Trump Should Withdraw Haspel Nomination, Intel Vets Say

More than two dozen former U.S. intelligence officers urge President Trump to rescind Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA, citing torture that she oversaw while supervising a black site prison, as well as her role in destroying evidence. 

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Request to Withdraw Nomination of Gina Haspel

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

With respect, we veteran intelligence officers from CIA and other agencies urge you to withdraw the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. From what is already known of her leading role in CIA torture 16 years ago, she has disqualified herself.

In 2002 Haspel supervised the first CIA “black site” for interrogation, where cruel and bizarre forms of torture were applied to suspected terrorists. And when the existence of 92 videotapes of those torture sessions was revealed, Haspel signed a cable ordering their destruction, against the advice of legal counsel at CIA and the White House.

Does Torture ‘Work?’

We are confident that if you set aside some time to read the unredacted portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report of 2014 on the torture ordered and supervised by Haspel and other CIA managers, you will change your mind about her nomination. The five-year Senate investigation was based primarily on original CIA cables and other sensitive documents.

In addition to revealing clear violations of the UN Convention Against Torture, the Senate investigation shows that claims by senior CIA officials that torture is effective are far from true. The US Army — in which many of us have served — has been aware of the ineffectiveness of torture for decades.

General John Kimmons, head of Army Intelligence, drove home that point on September 6, 2006 — approximately an hour before President George W. Bush publicly extolled the virtues of torture methods that became known as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Gen. Kimmons stated: “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.”

We believe that Defense Secretary James Mattis’ lack of enthusiasm for torture reflects lessons drawn from the historical experience of the Marine Corps, as well. Not to mention the twin reality that torture brutalizes the brutalizer, and that US use of torture puts our own troops in serious jeopardy when captured. Moreover, there is no more effective recruitment tool than torture to attract more terrorists.

International and Domestic Law

Please also be aware that many signatories to the UN Convention Against Torture take seriously their obligations under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which applies when those who authorize or practice torture are not brought to justice by authorities in their home countries.

George W. Bush experienced a precarious brush with this reality in 2011, when he had to abruptly cancel a visit to Geneva, Switzerland, after discovering that plans were in place to arrest him as soon as he stepped onto Swiss soil. [See “America’s Stay-at-Home Ex-President”] The widely respected European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights already has made no secret of its intention to proceed quickly against Haspel, should she set foot in Europe.

We believe that CIA’s activities and general focus have become severely unbalanced, with the lion’s share of funding and energy going to the paramilitary-prone operational side — where the potential for human rights abuses is not given sufficient consideration.

That trend has gone on steroids in more recent decades, and it is a safe bet that Gina Haspel would accelerate it. We would also observe that if most of the talent and funding goes to CIA paramilitary operations, then the by-products will necessarily include a tendency to engage in politically motivated — and therefore shabby — analysis. That means that senior policymakers like you will be poorly informed, particularly with respect to complex world issues — including biased perspectives on Russia and its newly re-elected president, Vladimir Putin.

* * *

We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) are extremely concerned at the possibility that Gina Haspel might become the next Director of the CIA. Haspel actually supervised a CIA “black site” codenamed “Cat’s Eye” in Thailand where a number of suspected terrorists were tortured. She subsequently collaborated in destroying all 92 videotapes of the torture sessions, effectively covering up what were likely serious war crimes.

There should be no question about the illegality of torture. It has been universally condemned and banned by both the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994.

The UN Convention defines torture “as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession…” and makes clear that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The Convention’s Article 2 requires signatories to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction. The complete prohibition of torture is absolute.  Under international law, officials cannot receive immunity in cases involving torture and governments that have signed the Convention are obligated to bring torturers to justice.  US domestic law was brought in line with the Convention once the US became a signatory and ratified it.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, torture, to include its variations that have been euphemistically described as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT), is now explicitly banned by the US military in its training manuals. A number of soldiers were tried and imprisoned in the wake of Abu Ghraib, although the “upper ranks” — in civilian as well as military spheres — who approved torture managed to escape serious consequences.

Some in the Pentagon clearly took seriously allegations of torture and were willing to file criminal charges against those involved, though Department of Defense leadership never saw fit to assume responsibility for having set up a policy environment that quite clearly condoned EIT.

There is also another significant historical and legal precedent that demonstrates that the United States government has by its own actions agreed that what is today being called “enhanced interrogation” is a war crime. In 1946-1948, Japanese officers who tortured Allied soldiers — including what is now referred to as waterboarding — were tried at the Tokyo post-war tribunals for that crime, found guilty, and executed.

Heinous

More recently, the meticulously documented unclassified 528 page Executive Summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s secret Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program is remarkable for its candor. That five-year investigation was based on original CIA cables and other documents.

In blunt language, the Senate report describes the horrors of the black site secret prisons and the efforts that were made to get terrorist suspects to talk. It demonstrates that the interrogations were brutal — worse than anyone had been led to believe — and also that they did not produce any information that might not have been developed otherwise or, in many cases, any actionable intelligence whatsoever. The full classified text of the report — which names names of the actual torture perpetrators redacted in the summary — runs to almost 7,000 pages.

Moreover, coercive interrogation frequently produced misleading or fabricated intelligence that wasted resources by having to be meticulously checked before being used.  This conclusion was also arrived at by former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan — who deplored CIA methods — as well as by a review conducted by CIA’s then-Inspector General (IG), John Helgerson, in 2004. The “Helgerson Report” condemned both CIA leadership and Langley’s on-the-ground management of questionable programs driven by “analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence” — programs which quickly became abusive.

It is our collective judgment that the loathsome physical abuses that included beatings, repeated waterboardings and anal violations referred to as “rectal feeding” — as well as physical threats to family members — cannot be whitewashed with the convenient euphemism of “enhanced interrogation.” All of those are acts of torture — plain and simple.

And while there are undoubtedly many good moral arguments against torture, there are practical considerations as well. Despite what the media would have Americans believe, torture does not work.

We recall the unambiguous remarks of then-commander of Army intelligence, Gen. John Kimmons, who held a Pentagon press conference on Sept. 6, 2006 — the same day President George W. Bush announced what he called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation (which later morphed into the term “enhanced interrogation techniques”). Anticipating that Bush would claim the EITS to be necessary and effective, Gen. Kimmons told the media: “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 —tells us that.”

Colin Powell Mousetrapped by ‘Intelligence’ From Torture

Worse still, intelligence officials have used information, which they knew was gained from torture, to mislead the most senior US officials on issues of war and peace. One of the signatories below was eyewitness to how CIA Director George Tenet persuaded Secretary of State Colin Powell to tell the UN of a “sinister nexus” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Tenet did not tell Powell that this “intelligence” came from a source, Abu Yahya al-Libi, who had been “rendered” to, and waterboarded by, Egyptian intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency had deemed this intelligence unreliable, but Tenet chose to ignore DIA and never informed Powell.  Al-Libi recanted less than a year later, admitting that he fabricated the story about Saddam and al-Qaeda in order to stop his torture.

Moreover, when you wink at torture, you motivate enemies of the United States to do the same to captured US soldiers, diplomats and travelers while also providing a propaganda bonanza for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Indeed, the only reason why CIA torturers have not been tried and sentenced to prison for the damage they have done to the nation is that an intimidated President Barack Obama — who once proclaimed that “nobody is above the law” — balked at allowing the judicial process to run its course, thereby whitewashing the Bush Administration’s many crimes related to the so-called “global war on terror.” Obama attempted to justify his inaction as looking forward rather than backward, but it is more likely that he feared opening up a Pandora’s Box of shameful government secrets that no doubt would have emerged.

Promoting Haspel in spite of her tainted record would send a message to both intelligence and military personnel that embracing practices like torture — indisputably a war crime — can be a path to promotion.

Haspel’s involvement with torture began when she accepted the assignment to go to Thailand — which she could have turned down — to run the “black site” where the interrogations were being conducted. She was, at the time, the deputy in CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), working for Jose Rodriguez.

She was in charge of the secret Thailand base in late 2002 while Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and possibly more suspects were being tortured in a process that included slamming victims’ heads against walls, subjecting them to painful stress positions, regularly depriving them of sleep, confining them to small, coffin-like boxes, and waterboarding.

The “confinement boxes” were of two types; one was coffin-sized, and the other was smaller and less than waist-high. Both had strong claustrophobic effects. A prisoner would be forced into the smaller box as an extreme form of stress positioning, creating excruciating pain. To maximize psychological distress and exploit phobias, insects were sometimes placed in the pitch-black “coffin” alongside the victim.

Destroying the Evidence

In 2005, after returning to CIA headquarters at Langley, she acted on instructions from Rodriguez and drafted the order to destroy the 92 videotapes that had been made of the interrogations. It has been reported that she was a “strong advocate” for the destruction. This was contrary to instructions provided by CIA Counsel John Rizzo and the White House.  Thus, her act may have constituted destruction of evidence — a felony.

Jose Rodriguez was investigated for destruction of evidence by a Special Prosecutor who eventually ruled against charging him. An aide to CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo later revealed Rodriguez’s rationale for shredding the tapes, writing in an email that “the heat from destroying [them] is nothing compared with what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain – he [Rodriguez] said that they would make us look terrible; it would be devastating to us.” Gina Haspel ensured that these tapes — important, damning evidence of US government torture — would never see the light of day.

Haspel’s defenders claim that she was not the creator of the torture program and only served as a willing executor of a government initiative that she believed to be legal. That may be true as no one has access to the CTC documents that might prove otherwise. Nevertheless, it does not provide her a free pass under international law, where it is generally referred to as the “Nuremberg Defense” — a thoroughly discredited “defense” that harkens back to the era of Nazi atrocities and those who attempted to justify them by claiming perpetrators were “just following orders.”

‘Nuremberg Defense’ Didn’t Work at Nuremberg

Several former CIA leaders have supported her, saying that she was “implementing the legal orders of the president,” but many of them may be concerned about their own reputations or questionable decisions they may have made in the name of the “war on terror.” And the UN’s International Law Commission says something quite different in its codification of the legal options surrounding torture, writing that “the fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

It is also claimed that Gina Haspel was working for the CIA Chief of Station (COS) in Bangkok and acting under the COS’s orders, but those of us who have worked in and led CIA bases would dispute that that type of tight control was common, particularly since in this case, she was reporting directly to the Counterterrorism Center at Langley. Haspel would have been the boss and would have had independence in the field in executing directives from CIA Headquarters and the Counterterrorism Center — some of which she herself had a hand in drafting.

If Haspel is confirmed and wishes to travel abroad, she may have to restrict herself to countries not party to the UN Convention Against Torture because of her widely known involvement in the “black site” in Thailand. The 42 countries that have signed and ratified the Convention include the US and most of its allies. All take on a legal obligation to enforce the prohibition against torture, based on the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” when necessary.  In other words, they are empowered to act when the accused’s home country refuses to do so.

Not Too Late to Do the Right Thing

If you do not withdraw the nomination of Gina Haspel and she is confirmed, this will cast a moral stain on the vast numbers of patriotic and ethically upright Americans who serve their country in the field of national security. It will also be a continuation of the steady erosion of human rights standards and rule of law post-9/11.

Apparent widespread support for torture among the US public — enabled largely by the false message of Hollywood, the media and the Cheney family that it “works” — is deplorable. It might have been headed off by the prosecutions of Haspel, Rodriguez and others by former President Obama, together with graphic exposure of the evidence. You have an opportunity to reverse this wrong.

Withdrawing Haspel’s nomination now would be a step in the right direction. Confirming her as Director of CIA would signal that Washington embraces what then-Vice President Dick Cheney referred to as the “dark side.” Regrettably, torture was once part of US policy. Indeed, one of this Memorandum’s signatories spent nearly two years in federal prison because he revealed that.  But torture cannot be relied upon to yield accurate intelligence. It remains an internationally condemned malignancy that must be excised, never to return.

* * *

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, member of 2005 American Psychological Association task force evaluating the role of psychologists in U.S. intelligence and military interrogations of detainees (associate VIPS)

William Binney, former NSA Technical Director for World Geopolitical & Military Analysis; Co-founder of NSA’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (ret.)

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel US Army (ret.); Former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (associate VIPS)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

George Hunsinger, Professor, Princeton Theological Seminary; Founder, National Religious Campaign Against Torture (associate VIPS)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (ret.), Intelligence Officer & ex-Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., USAF (ret.)

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, Ph.D., former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

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

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council & CIA political analyst (ret.)

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

Valerie Plame, former operations officer, CIA (associate VIPS)

Diane Roark, Republican Professional Staff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 1985-2002 (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Greg Thielmann, former Director, Office of Strategic, Political, and Military Affairs, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, State Department; Former staff member, Senate Intelligence Committee

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

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel, US Army (ret.), former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State; Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)

Sarah G. Wilton, CDR, USNR, (ret.); Defense Intelligence Agency (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, Colonel, US Army (ret.); also Foreign Service Officer who resigned in opposition to the US war on Iraq

 

* * *

 

ANNEX

 

MEMORANDA from VIPS to President Barack Obama Regarding Torture

 

1 —

US Media Ignores CIA Cover-up on Torture

September 16, 2016

MEMORANDUM FOR: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Vice Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: U.S. Media Mum On How Your Committee Faced Down Both CIA and Obama

 

2 —

US Intel Vets Decry CIA’s Use of Torture

September 19, 2015

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Intelligence Veterans Challenge CIA’s “Rebuttal” on Torture

 

3 —

Udall Urged to Disclose Full Torture Report

December 29, 2014

MEMORANDUM FOR: Senator Mark Udall

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Time to Speak Out on Floor of Congress to Stop Torture

 

4 —

https://consortiumnews.com/2009/092809a.html

September 27, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: There Must be Accountability for Torture

 

5 —

https://consortiumnews.com/2009/042909e.html 

April 29, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Torture: An Accumulated Evil (see Nuremberg): John Brennan Publicly Defended “Extraordinary Rendition” Knowing Its Purpose Was Torture




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in February focused on the release of the so-called “Nunes Memo”, the US system of perpetual warfare, and the growing risk of confrontations in Syria, North Korea and Iran.

Outpouring of Support Honors Robert Parry” Feb. 1, 2018

U.S. Media’s Objectivity Questioned Abroad” by Andrew Spannaus, Feb. 2, 2018

Nunes Memo Reports Crimes at Top of FBI and DOJ” by Ray McGovern, Feb. 2, 2018

‘Duck and Cover’ Drills Exacerbate Fears of N. Korea War” by Ann Wright, Feb. 3, 2018

Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia?” by Robert Parry, Feb. 4, 2018

Recipe Concocted for Perpetual War is a Bitter One” by Robert Wing and Coleen Rowley, Feb. 4, 2018

WMD Claims in Syria Raise Concerns over U.S. Escalation” by Rick Sterling, Feb. 4, 2018

Connecticut Court Decision Highlights U.S. Educational Failures” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Feb. 5, 2018

Understanding Russia, Un-Demonizing Putin” by Sharon Tennison, Feb. 6, 2018

Did Al Qaeda Dupe Trump on Syrian Attack?” by Robert Parry, Feb. 6, 2018

No Time for Complacency over Korea War Threat” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 7, 2018

‘This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe” by Coleen Rowley and Nat Parry, Feb. 9, 2018

A Note to Our Readers” by Nat Parry, Feb. 10, 2018

Donald Trump v. the Spooks” by Annie Machon, Feb.23, 2018

How Establishment Propaganda Gaslights Us Into Submission” by Caitlin Johnstone, Feb. 12, 2018

Budget Woes Sign of a Dysfunctional Empire” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 13, 2018

The Right’s Second Amendment Lies” by Robert Parry, Feb. 16, 2018

NYT’s ‘Really Weird’ Russiagate Story” by Daniel Lazare, Feb. 16, 2018

Russians Spooked by Nukes-Against-Cyber-Attack Policy” by Ray McGovern and William Binney, Feb. 16, 2018

Nunes: FBI and DOJ Perps Could Be Put on Trial” by Ray McGovern, Feb. 19, 2018

U.S. Empire Still Incoherent After All These Years” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Feb. 20, 2018

Time to Admit the Afghan War is ‘Nonsense’” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 22, 2018

Selective Outrage Undermines Human Rights in Syria” by Jonathan Marshall, Feb. 23, 2018

The Mueller Indictments: The Day the Music Died” by Daniel Lazare, Feb. 24, 2018

Growing Risk of U.S.-Iran Hostilities Based on False Pretexts, Intel Vets Warn” by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Feb. 26, 2018

Who Benefits from Russia’s ‘Peculiar’ Doping Violations?” by Rick Sterling, Feb. 26, 2018

 

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So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




Senate Votes to Continue Yemen Devastation

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down a resolution that would have withdrawn US support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, choosing instead to continue to illegally assist what the UN has called “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” reports Dennis J. Bernstein and Shireen Al-Adeimi in this interview.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

Shireen Al-Adeimi is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. But she is having a hard time focusing on her studies, when friends and family back home in Yemen are under violent attack by the heavily armed, US-backed Saudi forces, with many going hungry as a result of the Saudi blockade.

Al-Adeimi said on Tuesday, March 20,  “This month marks the third anniversary of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen. Despite the dire humanitarian crisis, however, the United States continues to sell arms to the Saudis and provide them with military support.”

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Ut.), and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) had introduced a bill that aimed to force a withdrawal of the United States from the Saudi-led war, based on violations of the War Powers Act.  But the Bill, Senate Joint Resolution 54, cosponsored by 10 senators, was voted down 55-44 on Tuesday.

Of course it was no surprise, given the amount of lobbying money spent by the Saudis to buy congressional silence and support. The bill also was met with fierce opposition by various Trump administration officials.

The American Conservative Magazine reported that “the media has been laying out the red carpet for Crown Prince bin Salman in Washington. What the establishment press won’t tell you is that no less than 25 American lobbying firms worked for the Saudi Arabian government in 2017 to the tune of $16 million, to burnish their image, manage the message, and get massive military contracts for the weapons of war that are now being used to kill, maim and slowly starve millions of civilians in Yemen today.”

I spoke with Shireen Al-Adeimi on Tuesday, March 20, directly following the vote by Congress to continue aid for the US-supported, Saudi-led slaughter.

Dennis Bernstein: Shireen, what is your response to the Senate voting to continue aid to the Saudis?

Shireen Al-Adeimi: It is very disappointing because it ensures that millions more Yemenis will continue to suffer.  On average, 130 children die every day in Yemen due to malnutrition and disease caused by the Saudi-led blockade.  Many more will die because of US bombs which are dropped from Saudi jets. People continue to die for no reason at all.

DB: Could you give us a little background?

SAA: The Saudis began bombing Yemen in March, 2015.  Right now, some 80% of a population of 24 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.  Yemen is experiencing the world’s worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with over 1 million cases.  There is a severe water crisis affecting 15 million people in Yemen.

Hundreds of thousands have died of malnutrition and disease because Saudi Arabia is not only bombing Yemen but is also blockading Yemen by land, sea and air, ensuring that no aid or medicine can come into the country.  The Saudis have created what the UN calls “the worst humanitarian crisis on earth today.”

DB: Could you describe the United States’ role in all of this?

SAA: In January, the US Army published an article detailing their support for the Saudis, including training Saudi soldiers, advising military personnel, maintaining and upgrading vehicles and aircraft, providing courses on communication and navigation, and providing Saudi jets with mid-air refueling.  This is in addition to the billions in weapon sales between the US and Saudi Arabia every year.

The bottom line is that the United States is benefiting from this relationship with the Saudis and it doesn’t seem to matter that this has caused such a humanitarian toll in the process.  Estimates are that over 75% of the targets in Yemen have been civilian targets.

DB: Is there a notable difference between the policies of the last administration and those of the Trump administration?

SAA: Absolutely not.  This began under the Obama administration, which sold billions in weapons to the Saudis and provided them with the logistical services I just mentioned.  The Trump policy in Yemen is basically on autopilot, following blindly what the Obama administration did. This is very much a bipartisan effort.

DB: Tell us more about how this is evolving on the ground.

SAA: People have lost their jobs.  There is no future to look forward to.  People who were once wealthy or middle-class are now resorting to begging on the streets and selling their possessions.  Three million are displaced internally because there is nowhere to go with the blockade in place. People can’t find water, they can’t find food, they can’t find medicine or fuel.  They can’t decide whether to take a sick child to the hospital or provide them with food. It is as bad as it can get.

DB: The Saudi prince was just in D.C.  He said that he really feels for the people of Yemen and that he is working on easing the blockade because he understands how devastating it has been.  What is your response to that?

SAA: It is a complete fabrication.  They are the ones imposing the blockade, they are the ones bombing a sovereign country.  They have no business in Yemen at all. And then to claim that it is the Houthis who are preventing food and medicine from coming into the country is completely absurd.  In fact, the Saudis have acknowledged that they are using starvation as a weapon.

They have already bombed most hospitals in Yemen.  Four times they bombed Doctors without Borders hospitals.  So far they have caused the death of at least 10,000 civilians through airstrikes and tens of thousands more through disease and malnutrition caused by the blockade.

DB: The US media has once again dropped the ball.

SAA: MSNBC reported on Yemen once in 2017 and not once since then.  There is no reporting on the humanitarian crisis, on the resolutions before Congress.  When it comes to the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, people just don’t want to go there.

DB: What are human rights organizations saying about the potential for famine?

SAA: The UN has designated Yemen a level 3 for famine out of a range of 1 to 4, but when you have people already dying of starvation it doesn’t matter much what level they establish.  In 2015, 15,000 children died of hunger and disease in Yemen and a similar number in 2016. We are not at the brink of famine, we are already there. People are dying of starvation every day.

DB: Is it possible to get through to folks on the ground there?  Is there outreach from the country for support?

SAA: Organizations such as Oxfam and Save the Children do have their ships there and they do bring in aid and food to the 7 million people who depend on it every day.  But even that flow is obstructed by the Saudis. The cost of fuel has increased 200%. Family members like myself are sending cash, as are organizations like Doctors without Borders, to keep people employed and afloat.  Kids are dying of diseases that are completely preventable. No one has to die from cholera.

DB: How do you explain these congress people who support this ongoing war and famine in Yemen?  Are they owned by the weapons manufacturers?

SAA: Some claim that it protects Saudi interests and prevents Iran from spreading its tentacles in the region.  But they undoubtedly have contact to the Saudis and to the weapons manufacturers who want to maintain their interests in Saudi Arabia.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Gun Rights and ‘Freedom’s’ Perversities

The concept of personal freedoms is relatively new to human history but has often, ironically, been exploited by people in power to achieve or maintain a sociopolitical goal, posits Lawrence Davidson in this analysis.

By Lawrence Davidson

For much of human history, the idea of freedom had little meaning. This was because life was, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And while he thought this descriptor applied to life outside of society, for a long time it did not really matter – life within pre-modern societies often had the same limiting character. Religious belief in these same times reflected this depressing fact by asserting that there was no hope of meaningful freedom in this life. To achieve it you would have to die and go to Heaven. So, what set you free was death.

Around the end of the 18th century, progress in technology and science suggested an alternative to this “life is a vale of tears” scenario. It was at that point that different types of freedoms started to become viable goals. However, as the use of the plural implies, the idea of freedom manifested itself in discrete categories: political freedom, economic freedom (here defined as freedom from want), religious freedom, freedom of speech and press, and so forth. It really had to be this way. Total freedom produces anarchy and – here is the irony – anarchy will quickly make any particular freedom meaningless.

Thus it was that over time, as constitutions came into vogue, freedoms were written down, usually in the form of rights. Yet, not surprisingly, their translation into practice often ended up reflecting the needs and desires of the powerful and influential. This was the case whether we are considering democracies or more authoritarian forms of government. This customizing of freedoms by select groups inevitably led to less than satisfactory, and sometimes quite perverse, results.

Let’s take a look at an example of such a conceptual deformity taken from the practice in the United States, “the land of the free.”

Gun Rights – A Perversion of Freedom

Perhaps the most perverse American definition of freedom is the one that promotes largely unrestricted gun rights. The champion of this definition is the National Rifle Association (NRA). We are not just talking about guns used to shoot at targets or for hunting game. One can actually make an argument for ownership of the latter weapons along the same line as bows and arrows, slingshots and fishing rods. However, according to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, freedom demands more. His stand is that citizens have a fundamental right to own almost any firearm, including military-style assault weapons. His position is that this right is the sine qua non of American freedom. And only by exercising it can you really ensure individual freedom.

LaPierre insists that gun ownership is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the NRA has taken an out-of-context fragment of that amendment as its motto – “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” The fact that this phrase is part of a a comprehensive statement that ties gun ownership to the government’s need to maintain “a well regulated militia” is disregarded by the NRA leadership. In truth, if we are to take the Second Amendment in its entirely as describing a discrete “freedom,” Mr. LaPierre and his buddies would have to join the National Guard in order to play with guns.

So here is a case where a definition of a freedom or a right has been customized to meet the demands of a politically powerful subgroup of society, and it has had predictably disastrous results. The largely open-ended access of U.S. citizens to military-style weapons has resulted in a prolonged bloodbath. It is estimated that between 2011 and 2014, there was a mass shooting (defined as the killing or wounding of 4 or more people) in the United States every 64 days. This rate has not slowed down in the last four years. As the world now knows, the latest of these massacres came on 14 February 2018, when 17 high school students were shot dead in Parkland, Florida.

Soon after this massacre, Wayne LaPierre gave the NRA’s response to those surviving students and their supporters who were demanding greater gun regulation laws. He accused them of being “socialists” who want to make “law abiding” citizens “less free.” If these “leftists” manage to “seize power … our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever.”

LaPierre’s answer to the bloodbaths caused by guns is to have more guns. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” In the case of the Parkland high school shooting, where, in fact, there was an armed guard present at the school, as well as with previous school shootings, LaPierre’s formula translates into arming teachers as a way of “hardening the schools.”

By the way, President Trump initially agreed with LaPierre. He too called for arming teachers, suggesting that if 20 percent of teachers were armed and “adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly.” Assuming Trump meant giving teachers a sidearm while the usual assailants continue to use military-style automatic weapons, one can only call such a suggestion naive. He also praised the NRA leadership and specifically LaPierre, saying that “they are great people and great American patriots who will do the right thing.”

Subsequently, Trump suggested that the country may well need to toughen its gun laws, much to the dismay of all those “patriots” at the NRA. Twenty-four hours later he was back on track with the NRA. Perhaps his flip-flopping was a tactical maneuver. Throw out some reforms and then do nothing. Later he can then say to the general public, perhaps during a reelection campaign, that he proved more willing to sign off on gun control reform than any president in history. Trump is famous for such mendacious hyperboles.

In the end LaPierre and all the the other gun fanatics who whittle their definition of freedom down to the nearly unrestricted right to own weapons are archaic primitives whose idea of freedom harkens back to those pre-civilized times so well described by Thomas Hobbes. In a perpetually dangerous world, one that is “poor, nasty, brutish and short,” the armed man is the only one with any chance of being “free.” And so, he is the “real man,” the man who can protect himself, his family and his country.

But that is not the way the world is, at least in the West. It is a relatively settled and safe place where the major threat is not so much crime, and certainly not socialists, but rather LaPierre’s own demand – the proliferation of guns. What we are all threatened by is the perversion of this discrete freedom.

The gun rights issue is not the only perversion of freedom one can come up with. The whole issue of economic freedom (as defined as freedom from want) is another. One can argue that, in an era of sufficient resources, this should be an undeniable right. Yet, in the United States, economic freedom is defined in such a way as to satisfy the desires and needs of a particular powerful group. Economic freedom is the freedom of the capitalist to operate within a “free market.” Unfortunately, such a definition, applied in practice, has left many people economically disadvantaged.

As is the case with the issue of gun rights, those who want to alter the definition of economic freedom so as to minimize such conditions as indebtedness and poverty are accused of being socialists and wanting to take away “our freedoms.”

So, really, just what does freedom mean? Well, it means what the powerful and the influential say it means. And, having it manifested in discrete categories makes it easy to customize. Nonetheless, part of civilizational progress is assuring that freedoms are sane and beneficial to larger and larger groups – but, obviously, progress in this sense is a real struggle.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.

 




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in January highlighted misrepresented historic events, analyzed shortcomings of the Democratic Party, and remembered Robert Parry’s legacy.

Giving War Too Many Chances” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 3, 2018

Missing the Trump Team’s Misconduct” by J.P. Sottile., Jan. 9, 2018

Pesticide Use Threatens Health in California” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 10, 2018

Trump Lashes Pakistan over Afghan War” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 11, 2018

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 11, 2018

Haiti and America’s Historic Debt” by Robert Parry, Jan. 12, 2018

Why Senator Cardin Is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning” by Norman Solomon, Jan. 16, 2018

Trump Ends Protections for El Salvador” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 18, 2018

An Update to Our Readers on Editor Robert Parry” by Nat Parry, Jan. 19, 2018

Regime Change and Globalization Fuel Europe’s Refugee and Migrant Crisis” by Andrew Spannaus, Jan. 20, 2018

‘The Post’ and the Pentagon Papers” by James DiEugenio, Jan. 22, 2018

Foxes in Charge of Intelligence Hen House” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 22, 2018

A National Defense Strategy of Sowing Global Chaos” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 23, 2018

George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?” by Robert Parry, Jan. 23, 2018

Tom Perez, the Democratic Party’s Grim Metaphor” by  Norman Solomon, Jan. 25, 2018

The Struggle Against Honduras’ Stolen Election” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 26, 2018

Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story” by George Eliason, Jan. 28, 2018

Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews” by Nat Parry, Jan. 28, 2018

Assault on the Embassy: The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later” by Don North, Jan. 30, 2018

Will Congress Face Down the Deep State?” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 30, 2018

Treasury’s ‘Kremlin Report’ Seen as Targeting Russian Economy” by Gilbert Doctorow, Jan. 31, 2018

Mass Surveillance and the Memory Hole” by Ted Snider, Jan. 31, 2018

How Trump and the GOP Exploit Israel” by Jonathan Marshall, Jan. 31, 2018

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




Billy Graham: An Old Soldier Fades Away

Evangelist Billy Graham, who counseled presidents and stirred controversy with inflammatory statements on gay rights, opposition to Martin Luther King’s tactics of civil disobedience, and support for U.S. wars, died Wednesday. Cecil Bothwell reflects here on his life and legacy.

By Cecil Bothwell

“We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?” – Billy Graham, Saturday Evening Post, 1963 

Billy Graham was a preacher man equally intent on saving souls and soliciting financial support for his ministry. His success at the former is not subject to proof and his success at the latter is unrivaled. He preached to millions on every ice-free continent and led many to his chosen messiah.

When Graham succumbed to various ailments this week at the age of 99 he left behind an organization that is said to have touched more people than any other Christian ministry in history, with property, assets and a name-brand worth hundreds of millions. The address lists of contributors alone comprise a mother lode for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, now headed by his son and namesake, William Franklin Graham, III.

Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.

Graham’s message was principally one of fear: fear of a wrathful god; fear of temptation; fear of communists and socialists; fear of unions; fear of Catholics; fear of homosexuals; fear of racial integration and above all, fear of death. But as a balm for such fears, he promised listeners eternal life, which he said was readily claimed through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior.

Furthermore, he assured listeners that God loved us so much that He created governments, the most blessed form being Western capitalist democracy. To make this point, he frequently quoted Romans 13, particularly the first two verses. In the New American Standard Version of the Bible, they read, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

The question of whether this was actually the recorded word of God or a rider inserted into the bill by Roman senators with rather more worldly aims never dimmed Graham’s insistence that all governments are the work of the Almighty. Almost perversely, he even endorsed the arrest of a woman who lofted a Christian banner during his Reagan-era visit to Moscow, opting for the crack-down of “divine” authority over the civil disobedience of a believer.

Governments, he reminded his Moscow listeners, do God’s work.

Based on that Biblical mandate for all governments, Graham stood in solid opposition to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, all but addressed to Graham, King noted, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ … If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s anti-religious laws.”

Finger on the Pulse of American Fear

Fear is the stock in trade of most evangelists, of course, comprising the necessary setup before the pitch. As historian William Martin explained in his 1991 account of Graham’s early sermons, “even those whose personal lives seemed rich and fulfilling must live in a world filled with terror and threat. As a direct result of sinful humanity’s rebellion against God, our streets have become jungles of terror, mugging, rape, and death. Confusion reigns on campuses as never before. Political leaders live in constant fear of the assassin’s bullet. Racial tension seems certain to unleash titanic forces of hatred and violence. Communism threatens to eradicate freedom from the face of the earth. Small nations are getting the bomb, so that global war seems inevitable. High-speed objects, apparently guided by an unknown intelligence, are coming into our atmosphere for reasons no one understands. Clearly, all signs point to the end of the present world order. …

“Graham’s basic mode of preaching in these early years was assault. … Then, when he had his listeners mentally crouching in terror, aware that all the attractively labeled escape routes—alcohol, sexual indulgence, riches, psychiatry, education, social-welfare programs, increased military might, the United Nations—led ultimately to dead ends, he held out the only compass that pointed reliably to the straight and narrow path that leads to personal happiness and lasting peace.”

Columnist and former priest James Carroll had much the same take, noting that “Graham had his finger on the pulse of American fear, and in subsequent years, anti communism occupied the nation’s soul as an avowedly religious obsession. The Red Scare at home, unabashed moves toward empire abroad, the phrase ‘under God’ inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, the scapegoating of homosexuals as ‘security risks,’ an insane accumulation of nuclear weapons, suicidal wars against postcolonial insurgencies in Asia—a set of desperate choices indeed. Through it all, Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

While Carroll had most of that right, the record suggests that, over and over again, it was Graham who sought presidential blessing, rather than the other way around. Letters enshrined in the presidential and Graham libraries reveal a preacher endlessly seeking official audience. As Truman said, years after his presidency, “Well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those counterfeits I was telling you about. He claims he’s a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president.”

Of course, politicians have often brandished fear as well, and the twin streams of fear-based politics and fear-based religion couldn’t have been more confluent. Communist infiltrators, missile gaps and the domino effect each took their turn, as did the Evil Empire and, more recently, Saddam, Osama bin Laden and an amorphous threat of global terrorism.

In light of the Biblical endorsement of rulers, Graham supported police repression of Vietnam war protesters and civil rights marchers, opposed Martin Luther King’s tactic of civil disobedience, supported South American despots, and publicly supported every war or intervention waged by the United States from Korea forward.

A Pro-War Christian

Born on a prosperous dairy farm and educated at Wheaton College, Graham first gained national attention in 1949 when the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, searching for a spiritual icon to spread his anti-communist sentiments, discovered the young preacher holding forth at a Los Angeles tent meeting. Hearst wired his editors across the nation, “puff Graham,” and he was an instant sensation.

Hearst next contacted his friend and fellow publisher Henry Luce. Their Wall Street ally, Bernard Baruch, arranged a meeting between Luce and Graham while the preacher was staying with the segregationist Governor Strom Thurmond in the official mansion in Columbia, South Carolina, Luce concurred with Hearst about Graham’s marketability and Time and Life were enlisted in the job of selling the soap of salvation to the world. Time, alone, has run more than 600 stories about Graham.

The man who would become known as “the minister to presidents” offered his first military advice in 1950. On June 25, North Korean troops invaded South Korea and Graham sent Truman a telegram. “MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS PRAYING GOD GIVE YOU WISDOM IN THIS CRISIS. STRONGLY URGE SHOWDOWN WITH COMMUNISM NOW. MORE CHRISTIANS IN SOUTHERN KOREA PER CAPITA THAN ANY PART OF WORLD. WE CANNOT LET THEM DOWN.”

It was the first time Graham encouraged a president to go to war, and with characteristic hyperbole: Korea has never topped the list of Christian-leaning nations. Subsequently, Graham gave his blessing to every conflict under every president from Truman to the second Bush, and most of the presidents, pleased to enjoy public assurance of God’s approval, made him welcome in the White House.

Graham excoriated Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur and supported the general’s plan to invade China. He went so far as to urge Nixon to bomb dikes in Vietnam – knowing that it would kill upward of a million civilians – and he claimed to have sat on the sofa next to G.H.W. Bush as the bombs began falling in the first Gulf War (though Bush’s diary version of the evening somehow excludes Graham, as does a White House video of Bush during the attack).

According to Bush’s account, in a phone call the preceding week, Graham quoted poetry that compared the President to a messiah destined to save the world, and in the next breath called Saddam the Antichrist. Bush wrote that Graham suggested it was his historical mission to destroy Saddam.

Through the years, Graham’s politics earned him some strange bedfellows. He praised Senator Joseph McCarthy and supported his assault on Constitutional rights, then scolded the Senate for censuring McCarthy for his excesses. He befriended oil men and arms manufacturers. He defended Nixon after Watergate, right up to the disgraced president’s resignation, and faced public scorn when tapes were aired that exposed the foul-mouthed President as a schemer and plotter.

Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, reported on Graham’s denigration of Jews in his posthumously published diary—a claim Graham vehemently denied until released tapes undid him in 2002. Caught with his prejudicial pants down, Graham claimed ignorance of the hour-and-a-half long conversation in which he led the anti-Semitic attack.

As reported by the Associated Press on March 2, 2002:

“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon . . . some 30 years ago,” Graham said in a statement released by his Texas public relations firm. “They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”

Whether or not the comments reflect Graham’s views at the time or thirty years later, it is his defense that bears much closer scrutiny. What were we to make of a preacher who insisted that his words didn’t reflect his beliefs? Were we to believe him then or later, on other matters?

Graham was a political operative, reporting to Kennedy on purported communist insurgencies in Latin America, turning over lists of activist Christians to the Republican party, conferring regularly with J. Edgar Hoover and networking with the CIA in South America and Vietnam. He was even assigned by Nixon’s operatives to talk George Wallace out of a second run for the White House.

To accomplish the latter, he phoned Wallace as he was coming out of an anesthetic stupor after one of his numerous post-assassination-attempt surgeries. While the long suffering gunshot victim asked the minister to pray for him, the minister asked him not to make a third-party bid for the presidency. “I won’t do anything to help McGovern,” Wallace replied.

There are many who would argue that the good that Graham did outweighs whatever political intrigue he embraced, and even the several wars he enthusiastically endorsed. To the extent that bringing people to Christ is of benefit to them, an untestable hypothesis, he was successful with his calls to come forward. He accrued hundreds of millions of dollars which were used to extend his ministry and thereby bring more people to “be saved,” which is self-justifying but fails as evidence of goodness.

Billy Graham Freeway

If Christian beliefs about the hereafter prove correct, we will all presumably discover what good he accomplished, or what chance for salvation we missed, in the sweet by and by.

In talking to one of his biographers, Graham recalled his mood during his fire and brimstone declamations, “I would feel as though I had a sword, a rapier, in my hand, and I would be slashing deeper and deeper into the consciences of the people before me, cutting away straight to their very souls.”

In that regard, Graham’s largest and most lasting monument is a highway cut through Beaucatcher Mountain, blasted through a majestic land form that once bisected Asheville, North Carolina. He helped convince recalcitrant landowners to permit the excavation and construction through the cut of the short stretch of Interstate highway subsequently named the Billy Graham Freeway.

Downwind residents report that the weather has permanently shifted due to the gaping mountain maw and the future of the highway that transects the city continues to be one of the most divisive issues in that southern metropolis.

“Straight to their very souls,” indeed.

In every way, Graham was the spiritual father of today’s right-wing religious leaders who so inhabit the national conversation. If he cloaked his suasion in public neutrality it was the hallmark of an era in which such intrusion was deemed unseemly. If today’s practitioners are less abashed, it is in many ways reflective of the secure foundation Graham built within Republican and conservative circles.

Graham endorsed and courted Eisenhower and compared a militaristic State of the Union speech to the Sermon on the Mount, fanned anti-Catholic flames in the Nixon-Kennedy contest, backed Johnson and then Nixon in Vietnam, lobbied for arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan years, conveyed foreign threats and entreaties for Clinton and lent his imprimatur to G.W. Bush as he declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral.

Billy Graham approved of warriors and war, weapons of mass destruction (in white, Christian hands) and covert operations. He publicly declaimed the righteousness of battle with enemies of American capitalism, abetted genocide in oil-rich Ecuador and surrounds and endorsed castration as punishment for rapists. A terrible swift sword for certain, and effective no doubt, but not much there in the way of turning the other cheek.

Graham will be cordially remembered by those who found solace in his golden promises and happy homilies, but the worldly blowback from his ministry is playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chechnya and Korea, the Philippines and Colombia – everywhere governments threaten human rights and pie in the sky is offered in lieu of daily bread.

In the words of Graham’s ministerial and secular adversary, Dr. King, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Farewell Reverend Graham. Let justice roll.

Prize-winning investigative reporter Cecil Bothwell is author of The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire, (Brave Ulysses Books, 2007) and Whale Falls: An exploration of belief and its consequences (Brave Ulysses Books, 2010).




A Crisis in Intelligence: Unthinkable Consequences of Outsourcing U.S. Intel (Part 3)

Privatized intelligence operations have become a favored practice of the U.S. and other Western governments, but the tactics of so-called spies for hire are often unethical and possibly illegal, explains George Eliason. (Read part one here. Part two here.)

By George Eliason

Decades ago, philosopher Marshall McLuhan predicted a future world war fought using information. While World War I and World War II were waged using armies and mobilized economies, “World War III [will be] a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation,” McLuhan said, a prophecy included in his 1970 book of reflections, Culture Is Our Business.

We are now seeing this information war play out in real time. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment on Friday of 13 Russian nationals who allegedly attempted to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election” can be seen as the culmination of the intelligence community’s efforts to ferret out trolls engaging in “Information Operations” against the United States. But in some cases, this may be the product of the West’s own Information Operations – often utilizing private “intelligence” companies, or “spies for hire.”

In parts one and two of this series, we looked at the private companies serving the deep state. We have seen how the top levels of the deep state interact with smaller companies and individual actors.

Now let’s look at the unimaginable.

This is the world the predators that the government helped create and sustains through contract work thrive in.

Unlawful Combatants in the Hybrid War

Unmasking the shadowy PropOrNot outfit was a small part of showing how immoral people are using gray areas in the law to harass law-abiding citizens and strip them of their rights, income, and right to a free press through McCarthyite smear tactics. Because they haven’t been challenged, they have no problem crossing the line into criminality.

What alternative media outlets that have been attacked by criminal groups like PropOrNot don’t know is there are laws and policies in place that protect civilians, journalists, and publications.

What is needed to stop the criminal actions of the Russian troll hunters is to demand current laws are enforced and that Congress closes up the remaining gray areas of law and policy spies for hire are exploiting to destroy lives.

As you read this, understand there are no caveats. What’s needed is for people who are willing to stand up for themselves and each other to do so. Legal action is what’s needed. If Congress won’t provide more protections or the laws that are in place won’t be upheld, lawsuits are the first line of defense against this onslaught. Violence will only insulate the criminals from responsibility for their crimes.

When spies for hire attack civilians or suppress their free speech rights by mounting Information Operations against civilians, they are crossing the line into illegality.

In part two, inherently governmental actions were defined as governing, policing, policy, military activity, and intelligence work. This was further defined as activities requiring government personnel to be legitimate. When any of these activities are done extra-legally, the protections given civilians and government authorities under the law are stripped too.

According to the Federal Register, “[i]t is the responsibility of the combatant commander to ensure that the private security contract mission statements do not authorize the performance of any inherently Governmental military functions, such as preemptive attacks, or any other types of attacks. Otherwise, civilians who accompany the U.S. Armed Forces lose their law of war protections from direct attack if and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”

In terms of international law, guidelines in this area are set out by the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, which was prepared by an international group of experts on behalf of NATO. This document spells out:

  • Cyber and online operations responsibility
  • Cyber and online authority
  • Cyber and online restrictions
  • Legalities, legal limits, and defines terrorist operations by laying the groundwork for legal action

According to Rule 26.9 of the Tallinn Manual, “Virtual Online communities and people expressing opinions do not qualify as combatants.”

It is important to note that cyber and online operations are both parts of this in the definitions of legal and illegal target choices. The manual defines lawful and unlawful combatants by what they are doing or attempting to do as well as their official authority to do so.

Tallinn Manual rules that are applicable to the spies for hire attacking civilians were designed to set rules for official military actions. The reason for their applicability in this situation is simple. When unlawful combatants attack civilians, civilians have the right to defend themselves and their properties. Civilians also have a right to restitution for damages.

Rule 30 of the Tallinn Manual defines a cyber attack as a non-kinetic attack reasonably expected to cause damage or death to persons resulting from the attack. If the attacker mistakenly calls civilians lawful targets, the attack on civilians still occurred. It is a crime. This is an important consideration considering how interconnected the internet has made people.

The only part that requires further definition is the word damage. People’s ability to make income can be damaged. Reputations can be irrevocably damaged.

Tallinn Manual Rule 33 states: “If there is doubt to the status of a person, that person is to be considered a civilian and not targetable.”

This is very important going forward. It shifts the burden of responsibility to the attacker for any damages done to people. If the attacker cannot meet the legal definition of status and show governmental authorization, then it is unlawful.

According to Rule 35.5, “Gathering information for the military makes you a combatant. Journalists are prohibited targets. Once an attack is made, the retribution is legal and does not necessarily need to be in kind. A cyber attack can be met with conventional weapons.”

Rule 35.5 means that all the corporations, companies, and “one man intel operations” working outside the direct oversight of Blue Badge ODNI agency supervisors against civilians are acting as terrorists.

Rule 41 describes cyber weapons broadly as the means to carry out cyber war by use, or intended use of cyber “munitions” designed to cause damage, destruction, or death to its targets. The breadth of the rule is required because of the wide array of possible attacks through cyber means.

Spies for hire can use the software legally on U.S. citizens that may have to be labeled munitions when they export it to client states that also use it on U.S. citizens labeled “Russian trolls.” Pentagon contractors are developing lethal cyber weapons. Do you think only the military will have access to it under the current laws?

Thinking the Unthinkable

First, let’s establish that it’s common for spies for hire to assume they can take on inherently government authority and powers. Andrew Weisburd started working with the Ukrainian government publicly in January 2015, just as they announced their IO army and Myrotvorets (PeaceKeeper) which bore his signature Russian troll hunter methodology early on. Myrotvorets will become important later in the article.

According to Weisburd‘s February 26, 2015 definition of what he is doing: “I‘m just trying to do my part to help make bad things happen to bad people who are in the service of the Kremlin. And for the record, I’m not an army of one. I’m more like a one-man intelligence service.”

Weisburd’s statement and his actions over the last two decades put him squarely in the realm of unlawful combatant. But does he know what he is doing is illegal?

How about Bellingcat’s principal, Eliot Higgins, or Joel Harding?

Joel Harding developed Ukraine’s official Information Policy in 2015. He developed a cyber containment strategy for Russian media that has to be the most effective ever mounted. Crowd the Russian media out of the world’s mainstream and keep them talking amongst themselves while social media, internet, and TV news barriers were being erected to control the news and information Ukrainians see and think about.

Because of this Russians have been kept from influencing Ukrainian media, news, or people through social media this entire time.

What do people like Joel Harding, Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, or Eliot Higgins think about your rights? Your worth?

As Harding once wrote in regards to a question about the world’s billion-plus Muslims who do not condone violence, “The vast majority of peaceful people are irrelevant because they did not influence or stop those who committed those acts of atrocity.”

It is this type of absolutist, black-and-white thinking, which dismisses the “the vast majority of peaceful people” as “irrelevant,” that we are dealing with in the spies-for-hire community.

Spies for hire assume authority that falls under inherently government responsibilities. They consider most of the population to be insignificant, which is why they have no problems turning Americans into “Russian agents” and line items on their invoice.

Once you’ve made it on to their radar, you might find yourself receiving threatening messages such as this one that I received from Joel Harding:

“It’s been fun following you!” he wrote. “I hope you’re having fun in Donbas. So sorry NovoRossiya is being dissolved. http://toinformistoinfluence.com/2014/10/12/novorossiya-fail/
I’ve been looking forward to you publishing some more articles. But I’m curious, two months and nothing? Did you change names?”

He continued: “I know your bandwidth there is limited, this is probably costing you many Russian rubles. Oh yeah, I hear they don’t take Ukrainian Hryvnia. The good news is that Luhansk and Donetsk will both remain with Ukraine, Russia can’t afford it.”

“By the time you return to the West, I should be in Kyiv, waiting for you,” he concluded. “You have a date with the SBU.”

The SBU is the Security Service of Ukraine, the main law-enforcement agency in the area of counterintelligence activity, which has been implicated in torture.

Harding, like every other person working for the Ukrainian government that is attacking U.S. and Western journalists, websites, and readers who leave comments on social media are not the volunteers or “concerned citizens” they claim to be.

This is important to establish because according to the Tallinn Manual, being volunteers excludes you from responsibility for some aspects of an illegal combatant activity.

If Harding never received a penny from the Ukrainian government directly (he was hired), he was still paid through the company he advertises on his website. He used to have a contact form that bragged about how they would destroy your corporate competition using these means and that they were state to state capable.

Harding helped NATO STRATCOM Centres of Excellence (COE) Latvia off the ground at the same time he was helping set up the Ukrainian Information Ministry. He wrote Ukraine’s Information Policy in 2015-2016. Harding’s IOTA Global, which offers services in “PsyOps, Media Operations, Key Leader Engagement and CIMIC as well as Operational Planning, Target Audience Analysis and Measurement of Effect” according to its LinkedIn profile, announced they were working with both STRATCOM COE and the Ukrainian government. If you look at the comments, the COE leadership appear to be gushing with emotion.

“We are delighted to have been working with the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communication, Latvia, (2015) in delivering capacity building training, in Kiev, to representatives from the Ukrainian government. Ukraine is faced with a number of challenging issues, not least the ongoing territorial dispute with Russia,” according to one comment. “IOTA Global and its partner company, SCL Ltd, were contracted by the Canadian Government earlier this year to assist the NATO COE in its vital work. This included the delivery of a 9-week intensive Target Audience Analysis course, using the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi) advanced TAA methodology (TAA), to train 20 students from 11 NATO nations.”

This is important because, for the last three years, Harding has been working to destroy news and websites that disturb his narrative building and information operations. GlobalResearch.ca has been an ongoing focus for him and the other unlawful combatants named here the entire time.

Joel Harding harnessed practitioners, companies, countries, and NATO in his fight to take down GlobalResearch.ca

“GlobalResearch.ca,” Harding wrote on his blog. “Remember that name, put it on your ‘bad’ list and spread the word. They are despicable, vile, the opposite of journalists.”

According to the Globe and Mail, NATO Center of Excellence for Strategic Communication, Latvia is going after GlobalResearch.ca and their reasoning parrots Joel Harding’s.

“At its headquarters in Riga, StratCom researchers consider globalresearch.ca to be a link in a network that reposts such stories,” according to the Globe and Mail article. Donara Barojan, who does digital forensic research for the NATO COE claimed that Global Research uses techniques to boost stories’ Google ranking “and create the illusion of multisource verification.” She admitted though that they do not have proof that Global Research is connected to any government.

This focus and constant barrage have taken its toll on www.globalresearch.ca because the same people who are attacking them are trusted fact check sources for Google, which affects the site’s ranking.

This is a clear-cut case of unlawful combatants steering the ship at NATO to settle imagined grievances. Spies for hire committing illegal actions are also teaching NATO, DOD, ODNI agencies, and foreign counterparts how to go about their business. They are giving them the criteria to find enemies and engage them.

On its own, or with other websites, Global Research has the ability to counter this with a lawsuit. The apparent attack by NATO COE, Latvia is at the instigation of Joel Harding. A lawsuit could include him, Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, Hamilton 68 Dashboard, Bellingcat, the Canadian government, as well as others involved including NATO and every country with a part in the NATO Center of Excellence.

Spies for Hire Attack Teenagers

Are terrorists allowed to put American kids on their kill lists? If they are, watch out! Are your kids are next?

Joel Harding wrote the information policy for Ukraine. Myrotvorets is what it led to right away. This is the first product of the information policy, Ukraine’s infamous kill site. Ukraine maintains the right to kill anyone on listed on it, anywhere in the world, any time they choose to. And the Ukrainians use this to find and murder people who talk, post article links in social media, or write articles they don’t like.

Andrew Weisburd started his kremlintrolls.com website at the same time Myrotvorets came online. He taught the Ukrainians how to catch entire networks so they could be put on the list.

Eliot Higgins and Aric Toler of Bellingcat taught the Ukrainians to find the people in the networks that are on the kill list at Myrotvorets.

Ronnie Miller was 17 years old when he was put on this list. He’s never been to Ukraine before. Three out of four of these unlawful combatants are Americans working for a foreign country that is attacking Americans in United States!

Miller was interviewed by a couple websites about this. Curiously, it never reached mainstream news. One question out of Ronnie Miller’s interview with Donbass News Agency particularly stands out:

DONi: Do you feel safe in your own nation expressing your views about Donbass?

Ronnie Miller: This nation of mine preaches for freedom of the press, information, and the ability to formulate an opinion. What I support isn’t a threat to National Security. What Islamic extremists preach, is. I don’t feel safe, nor threatened. It is most definite that I am being watched or on a list of some sort. However, I am in no threat of being taken away or bribed to stay quiet.

It sounds like Ronnie Miller didn’t skip civics class and is expecting his government to honor Constitutional protections.

Instead of protecting its citizens, the U.S. government is sending weapons and instructors to the government that is putting American citizens on kill lists.

Ron Miller should consider a lawsuit against the illegal spies for hire who put him – whether directly or indirectly – on a kill list with a foreign government.

Here’s a fun fact. If you are out driving a car without insurance in a state that requires it and you get hit- it is still your fault. You weren’t supposed to be there. The spies for hire are not supposed to be able to call American kids “terrorists.” Since the UWC and UCCA both fund Myrotvorets through donations and supplied the nationalist ideology that wants to kill 17-year-old Americans, they could be sued too.

Previously, we discussed the method of operation that is used, which is staying within the developed narrative of “Russia will attack! Russia is attacking! Russia has attacked!”

What happens when spies for hire fall out of the narrative or need to get rid of each other? There is only so much of the pie to go around.

The images above and below are proof that the methodology behind the Hamilton 68 Dashboard – which purports to track Kremlin propaganda online – is severely flawed. The decidedly anti-Kremlin Bellingcat was flagged by Hamilton 68 as pro-Kremlin, indicating amusing levels of information fratricide among Bellingcat principals and Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, J.M. Berger, and Michael Chertoff.

Weisburd knows he needs to clear it up, try to get the egg off his face now that he’s been exposed publicly, and get the story back on point.

Eliot Higgins’ claim to fame was pronouncing Syria’s president Assad guilty of gassing his own people. The U.S. government that wants to oust Assad can’t use his story, however, because it has no facts to back it up. The U.S. government’s official position is that there is no proof.

The screenshot above is mindblowing to me. Andrew Weisburd once again admitting that his Russians aren’t Russian at all. He’s trying to cover up for his Hamilton 68 Dashboard only set on catching tweets from a few accounts that aren’t even trolls.

Both Weisburd and Higgins (British national) agree that award-winning journalist Vannessa Beeley, who reports from Syria for 21st Century Wire must be stopped before:

  • She destroys their narrative. They cannot prove Assad used gas on the Syrian people. But if she is allowed to continue, the proofs from Syria that she is providing might go mainstream soon. Beeley has been at the forefront of the story showing the ties between the White Hats and ISIS.
  • She might influence policy people around American president Donald Trump and change Syria policy.

What is clear is Andrew Weisburd will try to bring this up to congressional representatives who listen to him and further destroy civil rights and the First Amendment. Eliot Higgins cannot survive being wrong about the on the ground realities in regions he is supposed to be an expert on for too much longer.

The spies for hire are purposing an Information Operation to rope in U.S. policy at the executive level and rescue Donald Trump and the State Department from any facts that might get in the way of their narrative. Left to their own, they may succeed.

Vannessa Beeley’s reputation as a journalist and ability to gain access to do her work and disseminate the reports she does depends on her credibility. People who are trying to usurp the authority of government are declaring her to be an Information Operations agent. This is beyond slander.

The U.S. federal government could not get away with doing this – literally working to get a journalist censored.

However, spies for hire like Clint Watts, Andrew Weisburd, Jonathon Morgan, JM Berger, the Hamilton 68 Dashboard, the German Marshall Fund of the USA, The Alliance for Securing Democracy, Michael Chertoff, Eliot Higgins, Aric Toler, Bellingcat, The DFR Lab, Atlantic Council, UWC, and the UCCA can be enlisted to brand Vanessa Beeley as a traitor to the United Kingdom and a foreign agent.

Yet, these are all in violation of Tallinn Rule 33 and 35A which prohibit targeting people you can’t identify clearly and attacking journalists. Targeting Beeley is a criminal act on their part.

Once again the spies for hire have usurped government powers illegally.

Unconventional Warfare

If you look at Weisburd’s @webradius Russian Influence Spy Ring, it is populated by tens of thousands of people living in the United States who voted against Hillary Clinton.

This is what spies for hire do for partisan politics, money, or the company they work for. For some, nothing more than their own warped sense of satisfaction watching another human beings life twist in the wind. Many are ultra-nationalist and if you don’t agree with them, you will be made an enemy of the state.  Malignant parts of the deep state getting out of hand.

I’ve given people that play in the private sector, government, and policy a lot of exposure because they attack innocent people, journalists, and news and opinion websites.

From 2015, “Peppy Escobar and Steven Lendman are both “active measures” agents for writing about John Kerry, the State Department, RT bashing, and of course Ukraine. Blog Talk Radio host Dr. Rick Staggenborg both a veteran an d peace activist is labeled a Russian propagandist.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky and every journalist and activist who publishes at GlobalResearch.ca is on the the list including Paul Craig Roberts and Robert Parry, who are considered Russian active measures agents in the Ukraine war and every “agendized news event” they write on. Tyler Durden, connected writers and journalists are Russian propagandists. Deena Stryker, an editor at OpEdNews is noted because of her PressTV interview for saying the US is engaged in a propaganda war.

All conspiracies aside it wouldn’t feel right without adding Alex Jones and Michael Rivero. Harding developed what seems to be a fixation about Jones and company a few years back. It’s not that he hates Jones’ news sites any more than the others, but it is personal. Joel Harding’s favorite nephew rates Jones take on international events as more credible than what Harding has to say.

After writing my 5th or 6th article about what Weisburd, Watts, and Harding were doing, Harding and his growing work group were considering what to do about me. The friend he mentions is Andrew Weisburd who I had just exposed planning to attack a major opinion site.

“I still engage with Pro-Russian Trolls on a daily basis,” Harding wrote on his blog in November 2015.  “I’ve had reporters write bad stories about me on Russian Proxy ‘News’ sites. I currently have a vehemently rabid anti-Western, especially anti-American, troll trying to smear a group of Russian troll chasers I work with. He also published several stories blaming us for all his woes.”

He continued: “The difference is I have been professionally trained on how to mess up somebody’s life, permanently and forever.  Yeah, we were trained in Special Forces more on weapons, explosives, communications, intelligence, operations, tactics, and medicine, but being trained in Unconventional Warfare does give one an advantage when one desires to get nasty.”

Imagine being so brazen you could publish that threat on a public website. Andreas Umland, who is supposed to be a leading academic, didn’t think it was wrong to republish that threat on my life on his own blog.

The intelligence community cannot police itself anymore. It is out of control. If you don’t see a clear and present danger it’s because you are part of the problem that needs to be cleaned up.

My goal as a journalist is and has always been to ensure that the facts get out from Donbass. I think I’ve done that and will continue to do so. I am a firm believer that only the facts and realities of a situation can help. If you know the facts about what is going on in Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) you won’t support the deviant and murderous Ukrainian Nationalist politic that Andreas Umland does. Unless of course you think it’s okay to murder 17 year old Americans, destroy freedom, justice, and the free press. And perhaps like Umland, you think it’s okay to murder me.

My goal is to do my part and help America reestablish her commitment to justice for all the people, law, and civility.  I hope I’m doing that. But don’t get up and react for me. If you don’t do it for you, there is no future left to worry about.

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in the Donbass region of Ukraine.




The Right’s Second Amendment Lies

From the Archive: In the wake of the latest gun massacre in the United States, we republish an article by Robert Parry debunking some of the right-wing myths about the Second Amendment that have prevented common sense gun laws.

By Robert Parry (first published December 21, 2012)

Right-wing resistance to meaningful gun control is driven, in part, by a false notion that America’s Founders adopted the Second Amendment because they wanted an armed population that could battle the U.S. government. The opposite is the truth, but many Americans seem to have embraced this absurd, anti-historical narrative.

The reality was that the Framers wrote the Constitution and added the Second Amendment with the goal of creating a strong central government with a citizens-based military force capable of putting down insurrections, not to enable or encourage uprisings. The key Framers, after all, were mostly men of means with a huge stake in an orderly society, the likes of George Washington and James Madison.

The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 weren’t precursors to France’s Robespierre or Russia’s Leon Trotsky, believers in perpetual revolutions. In fact, their work on the Constitution was influenced by the experience of Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786, a populist uprising that the weak federal government, under the Articles of Confederation, lacked an army to defeat.

Daniel Shays, the leader of the revolt, was a former Continental Army captain who joined with other veterans and farmers to take up arms against the government for failing to address their economic grievances.

The rebellion alarmed retired Gen. George Washington who received reports on the developments from old Revolutionary War associates in Massachusetts, such as Gen. Henry Knox and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. Washington was particularly concerned that the disorder might serve the interests of the British, who had only recently accepted the existence of the United States.

On Oct. 22, 1786, in a letter seeking more information from a friend in Connecticut, Washington wrote: “I am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe.”

In another letter on Nov. 7, 1786, Washington questioned Gen. Lincoln about the spreading unrest. “What is the cause of all these commotions? When and how will they end?” Lincoln responded: “Many of them appear to be absolutely so [mad] if an attempt to annihilate our present constitution and dissolve the present government can be considered as evidence of insanity.”

However, the U.S. government lacked the means to restore order, so wealthy Bostonians financed their own force under Gen. Lincoln to crush the uprising in February 1787. Afterwards, Washington expressed satisfaction at the outcome but remained concerned the rebellion might be a sign that European predictions about American chaos were coming true.

“If three years ago [at the end of the American Revolution] any person had told me that at this day, I should see such a formidable rebellion against the laws & constitutions of our own making as now appears I should have thought him a bedlamite – a fit subject for a mad house,” Washington wrote to Knox on Feb. 3, 1787, adding that if the government “shrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws anarchy & confusion must prevail.”

Washington’s alarm about Shays’ Rebellion was a key factor in his decision to take part in and preside over the Constitutional Convention, which was supposed to offer revisions to the Articles of Confederation but instead threw out the old structure entirely and replaced it with the U.S. Constitution, which shifted national sovereignty from the 13 states to “We the People” and dramatically enhanced the power of the central government.

A central point of the Constitution was to create a peaceful means for the United States to implement policies favored by the people but within a structure of checks and balances to prevent radical changes deemed too disruptive to the established society. For instance, the two-year terms of the House of Representatives were meant to reflect the popular will but the six-year terms of the Senate were designed to temper the passions of the moment.

Within this framework of a democratic Republic, the Framers criminalized taking up arms against the government. Article IV, Section 4 committed the federal government to protect each state from not only invasion but “domestic Violence,” and treason is one of the few crimes defined in the Constitution as “levying war against” the United States as well as giving “Aid and Comfort” to the enemy (Article III, Section 3).

But it was the Constitution’s drastic expansion of federal power that prompted strong opposition from some Revolutionary War figures, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry who denounced the Constitution and rallied a movement known as the Anti-Federalists. Prospects for the Constitution’s ratification were in such doubt that its principal architect James Madison joined in a sales campaign known as the Federalist Papers in which he tried to play down how radical his changes actually were.

To win over other skeptics, Madison agreed to support a Bill of Rights, which would be proposed as the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Madison’s political maneuvering succeeded as the Constitution narrowly won approval in key states, such as Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. The First Congress then approved the Bill of Rights which were ratified in 1791. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Behind the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment dealt with concerns about “security” and the need for trained militias to ensure what the Constitution called “domestic Tranquility.” There was also hesitancy among many Framers about the costs and risks from a large standing army, thus making militias composed of citizens an attractive alternative.

So, the Second Amendment read:  “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Contrary to some current right-wing fantasies about the Framers wanting to encourage popular uprisings over grievances, the language of the amendment is clearly aimed at maintaining order within the country.

That point was driven home by the actions of the Second Congress amid another uprising which erupted in 1791 in western Pennsylvania. This anti-tax revolt, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, prompted Congress in 1792 to expand on the idea of “a well-regulated militia” by passing the Militia Acts which required all military-age white males to obtain their own muskets and equipment for service in militias.

In 1794, President Washington, who was determined to demonstrate the young government’s resolve, led a combined force of state militias against the Whiskey rebels. Their revolt soon collapsed and order was restored, demonstrating how the Second Amendment helped serve the government in maintaining “security,” as the Amendment says.

Beyond this clear historical record that the Framers’ intent was to create security for the new Republic, not promote armed rebellions there is also the simple logic that the Framers represented the young nation’s aristocracy. Many, like Washington, owned vast tracts of land. They recognized that a strong central government and domestic tranquility were in their economic interests.

So, it would be counterintuitive as well as anti-historical to believe that Madison and Washington wanted to arm the population so the discontented could resist the constitutionally elected government. In reality, the Framers wanted to arm the people at least the white males so uprisings, whether economic clashes like Shays’ Rebellion, anti-tax protests like the Whiskey Rebellion, attacks by Native Americans or slave revolts, could be repulsed.

However, the Right has invested heavily during the last several decades in fabricating a different national narrative, one that ignores both logic and the historical record. In this right-wing fantasy, the Framers wanted everyone to have a gun so they could violently resist their own government. To that end, a few incendiary quotes are cherry-picked or taken out of context.

This “history” has then been amplified through the Right’s powerful propaganda apparatus Fox News, talk radio, the Internet and ideological publications to persuade millions of Americans that their possession of semi-automatic assault rifles and other powerful firearms is what the Framers intended, that today’s gun-owners are fulfilling some centuries-old American duty.

The mythology about the Framers and the Second Amendment is, of course, only part of the fake history that the Right has created to persuade ill-informed Tea Partiers that they should dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and channel the spirits of men like Washington and Madison.

But this gun fable is particularly insidious because it obstructs efforts by today’s government to enact commonsense gun-control laws and thus the false narrative makes possible the kinds of slaughters that erupt periodically across the United States, most recently in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 schoolchildren and six teachers were murdered in minutes by an unstable young man with a civilian version of the M-16 combat rifle.

While it’s absurd to think that the Founders could have even contemplated such an act in their 18th Century world of single-fire muskets that required time-consuming reloading right-wing gun advocates have evaded that obvious reality by postulating that Washington, Madison and other Framers would have wanted a highly armed population to commit what the Constitution defined as treason against the United States.

Today’s American Right is drunk on some very bad history, which is as dangerous as it is false.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Vietnam’s Lessons and the U.S. Culture of Violence

In the wake of another deadly school shooting in Florida, the lessons of past massacres in Vietnam can teach us about U.S. violence and the need to reform unchecked gun culture, discusses Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Back in October 2016 I wrote an analysis entitled “Are Humans Natural-Born Killers?” It described and commented on research on the origins of human violence published in the science journal Nature. The conclusion offered in the article is that humans come from an evolutionary line that has the capability for violent behavior genetically built into it. It is a reasonable hypothesis. As just about every serious historian knows, the human propensity for lethal violence goes back as far as the evidence can take us — so far that there can be little doubt that this trait is inherited from our pre-human ancestors.

Yet, as the Nature scholars also point out, in the case of our species, culture has the ability to “modulate our bloodthirsty tendencies.”

I bring this up now because there is new interest in the slaughter and massacres that took place during the Vietnam War. This may in part be a response to the fact that last month marked the 50th anniversary of that war’s Tet offensive.

America waged war in Vietnam roughly from 1961 to 1975. The starting date is a “rough” one because the United States never actually declared war. In this 14-year span it is generally accepted that the turning point in the struggle came during the Tet offensive of 1968. Tet is the term used for the Vietnamese new year, and that celebratory time in 1968 was when the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong launched attacks in some 100 South Vietnamese towns and cities, in an effort to change the course of the war in their favor.

Though very costly (there were an estimated 50,000 Vietnamese casualties) the offensive worked, at least in the long run. Within a year the United States started a gradual withdrawal from the country. Although the fighting dragged on for another seven years (until the fall of Saigon in 1975) it was Washington’s stubborn search for face-saving terms that largely kept it going.

By the time of the Tet offensive, the war had degenerated into mutual slaughter. The U.S. ended up killing some 3 million Vietnamese, many of them civilians. The massacre at My Lai on 16 March 1968, has often been cited as the “singular” American example of such criminal behavior. It was on this date that a company of soldiers of the 23rd Americal Division murdered, without provocation, 504 peasant villagers of all ages and both sexes.

The massacre itself, and its background year of 1968, have been accurately described in a recent book, My Lai: Vietnam,1968 and the Descent into Darkness, by Howard Jones (Oxford University Press, 2017). In turn the book has been expertly reviewed and elaborated upon in the popular London Review of Books (LRB) (25 January 2018) by Max Hastings.

It is to be noted that both the publisher and the reviewing magazine are located in the United Kingdom. The reviews of the book offered in the United States have been, to date, in academic journals, including the U.S. Army’s own Army University Press. Just about all of them have described Jones’s work as definitive and a seminally important read. Whether this will translate into public attention in the U.S. is doubtful.

Explaining Wartime Massacres

Modern efforts to explain happenings like the My Lai massacre usually bring up the problem of waging war when it has become hard to know who the enemy is – in other words, when not everyone is wearing a uniform and a lot of resistance is coming from irregular forces. The Army University Press review raises this issue.

Another possibility is that such behavior is an “inevitable consequence of combat.” In his LRB review, Max Hastings gives a long introductory account of a number of other massacres committed by soldiers in modern times, including in Vietnam. As a consequence one comes away with the feeling that, within a war zone, these criminal acts are almost common.

While it is no doubt true that a combat situation (or perhaps we can say the culture of combat) does raise the probability of massacres, they do not make them “inevitable.” Suggesting that they are, sounds more like an excuse than an explanation. After all, most combat soldiers are not participants in massacres.

This brings us back to the judgment of the research published in Nature – we all might well be potential natural born killers who are restrained or encouraged by cultural variables. Within the combat scenario, Hastings suggests that a culture of self-restraint accepted and enforced by the officer corps can forestall mass killings.

This is of particular interest when it comes to the peculiar culture of the United States. In Vietnam many of the massacres (My Lai was by no means unique) were perpetrated by soldiers as well as their officers from the so-called “land of the free.” I use this descriptive term intentionally because one of the things that is often declared to be constitutionally “free” from rational regulation in the U.S. are guns. And, as a consequence, these troops came out of a “gun culture.”

It should be kept in mind that the American gun culture, with its accompanying violence, is not new. The 2014 book Gun Violence and Public Life documents this history. If anything has changed from the 1960s to today it is that the public now has access to military grade weapons. What also existed then as now is a culture of bigotry and racism. In the 1960s this was just being confronted by the Civil Rights Movement. It all made for an explosive mix that carried over to influence perceptions of and behavior toward the Vietnamese.

Manipulating Culture

If the Nature study’s conclusions can be believed, modern violence both of military and civilian origin can be moderated by manipulating culture. In the American case this means overcoming the gun culture as well as racism. There are many ways to do this. It can be done through public education as well as the way a society designs and applies its laws.

However, if any of these approaches to a safer, less violent society is to work, citizens must commit to a consistently enforced, long-term, indeed multi-generational, effort of reform. None of this will happen until politicians and the courts understand the Second Amendment of the Constitution (the present interpretation of which underpins the nation’s gun culture) in a more literal and reasonable way. And that won’t happen until public opinion overwhelms the ideological rigidity of the U.S. gun lobby.

In the United States the desire for rational reform of the gun laws goes up after each mass shooting and then is stymied by a rigid, but very politically influential, gun lobby. This scenario is part of a “culture war” that is ongoing within the American body politic. It involves not only the issue of gun control but also other issues such as abortion, gay rights, the promotion of racial equality and immigrant rights. So heated is this “culture war” that one might see it as a (so far) non-violent form of civil war.

The lessons of Vietnam, and a greater awareness of the massacres that occurred during this war, speak to the need to reform U.S. culture – to make it less violent and more tolerant. Thus the Vietnam experience should be incorporated into the current debate about guns in America. It would be a major achievement if the 1968 slaughter at My Lai could help stop today’s slaughter on the streets of the U.S.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.




Connecticut Court Decision Highlights U.S. Educational Failures

A recent court decision in Connecticut overturned a mandate that would have addressed inadequate education funding for poorer communities, a historic problem of the U.S. educational system, which relies on local resources instead of federal wealth, as Jonathan Kozol and Dennis J. Bernstein discussed.

By Dennis J Bernstein

In 1973, I was a struggling young teacher working in inner city Brooklyn when I discovered Jonathan Kozol’s National Book Award-winning Death at an Early Age.  It became my young teacher’s bible on understanding the nature of the school system and the pervasive racism at its core. It’s subtitle, “The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools” is as relevant now as it was when it was published some 53 years ago.

Witness the recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court [Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell], which rejected a claim by a coalition of municipalities, parents and students that the state’s education funding formula is unconstitutional.

According to the AP, a divided court recently overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered state officials to develop plans for an overhaul of the state’s education system, citing a huge gap in test scores between students in rich and poor towns. In response, Kozol remarked recently that this Court decision condones and sustains a system of virtual total segregation.

Kozol has worked with children in inner city schools for some fifty years.  Death at an Early Age was followed by a series of books, each one a powerful indictment of the public school system in the US, even as he celebrates the kids he meets and their teachers who continue to do their best, despite the abandonment of public schools and the racism that accompanies it.

His subsequent books include Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, and Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation.

I spoke with Kozol on January 31st in Boston.

Dennis Bernstein: Could you begin by describing what the decision was that the court overturned and explaining why it is significant.

Jonathan Kozol: A lower court had found that the inequalities within the state between wealthy and poor school districts were unacceptable and unconstitutional.  But the Connecticut Supreme Court in a divided decision unfortunately overturned the lower court judge.  This has been a pattern all over the United States.  By and large, we have seen this for decades.

In the 1990’s we had the same situation in Ohio.  They actually prevailed three times in showing that the system was blatantly unequal and won at the supreme court level. Even then, in contempt of court, the governor and legislature refused to obey the order.  The governor finally packed the court with new appointees and the next time around they accepted the status quo.

This kind of thing has happened everywhere.  Legislatures and governors have a thousand ways to drag their heels.  In some cases they just say they don’t have the money to do it.

There is a very poor town in Virginia named Petersburg.  It is an important city in a way because it was a center of the slave trade and some important slave rebellions took place there.  They have basically an all-Black school system.  They get about $10,000 per child a year.  Not so far away, in Arlington, Virginia, they’re spending $19,000 every year per child. That is almost twice as much, and of course the irony was that the kids in Petersburg were more in need!  They don’t have parents who can take them to Paris before their French finals.  They don’t get three years of preschool like wealthy kids do.  There’s just no level playing field in the United States.

I don’t think this is ever going to be solved at the state level.  The problem will only be solved when the education of every child in America is financed with the real wealth of the nation by the federal government.  This is the way it is done in almost every other advanced society in the world.

We can’t do that now because of a dreadful court decision [San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez] way back in 1972 in Texas.  The poor districts prevailed at the local level and then the US Supreme Court overruled the district court.  They ruled that education is not a protected right under the US Constitution.

DB: Your first book, Death at an Early Age, really broke the story of the unequal distribution of wealth among schools.  As a substitute teacher in New York City, I remember that I would get called into a school on the east side of Manhattan and they had everything: a gymnasium, a library full of books, guidance counselors.  You go up twenty or thirty blocks and the Dewey decimal system is still in place, athletics amounts to “here’s a basketball, go out and play.”  It was always amazing for me to see the incredible difference in the same school system!

JK: I must say parenthetically that even in these very poorly funded schools, I keep running into terrific teachers.  I’ve spent some time in Kern County, California, in schools that are just an hour and a half drive from L.A.  These are badly funded schools but I would run into these great teachers and good principals, too.

But when these poorer kids do badly on these standardized tests, who does the media blame?  They don’t blame the state for cheating these kids from the hour of their birth, they blame the kids or else they blame their teachers. We have this whole regime now in the United States that holds the victims accountable.

In the poorer schools, we spend half the year drilling them for the tests, which has little to do with education but is training them to outsmart the test.  We try to pump the scores a couple points and if that doesn’t happen we blame the teachers.

The new solution is to set up charter schools in these cities, which become drill academies.  Virtually all of them are apartheid schools because they specifically target minorities.  And if they can raise the scores a few points, then the media says ah, that’s the answer! Actually, they are just slightly higher-scoring separate and unequal schools.

If it were only inequality, then we could say it is a technical problem, we can solve it somehow.  But there is a toxic synergy between financially unequal schools and virtually total abandonment of any integration efforts.  In fact, when I talk about integration at school conferences, the corporate types that sponsor these events start to yawn.

What they do is sort of reinvent Dr. King’s dream.  They say, this is an all-Black school but we are living Dr. King’s dream because we are training these Black and Latino kids to be more responsible for themselves and improving their character.

But Dr. King didn’t say, “I have a dream that one day our victims will be more productive.”  It was about separate and unequal.  We are back to that again.  In my hometown of Boston, the system is more segregated than when I started teaching in 1964.

You mentioned New York and the Upper East Side. The Upper West Side is the classic example of what is happening now.  There are a lot of affluent white professionals who are historically liberal in every way except this one.  Just ten, twenty blocks to the north in Harlem you have virtually all-minority schools.  And there are some schools that are kind of on the border between the two neighborhoods, but white people, for all their liberal beliefs, shun those schools.

When enlightened civic leaders ask why these kids can’t go to school together, the white parents aren’t as obvious in their racism as people were in Alabama fifty years ago, but they will say, of course we believe in diversity, but if they go to those schools our kids won’t do as well.

There is still this assumption of basic inferiority in the minority kids.  They wouldn’t say it is genetic inferiority but, for a combination of social reasons, these kids are going to ruin our kids’ education.  That is what it amounts to.  It is heartbreaking to me.  I am 81 years old and I felt sure in 1968 that all this was going to change within ten years.

There are answers, of course.  At least in small or middle-sized cities like Boston, we could very easily create a metropolitan school system.  It wouldn’t be a long ride for a kid to go in either direction.  But that agenda is off the table, it’s unfashionable now.  This withdrawal from the mountaintop has been going on for a quarter century.

DB: One important point you make in Savage Inequalities is that we have to change the way public schools are funded.  Schools are set up for failure from the get-go when so much depends on the local economic base.  Is a lack of resources at the heart of the matter?

JK: These experts at the Hoover Institution and Heritage Foundation are always asking, “Is money really the answer?”  Supposed liberals will look me in the face and say, “Jonathan, can you really solve the problems of those kinds by throwing money at them?”  These are the same people who send their kids to prep schools that cost $60,000 a year.  My answer is always: “It seems to work for your kids, doesn’t it?”  It is sheer hypocrisy.

The basic funding for public schools comes from property taxes.  States contribute what is known as “foundation money” so that no school goes without the bare minimum even if their local property taxes are insignificant.

The problem is that these foundation levels are always set so low.  All the wealthy districts have to do is have a small bond levy and raise their property taxes half of one percent, and since they have lots of million dollar homes their funding shoots way up.  Or they hold fundraising parties and in one night they will raise half a million dollars to build a new library or bring in art and music teachers.  A poor district is lucky if they can raise $800.

The only answer, I believe, is to do what all other developed nations do already and fund education out of the real wealth of the nation.  It makes sense not only in practical terms, but in moral terms, in terms of citizenship.  You don’t go to school to be a citizen of Nebraska or California.  We go to school to be Americans.  Kids pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.

What we have today is an uneven social contract.  If not for that decision in 1972, equal education would be a fundamental right under the US Constitution.  If Bernie Sanders had won, perhaps we would have ended up with a Supreme Court that would reexamine that decision.

DB: Finally, what do you think of the job our Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is doing?

JK: She is a catastrophe.  First of all, although she is not very smart, she is slick and gives a slick veneer to this old slogan “freedom of choice.”

This was the slogan of segregationists in the South after the Brown decision, when they started so-called “voucher schools.”  She is not simply in favor of more and more of these segregated charter schools, which are even more segregated than public schools; she is also in favor of vouchers, the invidious idea that goes way back to Milton Friedman in the 1950’s and was tested out in Pinochet’s Chile.

Devos also wants to open this up to religious schools.  She represents the spearhead of the privatization movement that would like to do away with public education altogether.

We are at the lowest point in the history of education in America that I can remember since the hopeful moment at the tail end of the 1960’s.  Fortunately, there is a younger generation that is gathering momentum now. I am working with Black Lives Matter on a project. They are talking about these issues at last.  When I visit colleges, I’ll stay up half the night with these young minority kids, and sometimes some damn decent white kids who identify with the struggle.  Maybe they are going to save us.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.