The persistence of protests in the Sudan and Algeria reveals a change in the tactics of demonstrators and protesters since the beginning of the era of Arab uprisings in 2011.
Those early uprising had a simple but basic slogan: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” But the people soon discovered that while it is difficult to overthrow an individual ruler — given that the tyrannical system in the Arab region is sponsored and protected by Western governments and Israel — it is much harder to overthrow the whole regime.
Within months of the Arab uprisings’ launch, counter-revolutionary forces mounted their assault to restore the tyrannical order: in Egypt by installing military dictator General Abdel el- Sisi; in Yemen by replacing `Ali `Abdullah Saleh with his deputy; in Bahrain by sending Saudi troops in to preserve the regime by force; and in Tunisia by interfering in an election to maintain the regime, while putting new and old faces in the facade.
The Arab counter-revolution is a movement sponsored by the U.S. comprised of two branches: the Saudi-UAE branch and the Qatari branch. The first branch wishes to maintain the old regime system while the Qatari branch (aided by Turkey) wishes to install the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates. In Libya, the civil war is a manifestation of the conflict between the two branches. The Saudi-UAE is backing the army of Khalifah Hifter, while Qatar is supporting the government, which is recognized by the UN.
Overall, the counter-revolution wants to reverse the tide of popular uprising while guaranteeing the longevity of the regional state system — with the exception of those regimes not aligned with the U.S. and Israel.
Because the regimes were so closely associated with the face of the tyrant, Arab protesters wrongly assumed that the ouster of the leader would easily institute the formation of a new regime. Yet, the picture has proven to be more complicated. While Arab regimes are led by tyrants, they don’t rule on their own, but with a social-class alliance of beneficiaries. Furthermore, the U.S. and Western governments in general fund and/or arm Arab regimes to guarantee longevity of rule. When Western governments speak about the stability of the Middle East they merely mean the stability of their economic and political interests — and the political and military interests of their ally, Israel.
The U.S. has built a complex network of local clients whose survival are not tied entirely to the despot. The U.S. now has organic links with the entire top brass of Arab militaries and with the leaders of the intelligence services. Those prove valuable to the U.S., and to Israeli occupation and the aim of peace between it Arab countries.
When Mohammad Morsi, who collapsed and died June 17 during a session in court, became the first freely elected president in the entire history of Egypt in 2012, he was not really in charge of Egyptian foreign policy and defense. That remained in the hands of the military command and the intelligence services. For that, the relationship between Egypt and Israel remained unchanged during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood — partly because the Brotherhood cared more about political power than its own agenda, and partly because the military-intelligence apparatus insisted on preserving control over the national security and foreign policy files of the country. The U.S. continued to work closely with the apparatus throughout the uprising and forced the Egyptian army to send its special forces to help protect the Israeli occupation embassy after it was set ablaze by angry Egyptian protesters.
US Military Pervades Region
The U.S. Central Command deploys troops throughout the Middle East region (in known and unknown military bases — even, according to Israeli and Saudi media, in Lebanon, which is ostensibly under the control of Hizbullah).
In the name of “the war on terrorism,” the U.S. supervises the training and arming of most Middle East armies and either sells arms to the regimes (like in the Gulf) or donates useless military equipment and antiquated weapons to countries such as Lebanon to appease the local military command, while preserving Lebanese military weakness vis-à-vis Israel. Similarly, the U.S. also has close relations with the regional intelligence services. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who steadfastly refused to respond to the popular demand to oust Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — famously suggested that the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleyman, succeed Mubarak (of course the Egyptian people did not fall for the ploy).
The U.S. has invested heavily in the Middle East and would not countenance the swift downfall of its client regimes. It maintains a complicated network of spies and military advisers to protect the tyrants. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. represents the biggest impediment to democracy and (real) free elections in the region.
Upper Class Social Interests
But the regimes also represent upper class social interests. The U.S. is tied to capitalist regimes in the Middle East which are under constant neoliberal pressures (from the U.S., World Bank and IMF) to engage in more privatization, and to dismantle the public sector and decrease social programs. Those policies (from Egypt to Tunisia) have produced a class of millionaires and billionaires who are closely tied to the fortunes of the ruling regimes and often control the media.
You know it is not a revolution when the ruling social classes have stayed in their places after the uprisings in various Arab states.
Protesters in Sudan and Algeria have learned from the lessons of the Arab uprisings and know full well that getting rid of the tyrant is not enough. They are now pushing for the full transfer of power into the political hands of civilians, and are calling for a delay in elections (which Saudi Arabia is seeking because it can manufacture the results).
Elections should be the last priority for Arab activists for change: elections serve as a golden opportunity for Gulf regimes and Western governments to influence outcomes through direct funding of candidates and parties and through massive propaganda campaigns for the preservation of the regime. The last Tunisian election was largely a Western-Gulf counter-revolution intended to save the regime from the tide of the uprising. It succeeded in installing as president a leftover from the Ancien Régime whose hands are soiled with previous bloody repression.
To have meaningful free elections in the Arab world one needs to control the banking and financial system and monitor the flow of foreign money and interference by Gulf regimes and by Western governments. You need to end foreign Western hegemony before you can have free elections. Furthermore, in the capitalist economies of the Middle East, elections are increasingly an opportunity for billionaires to ascend to political power. In the North Lebanon region alone, four billionaires have reached the Lebanese parliament through their wealth in the last two decades.
For the process of the dismantlement of the regime to be completed, there has to be a complete change in the military leadership and the leadership of all intelligence services. Protesters should also insist on putting them on trial because they all have served as instruments of the regime for the purposes of repression and surveillance. This has not happened in any of the countries that underwent the so-called Arab uprisings. There has to be accountability and trials for all members of existing regime, if one is to achieve a full break from the past.
The Arab world has not had a revolution in many decades. Egypt had a real revolution in 1952 but it did not happen overnight. It took Gamal Abdel Nasser many decades to initiate a thorough-going overthrow of the existing regime and the ruling class. His revolution against the ruling class was logically accompanied by a campaign against all Western foreign influence in Egypt. Egypt was changed over a decade-long period, during which the average Egyptian worker’s income rose by 44 percent.
We have not had that kind of change in any Arab country since. The West and Gulf regimes don’t want that to happen. If the Algerians and the Sudanese keep pushing for real liberation, they could shake the power system in their own countries and in the region as a whole. But the counter-revolutionary forces are not sitting idly by. The U.S. has just appointed a special envoy for Sudan.
As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as@asadabukhalil.
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The Ugly View of Western Democracy
From flimsy false flags in the Gulf to the signing of Assange’s extradition warrant, Craig Murray reviews the abuses of power made obvious in the past two weeks.
Standing back a little and surveying the events of the last couple of weeks, gives a bleak view of the current state of Western democracy.
We have seen what appears to be the most unconvincing of false flags in the Gulf. I pointed out why it was improbable Iran would attack these particular ships. Since then we have had American military sources pointing to video evidence of a packed small Iranian boat allegedly removing a limpet mine from the ship the Iranians helped to rescue, which was somehow supposed to prove it was the Iranians who planted the alleged device. We also have had the Japanese owner specifically contradict the American account and say that the ship was hit by flying objects.
The Iranians certainly have a strange method of bomb disposal if they carry it out using unarmoured personnel, with as many as possible crammed into a small boat in immediate contact with the “mine.” It is also hard to understand why the alleged “limpet mines” would be four feet above the waterline.
Limpet mines are placed below the waterline. There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, holes above the waterline will not sink a ship. Secondly, the weight of the water helps contain the blast against the ship. Thirdly, it is obviously harder to detect both the diver placing the mine and the mine once placed if it is below the water. In fact it would be very difficult for a diver to place a limpet mine four feet above the waterline, even if they wanted to.
There seems to be a remarkable disconnect between the widespread popular disdain at yet another fake western power casus belli in the Middle East, and the near universal complicity of the U.K. political and media class in promoting this transparent lie. It is as though even pretending to have any respect for truth and fact has simply been discarded within the U.K.’s governmental system. Which ought to worry us a lot.
US Versus Corbyn
The second development ought to have been the biggest media story of the decade in the UK, if we had anything like a free and honest media. Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, made plain the Trump administration’s intent to prevent the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. Pompeo told a meeting of Jewish leaders:
“It could be that Mr. Corbyn manages to run the gantlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back.”
This blatant interference by a foreign power in the U.K.’s democracy is an absolute scandal. Compare the lack of media outrage at Pompeo’s intervention with the ludicrous claims made about much less high profile Russian attempts at influence. This incident provides incontrovertible proof that the world does indeed operate in the way that I have been explaining here for a decade. It is not a “conspiracy theory” that democracy is manipulated by hidden powers, it is fact. Pompeo’s description of Corbyn’s route to election as “running the gauntlet” is particularly revealing. Even more so is the cursory coverage this story was given, and I have seen no evidence to date of any MSM “journalist” attempting any follow-up investigation on the methods the U.S. are planning to employ – or more likely already employing – against Corbyn.
Everybody should be incandescent at this, no matter who they vote for.
Stunning Revelation About the Guardian
Something else which revealed the truth of the way the political world now operates, and which again did not get nearly the media attention it deserves, was Matt Kennard’s stunning revelation of the way the Guardian has been taken over by the security services. I have been explaining for years that the Guardian has become the security services’ news outlet of choice, and it is very helpful to have documentation to prove it.
Guardian's deputy editor @paul__johnson joined state censorship D-Notice committee (run by MOD) after Snowden revelations in sop to British spooks. In board minutes, they thank him for being "instrumental in re-establishing links" between UK mil/intel and Guardian. Explains a lot pic.twitter.com/kN27T0QoMm
It is worth noting that the Guardian obeyed completely the DSMA committee ban on mentioning Pablo Miller in reporting the security service fantasy version of the Skripal story. As Kennard points out, it is also very interesting indeed that the Guardian published Luke Harding’s front page fabrication of Manafort/Assange meetings two weeks after MOD Director Dominic Wilson congratulated Guardian deputy editor Paul Johnson on “re-establishing links” with the security services. The Guardian is, like other British newspapers, as controlled by the military and security services just like in any other decent autocracy.
Incidentally, I cannot find Matt Kennard’s excellent work set out anywhere, except in that twitter stream. Surely there is an article on a website somewhere? I cannot find anything on Google, but as it is exactly the kind of information Google routinely suppresses, that does not mean it is not out there. Anyone seen it?
Assange’s Extradition Warrant
Finally, we have of course seen Home Secretary Sajid Javid sign the extradition warrant for Julian Assange to be sent to the United States for the “crime” of publishing truthful information about U.S. illegalities. Julian’s extradition hearing was, contrary to normal practice, held despite the fact he was too sick to attend in person. And it was presided over by Judge Emma Arbuthnot, despite the fact that her husband is a former Tory defense minister who started a “security consultancy” in partnership with a former head of MI6, the war criminal John Scarlett who oversaw the fabrication of the dossier of lies about Iraqi WMD, in order to launch an illegal war of aggression that killed and maimed millions. The Assange team had asked her to recuse herself on that pretty obvious basis, but she had refused. At an earlier hearing she taunted Assange with the observation that he could get adequate exercise in the embassy on a 1.5 meter Juliet balcony.
Just as the Guardian has never apologised for, nor withdrawn, the utter lie of the Assange/Manafort story, so the identity-politics-promoting, false “left” has never apologised for its pursuit of Assange over sexual allegations in Sweden, which were obvious on the slightest scrutiny to be only a fit-up designed to get him into custody. Those figures like David Allen Green, Joan Smith and David Aaronovitch, among scores of other pustulous hacks, who mocked and scorned those of us who always said that Assange faced not extradition to Sweden but to the United States for publishing, have been shown up as, at the very best, stupid naive and unwitting tools of the state, and more likely, insincere and vicious propagandists.
This brief review of current issues reveal that not only do Western governments lie and fake, they have really given up on trying to pretend that they do not. The abuse of power is naked and the propaganda is revealed by the lightest effort to brush away the veneer of democracy.
I find it hard to believe that I live in times where Assange suffers as he does for telling the truth, where a dedicated anti-racist like Corbyn is subjected to daily false accusations of racism and to U.S. and security service backed efforts to thwart his democratic prospects, where the most laughable false flag is paraded to move us towards war with Iran, and where there is no semblance of a genuinely independent media. But, starkly, that is where we are. This is not unrelated to the massive and fast-growing inequality of wealth; the erosion of freedom is the necessary precondition that allows the ultra-wealthy to loot the rest of us. It remains my hope there will eventually come a public reaction against the political classes as strong as the situation demands.
Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. This article first appeared on his website.
Trump’s Bipartisan Support for Eradicating the Palestinian Cause
The U.S. is now formally supporting Israel’s efforts at economic pacification, writes Jonathan Cook.
The White House’s prolonged financial bullying of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting, has reached the point where there are now credible warnings that it is close to collapse. The crisis has offered critics further proof of the administration’s seemingly chaotic, often self-sabotaging approach to foreign policy matters.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials charged with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have demonstrated ever more blatant bias, such as the recent claims by David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, that Israel is “on the side of God” and should have the “right to retain” much of the West Bank.
Critics view the Trump administration’s approach as a dangerous departure from the traditional U.S. role of “honest broker.”
Such analyses, however common, are deeply misguided. Far from lacking a strategy, the White House has a precise and clear one for imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.” Even without publication so far of a formal document, the plan’s contours are coming ever more sharply into relief, as its implementation becomes observable on the ground.
Repeated delays in announcing the plan are simply an indication that Trump’s team needs more time to engineer a suitable political environment for the plan to be brought out of the shadows.
Further, the Trump administration’s vision of the future for Israelis and Palestinians – however extreme and one-sided – has wide, bipartisan support in Washington. There’s nothing especially “Trumpian” about the administration’s emerging “peace process.”
Choking Off Aid
Paradoxically, that was evident last week, when leading members of the U.S. Congress from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill to boost the ailing Palestinian economy by $50m. The hope is to create a “Partnership Fund for Peace” that will offer a financial fillip to Israelis and Palestinians seeking to resolve the conflict – or, at least, that is what is being claimed.
This sudden concern for the health of the Palestinian economy is a dramatic and confusing U-turn. Congress has been an active and enthusiastic partner with the White House in choking off aid to the PA for more than a year.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, told The New York Times last week that the PA was on the brink of implosion. “We are in a collapsing situation,” hetold the newspaper.
The PA’s crisis comes as no surprise. Congress helped initiate it by passing the Taylor Force Act in March 2018. It requires the U.S. to halt funding to the PA until it stops paying stipends to some 35,000 families of Palestinians jailed, killed or maimed by Israel.
Brink of Collapse
Previous U.S. administrations might well have signed a waiver to prevent such legislation from going into effect – just as presidents until Trump blocked a congressional law passed in 1995 demanding that the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem.
But the Trump White House is not interested in diplomatic face-saving or reining in the pro-Israel zealotry of U.S. legislators. It fervently and explicitly shares the biases that have long been inherent in the U.S. political system.
In line with the Taylor Force Act, the White House has cut off vital funds for Palestinians, including to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency for Palestinians, and to hospitals in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.
The decision by Congress to throttle the PA has had further repercussions, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed domestically. Not daring to be seen as less anti-PA than U.S. legislators, Netanyahu implementedhis own version of the Taylor Force Act earlier this year.
Since February, he has withheld a portion of the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA, the vast bulk of its income, equal to the stipends transferred to the Palestinian families of prisoners and casualties of Israeli violence – or those who Israel and the U.S. simplemindedly refer to as “terrorists.”
That, in turn, has left Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in an impossible position. He dare not be seen accepting an Israeli diktat that legitimizes withholding Palestinian money, or one that defines as “terrorists” those who have sacrificed the most for the Palestinian cause. So he has refused the entire monthly tax transfer until the full amount is reinstated.
Now, just as these various blows against the PA finally threaten to topple it, the U.S. Congress suddenly prepares to step in and bail out the Palestinian economy with $50m. What on earth is going on?
‘Money for Quiet’
The small print is telling. The PA, the Palestinians’ fledgling government, is not eligible for any of the U.S. Congress’s promised largesse.
If the legislation passes, the money will be handed to “Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies,” as well as non-governmental organizations, willing to work with the U.S. and Israel on “people-to-people peace-building” programs and “reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”
In other words, the legislation is actually designed as another strike against the Palestinians’ existing leadership. The PA is being bypassed yet again, as the U.S. and Israel try to bolster an alternative economic, rather than political, leadership.
This move by U.S. representatives is not occurring in a vacuum. Since the effective collapse of the Oslo accords nearly two decades ago, Washington has sought to downgrade a national conflict that needs a political solution into a humanitarian crisis that needs an economic one.
It is a variation on Netanyahu’s long-standing goal to smash the Palestinian national struggle and replace it with “economic peace.”
Where once the goal of peacemaking was “land in exchange for peace” – that is, a Palestinian state in return for an end to hostilities – now the aim is “money in exchange for quiet.” The U.S. is now formally supporting Israel’s efforts at economic pacification.
Outrage at New Elections
The Trump administration has devised a two-stage process for neutralizing Palestinians.
Firstly, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been tasked with winning over Arab states, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf, to stump up money for pacifying Palestinians and their neighbors.
This is the aim of an investment conference due to be held in Bahrain later this month – the lynchpin of the “deal of the century,” not simply a prelude to it.
That was why Trump himself was so visibly outraged at the delay caused by Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve the Israeli parliament last month, a reflection of his political weakness as he faces imminent corruption trials. The new elections in Israel, Trump grumbled, were “ridiculous” and “messed up.”
The intention of the Bahrain conference is to use tens of billions of dollars raised by Washington to buy off opposition to the Trump deal, chiefly from Egypt and Jordan, which are critical to the pacification program’s success.
Any refusal by the Palestinians to surrender, either in Gaza or the West Bank, could have major repercussions for these neighboring states.
Secondly, Friedman is at the center of efforts to identify recipients for the Gulf-funded handouts. He has been seeking to forge a new alliance between the settlers, with whom he is closely aligned, and Palestinians who may be willing to help in the pacification project. Late last year, he attended a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders in the West Bank city of Ariel.
Afterwards he tweeted that the business community was “ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”
At the invitation of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, I met in Ariel with Palestinian & Israeli business leaders ready, willing & able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening? pic.twitter.com/g91fGHNDzF
Friedman has made no bones about where his – and supposedly God’s – priorities lie, throwing his weight behind the growing clamor in Israel to annex much of the territory that was once seen as integral to creating a Palestinian state. With that as the administration’s lode star, the task is now to find a Palestinian leadership prepared to stand by as the finishing touches are put on a Greater Israel ordained by God.
Concerns in Washington about the PA’s unwillingness to comply were voiced last week by Kushner, though he dressed them up as doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves. He said of the PA: “The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.” He added that the real test of the administration’s plan would be whether Palestinian areas became “investable.”
Kushner, second from left, in 2017, with other members of the Trump administration, arriving as honored guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 2017, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (White House/ Shealah Craighead)
“When I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life. They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage,” he said.
Washington is therefore looking to influential families in the West Bank that could potentially be recruited with bribes to serve as an alternative, compliant leadership. In February it was reported that around 200 businesspeople, Israeli mayors and heads of Palestinian communities met in Jerusalem “to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs”.
Corrupt Tribal Fiefdoms
It has been natural for the Trump administration to look to a business elite – one that, it hopes, will be prepared to forgo a national solution if the economic environment is liberalized enough to allow for new regional and global investment opportunities.
These individuals belong to extended families that dominate the West Bank’s major cities. Such powerful families may be prepared to assist in the elimination of the PA, in return for a corrupt patronage system allowing them to take control of their respective cities.
Palestinian analysts, like Samir Awad, a politics professor at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, have told me that the Israeli and U.S. vision of Palestinian “autonomy” may amount to little more than a system of tribal fiefdoms, reminiscent of Afghanistan.
There are already a few Palestinian partners emerging, such as Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, who is reportedly planning to attendthe Bahrain conference.
He and other business leaders have been quietly developing ties with counterparts in the settler movement, such as Avi Zimmerman. Together, they have set up a joint chamber of commerce covering the West Bank.
It is precisely such initiatives that are being promoted by Friedman and would be eligible for grants from the $50m fund the U.S. Congress is currently legislating.
Ultimately, these Palestinian business “partners” could form an elite to serve as an ostensible national address for the international community in its dealings with the Palestinian people.
Sword Over PA
The PA doesn’t have to be discarded for the Trump plan to progress. But alternative national and local leaderships need to be cultivated by Washington to serve both as a sword hanging over the PA’s head, to encourage it to capitulate, and as an alternative ruling class, should the PA fail to submit to the “deal of the century.”
In short, Washington is playing a game of chicken with Abbas and the PA. It is determined that the Palestinians will blink first.
Deeply implicated in Washington’s vision, even if largely out of sight, are the Arab states, whose role is to strong-arm whatever Palestinian leadership is required for the Greater Israel “deal of the century” to be implemented.
The burden of managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will shift once again. When Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967, it became directly responsible for the welfare of Palestinians living there.
Since the mid-1990s, when the Palestinian leadership was allowed to return under the Oslo accords, the PA has had to shoulder the task of keeping the territories quiet on Israel’s behalf. Now, after the PA has refused to sign off on Israel’s ambitions to take for itself East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, the PA is increasingly seen as having outlived its usefulness.
Instead, Palestinian expectations may have to be managed via another route – through the key Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. Or, as Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri recently noted, the Bahrain conference “foreshadows the beginning of abandoning the [Palestine Liberation Organization] as the Palestinians’ representative, thereby opening the door … for a new era of Arab patronage over the Palestinians to take hold.”
Years of Imperial Overreach
Under Trump, what has changed most significantly in the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the urgency of Washington’s efforts to set aside the Palestinian national struggle once and for all.
Since the Six-Day War of 1967, U.S. administrations – with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter’s – had only a marginal interest in forcing a settlement on Israelis and Palestinians. Aside from lip service to peace, they were mostly content to leave the two sides to engage in an asymmetrical struggle that always favored Israel. This was sold as “conflict management.”
But after 15 years of U.S. imperial overreach in the Middle East – and faced with major foreign policy setbacks in Iraq and Syria, and Israel’s related failures in Lebanon – Washington desperately needs to consolidate its position against rivals and potential rivals in this oil-rich region.
Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe, are jostling in different ways for a more assertive role in the Middle East. As it tries to counter these influences, the U.S. wishes to bring together its main allies in the region: Israel and the key Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia.
Although secret ties between the two sides have been growing for some time, unresolved tensions remain over Israel’s demand that it be allowed to maintain regional superiority in military and intelligence matters. That has been obvious in current power battles playing out in Washington.
The Trump administration last month declared extraordinary measures to bypass Congress so that it could sell more than $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. In retaliation, Congressional leaders close to Israel vowed they would block the arms sales.
Splinter in Region’s Windpipe
In the White House’s view, little further progress can be made until the Palestinian splinter stuck deep in the Middle East’s windpipe is removed.
Most Arab leaders care nothing for the Palestinian cause, and have come to bitterly resent the way the Palestinians’ enduring struggle for statehood has complicated their own dealings in the region, especially with Iran and Israel.
They would enthusiastically embrace a full partnership with the U.S. and Israel in the region, if only they could afford to be seen doing so.
But the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel – and its powerful symbolism in a region that has experienced so much malign Western interference – continues to serve as a brake on Washington’s efforts to forge tighter and more explicit alliances with the Arab states.
Serious Case of Hubris
As such, the Trump administration has concluded that “conflict management” is no longer in U.S. interests. It needs to isolate and dispose of the Palestinian splinter. Once that encumbrance is out of the way, the White House believes it can get on with forging a coalition with Israel and most of the Arab states to reassert its dominance over the Middle East.
All of this will likely prove far harder to achieve than the Trump administration imagines, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intimated last week in private.
But it would be wrong nonetheless to assume that the strategy behind Trump’s “deal of the century,” however unrealistic, is not clear-sighted in both its aims and methods.
It would be similarly misguided to believe that the administration’s policy is a maverick one. It is operating within the ideological constraints of the Washington foreign policy elite, even if Trump’s “peace plan” lies at the outer margins of the establishment consensus.
The Trump administration enjoys bipartisan backing from Congress both for its Jerusalem embassy move and for economic measures that threaten to crush the PA, a government-in-waiting that has already made enormous compromises in agreeing to statehood on a tiny fraction of its people’s historic homeland.
No doubt the Trump White House is suffering from a serious case of hubris in trying to eliminate the Palestinian cause for good. But that hubris, however dangerous, we should remember, is shared by much of the U.S. political establishment.
Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. This article is from his website, Jonathan Cook.net.
Iraqi Peace Activists Talk About Their Work
Rarely is the U.S. public allowed glimpses of Iraq that make war there seem less inevitable, writes Laura Gottesdiener.
There’s a dark joke going around Baghdad these days. Noof Assi, a 30-year-old Iraqi peace activist and humanitarian worker, told it to me by phone. Our conversation takes place in late May just after the Trump administration has announced that it would add 1,500 additional U.S. troops to its Middle Eastern garrisons.
“Iran wants to fight to get the United States and Saudi Arabia out of Iraq,” she began. “And the United States wants to fight to get Iran out of Iraq.” She paused dramatically. “So how about all of us Iraqis just leave Iraq so they can fight here on their own?”
Assi is among a generation of young Iraqis who lived most of their lives first under the U.S. occupation of their country and then through the disastrous violence it unleashed, including the rise of ISIS, and who are now warily eying Washington’s saber-rattling towards Tehran. They couldn’t be more aware that, should a conflict erupt, Iraqis will almost certainly find themselves once again caught in the devastating middle of it.
In February, President Donald Trump sparked ire by claiming that the United States would maintain its military presence — 5,200 troops — and the al-Asad airbase in Iraq in order to “watch Iran.” In May, the State Department then suddenly orderedall non-emergency government employees to leave Iraq, citing vague intelligence about threats of “Iranian activity.” (This so-called intelligence was promptly contradicted by the British deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS who claimed that “there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.”) A few days later, a rocket landed harmlessly in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi then announced that he would send delegations to Washington and Tehran to try to “halt tensions,” while thousands of ordinary Iraqis rallied in Baghdad to protest against the possibility of their country once again getting dragged into a conflict.
Much of American media coverage of rising U.S.-Iranian tensions in these weeks, rife with “intel” leaked by unnamed Trump administration officials, bears a striking resemblance to the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. As a recent Al Jazeera piece — headlined “Is the US media beating the drums of war on Iran?” — put it bluntly: “In 2003, it was Iraq. In 2019, it’s Iran.”
Unfortunately, in the intervening 16 years, American coverage of Iraq hasn’t improved much. Certainly, the Iraqis themselves are largely missing in action. When, for example, does the American public hear about how female students in Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, heavily bombed and taken back from ISIS in 2017, have organized to restock the shelves of the once-famed library at the University of Mosul, which ISIS militants set aflame during their occupation of the city; or how booksellers and publishers are reviving Baghdad’s world-renowned book market on Mutanabbi Street, destroyed by a devastating car bomb in 2007; or how, each September, tens of thousands of young people now gather across Iraq to celebrate Peace Day — a carnival that started eight years ago in Baghdad as the brainchild of Noof Assi and her colleague, Zain Mohammed, a 31-year-old peace activist who is also the owner of a restaurant and performance space?
In other words, rarely is the U.S. public allowed glimpses of Iraq that make war there seem less inevitable.
Assi and Mohammed are well accustomed not only to such skewed representation of their country in our country, but to the fact that Iraqis like them are missing in action in American consciousness. They remain amazed, in fact, that Americans could have caused such destruction and pain in a country they continue to know so little about.
“Years ago, I went to the United States on an exchange program and I discovered people didn’t know anything about us. Someone asked me if I used a camel for transportation,” Assi told me. “So I returned to Iraq and I thought: Damn it! We have to tell the world about us.”
In late May, I spoke with Assi and Mohammed separately by telephone in English about the rising threat of another U.S. war in the Middle East and their collective two decades of peace work aimed at undoing the violence wrought by the last two U.S. wars in their country. Below, I’ve edited and melded the interviews of these two friends so that Americans can hear a couple of voices from Iraq, telling the story of their lives and their commitment to peace in the years after the invasion of their country in 2003.
Laura Gottesdiener:What first inspired you to begin doing peace work?
Zain Mohammed:At the end of 2006, on December 6th, al-Qaeda-[in-Iraq, the precursor to ISIS] executed my dad. We are a small family: me and my mom and two sisters. My opportunities were limited to two options. I was 19 years old. I had just finished high school. So, the decision was: I had to emigrate or I had to become part of the system of militias and take revenge. That was the lifestyle in Baghdad at that time. We emigrated to Damascus [Syria]. Then suddenly, after about six months, when our paperwork was nearly ready for us to emigrate to Canada, I told my mom, “I want to go back to Baghdad. I don’t want to run away.”
I went back to Baghdad at the end of 2007. There was a big car bombing in Karrada, the part of the city where I used to live. My friends and I decided to do something to tell our friends that we have to work together to promote peace. So, on September 21st, on International Peace Day, we held a small event in the same place as the explosion. In 2009, I received a scholarship to the American University in Sulaymaniyah for a workshop about peace and we watched a movie about Peace Day. At the end of the movie, there were flashes of many scenes from around the world and, for just one second, there was our event in Karrada. This movie was amazing for me. It was a message. I went back to Baghdad and I spoke to one of my friends whose father had been killed. I told him it’s systematic: If he’s Shiite, he’ll be recruited by a Shiite militia for revenge; if he’s Sunni, he’ll be recruited by a Sunni militia or al-Qaeda for revenge. I told him: we have to create a third option. By a third option, I meant any option except fighting or emigrating.
I spoke to Noof and she said we have to collect youth and organize a meeting. “But what’s the point?” I asked her. All we had was this idea of a third option. She said: “We have to collect youth and have a meeting to decide what to do.”
Noof Assi:When Baghdad was first built, it was called the City of Peace. When we first started talking to people, everyone laughed at us. A City of Peace celebration in Baghdad? It’ll never happen, they said. At that time, there were no events, nothing happened in the public parks.
Zain:Everyone said: you’re crazy, we’re still in a war…
Noof:We didn’t have any funding, so we decided let’s light candles, stand in the street, and tell people that Baghdad is called the City of Peace. But then we grew into a group of around 50 people, so we created a small festival. We had zero budget. We were stealing stationery from our office and using the printer there.
Then we thought: Okay, we made a point, but I don’t think people will want to continue. But the youth came back to us and said, “We enjoyed it. Let’s do it again.”
Laura:How has the festival grown since then?
Noof:The first year, around 500 people came and most of them were our families or relatives. Now, 20,000 people attend the festival. But our idea isn’t only about the festival, it’s about the world that we create through the festival. We literally do everything from scratch. Even the decorations: there is a team that makes the decorations by hand.
Zain: In 2014, we felt the first results when ISIS and this shit happened again, but this time, at the societal level, lots of groups were starting to work together, collecting money and clothes for internally displaced people. Everyone was working together. It felt like a light.
Noof:Now, the festival happens in Basra, Samawah, Diwaniyah, and Baghdad. And we’re hoping to expand to Najaf and Sulaymaniyah.Over the last two years, we’ve been working to create the first youth hub in Baghdad, the IQ Peace Center, which is home to different clubs: a jazz club, a chess club, a pets club, a writing club. We had a women-and-girls club to discuss their issues within the city.
Zain:We had a lot of financial challenges because we were a youth movement. We weren’t a registered NGO [non-governmental organization] and we didn’t want to work like a regular NGO.
Laura:What about other peace efforts in the city?
Noof:In the past few years, we’ve started seeing a lot of different movements around Baghdad. After many years of seeing only armed actors, wars, and soldiers, young people wanted to build another picture of the city. So, now, we have lots of movements around education, health, entertainment, sports, marathons, book clubs. There’s a movement called “I’m Iraqi, I Can Read.” It’s the biggest festival for books. Exchanging or taking books is free for everyone and they bring in authors and writers to sign the books.
Laura:This isn’t exactly the image that I suspect many Americans have in mind when they think about Baghdad.
Noof: One day, Zain and I were bored in the office, so we started Googling different images. We said, “Let’s Google Iraq.” And it was all photos of the war. We Googled Baghdad: Same thing. Then we googled something — it’s famous around the world — the Lion of Babylon [an ancient statue], and what we found was a picture of a Russian tank that Iraq developed during Saddam [Hussein]’s regime that they named Babylon’s Lion.
I’m an Iraqi and I’m a Mesopotamian with that long history. We’ve grown up living in a city that’s old and where every place, every street you pass, has a history to it, but the international media doesn’t talk about what’s happening on those streets. They focus on what the politicians are saying and leave out the rest. They don’t show the real image of the country.
Laura:I want to ask you about the rising tensions between the United States and Iran, and how people in Iraq are responding. I know you have your own internal problems, so whatever Trump tweets on a given day might not be the biggest news for you…
Noof:Unfortunately, it is.
Especially since 2003, Iraqis have not been ones controlling our country. Even the government now, we don’t want it, but no one has ever asked us. We’re still paying with our blood while — I was reading an article about this a few months ago — Paul Bremer is now teaching skiing and living his simple life after ruining our country. [In 2003, the Bush administration appointed Bremer head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran occupied Iraq after the U.S. invasion and was responsible for the disastrous decision to disband Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s army.]
Laura:What do you think about the news that the U.S. is planning to deploy 1,500 more troops to the Middle East?
Zain: If they end up coming to Iraq, where we have a lot of pro-Iranian militias, I’m afraid there could be a collision. I don’t want a collision. In a war between the United States and Iran, maybe some soldiers will be killed, but a lot of Iraqi civilians will be, too, directly and indirectly. Honestly, everything that has happened since 2003 is strange to me. Why did the United States invade Iraq? And then they said they wanted to leave and now they want to come back? I can’t understand what the United States is doing.
Noof:Trump is a businessman, so he cares about money and how he’s going to spend it. He’s not going to do something unless he’s sure that he’s going to get something in return.
Laura:That reminds me of the way Trump used the rising tensions in the region in order to bypass Congress and push through an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Noof:Exactly. I mean, he was asking Iraq to pay the United States back for the costs of the U.S. military occupation in Iraq! Can you imagine? So that’s how he thinks.
Laura:Amid these rising tensions, what’s your message to the Trump administration — and to the American public?
Zain:For the U.S. government, I’d say that, in every war, even if you win, you lose something: money, people, civilians, stories… We have to see the other side of war. And I’m sure we can do what we want without war. For the U.S. public: I think my message is to push against war, even against economic war.
Noof:For the U.S. government I would tell them: please mind your own business. Leave the rest of the world alone. For the American people I would tell them: I’m sorry, I know how you’re feeling being in a country run by Trump. I was living under Saddam’s regime. I still remember. I have a colleague, she’s American, and the day Trump won the elections she came into the office crying. And a Syrian and I were in the office with her and we told her: “We’ve been there before. You will survive.”
On September 21st, Noof Assi, Zain Mohammed, and thousands of other young Iraqis will crowd a park along the Tigris River to celebrate the eighth annual Baghdad City of Peace Carnival. In the United States, meanwhile, we will almost certainly still be living under the Trump administration’s nearly daily threats of war (if not war itself) with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and god knows where else. A recent Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows that Americans increasingly see another war in the Middle East as inevitable, with more than half of those polled saying it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that their country would go to war with Iran “within the next few years.” But as Noof and Zain know full well, it’s always possible to find another option…
Laura Gottesdiener, aTomDispatch regular, is a freelance journalist and former Democracy Now! producer currently based in northern Lebanon.
CrowdStrike, the controversial cybersecurity firm that the Democratic National Committee chose over the FBI in 2016 to examine its compromised computer servers, never produced an un-redacted or final forensic report for the government because the FBI never required it to, the Justice Department has admitted.
The revelation came in a court filing by the government in the pre-trial phase of Roger Stone, a long-time Republican operative who had an unofficial role in the campaign of candidate Donald Trump. Stone has been charged with misleading Congress, obstructing justice and intimidating a witness.
The filing was in response to a motion by Stone’s lawyers asking for “unredacted reports” from CrowdStrike in an effort to get the government to prove that Russia hacked the DNC server. “The government … does not possess the information the defandant seeks,” the filing says.
In his motion, Stone’s lawyers said he had only been given three redacted drafts. In a startling footnote in the government’s response, the DOJ admits the drafts are all that exist. “Although the reports produced to the defendant are marked ‘draft,’ counsel for the DNC and DCCC informed the government that they are the last version of the report produced,” the footnote says.
In other words CrowdStrike, upon which the FBI relied to conclude that Russia hacked the DNC, never completed a final report and only turned over three redacted drafts to the government.
These drafts were “voluntarily” given to the FBI by DNC lawyers, the filing says. “No redacted information concerned the attribution of the attack to Russian actors,” the filing quotes DNC lawyers as saying.
In Stone’s motion his lawyers argued: “If the Russian state did not hack the DNC, DCCC, or [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta’s servers, then Roger Stone was prosecuted for obstructing a congressional investigation into an unproven Russian state hacking conspiracy … The issue of whether or not the DNC was hacked is central to the Defendant’s defense.”
The DOJ responded: “The government does not need to prove at the defendant’s trial that the Russians hacked the DNC in order to prove the defendant made false statements, tampered with a witness, and obstructed justice into a congressional investigation regarding election interference.”
Thousands of emails from the DNC server were published by WikiLeaks in July 2016 revealing that the DNC interfered in the Democratic primary process to favor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders for the party’s presidential nomination. The U.S. indicted 12 Russian military intelligence agents in 2018 for allegedly hacking the DNC server and giving the emails to WikiLeaks.
Comey Can’t Say Why
At a time of high tension in the 2016 presidential campaign, when the late Sen. John McCain and others were calling Russian “hacking” an “act of war,” the FBI settled for three redacted “draft reports” from CrowdStrike rather than investigate the alleged hacking itself, the court document shows.
Then FBI Director James Comey admitted in congressional testimony that he chose not to take control of the DNC’s “hacked” computers, and did not dispatch FBI computer experts to inspect them, but has had trouble explaining why.
In his testimony, he conceded that “best practices” would have dictated that forensic experts gain physical access to the computers. Nevertheless, the FBI decided to rely on forensics performed by a firm being paid for by the DNC.
Suspicions grew as Comey started referring to CrowdStrike as the “pros that they hired.” Doubts became more intense when he referred to CrowdStrike as “a high-class entity.” In fact the company had a tarnished reputation for reliability and objectivity well before it was hired by the DNC.
Dimitri Alperovitch, a CrowdStrike co-founder, is an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior fellow at the anti-Russian Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. CrowdStrike said it determined that Russia had hacked the DNC server because it found Cyrillic letters in the metadata, as well as the name of the first Soviet intelligence chief—clues an amateur might leave.
CrowdStrike was forced to “revise(d) and retract(ed) statements it used to buttress claims of Russian hacking during last year’s American presidential election campaign,” Voice of Americareported in March 2017.
CrowdStrike’s Early Role
In a Memorandum for the President on July 24, 2017, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity referred prominently to this instructive time sequence:
June 12, 2016: Julian Assange announces WikiLeaks is about to publish ‘emails related to Hillary Clinton.’
June 14, 2016: DNC contractor CrowdStrike, (with a dubious professional record and multiple conflicts of interest) announces that malware has been found on the DNC server and claims there is evidence it was injected by Russians.
June 15, 2016: ‘Guccifer 2.0’ affirms the DNC statement; claims responsibility for the ‘hack;’ claims to be a WikiLeaks source; and posts a document that the forensics show was synthetically tainted with ‘Russian fingerprints.’
VIPS does not believe the June 12, 14, & 15 timing was pure coincidence. Rather, it suggests the start of a pre-emptive move to associate Russia with anything WikiLeaks might have been about to publish and to “show” that it came from a Russian hack.
Bill Binney, a former NSA technical director and a VIPS member, filed an affidavit in Stone’s case. Binney said: “WikiLeaks did not receive stolen data from the Russian government. Intrinsic metadata in the publicly available files on WikiLeaks demonstrates that the files acquired by WikiLeaks were delivered in a medium such as a thumb drive.”
Preferring CrowdStrike; ’Splaining to Congress
Why did FBI Director James Comey not simply insist on access to the DNC computers? Surely he could have gotten the appropriate authorization. In early January 2017, reacting to media reports that the FBI never asked for access, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee there were “multiple requests at different levels” for access to the DNC servers.“Ultimately what was agreed to is the private company would share with us what they saw,” he said. Comey describedCrowdStrike as a “highly respected” cybersecurity company.
Asked by committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) whether direct access to the servers and devices would have helped the FBI in their investigation, Comey said it would have. “Our forensics folks would always prefer to get access to the original device or server that’s involved, so it’s the best evidence,” he said.
Five months later, after Comey had been fired, Burr gave him a Mulligan in the form of a few kid-gloves, clearly well-rehearsed, questions:
BURR:And the FBI, in this case, unlike other cases that you might investigate — did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked? Or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data that they had collected?
COMEY:In the case of the DNC, … we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work. But we didn’t get direct access.
BURR:But no content?
BURR:Isn’t content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?
COMEY:It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks — the people who were my folks at the time is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.
More telling was earlier questioning by House Intelligence Committee member, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who had been a CIA officer for a decade.On March 20, 2017 while he was still FBI director, Comey evidenced some considerable discomfort as he tried to explain to the committee why the FBI did not insist on getting physical access to the DNC computers and do its own forensics:
HURD:So there was about a year between the FBI’s first notification of some potential problems with the DNC network and then that information getting on — getting on Wikileaks.
HURD:… when did the DNC provide access for — to the FBI for your technical folks to review what happened?
COMEY:Well we never got direct access to the machines themselves. The DNC in the spring of 2016 hired a firm that ultimately shared with us their forensics from their review of the system. …
HURD:… So, Director FBI notified the DNC early, before any information was put on Wikileaksand when — youhave still been — never been given access to any of the technical or the physical machines that were — that were hacked by the Russians.
COMEY: That’s correct although we got the forensics from the pros that they hired which — again, best practice is always to get access to the machines themselves, but this — my folks tell me was an appropriate substitute.
Comey Spikes Deal With Assange
Director Comey’s March 20, 2017 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee came at the same time he was scuttlingmonths-long negotiations between Assange and lawyers representing the DOJ and CIA to grant some limited immunity for the WikiLeaks founder. In return, Assange offered to: (1) redact “some classified CIA information he might release in the future,” and (2) “provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases.”
Investigative journalist John Solomon, quoting WikiLeaks’ intermediary with the government, broke this story, based on “interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators.” It would be a safe assumption that Assange was offering to prove that Russia was not WikiLeaks’ source of the DNC emails, something Assange has repeatedly said.
That, of course, would have been the last thing Comey would have wanted.
On March 31, 2017 WikiLeaks released the most damaging disclosure up to that point from what it called “Vault 7” — a treasure trove of CIA cybertools leaked from CIA files. This disclosure featured the tool “Marble Framework,” which enabled the CIA to hack into computers, disguise who hacked in, and falsely attribute the hack to someone else by leaving so-called tell-tale signs — like Cyrillic, for example.
The CIA documents also showed that the “Marble” tool had been employed in 2016.
Two weeks later, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo branded WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” and the U.S. put pressure on Ecuador, which had given Assange asylum, to expel him from its London embassy. He was on April 11 when British police arrested him. On the same day he was convicted of skipping bail on a Swedish investigation that had since been dropped. Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in London’s max-security Belmarsh prison.
Comey, it seems a safe bet, still worries that Assange or one of his associates, will provide “technical evidence” enough to prove “who did not engage in the DNC releases.”
What Were They Thinking?
At the March 20, 2017 House Intelligence Committee hearing, Congressman Trey Gowdy heaped effusive praise on then-FBI Director Comey, calling him “incredibly respected.” At that early stage, no doubt Gowdy meant no double entendre. He might now.
As Russia-gate transmogrifies into Deep State-gate, the DOJ is launching a probe into the origins of Russia-gate and the intelligence agencies alleged role in it. It remains to be seen whether U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham, who is leading the probe, will interview Assange, unlike Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who did not.
It is proving very difficult for some of my old FBI friends and others to believe that Comey and other justice, intelligence, and security officials at the very top could have played fast and loose with the Constitution and the law and lived a lie over the past few years.
“How did they ever think they could get away with it?” they ask. The answer is deceivingly simple. Comey himself has explained it in a moment of seemingly unintentional candor in his pretentious book, “A Higher Loyalty.” He wrote, “I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president.”
There would be no problem, of course, if Mrs. Clinton had won the election. That’s what they all thought; and that probably explains their lack of care in keeping their activities off the written record and out of computers. Elementary tradecraft goes out the window with these upper-echelon, “high-class-entity” officials, when they are sure that she, and they, are going to be the inevitable winners — with promotions, not indictments in store for them.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he led the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and prepared the President’s Daily Brief for three presidents. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Behind the Syrian Network for Human Rights: An Opposition Front Group is a Go-to Monitor for Western Media
Corporate media relies on the Syrian Network for Human Rights for figures on deaths and detentions, never noting the group’s seamless connection to Syria’s opposition, and its public lobbying for U.S. military intervention. Max Blumenthal reports for The Grayzone.
This is part one in an investigation into government-funded, opposition-linked NGOs that pose as impartial monitors and investigators of the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) portrays itself as a neutral “monitor” of Syria’s bloody war. In recent years, the group has become a go-to source for corporate media outlets.
Major U.S. newspapers, human rights organizations, and even governments have credulously echoed its dubious reports. But not once have these institutions questioned what exactly the organization is, who funds it, and what its relationship is to Syria’s armed opposition.
An investigation by The Grayzone reveals that the Syrian Network for Human Rights is far from the impartial arbiter that it has been sold as. In reality, it is a key player in the Syrian opposition. Currently based in Qatar, the SNHR is funded by foreign governments and staffed by top opposition leaders.
This “monitoring group” has even openly lobbied for “immediate intervention” in Syria by an “international coalition,” citing NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia as a model. These explicit calls for foreign military intervention have been repeated for years by the Syrian Network for Human Rights itself, as well as by the organization’s leaders.
Yet one would never know this side of the SNHR’s activities from corporate media reporting.
An ‘Independent Monitoring Group’ —
Run by the Syrian Opposition
On May 11, The New York Times published an exposé claiming to provide new details of a “secret, industrial-scale system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons” in Syria. Filed from Turkey by reporter Anne Barnard, this article centered around the eyebrow-raising claim that 128,000 people have never emerged from Syrian prisons, “and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody.”
The Times’ source for this shocking statistic was the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which Barnard described as an “independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally.”
It also supplied key data for aJune 2 report by Washington Post reporter Louisa Loveluck on the arrests of Syrian refugees who have returned home. The group insisted that “2,000 people have been detained after returning to Syria during the past two years.”
In the past few years, the SNHR has been uncritically cited by major news outlets, from The Guardian to The Intercept to The Daily Beast. Western journalists have unquestioningly regurgitated its data to provide statistical heft to gut-wrenching reports on the Syrian government’s alleged abuses.
Even Amnesty International turned to the group for help on a widely promoted report on Syria’s Sednayah Prison. On its website, it boasts that it was the second-most cited sourcein the U.S. State Department’s 2018 report on the human rights situation in Syria.
When it is cited in mainstream media, the Syrian Network for Human Rights is almost invariably characterized as a neutral observer without any agenda beyond documenting death and abuse. In Barnard’s article, the group was described as “independent,” absurdly implying that it was not affiliated in any way with governments or individuals that have participated in the Syrian conflict.
While there may be little doubt that the Syrian government presides over a harsh police state apparatus, it has also been the target of one of the most expensive and sophisticated disinformation campaigns in recent history.
Seeking to stimulate support among a war-weary Western public for U.S. military intervention, a collection of billionaires and foreign governments has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars into a high-tech information war waged by NGOs, insurgent-linked civil society groups, and mainstream corporate media.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has emerged as one of the most important cogs in this operation. Posing as a professional human rights organization, it has functioned as a publicity arm of the Syrian opposition, operating out of Doha, Qatar and collaborating with the opposition’s “embassy” there under the direction of Syrian opposition leaders.
On SNHR’s board of directors sits Burhan Ghalioun, the longtime leader of the Western, and Gulf-backed Syrian National Council, which was founded as an opposition government-in-exile.
Ghalioun’s bio at Syrian Network for Human Right’s website (above) fails to acknowledge his role as a leader of the opposition SNC
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has a reputation for warping numbers to support its ulterior regime change agenda, while relentlessly downplaying the crimes of Salafi-jihadist militias, including ISIS and al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
What’s more, the group’s leadership has openly clamored for Western military intervention, most recently after it issued a dubious report in May on alleged Syrian government chemical attacks that turned out to be sourced to an al-Qaeda affiliate comprised entirely of foreign fighters.
In a report on its website, SNHR acknowledges that it is “funded by states,” though it does not disclose which ones those are.
Given the ideological composition of its leadership and their basing in Qatar, it is easy to deduce that those government funders are the same ones that have bankrolled an Islamist insurgency in Syria to the tune of several billion dollars, costing many thousands of lives and helping to fuel a refugee crisis of titanic proportions.
So why have so many journalists who depended on Syrian Network for Human Rights omitted vital context like this while attempting to pass the group off as “independent?” Perhaps because providing readers with the full truth about the organization would raise questions in their minds about its credibility – or lack thereof – and expose yet another journalistic narrative designed to trigger Western military intervention.
Citing the SNHR as an independent and credible source is the journalistic equivalent of sourcing statistics on head trauma to a research front created by the National Football League, or turning to tobacco industry lobbyists for information on the connection between smoking and lung cancer. And yet this has been standard practice among correspondents covering the Syrian conflict.
Indeed, Western press has engaged for years in an insidious sleight of hand, basing reams of shock journalism around claims by a single, highly suspect source that is deeply embedded within the Syrian opposition – and hoped that no one would notice.
A Partisan Monitor Like Few Other
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has spent years systematically whitewashing and downplaying the crimes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups while inflating the numbers of those killed by government forces.
In atypically slanted report in 2017, it claimed that the Syrian government was responsible for over 92 percent of all deaths during the conflict. Meanwhile, the group reported that “extremist Islamic groups” like ISIS and al-Qaeda’s local franchise were responsible for less than 2 percent of those killed. As usual, the organization provided nothing to back up its absurd numbers other than a cartoon graph.
Syrian Network for Human Rights’ death tolls stand in stark contrast with those of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), another widely cited organization dedicated to tracking casualties in the Syrian conflict.
But unlike Syrian Network for Human Rights, SOHR has asserted that the death toll among government forces has been almost equal to that of opposition fighters, with over 60,000 dying to beat back a foreign-backed insurgency.
Because numbers like these undermine the one-sided narrative fashioned by Western media and NGOs dedicated to regime change, many have turned to Syrian Network for Human Rights instead for more politically convenient statistics spun out through graphics simple enough for a child to digest.
“SOHR is more reliable than Syrian Network for Human Right, which is closely associated with the Syrian opposition,” explained Joshua Landis, professor of international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma and a leading expert on Syrian affairs, in an interview with The Grayzone.
“SOHR is also associated with the opposition, but the head is sympathetic to the Kurdish opposition which perhaps makes him a bit more even handed than either of the main antagonists, who have been known to play fast and loose with the facts,” he said.
Landis emphasized that “Syrian Network for Human Rights is more partisan and less objective” than the pro-opposition SOHR, adding that “it is impossible to know what the real statistics are for the obvious reasons.”
Indeed, theUnited Nations stopped tabulating deaths in the Syrian conflict in 2014, citing the difficulty it had in obtaining even remotely accurate numbers.
Another chemical “red line” deception?
Not only has the Syrian Network for Human Rights conjured up ridiculously slanted death toll numbers, it recently made suspicious claims of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in an overt bid to trigger U.S. military intervention.
On March 27, as Syrian forces closed in on the province ofIdlib, the home of the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syrian Network for Human Right claimed that the Syrian government used a missile launcher to fire “poison gas” at an HTS position in the eastern suburbs of Latakia. The attack “caused breathing difficulty, redness of the eyes and tearing” among the targets, according to Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The U.S. State Department seemed to echo the suspicious informationreported by SNHR to claim without concrete evidence on March 19 that it had received “indications of … new use of chemical weapons by the regime.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a report of its own, however, that undercut the claims by Syrian Network for Human Right and the U.S. According to SOHR, “the Turkestani [Islamic] party is the source and basis of the news adopted by the United States of America about the shelling by the regime forces using chlorine gas.” The SOHR noted that one Turkestani Islamic Party fighter who claimed to have been attacked by chemical gas had asthma.
The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is comprised largely of Uyghur Muslim militants from China’s Xinjiang region who are allied with HTS in Syria and Al Qaeda on a global level. TIP leadership has called on foreign Muslims to wage jihad in Syria, publishing an online recruitment video in 2018 that celebrated the 9/11 attacks as holy retaliation against a decadent United States awash in homosexuality and sin.
Fadel Abdul Ghani, the chairman of the opposition-linked Syrian Network for Human Rights, suggested openly in his group’s dubious report of chemical weapons use that his intention was to see the U.S. intervene in support of Islamist extremist militias like HTS and TIP.
“The U.S. president, the French president and the British Prime Minister have threatened the Syrian regime that if chemical weapons are used again, there will be a decisive response,” Abdul Ghani stated. “Syrian society is still waiting for these leaders to fulfill the promises made, and to hold the Syrian regime to account in a serious and effective way.”
Abdul Ghani has openly advocated for U.S. military intervention for years, telling The Atlantic in 2013 that any civilian deaths by American airstrikes were preferable to the preservation of Assad’s rule. “If Assad continues without any intervention, everyday we will keep losing 100 to 120 people,” Abdul Ghani said. “We have no choice. If we don’t try to take out Assad’s missiles and tanks, he will continue using them against civilians.”
In May 2019,the Syrian Network for Human Rights once again made a public call for foreign military intervention, based on dubious claims of a chemical weapons attack.
The intention of the report was made as explicit as it could be. The subtitle read, “Immediate Intervention Must Be Made Through an International Coalition to Protect Civilians in Syria Like the NATO Intervention in Kosovo.”
The Syrian Network for Human Rights disposed of any pretense of being an impartial observer and clearly invoked NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, which ultimatelybalkanized and destroyed the state, as an example that should be repeated in Syria.
A Pro-Tory and Qatar-Based
Wael Aleji, the Syrian Network for Human Rights; spokesperson, has not been shy with his views either. On Twitter, Aleji haslikened the UK Labour Party of anti-war leftist Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, and praised a vitriolic piece by neoconservative pundit Nick Cohen branding Corbyn as “Hezbollah’s man in London.”
Aleji not only endorsed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to support U.S. airstrikes on Syrian in 2018, he has explicitly identified himself as a member of the UK’s Conservative Party.
While the Syrian Network for Human Rights previously identified its location as England, its office there is currently listed as “dormant.” Little is known about who supports the group — although, again, it acknowledges on its own about page that it is “funded by states.”
The organization has openly collaborated with the opposition Syrian National Council’s “embassy” in Doha, Qatar to launch a traveling art exhibition promoting its work around the country. Qatar is the Gulf monarchy that heavily funded Islamist insurgent groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the local affiliate of al-Qaeda that rebranded as HTS.
Many of the Syrian exiles on the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ board of directors are based in Qatar, occupying positions at Doha University and other government institutions.
Another leading figure on the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ board, former chairman of the Syrian National Council Burhan Ghalioun, once courted the Westwith promises to end Syria’s relationship with Iran and Palestinian resistance forces if it helped install him and his exiled council as the country’s new rulers.
With figures like Ghalioun on the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ board, it should be hard to dispute that the organization acts as a de facto arm of the Syrian opposition. And yet reporters like The New York Times’ Anne Barnard have overlooked these inconvenient facts to describe the group as “independent.”
The Syrian Network for Human Rights did not respond to an interview request from The Grayzone.
Regime Change Journalism
As a former Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times who now enjoys a fellowship at the notoriously hawkish Council on Foreign Relations, Barnard would be hard to describe as a progressive muckraker. Yet her curiously sourced report on Syrian prisons earned her an invite nonetheless from progressive news program Democracy Now.
Barnard told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman that the Syrian government was “vacuuming up people literally including followers of Gandhi,” suggesting that the rebellion was entirely peaceful while ignoring evidence that the opposition engaged in lethal violence just weeks into the revolt.
In a subsequent question-and-answer session at Reddit, Barnard described a militarized Syrian insurgency that saw the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra assume a leading role in taking over large swaths of the country as “a movement for reform and democracy.”
Barnard appeared upset that the United States had failed to intervene directly to affect regime change. “President Barack Obama spoke loudly, calling for Mr. al-Assad’s ouster,” she said, “but carried a small stick. He backed off from even symbolic enforcement of the red line he had set.”
Barnard’s article ultimately earned an endorsement from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called it “a remarkable piece of journalism.”
To gather data documenting the staggering human toll of Syria’s “secret prison network” The New York Times reporter turned to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, calling it an “independent human rights group” that keeps “the most meticulous count” of prison deaths.
In aninterview with The New Yorker, Barnard vouched for the credibility of SNHR and the rigor of its research methods. “Their numbers are actual counts of reports that they get,” she said. “They have people on the ground and people outside Syria, and they basically just take phone calls, and they also have a form on their Web site that you can fill in. They go through the detailed report to them, they verify what they can, and they take this actual tally.”
After opening her piece with bracing testimony from a Syrian who described himself as a former prisoner, Barnard introduced a staggering statistic to demonstrate the scope of brutality by the Syrian government: “Nearly 128,000 have never emerged [from Syrian prisons], and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally.”
Again, there is little debate that the Syrian government has used brutal methods to counter an extremist insurgency that has been funded, armed, and trained with billions of dollars from numerous foreign nations. What is in dispute are the actual numbers — and the magnitude — of deaths and victims of these tactics. And SNHR’s have been comically absurd.
It claimedin the blog post linked by The New York Times that nearly 14,000 people were tortured to death by Syrian government forces, yet it provided no evidence or documentation beyond a single cartoon chart. At the same time, the group claimed that only 32 people were tortured to death by the genocidal extremists in ISIS, and just 21 by the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
The notion that ISIS and al-Qaeda tortured only 53 people to death in Syria over eight years is risible. However, Barnard and her editors at the Times seem to have accepted this claim as indisputable truth, regurgitating it without a hint of skepticism.
Barnard did not respond to emailed questions about the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
State, Amnesty, and The Intercept Too
The New York Times is not the only mainstream institution to have depended heavily on dubious allegations by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The group brags that it came in second place for citations in the U.S. State Department’s 2018 report on the human-rights situation in Syria.
SNHR’s report on human-rights violations by the Kurdish-led anti-ISIS coalition was promoted enthusiastically by The Daily Beast’s Roy Gutman, alongtime criticof the Kurdish YPG. However, unlike virtually every other mainstream reporter, Gutman at least hinted at the Syrian Network for Human Rights’ alignment with the Syrian opposition, noting that it was a “Qatar-based human rights group, echoing the position of the Turkish government…”
In September 2018, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Mariam Elba relied on Syrian Network for Human Rights for numbers of those disappeared into “the sprawling prison network maintained by the Assad government.” (Oddly, the number of secret detainees they cited was 82,000, which means that the Syrian government would have had to have disappeared a whopping 46,000 people in an eight-month period to reach the figure Barnard quoted in The New York Times.)
It was one of manyinstances in which The Intercept cited the SNHR as a credible “watchdog group” without disclosing its seamless ties to the Syrian opposition and the state backers of the Islamist insurgency.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has also been a go-to source for The Guardian, which relied on the group and various other opposition-tied outfits like the Violations Documentation Center to claim that Russian airstrikes in Syria have been more deadly than those by the U.S.-led coalition, which is reported by those groups to have killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa alone. (The Guardianreferred to SNHR merely as “a UK-based organization.”)
In her article for The New York Times, Barnard relied on a widely discussed 2017 Amnesty International report to claim that Syria’s Saydnaya Prison was a “mass execution center” where “thousands were hanged after summary trials.” That report, headlined with the tabloid title “Human Slaughterhouse” and supplemented with CGI-style storytelling graphics, also relied heavily on unsourced claims provided by the Syrian Network for Human Right.
According to Amnesty, anywhere from 5,000 to 13,000 prisoners were summarily executed at Saydnaya. However, the international NGO provided no data to support this claim, conceding in a footnote on page 17 of its report that its data was based entirely on hypothetical calculations.
Later, on page 40, Amnesty acknowledged that “the exact number of deaths in Saydnaya is impossible to specify.” The NGO then revealed that it documented only 375 deaths at the prison over a five-year period, and thanks to allegations “verified” by Syrian Network for Human Rights.
Like virtually every other organization that depended on SNHR’s claims, Amnesty referred to it simply as a “monitoring group,” not noting its intimate connection to the Syrian opposition.
In Barnard’s New York Times report, SNHR was cited alongside an interconnected array of NGOs and individuals with documented ties to the Syrian opposition. As with the Syrian Network for Human Rights, absolutely no context was provided to inform readers about the political agenda of these organizations, or about the direct support they received from states that have fueled the extremist insurgency in Syria.
Through omissions like these, regime change propaganda has been carefully repackaged as news that’s fit to print.
Part Two of this investigation will examine another opposition-tied source that has been widely cited by U.S. mainstream media in coverage of Syria. It is the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA). With a tightly-knit coterie of lawyers, faceless Salafi-jihadist insurgents, and an intelligence network spanning from Washington to Doha, this group of so-called “document hunters” is honing the latest tactic in the West’s regime-change toolbox.
Donald Trump was kept in the dark about a possible U.S. nuclear response to a Russian cyber-weapon attack. The U.S. has now ramped up offensive cyber-warfare against Russia’s power grid, putting Trump in a deep bind, says Caitlin Johnstone.
TheNew York Times has published an anonymously sourced report titled “U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid” about the “placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before” which could potentially “plunge Russia into darkness or cripple its military,” with one anonymous official reporting that “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”
Obviously this is yet another serious escalation in the continually mounting series of stepsthat have been taken into a new cold war between the planet’s two nuclear superpowers. Had a report been leaked to Russian media from anonymous Kremlin officials that Moscow was escalating its cyber-aggressions against America’s energy grid, this would doubtless be labeled an act of war by the political/media class of the US and its allies with demands for immediate retaliation.
To put this in perspective, The New York Timesreported last year that the Pentagon was pushing for the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review to include the strategy of retaliating against serious Russian cyberattacks on American power grids with nuclear weapons.
7 Reasons to Doubt US Version of Gulf-of-Oman Incident
Given Pompeo’s regime-change agenda for Iran, Caitlin Johnstone pours cold water over his version of events.
“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high-degree of sophistication,” Pompeo told the press in a statement.
“The United States will defend its forces, interests, and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability. And we call upon all nations threatened by Iran’s provocative acts to join us in that endeavor,” Pompeo concluded before hastily shambling off, taking exactly zero questions.
Here are seven reasons to be extremely skeptical of everything Pompeo said:
No. 1: Pompeo is a known liar, especially when it comes to Iran.
Pompeo has a well-established history of circulating blatant lies about Iran. He recently told an audience at Texas A&M University that when he was leading the CIA, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses.”
No. 2: The US empire is known to use lies and false flags to start wars.
The U.S.-centralized power alliance has an extensive and well-documented history of advancing preexisting military agendas using lies, false flags and psyops to make targeted governments appear to be the aggressors. This is such a well-established pattern that “Gulf of Tonkin” briefly trended on Twitter after the Gulf of Oman incident. Any number of government agencies could have been involved from any number of the nations in this alliance, including the U.S., the U.K., Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Israel.
No. 3: John Bolton has openly endorsed lying to advance military agendas.
I wrote an article about this last month because the Trump administration had already begun rapidly escalating against Iran in ways that happen to align perfectly with the longtime agendas of Trump’s psychopathic Iran hawk National security adviser. At that time people were so aware of the possibility that Bolton might involve himself in staging yet another Middle Eastern war based on lies that The Onionwas already spoofing it.
“Now I want to make the case for secrecy in government when it comes to the conduct of national security affairs, and possibly for deception where that’s appropriate,” Bolton said. “You know Winston Churchill said during World War Two that in wartime truth is so important it should be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.”
“Do you really believe that?” asked an incredulous Napolitano.
“Absolutely,” Bolton replied.
“You would lie in order to preserve the truth?”
“If I had to say something I knew was false to protect American national security, I would do it,” Bolton answered.
No. 4: Using false flags to start a war with Iran is already an established idea in the DC swamp.
Back in 2012 at a forum for the Washington Institute of Near East Policy think tank, the group’s Director of Research Patrick Clawson openly talked about the possibility of using a false flag to provoke a war with Iran, citing the various ways the U.S. has done exactly that with its previous wars.
“I frankly think that crisis initiation is really tough, and it’s very hard for me to see how the United States president can get us to war with Iran,” Clawson began.
“Which leads me to conclude that if in fact compromise is not coming, that the traditional way that America gets to war is what would be best for U.S. interests,” Clawson added. “Some people might think that Mr. Roosevelt wanted to get us into the war… you may recall we had to wait for Pearl Harbor. Some people might think that Mr. Wilson wanted to get us into World War One; you may recall we had to wait for the Lusitania episode. Some people might think that Mr. Johnson wanted to get us into Vietnam; you may recall we had to wait for the Gulf of Tonkin episode. We didn’t go to war with Spain until the USS Maine exploded. And may I point out that Mr. Lincoln did not feel that he could call out the Army until Fort Sumter was attacked, which is why he ordered the commander at Fort Sumter to do exactly that thing which the South Carolinians said would cause an attack.”
“So if, in fact, the Iranians aren’t going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war,” Clawson continued. “One can combine other means of pressure with sanctions. I mentioned that explosion on August 17th. We could step up the pressure. I mean look people, Iranian submarines periodically go down. Some day, one of them might not come up. Who would know why? [Smattering of sociopathic laughter from the crowd.] We can do a variety of things, if we wish to increase the pressure (I’m not advocating that) but I’m just suggesting that this is not an either/or proposition — just sanctions have to succeed or other things. We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier at that.”
No. 5: The US State Department has already been running psyops to manipulate the public Iran narrative.
Outrage on Capitol Hill over completely unacceptable US-funded scheme to shape Iran debate. The @IranDisinfo troll campaign targeted American citizens critical of Trump’s Iran policy and accused them of being loyal to Tehran regime.
State Department officials admitted to congressional staff at a closed-door meeting on Monday that a $1.5 million troll farm had gone “beyond the scope of its mandate” by aggressively smearing American critics of the Trump administration’s Iran policy as propagandists for the Iranian government, according to a new report from The Independent. That “mandate” had reportedly consisted of “countering propaganda from Iran,” also known as conducting anti-Iran propaganda.
“Critics in Washington have gone further, saying that the programme resembled the type of troll farms used by autocratic regimes abroad,” says The Independent.
“One woman behind the harassment campaign, a longtime Iranian-American activist, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the State Department over the years to promote ‘freedom of expression and free access to information,’” the report reads.
No. 6: The Gulf of Oman narrative makes no sense.
Here we go again. US Empire creating a pretext to go to war with Iran. It makes no sense that Iran would provoke a war with US Empire while Iran tries to salvage the nuclear deal with Europe. This situation looks manufactured as hell. The pro-war US media can’t wait to sell this.
One of the ships damaged in the attacks was Japanese-owned, and the other was bound for Japan. This happened just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran attempting to negotiate a de-escalation between the U.S. and Iran with Trump’s blessing, and just after Iran had released a prisoner accused of conducting espionage for the U.S. in what many took to be a gesture of good faith.
Iran has been conducting itself with remarkable restraint in the face of relentless sanctions and provocations from the U.S. and its allies. It wouldn’t make much sense for it to suddenly abandon that restraint with attacks on sea vessels, then rescue their crew, then deny perpetrating the attacks, during a time of diplomatic exchanges and while trying to preserve the nuclear deal with Europe. If Tehran did perpetrate the attacks in order to send a strong message to the Americans, it would have been a very mixed message sent in a very weird way with very odd timing.
No. 7: Even if Iran did perpetrate the attack, Pompeo would still be lying.
Pompeo’s statement uses the words “unprovoked” twice and “Iran’s provocative acts” once, explicitly claiming that the U.S. empire was just minding its own business leaving Iran alone when it was attacked out of the blue by a violent aggressor. Sometimes the things put out by the U.S. State Department feel like they’re conducting experiments on us, just to test the limits of our stupidity.
As noted in this article by Moon of Alabama and this discussion on the Ron Paul Liberty Report, the U.S. has been provoking Iran with extremely aggressive and steadily tightening sanctions, which means that even if Tehran is behind the attacks, it would not be the aggressor and the attacks would most certainly not have been “unprovoked.” Economic sanctions are an act of war; if China were to do to America’s economy what America is doing to Iran’s, the U.S. would be in a hot war with China immediately. It could technically be possible that Iran is pushing back on U.S. aggressions and provocations, albeit in a strange and neoconservatively convenient fashion.
Either way, we have seen exactly zero evidence supporting Pompeo’s claims, so anyone you see hastening to blame Iran for the Gulf of Oman incident is either a war whore or a slobbering moron, or both. Knowing what we know about the U.S.-centralized empire and its pre-existing regime change agenda against Iran, there is no reason to believe Pompeo and many reasons not to.
Adecision on whether Julian Assange will be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act will not come until the end of February 2020 at the earliest, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court ruled on Friday.
Tristan Kirk, the London Evening Standard‘s courts reporter, tweeted:
Julian Assange will not face a full extradition hearing until next year, court hears. Five day hearing to be listed on a date after Feb 24.
Kirk said he argued his way into the court room after he and the rest of the media had been barred by a security guard from entering the public hearing that lasted under 30 minutes.
As Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States, ran through a summary of the accusations against him including that he had cracked a U.S. defence network password, Assange said: “I didn’t break any password whatsoever.”
The WikiLeaks publisher told the court that “175 years of my life is effectively at stake,”according toSky News. He addressed the judge as Lady Arbuthnot, saying: “WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher.” Mark Summers, a lawyer representing Assange, told the court there are a “multiplicity of profound issues” with the extradition case, Sky News reported.
“We say it represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights,” he said.
Assange spoke to the court via video link from Belmarsh prison where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail on a Swedish sexual assault investigation. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid onward extradition from Sweden to the United States. He was arrested on April 11 when Ecuador allowed British police to enter the embassy.
The British home secretary signed the extradition request from the U.S. on Wednesday. Sajiid Javid saidThursday: “I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”
Both sides in the extradition battle will now have about eight months to prepare their case.
Assange’s Belmarsh sentence will end at the end of March 2020, meaning he will remain in the maximum security prison until the extradition hearing.
The #Assange case is about shutting down investigative journalism and public inquiry, says John Pilger, outside the Westminster Magistrates Court https://t.co/VdBdOuONjR
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been forced to justify its existence at the United Nations ahead of a pledging conference later this month.
Last week, UNRWA held a press conference at the UN in an attempt to raise awareness — and funds for their work. The organization supports around 74 percent of Gaza’s population, and also has major operations in the West Bank and Jordan, where millions of Palestine refugees reside. The agency provides food aid, social services, education and infrastructure.
UNRWA requires $1.2 billion to fund all its operations in the coming year. However, fears have been raised regarding their ability to do so. Unless the agency is able to secure at least $60 million by the end of this month, its ability to provide food aid to over a million Palestine refugees seems uncertain.
The agency is funded predominantly by UN member states, the European Union and regional governments. These sources contribute 93 percent of funds. Private individuals and non-governmental sources contributed over $17 million in 2018.
School Openings Uncertain
Matthias Schmale, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, noted at the press conference last week, “right now, strictly financially speaking, we don’t have the money to guarantee the opening of schools in the fall.”
These financial concerns have largely arisen following the United States’ refusal to continue funding the organization. Greenblatt justified Trump’s decision to the Security Council last month.
“The UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people,” he said, describing the agency as an “irredeemably flawed operation” and a “band-aid” solution. Instead, he proposed an integration of the Agency’s services into government and non-governmental organisations’ structures.
In his explanation of the United States’ decision, he reaffirmed the country’s support of Israel, stating “the United States will always stand with Israel.”
This prompted criticism that the decision to cease funding UNRWA was a political move, rather than for issues with the agency’s functioning.
Peter Mulrean, director of UNRWA’s Representative Office in New York, said in a statement to IPS that “UNRWA regrets the U.S. decision to stop funding UNRWA after decades of being the Agency’s single largest donor and strong partner.” However, he refused to speculate on the motives behind that decision.
Greenblatt claimed the politicization of UNRWA, despite its intended neutrality, meant “year after year, Palestinians in refugee camps were not given the opportunity to build any future; they were misled and used as political pawns and commodities instead of being treated as human beings.”
In his response, Mulrean said: “UNRWA is a UN humanitarian Agency that has no political role in Palestine or anywhere else.”
Questioned About Hamas
Despite this, UNRWA was asked at the press conference to respond to claims its members have involvement with Hamas after weapons were found stored in a school, and tunnels were located beneath multiple UNRWA educational buildings.
The Agency noted its officials reported all such incidents, and measures were taken to remove the weapons and close the tunnels.
Criticism of UNRWA seems at odds with the Security Council’s stance on the agency.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, said in a press briefing last week, “the Secretary General has been speaking on support of UNRWA for a long time,” adding, “his position remains unchanged, that he very much feels that UNRWA is a stabilizing force in the region through the education services it provides, through the health services, and through the support services.”
At the Security Council meeting last month it was only the United States and Israel that spoke against UNRWA. All other 14 member states reaffirmed their support for the agency.
“That is a reflection of the broad support UNRWA enjoys in the international community,” Mulrean told IPS.
Despite this, UNRWA has for years struggled to meet its budget. Last year, around 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions to erase an unprecedented deficit of $446 million.
Greenblatt noted the United States was frequently called upon to fill budget gaps. Having pledged around $6 billion to the organization over the course of its existence, he reaffirmed his government’s refusal to continue to do so.
Instead, the United States has called for a conference in Bahrain — June 25-26 — to discuss possible solutions to the Palestine refugee crisis. Many see this as compensation for withdrawing funding for UNRWA.
While Mulrean refused to take a formal position on the upcoming conference in Bahrain, he did say that UNRWA doesn’t see this as in competition with the agency’s work.
UNRWA has fought Greenblatt’s criticism before the press in order to garner support for its mandate. Within a context of escalating violence in Gaza – some saying the worst since 2014 – and ever- increasing numbers of Palestine refugees, the agency continues to seek funding from member states so as to continue its operations in the coming year.
“This is our reality,” Mulrean said, “we have schools to run, we have clinics to run, we have people to feed.”