A First-Hand Account of Women’s Boat to Gaza

For almost a decade, Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza and its nearly 2 million people, preventing even humanitarian missions such as the capture this month of the Women’s Boat to Gaza, as Ann Wright describes.

By Ann Wright

Five hours after our Women’s Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna-Oliva, was stopped in international waters by the misnamed Israeli Defense Force (more appropriately called the Israeli Occupation Force), the coast of Gaza came into view. The Gaza shoreline was starkly visible – for its darkness.

The contrast was startling between the bright lights of the Israeli coast – from the border city of Ashkelon north to Tel Aviv and beyond – to the Gaza coast, south of Ashkelon, shrouded in black. The electricity shortages caused by the Israeli control of much of the electrical network of Gaza condemns the Palestinians in Gaza to a life of minimal electricity for refrigeration, for pumping of water from roof tanks to kitchens and bathroom, and for study. It condemns the people of Gaza to a night, every night, in darkness.

Among those the bright lights of Israel live 8 million Israeli citizens. In the Israeli-controlled darkness in the small 25-mile-long, 5-mile-wide Gaza Strip live 1.9 million Palestinians. The internationally isolated enclave called Gaza has almost one quarter of the population of Israel yet is kept in virtually perpetual darkness by the policies of the State of Israel, which also limits the amount of water, food, construction and medical supplies that go into Gaza.

Israel attempts to keep the Palestinians in yet another type of darkness, by imprisoning them in Gaza, severely limiting their ability to travel for education, medical reasons and family visits — and for the pure joy of visiting other peoples and lands.

Trying to sail two boats in 20 days from Barcelona to Gaza with stops at two ports was fraught with challenges including replacing one boat, Amal or Hope, whose engine failed upon departing Barcelona, readjusting from one boat to another passengers who had flown into the ports from all over the world, replacing things that broke during the voyage including a metal rod shroud by a professional Greek rigger brought to the Zaytouna-Oliva off Crete for an at sea repair of the shroud. (The boat in this video is filled with Greek activists who brought the rigger to our boat and helped replenish our fuel supply.)

During the days on the Zaytouna-Oliva and especially on the last three days, our satellite phones rang virtually continuously with interviews with media from all over the world. Our participants described why each felt it was important to be on the voyage. The exception to media coverage of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was the U.S. media that did not call for interviews and gave very little information to the citizens of the country that most supports Israel and its policies that oppress and imprison Palestinians.

At the end of our 15-day, 1,715-mile voyage from Barcelona, Spain, around 3 p.m. on Oct. 5, we began to see the outlines of three large naval vessels on the horizon. At 3:30 p.m., Israeli naval forces began radio broadcasts to the Women’s Boat to Gaza, crackling with “Zaytouna, Zaytouna. This is the Israeli Navy. You are heading for an internationally recognized Security Zone. You must stop and divert to Ashdod, Israel or your boat will be forcibly stopped by the Israeli Navy and your boat will be confiscated.”

Our Captain Madeline Habib, an extraordinarily experienced captain licensed to command all ships of any size responded, “Israeli Navy, this is the Zaytouna, the Women’s Boat to Gaza. We are in international waters heading for Gaza on a mission of bringing hope to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten. We demand that the government of Israel end its naval blockade of Gaza and let the people of Palestine live in dignity with the right to travel freely and the right to control their destiny. We are continuing to sail to Gaza where the people of Gaza are awaiting our arrival.”

Vessels Approaching

Around 4 p.m., we saw three vessels coming at high speed toward the Zaytouna. As planned during our frequent nonviolence training discussions, we gathered all 13 women in the cockpit of the Zaytouna. Two journalists of Al Jazeera, who had been reporting daily on the progress of the Zaytouna during the final nine day voyage, continued their filming, while our Captain and two crew members sailed the boat toward Gaza.

As the Israeli fast boats approached, our participants held hands and had a minute of silence and reflection for the women and children of Gaza and our voyage to bring international attention to their plight.

By 4:10 p.m., the Israeli boats had come along side of the Zaytouna and ordered us to slow to 4 knots. The Israeli zodiac vessel had approximately 25 people on board including ten women sailors. Fifteen young Israeli sailors quickly boarded the Zaytouna and a woman sailor took command of the Zaytouna from our Captain and altered our course from Gaza to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The sailors did not carry visible weapons, although there probably were weapons and handcuffs in the backpacks that several brought onboard. They were not dressed in combat gear, but rather in white long sleeved polo shirts with blue military vests on top and Go-Pro cameras attached to the vests.

They immediately took our individual document belts that contained our passports and stored them below as they searched the boat. Later a second team searched the boat more thoroughly apparently looking for cameras, computers, mobile phones and any electronic devices.

A young Israeli female medic asked if anyone had medical problems. We replied that we had our own medical doctor on board — and the medic said, “Yes, we know, Dr. Fauziah Hasan from Malaysia.”

The boarding group brought aboard water and offered us food. We replied that we had plenty of water and food, including 60 hard boiled eggs that we had prepared for what we knew would be a lengthy journey to an Israeli port after the boarding.

For the next eight hours until after midnight, we sailed and motored with 15 more people on board, a total of about 28 people on the Zaytouna-Oliva. As was typical at virtually every sunset on our nine-day journey from Messina, our crew sang to remind us of the women of Palestine.

Crewmember Emma Ringquist had composed a powerful song entitled “For the Women of Gaza.” Emma, Synne Sofia and Marmara Davidson sang the lyrics as we sailed with the sun setting for the final evening on the Zaytouna Oliva, the Women’s Boat to Gaza with everyone singing the chorus that so aptly described our mission: “We will sail for your freedom our sisters in Palestine. We will never be silent until you are free.”

Deportation Orders

After arriving in Ashdod, we were charged with entering Israel illegally and presented with a deportation order. We told the immigration officials that we had been kidnapped in international waters by the Israeli Occupation Force and brought to Israel against our will and refused to sign any documents or agree to pay for our air tickets to leave Israel. We were sent to the immigration and deportation processing jail at Givon and after lengthy processing finally arrived at our cells around 5 a.m. on Oct. 6.israel2008map1

We demanded to see the Israeli lawyers that had agreed to represent us and to also see representatives of our respective Embassies. By 3 p.m., we had spoken to both and had agreed to the legal advice to write on the deportation order that we were in Israel against our will. By 6 p.m., we were taken to the deportation jail at Ben Gurion International Airport and Israeli officials began putting our Women’s Boat to Gaza participants and crew on flights to their home countries. The Al Jazeera journalists had been deported to their homes in the UK and Russia the evening we arrived in Israel.

All of our participants and crew, who have now arrived safely to their homes, are committed to continuing to speak out strongly about the conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and demand that Israel and the international community bring Gaza out of the darkness imposed by their policies.

We know our voyage was important to the people of Gaza. The photos of preparations for our arrival and videos that thank us for our efforts have been heartwarming. As the young Palestinian woman said, “It doesn’t matter that the boats are towed (to Israel) and the passengers deported. Just knowing that supporters are still willing to keep trying (to get to Gaza) is enough.”

Many Participants

The long voyage of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was to bring hope to the people of Gaza that they are not forgotten by the international community. The women and men supporting the Women’s Boat to Gaza are committed to continuing their efforts by sending international delegations by boat to Gaza to put international pressure on the Israeli government to change its policies toward Gaza and to lift the inhumane and brutal naval and land blockade of Gaza.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna Oliva, set sail from Barcelona, Spain on Sept. 15 to bring international attention to this Israeli-imposed darkness. We sailed with 13 women on our initial voyage, a three-day trip to Ajaccio, Corscia, France. Our captain was Madeline Habib from Australia, who has decades of captaining and sailing experience recently as the Captain of the Dignity, a Doctors Without Borders ship that rescues migrants from North Africa.

Our crewmembers were Emma Ringqvist from Sweden and Synne Sofia Reksten from Norway.  The international participants selected to be on this part of the journey were Rosana Pastor Muñoz, member of Parliament and actor from Spain; Malin Bjork, member of the European Parliament from Sweden; Paulina de los Reyes, a Swedish professor originally from Chile; Jaldia Abubakra,  Palestinian from Gaza now a Spanish citizen and political activist; Dr. Fauziah Hasan, medical doctor from Malaysia; Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel; Lucia Muñoz, Spanish journalist with Telesur; Kit Kittredge, U.S. human rights and Gaza activist. Wendy Goldsmith, Canadian social-worker human rights campaigner, and Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat were designated by the Women’s Boat to Gaza organizers as co-leaders of the boat.

Other participants who had flown to Barcelona but were unable to sail due to the breakdown of the second boat, Amal-Hope, were Zohar Chamberlain Regev, a German and Israeli citizen resident in Spain, and Ellen Huttu Hansson from Sweden, boat co-leaders from the international Freedom Coalition; internationally recognized non-violence trainer Lisa Fithian from the U.S.; Norsham Binti Abubakr, medical administrator from Malaysia; Palestinian activist Gail Miller from the U.S.; and crew members Laura Pastor Solera from Spain, Marilyn Porter from Canada and Josefin Westman from Sweden. Ivory Hackett-Evans, a boat captain from the United Kingdom, flew to Barcelona and then to Messina from work with migrants in Greece to help find another boat in Sicily to replace the Amal-Hope.

A new group of women joined us in Ajaccio, Corsica, France for the 3.5-day trip from to Messina, Sicily, Italy. Besides our crew, the participants were boat co-leaders Wendy Goldsmith from Canada and Ann Wright from the U.S.; medical doctor Dr. Fauziah Hasan from Malaysia; Latifa Habbechi, member of Parliament from Tunisia; Khadija Benguenna, Al Jazeera journalist and broadcaster from Algeria;  Heyet El-Yamani, Al Jazeera Mubasher On-Line journalist from Egypt; Yehudit Ilany, political consultant and journalist from Israel; Lisa Gay Hamilton, TV actor and activist from the United States; Norsham Binti Abubakr, medical administrator from Malaysia; and Kit Kittredge, U.S. human rights and Gaza activist.

A third group of women sailed for nine days and 1,000 miles from Messina, Sicily, to 34.2 miles from Gaza before the Israeli military stopped us in international waters, 14.2 miles outside the illegal 20-mile Israeli imposed “Security Zone” that limits access to Palestine’s only port located at Gaza City. The eight women participants were Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland Mairead Maguire; Algerian Parliamentarian Samira Douaifia; New Zealand Parliamentarian Marama Davidson; Swedish First Substitute Member of the Swedish Parliament Jeanette Escanilla Diaz (originally from Chile); South African Olympic athlete and university student rights activist Leigh Ann Naidoo; Spanish professional photographer Sandra Barrialoro; Malaysian medical doctor Fauziah Hasan; Al Jazeera journalists British Mena Harballou and Russian Hoda Rakhme; and  Ann Wright. Also onboard were the three crew members: Captain Madeleine Habib, Emma Ringqvist and Synne Sofia Reksten.

While the Zaytouna-Olivia sailed to Sicily, our international coalition attempted to find a second boat to continue the mission to Gaza. Despite great efforts, ultimately a second boat could not be fully crewed due to the delayed timeline and many women who traveled from around the world to Messina were unable to go on the final voyage to Gaza.

That group’s participants were Çigdem Topçuoglu, a professional athlete and trainer from Turkey who sailed in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara where her husband was killed; Naomi Wallace, playwright of Palestinian issues and author from the U.S.; Gerd von der Lippe, athlete and professor from Norway; Eva Manly, retired documentary maker and human rights activist from Canada; Efrat Lachter, TV journalist from Israel; Orly Noy, online journalist from Israel; Jaldia Abubakra, Palestinian from Gaza now a Spanish citizen and political activist; boat co-leaders from the international Freedom Coalition Zohar Chamberlain Regev, a German and Israeli citizen resident in Spain, Ellen Huttu Hansson from Sweden, Wendy Goldsmith from Canada; and crew members Sofia Kanavle from the U.S., Maite Mompó from Spain and Siri Nylen from Sweden.

Many members of the Women’s Boat to Gaza steering committee and national and organization campaign organizers traveled to Barcelona, Ajaccio and/or Messina to help with media, ground preparations, logistics and delegate support. Many other local volunteers in each port opened their homes and their hearts to our travelers, participants and support crew.

At each of our stops, local organizers arranged for public events for the participants. In Barcelona, organizers had three afternoons of public events at the Barcelona harbor with the Mayor of Barcelona speaking at the farewell ceremony for the boats. In Ajaccio a local band entertained the public.

In Messina, Sicily, Renato Accorinti, the Mayor of Messina hosted various events in the City Hall, including an international press conference for the departure of the Women’s Boat to Gaza on its final 1,000-mile leg of the journey to Gaza.

The local Palestinian support group in Messina arranged a concert at the city hall with Palestinian, international and local artists. And the Palestinian Ambassador to Italy Doctor Mai Alkaila traveled to Messina to visit the boats and offer her support.

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.  She has been to Gaza six times and participated in the 2009 Gaza Freedom March and the 2010, 2011 and 2015 Gaza Freedom Flotillas.




Hillary Clinton: Candidate of War

Exclusive: The U.S. political/media establishment only permits the propaganda version of the Syrian conflict – and Hillary Clinton fully embraced it in her belligerent comments in the second presidential debate, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

In case there was still any uncertainty, Hillary Clinton banished all doubt in her second debate with Donald Trump. A vote for her is a vote not only for war, but for war on behalf of Al Qaeda.

This is clear from her response to ABC reporter Martha Raddatz’s painfully loaded question about the Syrian conflict. With Raddatz going on about the hundreds killed by the evil twins, Bashar al-Assad and Putin and even tossing in the Holocaust for good measure, Clinton saw no reason to hold back:

“Well, the situation in Syria is catastrophic and every day that goes by we see the results of the regime – by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air – bombarding places, in particular Aleppo where there are hundreds of thousands of people, probably about 250,000 still left, and there is a determined effort by the Russian air force to destroy Aleppo in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels who are really holding out against the Assad regime.

“Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS. They’re interested in keeping Assad in power. So I, when I was secretary of state, advocated, and I advocate today, a no-fly-zone and safe zones. …  But I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia. Russia has decided that it’s all in in Syria, and they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States too, and it’s not me.  I stood up to Russia, I’ve taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as president.”

It was an astonishing performance, even for a presidential debate. Rarely have more lies and misstatements been crammed into a single two-minute statement.

Where to begin? For starters, there are not 250,000 people in Aleppo, but somewhere around 1.75 million, only a small portion of whom live in a rebel-controlled enclave in the city’s east. Despite Clinton’s claim that Russia is trying to “destroy Aleppo,” most of the city manages to carry on quite peacefully despite rebel “hell cannons” lobbing explosive-packed gas canisters into government-controlled areas at regular intervals.

“One of the most striking things about Aleppo,” New York Times reporter Declan Walsh wrote last May, “is how much of the city appears to be functioning relatively normally. Much of the periphery has been reduced to rubble. But in the city center, I saw people on the sidewalks, traffic flowing, hotels and cafes with plenty of customers, and universities and schools open for students.”

Not so in the rebel-held east, however. Juan Cole described the area as “a bombed-out slum,” a ghost town with a population conceivably as low as “a few tens of thousands.” Life under the rebels is “miserable,” he went on. “Some neighborhoods are controlled by Al-Qaeda, some by the hard line Salafi Jihadi ‘Freemen of Syria’ (Ahrar al-Sham), some by militias of, essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Truth About the Rebels

Although Clinton seems to regards such elements as valiant freedom fighters, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman confirmed last April that Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s affiliate that recently renamed itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or the Syria Conquest Front, was firmly in charge. “It’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo,” Col. Steve Warren told a press briefing.

When Secretary of State John Kerry tried to persuade “moderate” rebel forces to sever ties with Al Nusra during last month’s brief ceasefire, The Wall Street Journal reported that some of the largest factions responded by “doubling down on their alliance” and drawing even closer to Al Qaeda. In other words, they flipped Kerry the bird.

The people Clinton supports are thus the same forces that brought down the World Trade Center 15 years ago, killing nearly 3,000 people and triggering a global war on terror that has allowed Al Qaeda to metastasize across half the globe, including its spinoff group, the Islamic State or ISIS.

The statement that “Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS” was similarly bizarre. When ISIS converged on Palmyra, in central Syria, in May 2015, it was the U.S. that held off bombing even though the ISIS fighters would have made perfect targets as they crossed miles of open desert. Why didn’t the United States attack and possibly keep the antiquities of Palmyra out of ISIS’s hands?

Explained The New York Times: “Any airstrikes against Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra would probably benefit the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. So far, United States-led airstrikes in Syria have largely focused on areas far outside government control, to avoid the perception of aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.”

In other words, the U.S. allowed ISIS to take one of the richest archeological sites in the Middle East even though it could have stopped it in its tracks. By the same token, it was Russian air strikes – some of the heaviest, in fact, since Moscow entered the war in September 2015 – that enabled Syrian forces to retake the city the following March.

The idea that Russia doesn’t care about ISIS stood reality on its head. Moreover, when U.S. jets killed at least 62 government soldiers outside the ISIS-besieged town of Deir Ezzor last month, ISIS took advantage by launching an offensive just minutes after the bombing had ceased.

So, by holding its fire in the case of Palmyra and unleashing it in the case of Deir Ezzor, Washington – inadvertently or not – enables ISIS to advance and then gets huffy when anyone objects. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared when Russia dared call an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting in response: “Even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt, a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding, is uniquely cynical and hypocritical.”

The words were shocking not only because scores of people were dead, but also because Power was defending a bombing raid that had taken place on Syrian territory in flagrant violation of international law. While Syria’s sovereign government has requested Russia’s assistance, it has objected to the violation of its territory by the United States and its allies. That means the U.S. coalition has no legal right, under international law, to be operating in or over Syria.

Dangerous Escalation

As for the “no-fly zone” that Clinton invoked, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in early 2012 that it would mean mobilizing as many as 70,000 US military personnel to neutralize Syria’s extensive anti-aircraft network – and that was before Russia decided to buttress Syria’s defenses by installing sophisticated S-300 and S-400 missiles. A “no-fly-zone” also would be an act of war in which the U.S. would not only have to fire on Syrian forces, but on Russian and Iranian forces, too. Instead of peace, the result would be a vast escalation.

Finally, Clinton’s reflexive Russia-bashing showed just how bellicose her worldview has become. If Trump was the first person in a presidential debate to threaten a rival with jail, Clinton was the first to label her opponent an agent of a hostile foreign power.

Yet, Clinton’s efforts to blame Russia for the Syria debacle make little sense. After all, Russia didn’t enter the war until September 2015, more than four years after the blood had started to flow. Rather than ambitions and aggressiveness, it’s clear that it concerns are far more practical. Russian President Putin knows all too well that if Assad falls, it will be a repeat of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan in 1996, but on a far grander scale.

As Alastair Crooke, a diplomat and veteran of British military intelligence, observed in late 2015, Putin sees Syria as “Russia’s veritable front line”:

“Russia recalls how, after the Afghan war, radical Wahhabi-style Islam spread out from Afghanistan and reached up into Central Asia. Russia also recalls how the CIA and Saudi Arabia inflamed and used the Chechen insurgency to weaken Russia. …

“But equally, President Putin shares the perception of many in the region that America and its allies are not serious about defeating ISIS. And sensing that the West was finally about to be lured by Turkey toward a no-fly zone – which would only end, as it did in Libya, in chaos – Putin played his surprise hand: he entered the war on ‘terrorism,’ blocked Turkey’s project to ‘re-Ottomize’ northern Syria, and challenged the West to join with him in the venture.”

The idea was to force the U.S. into waging a real war against violent Salafists who were threatening Russia via its soft underbelly. If so, the effort backfired since the only thing it accomplished was to anger Washington’s hardline foreign-policy establishment, which will undoubtedly be beside itself with fury if the rebels in east Aleppo are defeated.

Trump’s Foggy Account

Trump, fatuous businessman that he is, mostly seemed lost in a fog of his own making. Once or twice, though, he seemed to have a glimmer of an idea of what was at stake. “Now, she talks tough,” he said of Clinton:

“She talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people [they overthrow]. Look at what she did in Libya with Gaddafi.  Gaddafi is out. It’s a mess. And by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil. I’m sure you’ve probably have heard that. It was a disaster. The fact is almost everything she has done has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.”

Trump’s comment was correct, more or less. Either Clinton doesn’t know who the rebels are or is so consumed by enmity for Putin and Assad that she doesn’t care.

Trump was also right that rebels often turn out to be worse than the strongmen they topple. In real life, Muammar Gaddafi was a grotesque goon. But compared to some of the Salafist head choppers who have filled the resulting power void in Libya, he seems more like Desmond Tutu in retrospect.

Much the same can be said for Assad.  Arguably, he is little more than a Syrian Michael Corleone. But after somehow managing to survive five years of a U.S.-Turkish-Saudi onslaught – and in comparison to the barbarous Al Qaeda and ISIS fanatics operating in Syria – he now seems like Nelson Mandela.

In any event, Hillary Clinton has made it crystal clear. Anyone who votes for her is voting for greatly expanded warfare in the Middle East and probably military confrontation with Russia elsewhere as well. As bad as things are in Syria, in a few months they could get a lot worse. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon.”]

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).




Low-Brow Debate Skirts Meaningful Issues

Brushing aside key issues, the second presidential debate took U.S. politics to new lows with Hillary Clinton bashing Donald Trump over his abuse of women and bigotry toward others while Trump vowed to put her in jail, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

As senior members of his own Republican Party were deserting him, Donald Trump found his footing in his rematch debate with Hillary Clinton on Sunday night, blasting her for “always” blaming Russia even without evidence and for backing rebels who turn out “worse” than the leaders the U.S. seeks to overthrow. He even disavowed his own running mate for supporting war with Syria.

Just before the debate 16 Republican senators withdrew their support for Trump because of the emergence of a videotape on Friday in which Trump is heard making obscene comments about how he treats women. The lewd remarks were all the U.S. corporate media could talk about and Trump was facing calls from within his party to step down.

Instead, he stepped up, literally. The town-hall-style debate at a Missouri university allowed Trump to move aggressively around the stage as he hurled invectives at his opponent. Clinton, who was on the defensive most of the night, tried to counter-attack on taxes, Russia, Syria and the scandal of the day, Trump’s treatment of women. But she seemed unnerved by Trump, expecting instead a defeated man who had performed so badly in the first debate after taking her bait, and who should now have been on the ropes.

Having nearly the entire political establishment against him — the Democrats, the media and even his own party — seems to invigorate the totally unorthodox Trump. He even felt confident enough to blithely disagree with his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who – in the vice presidential debate last week – backed U.S. military attacks on the Syrian government and then launched the most virulent criticism of Russia by any candidate in this campaign. Trump said he simply didn’t agree with his running mate, something probably never said before publicly by a modern presidential candidate.

“I don’t like [Bashar al-] Assad at all but Assad is killing ISIS,” Trump said, referring to the Syrian president and the Islamic State jihadists who have seized portions of Syria and Iraq. “Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”

Trump said the priority should be defeating ISIS before talking about what to do regarding the Assad government. “I believe we have to get ISIS,” he said. “We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved.”

Going After Russia…Again 

Meanwhile, Clinton went on the counterattack early and often against Russia, and by extension Trump. She blamed Russian “aggression” for “destroying” Aleppo, though only east Aleppo is under attack, neighborhoods controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its allies.

“There is a determined effort by the Russian air force to destroy Aleppo in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels who are really holding out against the Assad regime,” she said, not mentioning that the main group “really holding out” is the same one that brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Through ignorance or disinformation, she said, “There are hundreds of thousands of people probably about 250,000 still left” in Aleppo under Russia’s bombing. That’s the high estimate of the population in east Aleppo occupied by the extremists. There are1.5 million Aleppans living in the rest of the city, loyal to the government, and whose water was shut off for a time by the extremists in the east.

Despite the key role of Al Qaeda in the Aleppo conflict, Clinton again called for arming rebels and setting up a safe zone inside Syria, and a no-fly zone above it, a move that America’s top general, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress two weeks ago would lead to war with Russia. Even Clinton acknowledged in a leaked email that a no-fly zone would “kill a lot of Syrians.” But she’s still for it.

“She talks in favor of the rebels,” Trump shot back. “She doesn’t even know who they are. Every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people, and you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people” the U.S. overthrows.

“Look what she did in Libya with Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s out. It’s a mess,” he said. “The fact is almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.”

Clinton again extended her attack on Russia to Trump for supposedly supporting its president, Vladimir Putin. She said U.S. intelligence has concluded, without making the evidence public, that Russia had hacked into U.S. election and Democratic Party computers “to influence our election.”

“And believe me, they’re not doing it to get me elected, they’re doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump,” she charged. “Now, maybe because he has praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow, I don’t know the reasons.”

Or, maybe it’s because Trump has called for dialogue with Moscow while Clinton threatens Russia, even likening Putin to “Hitler.” 

Trump denied he had any outstanding loans with Russia or any business interests there.

“She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking,” Trump responded. “But they always blame Russia and the reason is because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know about Russia but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia.”

And neither do the vast majority of the American public because the corporate media never  tells them Russia’s side of the story. If it had, the American people might understand that Russia has been playing defense and that America has been on the offensive, such as in Ukraine after a U.S.-backed coup; in Poland and the Baltics after provocative NATO maneuvers; and in Syria after a U.S. and allied-backed campaign of foreign extremists trying to overthrow the secular Syrian government.

But Trump also steered away from a fully honest discussion about today’s dangerous geopolitics by putting on a display of typical rightwing rhetoric. He again trashed the Iran nuclear deal, which has considerably reduced tension in the region and in which Russia played a significant role. He called it “the dumbest deal I’ve ever seen” but that remark was probably the dumbest thing that Trump said all night.

Trump also reaffirmed that he wants to increase military spending, though the U.S. already outspends the next ten countries combined. He embraced easy access to guns, called for massive tax cuts for the rich, advocated more deregulation (despite the role of lax banking regulations in the Wall Street crash of 2008), and would have denounced climate change (the second most urgent problem after possible war with Russia) as a hoax but the question never came up, to the shame of the moderators who chose the questions from voters and asked many of their own.

After starting on the defensive over his recently disclosed 2005 remarks about groping women, Trump went on the offensive over Clinton’s email issue. He blasted away at Clinton for deleting 33,000 emails from her private server and for claiming not to know that many of the emails on her server were classified and vulnerable to hacking (though the FBI says it has no evidence that the server was successfully hacked).

In possibly the most stunning comment of the evening, Trump said that if he becomes president he would arrange a special prosecutor to investigate her use of the private email server although the FBI and the Justice Department have already declined to prosecute the case. At one point, he quipped that she would be “in jail” if he were president. That led the dour Dana Bash and other CNN talking heads to compare him to Hitler and Stalin, who didn’t need prosecutors to send someone away.

Trump and Women

The debate’s sordid tone began with a question about the videotape disclosed on Friday in which Trump makes several obscene remarks about women. He describes women letting him sexually touch them soon after meeting him because he is “a star.” It was a hideously sexist remark about abuse of power.

In the debate, Trump expressed remorse for the comments but claimed he was just engaging in “locker room talk” and didn’t do the lewd practices that he described. That would give Trump at age 59 at the time of the remarks the mentality of an immature 14-year old. Clinton and her supporters instead say he was talking about actual sexual assaults that he committed. You can be sure the Clinton camp is searching for the woman Trump took furniture shopping or any others who might have been groped.

Faced with this onslaught, Trump pulled the ace from his sleeve that he threatened to play in the first debate — and the second debate rapidly descended deep into the mud. Trump said Hillary Clinton had in the 1990s attacked women who had accused her husband Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them. Trump invited three of these women to the debate and held a press conference with them before it began.

Dismissing the importance of the videotape, Trump said it was more important to talk about defeating ISIS and Clinton’s disastrous and violent record as secretary of state. Clinton ignored his remark about her attacking her husband’s accusers. Instead she said the tape showed the world the real Donald Trump.

“He has said that the video doesn’t represent who he is,” Clinton said. “But I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly what he is.”

But Trump went after Clinton’s character too for calling half his supporters “deplorables” and some of them “irredeemable” in a fundraising speech, while claiming during the debate that she wants to be president for all Americans.

You’re No Abe Lincoln

Trump then blasted comments she made to Wall Street bankers and other special interests in speeches over the past four years, transcripts that she has refused to make public. But largely buried by the video hysteria over the past several days were portions of the speeches made public by Wikileaks, also on Friday, in which she cozied up to the well-to-do. abrahamlincoln-16

According to one excerpt, Clinton advocated politicians taking one position in public and another one in private, prompting one undecided voter at the debate to ask: “Is it okay for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance?” In response, Clinton said the context of her remark was Abraham Lincoln, as portrayed in the movie “Lincoln,” altering his positions depending on his audience as he negotiated to amend the Constitution to formally outlaw slavery.

“She lied,” Trump responded. “Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great Abraham Lincoln. …  Honest Abe never lied. … That’s the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you.”

The post-debate discussion on U.S. cable networks did little to redeem the evening. The commentary was pathetic, obsessing over Trump’s videotape and ignoring Clinton’s record on Libya and Syria, including her dangerous threats against Russia. There was also no discussion about Trump’s desire to jack up military spending.

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

 




Are Humans Natural-Born Killers?

Among scientists there has been a long debate about whether human violence toward other humans is inherent, cultural or a mix of both. The question is: Are we natural-born killers, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

A new study, published in the journal Nature and entitled “The Phylogenetic Roots of Human Lethal Violence,” argues two points: (1) along with many other mammals and particularly primates, human lethal violence is innate because it is part of a long “evolutionary history”; and (2) for humans, however, it is also a behavior that is responsive to our cultural environment. So, over time, “culture modulates our bloodthirsty tendencies.”

What is particularly original about this study is that it places human violence against the backdrop of general mammalian and primate lethal behavior. The researchers found that there is a correlation between the level of intra-group violence of those species that lie close to each other on the evolutionary tree.

In order to come to this conclusion the authors of the study (who are evolutionary biologists) looked at the available data on in-group violent deaths in 1,020 mammal species. From this information they tried to approximate how murderous each group is. For conclusions about the human propensity for murder, the researchers looked at 600 human groups stretching back as far as 50,000 years ago. It turns out we are less violent than baboons and more violent than bonobos, while about as violent as chimpanzees.

Just for the reader’s information, it seems that killer whales almost never hurt each other, and bats and anteaters are quite peaceable to others of their kind. On the other hand, if you’re a cougar, chinchilla or marmot, things can get very dangerous and one has to stay wary of the neighbors.

Getting back to humans, almost every serious historian knows that our propensity for lethal violence has been around for as far back as we can go. Thus the proposition that this behavior is inherited from our pre-human ancestors seems reasonable. However, there is an effort on the part of some researchers in this field, including those who wrote the Nature article, to make the argument that humans are getting less violent.

For instance, this study claims that among Paleolithic hunter-gather groups, roughly 2 percent of deaths were the result of lethal violence. Later, in medieval times, this allegedly jumps to 12 percent. But in the modern age, with “industrialized states exerting the rule of law,” the rate appears to have fallen to 1.3 percent. Is all of this really accurate?

The authors are not the first to make this claim. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, in a 2011 book entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature, argues that humans can and have lowered their level of interpersonal violence through creating institutions and laws that discourage such behavior.

As a general rule we should be wary of such sweeping claims about behavior over such large expanses of time. As one observer of the Nature study commented, much of the data [sources range from archeological digs to modern crime statistics] is “imprecise.” The same is true of Pinker’s evidence. It is due to just such challenges that such studies present these claims in terms of statistical models.

Evolution and Culture

There is much more that can be said about what may well be our species’ “innate tendency to solve problems with violence.” For one thing, it often appears to be territorial. Human beings, nomadic or otherwise, stake out territory and then defend it. This is obviously similar to what certain other primates, close to us on the evolutionary tree, do and so it is reasonable to assume an evolutionary derivation for this behavior.

As societies developed – got larger and more complex – efforts arose to control destructive behavior within in-groups. These took the form of the laws referred to by Steven Pinker as well as the present authors. However, sometimes the data seems to belie this claim.

For instance, why should the medieval period be so much more violent than the Paleolithic if societal institutions and laws were so much more developed at that later time? There might be extenuating circumstances to explain this, but the glitch does suggest that an overall answer to why the rates of lethal human violence go up and down is complicated and multifaceted.

And, what can we say of the modern era, which is supposed to be humankind’s least murderous epoch? If the statistics are correct – which seems counterintuitive – we should be reassured. However, less reassuring is the fact that our technological know-how has also supplied modern mankind with nuclear weapons and thus the ability to wipe out our species, and most all the others too.

There may be a glimmer of hope for a more peaceful future if indeed our violent inclinations are tied to acquisition of territory, and within those territories we usually make efforts to minimize intra-group violence. Under those circumstances one can speculate that the development of ever larger states (culminating in a world state) with ever larger in-groups (culminating in humanity as a single in-group) seems the way to go. Then, in theory, law and order within these expanding categories would make for a more peaceful world.

Just to interpose this part of the analysis into today’s U.S. politics, we can note that the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, wants to make the country’s collective in-group smaller by deporting hundreds of thousands and closing the borders to thousands more. Such a policy can only make the United States more insular and subject to the paranoia of a heightened us-versus-them worldview.

On the other hand, the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, seems to be advocating a hawkish foreign policy that emphasizes the need to control foreign territory directly or by proxy but with no inclination to increase the in-group. This too can only make the world a more dangerous place. The view of one candidate or the other being a “lesser evil” might depend on whether you are focused on domestic or foreign policy.

Whatever the optimistic claim of the Nature study about today’s comparative level of lethal violence, it seems pretty clear that our laws are not doing well enough to supply the peaceful future most of us hope for. For instance, international human rights laws are so infrequently enforced as to be of minimal effect. And, as current migrant crises around the world make clear, the prospects for ever larger in-groups are but a dream.

All of this only gives added credence to the notion that our willingness to slaughter each other is innate – an adaptive habit of a long evolutionary history. This conclusion is offered as an explanation rather than an excuse. For, as the Nature study authors recognize, culture can impact such behavior – tamping it down at least within a designated in-group.

Yet it is hard to shake the feeling that our addiction to lethal violence is our evolutionary fate, and that it hangs there, like a sword of Damocles, always ready to impose itself should the delicate strand of law snap.

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




Extracting Lessons from Police Shootings

Police shootings, especially aimed at people of color, have inflamed tensions between communities and the police sworn to protect them, raising difficult questions about attitudes and training, says ex-police officer William John Cox.

By William John Cox

The People of the United States have empowered some of their members to enforce their laws and to police their society, but things have gone terribly awry. The police are killing those they are sworn to protect and they themselves are becoming the target of public anger over racial inequality and discrimination. Video images of recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota were followed by the mass murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, apparently in response to these shootings

Last month, the killing of an unarmed mentally-disturbed man by El Cajon, California police officers — and resulting civil disturbances — once again raises the question of the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. The question involves complicated issues of law and policy, but the decision to shoot must often be made in a nanosecond.

With the widespread availability of video cameras, instant playback, and social media, however, the justification for the use of deadly force is being increasingly scrutinized, and the quality of law enforcement policy, training, and discretion is frequently found wanting.

The reasonableness of a police shooting decision is determined by what was known to the officer at the moment of the shooting, and whether that decision complied with policy and law. The decision to pull the trigger is made by an individual officer, but the responsibility for its consequences is shared by the policing agency.

Based on experience, professional standards, statutory and constitutional law, and public expectations, police policy and training seeks to minimize the risk of harm to the public while ensuring the right of self-defense. There are no easy answers, but it is essential that police administrators learn from these encounters and formulate more effective policy and training to guide their officers and to hold them accountable.

Some Background

My 45-year career in the justice system began in 1962 when I became a police officer in El Cajon. The new chief of police (who was later elected sheriff of San Diego County) was intent on improving the level of professionalism in the department. Proud to be a part of the “New Breed,” I achieved top honors in the San Diego Police Academy and quickly became president of the Police Officer’s Association and later president of the San Diego County organization representing all of its law enforcement officers.

Although El Cajon was a quiet suburb, police work was not without its risk. One of my supervisors, Sergeant Fred Wilson — the only El Cajon police officer ever killed in the line of duty — died of head injuries he sustained breaking up a fight.

Transferring to the Los Angeles Police Department in 1968, I again achieved top honors in the Police Academy and was assigned to South Central L.A. upon graduation, where policing was more dangerous. My partner and I were once dispatched to a “man with a gun” call from only a block away, and as we turned the corner, we saw the man directly in front of us in the street. He was holding a woman by her hair in one hand and a gun in the other. He shot her in the abdomen, looked up, saw us, and began to run between the houses.

I drew my revolver and chased after him. He jumped up on a wall and threw his weapon to the other side, but drew another handgun from his waistband as he came back down. Crouched in a firing stance, I yelled at him to drop the second gun and he did. We arrested him, and his girlfriend was transported to the hospital.

Later, my tactics were criticized for not having shot the man. In cop terms, it would have been a “good,” or justifiable, shooting, but in my mind he was just trying to get rid of his guns, and I had no cause to shoot him.

I was fortunate that day, but two of my friends were not so lucky. Jerry Maddox, with whom I had carpooled to the Police Academy, was shot to death in 1969 by a gang member in East L.A., and Jack Coler was one of the FBI agents ambushed and murdered at Wounded Knee in 1975.

Drafting Policy

Upon completion of my probation, I was transferred to L.A. police headquarters where I spent two years researching and writing the department Policy Manual. Subsequently, while attending night law school, I was also assigned to work on the Police Task Force of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals.

My job was to write about the role of the police in America and law enforcement policy making. As the author of the LAPD shooting policy, I later testified at the Police Commission hearing into the shooting of Eulia May Love in 1979. When the city attempted to turn off her gas for nonpayment, the recent widow had the payment in her purse as she waved a knife to keep the gas man at bay. Two officers responded and shot her eight times.

The drafting of shooting policy began with the law of justifiable homicide. A police officer can legally kill in three circumstances: self defense, defense of others, and to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon. Although there have been some minor revisions, the Los Angeles Police Department shooting policy remains the same as originally written.

The policy does not limit the right of an officer to shoot in self defense. It does, however, require that “Justification for the use of deadly force must be limited to what reasonably appear to be the facts known or perceived by an officer at the time he decides to shoot.” Moreover, policy states that a “reverence for the value of human life shall guide officers in considering the use of deadly force,” and it imposes a duty on officers to minimize “the risk of death.”

The shooting of fleeing felons is limited to those who have caused “serious bodily injury or the use of deadly force where there is a substantial risk” that the felon will “cause death or serious bodily injury to others. . . .”

In a section titled “Minimum Use of Force,” LAPD officers are told they “should use only the reasonable amount of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.”

These Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force policies generally follow California law, and it may be helpful to consider the known facts of the recent El Cajon police shooting in light of these basic principles. Unlike the Los Angeles Police Department Manual — which is generally available in public libraries — the policies of the El Cajon Police Department (ECPD) are not published. It appears, however, that El Cajon’s policies may be based on those of Los Angeles.

The ECPD website states that “The Department serves the people of El Cajon by performing in a professional manner; and it is to the people of this community that the Department is ultimately responsible.” Except for the city’s name, this mission statement is identical with the definition of the LAPD motto, “To Protect and To Serve” I originally wrote in the Policy Manual.

El Cajon Shooting Facts

On Sept. 27, 2016, the sister of Alfred Olango, a 30-year-old refugee from Uganda, called the El Cajon Police Department seeking help with her brother — who was having an emotional breakdown over the death of his best friend. Two other calls to the department reported that a shirtless man was walking in traffic and acting erratically at the same location. Although located less than two miles from police headquarters, it took officers more than an hour to respond.

Richard Gonsalves, a 21-year veteran officer — who had been recently demoted from sergeant for sexually harassing a female officer — was the first to arrive on the scene in the parking lot of a small strip mall. A surveillance camera shows that he immediately drew his weapon and closely confronted Olango, who continued to pace back and forth with his right hand in his pocket.

According to the officer, Olango did not obey repeated orders to remove his hand from his pocket. A second officer arrived and drew his taser weapon instead of his firearm. As Olango’s sister approached the scene, Olango suddenly withdrew his hand holding an electronic smoking device from his pocket and extended it towards Officer Gonsalves. He was immediately shot four times by Gonsalves and tased by the other officer. The entire encounter lasted less than one minute.

Although the El Cajon Police Department has released the surveillance video and another contemporaneous video made with a bystander’s cellphone, the calls to the police and the radio dispatch have not been released. It is essential to know exactly what Olango’s sister and other callers told the police dispatcher and what the responding officers were told. One standard question asked of most complainants is whether a person is armed. Although a vape pipe might appear to be a small gun, it matters whether the police were originally informed that the person was waving a gun or smoking a vape pipe.

There is also a great difference if the responding officers were told that they were dealing with a mental case — or a serious crime such as an armed robbery. Inasmuch as it took more than an hour for the officers to arrive, and the matter was dispatched as a “5150” call regarding a mentally disturbed individual, there is no evidence that a crime of violence was under consideration.

Depending on the information available to Officer Gonsalves, it is questionable whether he should have drawn his gun in the first place. The LAPD shooting policy tells officers they cannot “draw or exhibit a firearm unless the circumstances surrounding the incident create a reasonable belief that it may be necessary to use the firearm” in conformance with written policy. Nor are officers allowed to use deadly force “to protect themselves from assaults which are not likely to have serious results.”

Officers are trained to demonstrate “command presence” and to quickly take control of situations. Officers must deliver firm and unambiguous directions — which may in some cases require a loud voice and even profanity. If, however, Officer Gonsalves believed he was dealing with a mental case, he should have been trained as a professional to de-escalate and defuse the situation by speaking in a calm voice and by asking questions, rather than shouting commands. Asking Olango what he had in his pocket, or if he would show his empty hand, is different than a loud order to remove his hand (along with the pocket contents).

It is reasonable to believe that Officer Gonsalves thought he saw a gun in Olango’s hand when Olango followed directions and removed his hand and the vape pipe from his pocket. Since the officer already had his gun pointed at Olango, he may have fired instinctively. We will never know, however, what Olango was thinking. It is not unreasonable to believe he was simply showing the officer what he had in his pocket and handing it over. Or, more unlikely, he may have been pretending it was a gun and was trying to commit “suicide by cop.”

The video shows that Gonsalves approached Olango to within a few feet and shifted his position several times to maintain close contact as Olango moved about. To de-escalate, rather than inflame, situations involving mentally disturbed people, professional officers are trained to maintain a distance or to speak from behind their police vehicle for self protection — as they defuse confrontations and consider alternatives.

The videos show that Olango’s sister had approached to within a few feet behind Officer Gonsalves when he fired four bullets into her brother. Had the officer maintained some distance and emotional reserve, she might have helped resolve the situation. Instead, she plaintively cried, “I called for help. I didn’t call you to kill him.”

Lessons Learned

Following major police actions, professional administrators engage in an “after action” process. Lessons learned from the analysis are then used to enhance the training of officers to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, and to formulate more effective policies to guide their actions.

If the El Cajon Police Department already has similar policies to Los Angeles about when to draw a firearm or to minimize the risk of death or serious injury, and if the officer had received de-escalation training, then the officer should be accountable for his failure to follow policy and training. If found to be unjustified, the killing might also warrant criminal prosecution. If, however, police administrators have failed to promulgate appropriate policies and to provide professional training, they themselves should be accountable.

El Cajon has changed from the white, middle-class bedroom community it was when I patrolled there in the early 1960s. The population has doubled, and it has become a gritty, multi-ethnic, working-class community. It is likely the police culture has changed as well, as the department has had six other police shootings in the last five years, including the killing of two women. The present culture may also be indicated by the demotion of Officer Gonsalves — instead of firing him — for sexually harassing a subordinate.

Independent of policy and law, police officers among themselves categorize shootings as good or bad in terms of the risk to their own safety and their demonstrated heroism. This was not a “good” shooting of an armed robbery suspect or murderer. To the contrary, it appears to have been an entirely avoidable killing of a mentally disturbed person, whom the officers were sworn to protect.

More complete answers to the complicated questions of why police killings are taking place and what can be done to prevent them requires a deeper consideration of contributing causes than is available in this brief paper. These matters include: poverty; a punitive society; the war on drugs; federalization and militarization of the police; regulation of guns; and the professionalization of law enforcement.

Learning from police shootings, such as what occurred in El Cajon, can lead to enlightened solutions and a commitment by the People and their Police to achieve a peaceful outcome. A thoughtful response may be more difficult to arrive at, accept, and implement than the simplistic commentaries being tossed out during the 24-hour news cycle, but it is essential if peace is to prevail in the Nation’s communities.

William John Cox is a retired police officer, prosecutor and public interest lawyer who writes about public policy and political matters. He was the author of the Los Angeles Police Department Policy Manual and the Role of the Police in America for the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. His most recent book is Transforming America: A Voters’ Bill of Rights.




Selective Outrage Over Aleppo Bombing

When the U.S. kills civilians while bombing ISIS’s cities in Syria and Iraq, the jihadists are blamed for using “human shields” and the big media is silent, but different rules apply to Russia’s attacks on Al Qaeda in Aleppo, says Steven Chovanec.

By Steven Chovanec

The United States is manipulating humanitarian concern in an effort to protect its proxy militias and its imperial regime-change project in Syria. The mainstream media and intellectual classes are dutifully falling in line, promoting a narrative favoring U.S. military aggression under the cover of “protecting civilians.”

Similar arguments contributed to the invasions of Iraq and Libya, exponentially increasing the massacres, chaos and proliferation of violent extremism within those countries. These “responsibility to protect” or R2P claims are hypocritical, designed to further the interests of conquest and domination and will lead to even more death and destruction in Syria.

The United States has no stake in the wellbeing of Syrian civilians, despite the condemnations of Russia’s offensive in Aleppo. This is clearly shown in the fact that the people that the U.S. is supporting are guilty of the same crimes that the U.S. accuses Russia and Syria of: indiscriminate attacks, targeting of civilians, destruction of schoolshospitals, etc.

Furthermore, the offensive in Aleppo is really no different from what the U.S. did in Manbij, a Syrian city northeast of Aleppo where the U.S. is said to have incorporated a “scorched earth policy” while liberating the city from ISIS this year by treating the civilian population “as if they were terrorists or ISIS supporters.”

Arguably the U.S. conduct was even worse, as the U.S. earned the distinction of launching the deadliest single airstrike on civilians out of the entire five-year conflict, massacring at least 73 where no ISIS fighters were present. But the Manbij operation elicited no moral outcry from the media and punditry, since these were deemed “unworthy victims” given that they were our victims and not those of our enemies. The same can be said about the U.S. operations in Kobani and Fallujah, whereby the entire towns were essentially reduced to rubble without any R2P uproar.

Saudi Arabia as well has no concern for Syrian civilians, as it has ruthlessly besieged and bombed Yemen, with the support and help of the United States, for two years without any concern for civilian lives. The Saudi assault has led to a humanitarian crisis arguably even more dire than in Syria, leaving at least 19 million in need of humanitarian assistance; in Syria it is estimated that a total of 18 million are in need of such aid.

Turkey as well is not concerned about civilian casualties, as is evidenced by its conduct towards the Kurdish population, yet the recent quiet by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the fate of Aleppo is indicative of an understanding reached between him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whereby Turkey establishes a presence in northern Syria and blocks the advance of the Kurds, and in return limits its support to the rebels  in Aleppo.

The real reason the U.S. is decrying the Russian operation is the fact that the U.S.  is staring aghast at the near-term possibility that its proxy insurgency in Aleppo will be defeated.  Not only will this mark the decisive turning point in the war, the rebels all-but being fully overcome and the Syrian government in control of all the populated city centers except Idlib, but others have argued that it could as well mark the end of U.S. hegemony over the entire Middle East in general.  In other words, the U.S. is trying to turn global public opinion against the Russian effort in an attempt to halt the advance and protect U.S. rebel proxies trapped in Aleppo.

The Rebels of Aleppo

So, who are these rebels? In short, they are an array of U.S.-supported groups in alliance with and dominated by Al Qaeda.  During the past ceasefire agreement these rebels refused to break ties with Al Qaeda and instead reasserted a commitment to their alliances with the group.  The United Nation’s special envoy for Syria recently explained that over half of the fighters in eastern Aleppo are al-Nusra (Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate which has recently gone through a cosmetic name change), while according to the U.S. Department of Defense, it is “primarily Nusra who holds Aleppo.”

Expert analysis concurs, as Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute details how these rebel alliances indicate “that the al-Nusra Front dominates more different rebel factions, including those considered ‘moderate.’” He explains that Al Qaeda’s “grip on East Aleppo has only increased since the spring of 2016.”

It is these fighters, Al Qaeda and its allies, that the U.S. is trying to protect from the Russians, as well other U.S. intelligence assets that are likely embedded with the jihadists.  The narrative that Russia is committing a humanitarian catastrophe is intended to hide this fact, as well as to shift the blame for the suffering in Aleppo off of the U.S.’ shoulders.  Yet it was the U.S. support to the rebels that is primarily responsible for the suffering.

To illustrate this, the people of eastern Aleppo never supported the rebels nor welcomed them.  The rebels nonetheless “brought the revolution to them” and conquered the people against their will all the same. Of the few reporters who actually went to the city, they describe how Aleppo has been overrun by violent militants through a wave of repression, and that the people only “saw glimmers of hope” as the Syrian army was driving the rebels from the area.

The people decried this “malicious revolution” and characterized the rebels’ rule as a “scourge of terrorism.”  This, of course, was of no concern to the U.S. at the time, which now proclaims itself to be the “protectors” of the civilians in Aleppo.

Around 200,000-600,000 of Aleppo’s original population fled and relocated in the government-held western part of the city.  Of the civilians who remain, they are primarily the families of the fighters, who themselves are paid to stay and fight.  The official numbers for those remaining are 200,000, yet the actual number is likely much lower, around 40,000-50,000.

Nonetheless, the remaining civilians who are trapped within this warzone were prevented from leaving. During the first ceasefire, humanitarian corridors were opened and the civilians were encouraged by the Syrian army to leave, yet the rebels stopped them, with reports saying the rebels went so far as to shoot at those who tried. The attempt to evacuate the civilians was condemned by the U.S., which argued that the innocent people “should be able to stay in their homes.”

Human Shields 

The radical groups were using the civilian population as human shields in order to protect themselves, and the U.S. was supporting this tactic. Further corroborating this is special U.N. envoy Steffan de Mistura, who cited reports indicating that the rebels have been utilizing “intentional placement of firing positions close to social infrastructure, aside and inside civilian quarters.”

This is because it has always been the policy of the Syrian government to separate civilians from insurgents, as it is simply much more militarily effective to fight against an enemy that is not ensconced within a civilian population.  Likewise, it has always been U.S. and rebel policy to prevent this separation.

According to a knowledgeable individual with contacts with high-level Syrian officials, the U.S. and European Union always rejected the Syrian governments proposals to separate civilians from the fighters, as they explained, “because doing so will be helping you win.”

This makes sense, given that if all of the civilians from eastern Aleppo were evacuated there would then be nothing stopping the Syrian army from crushing the remaining fighters, and there as well would be no international outcry over them doing so. The source explains that “Syria’s war is an urban war theater. [The] only way for insurgents to compete is to use residential areas to hide and operate out of.  This is in direct contrast to [the] Syrian army who would like to fight a theater totally void of civilians.”

Those claiming to be the protecting Aleppo’s civilians from the Russian and Syrian onslaught are in actuality using them as a means to protect the rebels’ success on the battlefield. Given this, the strategy of the Syrian government has been to bomb sporadically in order to scare the civilians and force them to flee from areas controlled by the militants. This is also why the Syrian army just recently halted its advance in order to allow civilians to evacuate; the army wanted the civilians out of the picture so they could militarily defeat the rebels more quickly and easily.

If one actually were concerned about saving the civilians in eastern Aleppo, it is pretty straightforward that one would try to evacuate the civilians from the area and that the backers of the rebel groups would put pressure on them to allow this to happen. From there it would follow that all sides abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions of which they agreed to, which call for the suppression of financing, arming and supporting Al Qaeda, for the suppression of Al Qaeda “and all other entities associated” with the terror group, and “to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria,” of which Aleppo is one of the largest.

Unfortunately, it is only Syria and Russia that are following through on these commitments, while the U.S. and its allies are consciously blocking the effort. Western media and intellectual opinion are falling in line, took obscuring from the narrative all of these inconvenient truths that do not support the interests of the policy planners in Washington.

In this way, the major media is shown to be completely subservient to state power, drumming up support for another aggressive war based on falsities and half-truths in the exact same way that led to the continuing catastrophes in Libya and Iraq. When the U.S. was driving ISIS from Manbij, just as Syria is now driving Al Qaeda from Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians at a time, there was not so much as a debate about it, much less an international outcry.

Yet now there are countless voices calling out to “save” Syrians by having the U.S. and its military allies bomb the Syrian military and provide more – and more sophisticated – weapons to the rebels, ironically using “humanitarian” concerns to implement a policy that would likely lead to even more death and misery.

The rebels are dominated by jihadi extremists, and any further support to them will further strengthen the radicals engaged in a project of ethnic cleansing, conquest and reactionary theocratic governance. Bombing the Syrian army and air force would only help to further descend Syria into more chaos and more bloodshed, just as the same policies did in Iraq and Libya.

The Syrian conflict is an international proxy war and humanitarian concerns are being manipulated unscrupulously in support of interests having nothing to do with concern for innocent lives.

Steven Chovanec is an independent geopolitical analyst and writer based in Chicago, IL.  He has a bachelors in International Relations and Sociology at Roosevelt University and conducts independent, open-source research into geopolitics and social issues.  His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.com, find him on Twitter @stevechovanec. [This article was originally posted at http://undergroundreports.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-us-manipulates-humanitarianism-for.html]




Still Fighting for Native American Rights

The U.S. government’s historic abuse of Native Americans has many chapters, including modern ones, such as the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973 and today’s protests against a pipeline in North Dakota, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

A new front in the historic struggle of Native Americans to force the U.S. government to respect their rights is the protest against a pipeline that would go through the territory of a small tribe in North Dakota.

This protest has drawn the support of Dennis J. Banks, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who sat down for an interview in San Francisco after helping out with the growing resistance to the pipeline in North Dakota.

Banks was born in 1932 on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. In 1968, he co-founded A.I.M., “which was established to protect the traditional ways of Indian people and to engage in legal cases protecting treaty rights of Native Americans, such as treaty and aboriginal rights to hunting and fishing, trapping, and gathering wild rice.”

In 1972, AIM organized and led the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan across the United States to Washington, D.C., calling attention to the plight of Native Americans. Banks led a protest in Custer, South Dakota, in 1973 against a judicial process found a non-Indian innocent of murdering an Indian. Banks also participated the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973.

His activities led to his arrest, along with 300 others. Banks was acquitted of charges stemming from his participation in the Wounded Knee takeover, but was convicted of riot and assault stemming from the confrontation at Custer. Refusing to serve time in prison, Banks went underground but later received amnesty from Gov. Jerry Brown of California.

Banks’s autobiography, Sacred Soul, was published in Japan, and won the 1988 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award. He had significant roles in the films “War Party” (1988), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), and “Thunderheart” (1992). Banks was in San Francisco, as a part of a multi-state tour as a 2016 Vice Presidential Candidate on the Peace and Freedom Party when I interviewed him on KPFA.

 

 

Dennis Banks: First of all I want to say thank you to KPFA for allowing for us to come on. We have, when I say we, Native People, we needed Standing Rock, and we needed the people to support us there. As you know, they’re trying to run the pipeline roughshod through a lot of our territories, and we’re scrambling; we thought they were going to win totally, but now, it’s been about nine weeks ago that I first was made aware that there was going to be an encampment going on.

And I kind of followed it at first to see what was going on. It developed, there was 200 people that showed up and made the encampment, and then I was telling my children, I said “Hey, we gotta get involved in this. I don’t know what’s going to happen but we’ve got to get up there.”

Well, my daughters went first, and then they reported back to me, and I realized that something big is going to happen. But I thought at first that the big thing would be that the confrontation would begin quickly, coming to push and shove. But I noticed that the tribal council of Standing Rock had taken a firm, legal action against Dakota Access right away, and that’s when I felt that we could win.

Looking at the brief, looking at the strategy that was going to develop, I thought, “Oh man, this is going to get big.” And I want to say from now, there were 400 people when I first came there, to now seeing on Labor Day weekend, it rose to about 10,000 people. Some say it was 9,500 but we are now listed as the 13th largest village in North Dakota.

And the camp has become a community. And I’ve never seen this kind of support. You know, the struggle with Wounded Knee ended up being a confrontation with the FBI and the U.S. marshals, and weapons and guns. But this one is, oh my God, I’ve never seen and I probably will never see this kind of support again for a really small tribe.

DB: Well, tell us what you saw and more about what moved you?

Banks: Well, first of all, when we reached over, almost close to 1,000 people, the people started to create some learning sessions for a lot of the children that were there. And there was about 15 horses that came there, young boys and girls were riding them. There was a lot of happiness, there was a lot of good feeling. The cooking started to grow, from one big major station, cooking station, where we now have 10 major stations, where they feed the 6,000 – 7,000 people, we’ll feed them within an hour and a half. And that’s how we’re getting it down.

And, also, the children, the learning situation became really vital. And it began to show and become clear that we’re not there just for a couple of days. We’re going to be in it for the long run. Knowing that the teachers–some are retired, some are active teachers in other colleges, universities–they came there to teach for a week. Now some of them have been there for four or five weeks. It’s growing. It’s growing with a sense of huge love. I’ve seen tractor trailers coming in there with logs, with food and warm clothing, and recently, just a lot of warm clothing, and a lot of big tents.

And then I’ve seen also from the first amount of flags. I saw it go from 30 flags, National flags, to now where I’ve seen over 250 flags flying right now, and we’ve got them in formation. It looks like the United Nations, better, bigger than the United Nations.

I rarely hear arguments. And you don’t hear arguments, and yelling and screaming. And we have curfews now because of the kids, the children going to school. And we’re very strict about that. There were some

people that came there, one or two people, and have been asked to leave because we understand that they had warrants for them, in other states. And we don’t want this to be a sanction. We didn’t want to get

involved in it.

DB: You would say that generally this is non-violent resistance with a growing permanence to it?

Banks: Oh yes. And I think that that’s why the support out there is overwhelming. I mean, not only support from the United States but we’re getting support from Japan. We’re getting support from people from Europe, from Brazil, people sending delegations, from the South Seas. We had a delegation of men and women singing songs from Tahiti, Hawaii, places like that. It is absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen it happen in this way. And I’m lucky that I was chosen to be on some of the committees there.

DB: Tell us about the committees. You’re are on the entertainment committee now?

Banks: Yeah.

DB: Tell us about…that seems like a leap from Wounded Knee.

Banks: Yeah, it was interesting in how it came down. I was laughing at it myself. They said, “Well, Banks we’d like to have you on the entertainment committee because you know a lot of entertainers.” And myself and Robbie Romero, we’ve been on that and we’ve contacted people. And we had the chance to talk to Willie Nelson. I’ve known Willie for 30 years. But he said to me “Dennis, I’m just getting too god-damned old for this.”  And I said, “Well, Willie can you do a video at home and just send that?” Because we’re going to be airing these things at our big conference hall over at the casino. And we’re bringing in hip hop artists.

DB: So, you’re on the entertainment committee and is there a lot of interest in that community? You mentioned Willie Nelson, are people caring at that level? Is this having reverberations in those sort of places, that have traditionally really supported your work?

Banks: Absolutely, well, Leonard DiCaprio has voiced his concern. He definitely wants to come. He said “I’ve got a tight schedule right now, but let me go over there, my schedule is loose so I can stay a few days.”  And, of course, we’re getting Jackson Brown; he wants to come. Also, Kristofferson definitely is going to be there in February. He’s doing a tour. And now he’s going to do almost 3 – 4 months tour. We also need Santana; You know, he’s an old friend of mine.

FIFTEEN MINUTES FOR 15,000 YEARS OF HISTORY

DB: Let me jump in here Dennis. You have taken so many extraordinary actions to call attention to the ongoing genocidal attempt by the United States government to continue to get rid of the Native Peoples of this continent. What’s happening in North Dakota, with them trying to plow into sacred lands, this is nothing short of that. Right?

Banks: Well, yes. And I mean not only the U.S. government but the local states themselves encroaching on Indian land. You know, they’re the ones that agreed to this pipeline coming through. But the Corps of Engineers now they permitted…they gave the permits to North Dakota…And then the Dakota State  people said they had consultation with Standing Rock Sioux tribe. And Standing Rock laughed at them and their use of the word “consultation.” The Corps of Engineers calls them up, talks them up for about 15 minutes.

DB: That’s the consultation.

Banks: That’s the consultation, and the tribe has laughed at that.

DB: Fifteen minutes to talk about 15,000 years of history?

Banks: Oh, man. So, that’s why Standing Rock decided to take the Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access Pipeline to court. And that’s where we’re at right now. But one thing which has surfaced since nine weeks ago is the Endangered Species Act. Right now there’s the Grey Wolf that’s in that area. There’s also the Black-Footed Ferret in that area. There’s two kinds of cranes there, Whooping cranes, and the Least Tern (that’s the name of that one), and then the Sturgeon and others have also been identified. The EPA said there’s a list which contains probably about four more [endangered species]. And we’re eventually going to have to consider filing an action under the EPA. Now, I say this because I hope it gets word out to them, I hope somebody knows this and tells these guys they’re are on the wrong side of history. And we’re not going to give into this.

And even though  there are helicopters flying around, buzzing around, the APC’s running around there, the armored personnel carriers. And even though we see the military uniforms around there now, nobody is going away. And, as a matter of fact, they’re staying: people, men, women, and children. As I said this is a huge step. It was in the struggle of Wounded Knee, and the Longest Walk, and now in what’s happening at Standing Rock. We needed Standing Rock, we need Standing Rock. And when that thing started to build, and I first said to my children “Hey, we gotta get involved with this.”  And we’re 5.5 hours away: We drove over there. Well, as I said earlier my daughters drove over first and reported back to me. They said, “Dad, we need you over Here.”

DB: Well, you know, I have to say this, and again, forgive me, but it’s an honor to have you in the studio, Dennis Banks. I want to say that Wounded Knee planted the seeds, and this is the tree growing. This is one of the trees growing out of that. I’m…I consider myself a tree of Wounded Knee because it was this incredible action that you led with extraordinary people like Leonard Peltier, that gave us hope and courage, and a much broader understanding of what was at stake, and what had happened to the Native Peoples. So that planted the seed.

BANKS: Well, you know, I was going to say, by the way, I know your name so I was going to say jokingly you know with your first name, my last name, we could go into business, you know T.V., or radio station. “Hello, good morning Dennis. Hello Dennis. How are you doing, Dennis?”

DB: I’d be happy to join you on that endeavor, Dennis. The Dennis and Dennis show..it wouldn’t be a Jew and a Sioux, would it?

Banks: Uh Ho!

DB: That’s me, the Jew, I bring that up because we have a lot of visits from Bill Means. You know he’s sort of  a regular contributor here, and they all sorta gave me the nickname Burnstick, you know, like holds the light up to the stories that matter.

Banks: There’s a family guy named Burnstick.

DB: Oh, yeah? I guess it makes sense. I want to ask you finally about your work, and the way you have decided to do your work, which is to take, shall we say, long walks. You walk to call attention to that which you believe in, and are actively trying to effect change. Issues such as freeing Leonard Peltier, and crucial issues of health, having to do with diabetes, and the epidemic in the indigenous communities, and the restoration of Jim Thorpe’s medals. Could you talk a little bit about why you walk, how that works for all the commitments, all the things you’ve decided to fight for? Why do you walk?

Banks: I just finished my eighth walk across the country. But I feel that when you’re walking, of course, you begin to meditate, you begin to think there’s this person that needs help, that person, needs support, you know, so you offer your prayers for that person. And walking, and fasting, and running events are to me a form of meditation. And, you know, you’re in your deep, your own thoughts when you’re out there running or walking. No one is communicating with you and so you’ve got to then engage yourself into “what can I do while I’m walking?”

DB:  And you tend to really tune into your own breath…

BANKS: Absolutely. And sometimes you realize what faults you have, and you know then you’ve gotta…you know, when I get through running today I think I’m going to call so-and-so and just say “I’m sorry for how I’ve acted all these years.”  I’ve done that. I’ve done that many times. I drank in my life. I used to drink, not hard times, but they’d say “Banks are you drunk again?” You know, guys who I call. And [I] say, “Look I’m sorry how I acted.” I try to be not that person who is angry.

DB: But Wounded Knee, and the trial in particular, was certainly worth getting angry about? It made a lot of people angry–all the government corruption and intimidation of witnesses. And the trial was a huge wake up call for you and AIM, that carries you right into the present, to your current work at Standing Rock.

Banks: During the trial at Wounded Knee […] the judge asked each FBI agent, “What was your specific job at Wounded Knee?” And one of them–and I used to just sit there and just listen, not even, sometimes not listen–and then all of a sudden the agent said, “My job was to bring down Dennis Banks.”  And that’s when I got up and looked up–I woke up.

DB: He got your attention.

Banks: Yeah. So the judge says, “Was your job to shoot Dennis Banks?” And he said, “No, your honor. My job was to bring down Dennis Banks.” He says, “Well, you didn’t mean to kill him?” And he says, “No, your honor, I meant to bring down Dennis Banks.” And the judge became very angry.  And he says, “Well, obviously you failed to bring down Dennis Banks because there he sits today.”  He says, “Yes, your honor, but I tried.” “How many times did you try?” “I tried seven times to bring him down.” And oh, this guy had me in his scope. And when he got off the stand while he was walking out of the courtroom, and before he got to the door, he just turned to me and says, “I’m sorry, Mr. Banks, but that was only a job I had.”

DB: The FBI agent apologized, just doing my job.

Banks: Yeah. […] But AIM has learned a lot from Standing Rock. And I think when this is over I think the pipeline will back away, and I think that they will realize that this is not going to go away, and these guys are here for the long run, and we are. And, you know, we’ll outlast these pipeline people. We’ll outlast the pipelines that are under our ground already, in our water. And we’ll be here. We’re in this for the long haul.

DB: I guess you’ve been here a long time. I keep hearing these words from the elders at Standing Rock: We are the land, we are the water. I didn’t move, here I am here.

Banks:  Dennis, when I say that I am part mountain, they might not understand that. And when I say I’m part buffalo, and I’m part eagle, and I’m part rose, the flower, I’m part maple tree, oak tree maybe then they’ll begin to understand that we are part of Mother Earth, all of us. Whatever the ingredients are that make up Mother Earth, that’s us. We also have, even the little bit partials of gold, that is running through our system. And we are part sun, we are part moon, we are part Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon. And when people began to understand that kind of thinking then they will understand who we are, as Native People.

And, you know, we didn’t choose to be protectors of the water. We didn’t choose to be protectors of the Earth, protectors of water, protectors of the ground, protectors of the buffalo, and the species that have been endangered, the species that have been obliterated from this Earth, but we are. And we still carry on that responsibility.

Yes, some of us are lawyers, some of us are doctors, some of us are activists, some of us are ditch diggers. But when we go to bed at night we are still that person with those responsibilities and duties. And that’s what makes us who we are. And I am, as I was in Wounded Knee, I was proud, I was not afraid of the FBI or the bullets, or the marshals and their guns, and APCs. It only made me kind of stronger. Because I said “Wow, if Dennis Banks or if the American Indian Movement is that big [that] they’ve gotta quash us with all this hardware, military hardware, then we must be rubbing someone the wrong way.” And maybe they will finally see it in the end. But not our end. Maybe they’ll see it on their end.

DB: When they are threatened with their end.

Banks: Yep, so that’s why I tell my children, even today, “Stay away from the wood ticks, lunatics and politics.”

A PLEA TO FREE LEONARD PELTIER

DB: Obama could still do something extraordinary. He could free Leonard Peltier. [Peltier is a Native American activist who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison for allegedly shooting two FBI agents during a 1975 conflict on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.]

Banks: Oh, yes, absolutely.

DB: If he has the courage and the belief. He certainly has the legal background to understand exactly what the situation is.

Banks: I had some hope that he would do that. And I still have hope that as he leaves office that he could do this. The parole board said they don’t want to release him because he hasn’t shown remorse. How can you show remorse for something you didn’t do?

The real culprit in this is the manufacturing of evidence against Peltier that put him in prison. And even the federal judge, on the bench of the 8th Circuit Court wrote to the president, wrote to President Bush, the first, H.W. Bush, and said “Release Peltier, after all it was the government that started that fight.” And in the first, the jury, the first trial against the other two that were charged, they were charged with aiding and abetting. And they used the self-defense theory. And the judge allowed them to use it. And they proved that the government came in there shooting and the jury found them not guilty.

But the judge in the next case, against Peltier, ruled that they could not use…the self-defense theory[…]. And Peltier was charged with aiding and abetting. But yet he was prosecuted as if he was the shooter. And even at the end he says, “And so Peltier shoots, takes his rifle and shoots [FBI agent Jack R.] Coler, and he aims it at [FBI agent Ronald A.] Williams, and he kills them both.” He was charged as the shooter. And he was convicted of a double murder. And he sits in prison today for something that he did not do.

DB: Can I ask you too…we’ve got about a minute. If you were sitting with Obama right now and you’re making the case – it’s time to stand up and release Peltier. What would you say to him?

Banks: I would say, Mr. President, other presidents have left a legacy of greatness, and down through history people do certain things that bring greatness. I think one of those acts would be to set a man free, and let that be your legacy.

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




Key Neocon Calls on US to Oust Putin

Exclusive: A prominent neocon paymaster, whose outfit dispenses $100 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money each year, has called on America to “summon the will” to remove Russian President Putin from office, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The neoconservative president of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy [NED] has called for the U.S. government to “summon the will” to engineer the overthrow of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the 10-year-old murder case of a Russian journalist should be the inspiration.

Carl Gershman, who has headed NED since its founding in 1983, doesn’t cite any evidence that Putin was responsible for the death of Anna Politkovskaya but uses a full column in The Washington Post on Friday to create that impression, calling her death “a window to Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin autocrat whom Americans are looking at for the first time.”

Gershman wraps up his article by writing: “Politkovskaya saw the danger [of Putin], but she and other liberals in Russia were not strong enough to stop it. The United States has the power to contain and defeat this danger. The issue is whether we can summon the will to do so. Remembering Politkovskaya can help us rise to this challenge.”

That Gershman would so directly call for the ouster of Russia’s clearly popular president represents further proof that NED is a neocon-driven vehicle that seeks to create the political circumstances for “regime change” even when that means removing leaders who are elected by a country’s citizenry.

And there is a reason for NED to see its job in that way. In 1983, NED essentially took over the CIA’s role of influencing electoral outcomes and destabilizing governments that got in the way of U.S. interests, except that NED carried out those functions in a quasi-overt fashion while the CIA did them covertly.

NED also serves as a sort of slush fund for neocons and other favored U.S. foreign policy operatives because a substantial portion of NED’s money circulates through U.S.-based non-governmental organizations or NGOs.

That makes Gershman an influential neocon paymaster whose organization dispenses some $100 million a year in U.S. taxpayers’ money to activists, journalists and NGOs both in Washington and around the world. The money helps them undermine governments in Washington’s disfavor – or as Gershman would prefer to say, “build democratic institutions,” even when that requires overthrowing democratically elected leaders.

NED was a lead actor in the Feb. 22, 2014 coup ousting Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych in a U.S.-backed putsch that touched off the civil war inside Ukraine between Ukrainian nationalists from the west and ethnic Russians from the east. The Ukraine crisis has become a flashpoint for the dangerous New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia.

Before the anti-Yanukovych coup, NED was funding scores of projects inside Ukraine, which Gershman had identified as “the biggest prize” in a Sept. 26, 2013 column also published in The Washington Post.

In that column, Gershman wrote that after the West claimed Ukraine, “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” In other words, Gershman already saw Ukraine as an important step toward an even bigger prize, a “regime change” in Moscow.

Less than five months after Gershman’s column, pro-Western political activists and neo-Nazi street fighters – with strong support from U.S. neocons and the State Department – staged a coup in Kiev driving Yanukovych from office and installing a rabidly anti-Russian regime, which the West promptly dubbed “legitimate.”

In reaction to the coup and the ensuing violence against ethnic Russians, the voters of Crimea approved a referendum with 96 percent of the vote to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a move that the West’s governments and media decried as a Russian “invasion” and “annexation.”

The new regime in Kiev then mounted what it called an “Anti-Terrorism Operation” or ATO against ethnic Russians in the east who had supported Yanukovych and refused to accept the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev as legitimate.

The ATO, spearheaded by neo-Nazis from the Azov battalion and other extremists, killed thousands of ethnic Russians, prompting Moscow to covertly provide some assistance to the rebels, a move denounced by the West as “aggression.”

Blaming Putin

In his latest column, Gershman not only urges the United States to muster the courage to oust Putin but he shows off the kind of clever sophistry that America’s neocons are known for. Though lacking any evidence, he intimates that Putin ordered the murder of Politkovskaya and pretty much every other “liberal” who has died in Russia.

It is a technique that I’ve seen used in other circumstances, such as the lists of “mysterious deaths” that American right-wingers publish citing people who crossed the paths of Bill and Hillary Clinton and ended up dead. This type of smear spreads suspicion of guilt not based on proof but on the number of acquaintances and adversaries who have met untimely deaths.

In the 1990s, one conservative friend of mine pointed to the Clintons’ “mysterious deaths” list and marveled that even if only a few were the victims of a Clinton death squad that would be quite a story, to which I replied that if even one were murdered by the Clintons that would be quite a story – but that there was no proof of any such thing.

“Mysterious deaths” lists represent a type of creepy conspiracy theory that shifts the evidentiary burden onto the targets of the smears who must somehow prove their innocence, when there is no evidence of their guilt (only vague suspicions). It is contemptible when applied to American leaders and it is contemptible when applied to Russian leaders, but it is not beneath Carl Gershman.

Beyond that, Gershman’s public musing about the U.S. somehow summoning “the will” to remove Putin might — in a normal world — disqualify NED and its founding president from the privilege of dispensing U.S. taxpayers’ money to operatives in Washington and globally. It is extraordinarily provocative and dangerous, an example of classic neocon hubris.

While the neocons do love their tough talk, they are not known for thinking through their “regime change” schemes. The idea of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia with the goal of ousting Putin, with his 82 percent approval ratings, must rank as the nuttiest and most reckless neocon scheme of all.

Gershman and his neocon pals may fantasize about making Russia’s economy scream while financing pro-Western “liberals” who would stage disruptive protests in Red Square, but he and his friends haven’t weighed the consequences even if they could succeed.

Given the devastating experience that most Russians had when NED’s beloved Russian “liberals” helped impose American “shock therapy” in the 1990s — an experiment that reduced average life expectancy by a full decade — it’s hard to believe that the Russian people would simply take another dose of that bitter medicine sitting down.

Even if the calculating Putin were somehow removed amid economic desperation, he is far more likely to be followed by a much harder-line Russian nationalist who might well see Moscow’s arsenal of nuclear weapons as the only way to protect Mother Russia’s honor. In other words, the neocons’ latest brash “regime change” scheme might be their last – and the last for all humanity.

A Neocon Slush Fund

Gershman’s arrogance also raises questions about why the American taxpayer should tolerate what amounts to a $100 million neocon slush fund which is used to create dangerous mischief around the world. Despite having “democracy” in its name, NED appears only to favor democratic outcomes when they fit with Official Washington’s desires.

If a disliked candidate wins an election, NED acts as if that is prima facie evidence that the system is undemocratic and must be replaced with a process that ensures the selection of candidates who will do what the U.S. government tells them to do. Put differently, NED’s name is itself a fraud.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise since NED was created in 1983 at the urging of Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William J. Casey, who wanted to off-load some of the CIA’s traditional work ensuring that foreign elections turned out in ways acceptable to Washington, and when they didn’t – as in Iran under Mossadegh, in Guatemala under Arbenz or in Chile under Allende – the CIA’s job was to undermine and remove the offending electoral winner.

In 1983, Casey and the CIA’s top propagandist, Walter Raymond Jr., who had been moved to Reagan’s National Security Council staff, wanted to create a funding mechanism to support outside groups, such as Freedom House and other NGOs, so they could engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organized and paid for covertly. The idea emerged for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.

In one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III, Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment,” but he recognized the need to hide the strings being pulled by the CIA. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey wrote.

The National Endowment for Democracy took shape in late 1983 as Congress decided to also set aside pots of money — within NED — for the Republican and Democratic parties and for organized labor, creating enough bipartisan largesse that passage was assured.

But some in Congress thought it was important to wall the NED off from any association with the CIA, so a provision was included to bar the participation of any current or former CIA official, according to one congressional aide who helped write the legislation.

This aide told me that one night late in the 1983 session, as the bill was about to go to the House floor, the CIA’s congressional liaison came pounding at the door to the office of Rep. Dante Fascell, a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill.

The frantic CIA official conveyed a single message from CIA Director Casey: the language barring the participation of CIA personnel must be struck from the bill, the aide recalled, noting that Fascell consented to the demand, not fully recognizing its significance – that it would permit the continued behind-the-scenes involvement of Raymond and Casey.

The aide said Fascell also consented to the Reagan administration’s choice of Carl Gershman to head NED, again not recognizing how this decision would affect the future of the new entity and American foreign policy.

Gershman, who had followed the classic neoconservative path from youthful socialism to fierce anticommunism, became NED’s first (and, to this day, only) president. Though NED is technically independent of U.S. foreign policy, Gershman in the early years coordinated decisions on grants with Raymond at the NSC.

For instance, on Jan. 2, 1985, Raymond wrote to two NSC Asian experts that “Carl Gershman has called concerning a possible grant to the Chinese Alliance for Democracy (CAD). I am concerned about the political dimension to this request. We should not find ourselves in a position where we have to respond to pressure, but this request poses a real problem to Carl.

“Senator [Orrin] Hatch, as you know, is a member of the board. Secondly, NED has already given a major grant for a related Chinese program.”

Neocon Tag Teams

From the start, NED became a major benefactor for Freedom House, beginning with a $200,000 grant in 1984 to build “a network of democratic opinion-makers.” In NED’s first four years, from 1984 and 1988, it lavished $2.6 million on Freedom House, accounting for more than one-third of its total income, according to a study by the liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs that was entitled “Freedom House: Portrait of a Pass-Through.”

Over the ensuing three decades, Freedom House has become almost an NED subsidiary, often joining NED in holding policy conferences and issuing position papers, both organizations pushing primarily a neoconservative agenda, challenging countries deemed insufficiently “free,” including Syria, Ukraine (in 2014) and Russia.

Indeed, NED and Freedom House often work as a kind of tag-team with NED financing “non-governmental organizations” inside targeted countries and Freedom House berating those governments if they crack down on U.S.-funded NGOs.

For instance, on Nov. 16, 2012, NED and Freedom House joined together to denounce legislation passed by the Russian parliament that required recipients of foreign political money to register with the government.

Or, as NED and Freedom House framed the issue: the Russian Duma sought to “restrict human rights and the activities of civil society organizations and their ability to receive support from abroad. Changes to Russia’s NGO legislation will soon require civil society organizations receiving foreign funds to choose between registering as ‘foreign agents’ or facing significant financial penalties and potential criminal charges.”

Of course, the United States has a nearly identical Foreign Agent Registration Act that likewise requires entities that receive foreign funding and seek to influence U.S. government policy to register with the Justice Department or face possible fines or imprisonment.

But the Russian law would impede NED’s efforts to destabilize the Russian government through funding of political activists, journalists and civic organizations, so it was denounced as an infringement of human rights and helped justify Freedom House’s rating of Russia as “not free.”

Another bash-Putin tag team has been The Washington Post’s editors and NED’s Gershman. On July 28, 2015, a Post editorial and a companion column by Gershman led readers to believe that Putin was paranoid and “power mad” in worrying that outside money funneled into NGOs threatened Russian sovereignty.

The Post and Gershman were especially outraged that the Russians had enacted the law requiring NGOs financed from abroad and seeking to influence Russian policies to register as “foreign agents” and that one of the first funding operations to fall prey to these tightened rules was Gershman’s NED.

The Post’s editors wrote that Putin’s “latest move … is to declare the NED an ‘undesirable’ organization under the terms of a law that Mr. Putin signed in May [2015]. The law bans groups from abroad who are deemed a ‘threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, its defense capabilities and its national security.’

“The charge against the NED is patently ridiculous. The NED’s grantees in Russia last year ran the gamut of civil society. They advocated transparency in public affairs, fought corruption and promoted human rights, freedom of information and freedom of association, among other things. All these activities make for a healthy democracy but are seen as threatening from the Kremlin’s ramparts.

“The new law on ‘undesirables’ comes in addition to one signed in 2012 that gave authorities the power to declare organizations ‘foreign agents’ if they engaged in any kind of politics and receive money from abroad. The designation, from the Stalin era, implies espionage.”

However, among the relevant points that the Post’s editors wouldn’t tell their readers was the fact that Russia’s Foreign Agent Registration Act was modeled after the American Foreign Agent Registration Act and that NED President Gershman had already publicly made clear — in his Sept. 26, 2013 column — that his goal was to oust Russia’s elected president.

In his July 28, 2015 column, Gershman further deemed Putin’s government illegitimate. “Russia’s newest anti-NGO law, under which the National Endowment for Democracy … was declared an “undesirable organization” prohibited from operating in Russia, is the latest evidence that the regime of President Vladimir Putin faces a worsening crisis of political legitimacy,” Gershman wrote, adding:

“This is the context in which Russia has passed the law prohibiting Russian democrats from getting any international assistance to promote freedom of expression, the rule of law and a democratic political system. Significantly, democrats have not backed down. They have not been deterred by the criminal penalties contained in the ‘foreign agents’ law and other repressive laws. They know that these laws contradict international law, which allows for such aid, and that the laws are meant to block a better future for Russia.”

The reference to how a “foreign agents” registration law conflicts with international law might have been a good place for Gershman to explain why what is good for the goose in the United States isn’t good for the gander in Russia. But hypocrisy is a hard thing to rationalize and would have undermined the propagandistic impact of the column.

Also undercutting the column’s impact would be an acknowledgement of where NED’s money comes from. So Gershman left that out, too. After all, how many governments would allow a hostile foreign power to sponsor politicians and civic organizations whose mission is to undermine and overthrow the existing government and put in someone who would be compliant to that foreign power?

And, if you had any doubts about what Gershman’s intent was regarding Russia, he dispelled them in his Friday column in which he calls on the United States to “summon the will” to “contain and defeat this danger,” which he makes clear is the continued rule of Vladimir Putin.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of Perception Management.“]

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




The Dangers from ‘Humanitarian’ Wars

The West is rushing toward another major war in the Middle East, in Syria, behind the “responsibility to protect” banner, which may justify endless U.S. military interventions, says Conn Hallinan at Foreign Policy in Focus.

By Conn Hallinan

While the mainstream media focuses on losers and winners in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a largely unreported debate is going on over the future course of U.S. diplomacy. Its outcome will have a profound effect on how Washington projects power — both diplomatic and military — in the coming decade.

The issues at stake are hardly abstract. The United States is currently engaged in active wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. It has deployed troops on the Russian border, played push-and-shove with China in Asia, and greatly extended its military footprint on the African continent. It would not be an exaggeration to say — as former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry has recently done — that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was during darkest times of the Cold War.

Tracking the outlines of this argument is not easy, in part because the participants are not always forthcoming about what they are proposing, in part because the media oversimplifies the issues.

In its broadest framework, “realists” represented by former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Harvard’s Steven Walt, and University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer have squared off against “humanitarian interventionists” like current UN Ambassador Samantha Power. Given that Power is a key adviser to the Obama administration on foreign policy and is likely to play a similar role if Clinton is elected, her views carry weight.

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Power asks, “How is a statesman to advance his nation’s interests?” She begins by hijacking the realist position that U.S. diplomacy must reflect “national interests,” arguing that they are indistinguishable from “moral values.” What happens to people in other countries, she argues, is in our “national security.”

Ambassador Power — along with Clinton and former President Bill Clinton — has long been an advocate for “humanitarian intervention,” behind which the United States intervened in the Yugoslav civil war. Humanitarian intervention has since been formalized into “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, and was the rationale for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Hillary Clinton has argued forcibly for applying R2P to Syria by setting up “no-fly zones” to block Syrian and Russian planes from bombing insurgents and the civilians under their control.

But Power is proposing something different than humanitarian intervention. She is suggesting that the United States elevate R2P to the level of national security, which sounds uncomfortably like an argument for U.S. intervention in any place that doesn’t emulate the American system.

Facing Off Against the Kremlin

Most telling is her choice of examples: Russia, China, and Venezuela, all currently in Washington’s crosshairs. Of these, she spends the most time on Moscow and the current crisis in Ukraine, where she accuses the Russians of weakening a “core independent norm” by supporting insurgents in Ukraine’s east, “lopping off part of a neighboring country” by seizing Crimea, and suppressing the news of Russian intervention from its own people. Were the Russian media to report on the situation in Ukraine, she writes, “many Russians might well oppose” the conflict.

Power presents no evidence for this statement because none exists. Regardless of what one thinks of Moscow’s role in Ukraine, the vast majority of Russians are not only aware of it, but overwhelmingly support President Vladimir Putin on the issue. From the average Russian’s point of view, NATO has been steadily marching eastwards since the end of the Yugoslav war. It is Americans who are deployed in the Baltic and Poland, not Russians gathering on the borders of Canada and Mexico. Russians are a tad sensitive about their borders, given the tens of millions they lost in World War II, something of which Power seems oblivious.

What Power seems incapable of doing is seeing how countries like China and Russia view the United States. That point of view is an essential skill in international diplomacy, because it is how one determines whether or not an opponent poses a serious threat to one’s national security.

Is Russia — as President Obama recently told the U.N. — really “attempting to recover lost glory through force,” or is Moscow reacting to what it perceives as a threat to its own national security? Russia did not intervene in Ukraine until the United States and its NATO allies supported the coup against the President Viktor Yanukovych’s government and ditched an agreement that had been hammered out among the European Union, Moscow, and the United States to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Power argues that there was no coup, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt were caught on tape talking about how to “mid-wife” the takeover and choose the person they wanted to put in place.

As for “lopping off” Crimea, Power had no problem with the United States and NATO “lopping off” Kosovo from Serbia in the Yugoslav War. In both cases local populations — in Crimea by 96 percent — supported the “takeovers.”

Understanding how other countries see the world does not mean one need agree with them, but there is nothing in Moscow’s actions that suggests that it is trying to re-establish an “empire,” as Obama characterized its behavior in his recent speech to the U.N.

When Hillary Clinton compared Putin to Hitler, she equated Russia with Nazi Germany, which certainly posed an existential threat to our national security. But does anyone think that comparison is valid? In 1939, Germany was the most powerful country in Europe with a massive military. Russia has the 11th largest economy in the world, trailing even France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Brazil. Turkey has a larger army.

Power’s view of what is good for the Russian people is a case in point. Although one can hardly admire the oligarchy that dominates Russia — and the last election would seem to indicate considerable voter apathy in the country’s urban centers — the “liberals” whom Power is so enamored with were the people who instituted the economic “shock therapy” in the 1990s that impoverished tens of millions of people and brought about a calamitous drop in life expectancy.

That track record is unlikely to get one elected. In any case, Americans are hardly in a position these days to lecture people about the role oligarchic wealth plays in manipulating elections.

View from China

The Chinese are intolerant of internal dissent, but Washington’s argument with Beijing is over sea lanes, not voter rolls.

China is acting the bully in the South China Sea, but it was President Bill Clinton who sparked the current tensions in the region when he deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Straits in 1995-96 during a tense standoff between Taipei and the mainland. China did not then — and does not now — have the capacity to invade Taiwan, so Beijing’s threats were not real.

But the aircraft carriers were very real, and they humiliated — and scared — China in its home waters. That incident directly led to China’s current accelerated military spending and its heavy-handed actions in the South China Sea.

Again, there is a long history here. Starting with the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1860, followed by the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 and Tokyo’s invasion of China in World War II, the Chinese have been invaded and humiliated time and again. Beijing believes that the Obama administration designed its “Asia pivot” as to surround China with U.S. allies.

While that might be an over simplification — the Pacific has long been America’s largest market — it is a perfectly rational conclusion to draw from the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia, the positioning of nuclear-capable forces in Guam and Wake, the siting of anti-ballistic missile systems in South Korea and Japan, and the attempt to tighten military ties with India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Meanwhile in Latin America…

As for Venezuela, the U.S. supported the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez and has led a campaign of hostility against the government ever since. For all its problems, the Chavez government cut poverty rates from 54.5 percent of the population to 32 percent, and extreme poverty from around 20 percent to 8.6 percent. Infant mortality fell from 25 per 1,000 to 13 per 1,000, the same as for Black Americans.

And the concern for the democratic rights of Venezuelans apparently doesn’t extend to the people of Honduras. When a military coup overthrew a progressive government in 2009, the United States pressed other Latin American countries to recognize the illegal government that took over in its wake. Although opposition forces in Venezuela get tear-gassed and a handful jailed, in Honduras they are murdered by death squads.

Power’s view that the United States stands for virtue instead of simply pursuing its own interests is a uniquely American delusion. “This is an image that Americans have of themselves,” says Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “but is not shared, even by their allies.”

The “division” between “realists” and R2P is an illusion. Both end up in the same place: confronting our supposed competitors and supporting our allies, regardless of how they treat their people. Although she is quick to call the Russians in Syria “barbarous,” she is conspicuously silent on U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen, which has targeted hospitals, markets and civilians.

The argument that another country’s internal politics is a national security issue for the United States elevates R2P to a new level, sets the bar for military intervention a good deal lower than it is today, and lays the groundwork for an interventionist foreign policy that will make the Obama administration look positively pacifist.

Looking Toward November

It is impossible to separate this debate on foreign policy from the current race for the White House. Clinton has been hawkish on most international issues, and she is not shy about military intervention.

She has also surrounded herself with some of the same people who designed the Iraq war, including founders of the Project for a New American Century. It is rumored that if she wins she will appoint former Defense Department official Michele Flournoy as secretary of defense. Flournoy has called for bombing Assad’s forces in Syria.

On the other hand, Trump has been less than coherent. He has made some reasonable statements about cooperating with the Russians and some distinctly scary ones about China. He says he is opposed to military interventions, although he supported the war in Iraq (and now lies about it). He is alarmingly casual about the use of nuclear weapons.

In Foreign Affairs, Stephen Walt, a leading “realist,” says that Trump’s willingness to consider breaking the nuclear taboo makes him someone who “has no business being commander in chief.” Other countries, writes Walt, “are already worried about American power and the ways it gets used. The last thing we need is an American equivalent of the impetuous and bombastic Kaiser Wilhelm II.” The Kaiser was a major force behind World War I, a conflict that inflicted 38 million casualties.

Whoever wins in November will face a world in which Washington can’t call all the shots. As Middle East expert Patrick Cockburn points out, “The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was.” Although it can overthrow regimes it doesn’t like, “it can’t replace what has been destroyed.”

Power’s framework for diplomacy is a formula for a never-ending cycle of war and instability.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middlemepireseries.wordpress.com. [This article previously appeared at Foreign Policy in Focus, http://fpif.org/u-s-diplomacy-dangerous-proposal/]




The Forgotten Libyan Lessons and the Syrian War

Exclusive: Western leaders are plotting to bomb another Mideast nation, this time Syria, citing “humanitarianism.” But similar claims in Iraq and Libya were deceptive and ended up killing far more people than were “saved,” says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Most intelligent Americans – Republicans as well as Democrats – now accept that they were duped into the Iraq War with disastrous consequences, but there is more uncertainty about the war on Libya in 2011 as well as the ongoing proxy war on Syria and the New Cold War showdown with Russia over Ukraine.

Today, many Democrats don’t want to admit that they have been manipulated into supporting new imperial adventures against Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Russia by the Obama administration as it pulls some of the same propaganda strings that George W. Bush’s administration did in 2002-2003.

Yet, as happened with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we have seen a similar hysteria about the evil doings of the newly demonized foreign leaders with the predictable Hitler allusions and vague explanations about how some terrible misdeeds halfway around the world threaten U.S. interests.

Though people mostly remember the false WMD claims about Iraq, much of the case for the invasion was based on protecting “human rights,” spreading “democracy,” and eliminating a supporter of Palestinians who were violently resisting Israeli rule.

The justification for aggression against Iraq was not only to save Americans from the supposed risk of Iraq somehow unleashing poison gas on U.S. cities but to free the Iraqis from a brutal dictator, the argument which explained why Bush’s neocon advisers predicted that Iraqis would shower American troops with rose petals and candies.

Those same “humanitarian” arguments were out in force to justify the U.S.-European “regime change” in Libya eight years later. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted – even this year – Muammar Gaddafi was a “genocidal” dictator bent on slaughtering the people of eastern Libya (though Gaddafi insisted that he was only interested in killing the “terrorists”).

After a frenzied media reaction to Gaddafi’s supposedly genocidal plans, Western nations argued that the world had a “responsibility to protect” Libyan civilians, a concept known as “R2P.” In haste, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to protect civilians by imposing a “no-fly zone” over eastern Libya.

But the subsequent invasion involved U.S.-coordinated air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces and European Special Forces on the ground working with anti-Gaddafi rebels. Before long, the “no-fly zone” had expanded into a full-scale “regime change” operation, ending in the slaughter of many young Libyan soldiers and the sodomy-with-a-knife-then-murder of Gaddafi.

As Western leaders celebrated — Secretary Clinton exulted  “We came, we saw, he died” — Libyans began the hard work of trying to restructure their political system amid roaming bands of heavily armed jihadist rebels. Soon, it became clear that restoring order would not be easy and that Gaddafi was right about the presence of terrorists in Benghazi (when some overran the U.S. consulate killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.)

Libya, which once had an enviable standard of living based on its oil riches, slid into the status of failed state, now with three governments competing for control and with jihadist militias, including some associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, disrupting the nation. The result has been a far worse humanitarian crisis than existed before the West invaded.

Lessons from Libya

So, there should be lessons learned from Libya, just as there should have been lessons learned from Iraq. But the U.S. political/media establishment has refused to perform a serious autopsy of these monumental failures (U.S. inquiries only looked narrowly at the WMD falsehoods about Iraq and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for Libya). So, it has fallen to the British to take a broader view.

The British inquiries have had their own limitations, but the Chilcot report on Iraq catalogued many of the flawed decisions that led Prime Minister Tony Blair to sign up for President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” — and a recent parliamentary report revealed how Prime Minister David Cameron fell into a similar pattern regarding Libya and President Obama.

Of course, it’s always easier to detect the manipulations and deceptions in hindsight. In real time, the career pressures on politicians, bureaucrats and journalists can overwhelm any normal sense of skepticism. As the propaganda and disinformation swirl around them, all the “smart” people agree that “something must be done” and that usually means bombing someone.

We are seeing the same pattern play out today with the “group think” in support of a major U.S. military intervention in Syria (supposedly to impose the sweet-sounding goal of a “no-fly zone,” the same rhetorical gateway used to start the “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya).

We are experiencing the same demonization of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin that we witnessed before those other two wars on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Every possible allegation is made against them, often based on dubious and deceitful “evidence,” but it goes unchallenged because to question the propaganda opens a person to charges of being an “apologist” or a “stooge.”

Past Is Prologue

But looking back on how the disasters in Iraq and Libya unfolded is not just about the past; it’s about the present and future.

In that sense, the findings by the U.K. parliament’s foreign affairs committee regarding Libya deserved more attention than they received because they demonstrated that the Iraq case was not a one-off anomaly but rather part of a new way to rationalize imperial wars.

And the findings showed that these tactics are bipartisan, used by all four major parties in the U.S. and U.K.: Bush was a Republican; Blair was Labour; Obama a Democrat; and Cameron a Conservative. Though the nuances may differ slightly, the outcomes have been the same.

The U.K. report also stripped away many of the humanitarian arguments used to sell the Libyan war and revealed the crass self-interest beneath. For instance, the French, who helped spearhead the Libyan conflict, publicly lamented the suffering of civilians but privately were eager to grab a bigger oil stake in Libya and to block Gaddafi’s plans to supplant the French currency in ex-French colonies of Africa.

The report cited an April 2, 2011 email to Secretary of State Clinton from her unofficial adviser Sidney Blumenthal explaining what French intelligence officers were saying privately about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s real motives for pushing for the military intervention in Libya:

“a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production, b. Increase French influence in North Africa, c. Improve his internal political situation in France, d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world, e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.”

Regarding France’s “humanitarian” public rationale, the U.K. report quoted then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé as warning the U.N. about the imminence of Gaddafi engaging in a mass slaughter of civilians: “We have very little time left — perhaps only a matter of hours.”

But the report added, “Subsequent analysis suggested that the immediate threat to civilians was being publicly overstated and that [Gaddafi’s] reconquest of cities had not resulted in mass civilian casualties.”

The report also found that “Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate,” including the participation of Abdelhakim Belhadj and other members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. A senior defense official said the jihadist danger was played down during the conflict but “with the benefit of hindsight, that was wishful thinking at best.”

The report stated: “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda.”

(This year, Belhadj and his jihadist militia were enlisted by U.S. officials to protect the U.S.-U.N.-backed “Government of National Accord,” which has failed to win over the support of rival factions, in part, because more secular Libyan leaders distrust Belhadj and resent outsiders deciding who should run Libya.)

Hyperbolic Claims

The U.K. committee criticized the West’s hyperbolic claims about Gaddafi’s intent to slaughter civilians in eastern Libya when his actions were making clear that wasn’t happening.

The report said:  “Muammar Gaddafi’s actions in February and March 2011 demonstrated an appreciation of the delicate tribal and regional nature of Libya that was absent in UK policymaking. In particular, his forces did not take violent retribution against civilians in towns and cities on the road to Benghazi. [North Africa analyst] Alison Pargeter told us that any such reprisals would have ‘alienated a lot of the tribes in the east of Libya’ on which the Gaddafi regime relied. …

“Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011. …

“During fighting in Misrata, the hospital recorded 257 people killed and 949 people wounded in February and March 2011. Those casualties included 22 women and eight children. Libyan doctors told United Nations investigators that Tripoli’s morgues contained more than 200 corpses following fighting in late February 2011, of whom two were female. The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians.”

The report added: “On 17 March 2011, Muammar Gaddafi announced to the rebels in Benghazi, ‘Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.’ Subsequent investigation revealed that when Gaddafi regime forces retook Ajdabiya in February 2011, they did not attack civilians. Muammar Gaddafi also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops.”

In another reprise from the Iraq War run-up, the U.K. inquiry determined that Libyan exiles played key roles in exaggerating the dangers from Gaddafi, much like the Iraqi National Congress did in fabricating supposed “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s WMD. The report said:

“We were told that émigrés opposed to Muammar Gaddafi exploited unrest in Libya by overstating the threat to civilians and encouraging Western powers to intervene. In the course of his 40-year dictatorship Muammar Gaddafi had acquired many enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, who were similarly prepared to exaggerate the threat to civilians.”

Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which currently is hyping horror stories in Syria, was doing the same in Libya, the U.K. committee learned.

“Alison Pargeter told us that the issue of mercenaries was amplified [with her saying]: ‘I also think the Arab media played a very important role here. Al-Jazeera in particular, but also al-Arabiya, were reporting that Gaddafi was using air strikes against people in Benghazi and, I think, were really hamming everything up, and it turned out not to be true.’”

Allegations Debunked

The report continued: “An Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence.

“The investigation concluded that much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge. …

“In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision’. We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. …

“It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”

If any of this sounds familiar – echoing the pre-coup reporting from Ukraine in 2013-2014 or the current coverage in Syria – it should. In all those cases, Western diplomats and journalists put white hats on one side and black hats on the other, presenting a simplistic, imbalanced account of the complicated religious, ethnic and political aspects of these crises.

The U.K. report also exposed how the original goal of protecting civilians merged seamlessly into a “regime change” war. The report said:

“The combination of coalition airpower with the supply of arms, intelligence and personnel to the rebels guaranteed the military defeat of the Gaddafi regime. On 20 March 2011, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces retreated some 40 miles from Benghazi following attacks by French aircraft. If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi, then this objective was achieved in less than 24 hours.

“The basis for intervention: did it change? We questioned why NATO conducted air operations across Libya between April and October 2011 when it had secured the protection of civilians in Benghazi in March 2011. … We asked [former chief of defense staff] Lord Richards whether the object of British policy in Libya was civilian protection or regime change. He told us that ‘one thing morphed almost ineluctably into the other’ as the campaign developed its own momentum. … The UK’s intervention in Libya was reactive and did not comprise action in pursuit of a strategic objective. This meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.”

Less destructive options were also ignored, the report found: “Saif Gaddafi is the second son of Muammar Gaddafi. He was a member of his father’s inner circle and exercised influence in Libya. … Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who knew the Gaddafi regime better than most Western politicians, confirmed that Saif Gaddafi was ‘the best, if not the only prospect’ of effecting political change in Libya.” But that opportunity was rebuffed as was the possibility of arranging Gaddafi’s surrender of power and exile, the report said, adding:

“It was therefore important to keep the lines of communication open. However, we saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts. Mr Blair explained that both Mr Cameron and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware that he was communicating with Muammar Gaddafi. We asked Mr Blair to describe Mr Cameron’s reaction to his conversations with Muammar Gaddafi. He told us that Mr Cameron ‘was merely listening’.

“Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of [U.N.] Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan [to protect civilians] and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya.”

Spreading Disorder

There was also the consequence of the Libyan conflict, spreading disorder around the region because Libyan military stockpiles were plundered. The report said: “Libya purchased some £30 billion [or about $38 billion] of weapons and ammunition between 1969 and 2010. Many of those munitions were not issued to the Libyan Army and were instead stored in warehouses. After the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, some weapons and ammunition remained in Libya, where they fell into the hands of the militias. Other Libyan weapons and ammunition were trafficked across North and West Africa and the Middle East.

“The United Nations Panel of Experts appointed to examine the impact of Resolution 1973 identified the presence of ex-Libyan weapons in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Gaza, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria. The panel concluded that ‘arms originating from Libya have significantly reinforced the military capacity of terrorist groups operating in Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia.’ …

“The international community’s inability to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime fuelled instability in Libya and enabled and increased terrorism across North and West Africa and the Middle East. The UK Government correctly identified the need to secure weapons immediately after the 2011 Libyan civil war, but it and its international partners took insufficient action to achieve that objective. However, it is probable that none of the states that intervened in Libya would have been prepared to commit the necessary military and political resources to secure stocks of weapons and ammunition. That consideration should have informed their calculation to intervene.”

Despite these findings, the Obama administration and its allies are considering an escalation of their military intervention in Syria, which already has involved arming and training jihadists who include Al Qaeda militants as well as supposedly “moderate” fighters, who have aligned themselves with Al Qaeda and handed over sophisticated American weaponry.

The U.S. military has spearheaded a bombing campaign against Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State, inside Syria. But the Obama administration sometimes has put its desire to oust Assad ahead of its supposed priority of fighting the Islamic State, such as when U.S. air power pulled back from bombing Islamic State militants in 2015 as they were overrunning Syrian army positions at the historic city of Palmyra.

Now, with Syria and its Russian ally resorting to intense bombing to root Al Qaeda and its allies, including some of those U.S.-armed “moderates,” from their strongholds in eastern Aleppo, there is a full-throated demand from the West, including virtually all major media outlets, to impose a “no-fly zone,” like the one that preceded the “regime change” in Libya.

While such interventions may “feel good” – and perhaps there’s a hunger to see Assad murdered like Gaddafi – there is little or no careful analysis about what is likely to follow.

The most likely outcome from a Syrian “regime change” is a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its erstwhile friends in the Islamic State. How that would make the lives of Syrians better is hard to fathom. More likely, the victorious jihadists would inflict a mass bloodletting on Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other “heretics,” with millions more fleeing as refugees.

Among the Western elites – in politics and media – no lessons apparently have been learned from the disaster in Iraq, nor from the new British report on the Libyan fiasco.

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