversary of Israel, you can understand why they are so angry with Putin and why they were so eager to hit back at him in Ukraine. [See’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Solitary Confinement Under Attack

One of the cruelest aspects of American prisons is the excessive use of solitary confinement, especially in “supermax” facilities, leaving inmates without normal human contact for years and even decades, a form of cruel punishment now under challenge in the courts, as Marjorie Cohn described for teleSUR.

By Marjorie Cohn

Confirming Frederick Douglass’s adage, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” prisoners held in solitary confinement for many years in California have won an unprecedented victory. After three hunger strikes, in which tens of thousands of California inmates participated, and a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a landmark settlement was reached. It effectively consigns indefinite solitary confinement in California to the dustbins of shameful history.

More than 500 prisoners had been held in isolation in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay prison for over 10 years, and 78 of them had been there for more than 20 years. They spend 22½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell, and are denied telephone calls, physical contact with visitors, and vocational, recreational, and educational programs.

Now California prisoners will no longer be sent to the SHU solely based on allegations of gang affiliation, but rather based on infraction of specific serious rules violations. Prisoners will only be put in solitary confinement if they commit a serious offense such as assault or murder in prison, and only after a due process hearing.

And they will be put into solitary for a definite term no more indeterminate solitary confinement. An estimated 95 percent of California prisoners in solitary confinement based solely on gang affiliation (about 2,000 people) will be released into the general prison population.

The settlement also limits the amount of time a prisoner can spend in the SHU, and provides a two-year step-down program for transfer from SHU to general population. It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement.

“California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement. “This victory was achieved by efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters.”

The plaintiffs in Ashker v. Governor of California argued that California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and denies the prisoners the right to due process.

The federal district court judge found that prolonged solitary confinement had deprived the plaintiffs of “normal human contact, environmental and sensory stimulation, mental and physical and health, physical exercise, sleep, nutrition, and meaningful activity” which could constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Although no U.S. court has yet ruled that solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment, Justice Anthony Kennedy indicated in a concurring opinion in June that he would likely entertain such an argument in the future. Commenting on the case of a man who had been isolated for 25 years in California, Kennedy told the U.S. Congress in March that solitary confinement “literally drives men mad.”

Indeed, after visiting Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1842, Charles Dickens noted, “The system here, is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it … to be cruel and wrong … I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” Dickens felt that isolation of prisoners was a thing that “no man had the right to inflict upon his fellow creature.”

Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, concluded that solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. He wrote that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The United States has ratified both of these treaties, making them part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Ireland refused to extradite a man to the United States to face terrorism-related charges earlier this year. The High Court of Ireland worried that he might be held in indefinite isolation in a Colorado “supermax” prison, which would violate the Irish Constitution.

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are held in some type of isolation in U.S. prisons on any given day, generally in supermax prisons, in 44 states and the federal system. Yet there is no evidence that solitary confinement makes prisons safer, the Government Accountability Office determined in 2013.

Solitary confinement exacerbates mental illness. In Madrid v. Gomez, a U.S. federal court judge wrote that for those with diagnosed mental illness, “placing them in [solitary confinement] is the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe.”

Professor Craig Haney described the deprivation of basic human needs of social interaction and environmental stimulation as a “painfully long form of social death.”

The European Court of Human Rights has determined that “complete sensory isolation coupled with complete social isolation can no doubt destroy the personality,” in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Likewise, the Inter American Court of Human Rights has stated that prolonged solitary confinement may violate the American Convention on Human Rights.

Suicide rates in California, New York, and Texas are significantly higher among those held in solitary confinement than in the general prison population. And juveniles are 19 times more likely to take their own lives in isolation than in the general population. Connecticut, Maine, Oklahoma, New York, and West Virginia have banned or put restrictions on solitary confinement of juveniles.

President Barack Obama has asked his Attorney General to “start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons.” Obama said, “The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent.”

The purpose of the penal system is social rehabilitation, according to the ICCPR. In contravention of that mandate, the California legislature has specified that the purpose of sentencing is punishment. Solitary confinement implicitly denies any chance of social rehabilitation. The ICCPR requires that prison guards respect the inherent dignity of every inmate. Prolonged solitary confinement, like other forms of torture, destroys a person’s dignity.

Mendez proposed a worldwide ban on nearly all uses of solitary confinement, which has increased throughout the globe, especially in the context of the “war on terror” and “threats to national security.” He particularly criticized the routine use of isolation in U.S. supermax prisons.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy quoted Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” So one must wonder why the United States refuses to ratify the U.N. Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires international inspection of prisons.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. She is editor and contributor to “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.” See  [This story originally published by teleSUR at “”.

The Crisis of ‘Regime Change Refugees’

The West’s dominant prescription toward the crisis of war-torn regions and the destabilizing refugee flow that has followed is to have more “regime change,” particularly in Syria. But the reality is that the West’s fondness for violent “regime change” is the core reason for the refugees, says James Paul.

By James Paul

The huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in the European Union, especially in Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily and fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment. There is also the wider crisis in the EU over which countries will take in refuges and how many.

The public has been horrified by refugee drownings in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families, caught in the open, facing border fences and violence from security forces.  Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money.

Meanwhile, the refugee flow has been increasing rapidly, with no end in sight. The German government has estimated that it will take in 800,000 asylum-seekers during 2015. The overall flow into Europe for the year will probably be well above a million. Germany and Sweden are the main destinations.

Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes. A few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem. Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability. In the U.S., there is little sensible analysis either.

The migrants coming to Europe are mostly fleeing conflicts. The data on origins make that clear.  The migrants are coming primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Pakistan in the Middle East, and to a lesser extent from Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria in Africa. These are all countries with vicious conflicts conflicts that (with the exception of Nigeria) began with Western military intervention, direct or indirect and continued to be fueled by intervention In Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia the intervention was very direct. In Syria, Pakistan and Eritrea, it has been less direct but very clear nonetheless.

The term “regime change refugees” helps focus on where the primary responsibility lies. It changes an empty conversation in the direction of reality. Official discourse in Europe and the United States frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which Western governments and publics believe they have no responsibility.

The Western leaders and media stay silent about the military intervention and regime change, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war, state collapse and extremely violent conditions lasting for long periods.

Some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favor of further military intervention in these war-torn lands on their periphery as a way to “do something” and (ironically) “end the violence.” Overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was just a short time ago and how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels.

The intensive Western bombing campaign in Syria (now joined by France), aimed in theory at the forces of the Islamic State, are killing many civilians and further destabilizing the war-ravaged country.

The aggressive nationalist beast in the heart of the political class of Europe and the United States is ready to engage in more military adventures. These leaders are not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions. This is why we need to look closely at the “regime change” angle, to beware upcoming proposals for more intervention, and to increase public resistance to further war. It is clear enough that the crisis of migration and war has been “Made in Europe” and “Made in USA.”

Author of Syria Unmasked, James Paul was executive director of Global Policy Forum, a think tank that monitors the UN.