The US Should Get Ready for King Mohammed bin Salman

Riyadh finds it outrageous that American lawmakers are trying to meddle in Saudi Arabia’s succession, writes Giorgio Cafiero.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

Since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, some American lawmakers have assumed the right and moral authority to dictate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s succession line-up. In November, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of being “crazy” and asserted that “he needs to go.” Such rhetoric is significant given that the U.S. has not meddled in the Al Saud family’s internal power struggles since the 1960s. But regardless of the preferences that some politicians in Washington may have regarding Saudi Arabia’s succession, the U.S. will likely have to accept dealing with a King Mohammed.

MbS’s ascendancy, which began in 2015, has transformed Saudi Arabia. Gone is Saudi Arabia’s traditional model of leadership of the pre-MbS era that was based on collective decision-making and consensus building among a large group of princes. By virtue of how much power MbS possesses, it is difficult to imagine any credible challenge to his rule, or position in the succession lineup, no matter the pressure Washington might try to impose.

Even before the Khashoggi affair, MbS’s power in Riyadh was so consolidated that the millennial prince faced virtually no constraints from other members of the Al Saud family. In recent months, MbS has only further consolidated his power in the Kingdom despite all the criticisms that MbS has received from lawmakers in the U.S. following the CIA’s conclusion that he ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Not even the political fallout of the journalist’s slaying last year has caused MbS to ease his internal crackdown, or even his targeting of Saudi dissidents overseas with efforts to lure them back to the Kingdom.

Thus, given that the Saudi security apparatus and all the dominant state institutions are under MbS’s consolidated control, it is extremely difficult to imagine any successful opposition to the millennial prince from within. While many in the House of Saud dislike MbS, they lack the ability to collectively stop him.

As the Kingdom is an absolute monarchy, the decision to change the succession order can only be made by King Salman. Although Salman, since he became the Saudi monarch in January 2015, has twice dismissed/forced out two other crown princes — Prince Muqrin (in April 2015) and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (in June 2017) — he has shown no signs of removing his son from succession.

Riyadh: Butt Out

From Riyadh’s perspective, foreign powers need to butt out and stop naively pretending they can influence the process. Furthermore, outside pressure on King Salman to fire his son could backfire and give the Saudi leadership more interest in standing by MbS. As Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former chief of Saudi intelligence and a former ambassador to Washington, put it: “The more [foreign] criticism there is of the crown prince, the more popular he is in the kingdom.”

Indeed, officials in Riyadh find it outrageous that American lawmakers are trying to weigh in on Saudi Arabia’s succession question — a redline for the Kingdom’s leadership. For Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, changing the succession lineup under pressure from the U.S. government would signal weakness and subservience to the world’s superpower at a time when Riyadh is working to project Saudi dominance in the Middle East and greater autonomy from the West as the world becomes more multipolar.

Such pressure from the U.S. would likely accelerate Riyadh’s eastward geopolitical pivot which has led to Saudi Arabia investing in deeper ties with China, India, Pakistan, and Russia. With the Saudi leadership questioning the long-term commitment of the U.S. to the Kingdom’s security, Riyadh is attempting to diversify its global alliances and partnerships in order to gain greater geopolitical independence from Saudi Arabia’s traditional Western allies. The silence from these non-Western governments on the Khashoggi file underscores such non-Western states’ keenness to avoid criticizing Saudi Arabia on human rights grounds—a factor that has earned them goodwill with MbS—in order to capitalize on all that deeper ties with Riyadh can offer. In the case of both China and Russia, the Khashoggi case has provided an opportunity to drive a greater wedge between the U.S. and its main ally in the Persian Gulf.

Bilateral Risk 

If Trump’s successor shares Sen. Graham’s view that MbS should never become the King of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh’s alliance with Washington could face an unprecedented bilateral crisis. Already, with MbS’ reputation among American lawmakers and members of the DC establishment having suffered immense damage following Khashoggi’s killing, the Crown Prince simply cannot make a visit to Washington. While for the time being MbS can continue working with a U.S. president whose administration has taken pains to give the crown prince the benefit of the doubt on the Khashoggi file, questions about Saudi-U.S. relations in the post-Trump era must unsettle the Saudi leadership. Given the rhetoric about Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-U.S. alliance coming from some Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, such concerns cannot be dismissed by MbS.

Of course, there is a potential scenario whereby MbS is targeted internally, possibly meeting the same fate as Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who was assassinated. This would prevent the crown prince from becoming custodian of the two holy mosques (the Saudi king’s official title since 1986). But such a scenario appears unlikely. What is far more probable is that MbS will become Saudi Arabia’s next king, even if this fuels rage in the U.S. Senate. As much as many officials in Washington take major issue with MbS, accepting the unacceptable will likely be necessary. The U.S. will have to contend, one way or another, with a King Mohammed ruling Washington’s most important Arab ally and the country that leads globally in oil production and exports.

Doubtless, the implications of MbS becoming the next Saudi king will be felt across the greater MENA region and beyond. As evidenced by the war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, the Saudi-Canadian diplomatic spat of August 2018, the Ritz Carlton arrests and Saad Hariri saga of 2017, the millennial prince has made foreign policy decisions that reflect his brashness and impulsive thinking. If MbS has already created such crises for Saudi Arabia and its relationship with Washington over the course of the past four years, it is truly mind boggling to think about what he, as the next king of Saudi Arabia, could do to change the Kingdom and the greater Middle East during the upcoming four or five decades if he rules until his natural death.

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington -based geopolitical risk consultancy.




UK Blurring Two Very Different Extradition Claims

The Swedish and U.S. claims are vastly different, writes Jonathan Cook. But the public conversation in the U.K. is simply about which has first dibs on Assange. 

By JonathanCook
Jonathan-Cook.net

In a previous blog post, I warned that the media and political class would continue with their long-running deceptions about Julian Assange now that he has been dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy. They have wasted no time in proving me right.

The first thrust in their campaign of deceit was set out on The Guardian’s front page on Friday, April 12, the day after Assange was imprisoned.

There should have been wall-to-wall outrage from public figures in the U.K. at the United States creating a new crime of “doing journalism” and a new means of arrest for those committing this “crime” overseas, what I have termed “media rendition.”

Remember that all of the information contained in the U.S. charge sheet against Assange – the supposed grounds for his extradition – were known to the previous Obama administration as far back as 2010. But President Barack Obama never dared approve the current charges against Assange because legally there was no way to stop them being turned against “respectable” journalists, like those at The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

This was the same Obama administration that had the worst record on prosecuting whistleblowers. Obama was no friend to investigative journalism but he understood that it would be unwise to so overtly subvert the notion of a free western press.

That the Trump administration has cast all this aside to get Assange behind bars should have every journalist in the world quaking in their boots, and loudly decrying what the U.S. is seeking to do.

And yet the reaction has been either quiet acceptance of the U.S. extradition request as a simple law enforcement measure or gentle mockery of Assange – that the scruffy outlaw dragged from the embassy was looking even scruffier after seven years of extreme house arrest and arbitrary detention.” What a laugh!

Narrative Collusion

Now we can see how the media is going to collude in a narrative crafted by the political class to legitimize what the Trump administration is doing.

Rather than focus on the gross violation of Assange’s fundamental human rights, the wider assault on press freedoms and the attack on Americans’ First Amendment Rights, U.K. politicians are “debating” whether the U.S. extradition claim on Assange should take priority over earlier Swedish extradition proceedings for a sexual-assault investigation that was publicly dropped back in 2017.

In other words, the public conversation in the U.K., sympathetically reported by The Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange.

Here’s the first paragraph of The Guardian’s front-page article:

“Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.”

So, the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the U.S. It is that the U.S. claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden.

The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimizing the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate U.S. extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first.

It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and WikiLeaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes.

Unequivocal Response

But there should only be one response to the U.S. extradition claim on Assange: It is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative.

The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

That The Guardian and the MPs are connecting the two should come as no surprise.

In another article on Assange last Friday, the The Guardian– echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.”

Assange and WikiLeaks always said that he entered the embassy to claim political asylum so as to avoid extradition to the U.S.

There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that The Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which The Guardian is a key part.

Seven Years of Derision

For seven years the political and media establishments have been deriding the suggestion that Assange faced any threat from the U.S., despite the mounting private and public evidence that he did. Assange again has been proved conclusively right by current events, and they decisively wrong.

The Guardian knows that Assange did not need political asylum to avoid a sex case. So reporting this not as a claim by his detractors but as an indisputable fact is simple, Trump-supporting propaganda meant to discredit Assange — propaganda that happily treats any damage to the cause of journalism as collateral damage.

Second, the only major politicians prepared to highlight the threats to Assange’s personal rights and wider press freedoms posed by the U.S. extradition request are opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his ally, Diane Abbott, the Labour shadow home secretary. They have rightly noted that the U.S. is using the extradition demand to silence Assange and intimidate any other journalists who might think about digging up evidence of the crimes committed by the U.S. national security state.

Abbott commented last Friday that Assange’s current arrest was not about “the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public.”

Abbott has faced a storm of criticism for her statement, accused of not giving enough weight to the Swedish case. In fact, her only mistake was to give it more weight than it currently deserves. She spoke of “rape charges,” but there are in fact no such charges. (Additionally, although the case is classed broadly as a rape allegation in Sweden, in the U.K. it would be classed at most as sexual assault. Forgotten too is that the evidence was considered too weak by the original prosecutor to bring any charges, Assange was allowed to leave Sweden and the investigation was dropped.)

Assange Did Not Flee Questioning

Rather, Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy.

Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticize the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

Further, the MPs and media getting exercised that Assange “took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden” are forgetting that he did not object to extradition as long as he received a promise that he would not then be extradited on to the U.S.  Sweden refused to offer such assurances. We can now see only too clearly that Assange had every reason to insist on such assurances.

I don’t have space here to analyze the Swedish case on this occasion (that’s maybe for another time), though it is worth briefly noting that most of the problematic details of the case have been disappeared down the memory hole.

Given that the political and media class are still speaking in terms of “charges,” rather than questions about allegations, we should recall that there were glaring problems with the evidence in the Swedish case. Not least, the key piece of evidence against Assange – a torn condom produced by the woman – was found to contain not a trace of DNA from either Assange or from her.

Those at the forefront of the attacks on Abbott and Corbyn, echoed by The Guardian, are the same Blairite Labour MPs who have been trying to oust Corbyn as Labour party leader, despite his twice being elected overwhelmingly by the membership.

These MPs, who dominate the Labour parliamentary party, have spent the past four years focusing on smears that Labour is “institutionally anti-Semitic” in an obvious effort to terminally wound Corbyn. Now they have found another possible route to achieve the same end.

They are suggesting that Corbyn and Abbott are disregarding the Swedish woman’s right to justice. The clear subtext of their arguments is that the pair are rape apologists.

As I have pointed out, Abbott has actually overstated the current status of the Swedish case, not sidelined it at all.

But what Corbyn and Abbott have done is to make a clear political, legal and moral demarcation between the Swedish case, which must be resolved according to accepted legal principles, and the U.S. extradition, which has no legal or moral merit whatsoever.

What these U.K. MPs and The Guardian have done in this front-page story is muddy the waters yet further, with enthusiastic disregard for the damage it might do to Assange’s rights, to Corbyn’s leadership and to the future of truth-telling journalism.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/.




The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report

Like Team Mueller’s indictment last July of Russian agents, the full report reveals questions about Wikileaks’ role that much of the media has been ignoring, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

As official Washington pores over the Gospel According to Saint Robert, an all-important fact about the Mueller report has gotten lost in the shuffle.  Just as the Christian gospels were filled with holes, the latest version is too – particularly with regard to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

The five pages that the special prosecutor’s report devotes to WikiLeaks are essentially lifted from Mueller’s indictment last July of 12 members of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU.  It charges that after hacking the Democratic National Committee, the GRU used a specially-created online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 to transfer a gigabyte’s worth of stolen emails to WikiLeaks just as the 2016 Democratic National Convention was approaching.  Four days after opening the encrypted file, the indictment says, “Organization 1 [i.e. WikiLeaks] released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC network by the Conspirators [i.e. the GRU].”

Mueller’s report says the same thing, but with the added twist that Assange then tried to cover up the GRU’s role by suggesting that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich may have been the source and by telling a congressman that the DNC email heist was an “inside job” and that he had “physical proof” that the material was not from Russian.

All of which is manna from heaven for corporate news outlets eager to pile on Assange, now behind bars in London.  An April 11, 2019, New York Times news analysis, for instance, declared that “[c]ourt documents have revealed that it was Russian intelligence – using the Guccifer persona – that provided Mr. Assange thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee,” while another Times article published shortly after his arrest accuses the WikiLeaks founder of “promoting a false cover story about the source of the leaks.”

But there’s a problem: it ain’t necessarily so.  The official story that the GRU is the source doesn’t hold water, as a timeline from mid-2016 shows.  Here are the key events based on the GRU indictment and the Mueller report:

  • June 12: Assange tells Britain’s ITV that another round of Democratic Party disclosures is on the way: “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great. WikiLeaks is having a very big year.”
  • June 14: The Democratic National Committee accuses Russia of hacking its computers.
  • June 15: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the hack. “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks ,” he brags.  “They will publish them soon.”
  • June 22: WikiLeaks tells Guccifer via email: “Send any new material here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”
  • July 6: WikiLeaks sends Guccifer another email: “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.”Replies Guccifer: “ok . . . i
  • July 14: Guccifer sends WikiLeaks an encrypted file titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.”
  • July 18: WikiLeaks confirms it has opened “the 1Gb or so archive” and will release documents “this week.”
  • July 22: WikiLeaks releases more than 20,000 DNC emails and 8,000 other attachments.

According to Mueller and obsequious news outlets like the Times, the sequence is clear: Guccifer sends archive, WikiLeaks receives archive, WikiLeaks accesses archive, WikiLeaks publishes archive.  Donald Trump may not have colluded with Russia, but Julian Assange plainly did. [Attorney General Will Barr, significantly calling WikiLeaks a publisher, said at his Thursday press conference: “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.”]

Avoiding Questions

The narrative raises questions that the press studiously avoids.  Why, for instance, would Assange announce on June 12 that a big disclosure is on the way before hearing from the supposed source?  Was there a prior communication that Mueller has not disclosed? What about the reference to “new material” on June 22 – does that mean Assange already had other material in hand?  After opening the Guccifer file on July 18, why would he publish it just four days later?  Would that give WikiLeaks enough time to review some 28,000 documents to insure they’re genuine?

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“If a single one of those emails had been shown to be maliciously altered,” blogger Mark F. McCarty observes, “Wikileaks’ reputation would have been in tatters.” There’s also the question that an investigator known as Adam Carter poses in Disobedient Media:  why would Guccifer brag about giving WikiLeaks“thousands of files” that he wouldn’t send for another month?

The narrative doesn’t make sense a fact that is crucially important now that Assange is fighting for his freedom in the U.K.  New Yorker staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian sounded a rare note of caution last summer when he warned that little about Guccifer 2.0 adds up.  While claiming to be the source for some of WikiLeaks’ most explosive emails, the material he released on his own had proved mostly worthless – 20 documents that he “said were from the DNC but which were almost surely not,” as Khatchadourian puts it, a purported Hillary Clinton dossier that “was nothing of the sort,” screenshots of emails so blurry as to be “unreadable,” and so forth.

While insisting that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party, Assange told Khatchadourian that the source was not Guccifer either.  “We received quite a lot of submissions of material that was already published in the rest of the press, and people seemingly submitted the Guccifer archives,” he said somewhat cryptically. “We didn’t publish them.  They were already published.”  When Khatchadourian asked why he didn’t put the material out regardless, he replied that “the material from Guccifer 2.0 – or on WordPress – we didn’t have the resources to independently verify.”

No Time for Vetting

So four days was indeed too short a time to subject the Guccifer file to proper vetting.  Of course, Mueller no doubt regards this as more “dissembling,” as his report describes it.  Yet WikiLeaks has never been caught in a lie for the simple reason that honesty and credibility are all-important for a group that promises to protect anonymous leakers who supply it with official secrets.  (See “Inside WikiLeaks: Working with the Publisher that Changed the World,” Consortium News, July 19, 2018.)  Mueller, by contrast, has a rich history of mendacity going back to his days as FBI director when he sought to cover up the Saudi role in 9/11 and assured Congress on the eve of the 2003 invasion that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction pose “a clear threat to our national security.”

So if the Mueller narrative doesn’t hold up, the charge of dissembling doesn’t either. Indeedas ex-federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy observes in The National Review, the fact that the feds have charged Assange with unauthorized access to a government computer rather than conspiring with the Kremlin could be a sign that Team Mueller is less than confident it can prove collusion beyond a reasonable doubt.  As he puts it, the GRU indictment “was more like a press release than a charging instrument” because the special prosecutor knew that the chances were zero that Russian intelligence agents would surrender to a U.S. court.

Indeed, when Mueller charged 13 employees and three companies owned by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin with interfering in the 2016 election, he clearly didn’t expect them to surrender either. Thushis team seemed taken aback when one of the alleged “troll farms” showed up in Washington asking to be heard.  The prosecution’s initial response, as McCarthy put it, was to seek a delay “on the astonishing ground that the defendant has not been properly served – notwithstanding that the defendant has shown up in court and asked to be arraigned.” When that didn’t work, prosecutors tried to limit Concord’s access to some 3.2 million pieces of evidence on the grounds that the documents are too “sensitive” for Russian eyes to see.  If they are again unsuccessful, they may have no choice but to drop the charges entirely, resulting in yet another “public relations disaster” for the Russia-gate investigation.

None of which bodes well for Mueller or the news organizations that worship at his shrine. After blowing the Russia-gate story all these years, why does the Times continue to slander the one news organization that tells the truth?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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Behind the Omar Outrage: Suppressed History of 9/11

Trump’s demagogic ploy with the freshman lawmaker raises the more serious question of who and what led to the “Day of Planes,” writes Max Blumenthal.

By Max Blumenthal
Special to Consortium News

As Donald Trump sharpens his re-election messaging, he has sought to make a foil out of freshman Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar, homing in on her identity as a black Muslim immigrant and her brazen defiance of what was once a bipartisan pro-Israel consensus. Trump’s most recent attack was the most inflammatory to date, implying through a characteristically dishonest Twitter video that Omar had played some role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Trump was referencing comments Omar made this month during a banquet of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR): “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” Omar said during a 20-minute-long denunciation of public bullying and violent attacks against Muslims living in the West. (CAIR was founded in 1994, contrary to Omar’s claim).

As innocuous as Omar’s comments might have seemed, they were easily spun by a right-wing bigot-sphere seeking to portray her as not merely insensitive to the deep wound Americans suffered on 9/11, but as a possible terror-sympathizer. As Bernard Kerik, the disgraced former NYPD commissioner and convicted felon, said of Omar on Fox News, “she’s infatuated with Al Qaeda, with Hamas, with Hezbollah.”

For Trump, the manufactured outrage offered yet another opportunity to advance his rebranded version of the Southern Strategy, painting Omar as the face of a Democratic Party overrun by socialists, Muslims, MS13 and trans radicals – as a clear and present danger to the reactionary white exurbanites commonly referred to in mainstream media as “swing voters.”

Amid an onslaught of menacing condemnations and online death threats triggered by Trump’s tweet, prominent Democrats mobilized to defend Omar. However, many were too timid to mention her by name, apparently fearing that doing so would play into Trump’s cynical strategy. Some refused to defend her at all. And among those willing to speak up, most felt compelled to lead their defense by reinforcing the quasi-theological understanding of 9/11 that leaves anti-Muslim narratives unchallenged. “The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground, and any discussion of it must be done with reverence,” insisted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In Washington, 9/11 is understood as an act of inexplicable evil that materialized out of a clear blue sky. “They hate us because we’re free,” Americans are still told in a semi-official drone, conveniently excising the attacks that took place on 9/11 from their historical context. This ruthlessly enforced interpretation has had the effect of displacing blame from those who bear direct or indirect responsibility for the attacks onto much more convenient scapegoats like the Islamic faith and its diverse mass of adherents.

In my new book, The Management of Savagery,” I explain which people did what things to lay the groundwork for the worst terror attack on U.S. soil. Not all of those people were Muslim, and few have faced the kind of scrutiny Omar has for her seemingly benign comment about 9/11. As I illustrate, many of them maintained lustrous reputations well after the ash was cleared from Ground Zero. Today, some of their names – Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ronald Reagan, H.W. Bush – are prominently engraved on airports, federal offices, and library halls around the country. Others became the subject of rowdy bestsellers such as “Charlie Wilson’s War,” or saw their exploits dramatized in Cold War kitsch productions like “Rambo III.” And then there were those who waged America’s dirty wars from the shadows, and whose names will scarcely ever be known.

While these figures lay claim to the mantle of “national security,” their true legacy was the callous abandonment of that concept in order to advance imperial objectives. During the Cold War, they forged partnerships with theocratic monarchies and armed Islamist militants, even distributing jihadist textbooks to children in the name of defeating the Soviet scourge. Today, as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard – the lone foreign policy dissenter within the Democratic presidential field – pointed out, they are doing it all over again through their protection of the world’s largest Al Qaeda franchise in Syria’s Idlib province, which came into being thanks in large part to U.S. intervention in the country.

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To effectively puncture Trump’s demagogic ploys, the discussion of 9/11 must move beyond a superficial defense of Omar and into an exploration of a critical history that has been suppressed. This history begins at least 20 years before the attacks occurred, when “some people did something.” Many of those people served at the highest levels of U.S. government, and the things they did led to the establishment of Al Qaeda as an international network – and ultimately, to 9/11 itself.

Taliban ‘Unimportant’

Back in 1979, some people initiated a multi-billion-dollar covert operation to trap the Red Army in Afghanistan and bleed the Soviet Union at its soft underbelly. They put heavy weapons in the hands of Islamist warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, dispatched Salafi clerics such as “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman to the battlefield, and printed millions of dollars worth of textbooks for Afghan children that contained math equations encouraging them to commit acts of violent martyrdom against Soviet soldiers. They did anything they could to wreak havoc on the Soviet-backed government in Kabul.

These people were so hellbent on smashing the Soviet Union that they made common cause with the Islamist dictatorship of Pakistan’s Zia-ul-Haq and the House of Saud. With direct assistance from the intelligence services of these U.S. allies, Osama bin Laden, the scion of Saudi wealth, set up his Services Bureau on the Afghan border as a waystation for foreign Islamist fighters.

These people even channeled funding to bin Laden so he could build training camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border for the so-called freedom fighters of the mujahideen. And they kept watch over a ratline that shepherded young Muslim men from the West to the front lines of the Afghan proxy war, using them as cannon fodder for a cold-blooded, imperial operation marketed by the Wahhabi clergy in Saudi Arabia as a holy obligation.

These people were in the CIA, USAID, and the National Security Council. Others, with names like Charlie Wilson, Jesse Helms, Jack Murtha, and Joe Biden, held seats on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

When they finally got what they wanted, dislodging a secular government that had provided Afghan women with unprecedented access to education, their proxies plunged Afghanistan into a war of the warlords that saw half of Kabul turned to rubble, paving the way for the rise of the Taliban. And these people remained totally unrepentant about the monster they had created.

“Can you imagine what the world would be like today if there was still a Soviet Union?” remarked Zbigniew Bzezinski, the former NSC director who sold President Jimmy Carter on the Afghan proxy war. “So yes, compared to the Soviet Union, and to its collapse, the Taliban were unimportant.”

To some in Washington, the Taliban were a historical footnote. To others, they were allies of convenience. As a top State Department diplomat commented to journalist Ahmed Rashid in February 1997, “The Taliban will probably develop like Saudi Arabia. There be [the Saudi-owned oil company] Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.”

CIA Cover-ups and Blowback

Back in the U.S., some people fueled the blowback from the Afghan proxy war. The Blind Sheikh was given a special entry visa by the CIA as payback for the services he provided in Afghanistan, allowing him to take over the al-Kifah Center in New York City, which had functioned as the de facto U.S. arm of Al Qaeda’s Services Bureau. Under his watch and with help from bin Laden, some people and lots of aid were shuttled to the front lines of U.S. proxy wars in Bosnia and Chechnya while the Clinton administration generally looked the other way.

Though the Blind Sheikh was eventually convicted in a terror plot contrived by a paid informant for the FBI, some people in federal law enforcement had been reluctant to indict him. “There was a whole issue about [Abdel-Rahman] being given a visa to come into this country and what the circumstances were around that,” one of his defense lawyers, Abdeed Jabara told me. “The issue related to how much the government was involved with the jihadist enterprise when it suited their purposes in Afghanistan and whether or not they were afraid there would be exposure of that. Because there’s no question that the jihadists were using the Americans and the Americans were using the jihadists. There’s a symbiotic relationship.”

During the 1995 trial of members of the Blind Sheikh’s New York-based cell, another defense lawyer, Roger Stavis, referred to his clients before the jury as “Team America,” emphasizing the role they had played as proxy fighters for the U.S. in Afghanistan. When Stavis attempted to summon to the witness stand a jihadist operative named Ali Abdelsauod Mohammed who had trained his clients in firearms and combat, some people ordered Mohammed to refuse his subpoena. Those people, according to journalist Peter Lance, were federal prosecutors Andrew McCarthy and Patrick Fitzgerald.

The government lawyers were apparently fretting that Mohammed would be exposed as an active asset of both the CIA and FBI, and as a former Army sergeant who had spirited training manuals out of Fort Bragg while stationed there during the 1980s. So Mohammed remained a free man, helping Al Qaeda plan attacks on American consular facilities in Tanzania and Kenya while the “Day of the Planes” plot began to take form.

In early 2000, some people gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to prepare the most daring Al Qaeda operation to date. Two figures at the meeting, Saudi citizens named Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, were on their way to the United States. While in Kuala Lumpur, the duo’s hotel room was broken into by CIA agents, their passports were photographed, and their communications were recorded. And yet the pair of Al Qaeda operatives was able to travel together with multiple-entry visas on a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles. That’s because for some reason, some people from the CIA failed to notify any people at the FBI about the terror summit that had just taken place. The “Day of Planes” plot was moving forward without a kink.

In Los Angeles, some people met Hazmi and Midhar at the airport, provided the two non-English speakers with a personal caretaker and rented them apartments, where neighbors said they were routinely visited each night by unknown figures in expensive cars with darkened windows. Those people were Saudi Arabian intelligence agents named Omar Bayoumi and Khaled al-Thumairy.

Crawford, Texas  

It was not until August 2001 that Midhar was placed on a terrorist watch list. That month, some people met at a ranch in Crawford, Texas, and reviewed a classified document headlined, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the US.” The bulletin was a page-and-a-half long, with detailed intelligence on the “Day of Planes” plot provided by Ali Mohammed, the Al Qaeda-FBI-CIA triple agent now registered as “John Doe” and disappeared somewhere in the federal prison system. Those people reviewed the document for a few minutes before their boss, President George W. Bush, moved on to other matters.

According to The Washington Post, Bush exhibited an “expansive mood” that day, taking in a round of golf. “We are going to be struck soon, many Americans are going to die, and it could be in the U.S.,” CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black warned days later. Bush did not meet with his cabinet heads again to discuss terrorism until Sept. 4.

A week later, on Sept. 11, some people did something.

They hijacked four civilian airliners and changed the course of American history with little more than box cutter blades in their hands. Fifteen of those 19 people, including Hazmi and Midhar, were citizens of Saudi Arabia. They were products of a Wahhabi school system and a politically stultifying society that had thrived under the protection of a special relationship with the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. had showered theocratic allies like Saudi Arabia with aid and weapons while threatening secular Arab states that resisted its hegemony with sanctions and invasion. The Saudis were the favorite Muslims of America’s national security elite not because they were moderate, which they absolutely were not, but because they were useful.

In the days after 9/11, the FBI organized several flights to evacuate prominent Saudi families from the U.S., including relatives of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, Islamophobia erupted across the country, with even mainstream personalities such as TV news anchor Dan Rather taking to the airwaves to claim without evidence that Arab-Americans had celebrated the 9/11 attacks. 

Unable to find a single operational Al Qaeda cell in the country, the FBI turned to an army of paid snitches to haul in mentally unstable Muslims, dupes and idlers like the Lackawanna 6 in manufactured plots. Desperate for a high-profile bust to reinforce the “war on terror” narrative, the bureau hounded Palestinian Muslim activists and persecuted prominent Islamic charities like the Holy Land Foundation, sending its directors to prison for decades for the crime of sending aid to NGOs in the occupied Gaza Strip.

As America’s national security state cracked down on Muslim civil society at home, it turned to fanatical Islamist proxies abroad to bring down secular and politically independent Arab states. In Libya, the U.S. and UK helped arm the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a longtime affiliate of Al Qaeda, using it as a proxy to depose and murder Muammar Gaddafi. As that country transformed from a stable, prosperous state into an Afghanistan-style playground for rival militias, including a chapter of the Islamic State, the Obama administration moved to do the same to Damascus.

In Syria, the CIA armed an outfit of supposedly “moderate rebels” called the Free Syrian Army that turned out to be nothing more than a political front and weapons farm for an array of extremist insurgent factions including Al Qaeda’s local affiliate and the Islamic State. The latter two groups were, of course, products of the sectarian chaos of Iraq, which had been ruled by a secular government until the U.S. came knocking after 9/11.

The blowback from Iraq, Libya and Syria arrived in the form of the worst refugee crises the world has experienced since World War II. And then came the bloodiest terror attack to hit the UK in history – in Manchester. There, the son of a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member, who traveled to Libya and Syria on an MI6 ratline, slaughtered concert-goers with a nail bomb.

Cataclysmic social disruptions like these were like steroids for right-wing Islamophobes, electrifying Trump’s victorious 2016 presidential campaign, a wing of the Brexit “Leave” campaign in the UK, and far-right parties across Europe. But as I explain in “The Management of Savagery,” these terrifying trends were byproducts of decisions undertaken by national security elites more closely aligned with the political center – figures who today attempt to position themselves as leaders of the anti-Trump resistance.

Which people did which things to drag us into the political nightmare we’re living through? For those willing to cut through the campaign season bluster, Ilhan Omar’s comments dare us to name names.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,” Goliath,” The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery,” published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

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PATRICK LAWRENCE: Trump & the Bolton-Pompeo Axis

Patrick Lawrence eyes the U.S. president’s difficulties with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton as he tries to resume peace talks with Pyongyang.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Moon Jae-in’s Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump last Thursday marked an important step forward for both leaders. The South Korean president appears to have drawn Trump away from the all-or-nothing “big deal” he proposed when he last met Kim Jong-un — an offer we now know was intended to precipitate the North Korean leader’s rejection. Trump won, too: The encounter with Moon has effectively put the Dealmaker back on his feet after the calamitous collapse of the second Trump–Kim summit in Hanoi two months ago. A top-down agreement on the North’s denuclearization is once again within reach.

The importance of the Moon–Trump summit, while eclipsed by news of Julian Assange’s arrest in London the same day, is not be underestimated. Even before receiving Moon, Trump announced for the first time that he is willing to summit with Kim for a third time. While still stressing the North’s complete denuclearization as the U.S. objective, Trump also said he is open to the incremental diplomacy he precluded with his everything-at-once offer in Hanoi.

“There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen,” Trump said before he and Moon withdrew to the Oval Office. “Things could happen. You can work out step-by-step pieces, but at this moment we are still talking about the big deal.”

New Stance

This new stance is a big deal in itself. Moon and Kim — with Chinese and Russian support — have advocated talks based on gradualist reciprocity from the first. “Action for action,” Moon calls it. This strategy is widely accepted at the other end of the Pacific as the only plausible path to a sustainable denuclearization agreement. The U.S. has been the only nation engaged on the Korean question to argue otherwise.  

In addition, Trump appeared to signal that Moon may get something he dearly wanted when he arrived in Washington: dispensation to proceed with inter–Korean economic projects — including transport links, an industrial park, and a joint-venture resort in the North — that are now blocked by a plethora of U.S. and UN–imposed sanctions. Moon views these as essential confidence-builders and the first steps toward integrating the North into a Northeast Asian economic hub that will also include South Korea, China, and the Russian Far East.

In Pyongyang, Kim responded to the events in Washington when he addressed the Supreme People’s Assembly last Friday. The speech was carefully balanced between optimism and caution, the latter reflecting Kim’s view that he was betrayed in Hanoi when Trump marshaled an offer he could not possibly embrace. “I am willing to accept if the United States proposes a third North Korea — United States summit,” Kim told North’s legislative body, “on condition that it has a right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.”

Kim had other things to add. “We don’t like — and we are not interested in — the United States’ way of dialogue, in which it tries to unilaterally push through its demands,” he said. “We don’t welcome — and we have no intention of repeating—the kind of summit meetings like the one held in Hanoi.” The North Korean leader went on to set a year-end deadline “for the United States to make a bold decision.”

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While Washington and Pyongyang had sharply conflicting versions of what transpired in Hanoi — each blaming the other for the summit’s failure — there is now little question that the U.S. side was at fault. A post–Hanoi Reuters exclusive reports that, prior to their famously canceled lunch, Trump handed Kim a sheet of paper listing, in English and Korean, extensive U.S. conditions that began with “a blunt call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States,” according to the piece filed by Leslie Broughton and David Brunnstrom.

The English-language version of the letter, the Reuters team reports, went on to demand “fully dismantling North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, chemical and biological warfare program and related dual-use capabilities; and ballistic missiles, launchers, and associated facilities.”

The Libya Model 

In simple terms, this was a kitchen-sink proposition — effectively a demand for unilateral disarmament — that was intended to prompt Kim to walk away. The Reuters reporters suggest that the fatal gambit was the work of John Bolton, Trump’s hyper-hawkish national security advisor. They quote North Korean officials as also implicating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another administration hawk, in what amounts to an act of diplomatic sabotage. The device used was Bolton’s “Libya model,” a laden reference if ever there was one. When Muammar Gaddafi gave up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs in 2003, he did so by sending Libya’s nuclear materials and equipment to the U.S. Eight years later, of course, he was assassinated in the wake of a NATO bombing campaign led by the U.S.

“The document appeared to represent Bolton’s long-held and hardline ‘Libya model’ of denuclearization that North Korea has rejected repeatedly,” Broughton and Brunnstrom report. “It probably would have been seen by Kim as insulting and provocative, analysts said.” One of those analysts was Jenny Town, a North Korea specialist at the Stimson Center in Washington. “‘This is what Bolton wanted from the beginning and it clearly wasn’t going to work,’” Reuters quotes Town as observing. “‘If the U.S. was really serious about negotiations, they would have learned already that this wasn’t an approach they could take.’”

Formidable Challenges

As this record of the Hanoi proceedings makes plain, Trump and Moon will assume formidable challenges to the extent they agree to work together toward a resolution of the Korea question on new terms. It is not clear why Trump — who went to Hanoi eager to cut his “big deal” with Kim — accepted the Bolton-inspired design and handed it on to the North Korean leader. But he has now set himself up for another in what appears to be a long line of conflicts with his foreign policy minders, Bolton and Pompeo chief among them.

The outlook in this connection is mixed at best. Trump was able to overrule new sanctions against North Korea that were announced several weeks after the Hanoi debacle. It is a matter of interpretation, but he effectively lost a battle with the Bolton–Pompeo axis when the administration designated the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization earlier this month. That move is understood widely to have pushed renewed negotiations with Tehran, for which Trump had been hoping, well beyond the point of no return.

For Moon, the challenges ahead are two. Most immediately, he must keep both Trump and Kim seated at the chess table between now and the end of the year. If no third summit is set by then, Kim has already signaled, he will consider this chapter in the long history of U.S.–North Korean negotiations closed — another story of failure. In such a case, the question facing Moon could hardly be more daunting: Can a South Korean leader determined to end nearly seven decades of enmity between the Koreas decisively wrest control of the diplomatic process from the U.S.?

That would amount to an unprecedented showdown between Seoul and Washington. Despite Moon’s admirable dedication, this is unlikely to materialize — not in the near term, in any case. Moon has formidable allies in Beijing and Moscow; Kim is plainly eager to break North Korea out of its isolation. But the U.S., perfectly satisfied to act as “spoiler” in Northeast Asia (as elsewhere), remains too powerful an obstacle despite the many signs that it is in the sunset phase of its global preeminence. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Assange’s Judge a Disgrace to the Bench, Ex-UK Ambassador Says

Craig Murray asks you to imagine Western media reaction if a Russian opposition politician were dragged out by armed police, and within three hours convicted on a political charge by a patently biased judge.

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

Both Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange are now in jail, both over offenses related to the publication of materials specifying U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and both charged with nothing else at all. No matter what bullshit political and MSM liars try to feed you, that is the simple truth. Manning and Assange are true heroes of our time, and are suffering for it.

If a Russian opposition politician were dragged out by armed police, and within three hours had been convicted on a political charge by a patently biased judge with no jury, with a lengthy jail sentence to follow, can you imagine the Western media reaction to that kind of kangaroo court? Yet that is exactly what just happened in London.

District Judge Michael Snow is a disgrace to the bench who deserves to be infamous well beyond his death. He displayed the most plain and open prejudice against Assange in the 15 minutes it took for him to hear the case and declare Assange guilty last week, in a fashion which makes the dictators’ courts I had witnessed, in Ibrahim Babangida’s Nigeria or Isam Karimov’s Uzbekistan, look fair and reasonable, in comparison to the gross charade of justice conducted by Michael Snow.

One key fact gave away Snow’s enormous prejudice. Julian Assange said nothing during the whole brief proceedings, other than to say “Not guilty” twice, and to ask a one-sentence question about why the charges were changed midway through this sham “trial.” Yet Judge Michael Snow condemned Assange as “narcissistic.” There was nothing that happened in Snow’s brief court hearing that could conceivably have given rise to that opinion. It was plainly something he brought with him into the courtroom, and had read or heard in the mainstream media or picked up in his club. It was in short, the very definition of prejudice, and “Judge” Michael Snow and his summary judgement is a total disgrace.

I am part of the Wikileaks media and legal team and the whole team, including Julian, is energized rather than downhearted. At last there is no more hiding for the pretend liberals behind ludicrous Swedish allegations or bail jumping allegations, and the true motive – revenge for the Chelsea Manning revelations – is now completely in the open.

To support the persecution of Assange in these circumstances is to support absolute state censorship of the internet. It is to support the claim that any journalist who receives and publishes official material which indicates U.S. government wrongdoing, can be punished for its publication. Furthermore, this U.S. claim involves an astonishing boost to universal jurisdiction. Assange was nowhere near the USA when he published the documents, but nonetheless U.S. courts are willing to claim jurisdiction. This is a threat to press and internet freedom everywhere.

These are scary times. But those may also be the most inspiring of times.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. This article first appeared on his website.




CHRIS HEDGES: The Martyrdom of Julian Assange

Assange and WikiLeaks allowed us to see the inner workings of empire — the most important role of a press — and for this they became empire’s prey, writes Chris Hedges of Truthdig.

By Chris Hedges
Truthdig

The arrest Thursday of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment. The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?

I am sure government attorneys are skillfully doing what has become de rigueur for the corporate state, using specious legal arguments to eviscerate enshrined rights by judicial fiat. This is how we have the right to privacy with no privacy. This is how we have “free” elections funded by corporate money, covered by a compliant corporate media and under iron corporate control. This is how we have a legislative process in which corporate lobbyists write the legislation and corporate-indentured politicians vote it into law. This is how we have the right to due process with no due process. This is how we have a government — whose fundamental responsibility is to protect citizens — that orders and carries out the assassination of its own citizens such as the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son. This is how we have a press legally permitted to publish classified information and a publisher sitting in jail in Britain awaiting extradition to the United States and a whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in a jail cell in the United States.

Britain will use as its legal cover for the arrest the extradition request from Washington based on conspiracy charges. This legal argument, in a functioning judiciary, would be thrown out of court. Unfortunately, we no longer have a functioning judiciary. We will soon know if Britain as well lacks one.

Refusing Safe Passage

Assange was granted asylum in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sexual offense allegations that were eventually dropped. Assange and his lawyers always argued that if he was put in Swedish custody he would be extradited to the United States. Once he was granted asylum and Ecuadorian citizenship the British government refused to grant Assange safe passage to the London airport, trapping him in the embassy for seven years as his health steadily deteriorated.

The Trump administration will seek to try Assange on charges that he conspired with Manning in 2010 to steal the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs obtained by WikiLeaks. The half a million internal documents leaked by Manning from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, provided copious evidence of the hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence, and routine use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation by the U.S. government in its foreign relations and wars in the Middle East. Assange and WikiLeaks allowed us to see the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this they became empire’s prey.

U.S. government lawyers will attempt to separate WikiLeaks and Assange from The New York Times and the British newspaper The Guardian, both of which also published the leaked material from Manning, by implicating Assange in the theft of the documents. Manning was repeatedly and often brutally pressured during her detention and trial to implicate Assange in the seizure of the material, something she steadfastly refused to do. She is currently in jail because of her refusal to testify, without her lawyer, in front of the grand jury assembled for the Assange case. President Barack Obama granted Manning, who was given a 35-year sentence, clemency after she served seven years in a military prison.

Once the documents and videos provided by Manning to Assange and WikiLeaks were published and disseminated by news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian, the press callously, and foolishly, turned on Assange. News organizations that had run WikiLeaks material over several days soon served as conduits in a black propaganda campaign to discredit Assange andWikiLeaks. This coordinated smear campaign was detailed in a leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch and dated March 8, 2008. The document called on the U.S. to eradicate the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and destroy Assange’s reputation.

Democrats’ Ire

Assange, who with the Manning leaks had exposed the war crimes, lies and criminal manipulations of the George W. Bush administration, soon earned the ire of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the major funders of Islamic State, to the Clinton Foundation. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. It exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Trump was the Republican nominee. It exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. It exposed Clinton as the primary architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate. Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.

The Democratic leadership, intent on blaming Russia for its election loss, charges that the Podesta emails were obtained by Russian government hackers, although James Comey, the former FBI director, has conceded that the emails were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary. Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

WikiLeaks has done more to expose the abuses of power and crimes of the American Empire than any other news organization. In addition to the war logs and the Podesta emails, it made public the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency and their interference in foreign elections, including in the French elections. It disclosed the internal conspiracy against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Labour members of Parliament. It intervened to save Edward Snowden, who made public the wholesale surveillance of the American public by our intelligence agencies, from extradition to the United States by helping him flee from Hong Kong to Moscow. The Snowden leaks also revealed that Assange was on a U.S. “manhunt target list.”

A haggard-looking Assange, as he was dragged out of the embassy by British police, shook his finger and shouted: “The U.K. must resist this attempt by the Trump administration. … The U.K. must resist!”

We all must resist. We must, in every way possible, put pressure on the British government to halt the judicial lynching of Assange. If Assange is extradited and tried, it will create a legal precedent that will terminate the ability of the press, which Trump repeatedly has called “the enemy of the people,” to hold power accountable. The crimes of war and finance, the persecution of dissidents, minorities and immigrants, the pillaging by corporations of the nation and the ecosystem and the ruthless impoverishment of working men and women to swell the bank accounts of the rich and consolidate the global oligarchs’ total grip on power will not only expand, but will no longer be part of public debate. First Assange. Then us.

This article was originally published on Truthdig and is republished with permission.

Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Read more about him here. This column first appeared in Truthdig.




The Assange Arrest: You Have the Right to Remain Silent

The arrest of Julian Assange was an act of revenge by the U.S. government that strikes at the heart of journalism, writes Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
The date – April 11, 2019 – will live in infamy in the annals of Western “values” and “freedom of expression.” The image is stark. A handcuffed journalist and publisher dragged out by force from the inside of an embassy, clutching a Gore Vidal book, the “History of the U.S. National Security State.”

The mechanism is brutal. WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested because the United States demanded this from the Tory British government, which for its part meekly claimed it did not pressure Ecuador to revoke Assange’s asylum.

The U.S. magically erases Ecuador’s financial troubles, ordering the IMF to release a providential $4.2-billion loan. Immediately after, Ecuadorian diplomats “invite” the London Metropolitan Police to come inside their embassy to arrest their long-term guest.

Let’s cut to the chase. Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen, he’s an Australian. WikiLeaks is not a U.S.-based media organization. If the US government gets Assange extradited, prosecuted and incarcerated, it will legitimize its right to go after anyone, anyhow, anywhere, anytime.

Call it The Killing of Journalism.

Get Me That Password?

The case by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) against Assange is flimsy at best. Everything has to do essentially with the release of classified info in 2010 – 90,000 military files on Afghanistan, 400,000 files on Iraq and 250,000 diplomatic cables spanning most of the planet.

Assange is allegedly guilty of helping Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intel analyst, to get these documents. But it gets trickier. He’s also allegedly guilty of “encouraging” Manning to collect more information.

There’s no other way to interpret that. This amounts, no holds barred, to all-out criminalization of journalistic practice.

For the moment, Assange is charged with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.” The indictment argues that Assange helped Manning to crack a password stored on Pentagon computers linked to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet). [Though a closer look at the indictment shows the alleged help was to obscure Manning’s identity and not intrude into a DOD computer.]

In March 2010 chat logs obtained by the U.S. government, Manning talks to someone alternatively named “Ox” and “press association.” The DoJ is convinced this interlocutor is Assange. But they must conclusively prove it.

Manning and this person, allegedly Assange, engaged in “discussions.” “During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied: ‘Curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”

None of this holds up. U.S. corporate media routinely publishes illegal leaks of classified information. Manning offered the documents he had already downloaded to both The New York Times and The Washington Post– and he was rejected. Only then did he approach WikiLeaks.

The allegation that Assange tried to help crack a computer password has been doing the rounds since 2010. The DoJ under Obama refused to go for it, aware of what it would mean in terms of potentially outlawing investigative journalism.

No wonder U.S. corporate media, deprived of a major scoop, subsequently started to dismiss WikiLeaks as a Russian agent.

The Nuclear Option

The great Daniel “Pentagon Papers” Ellsberg had already warned back in 2017:

Obama having opened the legal campaign against the press by going after the roots of investigative reporting on national security – the sources – Trump is going to go after the gatherers/gardeners themselves (and their bosses, publishers). To switch the metaphor, an indictment of Assange is a ‘first use’ of ‘the nuclear option’ against the First Amendment protection of a free press.”

The current DoJ charges – basically stealing a computer password – are just the tip of the avalanche. At least for now, publishing is not a crime. Yet if extradited, Assange may be additionally charged with extra conspiracies and even violation of the 1917 Espionage Act.

Even if they must still seek consent from London to bring further charges, there’s no shortage of DoJ lawyers able to apply sophistry to conjure a crime out of thin air.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s very able lawyer, has correctly stressed his arrest is “a free speech issue” because it “is all about the ways in which journalists can communicate with their sources.” The invaluable Ray McGovern, who knows one or two things about the U.S. intel community, has evoked a requiem of the fourth estate.

The full context of Assange’s arrest comes to light when examined as sequential to Chelsea Manning spending a month in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail for refusing to denounce Assange in front of a grand jury. There’s no doubt the DoJ tactic is to break Manning by any means available.

Here’s Manning’s legal team:

The indictment against Julian Assange unsealed today was obtained a year to the day before Chelsea appeared before the grand jury and refused to give testimony. The fact that this indictment has existed for over a year underscores what Chelsea’s legal team and Chelsea herself have been saying since she was first issued a subpoena to appear in front of a Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Virginia – that compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for U.S. Attorneys to obtain an indictment of Mr Assange.”

The Deep State Attacks 

The ball is now in a UK court. Assange will most certainly linger in prison for a few months for skipping bail while the extradition to the U.S. dossier proceeds. The DoJ arguably has discussed with London how a “correct” judge may deliver the desired outcome.

Assange is a publisher. He leaked absolutely nothing. The New York Times, as well as The Guardian, also published what Manning uncovered. Collateral Murder, among tens of thousands of pieces of evidence, should always be at the forefront of the whole discussion – this is about war crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So it’s no wonder the U.S. Deep State will never forgive Manning and Assange, even as The New York Times, in another glaring instance of double standards, may get a pass. The drama will eventually need closure at the Eastern District of Virginia because the national security and intel apparatus has been working on this screenplay, full-time, for years.

As CIA director, Mike Pompeo did cut to the chase: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

What amounts to a de facto declaration of war underlines how dangerous WikiLeaks actually is, just because it practiced investigative journalism.

The current DoJ charges have absolutely nothing to do with the debunked Russia-gate. But expect the subsequent political football to be bombastic.

The Trump camp at the moment is divided. Assange is either a pop hero fighting the Deep State swamp or a lowly Kremlin stooge. At the same time, Joe Manchin, a southerner Democrat Senator, rejoices, on the record, as an ersatz 19th-century plantation owner, that Assange is now “our property.” The Democrat strategy will be to use Assange to get to Trump.

And then there’s the EU, of which Britain may eventually not be part of, later rather than sooner. The EU will be very vigilant on Assange being extradited to “Trump’s America,” as the Deep State makes sure that journalists everywhere actually do have a right, to always remain silent.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is “2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

Please honor the legacy of Bob Parry with a donation to our Spring Fund Drive.




Assange’s Lynch Mob Commenters in the NYT

The Gray Lady now seems to be against press freedom, writes James Howard Kunstler.

By James Howard Kunstler
Clusterfuck Nation

James Howard KunstlerAnd so now Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been dragged out of his “sanctuary” in the London embassy of Ecuador for failing to clean his cat’s litter box. Have you ever cleaned a litter box? The way we always did it was to spread some newspaper — say, The New York Times — on the floor, transfer the used cat litter onto it, wrap it into a compact package, and put it in the trash.

It was interesting to scan the comments section of the Times’s stories about the Assange arrest: Times readers almost uniformly presented themselves as a lynch mob out for Assange’s blood.  So much for the spirit of liberalism and the old “Gray Lady” who published The Pentagon Papers purloined by Daniel Ellsberg lo so many years ago. Reading between the lines in that once-venerable newspaper — by which I mean gleaning their slant on the news — one surmises that the Times has actually come out against freedom of the press, a curious attitude, but consistent with the neo-Jacobin zeitgeist in “blue” America these days.

Anyway, how could anyone expect Assange to clean his cat’s litter box when he was unable to go outside his sanctuary to buy a fresh bag of litter, and was denied newspapers this past year, as well as any other contact with the outside world?

U.S. government prosecutors had better tread lightly in bringing Assange to the sort of justice demanded by readers of The New York Times — which is to say: lock him up in some SuperMax solitary hellhole and throw away the key. The show trial of Julian Assange on U.S. soil, when it comes to pass, may end up being the straw that stirs America’s Mickey Finn as a legitimate republic.

Symptom of Mass Confusion

The bloodthirsty hysteria among New York Times readers is a symptom of the mass confusion sown by agencies of the U.S. government itself when its own agents ventured to meddle in the national election of 2016 and then blame it on “the Russians.” As you will learn in the months ahead, it was the Times itself, and other corporate news organizations, who colluded with officers of the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, and the Obama White House to concoct a phony narrative about Trump being in cahoots with Vladimir Putin, thus depriving Hillary Clinton of her “turn” in the White House; and then to join those agencies, and the grotesquely dishonest two-year investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a cover-your-ass operation to hide their nefarious and criminal acts.

The USA has a lot of sorting to do and, of course, the new Democratic-led Congress is already trying as hard as possible to prevent that from happening, the latest being their piling on Attorney General William Barr for testifying under oath that he believed the government ran a spying operation on candidate Donald Trump. The existence of FISA warrants establishes that as a fact, as does the million-dollar payment by the CIA and U.S. Defense Department to international man of mystery Stefan Halper, the secret agent (posing as an Oxford professor) commissioned to entrap Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The ugly cascade of truth about that ploy, and many other seditious subterfuges run by U.S. officials, will eventually bury the Jacobin “resistance” under more used cat litter than the Ecuadorian embassy staff could ever dream of.

 

The official charges so far against Julian Assange include skipping bail in the U.K. and supposedly attempting to assist the U.S. soldier then known as Bradley Manning to find a password for entering certain U.S. government computer data bases. The U.K. bail matter revolved around Assange’s extradition to Sweden on a bullshit rape charge that was subsequently dropped as having no merit by Swedish authorities.

The U.S. supposedly reserves the authority to lob additional charges at Assange, though they may face a lengthy extradition battle with his attorneys to lever him out of the U.K. and into U.S. custody. In the meantime, Assange may receive a Nobel Prize as a symbol of a lone conscience standing up against the despotic deceits of the world’s Deep States. Wouldn’t that gum up the works nicely? I’d like to see The New York Times’s front page headline on that story: “Russian Colluder Wins Nobel Prize, Put on Trial in Federal Court.” By then, the United States of America will be so completely gaslighted that it will pulsate in the darkness like a death star about to explode.

James Howard Kunstler is author of “The Geography of Nowhere,” which he says he wrote “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” He has written several other works of nonfiction and fiction. Read more about him here. This article first appeared on his blog, ClusterfuckNation. 




JOHN PILGER: Assange Arrest a Warning from History

Real journalism is being criminalized by thugs in plain sight, says John Pilger. Dissent has become an indulgence. And the British elite has abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice.

By John Pilger

The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in almost seven years.

That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.

But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice.

Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.

The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sow the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilization.” The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast.

Assange’s principal media tormentor, The Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years.” The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.

With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables.

Revealing Homicidal Colonial Wars

When Assange was still trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy, Harding joined police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh.” The Guardian then published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.

But the tone has now changed. “The Assange case is a morally tangled web,” the paper opined. “He (Assange) believes in publishing things that should not be published …. But he has always shone a light on things that should never have been hidden.”

These “things” are the truth about the homicidal way America conducts its colonial wars, the lies of the British Foreign Office in its denial of rights to vulnerable people, such as the Chagos Islanders, the exposé of Hillary Clinton as a backer and beneficiary of jihadism in the Middle East, the detailed description of American ambassadors of how the governments in Syria and Venezuela might be overthrown, and much more. It is all available on the WikiLeaks site.

The Guardian is understandably nervous. Secret policemen have already visited the newspaper and demanded and got the ritual destruction of a hard drive. On this, the paper has form. In 1983, a Foreign Office clerk, Sarah Tisdall, leaked British Government documents showing when American cruise nuclear weapons would arrive in Europe. The Guardian was showered with praise.

When a court order demanded to know the source, instead of the editor going to prison on a fundamental principle of protecting a source, Tisdall was betrayed, prosecuted and served six months.

If Assange is extradited to America for publishing what The Guardian calls truthful “things,” what is to stop the current editor, Katherine Viner, following him, or the previous editor, Alan Rusbridger, or the prolific propagandist Luke Harding?

What is to stop the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post, who also published morsels of the truth that originated with WikiLeaks, and the editor of El Pais in Spain, and Der Spiegel in Germany and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The list is long.

David McCraw, lead lawyer of The New York Times, wrote: “I think the prosecution [of Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers … from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and the law would have a very hard time distinguishing between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.”

Even if journalists who published WikiLeaks’ leaks are not summoned by an American grand jury, the intimidation of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning will be enough. Real journalism is being criminalized by thugs in plain sight. Dissent has become an indulgence.

In Australia, the current America-besotted government is prosecuting two whistle-blowers who revealed that Canberra’s spooks bugged the cabinet meetings of the new government of East Timor for the express purpose of cheating the tiny, impoverished nation out of its proper share of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Their trial will be held in secret. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, is infamous for his part in setting up concentration camps for refugees on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, where children self harm and suicide. In 2014, Morrison proposed mass detention camps for 30,000 people.

Journalism: a Major Threat

Real journalism is the enemy of these disgraces. A decade ago, the Ministry of Defense in London produced a secret document which described the “principal threats” to public order as threefold: terrorists, Russian spies and investigative journalists. The latter was designated the major threat.

The document was duly leaked to WikiLeaks, which published it. “We had no choice,” Assange told me. “It’s very simple. People have a right to know and a right to question and challenge power. That’s true democracy.”

What if Assange and Manning and others in their wake — if there are others — are silenced and “the right to know and question and challenge” is taken away?

In the 1970s, I met Leni Reifenstahl, close friend of Adolf Hitler, whose films helped cast the Nazi spell over Germany.

She told me that the message in her films, the propaganda, was dependent not on “orders from above” but on what she called the “submissive void” of the public.

“Did this submissive void include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked her.

“Of course,” she said, “especially the intelligentsia …. When people no longer ask serious questions, they are submissive and malleable. Anything can happen.”

And did. The rest, she might have added, is history.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist and filmmaker based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com. In 2017, the British Library announced a John Pilger Archive of all his written and filmed work. The British Film Institute includes his 1979 film, “Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia,” among the 10 most important documentaries of the 20thcentury. Some of his previous contributions to Consortium News can be found here.  

Please honor the legacy of Bob Parry with a donation to our Spring Fund Drive.