Urging Obama to Stop Rush to Iran War

Exclusive: A torrent of war propaganda against Iran is flooding the American political scene as U.S. neocons and Israeli hardliners see an opening for another war in the Middle East, a momentum that ex-CIA analysts Ray McGovern and Elizabeth Murray urge President Obama to stop.

By Ray McGovern and Elizabeth Murray

President Obama needs to put an abrupt halt to the game of Persian Roulette about to spin out of control in the Persian Gulf. If we were still on active duty at the CIA, this is what we would tell him:

This informal memorandum addresses the escalating game of chicken playing out in the waters off Iran and the more general issue of what can be done to put the exaggerated threat from Iran in some kind of perspective.

In keeping with the informality of this memo and our ethos of speaking truth to power, we may at times be rather blunt. If we bring you up short, consider it a measure of the seriousness with which we view the unfolding of yet another tragic mistake.

The stakes are quite high, and as former intelligence analysts with no axes to grind, we want to make sure you understand how fragile and volatile the situation in the Gulf has become.

We know you are briefed regularly on the play by play, and we will not attempt to replicate that. Your repeated use of the bromide that “everything is on the table,” however, gives us pause and makes us wonder whether you and your advisers fully recognize the implications, if hostilities with Iran spin out of control.

You have the power to stop the madness, and we give you some recommendations on how to lessen the likelihood of a war that would be to the advantage of no one but the arms merchants.

If your advisers have persuaded you that hostilities with Iran would bring benefit to Israel, they are badly mistaken. In our view, war with Iran is just as likely in the longer term to bring the destruction of Israel, as well as vast areas of Iran, not even to mention the disastrous consequences for the world economy, of which you must be aware.

Incendiary (but false) claims about how near Iran is to having a nuclear weapon are coming “fast and furious,” (and are as irresponsible as that ill-fated project of giving weapons to Mexican drug dealers).

In our view, the endless string of such claims now threaten to migrate from rhetoric to armed clashes to attempted “regime change,” as was the case nine years ago on Iraq. You know, we hope, that influential, but myopic, forces abound who are willing to take great risk because they believe such events would redound to the benefit of Israel.  We make reference, of course, to the reckless Likud government in Israel and its equally reckless single-issue supporters here at home.

Inept Advisers

Judging by recent performance, your foreign policy and military advisers, including the top generals now in place, appear unable to act as sensible counterweights to those who think that, by beginning hostilities with Iran, they will help Israel do away with a key regional rival.

You are not stuck with such advisers. You’re the President; you deserve better. You need some people close to you who know a lot more about the outside world.

You may wish to think also about how the recent remarks of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, during an interview with the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe, reflect on the chairman’s acumen in the strategic matters in which he has been immersed for decades.

In the interview with Jaffe, Dempsey referred to his 20-year involvement with Iraq (where he made his mark) and, according to Jaffe, Dempsey acknowledged that “he and his Army did not fully understand the nature of the conflict they were fighting.”

Jaffe quotes a particularly telling lament by Dempsey: “People say, ‘For God’s sakes, you were a two-star general. How could you say you didn’t understand?’ I don’t know how I can say it, but I lived it.  And I mean it.”

Suffice it to say that there are serious questions as to how much Gen. Dempsey understands about Iran and whether his meteoric rise to Chairman of the JCS is due more to the crisp salute with which he greets any idea voiced by those above him.

Discussing last week the possibility of military action against Iran, Dempsey said, “The options we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable, if necessary.” He added that his “biggest worry is that (Iranians) will miscalculate our resolve.”

That’s not our biggest worry. Rather it is that Dempsey and you will miscalculate Iran’s resolve. We haven’t a clue as to what, if anything, the Chairman is telling you on that key issue. Our distinct impression, however, is that you cannot look to him for the kind of stand-up advice you got from his predecessor, Adm. Mike Mullen.

The consummate military professional, Mullen pointed to the military and strategic realities, and the immense costs, associated with a war with Iran, which in turn buttressed those who successfully withstood pressure from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for war with Iran.

Dempsey = No Mullen

During the Bush administration, Mullen argued strongly that there would be no way a “preventive war” against Iran would be worth the horrendous cost. He did all he could to scuttle the idea.

Mullen was among those senior officials who forced Bush and Cheney to publish the unclassified Key Judgments of the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, the NIE that judged “with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

As Bush and Vice President Cheney have since acknowledged, that drove an iron rod through the wheels of the juggernaut then rolling off to war with Iran. And, as you know, that judgment still stands despite Herculean efforts to fudge it.

In his memoir, Decision Points, Bush, complains bitterly that, rather than being relieved by the surprising news that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003, he was angry that the news “tied my hands on the military side.”

In January 2008, Bush flew to Israel to commiserate with senior Israeli officials who were similarly bitter at the abrupt removal of a casus belli. Tellingly, in his book Bush added this lament:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Israel’s Last Chance, Until Now

The new estimate on Iran did not stop the Israelis from trying. And in mid-2008, they seemed to be contemplating one more try at provoking hostilities with Iran before Bush and Cheney left office.

This time, with Bush’s (but not Cheney’s) support, Mullen flew to Israel to tell Israeli leaders to disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if they somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran.

According to the Israeli press, Mullen went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident at sea like the deliberate Israeli attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, which left 34 American crew killed and more than 170 wounded.

Never before had a senior U.S. official braced Israel so blatantly about the Liberty incident, which was covered up by the Johnson administration, the Congress, and Mullen’s Navy itself. The lesson the Israelis had taken away from the Liberty incident was that they could get away with murder, literally, and walk free because of political realities in the United States. Not this time, said Mullen. He could not have raised a more neuralgic issue.

Unintended Consequences

As long as he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen kept worrying, often publicly, over what he termed “the unintended consequences of any sort of military action against Iran.”

We assume that before he retired last fall he shared that concern with you, just as we tried to warn your predecessor of “the unintended consequences” that could flow from an attack on Iraq.

The Israelis, for their part, would not relent. In February of this year, Mullen returned with sweaty palms from a visit to Israel. On arrival there, he had warned publicly that an attack on Iran would be “a big, big, big problem for all of us.”

When Mullen got back to Washington, he lacked the confident tone he had after reading the Israelis the riot act in mid-2008. It became quickly clear that Mullen feared that, this time, Israel’s leaders did not seem to take his warnings seriously.

Lest he leave a trace of ambiguity regarding his professional view, upon his return Mullen drove it home at a Pentagon press conference on Feb. 22, 2011: “For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective, will be, in and of itself, decisive.”

In 2008, right after Mullen was able, in late June, to get the Israelis to put aside, for the nonce, their pre-emptive plans vis-à-vis Iran, he moved to put a structure in place that could short-circuit military escalation. Specifically, he thought through ways to prevent unintended (or, for that matter, deliberately provoked) incidents in the crowded Persian Gulf that could lead to wider hostilities.

In a widely unnoticed remark, Adm. Mullen conceded to the press that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz, but quickly added de rigueur assurance that the U.S. could open it up again (whereas the Admiral knows better than virtually anyone that this would be no easy task).

Mullen sent up an interesting trial balloon at a July 2, 2008, press conference, when he suggested that military-to-military dialogue could “add to a better understanding” between the U.S. and Iran. But nothing more was heard of this overture, probably because Cheney ordered him to drop it. We think it is high time to give this excellent idea new life.  (See below under Recommendations.)

The dangers in and around the Strait of Hormuz were still on Mullen’s mind as he prepared to retire on Sept. 30, 2011. Ten days before, he told the Armed Force Press Service of his deep concern over the fact that the United States and Iran have had no formal communications since 1979:

“Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran. So we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculations.”

Playing with fire: With the macho game of chicken currently under way between Iranian and U.S. naval forces in the area of the Strait of Hormuz, the potential for an incident has increased markedly.

An accident, or provocation, could spiral out of control quickly, with all sides, Iran, the U.S. and Israel making hurried decisions with, you guessed it, “unintended consequences.”

or Intended Consequences?

With your campaign for the presidency in full swing during the summer of 2008, you may have missed a troubling disclosure in July by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

He reported that Bush administration officials had held a meeting in the Vice President’s office in the wake of the January 2008 incident between Iranian patrol boats and U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. The reported purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to provoke war with Iran.

HERSH: There were a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build in our shipyard four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.

And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of, that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation.

Silly? Maybe. But potentially very lethal. Because one of the things they learned in the [January] incident was the American public, if you get the right incident, the American public will support bang-bang-kiss-kiss. You know, we’re into it.

Look, is it high school? Yeah. Are we playing high school with you know 5,000 nuclear warheads in our arsenal? Yeah we are. We’re playing, you know, who’s the first guy to run off the highway with us and Iran.

and Now Iran’s Responsibility for 9/11!

On the chance you missed it, this time your government is getting “incriminating” information from Iranian, not Iraqi, “defectors.” Iranian “defectors” have persuaded Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels to sign an order accusing Iran and Hezbollah along with al-Qaeda of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

On Dec. 15, in response to a lawsuit brought by family members of 9/11 victims, Daniels claimed that Iran provided material support to al-Qaeda and has assessed Iran $100 billion in damages

Watching the blackening of Iranians on virtually all parts of the U.S. body politic, it is no surprise that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes he holds the high cards, enjoying the strong support of our Congress, our largely pro-Israel media, and our courts as well. He sees himself in the catbird seat, particularly during the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election.

We know that you have said you have to deal with Netanyahu every day. But for those of us who have not had the pleasure, never did his attitude toward Washington come through so clearly as in a video taped nine years ago and shown on Israeli TV.

In it Netanyahu brags about how he deceived President Bill Clinton into believing he (Netanyahu) was helping implement the Oslo accords when he was actually destroying them. The tape displays a contemptuous attitude toward, and wonderment at, a malleable America so easily influenced by Israel.

Netanyahu says it right out: “America is something that can be easily moved. Moved in the right direction. They won’t get in our way Eighty percent of the Americans support us. It’s absurd.”

Israeli columnist Gideon Levy has written that the video shows Netanyahu to be “a con artist who thinks that Washington is in his pocket and that he can pull the wool over its eyes,” adding that such behavior “does not change over the years.”

On Dec. 29, the strongly pro-Israel Washington Times ran an unsigned editorial, “Tehran’s moment of truth: The mullahs are playing with fire in Strait of Hormuz.” After a fulsome paragraph of bragging about how the U.S. Navy capabilities dwarf those of Iran’s, the Washington Times editors inadvertently give the game away:

“A theater-wide response to the strait closure would involve air strikes on military and leadership targets throughout the country, and the crisis could be a useful pretext for international action against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Hopefully, pointing out Israel’s overarching objective will strike you as gratuitous. No doubt your advisers have told you that “regime change” (what we used to call overthrowing a government) is Israel’s ultimate goal. Just so you know.


We hope that, when we assume you wish to thwart Israel and any other party who might want to get the U.S. involved in hostilities with Iran, we are not assuming too much. With that as our premise, we recommend that you:

1- Make public, as soon as possible, a declassified version of the key judgments of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear development program, with whatever updating is necessary. You know that the Herculean efforts of U.S. intelligence to find evidence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iran have found nothing.

Do not insult Americans with Rumsfeldian nostrums like: “The absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence.” Rather, be up-front with the American people. Tell them the truth about the conclusions of our intelligence community.

Bush was helped to launch the aggressive war on Iraq by a deliberately dishonest National Intelligence Estimate on weapons of mass destruction there. Let yourself be fortified by an honest NIE on Iran, and stand up to the inevitable criticism from Israelis and their influential surrogates.

2- Pick up on Adm. Mike Mullen’s suggestion at his press conference on July 2, 2008, that military-to-military dialogue could “add to a better understanding” between the U.S. and Iran. If there were ever a time when our navies need to be able to communicate with each other, it is now.

It was a good idea in 2008; it is an even better idea now. Indeed, it seems likely that a kind of vestigial Cheneyism, as well as pressure from the Likud Lobby, account for the fact that the danger of a U.S.-Iranian confrontation in the crowded Persian Gulf has still not been addressed in direct talks.

Cheney and those of his mini-National Security Staff who actually looked forward to such confrontations are gone from the scene. If the ones who remain persist in thwarting time-tested structural ways of preventing accidents, miscalculation and covert false-flag attacks, please consider suggesting that they retire early.

Order the negotiation of the kind of bilateral “incidents-at-sea” agreement concluded with the Russians in May 1972, which, together with direct communications, played an essential role in heading off escalation neither side wanted, when surface or submarine ships go bump in the night.

3- Get yourself some advisers who know more about the real world than the ones you have now, and make sure they owe allegiance solely to the United States.

4- Issue a formal statement that your administration will not support an Israeli military attack on Iran. Make it clear that even though, after Dec. 31, the U.S. may not be technically responsible for defending Iraqi airspace, you have ordered U.S. Air Force units in the area to down any intruders.

5- Sit back and look toward a New Year with a reasonable prospect of less, not more, tension in the Persian Gulf.

Happy New Year.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served a total of 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA intelligence analyst.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Muslim Haters Tie Iran to 9/11

Another element of the “go-to-war-with-Iran hysteria” is a “default judgment” by a U.S. court linking Iran to 9/11. However, Iran had no legal representation in the case, allowing dubious and bogus allegations to go unchallenged, as Gareth Porter noted in this article for Truthout.

By Gareth Porter

Behind a mysterious Dec. 22 Associated Press story about “finding of fact” by a District Court judge in Manhattan that Iran assisted al-Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks is a tapestry of recycled fabrications and distortions of fact from a bizarre cast of characters.

The AP story offers no indication of the nature of the evidence in the case except that former members of the 9/11 Commission and three Iranian “defectors” provided testimony. What it didn’t say was that at least two of the Iranian “defectors” have long been dismissed by U.S. intelligence as “fabricators” and that the two “expert witnesses” who were supposed to determine the credibility of those defectors’ claims are both avowed advocates of crackpot conspiracy theories about Muslims and Shariah law who believe the United States is at war with Islam.

The ostensible purpose of the case brought by families of 9/11 terror attack victims was to win damages from those responsible for 9/11. Dozens of such cases involving different terrorist attacks have been brought to U.S. courts over the years, in which “default judgments” have been made against Iran over various attacks in which Iran was allegedly involved, but there is no chance of getting any money for the families. (Iran has rejected the process as illegitimate.)

The only real effect of the case is to promote right-wing political myths about Iran. One of the peculiarities of such cases is that the witnesses are not subject to cross-examination in court. The witnesses have every incentive, therefore to indulge in false testimony, knowing that there will be no one to challenge them.

A Fabricator

The lawyers and the “expert witnesses” behind the accusation of Iran in regard to 9/11 hoped to sell the press and public on recycled claims first made by Iranian “defectors” several years ago that they had personal knowledge of Iranian participation in the 9/11 plot. The lawyers produced videotaped affidavits by three such “defectors” who were identified, with a dramatic flourish, as Witnesses “X,” “Y” and “Z.”

In the one public hearing held on the case, the lawyers revealed the identity of purported former Iranian intelligence official Abolghasem Mesbahi – probably a pseudonym – and described his testimony that he had received a series of “coded messages” from a former colleague in the Iranian government in the late summer and early fall of 2001 warning that a terrorist attack against the United States was being planned, and that it was a plan that had been concocted by Tehran in the late 1980s.

Although the judge and the public were being led to believe that this is somehow new information going beyond what was known by the 9/11 Commission report, it is, in fact, very old information and has long been completely discredited.

Mesbahi’s story doesn’t hold up, for several reasons, and the most obvious is that, despite his claim that he was warned nearly a month before the 9/11 attacks that civilian airliners would be crashed into buildings in major U.S. cities, including Washington and New York on Sept. 11, 2001, he never conveyed that information to the U.S. government before that date.

In October 2001, Mesbahi claimed to right-wing journalist Kenneth R. Timmerman, as reported in Timmerman’s 2005 book that he had tried calling the legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, but was “unsuccessful in several attempts.” But he did not claim any other attempt to reach a U.S. consulate or the U.S. Embassy in Germany by fax, e-mail or letter before Sept. 11, nor did he go to the U.S. Embassy in person to convey this warning.

He told Timmerman that he called an Iranian dissident contact in the United States who, he believed, had contacts with U.S. intelligence agencies only some hours after the attacks on New York and Washington.

It wasn’t the first time Mesbahi had claimed inside information about Iranian involvement in a terrorist attack only after the attack had taken place. He had told investigators working on the December 1988 terror bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal to carry out the attack on the personal orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. Unfortunately for his credibility, however, he had not come forward with the allegation until after the bombing had happened.

He had also provided affidavits to Argentine investigators in the case of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, claiming his well-informed friends in Iranian intelligence had tipped him off that the decision to bomb the Jewish Community Center had been made at a meeting attended by top Iranian officials in August 1993.

But in fact, by his own admission Mesbahi had not worked for Argentine intelligence since 1988, and the FBI’s Hezbollah Office’s James Bernazzani, who had helped the Argentine intelligence service with the investigation in 1997, told me in a November 2006 interview that American intelligence officials had concluded Mesbahi did not have the continued high-level access to Iranian intelligence officials throughout the 1990s and beyond that he was claiming.

They regarded him as someone who was desperate for money and ready to “provide testimony to any country on any case involving Iran,” according to Bernazzani.

Mesbahi wasn’t even consistent in the story he told about the alleged “coded messages.” In an interview with Timmerman, Mesbahi stated that he had gotten two messages from his contact, one on Sept. 1, 2001, and a second three days later. And Timmerman wrote that the alleged contact had “phoned him again” on Sept. 4, indicating that Mesbahi had made no reference to an elaborate scheme to send coded messages through articles in Iranian newspapers.

But in his affidavit to the 9/11 court case, Mesbahi said he had gotten three messages – on July 23, Aug. 13 and Aug. 27 – and that the coded messages were placed in newspaper articles.

Timmerman, who referred the lawyers to Mesbahi, discretely avoided pointing out the huge discrepancy between the two stories, which clearly indicates that Mesbahi fabricated the tale of messages in newspaper articles to make it more dramatic and convincing.

The second defector, Hamid Reza Zakeri, claimed he had been an officer of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security and had provided security for a meeting at an airbase near Tehran on May 4, 2001, attended by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Osama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden.

Zakeri also claimed to have seen replicas of the twin towers, the White House, the Pentagon and Camp David in the entry hall to the main headquarters of the MOIS with a missile suspended above the targets, and “Death to America” written in Arabic (rather than Farsi) on the side. Like Mesbahi, Zakeri also first told his tale to Timmerman, who recounts it in his 2005 book.

Zakeri, who apparently defected from Iran in late July 2001, claimed he had told the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, on July 26, 2001, about the alleged meeting and replicas, warning them that he believed the Iranians and al-Qaeda were planning an attack on those targets that would occur Sept. 11.

But CIA officials denied categorically to Timmerman that Zakeri had given any such warning to the Embassy and called Zakeri “a fabricator of monumental proportions” and “a serial fabricator.” Zakeri failed an FBI polygraph test in 2003, according to Timmerman.

“Expert Witnesses”

Significantly, no reputable retired intelligence analyst on Iran was asked to help judge the testimony of the Iranian “defectors.” Instead, Clare M. Lopez and Bruce Tefft, both former CIA covert operations case officers, were invited to be “expert witnesses,” in large part to view the videotaped testimony of the three Iranian “defectors” and assess their “credibility.”

Based on their past public statements, however, Lopez and Tefft were selected for that role by the plaintiff’s lawyers because the pair could be counted upon to endorse the defectors’ allegations of Iranian involvement in planning the 9/11 attacks and any other assertion, no matter how outlandish, that suggested Iranian guilt.

Lopez has been linked with the neoconservative faction of the Bush administration and the pro-Likud Party extreme right ever since she became Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee in 2005. Through a series of policy papers issued that year, the Iran Policy Committee sought to support the push by a group of pro-Likud officials within the Bush administration for a policy of “regime change” in Iran.

In particular, the Iran Policy Committee called for using the Mujahedin-E-Khalq or MEK, an armed Iranian opposition group which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group because of its assassinations of U.S. officials during the regime of the Shah and bombings of large civilian events in Iran.

The MEK had long enjoyed close working relations with Israel, but not with the United States. During the Bush administration, the State Department continued to oppose delisting and forming an alliance with the MEK against Tehran, as proposed by the Defense Department and the Vice-President’s office.

Since 2009, Lopez has been a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy founded and headed by notorious Islam-hating extremist Frank J. Gaffney. One of Lopez’s projects has been to stir up public fear over an alleged threat to America – not from al-Qaeda attacks, but from subversion by Muslim-Americans.

Lopez is one of a number of authors of a book published by Gaffney’s Center in October 2010 called “Shariah: the Threat to America,” which declares, “The United States is under attack by foes who are openly animated by what is known as Shariah (Islamic Law).” Revealing the project’s anti-Islam paranoia, the book asserts, “Shariah dictates that non-Muslims be given three choices: convert to Islam and conform to Shariah; submit as second class citizens (dhimmis), or be killed.”

In a videotaped talk she gave on Feb. 23, 2011, Lopez said Muslims, “believe they should be in charge of the world.” The main threat from Islam, she said, is “stealth Jihad” waged by Muslims who “hide behind a moderate image,” but whose “purpose is still the same” as that of al-Qaeda.

A second aspect of Lopez’s work for Gaffney has been to intimidate opponents of the hard-line policies toward Iran – and especially the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) – by accusing them of being covert lobbyists for Iran.

Tefft, who retired from the CIA’s Operations Division in 1995, is even more explicit in arguing that there is a worldwide war against Islam.

“We are fighting a 14-century war against Islam and its adherents, Muslims,” Tefft declared in an interview with the right-wing website FrontPage in October 2007. “And it is a war that they have declared on all non-Muslims.”

Islamic ideology requires Muslims to “make the world Islamic under the Caliphate, and to convert, kill or enslave all non-Muslims.” When the interviewer suggested that there are “moderate Muslims,” Tefft responded, “I don’t think so,” asking “Were there ‘good’ or ‘moderate’ Nazis?”

Tefft referred to the way “the West” had “prevailed” over Islam with the “defeat of the marauding armies of Islam at the Gates of Vienna in 1529” and added, “We need to recall that period and again contain Islam to its existing borders.”

When asked by this writer in a phone interview last week if he had been aware of the advocacy of Islamophobe arguments by Lopez and Tefft, Thomas Mellon, Jr., one of two lead plaintiff lawyers, did not answer directly, but said, “To the extent that you are accurate, we would say, fine, take them out.” He insisted that the lawyers had not relied on any one of the ten “expert witnesses” listed on the case.

Also playing a central role in weaving the tale of Iranian complicity in the 9/11 attacks for the court case was the right-wing author and anti-Iran activist Kenneth R. Timmerman. According to the lawyers’ brief on the case, it was Timmerman who sought out one of the attorneys, Timothy B. Fleming, and brought to his attention the three Iranian “defectors” who claimed personal knowledge that Iran was involved in the planning of 9/11.

Like Lopez, Timmerman has been linked with hard-line pro-Likud organizations and involved in efforts to overthrow the regime in Tehran. Along with Joshua Muravchik and a group of Iranian exile foes of the Islamic regime, he established the “Foundation for Democracy in Iran” in 1995.

Timmerman has also expressed views sympathetic to the Hate-Islam movement. His 2003 book, “Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War against America,” portrays the United States and Israel as innocent victims of a vicious campaign against the West by whole Islamic societies that refuse to accept the U.S.-Israeli narrative on terrorism.

And Timmernan’s new novel, St. Peter’s Bones, has been praised by notorious Islam-hater Robert Spencer for revealing the “long-hidden origins of Islam.”

‘Material Support’

The most egregious allegations of Iranian complicity in 9/11 come from three former staff members of the 9/11 Commission – Daniel Byman, Dietrich Snell and Janice Kephart.

They had all worked on the section of the 2004 report that had given heavy emphasis to the fact that Iran had not stamped the passports of Saudis who had later become hijackers in the 9/11 attacks when they entered Iran. The section had suggested that this and other evidence could indicate Iranian complicity in the plot, even if it could not yet be proven.

In their affidavits to the court, those three former staffers, two of whom (Snell and Kephart) are lawyers, argue that Iran’s failure to stamp the passports of the Qaeda operatives constituted provision of “material support” to al-Qaeda in executing the 9/11 attacks. U.S. anti-terrorist law specifies that the provision of “material support” to terrorists includes any “service” to terrorists if the provider is “knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out” a terrorist action.

However, a key piece of information in a different chapter of the 9/11 Commission report shows that Iran’s failure to stamp passports was not intended to aid al-Qaeda. On page 169, the report says that, in order to avoid the confiscation by Saudi authorities of passports bearing a Pakistani stamp, the Saudi al-Qaeda operatives, “either erased the Pakistani visa from their passport or traveled through Iran, which did not stamp visas directly into passports.”

In other words, the Iranian practice of not stamping visas directly into passports applied to everyone. And since, as the Commission report acknowledged, there was no evidence of Iranian foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, the existence of that policy did not support the thesis of Iranian “material support” for the 9/11 plot.

The Commission staff went back to the two senior planners of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, in July 2004, to ask them specifically about the Iranian failure to stamp the passports of the hijackers, but, strangely, the Commission report gives no indication of what they said about whether the Iranian practice was intended to assist al-Qaeda. Either the staff never asked the question, or the answer was ignored because it contradicted the line that those staff members were pushing in 2004 and are still pushing today.

The former 9/11 Commission staffers also joined right-wing activists in highlighting the intelligence Commission report statements that “an associate of a senior Hizbullah operative” was on the same mid-November flight from Beirut to Tehran as a group of future hijackers, and that Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran had been “expecting the arrival of a group [from Saudi Arabia] during the same time period.”

The former staffers insist that these could not have been coincidences and that they had to mean that Iran was involved in the plot.

The argument that the presence of an “associate” of a top Hezbollah official on the same flight as future al-Qaeda hijackers could not have been a coincidence is absurd. There were obviously many “associates” of top Hezbollah officials, most whom would have had occasion to travel to Iran frequently. The statistical likelihood that one of them would be on the same flight as the future hijackers would not be so small as to merit suspicion.

And the very same section of the Commission report provides a clear explanation of the anticipation of a group traveling from Saudi Arabia to Iran that reveals the conspiratorial interpretation as dishonest. It says that a senior Hezbollah operative – said to have been Imad Mugniyeh – visited Saudi Arabia in October 2000 to “coordinate activities” there, that he planned to assist a group traveling to Iran in November, and that intelligence reports showed the planned visit to Iran involved a “top Hezbollah commander” and “Saudi Hezbollah contacts.”

But that didn’t stop the lawyers for the case from twisting the Commission report to fit the desired narrative: “The ‘activities’ that Mughniyah went to coordinate, clearly revolved around the hijackers’ travel, their obtaining new Saudi passports and/or US visas for the 9/11 operation, as several of them did, as well as the hijackers’ security, and the operation’s security.”

Paul Pillar, who was the CIA’s senior intelligence officer on the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 and had previously been the senior analyst at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, was categorical about the matter when I interviewed him in 2006. The facts detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report about passports, travel of the hijackers through Iran, and the presence of a Hezbollah official on one of the flights “don’t show Iranian collusion with al-Qaeda,” he told me.

The lawyers’ brief refers to “the existence of a secret network of travel routes and safehouses” worked out from the mid-1990s onward as being “confirmed by al Qaeda military chief Saef al Adel in a May 2005 interview.” That implies that secret arrangements on such “travel routes and safehouses” were made between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government.

But al-Adel said nothing of the sort. He made it clear in his interview with a Saudi journalist that the Iranians who helped them with housing and logistics were not connected with the Iranian regime.

The “expert witnesses” and the lawyers carefully skirt the fact that in the latter half of the 1990s – at a time when the United States was officially still “neutral” on the civil war in Afghanistan – Iran was providing funding, arms and other support to the Northern Alliance, the non-Pashtun forces seeking to overthrow the Taliban regime which Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were helping to keep in power.

That Iranian support for the Northern Alliance was still ongoing when the organization’s chief, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated Sept. 10, 2001 by two Arabs posing as journalists. The leader of the CIA’s post-9/11 covert paramilitary team in Afghanistan, Gary Schroen, reported that there were two IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard] Colonels attached to the Commander of the Northern Alliance, Bismullah Khan, when the CIA team arrived.

Nevertheless, Lopez and Tefft as well as Israeli journalist Ronan Bergman, a former intelligence officer in the Israeli Defense Forces who boasts of his “close personal contacts” with senior Israel intelligence and military officials, cite reports supposedly originating with German intelligence that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives carry out the Massoud assassination.

All these “expert witnesses” insisted vehemently that Iran continued to provide “safe haven” for al Qaeda operatives who fled from Afghanistan to Iran after 9/11, allowing them to direct terrorist activities against Saudi Arabia in particular. But that accusation merely recycles the claim first made in early 2002 by Bush administration officials seeking to prevent negotiations between the United States and Iran and push for the adoption of a regime change strategy in Iran.

The central pretense of the neoconservative “safe haven” ploy was that, if any al-Qaeda operatives were able to function in Iran, Iran must have deliberately permitted it. But the United States has been unable to shut down al-Qaeda’s operation in Pakistan after a decade of trying, despite the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence service and the drone coverage of the tribal areas.

If the same criteria applied to Iran were to be applied to the Bush administration and the government of Germany (where part of the 9/11 conspiracy was hatched), they could be accused of having provided “safe haven” for al-Qaeda operatives prior to 9/11.

In fact, after U.S. complaints about al-Qaeda presence in Iran in late 2001, Tehran detained nearly 300 al-Qaeda operatives, and gave a dossier with their names, passport pictures and fingerprints to the United Nations. Iran also repatriated at least 200 of those detainees to the newly formed government of Afghanistan.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker revealed last year that, in late 2001, the Iranians had been willing to discuss possible surrender of the senior al-Qaeda officials it was detaining to the United States and share any intelligence they had gained from their investigations as part of a wider understanding with Washington.

But the neoconservative faction in the administration rejected that offer, demanding that Iran give them al-Qaeda detainees without getting anything in return.

Iran’s crackdown on al-Qaeda continued in 2002-03 and netted a number of top officials. One of the senior al-Qaeda detainees apparently detained by Iran during that period, Saif al-Adel, later told a Jordanian journalist that Iran’s operations against al-Qaeda had “confused us and aborted 75 percent of our plan.”

The arrests included “up to 80 percent” of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s group, he said, and those who had not been swept up were forced to leave for Iraq.

In further negotiations with the Bush administration in May 2003, Iran again offered to turn over the senior al-Qaeda detainees to the United States in return for the MEK captured by U.S. forces in Iraq. The Bush administration again refused the offer.

By 2005, a “senior US intelligence official” was publicly admitting that 20 to 25 top al Qaeda leaders were in detention in Iran and that they were “not able to do much of anything.” In 2008, one U.S. official told ABC News that administration officials had not been raising the Qaeda issue publicly, because “they believe Iran has largely kept the al-Qaeda operatives under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate.”

But in the world of right-wing Islam-hating extremists and others pushing for confrontation with Iran, reality is no obstacle to spinning tales of secret Iranian assistance to al Qaeda.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. [This article was first published by Truthout.]

The Bad-Tasting Medicine of Retreat

America’s still-influential neocons are pounding President Obama for failing to negotiate a longer U.S. military occupation of Iraq, blaming him for the country’s latest political crisis. But the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland says the U.S. pullback was part of a necessary reordering of U.S. priorities.

By Ivan Eland

Like a mother forcing her children to take bad-tasting medicine for their own good, disgruntled American “allies” have recently compelled the financially ailing U.S. superpower to scale back meddling abroad that it can no longer afford.

The United States, always reluctant to remove troops from any overseas location, even if the situation on the ground there has changed greatly, wanted to renegotiate the U.S.-Iraqi agreement for a complete American troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The U.S., however, wanted its troops to have immunity from Iraq’s laws, something the occupation-weary Iraqis would not stand for in the wake of the Haditha and Blackwater massacres of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops and security contractors, respectively.

Many conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for abandoning Iraq, and they cite the recent spike in violence, the attempt by the Shi’ite prime minister to arrest the Sunni vice president, and the crumbling of the prime minister’s Shi’ite coalition as evidence that U.S. troops should have remained in the country.

Yet this same argument was made by conservatives as U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam after decades of meddling and is made to this day about having abandoned that Southeast Asian country too soon. And like the South Vietnamese government, the Iraqi government may fall apart in what is essentially a civil war.

Yet how long should the United States keep its finger in the dike in such developing countries, especially when it is almost impossible to remodel foreign political cultures using armed force? In Iraq, the United States now has to rely on the largest embassy in the world, 16,000 embassy employees and contractors, to hold the country together. Good luck.

Because Iraq is an artificial country with rival ethno-sectarian groups and tribes competing in a political culture that rarely allows compromise, Iraq probably would be doomed to significant civil strife whenever American troops departed. It might as well be now, after almost nine years of failed nation-building.

In Pakistan, a similar situation is playing out. Anti-American sentiment is at a fever pitch after a CIA security contractor killed two Pakistanis in January, a U.S. helicopter-borne raid killed Osama bin Laden in May, and an American airstrike killed 26 Pakistani military personnel near the Afghan border in November.

As a result, Pakistan will likely scale back its broad security relationship with the United States. “We’ve closed the chapter on the post-9/11 period,” according to one senior U.S. official quoted in The New York Times. Good.

In a bizarre twist of policy, since 9/11, the United States has been shoveling billions in military and economic assistance to Pakistan so that the Pakistanis can aid the Afghan Taliban, which the U.S. is fighting. After all, money is fungible.

In return for the massive aid to Pakistan, the U.S. has been allowed to use drones to kill al-Qaeda members in Pakistan and transmit supplies and military equipment through Pakistan to fight the Pakistani-supported Afghan Taliban. Aiding the primary benefactor of your enemy is crazy!

After the American airstrike killed Pakistani soldiers last month, Pakistan made the U.S. close a drone base in southwestern Pakistan and closed supply routes for American war materiel going into Afghanistan. All CIA drone attacks have been suspended since November.

Although Pakistan is reevaluating security cooperation between the two countries, it seems like the excessive American party is over.

Reflecting enraged Pakistani public opinion, the broader security relationship will probably be scaled back to a narrower counterterrorism relationship that more tightly restricts drone strikes against al-Qaeda on Pakistani soil, limits the number of U.S. spies and troops on the ground there, and raises the cost by millions of dollars to get American supplies through to Afghanistan.

But as in Iraq, the reduced U.S. footprint may seem like bad news but is actually something to celebrate. Even if we subscribe to the dubious proposition that the U.S. can kill its way out of the al-Qaeda problem, the United States will still be able to continue to hunt al-Qaeda with drones but will save billions of dollars by continuing to freeze massive military aid to Pakistan.

This narrow counterterrorism relationship is all the United States should have had in the first place. Al-Qaeda attacked the United States; the Afghan Taliban did not. The United States could save even more money by rapidly withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, thus allowing Pakistan to have a greater say in Afghan affairs through the Afghan Taliban and eliminating U.S. dependency on Pakistan to allow the transit of supplies for that war.

Moreover, a lighter U.S. presence in Islamic countries would actually reduce the ire of radical Muslims against the United States, thus draining the swamp of potential anti-U.S. terrorists. It is a shame that it takes Islamic nations themselves to compel oblivious U.S. policy makers to reduce the underlying cause of anti-U.S. terrorism.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

Slip-Sliding to War with Iran

Exclusive: Having apparently learned nothing from the Iraq disaster, many of the same political/media players are reprising their tough-guy roles in a new drama regarding Iran. These retread performances may make another war, with Iran, hard to avoid, writes Robert Parry

By Robert Parry

With the typical backdrop of alarmist propaganda in place, the stage is now set for a new war, this time with Iran. The slightest miscalculation (or provocation) by the United States, Israel or Iran could touch off a violent scenario that will have devastating consequences.

Indeed, even if they want to, the various sides might have trouble backing down enough to defuse today’s explosive situation. After all, the Iranians continue to insist they have no intention of building a nuclear bomb, as much as Israeli and American officials insist that they are.

So, this prospective war with Iran like the one in Iraq is likely to come down to intelligence assessments on Iran’s intentions and capabilities. And, as with Iraq’s alleged WMD, the many loud voices claiming that Iran is on pace to build a nuclear bomb are drowning out the relatively few skeptics who think the evidence is thin to invisible.

For instance, the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s supposed progress toward a nuclear bomb was widely accepted as gospel truth without any discussion of whether the IAEA is an unbiased and reliable source.

In framing the story in support of the IAEA, the major U.S. newspapers and TV networks ignored documentary evidence that the IAEA’s new director-general was installed with the support of the United States and that he privately indicated to U.S. and Israeli officials that he would help advance their goals regarding Iran.

These facts could be found easily enough in WikiLeaks cables that the U.S. news media has had access to since 2010. Yet, the Big Media has ignored this side of the story, even as the IAEA report has been touted again and again as virtually a smoking gun against Iran.

This pattern of ignoring or downplaying evidence that runs counter to the prevailing narrative was a notable feature during the run-up to war with Iraq. It is now being repeated not just by the right-wing news media, but by the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and other centrist-to-left-leaning outlets. [Update: The IAEA report was cited again on Friday in another bellicose editorial in the Times.]

The IAEA Cables

Thus, very few Americans know that U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, revealed that the U.S. government in 2009 was celebrating its success in installing Japanese diplomat Yakiya Amano to replace Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei, who famously had debunked some of President George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear ambitions.

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director-general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also vowed to restructure the IAEA’s senior ranks in ways favored by the United States. In return, Pyatt promised that “the United States would do everything possible to support his [Amano’s] successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming.”

For his part, Amano stuck out his hand seeking more U.S. money, or as Pyatt put it, “Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

Amano also rushed to meet with Israeli officials “immediately after his appointment,”  consulting with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli and leaving Michaeli “fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.” That was another indication Amano’s IAEA would take a hard line against Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions while ignoring Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Michaeli also revealed that Amano’s public remarks about “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” were just for show, designed “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’” In reality, Amano intended to be anything but impartial.

Amano agreed to private “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. The purpose was to hear Israel’s purported evidence about Iran continuing its work on a nuclear weapon, not to discuss Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow IAEA inspectors into Israeli nuclear sites.

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that he [Amano] was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

Amano also continued to indicate that he needed to hide his true intentions. “More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009, the cable said.

In other words, the emerging picture of Amano is of a bureaucrat eager to please the United States and Israel regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Wouldn’t that evidence be relevant for Americans deciding whether to trust the IAEA report? But the Big Media apparently felt that the American people shouldn’t know these facts whose disclosure has been limited to a few Internet sites. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]

Similarly, the U.S. press corps is now reporting the dubious allegations about an Iranian assassination plot directed against the Saudi ambassador as flat fact, not as some hard-to-believe accusation comparable to Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims in 2002 that Iraqi officials had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Petraeus’s CIA Fuels Iran Murder Plot.”]

Dangerous Cascade

There is now a cascading of allegations regarding Iran, as there was with Iraq, with the momentum rushing toward war.

Just as with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the U.S. news media treats Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a designated villain whose every word is cast as dangerous or crazy. Even left-of-center media personalities, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, talk tough against Ahmadinejad, just as many “liberals” did regarding Hussein.

Also, as happened with Iraq when harsher economic sanctions merged with a U.S. troop build-up, making an escalation toward war almost inevitable tougher and tougher Western sanctions against Iran have pushed the various sides closer to war.

In November, Iranian anger at escalating sanctions and other hostile acts led to an assault on the British Embassy, which then prompted new European demands for a full-scale embargo of Iranian oil. As tensions have grown, the U.S. Senate tossed in its own hand-grenade, voting 100-0 in favor of hitting Iran with ever more stringent sanctions.

In turn, Iran has threatened to retaliate against the West’s economic warfare by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil flows, thus driving up oil prices and derailing the West’s already shaky economies. That threat has led to even more bellicose language from many U.S. political figures, especially the Republican presidential hopefuls who have denounced President Barack Obama for not being tougher on Iran.

With the exception of Rep. Ron Paul, virtually all the leading Republican contenders including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have signaled a readiness to join Israel in a war against Iran. Romney has farmed out his foreign policy agenda to prominent neoconservatives, and Gingrich has gone so far as to suggest a full-scale U.S.-Israeli invasion of Iran to force “regime change.”

As the U.S. news media and politicians mostly reprise their performances on the Iraq invasion in regard to Iran, the principal obstacles to a new war appear to be President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Both are said to privately oppose a war with Iran, which was not true of how President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt about Iraq.

Though Obama and Panetta have talked tough about “all options on the table,” the Obama administration slipped loopholes into the Senate’s anti-Iran legislation, to allow the President to waive Iranian sanctions if he deemed them a threat to national security or to the economy.

One intelligence source told me that Obama is playing a delicate game in which he must placate hawkish anti-Iranian sentiments in Israel and on Capitol Hill while he continues to seek a broader Middle East security arrangement that would include Iran in the mix. On Wednesday, administration officials sought to tamp down alarmist anti-Iran reports in the U.S. press.

Still, whether Obama can head off a violent conflict with Iran remains to be seen. As the presidential election grows nearer and the likely GOP’s nominee hammers at Obama as soft on Iran a preemptive Israeli attack or a miscalculation by Iran could make war unavoidable.

For its part, the major U.S. news media has done its best, again, to line up the American people behind another war.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Shifting Ground for Vital Resources

As competition for oil, water and other resources intensify, global power relationships are shifting, providing backdrops for a string of conflicts from Iraq to Libya. Brazilian-born journalist Pepe Escobar, one of the most perceptive analysts of these trends, was interviewed by German Lars Schall.

By Lars Schall

Mr. Escobar, given your experience in that field, what would you highlight as the most crucial misunderstanding held by the general public related to the so called “War on Terror”?

Pepe Escobar: This is the cover story for a “Clash of Civilizations“ and an undercover cold war that maybe becomes a hot war between the U.S. and the two strategic competitors, China and Russia. They couldn’t go directly against any of these two BRICS members. [BRICS is an organization of emerging economies consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa].

Remember that before the “War on Terror“ and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Americans were trying to find out who was going to be our next enemy? So you needed a pre-fabricated external enemy before that there was the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain and the evil of communism. After the evil was defeated by realpolitik okay, who’s next?

First they thought about China, but they said, no, we can’t take China, it’s a big power, it’s nuclear armed. The same thing with Russia and they were doing nice, they had a puppet in the Kremlin, Boris Yeltsin, who was privatizing everything like crazy and was plundering Russia’s resources to the benefit, hypothetically, of Western corporations. Then Putin took the whole thing upside-down.

So the “War on Terror“ was perfect because Islam was branded as the enemy, and 9/11, it couldn’t have been more convenient because then, what was conceptionalized before, you had the Pearl Harbor element you could sell it not only to the American public but to world public opinion. But undercover the real agenda of the global “War on Terror,“ which the Pentagon calls “The Long War“ meaning infinite war is in fact that there are two emerging powers that pose a real serious threat to the United States.

Russia basically because it is nuclear armed. At that time they were not thinking about Russia as a major oil and gas exporter this was before [Vladimir] Putin re-organized Gazprom, so that Gazprom would become the top international major in oil and gas. And China, which at that time, ten years ago, the Americans were looking at it as still struggling, maybe there would be a peasant revolt, whatever, they didn’t think that China was the big competitor. And now, of course, they have 3.2 trillion U.S. dollars in foreign reserves and U.S. treasury bonds etc. (laughs.)

The perfect pretext was 9/11, but undercover the war for energy resources in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia intensified, and they had the neo-con masterplan, which incredibly is being implemented now, which is to destabilize this “Arc of Instability,“ this is Pentagon-coined, of course, from the Maghreb through Northern Africa across the Middle East and all the way to Central Asia via Afghanistan/Pakistan which is the intersection between Central Asia and South Asia up to the Chinese border in Xinjiang.

So they needed to implement their strategy, which was conceptionalized finally after 9/11 this is the Pentagon’s “Full Spectrum Dominance“ doctrine, which is something you will never ever read about in the U.S. mainstream press or in the European mainstream press for that matter. Since 2002 the “Full Spectrum Dominance“ doctrine is the official Pentagon doctrine. It is intrinsically linked to America’s National Security we have to be the predominant power not only on land, on sea and in the air but also in cyberspace and outerspace. That is the essence of the “Full Spectrum Dominance“ doctrine.

[Compare for example Jim Garamone (American Forces Press Service): “Joint Vision 2020 Emphazises Full Spectrum Dominance“, published June 2, 2000 at the website of the U.S. Department of Defense under: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=45289

This is being applied now after the “Arab Spring,“ and that’s incredible because nobody is talking about it also. Everybody was saying at the beginning: Wow, finally the Arabs are “awakening,“ but that is too hard a  term, as it means that the Arabs were sleeping for the past 100 years – that is not true.

“Spring“ is also not really the right word, I would say that it is a process of enhanced conciousness of the working classes and the middle classes in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Bahrain and other parts of the Middle East as well. And then came the counter-revolution, and this process of counter-revolution is leading directly to the implementation of further steps of the “Full Spectrum Dominance“ doctrine.

We can go back to this later on, but basically what I’m trying to say is that the counter-revolution, orchestrated by the U.S. and especially by the House of Saud, re-instrumentalized what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt, they unleashed the counter-revolution in the Persian Gulf, they try to bribe the military dictatorship in Egypt to keep it that way as a military dictatorship (they gave already 4 billion U.S. dollars to the Tantawi junta, and more is coming from Saudi Arabia), and meanwhile in Central Asia the United States is trying to re-organize itself because suddenly they have noticed that they are losing terrain to who else? China and Russia.

This in terms of oil and gas deals between China and Russia themselves, between Turkmenistan and China, between all these players and Iran as well Russia and China have very close cooperation with Iran in their oil and gas fields.

So the Americans are saying: Okay, how do we re-organize the whole thing? The “War on Terror“ for all practical purposes is more or less over in the Pentagon way of seeing the world. Now it’s back to “Full Spectrum Dominance“ – we have to control the whole thing. So this means control of the Mediterranean Sea as a NATO lake, which was what they have implementated in Libya and now will try to implement in Syria; control the rest of Africa, sending troops to Uganda like Obama did a few weeks ago, which is not only Uganda but the heart of Central Africa, it’s Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo – lots of oil, lots of minerals, lots of rare earths as well, all extremely precious.

So the West has to be there and the U.S. has to be in control, forget about China. This means raving up AFRICOM, the African Command sitting in Stuttgart, Germany, and soon probably sitting in Benghazi, Libya.

I was talking to people from the European Union in Brussels a few days ago, some smart dissidents who don’t agree with what they are doing, and they told me off the record: Look, there is going to be a military base in Libya, this was the project right from the beginning.

There will not be a lot of European boots on the ground, it’s going to be Turkish, Qatari, UAE, those mercenaries that get trained by Blackwater – now Xe – in the United Arab Emirates, these people will be part of this base and it’s going to be the base that NATO and AFRICOM wanted in North African territory.

For me the number one answer to your question is this: the “War on Terror“ was a diversion that lasted more or less ten years. Now even the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Obama administration, everybody is saying out loud: “al-Qaeda is operationally ineffective” – these are their own words.

Virtually everybody is dead, apart from al-Zawahiri and the new guy that they have named to be their military commander, but I can’t even remember his name, they have a new one every week or so. Everybody is dead, they are not in Afghanistan anymore, they have a few trainers in the tribal areas in the Waziristans, they are ineffective in the rest of the world, though, of course, they are in power now in Tripoli because the West has used them. Those guys were trained in a military camp north of Kabul.

I was there in this place in early 2001, and I was told that they had a lot of Libyans there. And yes, these Libyans were the guys from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, LIFG, and they were trained in this camp north of Kabul, it was very easy to go there. So now they are in Libya, the military commander of Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhadj, with his cohorts, they are very well armed, very well trained, they will not go away, and these al-Qaeda-linked jihadis were used by the West with no second thoughts.

Would you say that al-Qaeda, now as a phantom and in the “good old days“ as a real force, was an useful tool for the foreign policy of the U.S.A.?

Pepe Escobar: Yes, of course it was! It was the perfect excuse because they kept them to try to implement “Full Spectrum Dominance“ anywhere that they could. In Central Asia they were very active – until maybe two years ago – during the Bush administration.

Remember that Cheney used to go to Central Asia every two or three months at that time. The U.S. tried to strike deals directly with the Kazakhs, with the Turkmen, and especially with the Azerbaijanis – the Azerbaijani elite is very close with the Republicans in the U.S. So Dick Cheney was there all the time.

And their special embassador, who is still working for the Obama administration, Richard Morningstar, is the oil envoy of Washington to Central Asia, he knows the area well, he knows all the players. The Americans tried to pressure them: don’t do deals with Russia, don’t do deals with China, bypass Iran and do deals with us. What is happening now? They did deals with Russia, they did deals with China, they did not bypass Iran and they didn’t do any deals with the Americans. (laughs.)

Usually, people expect when you do a war that you want to win it. But isn’t it the case in Central Asia that a perpetual war theater has some advantages for the “military petroleum complex” (as economist James K. Galbraith called it) vis-à-vis China and Russia? [For the term “military-petroleum complex” compare James K. Galbraith: “Unbearable Costs of Empire”, originally published by The American Prospect magazine, November 2002, republished at Third World Travelor.]

Pepe Escobar: Yes, but the problem is that they don’t know who they are dealing with. They forget cultural factors, they forget that Turkmen, for instance, are very independent and prefer to do deals with people who speak the same language, which is Russian. If the middleman Medvedev goes to Ashgabat to talk to President Berdimuhamedov in Russian it is much easier to clinch a deal.

Or if the Chinese go to Ashgabat, they say: Look, we build anything you want and we even build a pipeline ourselves. So give us a good rate for your gas and we build this pipeline tomorrow from eastern Turkmenistan to western China. This is exactly what they did, two years ago the pipeline was inaugurated. And this applies to the Africans as well: there are no conditionalities, there is no interference in internal politics.

The Americans tried this for a while, like with Uzbekistan and this guy who boils his own people, Islam Karimov. They had a very close understanding with the Bush administration, and the U.S. had a military base in Karimabad near the Afghan border during the Bush years, which was very helpful to the Americans, but afterwards they started to criticize human rights in Uzbekistan so what did the Uzbeks say? No more base, bye bye! And they are part of this pipeline that goes from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan. They changed tactics a bit, but at the end the Americans lost the plot.

Now the Americans are realizing that they were losing terrain to both Russia and China in Central Asia, so they redeployed in the Persian Gulf, in northern Africa and inside Africa as well. Libya will be very helpful for new oil and gas explorations. The Libyans say that they will keep the contracts that they have with the Italians there is this gas pipeline from northern Libya to Sicily and the shipments to Italy. But the new contracts will go to Total, BP and the Americans, not to the Russians and the Chinese.

Libya was, is and will be profitable for Western energy majors. In Central Asia their only hope is Azerbaijan, because they more or less control the energy business in Azerbaijan, and like I have said, the elites work as a satrapy of Washington, basically. But the problem is that they cannot control Turkmenistan. They’ve been pressuring Turkmenistan to build Nabucco, the pipeline. Nabucco will cost a fortune, it will cost around 20 billion euros, nobody knows where this money is coming from, especially in a European crisis.

The Turkmen say that they can provide enough gas, but nobody knows if they actually have that kind of gas, because they are swapping gas with Iran, they are selling a lot of gas to China, and they are still selling gas via the old Soviet pipeline. Nabucco is going to need a lot of gas and nobody knows if Turkmenistan has it. And the Turkmen still say: you need to prove us that you have the investment for the pipeline, which can be built within the next three to four years, so that we can commit our gas reserves to this pipeline.

But this means, if Turkmenistan does not have enough gas, the Europeans have to find it somewhere else, and it shouldn’t be in Azerbaijan, unless they spend over 22 billion U.S. dollars in new investment.

So while everybody is stuck, the Russians built two pipelines: North Stream and South Stream. Putin is winning the war against Nabucco because he started first and he made deals with governments, with Gerhard Schröder of Germany for North Stream and with Silvio Berlsconi of Italy for South Stream. So North and South Stream is winning against Nabucco, because they still don’t know where the money is coming from, they don’t know if they will have enough gas, and they don’t know where they are finding the gas if it is not in Turkmenistan or in Azerbaijan.

Turkey wants to have a lot of the gas for itself as well, plus the transit fees, it is an absolute mess. I keep reading these official pronouncements from Nabucco, which is based in Vienna, and every month or so there is an official communication: it is going to work, we have the 20 billion euros, it will be ready in 2017, we will start next year – but we are hearing this for the past five years, if I’m not mistaken.

Another central problem is the opium / heroin trade in Afghanistan. What are your observation with regards to this problem? Who are the major players in that business? And would you say that this whole affair is a shame for the West?

Pepe Escobar: Oh, yes. One of the major players has always been Ahmed Ali Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s brother. I met him after 9/11 in Quetta, he was always living in Quetta because this was his perfect base. Quetta is a fascinating place. I would say it is the smuggling capital of the East – and that’s no mean feat because you are competing with Hong Kong, you are competing actually with everybody, with the Russians, with the Ukrainian mafia.

In Quetta you have a transportation mafia, you have a heroin mafia, and from Quetta all these networks start to diversify. There is one network that goes through northern Pakistan and goes to Tajikistan, they is another one that bifurcates in Tajikistan and goes towards Central Asia and from Central Asia to Turkey.

So there are these Pakistani/Afghan opium networks, there is another Tajik network which is basically refining. Everybody knows there is a CIA network, what we don’t know is exactly what trajectory they follow. Probably it’s a trajectory from Afghanistan via Uzbekistan to get to Turkey, probably flying from Uzbekistan. Everybody has a network.

As far as I know the Chinese mafias don’t have a network in Afghanistan, but maybe soon they will. And this is the major problem for Russia. Whenever you talk to Russian officials about what is the big deal in Afghanistan, they immediately say: There is a drug war against us, and the source is Afghan opium.

They have now more victims related to heroin than they had during the 1980’s with the war in Afghanistan.

Pepe Escobar: You are absolutely right, exactly. This is one of the key focusses for the Russians within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It’s not only to keep American bases outside of the region, just like the Chinese want as well. It’s to try to find a way to fight these drug, opium mafias. It’s a big problem for Russia, and it’s also a big problem for Iran as well.

For Iran because of the Afghan refugees. The Afghan refugees basically moved to eastern Iran, so if you go to Mashhad in eastern Iran, if you go to the suburbs of Mashhad that’s the opium center, that’s the smuggling center. They cross Afghanistan, they cross via Herat, from Herat to Mashhad with very good roads now it’s like seven hours maximum, and from Mashhad they distribute this opium all across Iran, there is a huge drug problem for Iran as well, and Iran is an observer member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and one of the main reasons for them to join the SCO is to try to organize a regional mechanism to fight a real drug war, because these countries are badly suffering from it.

If true, then they are processing heroin in Afghanistan, they are not only growing the opium. And one question that I always ask myself is, who provides the chemicals involved in the manufacturing process? I guess the Afghans don’t have factories to produce acetic acid chloride, do they?

Pepe Escobar: Honestly, I cannot answer this question, but I would say there is outside help involved, it’s true. In Afghanistan they simply cannot process. In fact, the refineries used to be in Tajikistan or in Pakistan, in Quetta, for instance, or in Dushanbe in Tajikistan. The people from the Panjshir valley who deal with the trafficking, everything is concentrated in Dushanbe, 40 minutes to northern Afghanistan by helicopter – and they have their own private helicopters. So I would say yes, there is outside help, and then, of course, it’s specualtion: is it Western outside help? (laughs.)

Is it just by chance that one can have the impression: where energy resources and / or illicit drugs are placed (for example South America, Central Asia, South East Asia), the U.S. military and intelligence is never really far away?

Pepe Escobar: They are, they are everywhere. Though they can’t be in South America at the moment because of what is going on in South America since, I would say, 2002. It’s a geopolitical earthquake, in fact, because the South Americans for the first time in their history with the elections of first Chavez, and then Lula in Brazil in 2002, and then in Ecuador, even in Uruguay, even when Kirschner won in Argentina – they decided: Okay, let’s get our act together now that most of our governments are center-left or at least nominally progressive.

Let’s get our backyard in order, organize ourselves via the Unasur, for instance, the Union of South American countries, and also the Mercosur, which is a commercial/trade union. And let’s try to fight American interference directly. And this is what’s been happening. Remember the failed coup against Chavez in 2002, which was directly organized by Washington, there is extensive proof, you can find it on the net, Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American lawyer, she wrote excellent books about it. Okay, and they tried in 2007 to destabilize Bolivia as well, the failed coup in Ecuador over a year ago. So why is it not happening anymore in South America? Because of political, economic and geopolitical unity.

But don’t doubt it, if the Pentagon found an opening to interfere directly in Venezuela again, they will do it. The problem is, now there are Russian advisors over there, there are Chinese traders in Venezuela, Iranian commercial interests as well. Venezuela is not only trading with South America and they are now a member of Mercosur as well, so they are trading a lot with Brazil and Argentina etc., but they are trading with the other side of the world as well – and with two of America’s strategic competitors, plus their nemesis, Iran. So that explains a lot.

Since 2002, South America for the Pentagon is a big, big problem, and no wonder these Republican whacko candidates in their last foreign policy debate, they were saying that Hamas and Hezbollah are all over South America, that they have to pay attention to Latin America because we forget that there are a lot of communists and terrorists over there. It’s no wonder.

But would you say it’s a coincidence, this historical connection between energy resources and illicit drugs? For example, in the Vietnam war.

Pepe Escobar: True, with Air America. Remember, Air America was not only defending civilians in Laos and Vietnam, basically this was a CIA heroin smuggling operation, of course. But the thing is, it’s not necessarily so. I would mention Colombia. Colombia was a completely different case, Colombia was a case of indigenous cartels, they were fighting among themselves to see who would have the monopoly of exporting cocaine to the U.S., I would say there were few American interests here – selling equipment and weapons, yes, but the Americans were not at the forefront of the battle against the cartels.

So when they fragmented, the cartels went all over the place. So now for the past three or four years, it’s the Peruvians who control the distribution of cocaine in South America, it’s not the Colombians anymore.

They delocalized, for instance, to Brazil as a refinery center and an export center as well. I would say every week there’s a major apprehension of coke at Sao Paulo’s International Airport, for instance. So if you multiply this by what really goes through, it’s amazing. Now the airport in Sao Paulo is one of the major shipping routes of cocaine to North America, or to Europe as well. Once there used to be heroin coming from Central Asia via Europe that was landing in Brazil as well. It was funny, there was a time during the 80s, I remember, there was an Italian connection: people would bring heroin from Milan to Sao Paulo, and would take cocaine from Sao Paulo to Milan. (laughs.) That was almost thirty years ago.

In the Colombian case it’s very different. There is not a direct relation between drugs and energy. In Venezuela as well: the only game in town over there is energy, it’s a battle for energy. Hugo Chavez, whatever you think about him, was very clever, because: Okay, my way out is to do deals with other players. So they made a gigantic deal with China, and now they are one of the top suppliers of oil to China.

Soon they will be selling China one million barrels of oil per day, and they could expand to two million easily, if the Chinese invest in the Orinoco region, exploiting the new fields, which they will do, it’s not a priority at the moment, because for the moment the Chinese are concentrated in Siberia, Central Asia, and Africa, But they still have this Plan C or Plan D for them, which is Venezuela.

Do they also count on Brazil as an oil exporter?

Pepe Escobar: Definitely, because of the pre-salt deposits in Brazil, which is a kind of mixed blessing, in fact. Petrobras is regarded all over the world as one of the most competent national oil companies. The problem is they have to develop this specific technology to perforate this salt layer to extract the oil. It’s an extremely complex and extremely expensive operation. They say they will start in 2017, I doubt it.

The last figure that I saw in terms of investment that they needed, this was a few months ago, they were talking about 220 to 240 billion U.S. dollars of investment over the next few years to start extracting oil from the pre-salt layer. Everybody wants to be part of it. Chevron is already here, Exxon Mobil, Gazprom wants to be here, and of course the Chinese. And I’m sure when the Brazilians start issuing tenders, the Chinese are going to be at the forefront, all of their companies, CNPC, CNOOC, all of them.

But this is a long term project for the Chinese, of course, because in a realistic assessment there’s not going to be oil from the pre-salt layer before 2019/2020, so the Chinese are thinking ahead.

We hear quite a lot about the BRICS. Would you say this is just a nice name once given by Goldman Sachs or is there more behind it, a comprehensive strategy, something like this?

Pepe Escobar: They still don’t have a comprehensive strategy. It used to be a nice name in 2001/2002; not anymore, because now they are meeting regularly, not only an official annual meeting, but their foreign ministers are meeting, their deputy foreign ministers are meeting just like they did in St. Petersburg recently for that matter. Their interests are more or less the same in terms of: for Russia and China to keep the U.S. out of their backyard, which is basically Central Asia and the former Soviet Republics.

For Brazil it’s to keep the Americans out of South America as much as humanly possible, considering that the relations between Brazil and the U.S. are very, very close, and the United States still regards Brazil as a key ally in Latin America. It’s a very complicated foreign policy game between Brazil and the U.S.

For India, they want to be in the same group of all emerging countries as well, but without antogonizing the U.S. too much, so they have a difficult game to play as well. South Africa was included basically so that they would have a continental span, so that three continents were represented.

I would say from the point of view of the BRICS, and in fact they discussed this in Brasilia over a year ago – the fifth BRIC would be Turkey, it would be BRICT actually, but at the last minute they decided to include South Africa, because they said: we need the largest economy from Africa as well, and because Brazil and South Africa and India started to trade among themselves much more over the past 4 years than over the past 400. Brazil and South Africa are integrating very closely, and South Africa is the bridge between Brazil and India.

So it would suit all of these three players. But soon the BRICS might include I say “might“ because they started discussing but still don’t know how to do it as a formal mechanism: Turkey, Indonesia and South Korea, which are natural candidates, there is no question about it. Two in Asia and one in the Middle East, the intersection between Europe and Asia.

So they started to talk about more integration in terms of our economies, cultural exchanges, all those bla-bla-bla’s…now they are thinking: Okay, we need geopolitically to pound our fist on the table, even if very softly in the beginning. So it started in Libya, they abstained from voting UN 1973, which was already a big step. They were mildly condemned by the Europeans and the Americans for that. But they said, this is still not a red line, this is a very, very yellow line, we cannot afford to antagonize the Americans at this point.

And then came the latest proposal for a UN Security Council vote on Syria, and the BRICS immediately said: No way, this is the red line. For many reasons, because Russia and China have very good deals with Syria. Brazil and Syria are very close. There are millions of Syrians living in Brazil and Syrian-Libanese living in Brazil, so in Brazil people call them Syrian-Libanese, it’s indinstinctive for most people here because they started coming in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and after the Second World War as well, they are very well integrated in Brazilian society, and there is lots of commercial deals between Brazil and Syria. These are some of the reasons why they have a common position for this as well.

As for South Africa, it is evident. The first time they voted for the UN resolution, they were pressured by Obama, Obama called president Zuma, they were on the phone for two hours or so, and Obama said: Look, you got to vote for us, otherwise you are going to be in trouble. So Zuma voted against his will. And later he was part of the African Union delegation to organize a peace deal between the rebels and Gaddafi. And the Gaddafi regime said yes, the rebels said no. Why? Because NATO told them to say no.

So South Africa had their reasons, too. Syria is the red line. So now they are starting to organize their geopolitical approach vis-à-vis the Atlanticist West in a much more coordinated way. And in terms of economics, they are putting pressure on the IMF to give more voting power rights to Brazil and China.

There are three guys as regional chair directors at the IMF, and the Chinese and the Brazilians are saying for years: we need more directors and we need more voting rights. That was part of the discussion, remember when the Brazilian minister of finance said: Look, maybe we can devise a mechanism to help the struggling European economies. That was their message to say: The thing goes to the IMF, and we want to be there, we want more voting rights, and then we decide if we can help or not, but this has to be within the IMF mechanism.

Yes, they are definitely coordinating much more than they were, I would say, two years ago. Soon BRICS is going to be BRICTS, BRICTIISS, an expanded BRIC. But now it is configured as a counterpower in geopolitical terms, in terms of appeal to the developing world, because the appeal by the BRICS to the  Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, for instance, to other countries in South America, to a lot of countries in the Middle East, to many countries in South-East Asia is huge against what is an Atlanticist U.S.-NATO, which is basically the same thing because the U.S. controls NATO.

NATO aligned with the most ultra-reactionary and repressive Persian Gulf monarchies. The realignment of the chessboard is something very tricky now because now these countries, especially Qatar and the Emirates, they are sub-sects of NATO. In one of my pieces recently I was venturing the possibility of soon talking about a NATOGCC, or GCCNATO, Gulf Cooperation Council I usually call them Gulf Counterrevolutionary Club, because this is what they are.

So the merging between NATO and the GCC now is total. And if we include the merger between the Western military-industrial complex in the U.S. and the Saudi defense system which is total as well, we can say that Pentagon and the GCC is all the same thing.

And the BRICS look at this and for some of them this is extremely complicated, for China, for instance, because still their number one oil supplier is Saudi Arabia. For the moment Saudi Arabia is outrunning Angola. Venezuela is already among the top five. Libya was not among the top five, that’s why they said: Okay, not now, maybe later. But how do they organize the relationship between Beijing and Riyadh, because they see that Riyadh is totally aligned with the Pentagon agenda, and at the same time they depend on their oil, and this explains among other things why the Chinese are so eager to be less and less dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

So this means more deals with Iran. My guess, my more or less informed guess is soon the Chinese will go to Iran and say: How much money do you need to totally upgrade your oil and gas installations? Here it is, but deal with us.

This explains the pipeline from Turkmenistan to China, this explains the two pipelines from Siberia to China, and this explain China in Angola and in Central Africa as well, and this will explain China coming to Brazil as soon as possible, saying: How much money do you want? The Saudi-China relation for Beijing is very complicated, and that means, for now, they they cannot antogonize Saudi Arabia on anything.

Related to the BRICS, do you pay attention to the fact that the central banks of Russia, China and India and also South American central banks are buying gold big time?

Pepe Escobar: Oh, yes! In the moment they are buying gold, and they still have in the backburner the Plan B, which is a basket of currencies in terms of an international currency system. The Russians and the Chinese want it, the Brazilians also want it, it would include probably the U.S. dollar, the euro, yuan, maybe ruble, maybe real as well, maybe yen, but the Japanese are not part of this conversation, and for the moment, of course, it’s to buy gold, including those who are not in this loop but are connected to the loop, Venezuela. Remember Venezuela was repatriating all their gold that they had in European banks, the first shipment already arrived in Caracas.

Do you think there could be some sort a connection in the pricing of oil with gold in the future going ahead?

Pepe Escobar: I don’t know, Lars, honest answer. I don’t know. You know why? I would say it depends on a move connected to bypassing the petrodollar. And this move already started a few years ago. Iran wants to do it badly like yesterday. Russia already said: Yes, we want it. Venezuela already said in South America: Yes, we want it as well. But I think this is the nuclear option. Can you imagine the day when you have major oil producers inside OPEC saying: It’s not going to be the petrodollar anymore, it’s going to be our own currencies or it’s going to be a basket of currencies. That’s basically the end of the American hegemony for good.

The whole country will burn, basically.

Pepe Escobar: Exactly. The whole globe will burn. I see this as the nuclear option. A few years ago when Iran was establishing an energy bourse, in fact, they did, it’s already there.

Since 2008. [Oil Bourse Opens in Kish, published at Fars News Agency on Feb. 18, 2008]

Pepe Escobar: I remember in 2005, I interviewed the guy in charge of establishing this bourse in Tehran. We had a fantastic conversation, and then I got into a big fight with the editor at that time of Asia Times, because he said: If we publish this, the Americans will bomb our site tomorrow.

The Iranians said: This is our first step to entice people to start buying oil contracts with us at our bourse and not in New York or in London. And then I told this guy: You know what you’re doing when this thing goes ahead. You are going to be bombed by the U.S. tomorrow. They said: Yes, we know the risks. But the guy who was implementing this mechanism for us was a former trader in London actually. It was a very complicated messy affair.

After my interview, it took them three years, as you have said, they only established it in 2008. It’s a very small bourse, but as far as the Iranians see it, it’s just the beginning. They like this bourse. They started with petrochemicals first. They start to deal with petrochemicals, oil and gas for the future and they were especially interested in attracting buyers from the developing world plus Russia and China, so that they could buy Iranian energy products in Iran directly. I’m sure, Russia and China loved the idea as well, but for the moment it’s an embryo of something much bigger coming later.

You call the “Great Game 2.0” in Central Asia / the Greater Middle East “Pipelineistan.” Is it of advantage to be familiar with good ol’ Halford Mackinder (a British geographer credited with being the father of geopolitics) in “Pipelineistan”?

Pepe Escobar: No, the thing is, the people who are familiar with Mackinder are the BrzeziÅ„ski crowd and people at national security agencies in Washington. They think they can apply Mackinder and win. (laughs.) The Russians and the Chinese would say: Not in our region, guys, here is different. We have the resources. Russia is a continental power. China, it’s a kingdom and a civilization in itself, we don’t admit foreign interference, you are never going to control our part of Eurasia, you can control the euro part of Eurasia, but that stops at the Bosphorus.

To the right of the Bosphorus, Turkey has regional ambitions, Iran has regional ambitions, we have our former Soviet Republics, which we still see as our satellites, South East Asia now is linked to China in terms of trade, commerce, and I would say parts of South East Asia are becoming a sub-sect of China, in fact.

Remember, during the Asian Miracle, when the World Bank launched that famous book in 1993, “The Asian Miracle,“ it was Japan as the lead goose, then the other four tigers right behind it, then the mini-tigers, and China was way behind, and now in 2011 the whole thing is upside down, because it’s China as the larger-than-life goose, and then we have all these mini-gooses behind China trying to keep up and clinch deals as well, because the Chinese diaspora in all these countries is essential.

They control most of the economy in Indonesia, they control most of the economy in Thailand, mixed marriages Thai-Chinese, they control most of the economy in the Philippines, they control a lot of the economy in Malaysia, they control the whole economy in Singapore. Tigers? Not really. Mini-gooses. The whole thing is upside down.

So I don’t see Mackinder being applied. They thought during the Bush administration because of hubris, and because they said, remember, they were saying it on a daily basis practically: We create our own reality, and then you people in the rest of the world have to keep up. They thought that they could implement their new great game strategy in Central Asia by building this pipeline in Afghanistan, finally, the TAPI – Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, bypassing Iran and bypassing Russia and China.

They thought that they could force the Turkmen to sell gas to Western companies and not to China or to be linked to the Russian pipeline network. They were still drunk with their success of the BTC, the Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, saying this was the beginning of many other pipelines bypassing Iran.

But that was in the beginning of the Bush administration until 2003/2004 after the “success“ of the Iraq war. Now, only a few years later, as we were talking before, they didn’t win anything. In fact, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which is a mechanism that is counter this proliferation of American initiatives in Central Asia is getting stronger and stronger.

In terms of energy deals, Russia, Iran, China, Turkmenistan, they all are dealing among themselves. Obviously there is space with Europe, but they cannot deal with Europe in the case of Iran because of the sanctions, and in the case of Turkmenistan because to build a pipeline like Nabucco, over 20 billion euros, it’s unfeasible. To give you an idea: BTC cost 4.5 billion U.S. dollars at that time, and at that time everybody was saying: it’s ridiculous to build a pipeline like this when we could have had a shorter route from Iran that probably costs ten times less than this pipeline. They built it anyway. So now it’s 500 percent more than BTC was.

So the Americans are not winning anything, in fact, in Afghanistan they are shooting themselves in the foot, because now they antagonized not only Pakistan, which they did when they began to bomb the country over the last few years with the drone war, they antagonized the Afghans themselves, which were really willing to cut a deal with the Americans. The tribal leaders were even saying let’s talk to the Americans what kind of a base complex they want after they retire in 2014. They were willing to discuss it.

Nowadays, forget it, because Pakistan don’t want to discuss this anymore, they are fed up, and Pakistan and China are getting closer and closer, the Chinese are going to exploit this rift between Washington and Islamabad. In Afghanistan, there will be a total mess, they don’t want American bases, I’m sure, after 2014, so the Pentagon has to force these bases over to Afghan controls, we still don’t know the road map for this as well. So if you analyze in terms of successes of the new great game American-style in Eurasia over the past four or five years, there is not much to show. (laughs.)

If one would address the question: “Why do wars happen at all?”, would you say that the fact that bankers are at the top of the list of beneficiaries of wars is an important part of the answer, insofar for example:

[Editor: For background, see J.S. Kim: “Inside The Illusory Empire Of The Banking Commodity Con Game“, published at The Underground Investor on Oct. 19, 2010: “The U.S. Federal Reserve creates money to fund the war and lends it to the American government. The American government in turn must pay interest on the money they borrow from the Central Bank to fund the war. The greater the war appropriations, the greater the profits are for bankers.”]

Pepe Escobar: I agree if there were a lot of war appropriations, if the looting is conducive. In Iraq it didn’t happen. The looting in Iraq would supposedly be the oil that would not only pay for the war, but for America’s supply of oil for the next 1,000 years or so, the new American Reich based on Iraqi oil. Didn’t work.

We had a fascinating historical lesson of what happened in Iraq. The neocons thought in the beginning, obviously, because they knew absolutely [nothing] about the Middle East, they don’t even travel, they don’t even go there, they thought: Okay, this will cost us virtually nothing, we will make the Iraqis pay for the whole thing later on, and then when the oil comes, that’s it. Remember what they used to say: We’re the new OPEC, this was in late 2002/03.

Didn’t work. And now we have a different, let’s say, variant of the model, that you’ve just explained: wars paid by foreign powers. China is financing the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, part of the war in Libya, it didn’t cost much, but anyway, still the war in Libya, the war in Somalia, the war in Yemen, the next war in Uganda or Sudan that the U.S. decides to start. This is being financed basically by Chinese buying U.S. treasury bonds. It’s a variant of the model.

In an article for al-Jazeera you’ve once quoted a study related to the cost of the War on Terror, published by the Eisenhower project at Brown University. [Pepe Escobar: “Why the US won’t leave Afghanistan“, published at Al Jazeera on July 12, 2011] Do you remember? 

Pepe Escobar: Yes, I do.

And the costs were four billion?

Pepe Escobar: Yes, depending on the variables, depending on the medical costs for the injured veterans in the U.S., which escalate and go on forever, because they still have to pay pensions for these people, it could be between four and six trillion U.S. dollars. So what did the U.S. get for these four to six trillion dollars so far? We can say, so far they only got Libya, which is not exactly a priority for them.

It was part of the original neocon plan – it starts with Iraq, then Lebanon, Syria, especially Iran. For the moment the only thing they get is Libya. That’s why Syria is so important because Syria is the way to Iran, and it is still the same what the neocons said in 2002, and it is still part of the Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine. We always come back to the same themes, because these themes are the basis of what we are watching nowadays.

Do you think that the war in Libya qualifies as a Resource War, not only related to oil and maybe the gold currency that Gaddafi wanted to issue, but also related to the Great Man Made River project?

Pepe Escobar: Yes, I was going to say that, Lars, absolutely, it’s a water war already. I was writing a few months ago a long story about coming water wars – no, it’s not coming, they are already here. This was the first big water war, if you think about it. There is going to be a lot of water wars in the Middle East, Southern Turkey, Israel-Palestine, but this one is big because of the Great Man Made River project over 20 billion U.S. dollars financed by the Libyan government, by Gaddafi, with a lot of Canadian expertise involved.

And no money from the International Monetary Fund.

Pepe Escobar: Especially that! No money from the IMF and from those schemes at the World Bank when you have to keep paying interest until you die three times over. They built this by themselves and they imported the technology that they needed, and they built an indigenous pipeline system undercover in the southern desert to bring water to the coast line in Libya. It’s absolutely fantastic because they have a reservoir of fresh water in the southern desert that lasts according to the best estimates for a thousand years. A thousand years of fresh water.

Can you imagine, the project isn’t even totally completed, I think 80 percent are completed. Obviously, the three major water companies in the world are French, and in my opinion this explains 99 percent of the French rationale for the war. They want to privatize these one thousand years of fresh water and sell it to the whole planet. And then we have Sarkozy and the interests of the industrial-military complex in France, we need more gas and oil for Total, which they were always complaining that they always wanted the lion’s share of Libya’s energy exports.

There is an alliance of the Qataris, the industrial-military complex in France and Sarkozy, who is basically a lackey of these people, and the Qataris wanted to be involved in trade and commerce in Northern Africa. NATO and AFRICOM interests in establishing a beach head. There were so many interests. Gaddafi couldn’t win from the beginning because all these interests in the axis Pentagon, NATO, key European countries like France and England, and the monarchies of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and House of Saud as well, because they wanted to bring Gaddafi down because there was a bad beef between King Abdullah and Gaddafi since 2002, before the invasion of Iraq.

Gaddafi couldn’t possibly face this, too many powerful interests were behind it, they wanted to renegotiate the contracts, they wanted the new oil and gas contracts to go only to European and American companies, maybe Turkish companies, but not to BRICS countries, and Gaddafi, he was interviewed by German journalists two or three days before the resolution was passed, and he said explicitly: If you attack us, the next contracts are going to BRIC countries so he was attacked three days later. (laughs.) Absolutely obvious.

And what you’ve mentioned, very importent as well: the gold dinar, because the gold dinar could have been an African currency, he could have financed development projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, he was already doing this, financing a lot of projects in Sub-Saharan African countries, and he was bypassing completely the Bretton Woods system and this from the point of view of Washington, the Bank of International Settlements, all this gang – it’s a no-no, it’s an absolute no-no. And remember, when Saddam started selling oil in euro in Iraq in late 2002. Major reason for the invasion as well.

Do you think it was good for the Benghazi “rebels“ to establish a central bank that is in bed with Western central banks?

Pepe Escobar: This is what they wanted. In fact, these people of the Transition National Council, which is bag of dodgy cats – opportunists, former Gaddafi officials, Islamists linked to al-Qaeda from Cyrenaica, exiles living in Virginia, come on! This is a bloody tragic joke, in fact. And of course, from the beginning, they had a Qatari connection: one of the advisors of Sheika Moza, the wife of the Emir of Qatar, was the link between Qatar and the Transition National Council.

So why Qatar got this independent central bank based in Benghazi, obviously, Qatari influence, because they wanted to get into the financial and the trade system in Northern Africa, they are expanding. Qatar is a fast-expanding mini empire. It’s very, very impressive. I remember Doha ten years ago, it was a backwater. I remember very well. I used to go Iraq via Qatar. I saw it growing year by year, and nowadays when you arrive in Doha, you think you are in a mini-Hong Kong already.

And their tentacles are everywhere: in Europe, in the U.S., in the Middle East, of course, and northern Africa as well, they trade heavily with Asia, they are setting their sights in Brazil nowadays. So it’s very impressive. And their move in Northern Africa was very clever, because they are now localized in Northern Africa, and, as they hope, the rest of Africa: We want to trade with everybody, we have a very good banking system, we sell gas to anyone who wants to buy. Mini-empire in the make.

What do we have to expect in the next year related to Syria and Iran. These are allies, right?

Pepe Escobar: Yes. Well, this is the multi-trillion-dollar question. I would go to Iran as soon as I can, the problem for us to get a press visa to Iran, after the Green Movement in 2009, it’s very difficult. You need a press visa to go to Iran, because if you want to talk to the IRGC, for instance, officials, people from the govenment, you need that kind of visa. I am going to try again, exactly to get from those people their point of view, and I am talking especially about the IRGC commanders, the people in the oil industry, and of course, in order to talk to average Tehranians, which is something that I have always enjoyed doing.

In the North of Tehran, you think you are in California. In South Tehran, you know you are in the hardcore heart of the Middle East. There are two universes in one city, and the spectrum of opinions that you get just by a fourty minute taxi ride, is absolutely outstanding. You see people who want to kill Rafsanjani the day they’d meet him, you see people defending the ayatollahs strictly, you see people saying, without the Green Movement we’re lost. It’ a universe in itself.

And the echoes that I get from my friends who live there or from Iranians who send me a lot of stuff is: people are consuming, they are living their lives, there is lots of inflation, prices have been rising substantially, but they want to go out, try to buy an iPad that was smuggled from China, they want to have a new European car that they can afford, they want to keep eating meat, which is very funny, because the Brazilian meat that they import is cheaper than the Iranian-produced meat. Go figure! You have that kind of stuff.

And at the same time, they know that something is brewing. It could be an Israeli strike, it could be a U.S.-Israeli strike, it could be a strike only on the nuclear facilities, but a lot of people fear a strike on the civilian infrastructure. They always say: Look, what happened to Iraq. They attacked civilian buildings yes, it’s true, I saw it for myself.

People are expecting the worst. They are trying to keep a brave face, but they immediately recognize there is a power struggle inside the regime between the Ahmadinejad faction and the revolutionary guards ultra-hardline faction, which is against Ahmadinejad because he wants some sort of a compromise with the West. These IRGC guys, they want confrontation.

This is very dangerous. Why? Because the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameinei, is supporting this faction against Ahmadinejad. He wants Iran to be respected for what it is, and we can assume that he is welcoming this confrontation. This is extremely dangerous, because we could have an incident that would be the casus belli for an attack, an Israeli-Anglo-American attack, let’s put it this way.

People are very much aware of this, and they are very much afraid of this power struggle at the top of the regime. At the same time, next year they will have parliamentary elections, and they are going to have Presidential elections in 2013, where the favorite, at least for the moment, is Larijani, he is a former nuclear negotiator and a close friend and protege of Khamenei’s. This means the hardliners are very much in power and control, and incredibly as it might seem, Ahmadinejad at the moment he is more or less sidelined, and he is considered by these hardliners as an appeaser vis-à-vis the West.

So the internal situation inside Iran is extremely worrying. And they know what might happen in Syria, and they know that Syria is the short cut to get to them. But at the same time the hardliners they are not only expecting an attack on Syria, in fact, they say: maybe they won’t even use the short cut, maybe they will attack us directly. So they are preparing for this as well. Everything very worrying.

Do you perceive a similar mood in Israel?

Pepe Escobar: I don’t know. I have a lot of Jewish friends in South America, in the U.S. and in Europe, they come and go to Israel, and when they come back, they say: Look, people are lost in Israel, they don’t know how to deal with the Arab Spring, the regime doesn’t know how to deal with the Arab Spring, they don’t even know how to deal with the the non-Spring in Syria, because they expect what might come next as even worst, like a Muslim Brotherhood antagonistic government in Damascus. Which is a no-no for Israel.

They prefer to deal with the devil they know, which is an ineffectual devil, the Assad regime. There is a civil society movement, very strong in Israel, against corruption, inflation and rising costs of living, they are anti-war and anti-government as well.

And then we have a government that is a hostage of this absolutely disgusting settler lobby. Extreme right-wing, Lieberman-Ukrainian immigrants, it’s horrible, because the progressive left in Israel, you read them in the Israeli press once in a while, but they have been marginalized. Even inside the U.S.: the progressive Jews in the U.S., they are more or less marginalized, because AIPAC is controlling the discourse.

If you listen to radio, read the mainstream press, watch the networks, it’s like an AIPAC press release after another. You don’t see Jewish progressives saying: It’s crazy, what we are doing, we have to sit down and talk about Palestine, sit down and talk about the Golan Heights, about Iran. This is a minority position.

Whereas the majority is supported by the Evangelics and new-born Christians in the U.S., who believe in Armaggedon.

Pepe Escobar. Exactly. You have the majority of the establishment who wants to have an Eretz Israel, a greater Israel, and the religious nuts, who say: Okay, the best way to (expedite) Armaggedon is a war against our neighbours.

The maniacs are running the asylum.

Pepe Escobar: Yes, it’s crazy. I would say, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, 2011 was the year that the maniacs took over the asylum completely. And that’s why 2012 could be such a really terrible year, I think, for all this arc: Northern Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. In Central Asia basically Af/Pak, because the situation in Af/Pak tends to be going down the drain very fast.

What’s your take of the recent assault by NATO troops on Pakistan? [See Mistakes made’: Pentagon ‘regrets’ slaughter of 24 Pakistani troops“, published at Russia Today on Dec. 22, 2011]


Pepe Escobar: This is a very complex thing, because maybe there’s a hidden motive behind it, and we still don’t know what it could be. Could be that some Pakistani provoked it, could be that NATO itself provoked it to have a better excuse to ramp up the demonization of Pakistan campaign, try to provoke a military coup, so that the factions within the Pakistani military who are more pro-American are running the show. It’s still very murky.

But there is something behind this attack that makes no sense: NATO knows where all the Pakistani checkpoints are in the tribal areas, they have the maps and the coordinates, they simply cannot bomb a Pakistani military checkpoint, because they know that it is a friendly place, it’s not that they were bombing a Pashtun wedding in Waziristan in a mud house, where the satellite said: This house is full of al-Qaeda, bomb them boom! It’s different. Our writers in India and Pakistan are not convinced by the official story. Short of calling it a lie, it’s still a story to tell.

But it is a problem, because Pakistan and China have the closest relations to each other possible.

Pepe Escobar: Yes, and anything that happens in Pakistan from now on, drives Islamabad closer and closer to Bejing, it’s absolutely inevitable. Pakistani public opinion is fed up with American interference, with the relentless drone war and the loss of their sovereignty if they had ever had any, by the way.

And of course, the Chinese are reacting typically, they are very quiet, they are not making any move, they are just waiting for the leadership in Islamabad to come running to Bejing and say: Take care of us, please. And it is not very hard with the way the Americans are acting. The only two things that matters to Washington; they don’t give a flying fuck – excuse me for the expression – about the Pakistani people. What they cared about was the “War on Terror“ to exterminate al-Qaeda.

So now they are saying openly and on the record, that al-Qaeda is ineffective, since the death of bin Laden was it bin Laden or not is still open for speculation, but they killed al-Qaeda. So what are they doing in Af/Pak? Oh, now we have a problem, because Pakistan is a very unstable country, they are now the heartbeat of the terrorist movement in the world, it’s not Aghanistan anymore, and can you imagine if these nuclear weapons fall into the hand of the terrorists.

This is the only thing that matters. They want to find a pretext to interfere in Pakistan to get a hold of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It’s an extremely long shot, of course, but this is what the Pentagon would like to do. This is their agenda.

The political elite in Pakistan apart from Imran Khan, I would say, is corrupt. Imran Khan by himself is not a corrupt man, he is getting a hundred thousand people everytime he speaks in public in Pakistan, because they start to see him as an alternative. He says: Let’s get rid of the Americans, let’s get rid of the corrupt political elite, let’s get the military to stay in their barracks, let’s have a true civilian government, let’s try to develop the country and try to bridge the inequality gap. That’s why he is so popular now, he could win the next elections.

But basically, Pakistani civil society is fed up with the state of things. And for the Americans this is really bad news, because they want since Zia to have the military in control basically, doing what the Pentagon tells them to do, and for the past few years conduct their “War on Terror“ the way they want it from their bases inside Pakistan, like this one in Balochistan,
Samsi, and the drone war in the Waziristans, but this is not going to happen anymore, I don’t see it happening. The Chinese are just waiting. I think they will admit Pakistan to the SCO, this is something that could happen next year, so Pakistan would be inside a meachanism that implies military cooperation with the Chinese.

The problem is that the Pakistani military is not a monolithic organization, there are layers, there are people who were appointed by Musharraf, there are people, like some Pashtun middle-ranking officers, who are sympathetic to the Taliban in Pakistan or even al-Qaeda, and there are cracks inside this arrangement. And I am sure the army leaders, their relationship with the Pentagon is more than difficult at the moment, especially after the last raid, which was an attack against their own, this was an attack against an army post. This is for them a bit too much.

Anti-Americanism is on the raise everywhere in the world.

Pepe Escobar: Except in the Persian Gulf. (laughs.)

Would you say it’s a bit tragic given the friendliness of the ordinary American people?

Pepe Escobar: It’s true. I have been going to the U.S. since I was a kid, I traveled to at least 40 states, I lived there on both coasts, I have friends in the U.S., a lot of people who read my stuff know where I am coming from, but I also have a lot of readers who are saying: you are a Taliban-Communist-Apocalyptic-Anti-American bla-bla-bla the whole thing. They still don’t get it.

One thing is to be very fond of the country and American pop culture, American entertainment, American icons in music, in literature, in cinema, in architecture, in art etc., and another thing is to criticize their foreign policy. If you grew up like myself, I grew up in Brazil and Europe during the 1960/70’s – the military dictatorship installed in Brazil in 1964, when I was ten years old, was an American coup.


Pepe Escobar: We learned here in South America by ourselves what it means to live under a military dictatorship sponsored by the U.S. So we know what we are talking about. Obviously, the people in the Middle East also know what they are talking about. Some people in Asia also know what they are talking about, like the South Koreans, for instance, they lived under a military regime sanctioned by the U.S. before they became a democracy.

So it’s very tragic that after the beginning of the Arab Spring, a lot of people in the Persian Gulf haven’t seen already that they live in extremely autocratic regimes, they are vassals and satrapies of the U.S. empire, and they simply cannot count on their own governments to get the minimum of sovereignty.

So when you see indigenous pro-democracy movements in Bahrain or in Eastern Saudi Arabia, you see how the response is. Even in Egypt, where they said: Let’s get finally rid of the system once and for all – they didn’t get rid of the system, the snake is still there, and the snake is being financed by Saudi Arabia.

There was no revolution in Egypt, the revolution maybe will start if they get rid of the Tantawi junta, which is what the masses in Tahrir Square, the Google generation and the working class in Egypt want. But the problem is the army in Egypt controls there are different estimates about it from 25 to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy, they are not going to give that up. It’s got to be a real bloody revolution for these people to go, and obviously the U.S. don’t want this.

As a geopolitical analyst would you say that the future of Germany is much more in the East of Eurasia (Russia, China) than in New York and London?

Pepe Escobar: I would love to pose this question to you. My maybe wild guess is that Germany wants to integrate more with Russia.

Yes. Well, the economic and political elites here in this country [Germany] are still aligned to the U.S.

Pepe Escobar: Exactly.

As you could see when Angela Merkel as the chancellor of Germany received the highest civilian medal this year in Washington DC, the “Medal of Freedom.“ She has now something in common with Duke Ellington, because he received it once, too (in 1969). But the thing is that I think this is telling.

Pepe Escobar: It is. That’s the problem with Germany, because it’s an Atlanticist thing, but they know that their future in terms of all the raw materials and the commodities that they need they can have from Russia. They can have the rest of the world as their market, which they already have. It’s a fabulous exporting power. They don’t have to be subjugated to this Atlanticist link, definitely not. But as you have said correctly: the elites in Berlin and Frankfurt are still very Americanized.

For me both as a journalist and from my perspective as a German, it is interesting that you are familiar with my favorite German of all-time, Heinrich Heine…

Pepe Escobar: Heine!

…who was also a journalist.

Pepe Escobar: Unfortunately, I only read him in translation. Wonderful translations in English and in Spanish. I never read him in German, but German friends tell me that his German is absolutely outstanding.

Yes, together with people like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Goethe he is at the very top.

Pepe Escobar: I was a major Nietzsche fan for some years. One of my best philosophy professors, he was a Nietzsche specialist, a French guy, Gerard Lebrun, he was one of the best Nietzsche scholars in France. I learned a lot from him. And Nietzsche is still one of my go-to guys.

And he was a fan of Heine’s poetry, too.

Pepe Escobar: Yes, he was a fan of Heine’s poetry, exactly.

From a journalistic point of view, do you think that journalism in the West is in a profound crisis?

Pepe Escobar: Oh yes. I give you two personal examples. One of the reasons why I wanted to become a journalist was Watergate. I was in college at that time, I was 19, and I hadn’t decided at that time what to do, I thought maybe visual arts, and I was always a big fan of literature, but I thought with literature I cannot made a living.

Then I wanted to become a journalist, and that, Watergate, was my role model in the profession. Later on, before digital journalism, I worked for big national papers, I got the insight of how the industry works. A big national paper is basically a corporate institution, they operate more or less the same all over the world.

Then I became seriously disenchanted about it, I wouldn’t say disgusted, not yet. I became disgusted, finally, with mainstram media after the beginning of the “War on Terror“ and before the war in Iraq, because then most of the credibility of the mainstream press in the world disappeared.

When you see the New York Times printing lies in their front page everyday for months, that was for me the end of respectable mainstream journalism. And papers like Le Monde, that I used to read since I was in high-school for that matter, they became an Americanized rag like a bad copy of the New York Times, and sometimes even more reactionary. It’s a bit sad that I don’t read German papers, because at least their cultural sections are still the best in the world.

And the modern German “Feuilleton“ is more or less an invention by Heinrich Heine…

Pepe Escobar: I used to read a lot of the English papers, but you can’t sometimes even trust the gold standard of English media, like the Guardian or the Independent, who were historically very strong center, left, progressive papers. So this disenchantment became total this past decade, I may say. You have to go to the net, if you want to find information that connects the dots, it’s in the net, it’s not in mainstream media anymore. And my friends who still work at big papers, they tell me: Look, it’s impossible to discuss with our editors what should and what should not be printed. It’s over.

Would you say that the whole handling of affairs related to 9/11 was a big push for alternative media?

Pepe Escobar: It was, because if you wanted to know after 9/11 what was really going on – forget about mainstream media anywhere in the world. The only place where you could find it was in the net independent observers and analysts, who took the trouble of going through documents, in mainstream media it was impossible.

Nowadays, sometimes they filter these guys, you see them once in a while, but these are just glimpses. The mainstream discourse itself is monolithic. There is no alternative. And there is really no alternative, because you only listen to these guys all saying the same thing for decades.

Yes, and most of those experts and big news media outlets are linked to the Round Tables like the Royal Institute of International Affaires, Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Club…

Pepe Escobar: Exactly, they all work for the same think tanks. And other media outlets have credibility problems as well. The international Chinese tv-channel in English, CCTV9, because you would need at least a minimum of debates, but there are no debates going on. I like what RT, Russia Today, is doing, I am a contributor, but they don’t criticize Russia. Big problem.

I also work for al-Jazeera, which is great, because I can reach people and get responses that I otherwise would not have, for example from people in Africa. But they have an enormous problem of credibility, because of their coverage of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya compared to their coverage of what happens in the Persian Gulf, they simply cannot criticize themselves and they cannot criticize – forget about it – the House of Saud, because of the close relations between the House of Saud and the Emir of Qatar. It’s very complicated when you are navigating this universe.

We are very happy, all of us, who work and write for Asia Times because it is truly independent and we are respected for that. We have Zionists’ opinions in it, we have extreme-right opinions, extreme-left opinions, we have the middle, we have the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Russians, the Chinese, we even have a North Korean writing for us, so it’s all there.

We don’t have any specific editorial line, no, it’s open for everybody. That is what people respect us for. But that’s something hard to find. We have for example tremendous problems with financing. I have been involved with this for the past few months, and it’s a headache: we want to expand, but we don’t want to lose our editorial control. Very tricky equation.

I wish you many success with that!

Pepe Escobar: Thank you!

Pepe Escobar was born in 1954 in Brazil and has been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering geopolitical stories from the Middle East to Central Asia and has reported during this decade from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, the Central Asian Republics, U.S.A. and China. He now works for Hong Kong/Thailand-based Asia Times as “The Roving Eye“ and is an analyst for The Real News in Washington DC, as well as a contributor to Russia Today and Al Jazeera. He is author of three books: Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War, Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge, and Obama does Globalistan.


Shame on Us All

From the Archive: Congress keeps expanding government powers in the “war on terror” even when President Obama doesn’t ask for them, unlike President George W. Bush who proudly signed the Military Commissions Act, a precursor to the indefinite detention in today’s National Defense Authorization Act, as described by Robert Parry in 2006.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on Oct. 18, 2006)

History should record October 17, 2006, as the reverse of July 4, 1776. From the noble American ideal of each human being possessing  “unalienable rights” as declared by the Founders 230 years ago amid the ringing of bells in Philadelphia, the United States effectively rescinded that concept on a dreary fall day in Washington.

At a crimped ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006while sitting behind a sign reading “Protecting America.”

On the surface, the law sets standards for harsh interrogations, prosecutions and executions of supposed terrorists and other “unlawful combatants,” including al-Qaeda members who allegedly conspired to murder nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is a rare occasion when a President can sign a bill he knows will save American lives,” Bush said. “I have that privilege this morning.”

But the new law does much more. In effect, it creates a parallel “star chamber” system of criminal justice for anyone, including an American citizen, who is suspected of engaging in, contributing to or acting in support of violent acts directed against the U.S. government or its allies anywhere on earth.

The law strips “unlawful combatants” and their alleged fellow-travelers of the fundamental right of habeas corpus, meaning that they can’t challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, at least not until after they are brought before a military tribunal, tried under special secrecy rules and then sentenced.

One of the catches, however, is that with habeas corpus suspended these suspects have no guarantee of a swift trial and can theoretically be jailed indefinitely at the President’s discretion. Given the endless nature of the “global war on terror,” suspects could disappear forever into the dark hole of unlimited executive authority, their fate hidden even from their families.

While incarcerated, the “unlawful combatants” and their cohorts can be subjected to coercive interrogations with their words used against them if and when they are brought to trial as long as a military judge approves.

The military tribunals also could use secret evidence to prosecute a wide range of “disloyal” American citizens as well as “anti-American” non-citizens. The procedures are similar to “star chambers,” which have been employed historically by absolute monarchs and totalitarian states.

Even after the prosecutions are completed, the President could keep details secret. While an annual report must be made to Congress about the military tribunals, the President can conceal whatever information he chooses in a classified annex.

False Confidence

When Congress was debating the military tribunal law in September 2006, some Americans were reassured to hear that the law would apply only to non-U.S. citizens, such as legal resident aliens and foreigners. Indeed, the law does specify that “illegal enemy combatants” must be aliens who allegedly have attacked U.S. targets or those of U.S. military allies.

But the law goes much further when it addresses what can happen to people alleged to have given aid and comfort to America’s enemies. According to the law’s language, even American citizens who are accused of helping terrorists can be shunted into the military tribunal system where they could languish indefinitely without constitutional protections.

Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission,” the law states.

Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States … shall be punished as a military commission may direct.

Any person subject to this chapter who with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign power, collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States, or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy, shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a military commission may direct.

Any person subject to this chapter who conspires to commit one of the more substantive offenses triable by military commission under this chapter, and who knowingly does any overt act to effect the object of the conspiracy, shall be punished, if death results to one or more of the victims, by death or such other punishment as a military commission may direct, and, if death does not result to any of the victims, by such punishment, other than death, as a military commission may direct.” [Emphases added]

In other words, a wide variety of alleged crimes, including some specifically targeted at citizens with “an allegiance or duty to the United States,” would be transferred from civilian courts to military tribunals, where habeas corpus and other constitutional rights would not apply.

Secret Trials

Secrecy, not the principle of openness, dominates these curious trials.

Under the military tribunal law, a judge “may close to the public all or a portion of the proceedings” if he deems that the evidence must be kept secret for national security reasons. Those concerns can be conveyed to the judge through ex parte or one-sided communications from the prosecutor or a government representative.

The judge also can exclude the accused from the trial if there are safety concerns or if the defendant is disruptive. Plus, the judge can admit evidence obtained through coercion if he determines it “possesses sufficient probative value” and “the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into evidence.”

The law permits, too, the introduction of secret evidence “while protecting from disclosure the sources, methods, or activities by which the United States acquired the evidence if the military judge finds that … the evidence is reliable.”

During trial, the prosecutor would have the additional right to assert a “national security privilege” that could stop “the examination of any witness,” presumably by the defense if the questioning touched on any sensitive matter.

The prosecution also would retain the right to appeal any adverse ruling by the military judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. For the defense, however, the law states that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions.”

Further, the law states “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”

In effect, that provision amounts to a broad amnesty for all U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.

Beyond that amnesty provision, the law grants President Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.”

[Some provisions of the 2006 law were modified in 2009 to grant additional safeguards for the accused. However, the newly approved National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 again broadens the government’s powers to detain indefinitely alleged “terrorists” and those accused of aiding them, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil.

[Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a bill co-sponsor, made clear that Americans would not be spared possible detention. “The statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as a battlefield including the homeland,” Graham said.]

In signing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Bush remarked that “one of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America.” Pausing for dramatic effect, Bush added, “He didn’t get his wish.”

Or, perhaps, the terrorist did.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Civil Liberties for Christmas?

Congress has sent to President Obama a military spending bill that expands the government’s powers to fight the Long War on terrorism, including the ability to imprison alleged “terrorists” and accomplices indefinitely, even if Americans on U.S. soil, warns ex-FBI agent Coleen Rowley.

By Coleen Rowley

Sad, isn’t it, that just two days before Christmas, we had to stand out in the cold and worry about getting another big lump of coal from our politicians? But unfortunately it’s expected that President Barack Obama will sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law right after the holiday.

Since that’s the same day the big post-Christmas sales/returns start, few Americans will probably be paying attention to the police statebeing officially ushered in.

On Dec. 23, however, we were still able to protest the despicable NDAA in front of Obama’s Minnesota Campaign Headquarters. At the end of the rally led by members of “Occupy Minnesota” and the “Minnesota Committee to Stop FBI Repression,” everyone taped their signs to the front window of Obama’s campaign office, hoping he’d somehow get the message.

Then we made  telephone calls to tell Obama’s volunteer receptionists to act as his better angels and plead for him to veto the NDAA.

But a veto would be quite the Christmas miracle. Obama’s expected signature will not only de-link the “war on terror” from its original justification, the 9/11 attacks of more than a decade ago, to ensure the “long war” does not end, but it will keep Guantanamo open indefinitely and turn the whole world into a battlefield, including our own backyards here in the U.S. where citizens will stand guilty until proven innocent.

What’s the worst that could happen as a result of the congressional rubberstamp broadening the war and allowing indefinite military detention of American citizens as “enemy combatants”? Can it happen here? It’s interesting to see what journalist Joshua Phillips learned from research for his new book, None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture, a harrowing description of the torture of prisoners in Iraq and the deep psychological scars it left on the members of one battalion who dispensed pain to their victims.

When asked how this came about, the author saysthat almost all the soldiers he interviewed cite the main reason for the various torture abuses as the climate of “permissiveness” that began when they were told they did not need to follow the Geneva Conventions anymore.


It should be recalled that Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel lawyers Robert Delahunty and John Yoo had written their memo on Jan 9, 2002, stating that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to “non-state actors”, i.e. Al Qaeda, Taliban and other “terrorist” suspects. Bush consequently signed a directive the following month,  implementing this OLC memo and the word went out that gave rise to the abusive conditions at Guantanamo and other military detention sites.

The term I’ve personally used for this new culture of “permissiveness” is “the green light.” Unless you worked in the system, you might not recognize what the insidious “green light” is. I’ve tried to warn over and over that the “green light” will eventually go out and the people down the line who have gone along under its influence instead of resisting in accord with their previously ingrained sense of right and wrong are likely to pay a heavy price.

Phillips’s book documents that soldiers are now taking their own lives years after having participated in the abuse occasioned by the culture of permissiveness under Bush. Yet, instead of extinguishing the “green light,” Obama’s signing of the NDAA could well signal an even worse one being turned on than occurred with Bush’s torture memos.

Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, was legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. She wrote a “whistleblower” memo in May 2002 and testified to the Senate Judiciary on some of the FBI’s pre 9/11 failures. She retired at the end of 2004, and now writes and speaks on ethical decision-making and balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.

America’s Debt to Bradley Manning

Exclusive: The cables and videos allegedly leaked by Pvt. Bradley Manning offer the American people gritty “ground truth” about what the U.S. government has done in their names, such as the slaughter in Iraq, but the information also sheds light on a possible future war with Iran, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

One criticism about the value of the information that Pvt. Bradley Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks is that most of it was known in some form and thus didn’t justify the risks to sources who might be identified from the diplomatic and military cables. However, that complaint misses the importance of detailed “ground truth” in assessing issues of war and peace.

For instance, the prospects of war with Iran escalated last month because of a toughly worded report by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, which compiled some old and new evidence to argue that Iran continues to make progress toward a nuclear bomb. Immediately, the U.S. news media accepted the IAEA’s report as the unquestioned truth and as further repudiation of the 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran had ceased work on a nuclear weapon in 2003.

One might note the irony in this flip on Iran. In the run-up to war with Iraq, the U.S. media embraced CIA reports of secret Iraqi WMD programs while mocking the IAEA’s doubts. Regarding Iran, the CIA and IAEA have traded places, with U.S. intelligence analysts chagrined over swallowing the bogus Iraq-WMD evidence being more skeptical of the Iran-nuke allegations, while the IAEA has taken the role as chief WMD exaggerator.

So, it was useful to examine the WikiLeaks documents regarding the election of the new IAEA leader in 2009 to understand why this flip may have occurred. What those classified State Department cables show is that the IAEA’s new director general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, credited his victory largely to U.S. government support and promptly stuck his hand out for U.S. money.

Further, Amano left little doubt that he would side with the United States in its confrontation with Iran and that he would even meet secretly with Israeli officials regarding their purported evidence on Iran’s nuclear program, despite the fact that Israel is arguably the world’s preeminent rogue nuclear state and rejects IAEA inspections of its own nuclear sites.

According to U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn’t.

Cable Revelations

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also discussed how to restructure the senior ranks of the IAEA, including elimination of one top official and the retention of another. “We wholly agree with Amano’s assessment of these two advisors and see these decisions as positive first signs,” Pyatt commented.

In return, Pyatt made clear that Amano could expect strong U.S. financial support, stating that “the United States would do everything possible to support his successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming. Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

Pyatt learned, too, that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.”

Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as just words that Amano felt he had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’”

In private, Amano agreed to “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. (It is ironic indeed that Amano would have secret contacts with Israeli officials about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, which has yet to yield a single bomb, when Israel possesses a large and undeclared nuclear arsenal.)

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

“More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009.

In other words, the emerging picture of Amano is of a bureaucrat eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Amano’s behavior surely contrasts with how the more independent-minded ElBaradei resisted some of Bush’s key claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program, denouncing some documents as forgeries.

Today, with some Republican presidential contenders falling over themselves to bond with Israel over its desire to attack Iran, this sort of detail puts the IAEA report into a fuller context that can help American voters judge whether another war is necessary or whether they’re being misled again by hyped allegations.

These cables, which Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks, were first  spotlighted by the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. in 2010. However, because the full cables were posted on the Internet, I could dig through them to find additional details, such as Amano asking for more U.S. money.

Without this level of “ground truth,” Americans would be at the mercy of the major U.S. news media, which seems as much on board for a war with Iran as it was for war with Iraq. [For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Déjà vu Over Iran Nuke Charges” and “Big Media’s Double Standards on Iran.”]

Slaughtering Iraqis

Another example of how the material allegedly leaked by Manning helped educate the American people was the infamous gun-barrel video of U.S. attack helicopters mowing down seemingly defenseless Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists, as they walked down a Baghdad street.

Not only did a U.S. military helicopter gunship slaughter the men amid macho jokes and chuckling apparently after mistaking a couple of cameras for weapons but the American attackers then blew away several Iraqis who arrived in a van and tried to take one of the wounded newsmen to a hospital. Two children in the van were badly wounded.

“Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one American remarked.

The videotaped incident entitled “Collateral Murder” by Wikileaks occurred on July 12, 2007, in the midst of President George W. Bush’s much-heralded troop “surge,” which the U.S. news media has widely credited for reducing violence in Iraq and bringing something close to victory for the United States.

But the U.S. press corps rarely mentions that the “surge” represented one of the bloodiest periods of the war. Beyond the horrific and untallied death toll of Iraqis, about 1,000 U.S. soldiers died during Bush’s “surge” of an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq.

It’s also unclear that the “surge” deserves much if any credit for the gradual decline in Iraqi violence, which had already reached turning points in 2006 before the “surge” with the death of al-Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi, the U.S.-funded Sunni Awakening against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the de facto ethnic cleansing of Iraqi cities with Sunnis and Shiites moving into separate neighborhoods.

Further putting the sectarian killing on a downward path was the Iran-brokered agreement with militant Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr to have his militia stand down in exchange for an Iraqi government commitment to insist on a firm timetable for total U.S. military withdrawal, a process that has just been completed.

However, the U.S. news media continues to repeat the conventional wisdom about how U.S. troops protected Iraqis from violence through the “successful surge.” The “Collateral Murder” video puts the lie to that smug consensus, showing the “ground truth” of how the “surge” and indeed the entire Iraq War truly operated.

Many Americans may want to put the unpleasant memories of the Iraq War behind them from “shock and awe” and the illegal invasion, to the leveling of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib atrocities, to the incompetent U.S. occupation, the Haditha murders and the sectarian slaughters but a failure to face the reality honestly will only encourage future war crimes of similar or even greater magnitude.

Already, Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney are speaking as casually about going to war with Iran as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did about war with Iraq.

As Bradley Manning wrote as he struggled over his decision to leak evidence of war crimes and other machinations by the U.S. government, “God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.  I want people to see the truth because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The 24-year-old Manning now faces the prospect of a court martial that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. But his gift to America may be that he provided the nation the “ground truth” that could give meaning to debates about past and possibly future wars.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Bradley Manning: Traitor or Hero?

In announcing the end of the Iraq War, President Obama ignored its horrors, so as not to further upset its still-powerful supporters. But his silence removed the context for Pvt. Bradley Manning’s moral decision to expose these crimes of war, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

The end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq coincided with Pvt. Bradley Manning’s military hearing to determine whether he will face court-martial for exposing U.S. war crimes by leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. In fact, there is a connection between the leaks and U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

When he announced that the last U.S. troops would leave Iraq by year’s end, President Barack Obama declared the nine-year war a “success” and “an extraordinary achievement.” He failed to mention why he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. He didn’t say that it was built on lies about mushroom clouds and non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Obama didn’t cite the Bush administration’s “Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq,” drawn up months before 9/11, about which former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reported that actual plans “were already being discussed to take over Iraq and occupy it complete with disposition of oil fields, peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals carrying forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also defended the war in Iraq, making the preposterous claim that, “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” including the loss of American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world.”

The price that Panetta claims is worth it includes the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It includes untold numbers wounded – with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicides, as well as nearly $1 trillion that could have prevented the economic disaster at home.

The price of the Iraq war also includes thousands of men who have been subjected to torture and abuse in places like Abu Ghraib prison. It includes the 2005 Haditha Massacre, in which U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians execution-style.

It includes the Fallujah Massacre, in which U.S. forces killed 736 people, at least 60 percent of them women and children. It includes other war crimes committed by American troops in Qaim, Taal Al Jal, Mukaradeeb, Mahmudiya, Hamdaniyah, Samarra, Salahuddin, and Ishaqi.

The price of that war includes two men killed by the Army’s Lethal Warriors in Al Doura, Iraq, with no evidence that they were insurgents or posed a threat. One man’s brains were removed from his head and another man’s face was skinned after he was killed by Lethal Warriors.

U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow Lethal Warriors in Al Doura. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which have been released by Pulse TV and Maverick Media in the new video by Cindy Piester, “On the Dark Side in Al Doura A Soldier in the Shadows.” [http://vimeo.com/33755968].

CBS reported obtaining an Army document from the Criminal Investigation Command suggestive of an investigation into these war crimes allegations. The Army’s conclusion was that the “offense of War Crimes did not occur.”

One of the things Manning is alleged to have leaked is the “Collateral Murder” video which depicts U.S. forces in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two children. People trying to rescue the wounded were fired upon and killed. A U.S. tank drove over one body, cutting the man in half.

The actions of American soldiers shown in that video amount to war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit targeting civilians, preventing the rescue of the wounded, and defacing dead bodies.

Obama proudly took credit for ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But he had tried for months to extend it beyond the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline his predecessor negotiated with the Iraqi government. Negotiations between Obama and the Iraqi government broke down when Iraq refused to grant criminal and civil immunity to U.S. troops.

It was after seeing evidence of war crimes such as those depicted in “Collateral Murder” and the “Iraq War Logs,” also allegedly leaked by Manning, that the Iraqis refused to immunize U.S. forces from prosecution for their future crimes.

When I spoke with Tariq Aqrawi, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, at a recent international human rights film festival in Vienna, he told me that if they granted immunity to Americans, they would have to do the same for other countries as well.

Manning faces more than 30 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and “aiding the enemy” which could carry the death penalty (though prosecutors say they won’t seek it). After a seven-day hearing, during which the prosecution presented evidence that Manning leaked cables and documents, there was no evidence that leaked information imperiled national security or that Manning intended to aid the enemy with his actions.

On the contrary, in an online chat attributed to Manning, he wrote, If you had free reign over classified networks and you saw incredible things, awful things things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC what would you do?”

He went on to say, God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.  I want people to see the truth because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Manning has been held for 19 months in military custody. During the first nine months, he was kept in solitary confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide. He was humiliated by being stripped naked and paraded before other inmates.

The U.S. government considers Manning one of America’s most dangerous traitors. Months ago, Obama spoke of Manning as if he had been proved guilty, saying, “he broke the law.” But Manning has not been tried, and is presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.

If Manning had committed war crimes instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today. If he had murdered civilians and skinned them alive, he would not be facing a charge that carries the potential of the death penalty.

Besides helping to end the Iraq war, the leaked cables helped spark the Arab Spring. When people in Tunisia read cables revealing corruption by the ruling family there, they took to the streets.

If Manning did what he is accused of doing, he should not be tried as a criminal. He should be hailed as a national hero, much like Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers helped to expose the government’s lies and end the Vietnam War.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her books include Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent and The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse. See www.marjoriecohn.com.

Surrendering More American Rights

More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks even after Osama bin Laden’s death and U.S. intelligence assessments that al-Qaeda is collapsing Congress keeps on chipping away at U.S. constitutional rights in the name of fighting terrorism, and President Obama is ready to go along, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

The U.S. Congress ended the year by assaulting the Constitution in the form of the 2012 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), which passed both the House and the Senate by large margins despite having an attached provision (the “Homeland Battlefield Bill”) that allows the United States military to take into custody and hold indefinitely without trial, any American citizen designated a “terrorist suspect.”

As if to make sure that everyone knew just what they were voting for, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who supports the legislation, said on the Senate floor, “the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as a battlefield, including the homeland.”

That means U.S. citizens designated terrorist suspects are stripped of their protections under the Constitution. They simply fall into a judicial black hole. Ironically, Congress did this to the country on the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

At first it seemed that President Obama was prepared to veto the bill to prevent this attack on citizen rights. But this proved to be untrue. What Obama was really interested in was language that prevents the military from interfering with the work of the FBI in cases of suspected terrorism. Actually, this should add to our worries because the FBI has a disturbing record of manufacturing terrorists out of poor and disgruntled U.S. citizens.

Given the numerous scams and entrapment scenarios the Bureau runs, we will probably see a macabre two-step dance where the FBI makes the terrorists and the military takes them away, never to be seen again outside of Guantanamo Bay, Washington’s version of Devil’s Island.

Here are some reactions to the Homeland Battlefield Bill:

1. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch: “It’s something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration. It establishes precisely the kind of system that the United States has consistently urged other countries to drop.”

2. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky: “Really, what security does this indefinite detention of Americans give us? The first and flawed premise, both here and in the badly named Patriot Act, is that our pre-9/11 police powers were insufficient to stop terrorism. This is simply not borne out by the facts.”

In addition Paul points out that the present definition of a terrorist in U.S. law is broad to the point of meaninglessness. “There are laws on the books that characterize who might be a terrorist: someone missing fingers on their hands. … Someone who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weatherproofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house can be considered a potential terrorist.”

3. Professor Jonathan Turley, legal scholar: “How did we come to this place? Well, it took the joint efforts of both parties and a country that has been lured into a dangerous passivity by years of war rhetoric.”

The odd thing about President Obama’s willingness to sign this bill and, as Human Rights Watch notes, “go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law,” is that the FBI, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Defense, among others, all oppose it.

The military in particular appears to have no wish to destroy a 200-year tradition of non-interference in domestic affairs. In fact, according to Heather Huburt, the executive director of The National Security Network, a non-profit organization focusing on national security, “you can’t find any national security experts in favor of these provisions.”

Yet the President, faced with a large bipartisan Congressional majority anxious to prove to the American people that it would “give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety,” demanded an assurance of a cooperative legal arrangement between the military and the FBI and then jumped on the bandwagon. One can only assume that nothing in the Homeland Battlefield Bill goes against Barack Obama’s principles whatever they may be.

Yet, before we are overrun by doom and gloom, it is best to put this situation in historical context. Throughout U.S. history there have been episodes when the Constitution was disregarded and citizens’ rights trampled on. For instance:

a) As early as 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Acts.
b) In 1830 when President Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court and illegally evicted the Cherokee of Georgia.
c) When the otherwise revered Abraham Lincoln started to ignore due process and arrest and hold people thought to be a danger to the Union cause during the Civil War.
d) Woodrow Wilson, otherwise seen as making the “world safe for democracy,” instituted the questionable Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918.
e) Followed by President Warren G. Harding’s mostly illegal deportations during the Red Scare of the early 1920s.
f) Then, of course, there was the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
g) And, in the 1950s under Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. went through a second Red Scare entailing blacklists, loyalty oaths and the McCarthy hearings.

There are a number of lessons we can draw from these episodes:

First – The party leaders and administrations that initiated these illegal policies have been both “conservative” and “liberal.” Many considered Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln to be quite progressive for their time. The Federalists of 1798 and the McCarthyite Republicans of the 1950s were seen by many of their contemporaries as opportunistic reactionaries.

Second – Most of the historical attacks on Constitutional protections were situation specific. That is, they were responses to particular conditions such as war and amorphous fears of foreign threats. These conditions allowed for the draconian actions of the government. However, when the crisis (real or imagined) ended, policy swung back toward a more centrist political orientation and rights were restored.

One might argue that this is what is happening now, that we are in one of these crises modes, and the government is reacting in character by trashing Constitutional rights. I think that this could be a reasonable interpretation, but for one troubling aspect of the present situation that we will get to at the conclusion of this essay.

Third – The “average”citizen is comfortable with (and indeed sometimes enthusiastic about) the unconstitutional behavior of the government. Thus, as Jonathan Turley put it, “While the Framers [of the Constitution] would have likely expected citizens [to be] in the streets defending their freedoms, this measure [the Homeland Battlefield Bill] was greeted with a shrug and a yawn by most citizens and reporters.”

Why would this be so? Keep in mind that the average citizen does not often use his or her rights and sometimes is unaware of what they are. The majority is also normally under the influence of the government and its allied media. To wit, Turley’s “years of war rhetoric.” Even when the claims of these influential sources are exaggerated and distorted, the majority has no way to know this.

The population is in need of fact-checkers, a role once but no longer played by the press. Today’s fact-checkers are a stand-alone vocal minority who contest the exaggerated claims of the government and media, and the abuse of power that often goes along with them.

Yet the majority is uncomfortable with fact-checkers and their negative revelations, particularly when they appear outside of traditional contexts (like the press). It is easy for the government to isolate the naysayers and persuade people that the critics are part of the problem, allied with the enemy, and in need of suppression.

Therefore, it is fact-checkers who are in great need of the protection of the Bill of Rights. The truth is that in many places, including the U.S., it is dangerous to tell the truth. Just look at the cases of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

Unfortunately, there may be something historically different about the present crisis. It is potentially endless. Terrorism is the poor man’s form of revenge to prevailing economic, political and military domination (direct or by proxy) that is global and ongoing. Anyone with a little technical skill and a lot of determination can exact this kind of revenge.

And, as long as that happens there will be opportunistic and/or paranoid domestic elements that will use such incidents to isolate, harass and persecute critics of government war-on-terror policies.

If this prognosis is accurate, the only thing that can be expected to end this struggle is a revolutionary change in relations between the West, and particularly the United States, and the non-Western world, particularly the Middle East. No one should be holding his or her breath as far as this prospect goes. As it stands now, the best one can hope for are pauses in this struggle.

This is a depressing prospect, but it does not relieve anyone interested in the maintenance of political and civil rights from carrying on a determined resistance to their erosion. It is only by vigorously defending and using such rights as free speech that we can hope to sustain the space necessary for critical voices.

Think of such rights as muscles. If you don’t want them to atrophy, you have to use them. So, if you want to keep your rights, get out there and use them.

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 Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.