The End of the Observer Mission in Hebron

It acted as a restraint on the settlers’ worst excesses, writes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook
Jonathan-Cook.net

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and U.S. politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonization of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the U.S. last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

Israel Granted Free Hand in Hebron

While Oslo put the Palestinian Authority formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city center, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Burial Plot of Abraham

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But that same place in Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

The Massacre of 1994

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbors.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life,” Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the U.S. to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organizations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year U.S. President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organizations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list. 

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




ICE Detainees on Hunger Strike Being Force-Fed Like Those at Guantánamo

Organizations ranging from the ACLU to Human Rights Watch condemn the practice as “inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading,” writes A. Naomi Paik.

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Protesters depicting detainees of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

By A. Naomi Paik, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Conversation

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is force-feeding nine detainees who are on a hunger strike at a detention center in El Paso, Texas.

The protesters are mostly from India and are being held in ICE custody while their asylum or immigration cases are processed. Since the beginning of the year, they have been protesting their detainment and mistreatment by guards who they allege have threatened them with deportation and withheld information about their cases, according to the detainees’ lawyers.

In mid-January, a federal court ordered ICE to force-feed the strikers. An ICE official stated: “For their health and safety, ICE closely monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike.” ICE policy states that the agency authorizes “involuntary medical treatment” if a detainee’s health is threatened by hunger striking.

Force-feeding involves tying a detainee to a bed, inserting a feeding tube down the nose and esophagus and pumping liquid nutrition into the stomach. ICE detainees have reported rectal bleeding and vomiting as a consequence of being force-fed.

As I write in my book “Rightlessness” and  research published elsewhere, this is not the first time U.S. government agencies have force-fed people in its custody.

Since 2005, the U.S. military has force-fed detainees at the Guantánamo Bay naval base whenever they would go on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention.

Force-feeding at Guantánamo

The U.S. military has indefinitely detained individuals at Guantánamo in the “war on terror” since 2002.

Hunger strikes have plagued Guantánamo since it opened in 2002. In one of the largest hunger strikes to occur in a U.S. detention facility, about 500 detainees stopped eating under the slogan “starvation until death” in late June 2005.

They began this strike to protest the conditions of their confinement, including alleged beatings, abuse of their religious freedom by mishandling the Koran and indefinite detention without trial.

Nutritional shakes, a tube for feeding through the nose, and lubricants, including a jar of olive oil, are displayed as force feeding is explained during a tour of the detainee hospital at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

In response, military doctors authorized “involuntary intravenous hydration and/or enteral tube feeding” – in other words, IV treatment and force-feeding.

Prisoners found ways to get around the feedings, like making themselves vomit or siphoning out their stomachs by sucking on the external end of the feeding tube.

The strike overwhelmed camp commanders. In December 2005, they called in help from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which had previously authorized force-feeding. The consultants observed as strikers were force-fed twice a day and recommended using the emergency restraint chair, a “padded cell on wheels.”

That requires strapping detainees down onto the chair, making it easier for guards to insert and remove a feeding tube. Detainees referred to it as the execution chair.” This had the desired effect on the prisoners: Only a handful continued the hunger strike and it was over by February 2006. The camp ordered 20 more chairs.

A Painful Process

In 2013, a widespread hunger strike again swept through Guantánamo – 106 of 166 prisoners participated. Forty-one detainees met the requirements for being force-fed: skipping nine consecutive meals or their BMI dropping below 85 percent of their intake weight.

One participant, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemini citizen detained for 11 years, told The New York Times, “I had never experienced such pain” as from the feedings.

A U.S. Navy nurse stands next to a chair with restraints, used for force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Detainees who participated in the numerous strikes over the years have consistently described the force-feeding process, including having teams of five guards who hold down the prisoner, as torture. Some reported being overfed to the point where they vomited up what was forced down their throats.

“I will not eat until they restore my dignity,” Moqbel said. He said he hoped “that because of the pain we are suffering the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantanamo before it is too late.”

Legal Challenges

Guantánamo hunger strikers filed lawsuits against the U.S. government for force-feeding prisoners and using the restraint chair.

Several judges ruled that force-feedings are legal. In one case, a judge wrote that it did not constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Rather, she wrote that administrators “are acting out of a need to preserve the life of the Petitioners rather than letting them die.”

This contradicts what many experts the medical and human rights professionals have said about force-feeding.

The World Medical Association, an international medical ethics organization, asserted that force-feeding is “unjustifiable.” Organizations ranging from the ACLU to Human Rights Watch condemn the practice as “inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading.

Another federal judge in a 2009 followed a Supreme Court ruling deciding that courts have no jurisdiction over Guantánamo – a camp physically located in Cuba but governed by the United States.

Similarly, federal courts have limited power to intervene on behalf of the ICE detainees because immigrant detention is not considered punishment and thus not protected by due process rights. In Wong Wing v. United States(1896), the Supreme Court ruled that “the Constitution does not apply to the conditions of immigrant detention.”

While the courts can authorize interventions requested by the government such as force-feeding, immigrant detainees have limited power to appeal to courts about the conditions of their detention.

As with the Guantánamo detainees, migrants are risking starvation, but not because they want to die. As Amrit Singh, the uncle of two men being force-fed, stated, “They want to know why they are still in the jail and want to get their rights and wake up the government immigration system.” Hunger striking offers one of few ways they can protest their prolonged confinement in pursuit of this goal.The Conversation

A. Naomi Paik is assistant professor of Asian American studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




Okinawa and the US Military Link to PFAS Toxins

The Japanese island hosting U.S. military bases and training sites is a forerunner in exposing the contamination, writes Pat Elder. 

Fire-Fighting Exercises Spread ‘Forever Chemicals’

By Pat Elder
World BEYOND War

Contaminants are being detected in water samplings in communities adjacent to U.S. military installations around the world. One forerunning example—publicized more than five years ago—is the Japanese island of Okinawa, which hosts 32 U.S. bases and 48 training sites.

In 2013, The Japan Times published an exposé about the high concentrations of toxins generically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the drinking water in Okinawa communities adjacent to Kadena Air Base and the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The chemicals are found in the fire-fighting foam used in routine fire-training exercises on these bases and have been found in groundwater samplings. The Military Times in June ran an article about several women who have suffered miscarriages on military bases and have begun wondering if they were tied to something in the water. 

The National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry both offer guidance about the possible health risks of PFAS exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency, while declining to regulate the chemicals, offers similar advice. 

These agencies say the risks of high exposure include higher cholesterol levels; a decrease in how well the body responds to vaccines; heightened risk of thyroid disease; decreased fertility in women; increased risks to pregnant women that include high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.

The Intercept reported on a small study that found certain PFAS correlated to lower sperm counts and other problems in males.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry points out that a large number of animal studies show that polydiacetylenes, or PDAs, can cause damage to the liver and the immune system.

Two other types of PFAS—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—have caused birth defects, delayed development and newborn deaths in lab animals. Studies in animals have shown that PFOA and PFOS can cause cancer in the liver, testes, pancreas and thyroid. Of course, humans and animals react differently to PFAS.

Michigan Scientists Flag Risks

A panel of scientists in Michigan who are grappling with numerous municipal water systems contaminated with PFAS concurs with the ATSDR’s assessment “with regard to associations of PFAS exposure to alterations of thyroid function, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and elevated liver enzymes,” according to a report by the trade magazine Environmental Newsstand (which operates behind a paywall).

Public concern about the environmental threats of these chemicals, spans the globe, from New Zealand, to Korea, to Germany.

The U.S.-Japan agreement on the Okinawa bases does not allow for Japanese officials to gain access to the bases to investigate the source of the contamination.  “Within the facilities and areas, the United States may take all the measures necessary for their establishment, operation, safeguarding and control,” reads the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Japan.

Japan’s SOFA differs from those in force in European nations such as Germany, where local authorities are allowed to enter bases. According to Japan’s SOFA, Japanese officials may not conduct investigations without U.S. consent. In Germany they can. 

According to Jon Mitchell, a British author who wrote the 2013 article for Japan Times, when the Okinawa Defense Bureau approached U.S. military officials in February 2017 to discuss drinking water being contaminated by the aqueous fire-fighting foam, American military officials rejected the meeting, saying the PFAS-laden foam is not a regulated substance.

They’re right. The EPA continues to allow their use.

It’s possible to speculate as to why that is: Reining in all 3,000 PFAS and admitting their destructive impact might unleash a flood of lawsuits against manufacturers and the military and worldwide unrest. The military might have good reason to simply hope the issue fades away.

‘Forever Chemicals’

But it won’t. After all, these compounds are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down. 

Michigan authorities, for example, recently banned eating deer caught close to Wurtsmuth Air Base. The base was closed 25 years ago but the streams are still dangerously contaminated. 

Amid growing public concern about the chemicals, the EPA is coming under pressure. On the heels of a news report saying the EPA refuses to regulate PFAS and PFOS, the agency on Jan. 30 said it was still crafting an action plan. “Despite what is being reported, EPA has not finalized or publicly issued its PFAS management plan, and any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature,” said David Ross, assistant administrator of the Office of Water.

As long as the EPA refuses to regulate these substances U.S. military officials can continue shrugging off the release of the chemicals into neighboring communities from Belgium to Korea; Honduras to Japan. 

Currently, the EPA has set a voluntary limit of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFAS, while the developing consensus in the scientific community—the one that legitimately aims to protect public health—says that 70 ppt is exceedingly high. 

 As of August 2017 the DOD had tested 2,668 wells worldwide for PFAS and found 61 percent of them were above70 ppt.  

Amid chemical industry pressure, in early 2018, Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House frantically sought to block publication of a federal health study on PFAS, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare.”

The study was finally released in June, when the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry significantly lowered the lifetime drinking water levels to 11 ppt for PFOA and 7 for PFOS.

Still, this voluntary measure is likely to be dangerous for human health, according to leading American health scholars. In 2016, Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, calculated that an approximate safe dose of  PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is 1 ppt.  

Municipal water systems in Okinawa have been shown to contain more than a hundred times that level, while ground water is contaminated at a level a thousand times higher. The contamination is not confined to Okinawa. For instance, groundwater at China Lake, Calif., was recently tested at 8 million ppt. The Department of Defense reports other high levels at active and former bases through the U.S., including those in New York, Alaska and Florida.

Although few in America who live adjacent to military bases are aware of the contamination, the situation is different in Okinawa, where researchers and activists have been sounding the alarm. 

Data on Okinawa Contamination

The Chatan water plant supplies water to a half dozen villages near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. In 2015, the water at Chatan measured up to 120 ppt for PFAS.  The Dakujakugawa River that runs through the base was found to contain 1,379 ppt of PFAS. Ground water tests in the area ranged from 83 ppt to 290 ppt.

According to a Marine Corps document obtained by British journalist Jon Mitchell in February 2016, PFOS at a concentration of 27,000 parts per trillion and PFOA at a concentration of 1,800 parts per trillion were detected when investigating the sewage in the firefighting training area on U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The Okinawan Prefectural Government has identified 15 rivers and water treatment facilities with dangerous levels of PFOS and PFOA contamination.  In November 2018, Okinawa officials reported that 2,000 ppt of the chemicals were detected at the Chunnag? Spring Water Site (Wakimizu Chunnag?) in Kiyuna, Ginowan City. 

In 2015, in response to a freedom-of-information request, the Pentagon released records detailing high levels of contamination on Okinawa’s Camp Kinser Marine Corps Base land that was scheduled for return to civilian use. Those records showed high concentrations of: chlordane; DDTmalathion; dioxin; polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs;

lead and cadmium.  Massive quantities of neutralized cyanide compounds, inorganic acids, alkalis, and 12.5 tons of ferric chloride were buried or “flushed” on the base. The U.S. has also left behind arsenic, depleted uranium, nerve agents and hexavalent chromium

Massive amounts of pesticides were buried at Camp Hansen, a U.S. Marine base in the town of Kin. 

Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy.  He serves on the Coordinating Committee of World BEYOND War. Special thanks to Joseph Essertier, associate professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology and coordinator of Japan for a World BEYOND War. Some of the findings in this article are based on the research of Jon Mitchell, a British journalist and author based in Japan and of Masami Kawamura of the Okinawa-based Informed-Public Project, a research organization focusing on environmental issues.




Gandhi and American Civil Rights

Howard Thurman travelled to India and returned to the U.S. intent on bringing nonviolence to the struggles of African Americans, writes Walter E. Fluker.

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Howard Thurman’s image on Howard University chapel’s stained glass window. (Fourandsixty from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

By Walter E. Fluker, Boston University
The Conversation 

Director Martin Doblmeier’s new documentary, “Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story,” is scheduled for release on public television in February. Thurman played an important role in the civil rights struggle as a key mentor to many leaders of the movement, including Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

I have been a scholar of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. for over 30 years and I serve as the editor of Thurman’s papers. Thurman’s influence on King Jr. was critical in shaping the civil rights struggle as a nonviolent movement. Thurman was deeply influenced by how Gandhi used nonviolence in India’s struggle for independence from British rule.

Visit to India

Born in 1899, Howard Washington Thurman was raised by his formerly enslaved grandmother. He grew up to be an ordained Baptist minister and a leading religious figure of 20th-century America.

                                                   Journey of the delegation in South Asia. (Marc Korpus, CC BY)

In 1936 Thurman led a four-member delegation to India, Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), known as the “pilgrimage of friendship.” It was during this visit that he would meet Mahatma Gandhi, who at the time was leading a nonviolent struggle of independence from British rule.

The delegation had been sponsored by the Student Christian Movement in India who wanted to explore the political connections between the oppression of blacks in the United States and the freedom struggles of the people of India.

The general secretary of the Indian Student Christian Movement, A. Ralla Ram, had argued for inviting a “Negro” delegation. He said that “since Christianity in India is the ‘oppressor’s’ religion, there would be a unique value in having representatives of another oppressed group speak on the validity and contribution of Christianity.”

Between October 1935 and April 1936, Thurman gave at least 135 lectures in over 50 cities, to a variety of audiences and important Indian leaders, including the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, who also played a key role in India’s independence movement.

Throughout the journey, the issue of segregation within the Christian church and its inability to address color consciousness, a social and political system based upon discrimination against blacks and other nonwhite people, was raised by many of the people he met.

Thurman and Gandhi

The delegation met with Gandhi towards the end of their tour in Bardoli, a small town in India’s western state of Gujarat.

Gandhi, an admirer of Booker T. Washington, the prominent African-American educator, was no stranger to the struggles of African-Americans. He had been in correspondence with prominent black leaders before the meeting with the delegation.

As early as May 1, 1929, Gandhi had written a “Message to the American Negro” addressed to W.E.B. DuBois to be published in “The Crisis.” Founded in 1910 by DuBois, “The Crisis” was the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Gandhi’s message stated,

“Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves. There is no dishonour in being slaves. There is dishonour in being slave-owners. But let us not think of honour or dishonour in connection with the past. Let us realise that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure and loving.”

Understanding Nonviolence

In a conversation lasting about three hours, published in The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman, Gandhi engaged his guests with questions about racial segregation, lynching, African-American history, and religion. Gandhi was puzzled as to why African-Americans adopted the religion of their masters, Christianity.

                                                       Gandhi, spinning cotton, in a photo from 1931. (AP Photo)

He reasoned that at least in religions like Islam, all were considered equal. Gandhi declared, “For the moment a slave accepts Islam he obtains equality with his master, and there are several instances of this in history.” But he did not think that was true for Christianity. Thurman asked what was the greatest obstacle to Christianity in India. Gandhi replied that Christianity as practiced and identified with Western culture and colonialism was the greatest enemy to Jesus Christ in India.

The delegation used the limited time that was left to interrogate Gandhi on matters of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence, and his perspective on the struggle of African-Americans in the United States.

According to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s personal secretary, Thurman was fascinated with the discussion on the redemptive power of ahimsa in a life committed to the practice of nonviolent resistance.

Gandhi explained that though ahimsa is technically defined as “non-injury” or “nonviolence,” it is not a negative force, rather it is a force “more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether.”

In its most practical terms, it is love that is “self-acting,” but even more – and when embodied by a single individual, it bears a force more powerful than hate and violence and can transform the world.

Towards the end of the meeting, Gandhi proclaimed, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”

Search for an American Gandhi

Indeed, Gandhi’s views would leave a deep impression on Thurman’s own interpretation of nonviolence. They would later be influential in developing Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. It would go on to shape the thinking of a generation of civil rights activists.

In his book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” Thurman addresses the negative forces of fear, deception and hatred as forms of violence that ensnare and entrap the oppressed. But he also counsels that through love and the willingness to nonviolently engage the adversary, the committed individual creates the possibility of community.

As he explains, the act of love as redemptive suffering is not contingent on the other’s response. Love, rather, is unsolicited and self-giving. It transcends merit and demerit. It simply loves.

A growing number of African-American leaders closely followed Gandhi’s campaigns of “satyagraha,” or what he termed as nonresistance to evil against British colonialism. Black newspapers and magazines announced the need for an “American Gandhi.”

Upon his return, some African-American leaders thought that Howard Thurman would fulfill that role. In 1942, for example, Peter Dana of the Pittsburgh Courier, wrote that Thurman “was one of the few black men in the country around whom a great, conscious movement of Negroes could be built, not unlike the great Indian independence movement.”

King, Love and Nonviolence

Thurman, however, chose a less direct path as an interpreter of nonviolence and a resource for activists who were on the front lines of the struggle. As he wrote,

“It was my conviction and determination that the church would be a resource for activists – a mission fundamentally perceived. To me it was important that the individual who was in the thick of the struggle for social change would be able to find renewal and fresh courage in the spiritual resources of the church. There must be provided a place, a moment, when a person could declare, I choose.”

                     Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.
(AP Photo)

Indeed, leaders like Martin Luther King did choose to live out the gospel of peace, justice and love that Thurman so eloquently proclaimed in writing and the spoken word, even though it came with an exacting price.

In his last letter to Martin Luther King, dated May 13, 1966, Thurman expressed his regret for the time that had elapsed since he and King last spoke. He ended the short note with a rather foreboding quote from the American naturalist and essayist Loren Eiseley,

“Those as hunts treasure must go alone, at night, and when they find it they have to leave a little of their blood behind them.”

King, like Gandhi 70 years ago, fell to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.The Conversation

Walter E. Fluker, is a professor of Ethical Leadership at Boston University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




Malcolm X Warned About These Bourgeois Hustlers

Barack Obama was not an outlier but the norm when it comes to the tokens who are paraded by Democrats to represent faux-progress and counterfeit diversity and Kamala Harris is the next in line, says Teodrose Fikre of the Ghion Journal.

By Teodrose Fikre
Ghion Journal

Growing up, one of my biggest heroes and the person I wanted to emulate when I got older was Malcolm X. This was during my time of militancy and youthful rebellion, when I thought the only way to arrive at justice was through a revolution. The insurgent within me was captivated by Malcolm X’s take no prisoner approach and the way he spoke harsh truths to the status quo.

It was not until I matured and learned through hardship and indigence that I realized Malcolm X’s power was not his fiery rhetoric but his unifying message after returning from Mecca. However, as much as I’ve become an admirer of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz’s latter days, there are still aspects of his earlier reflections that ring true given the times we live in.

What I’m referring to are not his blistering speeches where he would call “white” people devils or his addresses where he echoed the teachings of Elijah Muhammad—Malcolm X himself walked away from that type of demagoguery. Rather, what intrigued me the most was his dissection of the political and social dynamics that kept “black” folks subjugated.

To this day, one of the most compelling arguments that Malcolm X made about the evils of both political parties is found in a speech he gave about the political and economic state of “black” America. He brilliantly exposed the false-distinction between Democrats and Republicans as a choice between the lesser of the same evil.

“Foxes and wolves usually are of the same breed. They belong to the same family—I think it’s called canine. And the difference is that the wolf when he shows you his teeth, you know that he’s your enemy; and the fox, when he shows you his teeth, he appears to be smiling. But no matter which of them you go with, you end up in the dog house.”

It took a mean mugging by reality—one that shook me out of cognitive dissonance—for me to realize that Democrats are no different than Republicans. They differ in their methods, but in the end they feast on us regardless of their gang affiliation. Both parties are subsidiaries of corporations and oligarchs; our entire political system is based on two factions bamboozling their respective bases while manufacturing dissension on all sides.

Gone When They Get Your Vote

Now that I’ve shed my political blinders, I see how this game is played. I’ll be honest here and admit that Democrats irritate me more than Republicans for this one simple reason. I’ve come to expect Republicans to be malicious—there is honesty in their advertisement. However, it’s the Democrats who smile like foxes as they pretend to be our allies only to stab us in our backs the minute they get elected. They have maintained power for decades by successfully treading on the pains of marginalized groups as they concurrently enact legislation and regulations that inflame the very injustices they rail against.

If there is one group that has been leveraged the most by Democrats, it’s the descendants of slaves and “black” diaspora as a whole. For generations, supposed liberals—who now call themselves progressives—have cunningly used the pains of “African-Americans” to further their own agendas. The Democrat’s most loyal voting bloc have time and time again been taken advantage of only to be tossed to the side as soon as Democrats gain power. They talk a good game and pretend to be for us right up until election day, soon as the last ballot is counted, they are nowhere to be found.

It’s on this front that another observation by Malcolm X comes into clear focus. One of the things that really grabbed my attention while I was reading his autobiography is the way Malcolm described the dynamic between the impoverished masses and the black bourgeoisie during the Civil Rights Era.

“There are two types of Negroes in this country. There’s the bourgeois type who blinds himself to the condition of his people, and who is satisfied with token solutions. He’s in the minority. He’s a handful. He’s usually the hand-picked Negro who benefits from token integration. But [it’s the] masses of Black people who really suffer the brunt of brutality and the conditions that exist in this country.”

What Malcolm X was describing was the class hierarchy within the construct of race. He railed against the select few “negroes” who willingly stepped on their own people in order to advance their own selfish ambitions. Malcolm X was against integration for this reason; he realized that a modification of a racist system that benefits a fraction of society while keeping the majority repressed was morally bankrupt. This same realization eventually dawned on Martin Luther King Jr when he confided to his closest advisers that he might have “integrated his people into a burning house.”

Fast forward fifty years and it’s evident that the bourgeoisie “negroes” who Malcolm X talked about have been unleashed by the establishment to work against the interests of their people. As the majority of “African-Americans” suffer economic inequalities and are burdened by financial uncertainties, black politicians, pundits and so-called “activists” are enriching themselves while they pretend to be fighting injustice.

Forget Plymouth Rock, the biggest hoodwink of them all that landed on us was a boulder named Barack. After losing a Congressional primary to Bobby Rush in 2000, Obama’s inner circle realized that he was not embraced by “African-Americans” in Chicago because many did not see him as one of them. He quickly adapted and learned the art of duplicity; Obama perfected his ability to talk eloquently about our issues and suffering as a means to an end. The end was his unabated ego. After he scaled the heights of politics, he ended up enacting policies that exacerbated the wealth gap. For his brazen act of betrayal, Obama was rewarded handsomely.

The Audacity of Trope

Barack Obama was not an outlier but the norm when it comes to the tokens who are paraded by Democrats to represent faux-progress and counterfeit diversity. Kamala Harris is the next black bourgeoisie in line who is hoping to use the plight of African-Americans and the tribulations of “black” folk to win the White House. After spending a career locking up brown and “black” folk with impunity and resurrecting the ugly legacy of penal slavery, she is now shamelessly pretending to be the next coming of Sojourner Truth—hers is the audacity of trope.

Given the fact that too many are conditioned to think in binary fashion, I must take a pause here to clarify one thing. This is in no way to excuse the pernicious nature of Republicans and the vile racism of Donald Trump. After all, not only are Republicans insidious when it comes to the way they treat “African-Americans” and minorities as a whole, the party of Trump uses the same playbook of feigned concern to dupe their respective side. However, the more I observe the rank opportunism of the Democrat front-runners, the more I appreciate the sagacity of Malcolm X.

It’s not only politicians like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris who traffic in this most insincere form of paternalism, there is a whole cottage industry of black opinion leaders and gate-keepers who actively work against our interests while passively speaking against injustice. They abound on TV, in the press and throughout social media; the surest way to make a name for oneself is to be a part of the “woke” intelligentsia who lull their people into collective comas.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that these same bourgeoisie mouthpieces are not only using the pains of the oppressed to advance themselves, they are now employing the injuries of the masses to deflect well-deserved criticism. Identity has been weaponized, instead of addressing the structural nature of racism and sexism, folks like Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton and identity politics shysters across the political spectrum are turning the victims of systematic oppression into human shields to intimidate anyone who dares to question their record. Enough is enough!

The Talented Tenth

There is a broader problem beyond these two-faced grifters. The truth is that the “black” community has become bifurcated; the bourgeoisie class feeling the blessings of capitalism and enterprise while the vast majority are burdened by consumerism and debt. DuBois once talked about the “talented tenth”, an educated sector of blacks leading the bottom 90% out of bondage. Sadly, the talented tenth has been convinced to seek self-enrichment and forget about collective wellness.

What is true of “African-Americans” is true of society as a whole. In this richest nation, there exists a breathtaking chasm between the few who have much and the many who have little. Keeping this dynamic in place is a pyramid scheme that transfers wealth upward being kept by the greed of politicians and the indifference of the proletariat. We are being swindled by hustlers to keep this most depraved system intact.

I don’t expect leaders to be perfect, very few of us are guilt free when it comes to the iniquities of the status quo. We all have have our battles as we vacillate between our better angels and the allure of our desires. All we can do in life is seek to do better; after all, Malcolm X’s very narrative is one of mistakes followed by atonement. My aim is not to be pious nor pretend purity from people, I have way too many planks in my eyes to demand others act blameless. However, there is a vast difference between those who perpetrate infringements by commission versus the rest of us who transgress through omission.

I would be the first person to applaud Harris, Obama, Trump or any politician who sincerely admit their mistakes and try to make amends. Far from doing so, these con artists pretend to do the right thing as they pour fuel on the fire. There is a reason why hypocrisy is the most egregious sin; it’s hard to be forgiven when the offender is lying about his penance.

Malcolm X is painted by many in mainstream media and academia as a firebrand who preached from the pulpit of exclusion. But those who know his history understand very well that who he was when his journey concluded was vastly different than the caricature of Malcolm X that is presented by the institutions of power he spoke against. It never fails, first kill the messengers then co-opt their message. The truth is that he changed his approach, disavowed divisive rhetoric and embraced inclusive justice.

These were the words uttered by Malcolm X as he spoke against the system of inequality that shackles billions around our planet into lives of servitude and bondage. His decision to pivot from friction and instead seek the light of universal justice is the reason why he was silenced, the status quo rewards charlatans but has a way of killing off unifying voices.

On this front, the status quo has succeeded beyond its wildest imagination. We are now being led by a procession of overseers who pretend to be Moses. This hustle will not work too much longer however, more and more people are waking up to their deception and refusing to be doormats of Democrats, Republicans or anyone else. If we are to find redemption, it will not be from the top nor will the revolution be televised.

As I noted earlier, I’ve come a long way from my days of would-be revolutionary. Malcolm X had an eye-awakening moment in Mecca upon seeing a broad sea of humanity praying in unison. I had my mecca moment by way of shelters and homeless missions and observing a diverse dissection of Americans made invisible by the malice of the gentry and the indifference of society. It’s for this reason that I disavow sectional movements and pray for a day where all of us unite beyond our trivial differences. We have more that unites us than the issues that divide us; when we realize this is the day we will get the change we all have been waiting for. The revolution that matters is not the one of the gun but the one our hearts.

Teodrose Fikre is the editor and founder of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice. Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama’s South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses.




How Russia-gate Rationalized Censorship

From the Archives: Russia-gate mania spread beyond a strategy for neutralizing Donald Trump or removing him from office into an excuse for stifling U.S. dissent that challenges the New Cold War, reported Joe Lauria on Dec. 4, 2017.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

At the end of October 2017, I wrote an article for Consortium News about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign paying for unvetted opposition research that became the basis for much of the disputed story about Russia allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The piece showed that the Democrats’ two, paid-for sources that have engendered belief in Russia-gate are at best shaky. First was former British spy Christopher Steele’s largely unverified dossier of second- and third-hand opposition research portraying Donald Trump as something of a Russian Manchurian candidate.

And the second was CrowdStrike, an anti-Putin private company, examining the DNC’s computer server to dubiously claim discovery of a Russian “hack.” In a similar examination using the same software of an alleged hack of a Ukrainian artillery app, CrowdStrike also blamed Russia but its software was exposed as faulty and it was later forced to rewrite it. CrowdStrike was hired after the DNC refused to allow the FBI to look at the server.

My piece also described the dangerous consequences of partisan Democratic faith in Russia-gate: a sharp increase in geopolitical tensions between nuclear-armed Russia and the U.S., and a New McCarthyism that is spreading fear — especially in academia, journalism and civil rights organizations — about questioning the enforced orthodoxy of Russia’s alleged guilt.

After the article appeared at Consortium News, I tried to penetrate the mainstream by then publishing a version of the article on the HuffPost, which was rebranded from the Huffington Post in April this year by new management. As a contributor to the site since February 2006, I was trusted by HuffPost editors to post my stories directly online. However, within 24 hours of publication on Nov. 4, HuffPost editors retracted the article without any explanation.

This behavior breaks with the earlier principles of journalism that the Web site claimed to uphold. For instance, in 2008, Arianna Huffington told radio host Don Debar that, “We welcome all opinions, except conspiracy theories.” She said: “Facts are sacred. That’s part of our philosophy of journalism.”

But Huffington stepped down as editor in August 2016 and has nothing to do with the site now. It is run by Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times reporter and editor, who evidently has very different ideas. In April, she completely redesigned the site and renamed it HuffPost.

Before the management change, I had published several articles on the Huffington Post about Russia without controversy. For instance, The Huffington Post published my piece on Nov. 5, 2016, that predicted three days before the election that if Clinton lost she’d blame Russia. My point was reaffirmed by the campaign-insider book Shattered, which revealed that immediately after Clinton’s loss, senior campaign advisers decided to blame Russia for her defeat.

On Dec. 12, 2016, I published another piece, which the Huffington Post editors promoted to the front page, called, “Blaming Russia To Overturn The Election Goes Into Overdrive.” I argued that “Russia has been blamed in the U.S. for many things and though proof never seems to be supplied, it is widely believed anyway.”

After I posted the updated version of the Consortium News piece — renamed “On the Origins of Russia-gate” — I was informed 23 hours later by a Facebook friend that the piece had been retracted by HuffPost editors. As a reporter for mainstream media for more than a quarter century, I know that a newsroom rule is that before the serious decision is made to retract an article the writer is contacted to be allowed to defend the piece. This never happened. There was no due process. A HuffPost editor ignored my email asking why it was taken down.

Support from Independent Media

Like the word “fascism,” “censorship” is an over-used and mis-used accusation, and I usually avoid using it. But without any explanation, I could only conclude that the decision to retract was political, not editorial.

I am non-partisan as I oppose both major parties for failing to represent millions of Americans’ interests. I follow facts where they lead. In this case, the facts led to an understanding that the Jan. 6, 2017 FBI/NSA/CIA intelligence “assessment” on alleged Russian election interference, prepared by what then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called “hand-picked” analysts, was based substantially on unvetted opposition research and speculation, not serious intelligence work.

The assessment even made the point that the analysts were not asserting that the alleged Russian interference was a fact. The report contained the disclaimer: “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

Under deadline pressure on Jan. 6, Scott Shane of The New York Times instinctively wrote what many readers of the report must have been thinking: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

Yet, after the Jan. 6 report was published, leading Democrats asserted falsely that the “assessment” represented the consensus judgment of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies – not just the views of “hand-picked” analysts from three – and much of the U.S. mainstream media began treating the allegations of Russian “hacking” as flat fact, not as an uncertain conclusion denied by both the Russian government and WikiLeaks, which insists that it did not get the two batches of Democratic emails from Russia.

(There is also dissent inside the broader U.S. intelligence community about whether an alleged “hack” over the Internet was even possible based on the download speeds of one known data extraction, which matched what was possible from direct USB access to a computer, i.e., a download onto a thumb drive presumably by a Democratic insider.)

However, because of the oft-repeated “17 intelligence agencies” canard and the mainstream media’s careless reporting, the public impression has built up that the accusations against Russia are indisputable. If you ask a Russia-gate believer today what their faith is based on, they will invariably point to the Jan. 6 assessment and mock anyone who still expresses any doubt.

For instance, an unnamed former CIA officer told The Intercept last month, “You’ve got all these intelligence agencies saying the Russians did the hack. To deny that is like coming out with the theory that the Japanese didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor.”

That the supposedly dissident Intercept would use this quote is instructive about how imbalanced the media’s reporting on Russia-gate has been. We have actual film of Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor and American ships burning – and we have the eyewitness accounts of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. Yet, on Russia-gate, we only have the opinions of some “hand-picked” intelligence officials who themselves say that they are not claiming that their opinions are fact. No serious editor would allow a self-interested and unnamed source to equate the two in print.

In this groupthink atmosphere, it was probably easy for HuffPost editors to hear some complaints from a few readers and blithely decide to ban my story. However, before it was pulled, 125 people had shared it. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and frequent contributor to Consortium News, then took up my cause, being the first to write about the HuffPost censorship on his blog. McGovern included a link to a .pdf file that I captured of the censored HuffPost story. It has since been republished on numerous other websites.

Journalist Max Blumenthal tweeted about it. British filmmaker and writer Tariq Ali posted it on his Facebook page. Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams interviewed me at length about the censorship on their TV program. ZeroHedge wrote a widely shared piece and someone actually took the time, 27 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact, to read the entire article on YouTube. I began a petition to HuffPost’s Polgreen to either explain the retraction or restore the article. It gained 3,517 signatures. If a serious fact-check analysis was made of my article, it must exist and can and should be produced.

Watchdogs & Media Defending Censorship

Despite this support from independent media, a senior official at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, I learned, declined to take up my cause because he believes in the Russia-gate story. I also learned that a senior officer at the American Civil Liberties Union rejected my case because he too believes in Russia-gate. Both of these serious organizations were set up precisely to defend individuals in such situations on principle, not preference.

In terms of their responsibilities for defending journalism and protecting civil liberties, their personal opinions about whether Russia-gate is real or not should be irrelevant. The point is whether journalists should be permitted to show skepticism toward this latest dubiously based groupthink. I fear that – amid the frenzy about Russia and the animosity toward Trump – concerns about careers and funding are driving these decisions, with principles brushed aside.

One online publication decidedly took the HuffPost’s side. Steven Perlberg, a media reporter for BuzzFeed, asked the HuffPost why they retracted my article. While ignoring me, the editors issued a statement to BuzzFeed saying that “Mr. Lauria’s self-published” piece was “later flagged by readers, and after deciding that the post contained multiple factually inaccurate or misleading claims, our editors removed the post per our contributor terms of use.” Those terms include retraction for “any reason,” including, apparently, censorship.

Perlberg posted the HuffPost statement on Twitter. I asked him if he inquired of the editors what those “multiple” errors and “misleading claims” were. I asked him to contact me to get my side of the story. Perlberg totally ignored me. He wrote nothing about the matter. He apparently believed the HuffPost and that was that. In this way, he acquiesced with the censorship.

BuzzFeed, of course, is the sensationalist outlet that irresponsibly published the Steele dossier in full, even though the accusations – not just about Donald Trump but also many other individuals – weren’t verified. Then on Nov. 14, BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold wrote one of the most ludicrous of a long line of fantastic Russia-gate stories, reporting that the Russian foreign ministry had sent money to Russian consulates in the U.S. “to finance the election campaign of 2016.” The scoop generated some screaming headlines before it became clear that the money was to pay for Russian citizens in the U.S. to vote in the 2016 Duma election.

That Russia-gate has reached this point, based on faith and not fact, was further illustrated by a Facebook exchange I had with Gary Sick, an academic who served on the Ford and Carter national security staffs. When I pressed Sick for evidence of Russian interference, he eventually replied: “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…” When I told him that was a very low-bar for such serious accusations, he angrily cut off debate.

Part of this Russia-gate groupthink stems from the outrage – and even shame – that many Americans feel about Trump’s election. They want to find an explanation that doesn’t lay the blame on the U.S. citizenry or America’s current dysfunctional political/media process. It’s much more reassuring, in a way, to blame some foreign adversary while also discrediting Trump’s legitimacy as the elected president. That leaves open some hope that his election might somehow be negated.

And, so many important people and organizations seem to be verifying the Russia-gate suspicions that the theory must be true. Which is an important point. When belief in a story becomes faith-based or is driven by an intense self-interest, honest skeptics are pushed aside and trampled. That is the way groupthink works, as we saw in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq when any doubts about Iraq possessing WMD made you a “Saddam apologist.”

As the groupthink grows, the true-believers become disdainful of facts that force them to think about what they already believe. They won’t waste time making a painstaking examination of the facts or engage in a detailed debate even on something as important and dangerous as a new Cold War with Russia.

This is the most likely explanation for the HuffPost‘s censorship: a visceral reaction to having their Russia-gate faith challenged.

Why Critical News is Suppressed

But the HuffPost’s action is hardly isolated. It is part of a rapidly growing landscape of censorship of news critical of American corporate and political leaders who are trying to defend themselves from an increasingly angry population. It’s a story as old as civilization: a wealthy and powerful elite fending off popular unrest by trying to contain knowledge of how the insiders gain at the others’ expense, at home and abroad.

A lesson of the 2016 campaign was that growing numbers of Americans are fed up with three decades of neoliberal policies that have fabulously enriched the top tier of Americans and debased a huge majority of the citizenry. The population has likewise grown tired of the elite’s senseless wars to expand their own interests, which these insiders try to conflate with the entire country’s interests.

America’s bipartisan rulers are threatened by popular discontent from both left and right. They were alarmed by the Bernie Sanders insurgency and by Donald Trump’s victory, even if Trump is now betraying the discontented masses who voted for him by advancing tax and health insurance plans designed to further crush them and benefit the wealthy.

Trump’s false campaign promises will only make the rulers’ problem of a restless population worse. Americans are subjected to economic inequality greater than in the first Gilded Age. They are also subjected today to more war than in the first Gilded Age. American rulers today are engaged in multiple conflicts following decades of post-World War II invasions and coups to expand their global interests.

People with wealth and power always seem to be nervous about losing both. So plutocrats use the concentrated media they own to suppress news critical of their wars and domestic repression. For example, almost nothing was reported about militarized police forces until the story broke out into the open in the Ferguson protests and much of that discontent has been brushed aside more recently.

Careerist journalists readily acquiesce in this suppression of news to maintain their jobs, their status and their lifestyles. Meanwhile, a growing body of poorly paid freelancers compete for the few remaining decent-paying gigs for which they must report from the viewpoint of the mainstream news organizations and their wealthy owners.

To operate in this media structure, most journalists know to excise out the historical context of America’s wars of domination. They know to uncritically accept American officials’ bromides about spreading democracy, while hiding the real war aims.

Examples abound: America’s role in the Ukraine coup was denied or downplayed; a British parliamentary report exposing American lies that led to the destruction of Libya was suppressed; and most infamously, the media promoted the WMD hoax and the fable of “bringing democracy” to Iraq, leading to the illegal invasion and devastation of that country.  A November 2017 60 Minutes report on the Saudi destruction of Yemen, conspicuously failed to mention America’s crucial role in the carnage.

I’ve pitched numerous news stories critical of U.S. foreign policy to a major American newspaper that were rejected or changed in the editorial process. One example is the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document of August 2012 that accurately predicted the rise of the Islamic State two years later.

The document, which I confirmed with a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. and its Turkish, European and Gulf Arab allies, were supporting the establishment of a Salafist principality in eastern Syria to put pressure on the Syrian government, but the document warned that this Salafist base could turn into an “Islamic State.”

But such a story would undermine the U.S. government’s “war on terrorism” narrative by revealing that the U.S.-backed strategy actually was risking the expansion of the jihadists’ foothold in Syria. The story was twice rejected by my editors and has received attention almost entirely — if not exclusively — on much-smaller independent news Web sites.

Another story I pitched in June 2012, just a year into the Syrian war, about Russia’s motives in Syria being guided by a desire to defeat the growing jihadist threat there, was also rejected. Corporate media wanted to keep the myth of Russia’s “imperial” aims in Syria alive. I had to publish the article outside the U.S., in a South African daily newspaper.

In September 2015 at the U.N. General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed my story about Russia’s motives in Syria to stop jihadists from taking over. Putin invited the U.S. to join this effort as Moscow was about to launch its military intervention at the invitation of the Syrian government. The Obama administration, still insisting on “regime change” in Syria, refused. And the U.S. corporate media continued promoting the myth that Russia intervened to recapture its “imperial glory.”

It was much easier to promote the “imperial” narrative and to ignore Putin’s clear explanation to French TV channel TF1, which was not picked up by American media.

“Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces?” Putin said. “These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Why Russia Is Targeted

So, where are independent-minded Western journalists to turn if their stories critical of the U.S. government and corporations are suppressed?

The imperative is to get these stories out – and Russian media has provided an opening for some. This has presented a new problem for the plutocracy. The suppression of critical news in their corporate-owned media is no longer working if it’s seeping out in Russian media (and through some dissident Western news sites on the Internet).

The solution has been to brand the content of the Russian television network, RT, as “propaganda” since it presents facts and viewpoints that most Americans have been kept from hearing. But just because these views – many coming from Americans and other Westerners – are not what you commonly hear on the U.S. mainstream media doesn’t make them “propaganda” that must be stigmatized and silenced.

As a Russian-government-financed English-language news channel, RT also gives a Russian perspective on the news, the way CNN and The New York Times give an American perspective and the BBC a British one. American mainstream journalists, from my experience, arrogantly deny suppressing news and believe they present a universal perspective, rather than a narrow American view of the world.

The viewpoints of Iranians, Palestinians, Russians, North Koreans and others are never fully reported in the Western media although the supposed mission of journalism is to help citizens understand a frighteningly complex world from multiple points of view. It’s impossible to do so without those voices included. Routinely or systematically shutting them out also dehumanizes people in those countries, making it easier to gain U.S. popular support to go to war against them.

Russia is scapegoated by charging that RT or Sputnik are sowing divisions in the U.S. by focusing on issues like homelessness, racism, or out-of-control militarized police forces, as if these divisive issues didn’t already exist. The U.S. mainstream media also seems to forget that the U.S. government has engaged in at least 70 years of interference in other countries’ elections, foreign invasions, coups, planting stories in foreign media and cyber-warfare.

Now, these American transgressions are projected onto Moscow. There’s also a measure of self-reverence in this for “successful” people with a stake in an establishment that underpins the elite, demonstrating how wonderfully democratic they are compared to those ogres in Russia.

The overriding point about the “Russian propaganda” complaint is that when America’s democratic institutions, including the press and the electoral process, are crumbling under the weight of corruption that the American elites have created or maintained, someone else needs to be blamed. Russia is both an old and a new scapegoat.

The Jan. 6 intelligence assessment on alleged Russian election meddling is a good example of how this works. A third of its content is an attack on RT for “undermining American democracy” by reporting on Occupy Wall Street, the protest over the Dakota pipeline and, of all things, holding a “third party candidate debates.”

According to the Jan. 6 assessment, RT’s offenses include reporting that “the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’” RT also “highlights criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties.” In other words, reporting on newsworthy events and allowing third-party candidates to express their opinions undermine democracy.

The report also says all this amounts to “a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest,” but it should be noted those protests by dissatisfied Americans are against privileges of the wealthy and the well-connected, a status quo that the intelligence agencies routinely protect.

There are also deeper reasons why Russia is being targeted. The Russia-gate story fits neatly into a geopolitical strategy that long predates the 2016 election. Since Wall Street and the U.S. government lost the dominant position in Russia that existed under the pliable President Boris Yeltsin, the strategy has been to put pressure on getting rid of Putin to restore a U.S. friendly leader in Moscow. There is substance to Russia’s concerns about American designs for “regime change” in the Kremlin.

Moscow sees an aggressive America expanding NATO and putting 30,000 NATO troops on its borders; trying to overthrow a secular ally in Syria with terrorists who threaten Russia itself; backing a coup in Ukraine as a possible prelude to moves against Russia; and using American NGOs to foment unrest inside Russia before they were forced to register as foreign agents. Russia wants Americans to see this perspective.

Accelerated Censorship in the Private Sector

The Constitution prohibits government from prior-restraint, or censorship, though such tactics were  imposed, largely unchallenged, during the two world wars. American newspapers voluntarily agreed to censor themselves in the Second World War before the government dictated it.

In the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said he didn’t “desire to reestablish wartime censorship” and instead asked the press for self-censorship. He largely got it until the papers began reporting American battlefield losses. On July 25, 1950, “the army ordered that reporters were not allowed to publish ‘unwarranted’ criticism of command decisions, and that the army would be ‘the sole judge and jury’ on what ‘unwarranted’ criticism entailed,” according to a Yale University study on military censorship.

After excellent on-the-ground reporting from Vietnam brought the war home to America and spurred popular anti-war protests, the military reacted by instituting, initially in the first Gulf War, serious control of the press by “embedding” reporters from private media companies which accepted the arrangement, much as World War II newspapers censored themselves.

It is important to realize that the First Amendment applies only to Congress and not to private companies, including the media. It is not illegal for them to practice censorship. I never made a First Amendment argument against the HuffPost, for instance. However, under pressure from Washington, even in peacetime, media companies can be pressured to do the government’s dirty work to censor or limit free speech for the government.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen an acceleration of attempts by corporations to inhibit Russian media in the U.S.  Both Google and Facebook, which dominate the Web with more than 50 percent of ad revenue, were at first resistant to government pressure to censor “Russian propaganda.” But they are coming around.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said on Nov. 18, 2017 that Google would “derank” articles from RT and Sputnik in the Google searches, making the stories harder for readers to find. The billionaire Schmidt claimed Russian information can be “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponized,” he said. That is how factual news critical of U.S. corporate and political leadership is seen, as a weapon.

“My own view is that these patterns can be detected, and that they can be taken down or deprioritized,” Schmidt said.

Though Google would effectively be hiding news produced by RT and Sputnik, Schmidt is sensitive to the charge of censorship, even though there’s nothing legally to stop him.

“We don’t want to ban the sites. That’s not how we operate,” Schmidt said cynically. “I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do.”

But the “deranking” isn’t only aimed at Russian sites; Google algorithms also are taking aim at independent news sites that don’t follow the mainstream herd – and thus are accused of spreading Russian or other “propaganda” if they question the dominant Western narratives on, say, the Ukraine crisis or the war in Syria. A number of alternative websites have begun reporting a sharp fall-off of traffic directed to their sites from Google’s search engines.

Responding to a deadline from Congress to act, Facebook on Nov. 22, 2017 announced that it would inform users if they have been “targeted” by Russian “propaganda.” Facebook’s help center will tell users if they liked or shared ads allegedly from the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which supposedly bought $100,000 in ads over a two-year period, with more than half these ads coming after the 2016 U.S. election and many not related to politics.

(The $100,000 sum over two years compares to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue. Plus, Facebook only says it “believes” or it’s “likely” that the ads came from that firm, whose links to the Kremlin also have yet to be proved.)

Facebook described the move as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy.” Congress wants more from Facebook, so it will not be surprising if users will eventually be told when they’ve liked or shared an RT report in the future. [The suppression of dissident news and manipulation of information has since grown worse with the advent of NewsGuard and the discovery of the Integrity Initiative.]

While the government can’t openly shut down a news site, the Federal Communications Commission’s  vote on whether to deregulate the Internet by ending net neutrality will free private Internet companies in the U.S. to further marginalize Russian and dissident websites by slowing them down and thus discouraging readers from viewing them.

Likewise, as the U.S. government doesn’t want to be openly seen shutting down RT operations, it is working around the edges to accomplish that.

After the Department of Justice forced, under threat of arrest, RT to register its employees as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nuaert said last Tuesday that “FARA does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate.” She’d earlier said that registering would not “impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that.”

Then on Wednesday the Congressional press office stripped RT correspondents of their Capitol Hill press passes, citing the FARA registration. “The rules of the Galleries state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed ‘by any foreign government or representative thereof.’ Upon its registration as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), RT Network became ineligible to hold news credentials,” read the letter to RT.

Even so, Russia-gate faithful ignore these aggressive moves and issue calls for even harsher action. After forcing RT to register, Keir Giles, a Chatham House senior consulting fellow, acted as though it never happened. He said in a Council on Foreign Relations Cyber Brief on Nov. 27, 2017: “Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.”

commented on this development on RT America. It would also have been good to have the State Department’s Nuaert answer for this discrepancy about the claim that forced FARA registrations would not affect news gathering when it already has. My criticism of RT is that they should be interviewing U.S. decision-makers to hold them accountable, rather than mostly guests outside the power structure. The decision-makers could be called out on air if they refuse to appear, as many may well do.

Growing McCarthyite Attacks

Western rulers’ wariness about popular unrest also can be seen in the extraordinary and scurrilous attack on the Canadian website Globalresearch.ca. The attack started with a chilling study by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the relatively obscure website, followed by a vicious hit piece on Nov. 18 by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper. The headline was: “How a Canadian website is being used to amplify the Kremlin’s view of the world.”

“What once appeared to be a relatively harmless online refuge for conspiracy theorists is now seen by NATO’s information warfare specialists as a link in a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of mainstream Western media – as well as the North American and European public’s trust in government and public institutions,” the Globe and Mail reported. “Global Research is viewed by NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence – or StratCom – as playing a key accelerant role in helping popularize articles with little basis in fact that also happen to fit the narratives being pushed by the Kremlin, in particular, and the Assad regime.”

I’ve not agreed with everything I’ve read on the site. But it is a useful clearinghouse for alternative media. Numerous Consortium News articles are republished there, including a handful of mine. But the site’s typical sharing and reposting on the Internet is seen by NATO as a plot to undermine the Free World.

Drawing from the NATO report, The Globe and Mail’s denunciation of this website continued: “It uses that reach to push not only its own opinion pieces, but ‘news’ reports from little-known websites that regularly carry dubious or false information. At times, the site’s regular variety of international-affairs stories is replaced with a flurry of items that bolster dubious reportage with a series of opinion pieces, promoted on social media and retweeted and shared by active bots.”

The newspaper continued, “’That way, they increase the Google ranking of the story and create the illusion of multi-source verification,’ said Donara Barojan, who does digital forensic research for [StratCom]. But she said she did not yet have proof that Global Research is connected to any government.”

This sort of smear is nothing more than a blatant attack on free speech by the most powerful military alliance in the world, based on the unfounded conviction that Russia is a fundamental force for evil and that anyone who has contacts with Russia or shares even a part of its multilateral world view is suspect.

High-profile individuals are now also in the crosshairs of the neo-McCarthyite witchhunt. On Nov. 25 The Washington Post ran a nasty hit piece on Washington Capitals’ hockey player Alex Ovechkin, one of the most revered sports figures in the Washington area, simply because he, like 86 percent of other Russians, supports his president.

“Alex Ovechkin is one of Putin’s biggest fans. The question is, why?” ran the headline. The story insidiously implied that Ovechkin was a dupe of his own president, being used to set up a media campaign to support Putin, who is under fierce and relentless attack in the United States where Ovechkin plays professional ice hockey.

“He has given an unwavering endorsement to a man who U.S. intelligence agencies say sanctioned Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election,” write the Post reporters, once again showing their gullibility to U.S. intelligence agencies that have provided no proof for their assertions (and even admit that they are not asserting their opinion as fact).

Less prominent figures are targeted too. John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture and was jailed for it, was kicked off a panel in Europe on Nov. 10 by a Bernie Sanders supporter who refused to appear with Kiriakou because he co-hosts a show on Radio Sputnik.

Then last week, Reporters Without Borders, an organization supposedly devoted to press freedom, tried to kick journalist Vanessa Beeley off a panel in Geneva to prevent her from presenting evidence that the White Helmets, a group that sells itself as a rescue organization inside rebel-controlled territory in Syria, has ties to Al Qaeda. The Swiss Press Club, which hosted the event, resisted the pressure and let Beeley speak.

Russia-gate’s Hurdles

Much of this spreading global hysteria and intensifying censorship traces back to Russia-gate. Yet, it remains remarkable that the corporate media has failed so far to prove any significant Russian interference in the U.S. election at all. Nor have the intelligence agencies, Congressional investigations and special prosecutor Robert Mueller. His criminal charges so far have been for financial crimes and lying to federal authorities on topics unrelated to any “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians to “hack” Democratic emails.

There may well be more indictments from Mueller, even perhaps a complaint about Trump committing obstruction of justice because he said on TV that he fired Comey, in part, because of the “Russia thing.” But Trump’s clumsy reaction to the “scandal,” which he calls “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” still is not proof that Putin and the Russians interfered in the U.S. election to achieve the unlikely outcome of Trump’s victory.

The Russia-gate faithful assured us to wait for the indictment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s national security adviser. But again there was nothing about pre-election “collusion,” only charges that Flynn had lied to the FBI or omitted details about two conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding policy matters during the presidential transition, i.e., after the election.

And, one of those conversations related to trying unsuccessfully to comply with an Israeli request to get Russia to block a United Nations resolution censuring Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land.

As journalist Yasha Levine tweeted: “So the country that influenced US policy through Michael Flynn is Israel, not Russia. But Flynn did try to influence Russia, not the other way around. Ha-ha. This is the smoking gun? What a farce.”

There remain a number of key hurdles to prove the Russia-gate story. First, convincing evidence is needed that the Russian government indeed did “hack” the Democratic emails, both those of the DNC and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta – and gave them to WikiLeaks. And, further that somehow the Trump campaign was involved in aiding and abetting this operation, i.e., collusion.

There’s also the question of how significant the release of those emails was anyway. They did provide evidence that the DNC tilted the primary campaign in favor of Clinton over Sanders; they exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from the voters; and they revealed some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation and its foreign donations.

But – even if the Russians were involved in providing that information to the American people – those issues were not considered decisive in the campaign. Clinton principally pinned her loss on FBI Director James Comey for closing and then reopening the investigation into her improper use of a private email server while Secretary of State. She also spread the blame to Russia (repeating the canard about “seventeen [U.S. intelligence] agencies, all in agreement”), Bernie Sanders, the inept DNC and other factors.

As for the vaguer concerns about some Russian group “probably” buying $100,000 in ads, mostly after Americans had voted, as a factor in swaying a $6 billion election, is too silly to contemplate. That RT and Sputnik ran pieces critical of Hillary Clinton was their right, and they were hardly alone. RT and Sputnik‘s reach in the U.S. is minuscule compared to Fox News, which slammed Clinton throughout the campaign, or for that matter, MSNBC, CNN and other mainstream news outlets, which often expressed open disdain for Republican Donald Trump but also gave extensive coverage to issues such as the security concerns about Clinton’s private email server.

Another vague Russia-gate suspicion stemming largely from Steele’s opposition research is that somehow Russia is bribing or blackmailing Trump because Trump has done some past business with Russians. But there are evidentiary and logical problems with these theories, since some lucrative deals fell through (and presumably wouldn’t have if Trump was being paid off) — and no one, including the Russians, foresaw Trump’s highly improbable election as U.S. President years earlier.

Some have questioned how Trump could have supported detente with Russia without being beholden to Moscow in some way. But Jeffery Sommers, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, wrote a convincing essay explaining adviser Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump’s thinking about Russia and the need for cooperation between the two powers to solve international problems.

Without convincing evidence, I remain a Russia-gate skeptic. I am not defending Russia. Russia can defend itself. However, amid the growing censorship and a dangerous new McCarthyism, I am trying to defend America — from itself.

Joe Lauria is the editor-in-chief of Consortium News. He has been a correspondent for the Boston Globe, the Sunday Times of London and the Wall Street Journal among other newspapers. He is the author of How I Lost By Hillary Clinton published by OR Books in June 2017. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




ROBERT PARRY: With the US Meddling Again in Latin America, a Look Back at How Washington Promoted Genocide in Guatemala

As the U.S. declares a new government in Venezuela, we look back at how the Reagan administration promoted human rights violations in Guatemala, including genocide inflicted on Indian villages, as the late Robert Parry reported on Feb. 21, 2013.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

Soon after taking office in 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s national security team agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but their “civilian support mechanisms,” according to a newly disclosed document from the National Archives.

Over the next several years, the military assistance from the Reagan administration helped the Guatemalan army do just that, engaging in the slaughter of some 100,000 people, including what a truth commission deemed genocide against the Mayan Indians in the northern highlands.

Recently discovered documents at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, also reveal that Reagan’s White House was reaching out to Israel in a scheme to circumvent congressional restrictions on military equipment for the Guatemalan military.

In 1983, national security aide Oliver North (who later became a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal) reported in a memo that Reagan’s Deputy National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane (another key Iran-Contra figure) was approaching Israel over how to deliver 10 UH-1H helicopters to Guatemala to give the army greater mobility in its counterinsurgency war.

According to these documents that I found at the Reagan library and other records declassified in the late 1990s it’s also clear that Reagan and his administration were well aware of the butchery underway in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America.

The relaxed attitude toward the Guatemalan regime’s brutality took shape in spring 1981 as Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” according to a White House Situation Room Checklist dated April 8, 1981.

The document added: “State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding support for another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.

“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation,” which then barred military assistance to Guatemala because of its long record of human rights crimes.

The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].

“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”

But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.

Sparing the ‘Non Politicized’

The distinction was spelled out in Talking Points for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas and his senior advisers. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read:

“The President and Secretary Haig have designated me as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.

“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.

“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army.

“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.

“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents though error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents.

“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”

In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they amounted to an acceptance of scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanism.” The way that played out in Guatemala as in nearby El Salvador was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.

Cables on Killings

As reflected in the “Talking Points” and as confirmed by other U.S. government documents from that time period, the Reagan administration was well aware that the Guatemalan military was engaged in mass killings of Guatemalan civilians.

According to one “secret” cable also from April 1981, and declassified in the 1990s, the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban. On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas.

A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]

In May 1981, despite these ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that former President Jimmy Carter and Congress had imposed.

In essence, Walters was giving a green light to Guatemala to continue the practice of slaughtering guerrillas and their civilian supporters, a counterinsurgency strategy that was practiced during some of the darkest days of the Vietnam War in such infamous incidents as the My Lai massacre.

The “Talking Points” also put the Reagan administration in line with the fiercely anti-communist regimes elsewhere in Latin America, where right-wing “death squads” operated with impunity liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes like demanding greater economic equality and social justice.

In the 1970s, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and other South American countries even banded together in a cross-border assassination program that hunted down leftist and other political opponents around the world, including inside the United States.

Called “Operation Condor,” the wave of assassinations reached Washington D.C. on Sept. 21, 1976, when Chilean intelligence assets exploded a car bomb killing former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt as they drove down Massachusetts Avenue through an area known as Embassy Row.

The original cover story for the assassination plot had been a meeting at the CIA with Vernon Walters, who was then deputy CIA director under CIA Director George H.W. Bush. Walters also had served as U.S. military attache to Brazil at the time of a right-wing military coup in 1964.

Reagan again turned to Walters in 1981 to serve as the President’s ambassador-at-large. One of his key roles was coordinating with right-wing governments across Latin America in their escalating wars against leftist insurgencies.

Right-Wing Butchery

Despite his aw shucks style, Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was morally troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces.

The death toll was staggering, an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization, emanating in large part from Ronald Reagan’s White House.

Despite their frequent claims to the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming that Reagan and his advisers had a clear understanding of the extraordinary brutality going on in Guatemala and elsewhere, based on their own internal documents. As they prepared to ship military equipment to Guatemala, White House officials knew that the Guatemalan military was engaged in massacres of the Mayans and other perceived enemies.

According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before, that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”

Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]

But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

What the documents from the Reagan library now make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres as the U.S. press corps typically reported but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

More Massacres

U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”

The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to.

“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle.  The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”

On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, another of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:

“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support.

“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”

The Rise of Rios Montt

However, Reagan remained committed to supplying military hardware to Guatemala’s brutal regime. So, the administration welcomed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s March 1982 overthrow of the thoroughly bloodstained Gen. Lucas.

An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed him as “a man of great personal integrity.”

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres. On Oct, 21, 1982, one cable described how three embassy officers tried to check out some of these reports but ran into bad weather and canceled the inspection. Still, the cable put the best possible spin on the situation. Though unable to check out the massacre reports, the embassy officials did “reach the conclusion that the army is completely up front about allowing us to check alleged massacre sites and to speak with whomever we wish.”

The next day, the embassy fired off its analysis (which the Reagan administration knew to be contradicted by the facts) that the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired “disinformation campaign.” Dated Oct. 22, 1982, the analysis concluded “that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala.”

The Reagan administration’s disingenuous report claimed that “conscientious human rights and church organizations,” including Amnesty International, had been duped by the communists and “may not fully appreciate that they are being utilized.  The campaign’s object is simple: to deny the Guatemalan army the weapons and equipment needed from the U.S. to defeat the guerrillas.

“If those promoting such disinformation can convince the Congress, through the usual opinion-makers, the media, church and human rights groups, that the present GOG [government of Guatemala] is guilty of gross human rights violations they know that the Congress will refuse Guatemala the military assistance it needs. Those backing the communist insurgency are betting on an application, or rather misapplication, of human rights policy so as to damage the GOG and assist themselves.”

Hailing the Dictator

Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately on human rights crimes that the administration knew, all too well, were true. On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.

On Jan. 6, 1983, Rios Montt was informed that the United States would resume military sales to Guatemala. The dictator expressed his thanks, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy, “saying that he had been convinced that the USG had never abandoned Guatemala. He commented that the guerrillas in country and its propaganda machine abroad would now launch concerted attacks on both governments.”

On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan formally lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations. Radios, batteries and battery charges were also in the package.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s cover-up of the Guatemalan bloodshed continued. State Department spokesman John Hughes said political violence in Guatemalan cities had “declined dramatically” and that rural conditions had improved too.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.

A different picture, far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government, was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”

Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]

Involving Israel

Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.

On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes’s Israeli channels, see Consortium NewsHow Neocons Messed Up the Mideast.“]

“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”

However, more political changes were afoot in Guatemala. Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled so out of control, even by Guatemalan standards, that Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup on Aug. 8, 1983.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.

In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”

According to now declassified U.S. records, the Guatemalan reality included torture out of the Middle Ages. A Defense Intelligence Agency cable reported that the Guatemalan military used an air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala.

At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects. “Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning,” the DIA report stated. Later, the pits were filled with concrete to eliminate the evidence.

The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for political victims, according to the DIA report. Bodies of insurgents tortured to death and of live prisoners marked for “disappearance” were loaded on planes that flown out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the victims into the water.

Regional Slaughter

Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations, and then sought to cover up the bloody facts.

Reagan’s attempted falsification of the historical record was a hallmark of the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well. In one case, Reagan personally lashed out at an individual human rights investigator named Reed Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100 witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported Contra rebels in Nicaragua fighting to overthrow the country’s leftist Sandinista government.

Angered by the revelations about his pet “freedom-fighters,” Reagan denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985. The President called Brody “one of dictator [Daniel] Ortega’s supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo.”

Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature of the Contras. At one point in the Contra war, Reagan turned to CIA official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the Contras be used to destroy some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua. In his memoir, Clarridge recalled that “President Reagan pulled me aside and asked, ‘Dewey, can’t you get those vandals of yours to do this job.’” [See Clarridge’s A Spy for All Seasons.]

It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the grisly reality about the atrocities in Guatemala was revealed by a truth commission that drew heavily on documents that President Bill Clinton had ordered declassified.

On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.

The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]

Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

American Blame

The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans.

“Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals,” said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.

“Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people,” Tomuschat added. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]

The report did not single out culpable individuals either in Guatemala or the United States. But the American official most directly responsible for renewing U.S. military aid to Guatemala and encouraging its government during the 1980s was Ronald Reagan.

The major U.S. newspapers covered the truth commission’s report though only fleetingly. The New York Times made it the lead story the next day. The Washington Post played it inside on page A19. Both cited the troubling role of the CIA and other U.S. government agencies in the Guatemalan tragedy. But, again, no U.S. official was held accountable by name.

On March 1, 1999, the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial board addressed the findings but did not confront them, except to blame President Carter for having cut off military aid to Guatemala in the 1970s, thus supposedly preventing the United States from curbing Guatemala’s horrific human rights conduct.

The editorial argued that the arms embargo removed “what minimal restraint even a feeble American presence supplied.” The editorial made no reference to the substantial evidence that Reagan’s resumption of military aid in the 1980s made the Guatemalan army more efficient in its slaughter of its enemies, armed and unarmed. With no apparent sense of irony, the Post editorial ended by stating: “We need our own truth commission” though there was no follow-up of that idea.

During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]

However, back in Washington, there was no interest, let alone determination, to hold anyone accountable for aiding and abetting the butchery. The story of the Guatemalan genocide and the Reagan administration’s complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.

For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.

Rios Montt (who died on April 1, 2018 at 91), after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted and put on trial. (He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013, but a higher court, filled with political allies, overturned his conviction.)

Yet, even as Latin America’s struggling democracies have made tentative moves toward holding some of their worst human rights abusers accountable, no substantive discussion has occurred in the United States about facing up to the horrendous record of the 1980s and Reagan’s guilt.

Rather than a debate about Reagan as a war criminal who assisted genocide, the former president is honored as a conservative icon with his name attached to Washington National Airport and scores of other public sites. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has gushed over Reagan as “one of the all-time greats,” and Democrats (including Barack Obama) regularly praise Reagan in comparison to modern right-wing Republicans.

When the U.S. news media does briefly acknowledge the barbarities of the 1980s in Central America, it is in the context of how those little countries are bravely facing up to their violent pasts. There is never any suggestion that the United States had a big hand in it and should follow suit.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can become a Consortium News member and receive a set of three books written by Parry.




Watch the 14th Vigil for Assange

Julian Assange’s lawyers filed a petition with the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and WikiLeaks is mentioned in a new Mueller indictment unveiled Friday, two of the topics that were discussed on the 14th Vigil on Friday. 

Guests included Peter B. Collins, John Kiriakou, Brian Becker, Ian Shilling, Craig Murray, Cathy Vogan and Ray McGovern, hosted by CN Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria.  You can watch it here in its entirety: 




Assange Lawyers File Petition to Get US to Reveal Charges and Stop Ecuador From Extraditing Him

Lawyers for the WikiLeaks publisher want the OAS independent body to keep Assange from being sent to a courtroom in the U.S. and to end his isolation.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Julian Assange’s lawyers have filed an urgent petition to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to stop Ecuador from extraditing him to the United States and to pressure the U.S. to reveal its sealed charges against the WikiLeaks publisher, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday.

His lawyers also applied to the IACHR to get Ecuador to end its surveillance of Assange and “to stop the isolation imposed on him,” according to the 1,172-page filing.

“The application by Mr. Assange’s lawyers identifies a raft of legal obligations that the U.S. and Ecuador are flouting in their treatment of Mr. Assange,” WikiLeaks said in a statement. “The lawyers document Trump Administration attempts to pressure Ecuador to hand over Mr. Assange, notably recent serious overt threats against Ecuador made by senior U.S. political figures, unlike the more veiled threats made in the past.”

The IACHR is an autonomous part of the Organization of American States (OAS) to promote and protect human rights. Its decisions are not legally binding on OAS member states. But it can create political embarrassment for states that are found to have committed human rights violations.

“The calls to extradite Mr. Assange to the United States, as the result of his work as a publisher and editor, is the reason Mr. Assange obtained political asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London in August 2012,” WikiLeaks said.  

Baltasar Garzón, the international coordinator of Assange’s legal team, called for “international solidarity for this case in which the right to access and impart information freely is in jeopardy,” the statement said.  

A decision whether to unseal the details of an indictment against Assange is held up in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia. In November, Judge Leonie Brinkema delayed her decision for what she said would be a week.  

The WikiLeaks petition to the IACHR  also “reveals for the first time that U.S. federal prosecutors have in the last few months formally approached people in the United States, Germany and Iceland and pressed them to testify against Mr. Assange in return for immunity from prosecution,” the WikiLeaks statement said.

“Those approached are associated with WikiLeaks’ joint publications with other media about U.S. diplomacy, Guantanamo bay and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the statement.

The Trump administration “is clearly intent on using the prosecution of Julian Assange as an ‘icebreaker’ to set a dangerous precedent that would enable the prosecution of most serious media organizations,” according to WikiLeaks. It added that the threats against Assange have “significantly increased” since WikiLeaks published the “Vault 7” CIA documents, “the largest leak of CIA classified information in history.”  

The petition points out espionage activity against Assange in the embassy by private security firms contracted by Ecuador “which, instead of being involved in protecting the asylee, have spied on Mr. Assange and his visitors.”  The private firms have been acting as informants to the FBI, WikiLeaks said, citing media reports.

Ecuador is required to end the regime of isolation imposed on Mr. Assange, suspending the application of the so-called special protocol and guaranteeing his rights as an asylee will be respected in full,” the filing said. 

 Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

 

 




Death Penalty in US Not Dead Yet

Elected officials are not having a collective epiphany about capital punishment, writes John Kiriakou. But for other reasons executions are still going down. 

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

Will 2019 be the year that the death penalty is finally abolished?  The answer is no. But states, increasingly, are either revoking it, initiating moratoria or just not executing people. This isn’t necessarily because elected officials around the country have had an epiphany; it’s for myriad reasons.   

First, the American public is finally coming to realize that innocent people have been—and continue to be—sentenced to death.  Since 1973, 156 people on death row have been found to be innocent and have been released, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  One wrongful execution is bad enough.  But 156 innocent people could have been killed if not for the attorneys and activists who took up their cases and proved that they had been wronged.  That, in and of itself, ought to be enough to abolish the death penalty.  What governor, warden, or judge wants the blood of innocents on his hands?

Second, it is increasingly difficult for states to acquire the drugs necessary to perform a lethal injection execution. All 31 states that have a death penalty on the books use lethal injection as a method of execution. Several states still have the option of executing a prisoner in the electric chair; by hanging; and in the case of Oklahoma and Utah, by firing squad.  But lethal injection is increasingly seen as cruel and unusual punishment. 

A lethal injection execution uses three different drugs, all of which come with complications. The prisoner is first given a sedative.  But sedatives work on different ways on different people, and the level of sedation may not be very deep.  Also, some people metabolize sedatives quickly and thus may be coming out of the sedation when other drugs are administered.  Following the sedative, the prisoner is given an injection of muscle relaxants.  This is controversial because muscle relaxants can mask signs of distress, such as convulsions or twitching.  And when given in large doses, it paralyzes the muscles that control breathing, causing the prison to suffocate slowly.  Remember, with the sedative already working, the prisoner is unable to signal that he is in distress.  Finally, the prisoner is given a shot of potassium chloride.  Potassium in high doses, such as in an execution, causes cardiac arrest and is intensely painful.

Drug Access Problem    

Some drug makers, meanwhile, balk at allowing their products to be used  for executions. Nevada and Nebraska have run out of lethal injection drugs and have announced that they will begin experimenting with other available drugs, including diazepam, cisatracurium, and fentanyl.  Nebraska also will use a potassium compound to stop the heart.  All of these drugs individually can cause death.  How they will work as a combination is not known. And the courts have not ruled on whether the new combination causes pain and is constitutional.  It could be years before they are ever used.

Third, the courts have taken on more and more cases concerning lethal injection executions and whether they are “humane.” Although challenges to the death penalty have general been defeated at the Supreme Court, appeal after appeal has caused delays in many death sentences that in some cases have lasted for decades.  In many of those cases, the prisoners died of natural causes while they were appealing their death sentences.

Minimum Age 

Finally, a decade ago, the Supreme Court took up a case related to a minimum age for executions.  Before 2005, states generally could execute prisoners once they turned 18, even if the crime had been committed when they were minors. The Supreme Court ended that, ruling that an execution could take place only if the prisoner was over the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed, even if states used the ages of 16 or 17 when charging minors as adults.  Similarly, the court ruled in 2002 that it was unconstitutional to execute a prisoner who was intellectually disabled. 

None of this signals an end to the death penalty. But it’s a good trend. 

Twenty-seven states have an active death penalty.  Twenty states do not.  And three states have moratoria imposed by the governor.  (In Washington State, where there had been a moratorium, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the death penalty there was unconstitutional.) Last year saw a record low death penalty usage in the United States. Thirty six of the 50 states sentenced no one to death.  California and Pennsylvania, which combine to represent one-third of all Americans on death row, had record lows of new death penalty sentences.  Even several southern states, which had been among the heaviest users of capital punishment, have not sentenced anybody to death in years. North Carolina, for example, has gone two consecutive years without a death sentence and has imposed only one in the past four years.

None of this is to say that the movement to end the death penalty has suddenly swelled into an unstoppable force. Even though the death penalty is wrong and should be done away with immediately, the  fight is slow and steady.  However,  opponents of the death penalty should take heart.  Exonerations, appeals, and civil suits drag on. And in that time, some prisoners can be saved.  Meanwhile, we should never stop lobbying our elected officials, including governors and state representatives.  This thing can be won, one vote at a time.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

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