Wretched US Journalism on Ukraine

Exclusive: The U.S. news media has failed the American people often in recent years by not challenging U.S. government falsehoods, as with Iraq’s WMD. But the most dangerous violation of journalistic principles has occurred in the Ukraine crisis, which has the potential of a nuclear war, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A basic rule of journalism is that there are almost always two sides to a story and that journalists should try to reflect that reality, a principle that is especially important when lives are at stake amid war fevers. Yet, American journalism has failed miserably in this regard during the Ukraine crisis.

With very few exceptions, the mainstream U.S. media has simply regurgitated the propaganda from the U.S. State Department and other entities favoring western Ukrainians. There has been little effort to view the worsening crisis through the eyes of ethnic Russian Ukrainians living in the east or the Russians witnessing a political and humanitarian crisis on their border.ukraine-map

Frankly, I cannot recall any previous situation in which the U.S. media has been more biased across the board than on Ukraine. Not even the “group think” around Iraq’s non-existent WMDs was as single-minded as this, with the U.S. media perspective on Ukraine almost always from the point of view of the western Ukrainians who led the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east.

So, what might appear to an objective observer as a civil war between western Ukrainians, including the neo-Nazis who spearheaded last year’s coup against Yanukovych, and eastern Ukrainians, who refused to accept the anti-Yanukovych order that followed the coup, has been transformed by the U.S. news media into a confrontation between the forces of good (the western Ukrainians) and the forces of evil (the eastern Ukrainians) with an overlay of “Russian aggression” as Russian President Vladimir Putin is depicted as a new Hitler.

Though the horrific bloodshed more than 5,000 dead has been inflicted overwhelmingly on the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine by the forces from western Ukraine, the killing is routinely blamed on either the eastern Ukrainian rebels or Putin for allegedly fomenting the trouble in the first place (though there is no evidence that he did, as even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has acknowledged.)

I realize that anyone who doesn’t accept the Official Washington “group think” on Ukraine is denounced as a “Putin apologist” just as anyone who questioned the conventional wisdom about Saddam Hussein giving his WMDs to al-Qaeda was a “Saddam apologist” but step back for a minute and look at the crisis through the eyes of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

A year ago, they saw what looked to them like a U.S.-organized coup, relying on both propaganda and violence to overthrow their constitutionally elected government. They also detected a strong anti-ethnic-Russian bias in the new regime with its efforts to strip away Russian as an official language. And they witnessed brutal killings of ethnic Russians at the hands of neo-Nazis in Odessa and elsewhere.

Their economic interests, too, were threatened since they worked at companies that did substantial business with Russia. If those historic ties to Russia were cut in favor of special economic relations with the European Union, the eastern Ukrainians would be among the worst losers.

Remember, that before backing away from the proposed association agreement with the EU in November 2013, Yanukovych received a report from economic experts in Kiev that Ukraine stood to lose $160 billion if it broke with Russia, as Der Spiegel reported. Much of that economic pain would have fallen on eastern Ukraine.

Economic Worries

On the rare occasions when American journalists have actually talked with eastern Ukrainians, this fear of the economic consequences has been a core concern, along with worries about the harsh austerity plan that the International Monetary Fund prescribed as a prerequisite for access to Western loans.

For instance, in April 2014, Washington Post correspondent Anthony Faiola reported from Donetsk that many of the eastern Ukrainians whom he interviewed said their resistance to the new Kiev regime was driven by fear over “economic hardship” and the IMF austerity plan that will make their lives even harder.

“At a most dangerous and delicate time, just as it battles Moscow for hearts and minds across the east, the pro-Western government is set to initiate a shock therapy of economic measures to meet the demands of an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund,” Faiola reported.

In other words, Faiola encountered reasonable concerns among eastern Ukrainians about what was happening in Kiev. Many eastern Ukrainians felt disenfranchised by the overthrow of their elected leader and they worried about their future in a U.S.-dominated Ukraine. You can disagree with their point of view but it is an understandable perspective.

When some eastern Ukrainians mounted protests and occupied buildings similar to what the western Ukrainians had done in Kiev before the coup these protesters were denounced by the coup regime as “terrorists” and became the target of a punitive military campaign involving some of the same neo-Nazi militias that spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup against Yanukovych.

Nearly all the 5,000 or more people who have died in the civil war have been killed in eastern Ukraine with ethnic Russian civilians bearing the brunt of those fatalities, many killed by artillery barrages from the Ukrainian army firing into populated centers and using cluster-bomb munitions.

Even Human Rights Watch, which is largely financed by pro-coup billionaire George Soros, reported that “Ukrainian government forces used cluster munitions in populated areas in Donetsk city” despite the fact that “the use of cluster munitions in populated areas violates the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon and may amount to war crimes.”

Neo-Nazi and other “volunteer” brigades, dispatch by the Kiev regime, have also engaged in human rights violations, including death squad operations pulling people from their homes and executing them. Amnesty International, another human rights group that Soros helps fund and that has generally promoted Western interests in Eastern Europe, issued a report noting abuses committed by the pro-Kiev Aidar militia.

“Members of the Aidar territorial defence battalion, operating in the north Luhansk region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions,” the Amnesty International report said.

The Aidar battalion commander told an Amnesty International researcher: “There is a war here. The law has changed, procedures have been simplified. If I choose to, I can have you arrested right now, put a bag over your head and lock you up in a cellar for 30 days on suspicion of aiding separatists.”

Amnesty International wrote: “Some of the abuses committed by members of the Aidar battalion amount to war crimes, for which both the perpetrators and, possibly, the commanders would bear responsibility under national and international law.”

Neo-Nazi Battalions

And the Aidar battalion is not even the worst of the so-called “volunteer” brigades. Others carry Nazi banners and espouse racist contempt for the ethnic Russians who have become the target of something close to “ethnic cleansing” in the areas under control of the Kiev regime. Many eastern Ukrainians fear falling into the hands of these militia members who have been witnessed leading captives to open graves and executing them.

As the conservative London Telegraph described in an article last August by correspondent Tom Parfitt: “Kiev’s use of volunteer paramilitaries to stamp out the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ should send a shiver down Europe’s spine.

“Recently formed battalions such as Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the interior ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming. The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”

Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]

So, the current wave of U.S. propaganda condemning a rebel offensive for violating a shaky cease-fire might look different if seen through the eyes of a population under siege, being cut off from banking services, left to starve and facing “death squad” purges by out-of-control neo-Nazis.

Through those eyes, it would make sense to reclaim territory currently occupied by the Kiev forces, to protect fellow ethnic Russians from depredations, and to establish borders for what you might hope to make into a sustainable autonomous zone.

And, if you put yourself in the Russian position, you might feel empathy for people who were your fellow citizens less than a quarter century ago and who saw their elected leader ousted in a U.S.-backed coup. You also might be alarmed at the presence of Nazi storm troopers (considering the history of Hitler’s invasion) and the prospects of NATO moving up to your border with a possible deployment of nuclear weapons. You might even recall how agitated Americans got over nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Granted, some of these Russian fears may be overwrought, but the Kremlin has to worry about threats to Russia’s national security just like any other country does. If you were in Putin’s shoes, what would you do? Would you turn your back on the plight of the eastern Ukrainians? Would you let a hostile military alliance push up against your borders with a potential nuclear threat, especially given the extra-legal means used to remove Ukraine’s constitutionally elected president?

Even if the U.S. press corps fulfilled its obligation to tell both sides of the story, many Americans would still condemn Putin’s acceptance of Crimea’s pleas for reentry into Russia and his assistance to the embattled eastern Ukrainians. They would accept the U.S. government’s relentless presentation of the Ukraine crisis as “Russian aggression.”

And, they might still buy the story that we’re endlessly sold about the Ukraine crisis being a premeditated move by Putin in a Hitlerian strategy to conquer the Baltic States. Even though there’s zero evidence that Putin ever had that in mind, some Americans might still choose to believe it.

But my point is that American journalists should not be U.S. government propagandists. Their job is not to herd the American people into some “group think” corral. A good journalist would want to present the positions of both sides with some evenhandedness.

Yet, that is not what we have witnessed from the U.S. news media on the Ukraine crisis. It has been nearly all propaganda nearly all of the time. That is not only a disservice to the American people and to the democratic precept about an informed electorate. It is a reckless violation of professional principles that has helped lurch the world toward a potential nuclear conflagration.

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




WPost Is Lost in Neocon Fantasyland

The neocons now control the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, a dangerous development for the American people and the world. Yet, the Post remains the more extreme of the two, pushing for endless confrontations and wars, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

James Carden and Jacob Heilbrunn provided in the current issue of The National Interest an extensively documented review of how the ever-more-neocon editorial page of the Washington Post “responds to dangerous and complex problems with simplistic prescriptions.”

The Post‘s most recent editorial about the nuclear negotiations with Iran is firmly in that same simplistic, destructive tradition. It is hard to know where to begin in pointing out the deficiencies in this effort by the Post‘s editorialists, but noting some of them can illustrate how the tendencies that Carden and Heilbrunn cataloged constitute, as the abstract for their article puts it, a crusade for doctrines “that have brought Washington to grief in the past.”

The current editorial offers a prescription that is so simplistic that it isn’t really a prescription at all. And that, the absence of any plausible proposed alternative, is its most basic shortcoming. Instead it is just a collection of ways of saying, “We don’t like where these negotiations are going.”

Even though the writers claim that “we have long supported negotiations with Iran,” the effect of their piece is to add to the negative background music to which those determined to defeat and derail any agreement with Iran, including Benjamin Netanyahu and confirmed deal-saboteurs in the U.S. Congress, dance and from which they derive energy.

The editorial posits as one of its complaints a version of the familiar meme about the U.S. administration supposedly conceding too much to Iran, even though that image is quite at odds with the actual history of these negotiations, in which it is Iran that has made the most significant concessions.

The editorial says the Obama administration supposedly “once aimed to eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium,” although there is little indication that this administration ever believed that a zero-enrichment formula could ever be the basis of an achievable agreement.

It is interesting to note, however, that more than a decade ago a different administration, evidently thinking a demand for zero enrichment was the proper policy, spurned an opportunity to negotiate an agreement with Tehran when Iran had only a tiny fraction of the enrichment centrifuges it does now, and we all know how that policy worked out.

On the subject of uranium enrichment the editorial writers play familiar and hazardous semantic games in positing a goal of “eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons” and “denying Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option.” It is impossible to “eliminate” such a ”potential,” and Iran already has, after all those years of no negotiations, the “capability” to develop such an “option.”

This kind of talk only helps the deal-saboteurs lay a trap by being able to say about any conceivable agreement that could emerge from any negotiations with Iran that it does not “eliminate” capabilities or potential or options.

The purpose of an agreement is to ensure that Iran does not exercise such an option. The most important element in providing this assurance is the unprecedented level of intrusive inspections that would make any move toward exercising such options immediately clear. The Post editorial pooh-poohs this by referring to “theoretically giving the world time to respond.” No, it’s not just theoretically; the inspection arrangements would actually given the world plenty of time to respond.

The Post also bemoans how “even limited restrictions would remain in force for only a specified number of years.” Most observers of the negotiations expect that the time spans involved, and especially for enhanced inspections, would be many years, and perhaps a decade or more.

The editorial gives no reason to suspect that the Iranians after all this time would have any motivation at all to discard everything they had gained from remaining a certified, inspected, restricted, non-nuclear weapon state. Nor does the editorial comment on what it would mean for the conclusions we ought to draw about Iran’ s motivations and intentions if it demonstrated for several years its willingness to comply with an agreement that would be quite restrictive on Iran.

This gets to the issue of possible cheating or stealthy acquisition of a nuclear weapon. The editorial throws that up as another thing to get us worried. But it says nothing at all about why the possibility of stealthy building of a bomb would be any greater with a negotiated agreement than without one. It wouldn’t, and if anything probably would be less, given the enhanced inspections under an agreement.

A second line of attack in the editorial is another recently much-used meme by opponents: the notion of “increasingly aggressive efforts by Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East.” In this respect the editorial exhibits one of the same basic deficiencies that is almost always exhibited when the notion is used this way: it says nothing about why, if such Iranian regional activity is a problem, it would be any worse under a nuclear agreement than without one.

If such activity really is as much of a problem as the editorial suggests, then the years-long keep-Iran-in-the-penalty box approach hasn’t worked very well, has it? The editorialists write that “rather than contest the Iranian bid for regional hegemony, as has every previous U.S. administration since the 1970s [again if that’s the case, how well has that approach worked out?], Mr. Obama appears ready to concede Iran a place in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond…”

It is not up to the United States, or in the power of the United States, to “concede” such things; Iran is in the region, and will have relations with other states in the region, and along with other states will compete for influence in the region, whether we like it or not. Is Iran, by negotiating with us, “conceding” a place to the United States in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere?

On the “regional aggression” theme the editorial also exhibits most of the other misconceptions that are exhibited when this theme comes up, such as the idea that everywhere there is any turmoil involving anyone with any link to Iran, that the turmoil is the result of Iranian expansionist initiatives, when in fact it is not. Or the idea that Tehran is operating a Comintern-like Shia international, when in fact it is not.

An additional twist that the Post gives to the theme is to state that “the White House has avoided actions Iran might perceive as hostile, such as supporting military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.”

Getting more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war is, of course, something the Post editorial board has been calling for repeatedly over the last couple of years. Amid all that war-drum-beating, it apparently doesn’t occur to the board that the administration has very good reasons not to sink the United States into that tar pit, regardless of whether or not Iran would see such action as hostile.

The editorial calls for more Congressional involvement, another open invitation for more deal-killing activity by saboteurs on Capitol Hill. Although the editorial accurately quotes Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken about how the administration sees Congressional action as appropriate only later after Iran has demonstrated that it is living up to its end of a deal, it makes no mention of the logic behind that schedule.

The logic ought to be appealing to anyone as distrustful of Iran as the editorial writers evidently are. The administration intends to limit any sanctions relief in the early phase of an agreement to executive action so that sanctions could be quickly reinstated in the event of any Iranian failure to observe the terms of the agreement, more quickly and easily than if new legislation had to be enacted.

The editorial near its end makes it sound as if there is some alternative that it is recommending by referring to how “the right response to the questions now being raised is to seek better terms from Iran…” Oh? How, exactly? Isn’t such seeking what the negotiators have been doing for months?

This sort of suggestion might be a disguised way of giving more momentum to sanctions legislation that is rationalized as strengthening the U.S. negotiating position but in fact is designed to kill the negotiations.

Or the suggestion may reflect naiveté that is somewhat akin to the Post editorial board living in what Carden and Heilbrunn describe as “a foreign-policy fairy-tale land in which nasty authoritarian regimes can be magically transformed by American leadership into democratic ones.” In the same fairy-tale land, American leadership and toughness can magically get other governments to accept terms that are contrary to their interests.

The last few words of the editorial correctly raise what ought to be the key question in any evaluation of an agreement that emerges from these negotiations, which is to consider whether it “is better than the alternatives.” Except the editorialists don’t examine what the alternatives really are.

Indefinite continuation of the interim agreement currently in force would be helpful in fulfilling U.S. nonproliferation objectives, but the Iranians would be unlikely to accept being strung out like that, given that they are still under the economically damaging oil and financial sanctions. Besides, hardliners in the U.S. Congress have made it clear they would push hard for agreement-violating, deal-killing additional sanctions if there is no final accord by early summer.

So the true alternative is no agreement at all, and that means no special restrictions on, and no intrusive inspections of, the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, let’s indeed compare whatever agreement is reached with the alternative.

We should remember the grief that the crusading doctrines the Post has supported have brought us in the past. In particular we might recall the Post‘s support for the Iraq War, which among much other grief it caused the United States also was the single biggest cause in recent years of the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East, specifically, in Iraq itself.

Then we might ask where else in the Post‘s fairy-tale land its current undermining of the Iran negotiations is likely to lead us.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




When Silencing Dissent Isn’t News

Exclusive: The criminal case against ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern for “resisting arrest” when he was denied entry to a public speech by retired Gen. David Petraeus appears to be nearly over, but the image of police brutally shielding the mighty from a citizen’s question remains troubling, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

What if Martin Luther King Jr. had been arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963 and the U.S. news media had decided that it wasn’t a story, just some troublemaker getting what he deserved for breaking the law? Would King have gone on to give his “I have a dream speech” in August, win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and change American history?

Some Americans would insist that suppressing news about King’s arrest during the Birmingham protests simply couldn’t happen here because we have a free press that for all its faults knows a good story when it sees one.

Sure, these people might acknowledge that there may have been a time before airplanes and television when significant events in fairly remote parts of the country were missed because they were harder to get to or because editors might not even have been aware of a newsworthy story, but not in 1963 and surely not today, in the Internet age when there’s Facebook and Twitter, which news organizations monitor regularly.

So, what if I told you that an internationally known American a 75-year-old Army veteran and a longtime official at the Central Intelligence Agency, someone who had famously questioned the imperious Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about his Iraq War lies in a public event that led evening newscasts in 2006 was recently denied entry to a public speech by another Iraq War icon, Gen. David Petraeus, and despite having paid for a ticket was brutally arrested by the police and jailed?

Wouldn’t that be a story? Wouldn’t that be something that the news media, especially the “liberal” news media, should jump all over? Wouldn’t a newspaper like the New York Times just love something like that?

But what if I told you that the New York Times wasn’t interested at all? You might think that perhaps the event occurred in some distant hamlet, maybe a small college town where there wasn’t much media, so it just fell through the cracks.

Yet, this story actually played out in New York City, the media capital of the world, on the Upper East Side at the 92nd Street Y in full view of hundreds of New Yorkers on the night of Oct. 30, 2014. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was roughly arrested, with the police ignoring his howls of pain as they pulled his arms behind his back. (McGovern had recently suffered a painful shoulder injury from a fall.}

The arrest of McGovern on charges of resisting arrest, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct did draw attention from people on Facebook and Twitter. It was described in some detail at reasonably well-read Internet sites, including Consortiumnews.com. The story resonated around the world, even reaching RT, the Moscow-based network.

Yet, it was studiously ignored by nearly all the New York media. When I ran a Google search for “Ray McGovern, Petraeus, arrest,” there were scores of articles from various Web sites but next to nothing from the mainstream media. Only one brief item came up from the New York Daily News with a misleading headline saying McGovern was “trying to crash” the Petraeus speech (although the article did note that McGovern had bought a $45 ticket).

McGovern, who has become a prominent critic of recent U.S. war policies (and who writes frequently for Consortiumnews.com), called me the day before the event and said he planned to attend Petraeus’s speech with hopes that he might be able to ask a question from the audience, like he had in challenging Rumsfeld.

But someone in authority apparently got wind of McGovern’s plan he still is curious how that happened and he was intercepted when he arrived at the 92nd Street Y. A security guard addressed him by name, “Ray, you’re not welcome here” and the NYPD was prepositioned to arrest him.

As the police pinned his arms behind him wrenching his injured shoulder McGovern screamed in pain as bystanders unsuccessfully implored the police not to behave so brutally. The arrest was captured on an amateur video (uploaded to YouTube by April Watters). It is not pleasant to watch.

Probably some Americans feel that McGovern got what he deserved for even thinking about posing a pointed question to a “hero” like retired Gen. Petraeus, who was speaking along with one of his neocon friends, Council on Foreign Affairs honcho Max Boot, who, like Petraeus, had been all gung-ho for the Iraq War.

Having briefed senior U.S. government officials for years while at the CIA, McGovern is not intimidated by some growling response from a powerful man. Nor is he scared of getting booed by an audience enthrall to a famous speaker.

So, in that sense, McGovern might well have “disrupted” the event with an impertinent question, possibly about how the Iraqi Army that Petraeus has boasted about training so well collapsed in the face of ragtag militants from the Islamic State in 2014.

That might have caused an uncomfortable moment or two, but isn’t that what democracy and freedom of speech are all about, the ability for a citizen to question the mighty? And, really, is it the job of police in a “free society” to roughly arrest a citizen who objects to being denied entry to a public event because of his perceived political opinions — and to prevent the citizen from having the chance to ask a question?

Though he lives in Arlington, Virginia, McGovern had to return to New York for a court appearance on Feb. 4. There, the judge granted what’s called an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” meaning that the charges will go away if McGovern doesn’t commit any new offenses. Advised by his pro bono attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, McGovern accepted the offer, rather than extend the legal fight over what appeared to be a First Amendment issue.

But perhaps what should alarm Americans the most is that the New York Times and other major media in New York City see nothing newsworthy about a citizen being silenced, roughed up and arrested for simply hoping to ask the esteemed David Petraeus a question.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Petraeus Spared Ray McGovern’s Question”, “Stifling Dissent on the Upper East Side,” and McGovern’s “A Pointed Letter to Gen. Petraeus.”]

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




A Rush to Judgment in Argentine Bomb Case?

The mysterious death of an Argentine prosecutor has whipped up new suspicions around the case of who bombed the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994 and whether there was an official cover-up, but the evidence on both counts remains dubious or discredited, says Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The evidence already available about Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death from a gunshot to the head creates a strong presumption that he was murdered. He was about to present publicly his accusation that President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, conspired to absolve Iran of the 1994 AMIA bombing and lift the Interpol red notices on the accused Iranians.

And it was Nisman’s 2006 request for the arrest of six former senior Iranian officials for the bombing that prompted his push for those red notices. In the context of Argentine political culture, with its long experience of impunity for crimes committed by the powerful, the circumstances of his death have led to a general conviction that the government must have been behind his murder.

But there is good reason to be cautious about that assumption. Nisman’s case against Kirchner was problematic. The central accusation in his affidavit, made 96 times, according to press accounts, was that Kirchner and Timerman had sought to revoke the Interpol arrest warrants against the former Iranian officials.

But Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol for 15 years until last November, denied Nisman’s accusation. Noble declared, “I can say with 100 percent certainty, not a scintilla of doubt, that Foreign Minister Timerman and the Argentine government have been steadfast, persistent and unwavering that the Interpol’s red notices be issued, remain in effect and not be suspend or removed.”

Noble’s denial raises an obvious question: Why would the Kirchner government, knowing that Nisman’s main claim could be easily refuted, have any reason to kill him on the eve of the presentation of his case?  Why give those seeking to discredit the government’s policy on the AMIA bombing the opportunity to shift the issue from the facts of the case to the presumption of officially sponsored assassination?

The Kirchner-Timerman negotiation of an agreement with Iran in January 2013 for an “international truth commission” on the AMIA bombing would have sent five respected international judicial figures to Iran to question the accused Iranians. That was a way of getting around the Iranian refusal to subject former high-ranking officials to Argentine justice. But Nisman was trying to prove that was an illicit cover-up for a cynical deal with Iran. He considered it “a betrayal of the country and his work,” according to his friend, Gustavo Perednik.

Nisman’s “criminal complaint” against Kirchner and Timerman claimed the government’s negotiations with Iran involved a “sophisticated criminal plan” to make a deal with one of the Iranians the prosecutor accused of the AMIA bombing, former cultural attaché Mohsen Rabbani. It asserted that Argentina promised Iran that it would lift the Interpol notices on the six Iranian in exchange for an “oil for grains” deal.

Nisman’s accusation was based on snippets of transcripts from 5,000 hours of wiretaps of conversations of allies of Kirchner government that have now been made public by a judge. One of the excerpts quotes Rabbani himself, in a conversation with an ally of Fernandez, as saying:”Iran was Argentina’s main buyer and now it’s buying almost nothing. That could change. Here [in Iran] there are some sectors of the government who’ve told me they are willing to sell oil to Argentina and also to buy weapons.”

The statement proves nothing, however, except that that Rabbani knew some Iranian officials who were interested in oil sales to Argentina. No evidence of Rabbani being involved in negotiating on behalf of Iran is suggested in the Nisman document, and the person at the other end of the line was not an Argentine official. So the conversation did not involve anyone who even had direct knowledge of the actual negotiations between the governments of Iran and Argentina.

The same thing applies to the other individuals who have been identified as speaking on the wiretaps in favor of such a deal. Those individuals are friendly with officials of the Kirchner government and friendly with Iran, but the actual negotiations were carried out by senior officials of the foreign ministries of Iran and Argentina, not by private individuals. The distinction between knowledge and hearsay is a fundamental principle in judicial processes for a very good reason.

The presentation of facts or allegations as proof of guilt, even though they proved nothing of the sort, was also a pattern that permeated Nisman’s 2006 “Request for Arrests” in the 1994 AMIA bombing.  Contrary to the general reverence in the news media for his indictment of senior Iranian officials for their alleged responsibility for the bombing, his case was built on a massive accumulation of highly dubious and misleading claims, from the “irrefutable evidence” of Rabbani’s participation in planning to the identification of the alleged suicide car bomber.

This writer’s investigation of the case over several months, which included interviews with U.S. diplomats who had served in the Embassy in Buenos Aires in the years following the AMIA bombing as well as with the FBI official detailed to work on the case in 1996-97, concluded that the Argentine investigators never found any evidence of Iranian involvement.

Nisman asserted that the highest Iranian officials had decided to carry out the bombing at a meeting on Aug. 12 or 14, 1993, primarily on the testimony of four officials of the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian exile terrorist group that was openly dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime. The four MEK officials claimed to know the precise place, date and time and the three-point agenda of the meeting.

When U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne, meeting with Nisman in November 2006, asked him about Argentine press reports that had criticized the document for using the testimony of “unreliable witnesses,” Nisman responded, according to the Embassy reporting cable, that several of the witnesses were “former senior Iraqi [sic] officials, e.g. Bani Sadr, with direct knowledge of events surrounding the conception of the attacks.”

Nisman’s suggestion that former Iranian president Abolhassen Banisadr had “direct knowledge” related to the AMIA bombings was a stunningly brazen falsehood. Banisadr had been impeached by the Iranian legislature in June 1981 and had fled to Paris the following month 13 years before the bombing.

Nisman also cited the testimony of Abolghassem Mesbahi, who called himself a “defector” from the Iranian intelligence service, that Iranian officials had made such a decision sometime in August 1993. But Mesbahi was known by U.S. intelligence analysts as a “serial fabricator”, who had also told an obviously false story about Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Nisman failed to mention, moreover, that Mesbahi had given a secret 100-page deposition to Argentine investigators in 2000 in Mexico in which he had claimed the planning for the attack had begun in 1992.

Nisman’s was so convinced of Iran’s guilt that he was ready to see almost any fact as supporting evidence, even when there was an obvious reason for doubting its relevance.  For example, he cited Rabbani’s shopping for a van “similar to the one that exploded in front of the AMIA building a few months later.”

In fact, however, as I reported in 2008, the Argentine investigation files include the original intelligence report on the surveillance of Rabbani showing that Rabbani’s visit to the car dealer was not “a few months” before the bombing, but a full 15 months earlier.

Despite the Argentine intelligence following Rabbani’s every move and tapping his telephones for all those months, Nisman cites nothing indicating that Rabbani did anything indicating his involvement in preparations for a terror bombing.

The FBI official who assisted the investigation told me in a November 2007 interview that the use of phone metadata to suggest that Rabbani was in touch with an “operational group” nothing but “speculation,” and said that neither he nor officials in Washington had taken it seriously as evidence of Rabbani’s involvement.

The fact that Nisman’s two indictments related to Iran and AMIA were extremely tendentious obviously does not dispose of the question of who killed him. But whatever the reason for his being killed, it wasn’t because he had revealed irrefutable truths about AMIA and Argentine government policy.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy.  His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February 2014. [This story appeared first at Middle East Eye.]




Nuclear War and Clashing Ukraine Narratives

Exclusive: America and Russia have two nearly opposite narratives on Ukraine, which is more an indictment of the U.S. news media which feigns objectivity but disseminates what amounts to propaganda. These divergent narratives are driving the world toward a possible nuclear crisis, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The U.S. government and mainstream media are swaggering toward a possible nuclear confrontation with Russia over Ukraine without any of the seriousness that has informed this sort of decision-making throughout the nuclear age. Instead, Official Washington seems possessed by a self-righteous goofiness that could be the prelude to the end of life on this planet.

Nearly across the U.S. political spectrum, there is a pugnacious “group think” which has transformed what should have been a manageable political dispute in Ukraine into some morality play where U.S. politicians and pundits blather on about how the nearly year-old coup regime in Kiev “shares our values” and how America must be prepared to defend this regime militarily.

Though I’m told that President Barack Obama personally recognizes how foolhardy this attitude is, he has made no significant move to head off the craziness and, indeed, has tolerated provocative actions by his underlings, such as neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s scheming with coup plotters to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.

Obama also has withheld from the American people intelligence information that undercuts some of the more extreme claims that his administration has made. For instance, I’m told that he has detailed intelligence reporting on both the mysterious sniper attack that preceded the putsch nearly a year ago and the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flights 17 that deepened the crisis last summer. But he won’t release the findings.

More broadly over the last year, Obama’s behavior ranging from his initial neglect of the Ukraine issue, as Nuland’s coup plotting unfolded, to his own participation in the tough talk, such as boasting during his State of the Union address that he had helped put the Russian economy “in tatters” ranks as one of the most irresponsible performances by a U.S. president.

Given the potential stakes of nuclear war, none of the post-World War II presidents behaved as recklessly as Obama has, which now includes allowing his administration officials to talk loosely about sending military support to an unstable regime in Kiev that includes neo-Nazis who have undertaken death-squad operations against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is commander of NATO, declared last November that regarding supplying military support for the Kiev government “nothing at this time is off the table.” Breedlove is now pushing actively to send lethal U.S. military equipment to fend off an offensive by ethnic Russian rebels in the east.

I’m told that the Russians fear that U.S. officials are contemplating placing Cruise missiles in Ukraine or otherwise introducing advanced weaponry that Moscow regards as a direct threat to its national security. Whether or not the Russians are being alarmist, these fears are affecting their own decision-making.

None of the nuclear-age presidents not Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush would have engaged in such provocative actions on Russia’s borders, though some surely behaved aggressively in overthrowing governments and starting wars farther away.

Even Ronald Reagan, an aggressive Cold Warrior, kept his challenges to the Soviet Union in areas that were far less sensitive to its national security than Ukraine. He may have supported the slaughter of leftists in Central America and Africa or armed Islamic fundamentalists fighting a Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, but he recognized the insanity of a military showdown with Moscow in Eastern Europe.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, U.S. presidents became more assertive, pushing NATO into the former Warsaw Pact nations and, under President Clinton, bombing a Russian ally in Serbia, but that came at a time when Russia was essentially flat on its back geopolitically.

Perhaps the triumphalism of that period is still alive especially among neocons who reject President Vladimir Putin’s reassertion of Russia’s national pride. These Washington hardliners still feel that they can treat Moscow with disdain, ignoring the fact that Russia maintains a formidable nuclear arsenal and is not willing to return to the supine position of the 1990s.

In 2008, President George W. Bush arguably one of the most reckless presidents of the era backed away from a confrontation with Russia when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a neocon favorite, drew the Russians into a border conflict over South Ossetia. Despite some war talk from the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, President Bush showed relative restraint.

Imbalanced Narrative

But Obama has failed to rein in his administration’s war hawks and has done nothing to correct the biased narrative that his State Department has fed to the equally irresponsible mainstream U.S. news media. Since the Ukraine crisis began in fall of 2013, the New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets have provided only one side of the story, openly supporting the interests of the pro-European western Ukrainians over the ethnic Russian eastern Ukrainians.

The bias is so strong that the mainstream media has largely ignored the remarkable story of the Kiev regime willfully dispatching Nazi storm troopers to kill ethnic Russians in the east, something that hasn’t happened in Europe since World War II.

For Western news organizations that are quick to note the slightest uptick in neo-Nazism in Europe, there has been a willful blindness to Kiev’s premeditated use of what amount to Nazi death squads undertaking house-to-house killings in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

The Russian government has repeatedly protested these death-squad operations and other crimes committed by the Kiev regime, but the U.S. mainstream media is so in the tank for the western Ukrainians that it has suppressed this aspect of the crisis, typically burying references to the neo-Nazi militias at the end of stories or dismissing these accounts as “Russian propaganda.”

With this ugly reality hidden from the U.S. public, Obama’s State Department has been able to present a white-hat-vs.-black-hat narrative to the crisis. So, while Russians saw a constitutionally elected government on their border overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup last February and then human rights atrocities inflicted on ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine the American people heard only about wonderful pro-American “reformers” in Kiev and the evil pro-Russian “minions” trying to destroy “democracy” at Putin’s bidding.

This distorted American narrative has represented one of the most unprofessional and dangerous performances in the history of modern U.S. journalism, rivaling the false conventional wisdom about Iraq’s WMD except in this case the media propaganda is aimed at a country in Russia that really does have weapons of mass destruction.

The Russians also have noted the arrival of financially self-interested Americans, including Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, reminding the Russians of the American financial experts who descended on Moscow with their “shock therapy” in the 1990s, “reforms” that enriched a few well-connected oligarchs but impoverished millions of average Russians.

Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat who took Ukrainian citizenship in December 2014 to become Finance Minister, had been in charge of a U.S.-taxpayer-financed $150 million Ukrainian investment fund which involved substantial insider dealings, including paying a management firm that Jaresko created more than $1 million a year in fees, even as the $150 million apparently dwindled to less than $100 million.

Jaresko also has been involved in a two-year-long legal battle with her ex-husband to gag him from releasing information about apparent irregularities in the handling of the U.S. money. Jaresko went into Chancery Court in Delaware to enforce a non-disclosure clause against her ex-husband, Ihor Figlus, and got a court order to silence him.

This week, when I contacted George Pazuniak, Figlus’s lawyer about Jaresko’s aggressive enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement, he told me that “at this point, it’s very difficult for me to say very much without having a detrimental effect on my client.”

With Jaresko now being hailed as a Ukrainian “reformer” who in the words of New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman “shares our values,” one has to wonder why she has fought so hard to shut up her ex-husband regarding possible revelations about improper handling of U.S. taxpayer money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Made-in-USA Finance Minister.”]

More Interested Parties

The Russians also looked askance at the appointment of Estonian Jaanika Merilo as the latest foreigner to be brought inside the Ukrainian government as a “reformer.” Merilo, a Jaresko associate, is being put in charge of attracting foreign investments but her photo spreads look more like someone interested in some rather kinky partying.

The Russians are aware, too, of prominent Americans circling around the potential plunder of Ukraine. For instance, Hunter Biden was named to the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm. Burisma is also a shadowy Cyprus-based company linked to Privat Bank.

Privat Bank is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the Kiev regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine. Kolomoysky has helped finance the paramilitary forces killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

And, Burisma has been lining up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures. As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis.”]

So, the Russians have a decidedly different view of the Ukrainian “reforms” than much of the U.S. media does. But I’m told that the Russians would be willing to tolerate these well-connected Americans enriching themselves in Ukraine and even having Ukraine expand its economic relations with the European Union.

But the Russians have drawn a red line at the prospect for the expansion of NATO forces into Ukraine and the continued killing of ethnic Russians at the hands of neo-Nazi death squads. Putin is demanding that those paramilitary forces be disarmed.

Besides unleashing these right-wing militias on the ethnic Russians, the Kiev government has moved to punish the people living in the eastern sectors by cutting off access to banks and other financial services. It also has become harder and more dangerous for ethnic Russians to cross into territory controlled by the Kiev authorities. Many are turned back and those who do get through face the risk of being taken and killed by the neo-Nazi militias.

These conditions have left the people in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas the so-called Donbass region on Russia’s border dependent on relief supplies from Russia. Meanwhile, the Kiev regime — pumped up by prospects of weapons from Washington as well as more money — has toughened its tone with vows to crush the eastern rebellion once and for all.

Russia’s Hardening Line

The worsening situation in the east and the fear of U.S. military weapons arriving in the west have prompted a shift in Moscow’s view of the Ukraine crisis, including a readiness to resupply the ethnic Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and even provide military advisers.

These developments have alarmed European leaders who find themselves caught in the middle of a possible conflict between the United States and Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande rushed to Kiev and then Moscow this week to discuss possible ways to defuse the crisis.

The hardening Russian position now seeks, in effect, a division of Ukraine into two autonomous zones, the east and the west with a central government that maintains the currency and handles other national concerns. But I’m told that Moscow might still accept the earlier idea of a federated Ukraine with greater self-governance by the different regions.

Putin also does not object to Ukraine building closer economic ties to Europe and he offered a new referendum in Crimea on whether the voters still want to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, said a source familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking. But Putin’s red lines include no NATO expansion into Ukraine and protection for ethnic Russians by disarming the neo-Nazi militias, the source said.

If such an arrangement or something similar isn’t acceptable and if the killing of ethnic Russians continues, the Kremlin would support a large-scale military offensive from the east that would involve “taking Kiev,” according to the source.

A Russian escalation of that magnitude would likely invite a vigorous U.S. response, with leading American politicians and pundits sure to ratchet up demands for a military counterstrike against Russia. If Obama were to acquiesce to such bellicosity to avoid being called “weak” the world could be pushed to the brink of nuclear war.

Who’s to Blame?

Though the State Department and the mainstream U.S. media continue to put all the blame on Russia, the fact that the Ukraine crisis has reach such a dangerous crossroads reveals how reckless the behavior of Official Washington has been over the past year.

Nuland and other U.S. officials took an internal Ukrainian disagreement over how quickly it should expand ties to Europe while seeking to retain its historic relations with Russia and turned that fairly pedestrian political dispute into a possible flashpoint for a nuclear war.

At no time, as this crisis has evolved over the past year, did anyone of significance in Official Washington, whether in government or media, stop and contemplate whether this issue was worth risking the end of life on the planet. Instead, all the American people have been given is a steady diet of anti-Yanukovych and anti-Putin propaganda.

Though constitutionally elected, Yanukovych was depicted as a corrupt tyrant who had a pricy sauna in his official mansion. Though Putin had just staged the Winter Olympics in Sochi, signaling his desire for Russia to integrate more with the West, he was portrayed as either a new-age imperial czar or the second coming of Hitler if not worse because he occasionally would ride on a horse while not wearing a shirt.

Further, the U.S. news media refused to conduct a serious investigation into the evidence that Nuland and other U.S. officials had helped destabilize Yanukovych’s government with the goal of achieving another neocon “regime change.”

Nuland, who personally urged on anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev, discussed with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in early February 2014 who should lead the new government “Yats is the guy,” she said, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk and how to “glue this thing.”

After weeks of mounting tensions and worsening violence, the coup occurred on Feb. 22, 2014, when well-organized neo-Nazi and other right-wing militias from western Ukraine overran presidential buildings forcing officials to flee for their lives. With Yanukovych ousted, Yatsenyuk soon became Prime Minister. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “When Is a Putsch a Putsch.” ]

Many ethnic Russians in southern and eastern Ukraine, who had strongly supported Yanukovych, refused to accept the new U.S.-backed order in Kiev. Crimean officials and voters moved to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a move that Putin accepted because of Crimea’s historic ties to Russia and his fear that the Russian naval base at Sevastopol might be handed to NATO.

The resistance spread to eastern Ukraine where other ethnic Russians took up arms against the coup regime in Kiev, which responded with that it called an “anti-terrorist operation” against the east. To bolster the weak Ukrainian army, Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov dispatched neo-Nazi and other “volunteer” militias to spearhead the attacks.

After the deaths of more than 5,000 people, a shaky cease-fire was announced in September, but — amid complaints about neo-Nazi death squads operating in government-controlled areas and with life deteriorating in rebel-controlled towns and cities — the ethnic Russians launched an offensive in January, using Russian-supplied weapons to expand their control of territory.

In reaction, U.S. pundits, including columnists and editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, called for dispatching U.S. aid to the Kiev forces, including proposals for lethal weaponry to deter Putin’s “aggression.” Members of Congress and members of the Obama administration have joined the chorus.

On Feb. 2, the New York Times reported “With Russian-backed separatists pressing their attacks in Ukraine, NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, now supports providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kiev’s beleaguered forces, and an array of administration and military officials appear to be edging toward that position, American officials said. President Obama has made no decisions on providing such lethal assistance.”

That same day, the lead Times editorial was entitled “Mr. Putin Resumes His War” and continued with the theme about “Russian aggression” and the need “to increase the cost” if Russia demands “a permanent rebel-held enclave.”

On Feb. 3, the Washington Post ran an editorial entitled “Help for Ukraine. Defensive weapons could deter Russia in a way sanctions won’t.” The editorial concluded that Putin “will stop only if the cost to his regime is sharply raised and quickly.”

A new war fever gripped Washington and no one wanted to be viewed as “soft” or to be denounced as a “Putin apologist.” Amid this combination of propaganda, confusion and tough-guy-ism and lacking the tempering wisdom about war and nuclear weapons that restrained earlier U.S. presidents a momentum lurched toward a nuclear showdown over Ukraine that could put all life on earth in jeopardy.

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

 




US Deports Professor Sami Al-Arian

One of the ugliest post-9/11 trials was the terrorism prosecution of a Palestinian immigrant, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, for using strong words in criticizing Israel and backing Palestinian rights, a case that amounted to thought crimes. It has now ended with Al-Arian’s deportation, note Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Earlier this week, the U.S. government deported our friend and colleague, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, from the United States. Turkey has granted him sanctuary.

Since we first met Dr. Al-Arian a few years ago, he and his family have set standards for faithfulness, moral steadfastness, and commitment to truth to which we can only aspire.  More broadly, the U.S. government’s treatment of Dr. al Arian underscores an urgent reality: how the West treats Muslims, in the Middle East, where they are the overwhelming majority, and in diaspora communities in the West itself, is the defining moral and political challenge of our time.

The U.S. government’s actions against Sami Al-Arian and his family should remind all of us how badly the United States is failing that challenge.

Sami Al-Arian was targeted by the U.S. government because, during the 1990s, he emerged as one of the most prominent and effective advocates for Palestinian rights that U.S. officials had ever faced.

To offer some insight into his case and what it means, we highlight here two pieces. One, by Glenn Greenwald and his colleague at The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain, see here, assesses the U.S. government’s case against Dr. Al-Arian as a glaring example of post-9/11 “America’s eroding democratic values.”

This article explains how, as “part of a broader post-9/11 campaign by the U.S. government to criminalize aid and support to Palestinians,” Dr. Al-Arian was “indicted on multiple counts of providing ‘material support’ to [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and fundraising on their behalf in the United States.”

As the article recounts, “For most of the three years after his arrest, Al-Arian was kept in solitary confinement awaiting trial. During this time, he was regularly subjected to strip-searches, denied normal visitation rights with his family, and allegedly abused by prison staff. When Al-Arian’s case did finally reach trial after years of harsh imprisonment, prosecutors failed to convict Al-Arian on even one charge brought against him. Jurors voted to acquit him on the most serious counts he faced and deadlocked on the remainder of the indictments.

“The outcome was hugely embarrassing for the U.S. government. Despite having amassed over 20,000 hours of phone conversations and hundreds of fax messages from over a decade of surveilling Al-Arian, the [Justice Department], even with all the advantages they enjoyed in terrorism cases in 2003 (and continue to enjoy today), was unable to convince a jury Al-Arian was the arch-terrorist they had very publicly proclaimed him to be.

“Indeed, instead of producing evidence that Al-Arian was involved in actual ‘terrorism,’ the government attempted to use as evidence copies of books and magazines Al-Arian had owned in a failed effort to convince the jury to convict him of apparent thought crimes. This effort failed and a jury ruled to acquit Al-Arian on 8 out of 17 charges while failing to come to a verdict on the remainder.”

The article goes on to describe how, after his trial, “Al-Arian agreed to a plea bargain on the remaining charges by pleading guilty to one count of providing ‘contributions, goods or services’ to [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], a decision he says he undertook out of a desire to end the government’s ongoing persecution of him and win his release from prison.”

Still, “despite this plea, Al-Arian was not released from prison”; instead, the U.S. government plunged him into a legally Kafkaesque series of additional imprisonments on “civil contempt” charges. Finally, in 2014, after years of relentlessly persecuting Dr. Al-Arian, “the Federal government quietly and unceremoniously dropped all of their charges against [him].”

The second piece we want to highlight is a statement by Sami Al-Arian, released after his departure from the United States.  We append it below.

“To my dear friends and supporters,

“After 40 years, my time in the U.S. has come to an end. Like many immigrants of my generation, I came to the U.S. in 1975 to seek a higher education and greater opportunities. But I also wanted to live in a free society where freedom of speech, association and religion are not only tolerated but guaranteed and protected under the law. That’s why I decided to stay and raise my family here, after earning my doctorate in 1986. Simply put, to me, freedom of speech and thought represented the cornerstone of a dignified life.

“Today, freedom of expression has become a defining feature in the struggle to realize our humanity and liberty. The forces of intolerance, hegemony, and exclusionary politics tend to favor the stifling of free speech and the suppression of dissent. But nothing is more dangerous than when such suppression is perpetrated and sanctioned by government.

“As one early American once observed, ‘When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.’ Because government has enormous power and authority over its people, such control must be checked, and people, especially those advocating unpopular opinions, must have absolute protections from governmental overreach and abuse of power.

A case in point of course is the issue of Palestinian self-determination. In the United States, as well as in many other western countries, those who support the Palestinian struggle for justice, and criticize Israel’s occupation and brutal policies, have often experienced an assault on their freedom of speech in academia, media, politics and society at large.

“After the tragic events of September 11th, such actions by the government intensified, in the name of security. Far too many people have been targeted and punished because of their unpopular opinions or beliefs.

“During their opening statement in my trial in June 2005, my lawyers showed the jury two poster-sized photographs of items that government agents took during searches of my home many years earlier. In one photo, there were several stacks of books taken from my home library. The other photo showed a small gun I owned at the time.

“The attorney looked the jury in the eyes and said: ‘This is what this case is about. When the government raided my client’s house, this is what they seized,’ he said, pointing to the books, ‘and this is what they left,’ he added, pointing to the gun in the other picture. ‘This case is not about terrorism but about my client’s right to freedom of speech,’ he continued.

“Indeed, much of the evidence the government presented to the jury during the six-month trial were speeches I delivered, lectures I presented, articles I wrote, magazines I edited, books I owned, conferences I convened, rallies I attended, interviews I gave, news I heard, and websites I never even accessed.

“But the most disturbing part of the trial was not that the government offered my speeches, opinions, books, writings, and dreams into evidence, but that an intimidated judicial system allowed them to be admitted into evidence. That’s why we applauded the jury’s verdict.

“Our jurors represented the best society had to offer. Despite all of the fear-mongering and scare tactics used by the authorities, the jury acted as free people, people of conscience, able to see through Big Brother’s tactics. One hard lesson that must be learned from the trial is that political cases should have no place in a free and democratic society.

“But despite the long and arduous ordeal and hardships suffered by my family, I leave with no bitterness or resentment in my heart whatsoever. In fact, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and experiences afforded to me and my family in this country, and for the friendships we’ve cultivated over the decades. These are lifelong connections that could never be affected by distance.

“I would like to thank God for all the blessings in my life.  My faith sustained me during my many months in solitary confinement and gave me comfort that justice would ultimately prevail.

“Our deep thanks go to the friends and supporters across the U.S., from university professors to grassroots activists, individuals and organizations, who have stood alongside us in the struggle for justice.

“My trial attorneys, Linda Moreno and the late Bill Moffitt, were the best advocates anyone could ask for, both inside and outside of the courtroom. Their spirit, intelligence, passion and principle were inspirational to so many.

“I am also grateful to Jonathan Turley and his legal team, whose tireless efforts saw the case to its conclusion. Jonathan’s commitment to justice and brilliant legal representation resulted in the government finally dropping the case. Our gratitude also goes to my immigration lawyers, Ira Kurzban and John Pratt, for the tremendous work they did in smoothing the way for this next phase of our lives.

“Thanks also to my children for their patience, perseverance and support during the challenges of the last decade. I am so proud of them. Finally, my wife Nahla h​as been a pillar of love, strength and resilience. She kept our family together during the most difficult times. There are no words to convey the extent of my gratitude.

“We look forward to the journey ahead and take with us the countless happy memories we formed during our life in the United States.”

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of  Going to Tehran.




From Tiger Cages to Soup Kitchens

Exclusive: As a young man, Don Luce crossed paths with history in Vietnam, evolving from a gung-ho U.S. aid worker into a persuasive opponent of the war, famously exposing the use of “tiger cages” to hold political prisoners, but his life took other remarkable turns, as Ted Lieverman describes.

By Ted Lieverman

On a wet, chilly Wednesday night in April 2013, Don Luce opens the weekly parolee class at Community Missions, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Niagara Falls, New York. The meetings are a loose collection of practical lessons useful for those trying to re-enter the outside world after prison: common grammar and vocabulary usage mistakes, basic statistical concepts, advice on work and educational opportunities.

 

Attendance is encouraged but not mandatory, and several of the students show up late, others don’t make it at all, and one anxious woman wordlessly leaves within 15 minutes. A man called Angel happily announces that he has just been hired at a furniture store. Two guests, Carol and Marcia, are managers from Target, come to give pointers on job interviews.

Not surprisingly, the key question the parolees have is how to talk about their criminal convictions and prison sentences. “Don’t lie,” warn the guests; openly talk about it but be sure to describe how you’re not the same person anymore, how you’ve learned from the experience.  “What if it was bad?” asks Desmond, an anxious parolee. How bad? Well, he cut another inmate. . . with a knife . . . and got sent to maximum confinement. He is now 21 years old.

Luce hears such stories often. He empathizes with the parolees and understands the difficulties they face. He has seen worse. In fact, Don Luce has spent most of his life working with prisoners – those in physical prisons made of iron and stone, and the metaphorical prisoners of poverty and war.

He lived and worked in Vietnam from 1958 until his expulsion in 1971, first as an aid worker, then a journalist; first a supporter of the American war effort, then a pacifist and war opponent. His sincerity and intimate knowledge of Vietnamese life – he is still fluent in Vietnamese, a notoriously difficult language for westerners to master – made his writings and speeches about Vietnam so effective that the last U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, testifying before Congress in 1976, paid Luce the ultimate back-handed compliment: that Luce was one of the principal reasons the U.S. lost the war.

Helping Others 

Luce’s quiet courage, his dedication to helping those that Camus called the humiliated and debased, inspired a generation of young humanitarian volunteers who went to Vietnam. Jacqui Chagnon, an aid worker who met Luce in Vietnam in the late 1960s, said Luce “was probably one of the most formative people in my life for my values and for the way I was to work in the future.”

Fred Branfman, who displayed his own remarkable courage exposing the U.S. bombing of Laos during the four years he was there, called Luce a “genuine American hero” – incredibly courageous, very little ego, total commitment to protecting the Vietnamese.

Luce is perhaps best remembered for helping members of the U.S. Congress uncover the infamous “tiger cage” prison cells in South Vietnam in 1970. Less well-known are his successes in helping convince North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces to release American journalists from custody, and persuading a South Vietnamese warden to release student activists through the liberal application of Johnny Walker and Marlboros.

Just turned 80, Luce still travels to Vietnam regularly, and is still working full-time closer to home to aid the poor and dispossessed. In his thirties and forties, he says, he tried to change the big policies; “now I try to concentrate on helping a few people have an easier life.” Now, he says, he looks at life “from a Niagara Falls soup kitchen perspective.”

The Aid Worker

Luce grew up on a 220-acre farm in East Calais, Vermont, a small village of some 200 people. A family caregiver told him stories about the work of missionaries in Africa, and he developed a strong desire to do good works overseas. Luce joined International Voluntary Services (IVS), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that was the model for the Peace Corps. IVS’s biggest project was in South Vietnam, a country suffering from extreme poverty, autocratic government and a growing leftist insurgency but there were no U.S. combat troops there yet. IVS received virtually all of the money for its Vietnam program from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In 1958, Luce saw himself as a typical farm boy with no real interest in politics. He thought Dwight Eisenhower was a good president, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles a great man, and American support for South Vietnam important in saving America from communism. On Nov. 9, 1958, he arrived in South Vietnam and was sent to Ban Me Thuot, a provincial capital in the Central Highlands largely populated with Catholics who, at the urging of the Americans and South Vietnamese officials, had fled the communist North.

For the first month, he studied the Vietnamese language with a 15 year-old boy, much of the instruction transmitted by playing the Vietnamese dice game called Horse. By Christmas Eve, Luce was able to appear at the local church and give a simple speech, which Luce describes as, “Hello, my name is Don. I am fine. I am glad to be in Viet Nam. Thank you very much.” His language skills improved as he worked to introduce a higher yielding strain of sweet potatoes to the peasant farmers.

Life in Saigon

In 1960, Luce became associate country director for IVS and moved to Saigon; in 1961, he was appointed IVS Country Director for Vietnam. During his time as director, the IVS mission widened its mission from agricultural advice to include teaching and community development, and it also started accepting female volunteers; by 1967, IVS had 120 volunteers in Vietnam.

Luce was known for being soft-spoken and relying on a low-keyed, understated style of leadership. He was very calm, stable, and confident, but he worked constantly, was very determined, “consumed with the Vietnamese cause,” in the words of one former volunteer.

Gloria Emerson, the New York Times correspondent in Vietnam for three years, described Luce as “a gentle and austere man, born without a temper, almost unable to return anger.” Carl Robinson of Associated Press later referred to him as “a deceptively calm and unemotional person.”

When conflict arose, Luce generally avoided personal attacks to focus on institutional or policy failures. He believed that people doing bad things could generally be convinced that their conduct was wrong, or counterproductive, and could change. Asked about his calm approach, Luce quotes a line from the poetry of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “Remember, brother, remember / Man is not our enemy.”

The IVS volunteers in Vietnam were idealistic and motivated to do good, but it was hard for them to ignore the effects of the conflict. Luce himself began having doubts about the efficacy of the American effort.

A speech by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in 1964 seemed to symbolize the problem. McNamara had come to Saigon for consultations on the war and later addressed a large crowd of civil servants and Saigonese supporters of the government. Luce was there with some of his students.

At the end of his remarks in English, McNamara raised his arms in the air to shout in Vietnamese, “Viet Nam muon nam,” intending to say “Vietnam will win.” Unfortunately for the Secretary, Vietnamese is a tonal language in which words have very different meanings depending on the accent and inflection. What McNamara had actually said to the bemused crowd astute enough to nevertheless cheer loudly was “The southern duck wants to lie down.”

Growing Doubts

As the American military effort in Vietnam ratcheted up in 1965, IVS found itself being dragged into the conflict. Some were killed, and a number of IVS staff started to openly question the merits of their own work. By 1967, Luce and others decided that their work with IVS could not really help the Vietnamese in the midst of the American war effort.

At a big staff meeting over the July Fourth weekend in 1967, Luce and three other senior staff announced they were resigning from IVS. A group of volunteers together drafted a letter to President Lyndon Johnson expressing their dismay with the war; 49 volunteers signed the letter. A group of IVSers presented the letter to U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker in Saigon. Luce says the Ambassador was “cordial” but called their handling of the letter and resignations “unethical and discourteous.”

Vice President Hubert Humphrey later called the IVS resignations “one of the greatest disservices to the American effort in Viet Nam.” On the other hand, many Vietnamese were supportive of the letter. One Vietnamese acquaintance said, “We thought you were CIA but now we know differently.” Luce began to be noticed in the press.

Luce returned to the U.S. in September 1967 and spent several months at Cornell University as a research associate, and also gave speeches around the country on his misgivings about the war. Luce and former IVS team leader John Sommer also used that year to write a book, Vietnam: The Unheard Voices, which Luce saw as an extension of their letter to President Johnson, describing the terrible destruction that the war was causing.

The book had an impact because it was written by Americans who spoke the language, and knew a good deal about the culture of Vietnam from spending long days and weeks with peasants, slum dwellers, internal refugees and students. It was not so much an analysis of American strategy as a description of what was happening to the Vietnamese.

“We were trying to find a way to give the Vietnamese a voice in the debate,” Luce says.

In mid-1968, Luce returned to Vietnam, this time funded by the World Council of Churches to ostensibly write a report on post-war reconstruction assuming there would be a post-war. Luce understood his mandate more broadly, to “do what you feel is important to be done in Vietnam.”

Most of his efforts went into freelance journalism – but he quickly learned that his authorship did not count for much with the press and tried a different approach. He worked with his Vietnamese friends and acquaintances to uncover stories about prisons, poverty, refugees in the camps and urban slums, and what the voluntary agencies were doing.

Living Above a Brothel

Luce lived in a top floor apartment of a seventh-floor walk-up on Avenue Louis Pasteur in the heart of Saigon; the floors below him housed a brothel for American soldiers. Luce used to spend time in conversation with the sex workers and got to know a number of them well; he saw them as similar in many ways to the political prisoners, being degraded and held hostage by the war.

In late 1969 or early 1970, some of his Saigon students asked Luce to assist in freeing a student being held prisoner at Thu Duc prison on the outskirts of Saigon. How do I do that, Luce asked in confusion. Simple, said the students, you’re an American, you can do anything. The warden likes Johnny Walker; take him a bottle and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes.

Luce tried it, purchasing his gifts from the American PX. He offered the warden the carton of Marlboros, and they shared a drink from the bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label that Luce had brought . . . then another, then more. After a while, the warden was in a very friendly mood and Luce, who rarely drank alcohol, was close to drunk.

Luce started, you have one of my students here, he’s very anticommunist, pro-American (Luce was inventing here), can’t you release him to my custody? The warden initially shook his head, saying “You Americans don’t understand.” Luce kept asking, can’t you give me just this one? Finally, the warden ordered an aide to go get the prisoner in question: “I don’t want him anymore.”

The freed prisoner laughed hysterically with happiness and relief as they drove back to town, and they were met by joyous students. “We didn’t think you could really do it,” one told Luce.

Luce tried this on another half dozen trips, always bringing a bottle of Johnny Walker and a carton of Marlboros. The warden was always pleasant but did not always release a prisoner – though once he released three prisoners at one time. Luce did not visit the warden again after July 1970; after the tiger cages incident, “he probably would have shot me.”

Freeing Journalists

Luce even succeeded in aiding the release of imprisoned Americans. In May 1970, three American journalists were captured while reporting in Cambodia: Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Michael Morrow of Dispatch News Service, and Elizabeth Pond of the Christian Science Monitor. No one knew initially who held them, although it was suspected that they had been captured by either Viet Cong or North Vietnamese troops.

Luce knew the reporters and wanted to do something to assist in their release. He was sure that some of his students were secretly connected to the liberation forces but didn’t know which ones. During class, he told his students that the three reporters were decent, honest journalists and that if any of the students had any contacts that might assist in their release, he hoped that they would pass the word.

Soon after that, Luce received a message by word of mouth, telling him that some people would like to talk to him about the reporters. He was instructed to go to Brodard, a fancy bakery and ice cream parlor on Tu Do (now renamed Dong Khoi) Street in Saigon, at a certain time, and that he would be invited to join some people.

Luce went to the parlor at the appointed time and sat down. After a few minutes, a friendly Vietnamese man invited Luce to join him and his friend. The two Vietnamese had heard about banana splits and ordered one each. As they ate, Luce answered questions about the three reporters and passed around articles they had written.

On June 15, the three journalists were freed on Highway 1 inside Cambodia and got a ride to Saigon on South Vietnamese Army trucks. Luce received another message thanking him for his “important” information which had been helpful, and that his friends had been released.

As it happens, Luce was not the only one working on the journalists’ release. Unknown to him, Pham Xuan An, North Vietnam’s top spy in the South whose cover was a writer for Time Magazine and who had been Pond’s interpreter, conveyed his own messages to the North Vietnamese military command, urging them to free his friends.

As Luce says, “It’s one of those things you never know, beyond the banana split, just what happened.”

Uncovering the Tiger Cages

Undoubtedly, Luce is principally famous – or infamous, depending on one’s views – for his role in uncovering the “tiger cages,” tiny prison cells used by the South Vietnamese government to hold recalcitrant prisoners.

In 1970, Con Son prison – located on the principal island of the Con Dau archipelago, some 60 miles off of the coast of South Vietnam – housed almost 10,000 prisoners, of which some 500 were political prisoners kept in small cages in a walled-off section.  Luce had heard about the tiger cages and relayed what he knew to Tom Harkin, then a Congressional staff aide to a delegation of Congressmen visiting Vietnam (Harkin was later elected to the U.S. Senate).

Harkin arranged to have two of the Congressmen travel to Con Son and try to uncover the secret tiger cages – cages that the South Vietnamese and U.S. governments said no longer existed. They succeeded in a dramatic fashion, bringing out a first-hand account and photographs of the miserable conditions.

The tiger cage story, coming out shortly after the American invasion of Cambodia and the widespread campus demonstrations (including the killing of four students at Kent State by Ohio National Guard troops), received widespread international coverage in which Luce was frequently quoted. The South Vietnamese government soon announced that the tiger cage unit was being demolished and treatment of prisoners upgraded.

The South Vietnamese government took a dim view of Luce’s activities, particularly the attention given to Con Son prison. In October 1970, the Saigon government informed Luce that his press card would be revoked. Luce’s landlady, happy to run a large brothel but nervous about tenants who criticized the government, evicted him.

Now Luce was followed while walking around the city. He came home to his new apartment one night to find the door broken, his papers searched, and a poisonous snake tied inside of his bed sheets. On April 17, 1971, Luce received an official letter expelling him from the country and left two weeks later.

The Activist

Now back in the U.S., Luce became a full-time antiwar activist. He and other IVS veterans created the Indochina Mobile Education Project, affiliated with the Indochina Resource Center and Project Air War, three nonprofits operating from a small four-story office building just off Dupont Circle in Washington.

He and most of the staff spent their time touring the country in two minivans, named Winnie Wham and Dangerous Dan, to talk about the war and its effects on both Vietnam and America. They hit almost every state in the continental U.S. and spent a lot of time in small towns. The main event always featured a Vietnamese dinner which Don and his team would cook, usually thich ga (stewed chicken) and goi ga (chicken salad made with cabbage). Dinner cost $4 to $5 and was an effective draw, generally netting anywhere from 100 to 125 people.

Chagnon remembers Luce as a persuasive speaker, quiet but firm, speaking about values, not ideology. Luce would say – truthfully – that he was just a farm boy and proceed from there. Their days often lasted from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.; Chagnon says it was like being part of a political campaign.

Not everyone reacted well to the antiwar message. In Augusta Georgia, a man announced he wanted to kill Luce for being a foreigner. “I’m from Vermont,” Luce protested. “I told you you’re a foreigner,” the man replied and began to choke Luce. Later, Luce’s office/living quarters in Washington were firebombed; he remembered how his green telephone melted from the heat with plastic icicles dripping down.

Backhanded Compliment

If Luce wondered about his effectiveness in hastening the end of the Vietnam War, he may have been somewhat reassured by the back-handed compliment he received from Graham Martin, the last U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam.

Testifying before a subcommittee of the House Committee on International Relations on Jan. 27, 1976, Martin assured Congress that the final collapse of the South Vietnamese government had nothing to do with the policies of Saigon or Washington, but was caused “by one of the best propaganda and pressure organizations the world has ever seen,” largely organized by the Indochina Resource Center and “the multi-faceted activities of Mr. Don Luce. . . .[T]hose individuals deserve enormous credit for a very effective performance.”

Apparently too effective under the circumstances, as Martin continued, “I think we ought to look with some precision at organizations and their origins, their background and their affiliations, who are trying to influence American foreign policy.”

Columnist Mary McGrory observed in the New York Post, “For those who know the [Indochina Resource] center, which is a shoestring enterprise quartered in a grubby house on 18th Street, it was a little grotesque.”

Moving to Niagara Falls

In 1979, while working in New York, Luce met Mark Bonacci, and they have been together ever since. They moved to Niagara Falls in 1981, where Luce was doing some part-time teaching. Bonacci began teaching at Niagara Falls Community College, where he is now a tenured professor.

In 1979, Edward J. Rasen, a freelance journalist, sought Luce’s help to get an exclusive interview with Pham Van Dong, then prime minister of the unified Vietnam, an iron-willed revolutionary compatriot of Ho Chi Minh and General Giap.

Rasen thought that Luce’s good contacts with the Vietnamese might secure the interview, but there was one potential problem: he was selling the interview to Penthouse magazine, where the readership was primarily driven by the copious display of naked female flesh.

Luce arranged a meeting with the staff at the Vietnamese delegation to the United Nations in New York. Here’s the advantage of doing the interview, Luce said: Penthouse had a large circulation in the U.S. (the publisher boasted that it exceeded five million worldwide at that time), particularly among two groups, members of the U.S. military and residents of Washington, D.C. The disadvantage, Luce continued, was, well- and here he handed out about a dozen back issues and suggested they look through them to understand what kind of content the magazine was based on.

Luce believed that the Vietnamese, though generally modest, did not have the same sexual hang-ups that existed in the U.S., and so he was not surprised that the government approved the interview request.

Rasen conducted the interview of Dong during a Summit Meeting of the Nonaligned Nations in Havana, Cuba, in September 1979, with Luce sharing the interpreting with one of Dong’s official interpreters. Penthouse published the seven-page interview in its January 1980 issue, and both Rasen and Luce were given credit for the article.

A Shattered Land

Rasen asked Luce for help on another, even bigger story. In December 1978, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia to end the reign of the Khmer Rouge and was fighting its way across the country. Rasen wanted Luce to help an ABC camera crew explore the “liberated” areas and report on what had happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Together with ABC correspondent Jim Laurie and a couple of Vietnamese and Cambodian minders, they drove their old Ford minivan from Saigon – now officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City – into Cambodia and across 11 of the 19 provinces for six weeks during the period November 1979-January 1980, conducting interviews and recording the almost complete destruction of Cambodian society. The documentary, This Shattered Land, aired on ABC on March 29, 1980.

Laurie, a seasoned journalist who stayed in Saigon for a month after the city fell in 1975, has nothing but praise for Luce. Luce constantly pitched in with whatever needed to be done, and was always on the lookout for Vietnamese speakers so that he could do interviews without going through the minders. He had an intuitive quality for the work and a good sense of people; he could get good material in the interviews.

“Luce is the ultimate humanitarian,” he says, a man of character who was modest and understated and followed through on his promises. But Laurie also found him a man of mystery, quiet about his Vietnamese contacts.

For some reason, ABC had provisioned them with dozens of cans of peanuts. Whenever they stopped to eat, crowds of starving Cambodians would gather to sit around them and quietly watch. It was unthinkable to Luce that he and the news crew would simply eat in front of these shattered people, so he would pass the can of peanuts to the first Cambodian, who would take a single peanut and pass the can to the next person. That Cambodian would also take a single peanut and pass the can – and so it went around the circle until the can was empty.

Meeting Pol Pot

After travelling with Rasen and Laurie, Luce went back to northeastern Cambodia through Thailand with a different television news crew for an even more dicey assignment – accepting an invitation to interview Pol Pot, known as Brother Number One, the head of the Khmer Rouge and the person most responsible for the death of some 1.7 million Cambodians during that reign of terror.

Actually, Luce isn’t sure whether they were in Thailand or Cambodia at that point – the border, like the international politics concerning Thailand and the Khmer Rouge at that point, was ambiguous.

Upon reaching the Khmer Rouge camp, Pol Pot said you’re just in time for dinner. It was chicken. How did Luce feel? “It’s always a dilemma, what do you do if you meet someone truly evil? We ate the chicken.”

Over the course of a couple of hours, Pol Pot was gregarious, displaying a lot of charisma, but Luce kept thinking of the mass graves he had seen, the horrors of the Tuol Sleng torture center, and the photograph of Sokham Hing, a friend who disappeared into the killing fields, on display at the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

Pol Pot denied that any of the bodies were Khmer Rouge victims; he asserted that all of those people had been killed by the Vietnamese. Watched by armed guards, Luce and his party did not argue, feeling with some justification that they would not have gotten out alive if they had.

In 1998, Luce joined the staff of Community Missions in Niagara Falls, an all-purpose charity that runs a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, and assistance for parolees and those with mental or emotional problems. As Director of Public Relations, Luce helps publicize and run various fundraisers: the Gospel Fest, the Lobster Fest, the Sweetheart dinner, the golf classic, the 5k walk, and the November auction of donated antiques and fine arts. Most mornings during the week, he and his assistant, one of the shelter residents, pick up donated food at local supermarkets and restaurants.

Not Decrepit

Luce turned 80 last Sept. 20; he and Bonacci celebrated with a quiet dinner out. In May, they held a large party for 80 or 90 people at their apartment as a fundraiser for the Mission. Originally, the fundraising party was to celebrate Don and Mark’s 35th anniversary on May 31, but they didn’t want to provoke any antigay response that might hurt the Mission. So they shifted the theme to Luce’s birthday and took in about $5,000 in donations. Their elderly neighbor was reportedly confused as to why there were two male figurines standing atop the cake.

Luce remembers that his mother Margaret kept working even after turning 65 – the family was quite poor – and he thought that was terrible, working when you’re old and decrepit, she should have more common sense. But Margaret lived until she was 95 or 96, and now that Luce is 80, he finds his own views on work have changed. He has no plans to retire; indeed, he fears retirement.

“Golf would be incredibly boring,” he says. “Without work, I would probably stay home, do puzzles and eat; it sounds like fun in the short run, but I would quickly get bored.”

He’s moving slower than in the past, the result in part of a hip replacement about ten years ago, and he has to watch his diet due to diabetes, but he is far from decrepit (“I’ll charge you with deceiving people if you say I’m decrepit!”). He shrugs off the suggestion that he could get a comfortable job at a research institute somewhere; he’s happy continuing his life as it is.

He’s had the opportunity to work with wonderful people who faced incredible challenges, he says: Catholic refugees who fled communist North Vietnam, Saigon students who faced prison and torture for opposing the government in South Vietnam, families with AIDS in Cambodia, now the homeless and parolees in Niagara Falls.

Luce remembers that on one of his trips to Vietnam in 1973 or 1974, he was taken by jeep along the Ho Chi Minh trail, a dangerous journey considering that the U.S. or South Vietnamese planes were still bombing it to interdict North Vietnamese supplies.

At one point their jeep approached a river but showed no signs of slowing down. Now what, thought Luce, do I tell the driver there’s a river in front of us? Luce said nothing, the driver did not slacken his speed . . . and the jeep roared on, seemingly driving on water. A few inches below the surface of the water was a bridge, invisible from the air but solid, carrying the vehicle forward.

A great story – maybe even a metaphor for something, like how Luce has been able to follow his own path so clearly while many others never find the road. But Luce says that never occurred to him. It’s just a story about what happened.

Ted Lieverman is a free-lance documentary photographer and writer based in Philadelphia.  www.tmlphotojournal.com.  ©2015 Ted Lieverman




Why Syria’s Assad Must Not Go — Yet

America’s neocons and liberal war hawks still want a U.S. military intervention in Syria to enforce their “Assad must go” mantra, but President Obama has realized that such a “regime change” could bring the Islamic State to power, a worse predicament, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

The intractable, multidimensional civil war in Syria is as intractable, and immune to clean solutions, as it ever has been. The basic conundrum is that we loathe two players in the conflict, the Assad regime and ISIS, and would like to be rid of them both, but they are the two strongest players and each constitutes the most significant opposition to the other. This multilateral structure of the war, however frustrating and policy-complicating it may be, is for the foreseeable future inescapable.

We are reminded, especially by those in what passes for a secular opposition in Syria, that the regime is genuinely brutal, with its barrel-bombing of civilian areas and similarly inexcusable tactics. But making sound policy, by the United States or any other outside power, is not a simple matter of reading a brutality meter, and that was true even before the most recent act of unspeakable brutality by ISIS.

The most prudent, and least bad, U.S. policies toward Syria need to be based on the assumption that Bashar al-Assad is not likely to go away any time soon. There are at least three reasons that policy should be based on that assumption.

One reason involves a pragmatic recognition of reality, in that Assad’s departure is simply beyond the ability of the United States or any player inside Syria to bring about any time soon (barring a full-scale U.S. military intervention, which would be folly for a host of other reasons). There are soft and brittle parts in this regime, but it would be useful to recall how many predictions of the regime’s demise since the Syrian war began have proven to be wrong.

A second reason is that in most conflicts it would be a prescription for failure, and/or for embarking on an incredibly costly enterprise, to take on simultaneously two different antagonists who are fighting against each other. Think about what World War II in Europe would be like if the United States had tried to take on Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR at the same time.

The repeatedly expressed hopes placed in a Syrian “moderate opposition” as an alternative winning horse to back in this contest have repeatedly been shown to be held in vain. This situation is not something that can be corrected with more voluminous aid or more alacrity in dispensing it.

If the dispensing has been measured and hesitant, that is an appropriate recognition of how with the fluid line-up of protagonists in this civil war, men and materiel easily move from one participant to another and get into what we would consider the wrong hands.

A third reason is that collapse of the current Syria regime under the pressure of war could easily mean the loss of the only structure separating Syria from anarchy that would be even worse than what exists there now. We should have learned some lessons in this regard from what happened in de-Baathicized Iraq and what is still happening today in Libya.

In recent months the Obama administration appears to have accepted an understanding of these realities and talks less than it did earlier about the ouster of Assad as a policy priority. Because of that, it has been criticized by some other governments in the region who have different priorities.

The United States needs to consider its own interests in setting its own priorities rather than bowing to the priorities of others. The Turks, for example, have their own particular issues with Assad and Turkey-specific concerns about any cooperation with the Syrian Kurds. Many Arabs, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, think of Syrian affairs the same way they think of many Middle Eastern affairs, viewing them in terms of sectarian conflicts and asking first of all, “What’s good for the Sunnis?” That is not the sort of question that should guide U.S. policy.

In the longer run, significant political change in Syria will be necessary for that country to have any hope of stability. Bashar Assad will not be atop any Syrian political order that is reasonably just and stable. But the near term is what we face now, and what needs to be navigated successfully before we ever get to the long term.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia and Israel

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia is under a new cloud after a jailed al-Qaeda operative implicated senior Saudi officials as collaborators with the terror group and the shadow could even darken the political future of Israeli Prime Netanyahu because of his odd-couple alliance with Riyadh, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The disclosure that convicted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui has identified leading members of the Saudi government as financers of the terrorist network potentially reshapes how Americans will perceive events in the Middle East and creates a risk for Israel’s Likud government which has forged an unlikely alliance with some of these same Saudis.

According to a story in the New York Times on Wednesday, Moussaoui said in a prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of the group’s donors and that the list included Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar bin Sultan, longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many leading clerics.

“Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money,” Moussaoui said in imperfect English, “who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad.”

Although Moussaoui’s credibility came under immediate attack from the Saudi kingdom, his assertions mesh with accounts from members of the U.S. Congress who have seen a secret portion of the 9/11 report that addresses alleged Saudi support for al-Qaeda.

Further complicating the predicament for Saudi Arabia is that, more recently, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms have been identified as backers of Sunni militants fighting in Syria to overthrow the largely secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The major rebel force benefiting from this support is al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

In other words, the Saudis appear to have continued a covert relationship with al-Qaeda-connected jihadists to the present day.

The Israeli Exposure

And, like the Saudis, the Israelis have sided with the Sunni militants in Syria because the Israelis share the Saudi view that Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” reaching from Tehran and Baghdad to Damascus and Beirut is the greatest threat to their interests in the Middle East.

That shared concern has pushed Israel and Saudi Arabia into a de facto alliance, though the collaboration between Jerusalem and Riyadh has been mostly kept out of the public eye. Still, it has occasionally peeked out from under the covers as the two governments deploy their complementary assets Saudi oil and money and Israeli political and media clout in areas where they have mutual interests.

In recent years, these historic enemies have cooperated in their joint disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (which was overthrown in 2013), in seeking the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria, and in pressing for a more hostile U.S. posture toward Iran.

Israel and Saudi Arabia also have collaborated in efforts to put the squeeze on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is deemed a key supporter of both Iran and Syria. The Saudis have used their power over oil production to drive down prices and hurt Russia’s economy, while U.S. neoconservatives who share Israel’s geopolitical world view were at the forefront of the coup that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

The behind-the-scenes Israeli-Saudi alliance has put the two governments uncomfortably at times on the side of Sunni jihadists battling Shiite influence in Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq. On Jan. 18, 2015, for instance, Israel attacked Lebanese-Iranian advisers assisting Assad’s government in Syria, killing several members of Hezbollah and an Iranian general. These military advisors were engaged in operations against al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, Israel has refrained from attacking Nusra Front militants who have seized Syrian territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. One source familiar with U.S. intelligence information on Syria told me that Israel has a “non-aggression pact” with these Nusra forces.

An Odd Alliance

Israel’s odd-couple alliances with Sunni interests have evolved over the past several years, as Israel and Saudi Arabia emerged as strange bedfellows in the geopolitical struggle against Shiite-ruled Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. In Syria, for instance, senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail in the civil war rather than Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam.

In September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

And, in June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

Skepticism and Doubt

In August 2013, when I first reported on the growing relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia in an article entitled “The Saudi-Israeli Superpower,” the story was met with much skepticism. But, increasingly, this secret alliance has gone public.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted at it in his United Nations General Assembly speech, which was largely devoted to excoriating Iran over its nuclear program and threatening a unilateral Israeli military strike.

Amid the bellicosity, Netanyahu dropped in a largely missed clue about the evolving power relationships in the Middle East, saying: “The dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”

The next day, Israel’s Channel 2 TV news reported that senior Israeli security officials had met with a high-level Gulf state counterpart in Jerusalem, believed to be Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States who was then head of Saudi intelligence.

The reality of this unlikely alliance has now even reached the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Time magazine correspondent Joe Klein described the new coziness in an article in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue.

He wrote: “On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

“They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and ‘don’t want to fight Israel anymore.’”

Though Klein detected only the bright side of this détente, there was a dark side as well, as referenced in Moussaoui’s deposition, which identified Prince Turki as one of al-Qaeda’s backers. Perhaps even more unsettling was his listing of Prince Bandar, who had long presented himself as a U.S. friend, so close to the Bush Family that he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.”

Moussaoui claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, at a time when Bandar was the ambassador to the United States.

According to the New York Times article by Scott Shane, Moussaoui said he was assigned to “find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” but that he was arrested on Aug. 16, 2001, before he could carry out the reconnaissance mission.

The thought of anyone in the Saudi embassy, then under the control of “Bandar Bush,” scheming with al-Qaeda to shoot down George W. Bush’s Air Force One is shocking, if true. The notion would have been considered unthinkable even after the 9/11 attacks, which involved 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers.

After those terror attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans, Bandar went to the White House and persuaded Bush to arrange for the rapid extraction of bin Laden’s family members and other Saudis in the United States. Bush agreed to help get those Saudi nationals out on the first flights allowed back into the air.

Bandar’s intervention undercut the FBI’s chance to learn more about the ties between Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 perpetrators by giving FBI agents only time for cursory interviews with the departing Saudis.

Bandar himself was close to the bin Laden family and acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the jihad project in Afghanistan during the 1980s. “I was not impressed, to be honest with you,” Bandar told CNN’s Larry King about bin Laden. “I thought he was simple and very quiet guy.”

The Saudi government claimed to have broken ties with bin Laden in the early 1990s when he began targeting the United States because President George H.W. Bush had stationed U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, but if Moussaoui is telling the truth al-Qaeda would have still counted Bandar among its supporters in the late 1990s.

Bandar and Putin

Bandar’s possible links to Sunni terrorism also emerged in 2013 during a confrontation between Bandar and Putin over what Putin viewed as Bandar’s crude threat to unleash Chechen terrorists against the Sochi Winter Olympics if Putin did not reduce his support for the Syrian government.

According to a leaked diplomatic account of a July 31, 2013 meeting in Moscow, Bandar informed Putin that Saudi Arabia had strong influence over Chechen extremists who had carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Russian targets and who had since deployed to join the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.

As Bandar called for a Russian shift toward the Saudi position on Syria, he reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on the Olympics. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.”

Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” failed to intimidate Putin, who continued to support Assad.

Less than a month later, an incident in Syria almost forced President Barack Obama’s hand in launching U.S. air strikes against Assad’s military, which would have possibly opened the path for the Nusra Front or the Islamic State to capture Damascus and take control of Syria. On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious sarin attack outside Damascus killed hundreds and, in the U.S. media, the incident was immediately blamed on the Assad regime.

American neocons and their allied “liberal interventionists” demanded that Obama launch retaliatory air strikes even though some U.S. intelligence analysts doubted that Assad’s forces were responsible and suspected that the attack was carried out by extremist rebels trying to pull the U.S. military into the civil war on their side.

Yet, pushed by the neocons and liberal war hawks, Obama nearly ordered a bombing campaign designed to “degrade” the Syrian military but called it off at the last minute. He then accepted Putin’s help in reaching a diplomatic solution in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while still denying any role in the sarin attack.

Later, the Assad-did-it case crumbled amid new evidence that Sunni extremists, supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were the more likely perpetrators of the attack, a scenario that became increasingly persuasive as Americans learned more about the cruelty and ruthlessness of many Sunni jihadists fighting in Syria. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]

Targeting Putin

Putin’s cooperation with Obama to head off a U.S. military strike in Syria made the Russian president more of a target for the American neocons who thought they finally had reached the cusp of their long-desired “regime change” in Syria only to be blocked by Putin. By late September 2013, a leading neocon, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, announced the goal of challenging Putin and recognizing his sore point in Ukraine.

Taking to the Washington Post’s op-ed page on Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important step toward ultimately ousting Putin. Gershman wrote, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.   Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.“]

However, in early 2014, Putin was obsessed with Bandar’s implicit threat of terrorism striking the Sochi Olympics, thus distracting him from the “regime change” being pushed by NED and neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland next door in Ukraine.

On Feb. 22, 2014, putschists, spearheaded by well-organized neo-Nazi militias, drove elected President Viktor Yanukovych and his government from power. Putin was caught off-guard and, in the resulting political chaos, agreed to requests from Crimean officials and voters to accept Crimea back into Russia, thus exploding his cooperative relationship with Obama.

With Putin the new pariah in Official Washington, the neocon hand also was strengthened in the Middle East where renewed pressure could be put on the “Shiite crescent” in Syria and Iran. However, in summer 2014, the Islamic State, which had splintered off from al-Qaeda and its Nusra Front, went on a rampage, invading Iraq where captured soldiers were beheaded. The Islamic State then engaged in gruesome videotaped decapitations of Western hostages inside Syria.

The Islamic State’s brutality and the threat it posed to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-dominated government of Iraq changed the political calculus. Obama felt compelled to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in both Iraq and Syria. American neocons tried to convince Obama to expand the Syrian strikes to hit Assad’s forces, too, but Obama realized such a plan would only benefit the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

In effect, the neocons were showing their hand much as Israeli Ambassador Oren had done favoring the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda over Assad’s secular regime because it was allied with Iran. Now, with Moussaoui’s deposition identifying senior Saudi officials as patrons of al-Qaeda, another veil seems to have dropped.

Complicating matters further, Moussaoui also claimed that he passed letters between Osama bin Laden and then Crown Prince Salman, who recently became king upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.

But Moussaoui’s disclosure perhaps cast the most unflattering light on Bandar, the erstwhile confidant of the Bush Family who — if Moussaoui is right — may have been playing a sinister double game.

Also facing potentially embarrassing questions is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially if he goes through with his planned speech before a joint session of Congress next month, attacking Obama for being soft on Iran.

And, America’s neocons might have some explaining to do about why they have carried water not just for the Israelis but for Israel’s de facto allies in Saudi Arabia.

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




Convicting Sterling to Chill Whistleblowing

In the cause of protecting government secrets, the CIA and Justice Department made an example of ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling by convicting him of exposing a dubious covert operation without presenting clear-cut evidence that he did, a chilling message to others, notes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

The leak trial of CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling never got near a smoking gun, but the entire circumstantial case was a smokescreen. Prosecutors were hell-bent on torching the defendant to vindicate Operation Merlin, nine years after a book by James Risen reported that it “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

That bestselling book, State of War, seemed to leave an indelible stain on Operation Merlin while soiling the CIA’s image as a reasonably competent outfit. The prosecution of Sterling was a cleansing service for the Central Intelligence Agency, which joined with the Justice Department to depict the author and the whistleblower as scurrilous mud-throwers.

In the courtroom, where journalist Risen was beyond the reach of the law, the CIA’s long-smoldering rage vented at the defendant. Sterling had gone through channels in 2003 to warn Senate Intelligence Committee staffers about Operation Merlin, and he was later indicted for allegedly giving Risen classified information about it. For CIA officials, the prosecution wasn’t only to punish Sterling and frighten potential whistleblowers; it was also about payback, rewriting history and assisting with a PR comeback for the operation as well as the agency.

Last week, the jury , drawn from an area of Northern Virginia that is home to CIA headquarters, the Pentagon and a large number of contractors for the military-industrial-intelligence complex, came back with guilty verdicts on all counts. The jurors had heard from a succession of CIA witnesses as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, extolling Operation Merlin and deploring any effort to lift its veil of secrecy.

During the first half of the government’s six days of testimony, the prosecution seemed to be defending Operation Merlin more than prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling.

Prosecutors defamed Sterling’s character in opening and closing arguments, but few CIA witnesses had anything bad to say about him. The notable exception, CIA official David Cohen, who ran the agency’s New York office when Sterling worked there, testified that “his performance was extremely sub-par.”

Cohen’s affect on the stand gave new meaning to the term hostile witness. He exuded major antipathy toward Sterling, who had been one of the CIA’s few American-American case officers. Sterling filed a racial bias lawsuit before the agency fired him.

“In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD,” Marcy Wheeler wrote. “In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech.  After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools.”

From the government’s standpoint in the courtroom, the worse it could make Sterling look, the better the CIA and Operation Merlin would look, and vice versa. Throughout the trial, prosecutors put forward their case as a kind of seesaw, elevating the operation while pushing Sterling into the dirt, repeatedly depicting the defendant as a bitter malcontent who failed to appreciate the nobility and great expertise that went into Operation Merlin.

“It was a brilliant operation,” a Russian scientist exclaimed in a videotaped deposition. Known as Mr. Merlin during the trial, he had played a central role in Operation Merlin, delivering flawed design materials for a nuclear weapon component to an Iranian office in Vienna back in 2000. (The scientist was a recipient of several hundred thousand dollars as a CIA “human asset.”) In theory, those materials would send Iran’s government down a dead-end technical path.

Mr. Merlin’s testimony, passably smooth under government questioning, turned into a hash during cross examination. Well before the defense was done with the Russian, the unraveling of his performance made it easy to see why the government had tried to exclude him as a witness, claiming he was too ill to testify.

Few reporters covered the bulk of the trial’s several dozen hours of testimony. (In the courtroom each day, I usually saw no more than three or four other journalists present.) The dire shortage of thorough coverage meant that news media did very little to illuminate the profuse contradictions and disturbing implications that riddled the testimony from more than 20 employees of the CIA.

From the crumbling credibility of Mr. Merlin, to the wavering or contradictory testimony of “Zach W,” “Bob S,” “Walter C” and other CIA operatives, to the notably inaccurate testimony of former CIA nonproliferation division honcho David Shedd, to many other witnesses, the puzzle pieces that the CIA presented for Operation Merlin had gaping holes and numerous disconnects.

The trial is over, and, although the proceedings did not truly establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Jeffrey Sterling has been convicted on nine felony counts, including seven under the egregiously misapplied Espionage Act of 1917. His sentencing is scheduled for late April. But the issues raised at the trial are far from settled. And the stakes remain huge.

In the words of Risen’s book, Operation Merlin “has been conducted in the darkest corner of the American national security establishment.” Today, that corner is even dimmer and more dangerous.

Since the end of the Clinton administration, the CIA has expanded its missions and heightened its impunity. An agency that insists it can do no wrong has amassed a grisly Twenty-first Century record of torture, rendition and drones, fueling the kind of terrorism that Presidents Bush and Obama have claimed to be combating.

If Operation Merlin is supposed to be some kind of exemplar for covert CIA actions that must be shielded from public scrutiny, the government is further undermining its case for cracking down on whistleblowers. The Sterling trial record, far from being exculpatory for Operation Merlin, indicates that the CIA program was, if anything, even more shoddy and irresponsible than Risen’s book reported. More secrecy can only breed more impunity.

The trial of Jeffrey Sterling shook loose more serious questions about Operation Merlin than it laid to rest. The last big shoe in this real-life saga has yet to drop.

Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of RootsAction.org. [This article originally appeared at ExposeFacts.org]