US Intel Vets Warn Against Torture

Exclusive: Experienced intelligence professionals reaffirm that torture – while popular with “tough” politicians – doesn’t work in getting accurate and actionable information, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

To those living “outside the Beltway” it may seem counterintuitive that those of us whose analysis has been correct on key issues that the U.S. government got criminally wrong – like the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – would be blacklisted from “mainstream” media and ostracized by the Smart People of the Establishment. But, alas, that’s the way it is.

Forget the continuing carnage in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions made refugees. Within the mainstream U.S. media and around Washington’s major policy circles, there is little serious dialogue, much less debate about what went so hideously wrong; and Americans still innocently wonder – regarding the people on the receiving end of the blunderbuss violence – “why they hate us.”

After more than 13 years of presenting thoughtful critiques to senior officials – and having little discernible impact – we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity are strongly tempted to take some solace in having made a good-faith effort to spread some truth around – and, now, go play golf. But the stakes are too high. We can’t in good conscience approach the first tee without having tried one more time.

Accordingly, we repeat the offer we extended on Feb. 26 – this time to the winnowed candidate roster of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – to make our deep experience and proven expertise available to those of you interested in the tell-it-like-it-is analysis that has been our niche for so many years.

Given our 13-year record for accuracy and insight, we had hoped that at least one or two of you would take us up on the offer, especially since a few of you have faced criticism for a paucity of foreign policy and national security experts.

Of more immediate importance to the nation and the world, statements by some of you in reaction to the Monday bombings in Brussels, seem to betray:

A) Gross naiveté about how to counter terrorism;

B) Demagogic disregard for the civil liberty protections embodied in the U.S. Constitution; or

C) Both of the above.

We can help round out your understanding of terrorism, its causes and its possible cures – but with respect to “A” above, you may wish to begin by reading VIPS memorandum #15 (of June 18, 2007), How Not to Counter Terrorism, drafted by our VIPS colleague, former Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who was FBI Division Counsel, Minneapolis, during 9/11. (Rowley later blew the whistle about the ineptitude at FBI headquarters that thwarted the simple steps that would have prevented those terrorist attacks.)

On Torture, Pols & Polls

Based on our lengthy experience in intelligence, we know that torture doesn’t “work.” So we confess to a certain disgust with the “new normal,” fostered not only by some presidential candidates but also by the media, that torture techniques like waterboarding yield useful intelligence. They don’t.

This issue has come to the fore again in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels bombings. We continue to be concerned that presidential candidates may be unaware, not only that harsh interrogation techniques don’t “work,” but also that they are a great fillip to the recruitment of more terrorists.

There are, of course, polls purporting to show that a majority of Americans still think that torturing “bad guys” can be justified. That simply means that many citizens have been seduced by artificially stoked fear into believing what all independent investigations – including the detailed Senate study relying on original CIA documents – have proven: that despite all the TV and Hollywood propaganda “showing” that torture “works,” it doesn’t.

The sole exception is if your purpose is to obtain unreliable or false “intelligence.” For instance, if you wish to coerce an Al Qaeda operative into “confessing” that there were close ties between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, well, then torture can work like a charm. A detainee will happily confirm a lie to stop the pain.

As for those responsible for implementing torture – like former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden – is it not clear that they have strong incentive to “justify” their criminal behavior? Some other complicit CIA officials and operatives, eager to protect themselves from the opprobrium that comes from torturing, also continue to pretend that torture helps “keep us safe.”

The opposite is the case, but these torture practitioners and their accomplices continue to promote the lie that useful intelligence can be gotten via abusive interrogation techniques (never mind that most such “enhanced” techniques are clearly illegal, not to mention immoral and ineffective).

VIPS has spoken out strongly – most recently in a Sept. 14, 2015 memo – against these crass attempts by former intelligence officials to exculpate themselves and other perpetrators.

What the commanding general of U.S. Army intelligence has said about torture bears repeating: On Sept. 6, 2006, the very day President George W. Bush announced and applauded the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Gen. John Kimmons told a Pentagon press conference: “I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.”

Wise Advisers Needed

Some of today’s presidential candidates are brimming with what we’re told are sage foreign policy advisers, even though many have been implicated in the disastrous policies of recent decades; other candidates have relatively few advisers – some of them unknown entities about whom little can be found even via Goggle. As a collective, VIPS stands ready to help any and all candidates who might be interested. It may now be time to insert some names into our offer.

The listing below contains only those members of VIPS who signed onto our Memorandum of Sept. 14, 2015, addressing our former bosses’ transparent attempts to cover up their role in torture:

VIPS Steering Group, Sept. 14, 2015

Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Tony Camerino, former Air Force and Air Force Reserves, senior interrogator in Iraq and author of How to Break a Terrorist under pseudonym Matthew Alexander

Glenn L. Carle, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, CIA (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA

Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department and Defense Department Official (VIPS Associate)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF Intelligence Agency (Retired), ex Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.)

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

James Marcinkowski, Attorney, former CIA Operations Officer

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA (ret.)

Todd Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former Maj., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Diane Roark, former professional staff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Coleen Rowley, Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Ali Soufan, former FBI Special Agent

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

Greg Thielmann, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and former Senate Intelligence Committee

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary

Valerie Plame Wilson, CIA Operations Officer (ret.)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

Ray McGovern served for 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Robert Parry Discusses the “AIPAC ‘Pander-off'”

Consortiumnews’ Assistant Editor Chelsea Gilmour interviewed Robert Parry regarding his recently published article, The Clinton/Trump AIPAC ‘Pander-Off’. The following video is a recording of their discussion.

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 andbarnesandnoble.com).




Our Spring Fund Goal: $25,000

From Editor Robert Parry: We’re setting our spring fundraising goal at $25,000, which will include the costs of overcoming the “dedicated denial of service” cyber-attack that shut down the site for a week earlier this month.

Thanks to some outside technical assistance, we succeeded in recovering the 20 years worth of articles and other content at Consortiumnews. So, in that sense, the cyber-attack failed, but it did force us to expend thousands of dollars that we had budgeted for journalism.

You can help us recover financially with a tax-deductible donation by using a credit card online (we accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover) or you can mail a check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. (A number of readers already have donated, which we deeply appreciate.)

For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our account, which is named after our e-mail address: “consortnew @ aol.com”. We are also registered with PayPal’s Giving Fund under the name Consortium for Independent Journalism. (Since we are a 501-c-3 non-profit, donations by American taxpayers may be tax-deductible.)

We also are offering a choice of thank-you gifts for those who can give $125 or more – or if you set up a recurring monthly donation by credit card or PayPal.

You can receive a signed copy of the new edition of my first book, Fooling America, which was originally published in 1992 and has been out of print for many years. Along with it, we’ll include a CD of a book talk that I gave in Los Angeles, explaining what was then a little understood phenomenon, the corruption of the mainstream media.

Or we can send you the DVD of the movie, “Kill the Messenger,” recalling the mainstream media’s betrayal of the late investigative reporter Gary Webb who was punished for his work reviving interest in the Contra-cocaine scandal – plus a CD of Webb and me discussing the topic before a crowd in Santa Monica, California, in 1996.

If you wish to get one of the thank-you gifts, just follow up your donation with an e-mail to us at consortnew@aol.com with instructions on where to mail it. We’ll pay the shipping charges.

Another way to help is to buy one of my books – Fooling America, Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege or America’s Stolen Narrativethrough the Web site and we’ll also send you a copy of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush for free.

So you can get two books for the price of one and a portion of each sale will go toward the fund drive.

Again, thanks for your support and for making our two decades of honest journalism possible.

Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.




Sanders Tip-toes in Criticizing Israel

Exclusive: Sen. Sanders ventured hesitantly down the scary path of criticizing Israel, but even his timid approach looked heroic compared to the pro-Israel pandering from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

Bernie Sanders supporters appeared thrilled when they learned he’d turned down an invitation to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Monday. By contrast, Donald Trump passed up a debate appearance and Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and John Kasich cleared their schedules to speak to 18,000 people inside Washington’s Verizon Center.

Snubbing AIPAC requires a degree of courage in American presidential politics and almost no one dares do anything but pander to the hardest-line Israeli partisans. But Sanders, who is fighting for his political life in the campaign, hasn’t taken money from the kind of large donors that AIPAC coordinates. Plus, he could never match the other candidates’ fervor for Israel.

So perhaps Sanders felt he could afford not to go to AIPAC’s gathering, which sent a symbolic message to Americans who feel the U.S. government goes overboard in its favoritism toward Israel. Sanders delivered his views (in a speech in Salt Lake City, Utah) after the conference organizers wouldn’t allow a video hook-up.

A Sanders supporter who is also critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine might have been disappointed in what the Vermont senator said. He wouldn’t even bluntly call Israel’s presence on Palestinian land an occupation, instead describing it as “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory.”

What amounts to? In other words, Israel really doesn’t mean to occupy this land. This just happened on its way to building ever-increasing settlements. Sanders also takes the very safe line of calling for both an Israeli and a Palestinian state, the so-called “two-state solution.”

Sanders castigated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for threatening to leave the Oslo Accords, which prescribes the two-state idea. Abbas made this threat last September at the U.N. General Assembly, but no serious analyst thinks Abbas meant it.

But the reality is that Oslo is already dead, as dead as the two-state solution. It died in May 1999, when its five-year interim period ended, after which Israel should have withdrawn and a Palestinian state should have been created.

The continuation of this interim period, having now lasted another 17 years, has led to charges by Palestinians and others that Abbas and his Palestinian Authority are mere collaborators with Israel’s continuing occupation.

Pulling out of Oslo now would blow up the Palestinian Authority, cost Abbas his job and throw security fully into Israel’s hands. But such a move would be the necessary first step toward creating a single, democratic state, which is the only solution left. Everything else at this point, including defending Oslo and the “two-state solution,” is hot air that supports the status quo allowing Israel to continue the piecemeal conquest of the West Bank.

Sanders did call for an end to Israeli “disproportionate responses to being attacked.” But he didn’t condemn the two massacres in Gaza in the past seven years as he condemned Hamas rocket fire into Israel.

Syria and the Gulf

On Syria, Sanders appears to accept the Western claim that Russia wasn’t really hitting the Islamic State, but only anti-Assad groups. (It should be noted that Russian leaders never promised to strike only at ISIS, as the U.S. press corps widely reported, but rather the Russians vowed to attack ISIS and other terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.)

Yes, Russia did hit other rebel groups, including some that fight alongside Nusra, but did so to bolster the Syrian army as the major ground force (with the Kurds) to defeat ISIS and Nusra.

Sanders repeated his refrain that the Gulf Arabs need to do more to defeat the Islamic State. But somebody must have gotten to him because he added the line that he’s not asking Saudi Arabia to “invade” Syria, which is exactly what Sanders seemed to be advocating.

The reality is that Saudi Arabia has already been too involved in Syria, sending in well-armed jihadists to overthrow the government which the Saudis view as dominated by the Shiite and Alawite faiths whereas Saudi Arabia favors the fanatical Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. But military reversals by the Saudi-backed rebels over the past several months prompted Saudi Arabia last month to threaten an outright invasion of Syria, along with Turkey.

President Barack Obama reportedly tamped down the heated war threats from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, heading off what would have threatened a much wider war.

But Sanders – for mildly supporting Palestinian rights and offering muted criticism of Israel – would have been savaged by the feisty AIPAC crowd which expects to hear only encouraging words and reciprocated with love toward Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they avoided any criticism of Israel and showed no sympathy for the Palestinians.

The packed arena in downtown Washington had a circular stage set up in the middle that appeared to purposely mimic the major parties’ nominating conventions. It was as if AIPAC was saying that it was doing the real nominating.

Pumping Up the Crowd

Both Trump and Clinton mounted the stage to express fierce loyalty to an Israel that they essentially said could do no wrong. Their talking points could have been written by Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clinton lashed out at critics of Israel who promote boycotting Israeli goods as a peaceful way to pressure Israel to make concessions. Instead, she promised to increase military aid to Israel, which already stands at $3 billion a year and more than $100 billion since 1962. She vowed to stop a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for the end of Israel’s West Bank occupation — something the Oslo Accords already did.

In a half-hour speech, Clinton only uttered the word “Palestinian” ten times, and mostly in connection with “terrorism.” She briefly called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Clinton mentioned “settlements” only once, in a passing reference, saying, “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements.” Nothing more was said.

With his typical bombast, Trump said no one had studied the Iran nuclear deal as he had, and that his “number one priority” would be to dismantle it. He also said he would not allow the Security Council to impose a settlement in Palestine.

“An agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a total and complete disaster,” he said. “The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto, which I will use as president 100 percent.”

Trump only used bellicose language toward Palestinians. He cited the killing last week of an American in Israel by “a knife-wielding Palestinian.”

“You don’t reward behavior like that. You cannot do it,” he said. “There’s only one way you treat that kind of behavior. You have to confront it.”

That sounds like a recipe for more bloodshed. Compared to this rhetoric, Sanders’ speech was reasonable. He called on Israel, for instance, to stop stealing Palestinian water. Perhaps Sanders is holding back his real views on Israel and Palestine, fearful that he could not withstand the attacks of the Israel Lobby and a pro-Israel corporate media.

But, in the meantime, his prescription for peace did go not far enough. Once again AIPAC’s apparent stranglehold on U.S.-Middle East policy and on its political candidates seems to snuff out any realistic dream for a resolution of the conflict.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




US Media Hid Al Qaeda’s Syria Role

When Russian airstrikes began in Syria, the U.S. media falsely claimed President Putin had promised to hit only ISIS and instead attacked “moderate” rebels, but the dirty secret was that those rebels were working with Al Qaeda, writes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

A crucial problem in news media coverage of the Syrian civil war has been how to characterize the relationship between the so-called “moderate” opposition forces armed by the CIA, on one hand, and the Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra Front (and its close ally Ahrar al Sham), on the other.

But it is a politically sensitive issue for U.S. policy, which seeks to overthrow Syria’s government without seeming to make common cause with the movement responsible for 9/11, and the system of news production has worked effectively to prevent the news media from reporting it fully and accurately.

The Obama administration has long portrayed the opposition groups it has been arming with anti-tank weapons as independent of Nusra Front. In reality, the administration has been relying on the close cooperation of these “moderate” groups with Nusra Front  to put pressure on the Syrian government.

The United States and its allies – especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey – want the civil war to end with the dissolution of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by U.S. rivals like Russia and Iran.

Reflecting the fact that Nusra Front was created by Al Qaeda and has confirmed its loyalty to it, the administration designated Nusra as a terrorist organization in 2013.  But the U.S. has carried out very few airstrikes against it since then, in contrast to the other offspring of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh), which has been the subject of intense air attacks from the U.S. and its European allies.

The U.S. has remained silent about Nusra Front’s leading role in the military effort against Assad, concealing the fact that Nusra’s success in northwest Syria has been a key element in Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic strategy for Syria.

When Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government began last September, targeting not only ISIS but also the Nusra Front and U.S.-supported groups allied with them against the Assad regime, the Obama administration immediately argued that Russian airstrikes were targeting “moderate” groups rather than ISIS, and insisted that those strikes had to stop.

The willingness of the news media to go beyond the official line and report the truth on the ground in Syria was thus put to the test. It had been well-documented that those “moderate” groups had been thoroughly integrated into the military campaigns directed by Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham in the main battlefront of the war in northwestern Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

For example, a dispatch from Aleppo last May in Al Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab), a daily newspaper financed by the Qatari royal family, revealed that every one of at least ten “moderate” factions in the province supported by the CIA had joined the Nusra-run province command Fateh Halab (Conquest of Aleppo).  Formally the command was run by Ahrar al Sham, and Nusra Front was excluded from it.

But as Al Araby’s reporter explained, that exclusion “means that the operation has a better chance of receiving regional and international support.” That was an indirect way of saying that Nusra’s supposed exclusion was a device aimed at facilitating the Obama administration’s approval of sending more TOW missiles to the “moderates” in the province, because the White House could not support groups working directly with a terrorist organization.

A further implication was that Nusra Front was allowing “moderate” groups to obtain those weapons from the United States and its  Saudi and Turkish allies, because those groups were viewed as too weak to operate independently of the Salafist-jihadist forces and because some of those arms would be shared with Nusra Front and Ahrar.

After Nusra Front was formally identified as a terrorist organization for the purposes of a Syrian ceasefire and negotiations, it virtually went underground in areas close to the Turkish border.

A journalist who lives in northern Aleppo province told Al Monitor that Nusra Front had stopped flying its own flag and was concealing its troops under those of Ahrar al Sham, which had been accepted by the United States as a participant in the talks. That maneuver was aimed at supporting the argument that “moderate” groups and not Al Qaeda were being targeted by Russian airstrikes.

But a review of the coverage of the targeting of Russian airstrikes and the role of U.S.-supported armed groups in the war during the first few weeks in the three most influential U.S. newspapers with the most resources for reporting accurately on the issue—the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reveals a pattern of stories that tilted strongly in the direction desired by the Obama administration, either ignoring the subordination of the “moderate” groups to Nusra Front entirely or giving it only the slightest mention.

In an Oct. 1, 2015 article, Washington Post Beirut correspondent Liz Sly wrote that the Russian airstrikes were being “conducted against one of the few areas in the country where moderate rebels still have a foothold and from which the Islamic State was ejected more than a year and a half ago.”

To her credit, Sly did report, “Some of the towns struck are strongholds of recently formed coalition Jaish al Fateh,” which she said included Nusra Front and “an assortment of Islamist and moderate factions.” What was missing, however, was the fact that Jaish al Fateh was not merely a “coalition” but a military command structure, meaning that a much tighter relationship existed between the U.S.-supported “moderates” and the Al Qaeda franchise.

Sly referred specifically to one strike that hit a training camp in the outskirts of a town in Idlib province belonging to Suquor al-Jabal, which had been armed by the CIA.

But readers could not evaluate that statement without the crucial fact, reported in the regional press, that Suquor al-Jabal was one of the many CIA-supported organizations that had joined the Fateh Halab (“Conquest of Aleppo”), the military command center in Aleppo ostensibly run by Ahrar al Sham, Nusra Front’s closest ally, but in fact under firm Nusra control. The report thus conveyed the false impression that the CIA-supported rebel group was still independent of Nusra Front.

An article by New York Times Beirut correspondent Anne Barnard (co-authored by the Times stringer in Syria Karam Shoumali — Oct. 13, 2015) appeared to veer off in the direction of treating the U.S.-supported opposition groups as part of a new U.S./Russian proxy war, thus drawing attention away from the issue of whether the Obama administration support for “moderate” groups was actually contributing to the political-military power of Al Qaeda in Syria. 

Under the headline “US Weaponry Is Turning Syria Into Proxy War With Russia,” it reported that armed opposition groups had just received large shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles that had to be approved by the United States. Quoting the confident statements of rebel commanders about the effectiveness of the missiles and the high morale of rebel troops, the story suggested that arming the “moderates” was a way for the United States to make them the primary force on one side of a war pitting the United States against Russia in Syria.

Near the end of the story, however, Barnard effectively undermined that “proxy war” theme by citing the admission by commanders of U.S.-supported brigades of their “uncomfortable marriage of necessity” with the Al Qaeda franchise, “because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front.”

Referring to the capture of Idlib the previous spring by the opposition coalition, Barnard recalled that the TOW missiles had “played a major role in the insurgent advances that eventually endangered Mr. Assad’s rule.” But, she added:

“While that would seem like a welcome development for United States policy makers, in practice it presented another quandary, given that the Nusra Front was among the groups benefiting from the enhanced firepower.”

Unfortunately, Barnard’s point that U.S.-supported groups were deeply embedded in an Al Qaeda-controlled military structure was buried at the end of a long piece, and thus easily missed. The headline and lead ensured that, for the vast majority of readers, that point would be lost in the larger thrust of the article.

The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous approached the problem from a different angle but with the same result. He wrote a story on Oct. 5 reflecting what he said was anger on the part of U.S. officials that the Russians were deliberately targeting opposition groups that the CIA had supported.

Entous reported that U.S. officials believed the Syrian government wanted those groups targeted because of their possession of TOW missiles, which had been the key factor in the opposition’s capture of Idlib earlier in the year. But nowhere in the article was the role of CIA-supported groups within military command structures dominated by Nusra Front even acknowledged.

Still another angle on the problem was adopted in an Oct. 12 article by Journal Beirut correspondent Raja Abdulrahim, who described the Russian air offensive as having spurred U.S.-backed rebels and the Nusra Front to form a “more united front against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Adbulrahim thus acknowledged the close military collaboration with Nusra Front, but blamed it all on the Russian offensive.

And the story ignored the fact that those same opposition groups had already joined military command arrangements in Idlib and Aleppo earlier in 2015, in anticipation of victories across northeast Syria.

The image in the media of the U.S.-supported armed opposition as operating independently from Nusra Front, and as victims of Russian attacks, persisted into early 2016. But in February, the first cracks in that image appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times.

Reporting on the negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a partial ceasefire that began on Feb. 12, Washington Post associate editor and senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung wrote on Feb. 19 that an unresolved problem was how to decide which organizations were to be considered “terrorist groups” in the ceasefire agreement.

In that context, DeYoung wrote, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic.”

It was the first time any major news outlet had reported that U.S.-supported armed opposition and Nusra Front front troops were “intermingled” on the ground. And in the very next sentence DeYoung dropped what should have been a political bombshell: She reported that Kerry had proposed in the Munich negotiations to “leave Jabhat al Nusra off limits to bombing, as part of a ceasefire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”

At the same time, Kerry was publicly demanding in a speech at the Munich conference that Russia halt its attacks on “legitimate opposition groups” as a condition for a ceasefire. Kerry’s negotiating position reflected the fact that CIA groups were certain to be hit in strikes on areas controlled by Nusra Front, as well as the reality that Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham were central to the success of the U.S.-backed military effort against Assad.

In the end, however, Lavrov rejected the proposal to protect Nusra Front targets from Russian airstrikes, and Kerry dropped that demand, allowing the joint U.S./Russian announcement of the partial ceasefire on Feb. 22.

Up to that point, maps of the Syrian war in the Post and Times had identified zones of control only for “rebels” without showing where Nusra Front forces were in control. But on the same day as the announcement, the New York Times published an “updated” map, accompanied by text stating that Nusra Front “is embedded in the area of Aleppo and northwest toward the Turkish border.”

At the State Department briefing the next day, reporters grilled spokesman Mark Toner on whether U.S.-supported rebel forces were “commingled” with Nusra Front forces in Aleppo and northward. After a very long exchange on the subject, Toner said, “Yes, I believe there is some commingling of these groups.”

And he went on to say, speaking on behalf of the International Syria Support Group, which comprises all the countries involved in the Syrian peace negotiations, including the U.S. and Russia:

“We, the ISSG, have been very clear in saying that Al Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] are not part of any kind of cease-fire or any kind of negotiated cessation of hostilities. So if you hang out with the wrong folks, then you make that decision. … You choose who hang out with, and that sends a signal.”

Although I pointed out the significance of the statement (Truthout, Feb. 24, 2016), no major news outlet saw fit to report that remarkable acknowledgement by the State Department spokesperson. Nevertheless, the State Department had clearly alerted the Washington Post and the New York Times to the fact that the relationships between the CIA-supported groups and Nusra Front were much closer than it had ever admitted in the past.

Kerry evidently calculated that the pretense that the “moderate” armed groups were independent of Al Nusra front would open him to a political attack from Republicans and the media if they were hit by Russian airstrikes. So it was no longer useful politically to try to obscure that reality from the media.

In fact, the State Department now seemed interested in inducing as many of those armed groups as possible to separate themselves more clearly from the Nusra Front.

The twists and turns in the three major newspapers’ coverage of the issue of relations between U.S.-supported opposition groups and Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria thus show how major news sources slighted or steered clear of the fact that U.S.-client armed groups were closely intertwined with a branch of Al Qaeda — until they were prompted by signals from U.S. officials to revise their line and provide a more honest portrayal of Syria’s armed opposition.

Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist and historian on US national security policy, is the winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.  His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014. [This story originally appeared at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.]




Two Democrats Who Should Go

Business-as-usual Democrats are thrilled that Hillary Clinton finally appears headed toward her long-predicted coronation, but Bill Moyers and Michael Winship recommend that she first join in ousting two of her biggest backers.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

There are two Democrats whose resignation from office right now would do their party and country a service. Their disappearance might also help Hillary Clinton convince skeptical Democrats that her nomination, if it happens, is about the future, and not about resurrecting and ratifying the worst aspects of the first Clinton reign when she and her husband rarely met a donor to whom they wouldn’t try to auction a sleepover in the Lincoln Bedroom.

In fact, while we’re at it, and if former Secretary of State Clinton really wants us to believe she’s no creature of the corporate and Wall Street money machine — despite more than $44 million in contributions from the financial industry since 2000 and her $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, not to mention several million more paid by other business interests for an hour or two of her time — she should pick up the gauntlet herself and publicly call for the departure of these two, although they are among her nearest and dearest. And we don’t mean Bill and Chelsea.

No, she should come right out and ask for the resignations of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee Chair — and Florida Congresswoman — Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In one masterstroke, she could separate herself from two of the most prominent of all corporate Democratic elitists.

Each is a Clinton disciple and devotee, each has profited mightily from the association and each represents all that is wrong with a Democratic Party that in the pursuit of money from rich donors and powerful corporations has abandoned those it once so proudly represented — working men and women.

Rahm Emanuel first came to prominence as head of the finance committee for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, browbeating ever-increasing amounts of money out of fat-cat donors, and following Clinton into the White House as a senior adviser attuned to the wishes and profits of organized wealth. Few pushed harder for NAFTA, a treaty that would cost a million or more working people their livelihood, or for the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” crime bill which Clinton later admitted was a mistake. After alienating most of Washington with his arrogance and bluster Emanuel left in 1998 and went into investment banking in Chicago, making more than $16 million in less than three years.

He came back to Washington as a three-term Illinois congressman, chaired the fundraising Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (calling on his Wall Street sources to get in on the gravy by electing so-called New Democrats over New Deal Democrats), and soon was back in the White House as Barack Obama’s chief of staff.

There, he infamously told a strategy meeting of liberal groups and administration types that the liberals were “retarded” for planning to run attack ads against conservative Democrats resisting Obamacare. Classy. Writer Jane Hamsher described him as a tough-guy wannabe but really “a brown nose for power ready to rumble on behalf of the status quo.”

And now he’s mayor of Chicago, reelected last April for a second term, but, as historian Rick Pearlstein wrote in The New Yorker a couple of months ago, “Chicagoans — and Democrats nationally — are suffering buyer’s remorse.”

Remember that shocking dashcam video of a black 17-year-old named Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago policeman while he was walking away? Of course you do; who can forget it? Remember, too, that for 400 days the police kept the existence of the video secret and did nothing about the shooting.

Meanwhile, the City of Chicago paid $5 million to McDonald’s family, who at that point had not filed a lawsuit. But despite the large sum of money coughed up by his own administration, Emanuel claims he never saw the video. If that’s true, he was guilty of dreadful mismanagement; if he did know, he’s guilty of far worse.

Only after his re-election was the cover-up of the murder revealed. In Pearlstein’s words, “Given that he surely would not have been reelected had any of this come out before the balloting, a recent poll showed that only 17 percent of Chicagoans believe him. And a majority of Chicagoans now think he should resign.”

The Laquan McDonald murder is just one of the scandals on Emanuel’s watch: crime and abuse by police run rampant, the city’s public schools are a disaster, the transit system’s a mess. Yet while Emanuel has devoted little of his schedule to meeting with community leaders, Pearlstein reminds us that he did, however, “spend enormous blocks of time with the rich businessmen, including Republicans, who had showered him with cash…” Now many of them have deserted him, including one of his richest Republican — yes, Republican — contributors, multimillionaire Bruce Rauner, who became governor of Illinois.

Emanuel should go — and Hillary Clinton should say so. But while Sen. Bernie Sanders, campaigning during the Illinois primary, said he would not seek and would not accept the mayor’s endorsement, with Secretary Clinton it’s business as usual. Emanuel has held fundraisers for her campaign since 2014 so chances are she’ll stay mum, take the money and run.

As for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she embodies the tactics that have eroded the ability of Democrats to once again be the party of the working class. As Democratic National Committee chair she has opened the floodgates for Big Money, brought lobbyists into the inner circle and oiled all the moving parts of the revolving door that twirls between government service and cushy jobs in the world of corporate influence.

She has played games with the party’s voter database, been accused of restricting the number of Democratic candidate debates and scheduling them at odd days and times to favor Hillary Clinton, and recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper that super delegates — strongly establishment and pro-Clinton — are necessary at the party’s convention so deserving incumbent officials and party leaders don’t have to run for delegate slots “against grassroots activists.” Let that sink in, but hold your nose against the aroma of entitlement.

But here’s just about the worst of it. Rep. Wasserman Schultz — the people’s representative, right? — has aligned herself with corporate interests out to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s effort to create national standards for the payday-lending industry, a business that in particular targets the poor.

Payday loans, as Yuka Hayashi writes at The Wall Street Journal, “are quick credits of a few hundred dollars, with effective annual interest rates ranging between 300% and 500%. Loans are due in a lump sum on the borrower’s next payday, a structure that often sends people into cycles of debt by forcing them to take out new loans to repay the old ones.”

According to the nonpartisan Americans for Financial Reform, this tail-chasing cycle of “turned” loans to pay off previous loans makes up about 76 percent of the payday loan business. The Pew Charitable Trust found that in Wasserman Schultz’s home state, the average payday loan customer takes out nine such loans a year, which usually has them mired in debt for about half a year.

No wonder radio host and financial guru Dave Ramsey describes the payday loan business, which loans $38.5 billion a year, as “scum-sucking, bottom-feeding predatory people who have no moral restraint.” The very people, it must be acknowledged, who now have an ally in the chair of the Democratic National Committee, who has so engineered the rules of the current Democratic primary process so as to virtually assure her unlimited access to a Clinton White House where she can walk in freely to press the case for her, ahem, “scum-sucking, bottom-feeding predatory” donors and pals.

So imagine now the Democratic National Convention this July. Presiding over it will be, yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tribune for a party of incumbency, money and crony capitalism. Follow her as she makes the rounds of private parties where zillionaire donors, lobbyists and consultants transact the real business of politics. Watch as she and Hizzoner Rahm Emanuel of Chicago greet and embrace.

Then imagine those thousands of young people outside the convention hall who have arrived from long months of campaigning earnestly for reform of the party they see as an instrument of their future, as well as members of Black Lives Matter and other people of color for whom Rahm Emanuel is the incarnation of deceit and oppression.

This is why Emanuel and Wasserman Schultz must go. To millions, they are enablers of the One Percent, perpetuators of the Washington mentality that the rest of the country has grown to hate. What a message such servants of plutocracy send: Democrats — a bridge to the past.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/time-for-these-two-democrats-to-go/]